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Blogophilia 34.10 – Griselda Part 2

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

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 34.10 Topic – “Wayward Bound”
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts) Incorporate the musical term “requiem”
Easy (1 pt) Quote Jerry Seinfeld

I’d hoped to finish this story this week, since I will be wayward bound next week on a trip to West Virginia (don’t worry, I’ll still blog, but no story writing time) However, I didn’t get this finished because I’m not sure where it’s going.

Last week we met Griselda, whose car broke down, and whose human guard dog has been visiting with another Executioner’s human on a romantic basis. Tsk Tsk.

*****

When she woke the next evening, she found that Sergei had unpacked her bag. A stylish dress lay draped over her vanity chair. Red, with a small waist and long full skirt meant that ended midcalf. Though catalog and store shopping had recently become popular – there was even a new boutique in the citadel’s shopping area – Griselda was rarely able to buy clothes that fit right. Taller than average, pre-made clothes were usually too short for her. Not that she couldn’t make her own – shed been sewing for herself since she was a child. Still, the idea of being able to just pick something up and drop it on was appealing.

And this should fit. The lady who’d worn it had bene tall, too. She’d had dark hair secured with a clip, shiny shoes, and a matching handbag. And she had made an excellent meal the previous night.

Before the damn automobile broke down.

Griselda put on the myriad of support garments expected of a woman – fewer than the last decades had seen! – and slipped into the dress. She had to breath in deeply to zip the back, but otherwise it was a perfect fit.

She turned this way and that in the mirror, and gave an experimental twirl. The silky skirt flared, then fell back into place when she stopped. The small waist was all right for standing, but she suspected sitting might be an issue. Maybe she should pull out one of her old corsets?

She heard movement in the next room, and abandoned her fashion to investigate. Sergei moved between the furniture, pouting and pretending to dust.

“I left the red dress on your vanity,” he said petulantly, eyes on his task. “I wasn’t sure if it needed laundered or not. I imagine they’ll be an extra charge for it since it’s a dry-clean item.” He looked up and stopped. “Oh. You’re wearing it now?”

She glanced down at the garment, then back at him. “And why not?”

“A cocktail dress is an odd choice for the daytime.” He snickered, flicking the feather duster uselessly.

“If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask for it, human.”

“Excuse me, master.” His bow seemed mocking.

She crossed to him and grabbed him by the front of his shirt before he could react. “Yes, I am your master, and forgiveness is something you’d be well placed to beg for.”

She shoved him away and swished for the door. “Is Verchiel home?”

She could hear the frown in Sergei’s voice. “How should I know?” A hard look from her, and he relented. “He was on an assignment yesterday, but Valerie thinks he’ll be home tonight.”

“Good. I plan to have a chat with him. I’ll be back.”

Wisely, Sergei kept his mouth shut.

Griselda stopped first at Verchiel’s apartment. After several short, angry knocks, his guard dog opened the door. Dressed in some kind of overlarge night dress, one slim shoulder was exposed. Her long dark hair was unbound, and her china doll face wore no makeup, not that she needed any. With milk skin, her dark eyes were a better contrast than lipstick could ever offer.

“Yes?” she asked, with the right amount of reverence and timidity. As if it had been practiced a hundred times.

It probably has.

“Where is your master?”

“Master is on assignment.”

Griselda tapped her foot impatiently but the human only blinked large liquid eyes. “And when will he return?”

“Master should return soon.”

It wasn’t much, but it was enough. “When he gets here, tell him Griselda wants a word. Understand?”

The girl nodded. Griselda turned to find herself confronted with a short vampire. Red hair stuck up at odd angles on top, and fell to brush his shoulders. Violet eyes were just as weird, as was the perpetual grin he wore.

It was Verchiel.

“Zeldy! Are you looking for me?”

Griselda bit back the desire to slam him into the wall. “It’s Griselda, to you.”

He gave a sweeping mock bow. “My apologies, Mighty Griselda. Now what can I do for you?”

“You can keep a tighter leash on your dog.”

Verchiel scratched his head. “Hmmm. A dog? I don’t own a dog. I mean, I could file the paperwork and get one, but they’re kind of inconvenient indoors like this. Where would he pee?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

He paused to look baffled. “I’m standing in the hallway…just coming back from an assignment…I’m talking to you-”

She cut him off. “Do you think you’re being funny?” He grinned and she snapped, “I don’t need you to be funny. I don’t want to be entertained, I want this situation resolved! If you won’t do something then I’ll go to Ark – or Malick!”

Verchiel sighed, and then suddenly drew up, his face serious. “Go inside, Valerie.”

The human, who’d been hanging in the door, nodded quickly and disappeared inside. As the door shut, Verchiel turned his attention to Griselda. “What are you claiming she’s done?”

“I’m not ‘claiming’ anything. She has done – and you know damn well what it is. I don’t want to see – or hear about – her being near my guard dog, or I will report both of you and demand that she’s destroyed.”

Verchiel’s eyes narrowed and he rubbed his neck. “Why do you care? Are you jealous?”

She gaped at the implication. “Of course not! But he is my property. His job is to guard my den – and me – from the rest of you. How can he do that if he spends all of his time preoccupied with fucking your bitch in heat? I’m not stupid, Verchiel. You have her seducing everyone’s guard dogs so you can use it to your advantage. One day she’ll come to my door while I’m asleep. Sergei will let her in and, the next thing you know, my heart will be on a plate and Greneth will be writing a requiem for my funeral.”

“You really think that’s what’s going on?”

“I know it is. You might be able to fool Beldren or Zuri, but I’m on to you. You want to kill the rest of them in their sleep? You go right ahead, but try anything with me and I’ll cut off your head and nail it to the wall. Are we clear?”

He held up his hands. “Ooooo. Scary!” He dropped them, and his featured hardened. “I’m not afraid of you, Griselda, any more than I am the rest of the Executioners. And I don’t need to use Valerie to infiltrate your dens. If I wanted to kill you, I’d do it in the hallway, not in the middle of the day, but don’t worry, she’ll stay away from your pet.” He cocked his head to one side. “I just wonder if your pet will stay away from her?”

Griselda scoffed. “He doesn’t have a choice.” She leaned down, pressing her face close to Verchiel’s. “See that you keep your end of it, or I will have her put down.”

She turned on her heel and stormed away, the cocktail dress swishing with each angry step.  She reached her own door, hand on the knob, when a voice called, “Zelda!”

She looked up to see Bren, hands on his hips as he surveyed her.  “I heard you had some automobile trouble?”

“You could call it that.” She stepped away from the door and lowered her voice. “Your guard dog. Has he been fraternizing?”

Bren’s face darkened. “With Verchiel’s mongrel, you mean? Only once. I took the skin off his back, and he’s stayed away since.” His scowl twisted into a grin. “Having trouble with yours?”

She hesitated. She trusted Bren only because Senya controlled him. But how far did her control extend? “Perhaps.”

Bren moved closer. “Take my advice. Remove a few toes, or a finger or two, and he’ll straighten right up.”

“And then he’d be…defected.”

Bren blinked. “I don’t think that’s the word you want. Impacted maybe?”

“Weakened,” she snapped. “What good is an injured guard dog?”

He shrugged. “Do what you want. You could always put him down and get a new one.  There are several humans working on the sixth floor. One of them would probably be happy for the promotion. Though I’d be careful which you choose. Rumor is you-know-who frequents a few of them for recreational purposes.”

Griselda wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Bren stepped back, and his voice sprang back to normal. “Have you fed yet? I was on my way to the café.”

“Where’s Senya?”

“Out. A week or two. You know how it is. Ready?”

She wasn’t sure she trusted Bren without Senya’s leash, but what could he do in public? Jam a dagger between her ribs? Even he wouldn’t get away with that.

Ark probably could.

With a nod, she followed Bren out of the Executioner block and into the public area of the citadel. The café was brightly lit and decorated to resemble a sidewalk café, with wicker chairs and crisp white tablecloths. Plants hung from hooks around the wall. Murals were painted like a cityscape, complete with a blue sky overhead.

Bren flashed his necklace at the attendant just inside the door. The vampire rushed to find them an empty table, bobbing his head as he stumbled through a welcome speech.

Bren smirked. “Relax. We’ve been here before.”

The attendant bobbed a final time and hurried away, promising that a waiter would be along any minute.

Griselda looked toward a menu board painted in pink and blue. It listed different glass sizes and add ins.

“I’m thinking…spearmint,” Bren said. “You?”

“That sounds fine.”

“We could get a pitcher then?”

She shrugged it off, and let him order. As the waitress bustled off, Bren leaned back in the chair. “I’ll go up to the sixth floor with you, if you want.”

Griselda toyed with the napkin. “It would mean training a new one.”

“True, the training is a pain, but better to know your dog is loyal than have one who lets the enemy in.”

She flicked her blue eyes to his face. “What an odd way to phrase it. The enemy.”

He shrugged. “If we didn’t have enemies, we wouldn’t need locked doors and guard dogs in the first place.”

“True. I just find it…interesting. We’re supposed to be part of an elite team, working together, and instead we need guard dogs to stop us killing one another in our sleep. It’s like a fractured coven, who’s been together so long they’ve lost any affection and feel only hate.”

“I wouldn’t say I hate everyone,” Bren replied.

She leaned her elbows on the table and surveyed him. “Then tell me who you feel affection for among the Executioners – who you trust with your life.”

He scoffed and waved it away. When she continued to stare, unblinking he muttered, “I-I don’t know.”

“Not even Senya?” Griselda asked with mild surprise.

The waiter appeared before he could answer. He deposited the pitcher, and two tall glasses. With a flourish he filled them, then asked if there was anything else.

Bren dismissed him, and they drank their breakfast in silence. Griselda inhaled the minty scent, and thought of her childhood home, and her grandmother’s herb garden. The memories were blurred by time, and over bright with sunlight, but she could still feel the warmth that had shone in her grandmother’s eyes; a warmth that had bene extinguished far too soon.

“I might trust Senya.”

Griselda looked up sharply. “What?”

Bren set his empty glass on the table and fixed her with an irritated stare. “You asked if I trusted Senya. I said I might.”

She suppressed a smile. “I suppose that’s something.”

They finished their breakfast and, though her mind wasn’t made up, headed upstairs. The sixth floor was a mix of humans and vampires, including human only areas. Though Griselda failed to see the point, the vampire government had human emissaries, and they didn’t like being close to the monsters if they could help it.

She followed Bren to a restaurant. The heavy scent of cooking meat overpowered the smell of the occupants’ blood and made her think of bodies burning – the official approved way to dispose of vampiric corpses.

They stopped just inside the door and he scanned the customers. With a frown, he shook his head and motioned her out and further down the hallway. A recreation room wasn’t what he was looking for, and neither was an exercise room.

Bren made a low noise in his throat. “Where is he?”

“Who?” When Bren didn’t answer, she pressed, “I thought we were looking for a human replacement?”

“Of course, but we’re not going to recruit one ourselves,” Bren snapped back. “Don’t you know how it works?”

She didn’t reply. All of the guard dogs she’d had so far had come from outside, found while she was on assignment. She had no idea how it was done in the citadel.

Bren took her silence as an admission of ignorance. “To procure a human, one sees Harry, as he’s calling himself now.  You tell him what you want – male, female, snack, dinner, play toy, sex partner , whether you plan to let them live or kill them – and he finds what you’re looking for.”

Griselda arched a suspicious brow. Was Bren in the habit of procuring humans? For what? The way he’d casually tossed out play toy and sex partner made her wonder.

They checked a few other places, and circled back to the restaurant. Bren stepped inside, and gave a triumphant cry. “You!”

A short man with a mustache looked up from a glass of crimson. Dressed in a light sport coat and button down shirt, his hat was perched on the table near his arm.

“Ah! Sir Executioner!” The man stood quickly and gave a half bow. “And madam, my apologies for not recognizing your office immediately. My mistake. How can I help you tonight?”

Griselda touched the silver medallion that hung around her neck, three circles intertwined. The emblem of the Executioner, and a piece of jewelry that no doubt looked odd with her dress.

Bren surveyed the diminutive figure with a grunt, and dropped into a chair. “Zelda needs a new guard dog.”

“Of course, of course.” The man smiled, showing a set of sharp fangs. “What does the lady have in mind?”

Griselda straightened her full skirt. She had no love for humans, but even so this seemed strange. Like ordering a sofa. “I’d like a female.” She thought of the casual way Bren had mentioned snacks, sex, and play toys. When a human drank vampire blood they created a bond – a bond that would trump their loyalty to her. “One who hasn’t been preyed upon.”

The man gave a small cough. “That is quite a request, my dear. I’ll have to have someone in the field procure a new recruit. That will be expensive.”

Expensive? Did he expect her to pay? The other humans had been free!

“She’s good for it,” Bren said dismissively.

“Of course.” Harry lifted his hat and tugged a notepad out from under it. He unclipped a small pencil form it, licked the tip, and offered her a full smile. “What specifics do you have in mind? Age? Height? Build? Appearance?”

It is like ordering a sofa.

“I don’t care,” she snapped. “So long as she’s young enough to train, but old enough to defend herself.”

“Mid-twenties?” Harry suggested. “Late teens is more popular, but they can be emotionally fragile if you’r eplanning to keep her for a time. You are planning to keep her?”

“Yes!” Griselda cried. “I want her as a guard dog.”

“Right, right. That curious arrangement you Executioners have at the moment.” Harry scribbled on his pad.  “I assume virginity isn’t important? It’s extra, you see.”

“Of course it’s not important!”

“Mmhmm. All right, I’ll get the men on it. It might be a day or two, if that’s all right? I can send a message to…” he trailed off meaningfully.

“Griselda,” she said stiffly.

“Good, good. Executioner Griselda.”

Bren rolled a pepper shaker. “How much is it going to cost?”

“I can hardly negotiate the price when I don’t know how much work it will be to procure, now can I?”

Bren snorted. “No, I’m sure you can’t.” He stood and leaned over the table, his face close to Harry’s. “See that it’s reasonable, hmmm?”

Harry smiled serenely. “Of course, of course. I’m always reasonable.”

“Right.” Bren rolled his eyes and motioned Griselda after him. She glanced back to the short man, then followed. They were both quiet until the elevator doors had shut.

“He usually comes through faster than he says he will.”

Griselda tugged at her skirt. “You’ve used him before?”

“Of course. Where do you think my guard dogs come from?”

“I assumed you caught them yourself.”

Bren chuckled. “I don’t have time to mess with that. Let Harry handle it.”

The elevator  stopped on the fourth floor and the doors swished open. A harried guard rushed inside. At seeing them, his face lit up. “Sir, Master Malick requires you.”

“See what I mean?” Bren asked with a smirk.  “Who has time to hunt?”

The elevator stopped at the third floor. Griselda thanked Bren for his help, and disembarked, leaving him and the guard to see what the ancient master in the basement wanted.

She paused at the door to her apartment and sniffed. She could smell Sergei inside. Alone for a change.

No doubt Verchiel’s mongrel is busy tending to her master.

***

No story next week, but you’ll get the end of this the week after I hope.

And now for guesses:

topic: Stormy

picture: Myke

  1. vintage 2. retro 3. shiny 4. back in the day 5. antique 6. classic 7. red racer 8. race 9. drag race 10. chrome 11. happy days 12. cruisin’ USA 13. on the strip 14. roadster 15. gas hog 16. need for speed 17. rebel without a cause 18. ready to rumble 19. low rider 20. little red corvette

 

 

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Blogophilia 33.10: Griselda Part 1

It’s time again for Blogophilia! The fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:

Topic – It Was A Disaster
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts) Quote from a J K Rowling book Easy (1 pt) Mention a Car Part

Last week I got a whole story done, but no such luck this week. I’m not even sure where this is going yet, to be honest, but I guess we’ll see next week.

***

Griselda tossed a packet of papers on the Executioners’ desk. The guard behind it looked up from a typewriter. The clacking of the keys dropped off as he stared. “How-How did it go?”

Griselda slopped wet bangs from her face. “It was a disaster. My car broke down.”

The guard glanced at the damp paperwork. “Um… I don’t suppose you know what’s wrong with it? I mean, you are a woman.”

“Oh of course, being a woman how could I?” The guard recoiled at her fury and she added, “I think it might be the alternator. Again.”

The guard looked over the request form. “So you want a new car?”

Honestly, if you were any slower, you’d be going backward! Yes! I’m putting in for a new car, and I’m filing my paperwork from the assignment.”

“Of course, of course.” The guard gave a sharp nod. “Well…um…I think I have everything. You probably want to go change.”

“And why would I want to do that?” She asked sarcastically.

“Well, you are dripping on the floor. A bit,” he added hastily. “I – I don’t mind the puddle. I can clean that up in a jiffy but, you know, it can’t be comfortable.”

“You’re right.” She purposefully wrung out her shirt, watching the water splatter on the tile floor at her feet.

How’s that for a puddle, jackass?

He was at least smart enough – or else to shocked – the comment. She grabbed her soggy overnight bag, then stormed out of the office and down to the elevators. A pair of vampires signaled her to hold the door, but one look at her face – and silver medallion around her neck – and they backed off.

Good. I’m not in the mood.

She exited on the third floor and stomped her way to the Executioner block, the area of The Guild’s citadel where the Executioners lived. Behind the locked door a square corridor was lined with their apartments. Though some of her fellows thought it was a sign of their rank – to keep them separated from the rabble – Griselda suspected it was to protect them from the rabble. As law enforcers, the Executioners had more enemies than friends.

She let herself through the block door, and then into her apartment. Quiet and clean, it looked like it had when she left five days ago on what was supposed to be an easy assignment.  What might have been easy, had she had all of the intel, and if her stupid vehicle hadn’t decided to die in the middle of a storm.

At least it was within walking distance. If one considered five hours on foot walking distance.

The guards had fared worse. One was stuck behind to watch the car, and the other had accompanied her, carrying her bag and listening to a growing strong of curses. She assumed that someone would go to rescue the one they’d left behind and bring the car back with them. But they’d better not try to fix the piece of junk and stick her with it again. It was from 1939, for crying out loud. How could they expect it to still work right?

When she’d picked the Roadster out, she’d been excited, and she had to admit it still looked good, if not a little dented. But it was 1956, and she needed something new, something that blended in better, something bigger.

And faster.

A key ground in the lock and she spun, hands on her hips, as Sergei slid inside. He spotted her and froze, half in, half out of the door, his eyes wide, and his dark hair ruffled.

“And where have you been?”

“Oh, you’re home, mistress.” He stepped through, closing the door behind him. She flicked angry eyes over his rumpled appearance and he quickly straightened his clothes and tried to flatten his hair. “How was your trip?”

She tapped her foot. “I asked where you were.” He looked at the floor, and though didn’t have mind reading powers, she could feel him trying to think of something. “You with Verchiel’s guard dog again, weren’t you?”

Sergei rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, in a manner of speaking-”

“How many times have I told you stop fraternizing with her? Don’t you understand that it defeats the entire purpose of having a guard dog if you make friends with one another? Or in your case, more than friends?”

“I don’t-” He broke off at the look on her face. “Yes, mistress.”

“Good. And don’t try to give me any crap that you’re in love with Verchiel’s guard dog. You’re not. You’re just using her as a convenient bed fellow because she’s willing.  And like her master, she’s willing with everyone, no doubt.”

“She has a name,” Sergei muttered. “And she’s not loose.”

“If she is with you, then she is with the others, too. A liar lies to everyone. A thief steals from everyone. And a whore whores with everyone. Now, I’m going to take a shower. Don’t open the door to anyone. Not even your little whore.”

She shut herself in her private bathroom and stripped off her wet clothes. At least Sergei had kept the place clean while she was gone. There was nothing worse than coming back to a mess.

Except coming back to find Sergei and Verchiel’s guard dog mating.

After that, she’d punished Sergei and thought he’d gotten the message, but apparently not.  Or maybe he had and the little floozy pushed it. Men were notoriously unable to resist the lure of the fair sex, especially when one offered herself so willingly.

Griselda climbed in the shower and let the hot water run over her. Truthfully, she wouldn’t be surprised if Verchiel encouraged his human guard dog to be a whore. It was a good way to infiltrate the other Executioners’ houses. And most of the guard dogs were male, which made them easy prey. Train them with sex, make their brains soft, and soon Verchiel – or just as likely his guard dog herself – were sneaking in during the day, pounding a stake through your heart.

It’s not going to work with me.

No, if Sergei couldn’t be trusted, then it would be better to be rid of him and find a replacement. A woman this time. One who’d figure out Verchiel’s game and be too intelligent to fall for it.

With my luck, he’d turn to seducing her himself.

And if not him, then one of the others. Beldren was suspect. And Zuri. He was too quiet. It meant he was observing, analyzing, plotting. And Philip. Now there was a heartbreaker just looking to cause trouble.  He’d been promoted at the same time she was, and she’d never trusted him as far as she could throw him.

Franklin was just as suspicious, and Migina was no better. The way she sneered at everyone made her opinions clear. Really, the only ones Griselda trusted were Senya and Bren; Senya because she was so blunt that you always knew where you stood, and Bren because Senya controlled him.

And they’re all a million times more trustworthy than Jamie or Ark.

They’d been Executioners the longest, and had earned the titles of captain and second in command, and they both used it. In fact, it was an incident with Ark that had prompted the human guard dogs in the first place.

Griselda liberally soaped herself as she tried to remember how it had happened. She hadn’t been there, but Greneth had heard the whole thing and reported it to her.  Ark and Beldren, wasn’t it? Yes. They’d gotten in a fight and Beldren threatened Ark with something like sneaking in his room and cutting his heart out while he slept.  Then, in the middle of the day, an earsplitting scream had wakened Greneth. He’d grabbed his weapon and run to the Beldren’s room, where he found the Executioner up, sword in hand, shouting that Ark had been in his room, trying to kill him. Ark denied it, but Beldren when Beldren returned from his next assignment he had a human with him.

“To keep an eye on things while I sleep. A guard dog, if you will.”

No one liked the idea of Beldren having a human running free while they were unprotected, and so they’d each gotten their own. Even Jamie, who’d rolled his eyes and commented on the stupidity.

It might be stupid, but I don’t see you sleeping alone.

That had been in ’42, she was pretty sure, and since then she’d been through three.  Since Sergei can’t think with the brain in his head, it looks like I’m going to have to find number four.  Though going through them quickly wasn’t unusual. Verchiel had been through two already, both women, and she imagined when he picked his next it would be a woman too. A good looking, cute little thing that he could encourage to be friendly with the men.

I know what you’re up to.

***

And now for guesses:

topic: Trevor

picture: Tyler

  1. Duck l’orange 2. Who’s hungry? 3. Today’s special is duck! 4. Duck; the gift that keeps giving 5. Quackers! 6. Polly want a quacker? 7. It’s daffy! 8. How do you get down off a duck? 9. A ladder! Ha ha! 10. looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… 11. choked up. 12. choke your….duck (cough)  13. Isn’t this a pretty duck? Half off today! 14. Look what I got for my birthday!  15. I wish I had some of Jonathan’s voodoo because this is ducking hard. 16. duck, duck, goose. 17. I found the duck! 18. I wonder if that’s the right way to hold a duck? 19.  It’s a strangle hold! 20.  this is just ducky

Blogophilia 32.10: Greneth

It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives us prompts to use in our weekly blogs. This week’s prompts are:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 32.10 Topic – About Last Night…
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts) Incorporate three things found in a haunted house
Easy (1 pt) Use the words from a Disney song

I hadn’t planned to write the whole story in one swoop, but sadly the main prompt needed to go at the end, so… here it is all in one.

***

(this takes place in 1997)

“It could be fun, Zelda.” Greneth gave his best smooth smile and waited. It was a proposal Griselda couldn’t turn down.

Or so he thought.

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and crossed her arms uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Aren’t we a little old for something like that? Scares are for children.”

“Not anymore,” Greneth said. “Modern mortals enjoy it into old age.”

“I don’t know.”

He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. This wasn’t the way he’d imagined the conversation going when he’d seen the advertisement for a Halloween haunted house. The sign promised that the hour’s travel was worth it. “Thrills. Chills. Lose yourself to the terror!” Or something like that, all written in bloody red letters. The clip art ghosts had drawn Greneth in, and the vampire sealed the deal. Now all he needed was someone to go with him.

Griselda seemed the perfect choice. They got along well, and she was good looking. The same height he was, and a fellow blonde, people often mistook her for his sister, even though her eyes were blue and his brown. A detail he supposed no one really noticed.  Even more amusing was that he was nearly a hundred years older than her, and had never been to Germany, where she’d been both born and turned. Not that she talked about her past very often.

Or anything personal for that matter.

He’d waited for her at the entrance to the Executioner’s block; the area in the citadel where the elite lived in individual apartments. Finally, she’d shown up, wearing an autumn colored sweater and a pair of knee-high boots, her hair braided around her head like a crown. When he smiled, she’d looked suspicious, and had been on guard ever since, even after he explained the plan.

“If you don’t want to go, I’ll invite someone else,” he said finally.

“It just seems…” she trailed away but he could guess the rest: childish? Trivial? Stupid?

The imagined insults twisted a sneer over his lips, and he was ready to give her his opinion when footsteps pattered down the corridor. His body tightened when he recognized the familiar cadence.

Anyone but him.

Griselda turned to look as a redheaded vampire came around the corner, hands in his pockets. His hair stood at odd angles, like a punk rocker, and his faded jeans and logo t-shirt were straight from a music video.

He has no class.

The newcomer lit up enthusiastically. “Well hello you two! Having a clandestine meeting?”

“In the corridor?” Greneth snapped impatiently.

“Seems as good a place as any.” He stopped next to Griselda. Shorter than her, he had to tip his head up to wink at her. “If you’re not having a secret meeting with him, you could always have one with me.”

Griselda rolled her eyes and stepped away. “No thank you, Verchiel.”

“Are you sure? I think I’m free.” He made a show of checking his neon wristwatch. “Yep. Nothing going on.”

“I’m sorry.” She took another step away. “I’m going with Greneth. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get my wallet.”

She hurriedly unlocked the door to the Executioners’ private hallway and disappeared inside.

Verchiel gave a melodramatic sigh. “Looks like you won this round, buddy.” He winked, and added in an almost whisper, “You’re welcome,” before he headed the way Griselda had gone, chuckling as he disappeared.

Greneth glared after him. Did Verchiel expect him to believe that he’d purposely taunted Griselda so she’d accept his invitation? Absurd. It was the kind of thing the redhead did all the time; pretending that he’d been planning some specific outcome from the beginning, as if it was an excuse for his inane behavior.

I’m not falling for it.

Griselda returned a minute later, a purse draped messenger style around her. She hesitated, then with a resolute nod – maybe to herself – she stepped up next to him. “I assume you’re driving?”

“I’d planned to. Unless you’d rather?”

“No. I’d hate to take it away from you,” she said and marched ahead of him towards the elevators.

He rolled his eyes. Maybe this wasn’t as good an idea as he thought.

***

Griselda sat in passenger seat and eyed the paper pine tree swinging from his rear view mirror. “New Car Scent?”

He tugged his tailored leather jacket to give his arms more room to move. “It’s better than pine.”

She leaned closer and sniffed the air freshner. “It doesn’t smell like a new car.”

“Not really. I think it’s supposed to smell like leather.”

“And does it?”

When he didn’t answer immediately, she leaned close, her lips near his neck. He stiffened as a thousand ideas ran through his mind, none of which involved air freshners or haunted houses. But, she only sniffed and drew back again.

“It doesn’t.”

“I suppose not,” he mumbled as he dropped the car into gear. Despite the air freshner, the only scent in his nose was her perfume; not weak and flowery, but spicy like the autumn leaves outside. Somehow it suited her.

He sneaked a sideways glance at her, at the way the sweater hugged the curve of her breasts, and the way little wisps of hair tickle the back of her neck.

“Hey!”

He slammed the brakes in time to miss hitting the closed garage door. He muttered something about idiots who closed it, even though he knew it was procedure, and climbed out quickly to open it. When he was back in the driver’s seat, she raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“You’re sure you want to drive?”

“I’m fine,” he snapped and slammed the gas hard enough to squall the tires.

He expected a reprimand, instead she rolled her eyes and dropped back into her seat. “If you say so.”

After several miles of silence, Greneth turned the radio on. Local stations played country music that he skipped over. When she stopped him on a particularly whiny song, he ground his teeth. The warbly lyrics lamented a life of misery but he bit back his comments when he noticed she was singing along to it under her breath.

“I didn’t know you liked this kind of music.”

“I like a little bit of everything,” she said.

***

He had to stop at a gas station to get directions to the haunted house. The attendant was an acne spotted teen who smelled like marijuana and greasy hair.  Like a rabbit, the kid seemed to sense a potential predator. Without meeting Greneth’s eyes, he mumbled a handful of disjointed street names. Greneth rewarded him with a fanged smile, that made the kid jump, and mutter, “Uh, cool teeth, man,” before he scurried to the back room.

Greneth was still chuckling when he dropped back into the driver’s seat.

“You look happy?” Griselda folded up the vanity mirror.

“Is it my imagination, or are modern humans stupider than they used to be?”

“Anyone in particular?”

“Just that attendant. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” He started the car and backed out of the space.

“Did you at least get directions?”

Greneth stopped from snapping back a sarcastic reply. “Yes.”

“So this haunted house…what is it exactly?”

To be honest, he wasn’t completely sure, but it was a little late to admit that. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, is it a real house that is supposed to be haunted?”

“It can’t really be haunted. There’s no such thing as ghosts, only silly superstitious people.”

It took her a second too long to respond, and he glanced to see her lips pressed tightly together. Finally, she said, “How can you be so sure?”

Shit. How was he supposed to know she was one of them? She seemed more down to earth than that! Though it was amazing sometimes what strange superstitions vampires held on to from their mortal days. He’d given up his own religion long ago, not the he’d ever believed in it whole heartedly anyway, and with it had gone all the ridiculous beliefs. There were no angels, no demons, and no ghosts.

“Because it doesn’t make sense for some mysterious spirit entity to hang around terrorizing people.”

She crossed her arms. “Why doesn’t it? If someone died suddenly, their spirit might not know they’re dead. Or maybe they know it, but are so determined to finish something that they can’t let go of this world.”

“This world. Like there’s another one!” Her expression hardened, and he realized he was getting dangerously close to religious territory – a place he knew better than to go with anyone. Though it seemed logical to him that all vampires were atheists – how could they seriously believe a god existed after everything they’d seen and done? –many weren’t.  He didn’t know Griselda’s affiliations, and right now he didn’t want to find out. Better to stick to the ghosts.

“All right. Have you ever seen one?”

“Yes, actually.”

“See? I – oh.” It wasn’t the answer he’d anticipated, and he had nothing ready. “Well…um…really?”

“Yes, really.” She rolled her eyes and turned her face to the window.

Looking at the back of her head, Greneth saw his dreams for a good evening slipping away. “And? Are you going to share the story or what?”

“No, I’m not.” She turned back to glare. “You’re only interested so you can disprove it.”

“How could I disprove it? I wasn’t there.”

She scoffed. “That doesn’t stop you non-believers. You’re all the same.”

Silence ticked by while he tried to think of a way to salvage her mood, and their date. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you’ve had this fight before?”

“Several times,” she said coldly. “And I’m not interested in having it again.”

He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and looked for the right words. “But it doesn’t have to be a fight like the other times. I’m genuinely interested in your…experience.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

He stopped at a red light and turned to her with his best serious expression. “I mean it. I really am interested.”

“I doubt it.” Despite the harsh words, her tone and eyes both softened. “I’ve seen several. The first was when I was a little girl in Germany. My grandmother was very sick and we weren’t allowed to visit her or bother her. Then, one night, she came to see me. She sat on the edge of my bed and told me that she had to go away, but that I shouldn’t cry too much. That I should be good and help my father – my mother was already gone by then. Then, she sang a lullaby to me until I fell asleep. The next morning, when I told my father about it, he turned red in the face and said it was impossible. When I insisted, he told me that Oma had died in the night, and punished me for lying.”

Greneth strangled back his disbelief. Rather than a spiritual visit, it was more likely the wishful dream of a sad little girl, but he knew better than to say that. Instead, “That’s…much…nicer than most ghost stories.”

“You mean less scary?” she asked. “I have a few of those, as well.”

“I’d be interested to hear-” he broke off as a large parking lot came into view. Past rows of cars was a strip mall. Some of the stores were brightly lit, their neon signs proclaiming things like sandwiches and tattoos. “Hmmm. This is where the kid said to go.”

He pulled in slowly, and Griselda leaned up in her seat, eyes narrowed. “I think it’s in that building. Look.”

He followed her pointing finger to a sign plastered over a set of glass doors. “Bloody Castle of Terror” was written in the same drippy font as the advertisement had been, but if that was it, it certainly wasn’t a house, haunted or otherwise.

A long line of people, mostly teenagers and those in their early twenties, twisted away from the doors and around the edge of the parking lot. As he parked, Griselda shot him an incredulous look. “Just what is this?”

He shut the car off and sighed. There was no way around it. “I have no idea. It just sounded interesting.”

“Perhaps a little more research next time?” When he didn’t reply, she opened the passenger door. “Oh well. We’re already here. We might as well see what it is.”

He gave a soft sigh of relief and followed her out of the sleek black car.

“I suppose we get in line,” she murmured.

“I suppose.” They took their places behind a pair of girls wearing black cat ears and furry legwarmers. If he was a whisperer they wouldn’t have had to wait with the mortal rabble, they could have gone right in. But demon eye powers were useless when it came to persuasion.

Griselda eyed the girls with annoyance and pulled tighter into herself. “It’s a good thing I fed earlier, or this might be a very different night.”

Greneth wondered if it was really such a good thing. Tearing through a crowd of annoying humans sounded like fun to him, but he kept the thought to himself. “So, about the other ghosts?”

“You’re not still on that? Why?”

Because I can’t think of anything else to talk about that’s safe for humans to overhear. “I told you, I’m interested.”

“Somehow I doubt that. But all right. The scariest one I ever encountered was in Massachusetts. We were there on an assignment-”

Greneth shot a sharp look at their surroundings; a silent warning, but she waved it away impatiently. “They were squatting in an abandoned house. After we’d dealt with them, and were ready to leave, we heard someone walking upstairs. I sent an underling up to check. He came back and said there was no one there – just as the footsteps started again. He went back, and returned again with the same report. When the steps started a third time, I went myself. I expected to find someone we’d missed, of course, but when I got upstairs, there in the hallway was a little girl. She was wearing a torn dress, and had blood splattered over her. Under one arm she had a dirty teddy bear. Though there was something wrong with her eyes, I took her for a victim then, and moved toward her, slowly, trying not to scare her. As I drew closer, I realized what was wrong with her eyes – they were gone. There were only dark holes where they belonged. I drew up short, surprised, and the girl screamed, loud enough to make me cover my eras, and charged right at me. Before I could react, she was gone, as if she’d never been there. I looked everywhere, but there was no sign of her, only a dirty teddy bear in one of the old bedrooms, lying alone in the corner.”

It was like something from a movie, and a bit too Hollywood to believe, though he had no explanation for it. That mortal brains manufactured hallucinations and false memories was accepted, but the immortal brain was usually sharper. He couldn’t come up with something that would make a vampire see things like that.

Unless it was a defect she brought over from mortality.

He knew better than to say that, so instead asked, “What did you do?”

She shrugged. “What was there to do? I took the teddy bear and we left.”

“You took the bear?”

“Why not? I thought perhaps if I had it the girl would come back, and I could find out what had happened to her, but she never has. I suppose she must be attached to the house.”

“And you took her only friend away,” he joked.

Griselda’s forehead creased. “I know. I’ve thought of that; even thought about taking it back, but I’m not sure the house still stands.”

Oh brothers. “You could always check. That would be an interesting vacation.”

“I’d rather spend a vacation being left alone somewhere. Not that we’re likely to get a vacation.”

He couldn’t argue with that. Despite being so-called elite, they got very little in the way of benefits, as the mortals would say.

A loud speaker crackled and a voice boomed over it, “Do we have a group of two? Group of two, come to the front of the line.”

That was their cue. Greneth grabbed Griselda’s hand and dragged her to the doors, the cat ear girls on their heels. Though he expected Griselda to pull away, she didn’t, and they arrived at the front of the line, her hand still in his.

The man at the door – dressed in an oversized top hat and bizarre clown makeup – looked them over. “Group of two?”

One of the teen girls leaned up from behind them. “We were in front of them.”

The guy looked them over, then looked Griselda over. The gleam in his eyes said she was more to his liking. “Sorry, kiddies, they beat you to the door. Better luck next time. You two,” he nodded to Greneth and his date. “That’s five dollars each.”

Greneth reluctantly let go of Griselda’s hand to pull out his wallet. He handed over the cash, and the weird clown grabbed his hand. He started to growl, but the guy stamped something on him and moved to Griselda before he had a chance.

“There you go. Now, watch your step and beware the ghouls.”

He gave a long, theatrical laugh as he ushered them through the doors into a tiled lobby. Makeshift walls consisted of large black drapes, and crimson was splattered across the floor. Blood? No. The smell was wrong. It smelled…he wasn’t sure what it smelled like, but not like blood, anyway.

A group of people stood in little bunches, pointed toward a red painted door and a woman wearing a nurses costume, spotted generously with more fake blood. She did a quick head count and stretched bright red lips into a smile that looked wrong. “Welcome to the Castle of Terror. Please stay on the path, do not wander into any areas marked “Private”, and if you don’t touch the performers, they won’t touch you. Good luck.”

Greneth frowned. Performers? Path? What in the world was this?

He looked to Griselda, but she only stepped ahead of him, following the group of humans through the red door into a narrow hallway.

Greneth sighed and joined her. As he stepped over the threshold, the nurse gave a sinister laugh and slammed the door, barely missing his elbow. He glared back, but let it go. He didn’t want to get left behind.

He caught up to Griselda and moved slowly with the group. The hallway – whose walls were made of more black drapes – narrowed until they could only walk single file. Loud noises filled the air; metal clinking, a ghostly moan, maniacal laughter. He looked over his shoulder more than once, trying to figure out where the sounds were coming from, and what was causing them.

The humans in front seemed just as nervous, if not more so. Maybe they sensed that real killers walked the hall with them, or maybe they knew something he didn’t.

Like what’s going on.

And then the lights went out, plunging the group into darkness.  The humans screamed and shuffled to a dead stop, crashing into one another with even more cries. Thanks to his vampire eyes, Greneth could see perfectly fine, but the lack of light was disconcerting. Humans needed it, and this was an amusement meant for them. Wasn’t it? He could sense them, smell them everywhere. Behind him, in front of him, to both sides of him, most unseen, but there, somewhere. So many that he couldn’t figure out where any of them were.

Something roared to life on the right, and Greneth spun to see a man step from between the curtain walls, carrying a chainsaw. With a snarl, Greneth readied to attack, when the lights snapped back on. The chainsaw wielder laughed and lunged at the humans, who screamed and raced away, tripping and stumbling in their terror.

The man laughed heartily and lowered the saw before he spotted them. He lifted it menacingly, then chuckled. “Harder to scare are you? Don’t worry, they’ll get you.”

Before Greneth could respond, he disappeared behind the curtain again, and the chainsaw sputter to a stop.

“What-?”

Griselda rolled her eyes and grabbed his arm. “Come on!”

He let her pull her down the twisting corridor, pausing only to dodge a clown splattered in more fake blood. A chorus of screams up ahead said that there was something more coming, and when they finally caught up to it they found what looked like a dungeon. A cage along one wall was stuffed with gory dummies, and torture devices held fake victims.

Before Greneth could ask what the humans had been screaming about, one of the caged dummies slammed into the bars with a shriek. Greneth jumped back, barely missing a grasping hand.

“Help us!” the prisoner moaned, not dummy, but human.

A second further down banged the bars and hissed, arms shooting out to try to snag them.

Griselda pulled Greneth trough the room and back into a snaking corridor heavy with shadows. Circus music drown out the weird sound effects, and they stumbled into a room hung in striped cloth, like a circus tent. Three clowns, all tattered, dirty, and dotted in more of that fake blood were in the center. Two juggled severed dolls’ heads back and forth, tiny unblinking eyes staring as they sailed through the air. The third, a girl in a tutu, did slow ballet moves, grinning with a mouth full of pointed teeth. Shadows writhed on the walls, and strobe lights flashed.

Suddenly Griselda leapt with a screech, hand to her back as if she’d bene touched. Greneth spun, instinctively ready to kill, and saw a fourth clown, laughing and waving what looked like a rotten banana.

Griselda gave him a hard look, and dragged Greneth out of the circus room, and into more twisty corridor. Colored lights flashed, red, blue, purple, and smoke rolled from the sides, filling the make-shift hallway with fog.

Greneth pulled his date to a stop in the midst of the rolling cloud. “Are you all right?”

She blinked at him, like he was an idiot. “Of course I’m fine. It was just a man in makeup with plastic fruit.”

He gritted his teeth. “I meant are you…upset?”

“Why would I be upset? This is the point of the haunted house, isn’t it? To make people scream?”

As if on cue, the group they’d long ago lost shrieked in the distance.

“It appears so.”

“Then we’re getting the experience we paid for. Now come on, before we’re completely lost.”

He followed her through the fog, and then past a dining table set with cracked dishes. Serving ware was filled with fake internal organs. The centerpiece of the macabre banquet was a silver platter with a still beating heart surrounded with lettuce leaves.

Greneth snickered. “That’s not even remotely close. Look, it’s the wrong color, and three times the size. It wouldn’t even fit in a human’s chest cavity.”

“The lungs are pretty close, though,” she pointed to another tray.

From there, the haunted house led through several other surreal scenes; a mental hospital complete with electroshock therapy and screams, an operating theater presided over by a mad surgeon, a room of hanging limbs, and on and on. Despite the cheesiness of it all, Griselda jumped and squealed, more than once leaping into Greneth’s arms. The first time she pulled away immediately, but each time she stayed just a millisecond longer.

At this rate I might get a hug in a year.

With each room, and each scare, Griselda grew more eager, dragging him from horror to horror, until they reached a set of heavy double doors.

Greneth frowned. “Are we supposed to-”

He didn’t get the sentence finished before she threw the doors open and dragged him into a dark room. Greneth could see through the gloom, to a heavy Victorian bedroom, complete with a curtained four poster bed. There were people, poised and ready, waiting for the right moment to move.

The doors shut behind them with a bang that made Griselda jump. Greneth caught her, and as the lights came up he expected her to pull away. But she stayed, her heart racing and her eyes glowing with excitement.

A soundtrack of moans started, and Greneth saw the advertised vampires at last. A count-like figure sat in a heavy chair, and three scantily clad vampiresses, mimed licking blood from a fake corpse spread out on the bed.

One of the girls turned to them and hissed, flashing oversized fake fangs.

The count smiled – another set of plastic teeth – and asked with a thick accent, “Vould you like to join us?”

Griselda shook her head, as if clearing her thoughts, and grabbed Greneth’s hand.  The count’s laughter followed them out of the room and into the corridor. The path twisted away, but Griselda pulled him through a break in the curtains instead.

He glanced at the undecorated area; a bare brick wall and a tangle of extension cords that snaked away. “I don’t think we’re supposed to-”

She knocked him back against the wall, her voice a low purr. “It wasn’t marked private.”

One look into her gleaming eyes silenced his arguments. “You’re right. It’s not.”

She growled low and hungry, then pounced. Her body pressed against his and her fangs sliced through his neck before he’d even registered the tickle of her breath.

He gasped as the world slipped away, replaced by a red tinted world. Eagerly he bit through her sweater and into her shoulder. Her blood filled his mouth, bringing with it the flickering phantoms of her memories. He saw though her eyes for a moment, saw the blurry distorted images of a small house, an old woman – her grandmother? – and an angry man with meaty fists and tired eyes.

He felt her squirm against him and he let it go, moving past it, and deeper into more primitive recesses, where the center of pleasure lay. He heard her gasp as he mentally pressed at her center, like fingers stroking her most sensitive spot.

She ground against him, and reciprocated. The mental caresses were like lightning dancing over his skin; sparking, burning, fading before the pinch of pain could turn from ecstasy to agony.

An image popped in his head, clear and sharp; it was the fake vampiresses from the last room, no longer fake but imagined real, their tongues stroking a writhing body. Blood was smeared over naked abs, and down to muscled thighs. No, it wasn’t those girls, but two others, one with dark bobbed hair and the other with a spill of blonde, and lustful, cornflower blue eyes.

The scene exploded in the shudder of Greneth’s orgasm. Griselda followed a second later and collapsed against him, breathing raggedly. His arms wrapped around her heaving body and he closed his eyes. The last scene hung behind his eyelids; Senya and Griselda, half naked, wrapped around an unknown man, his hot blood painted on their breasts, and dripping down their chins.

Griselda took a deep breath and pulled free of his hold. Without comment, she tucked strands of her fallen hair up, her eyes on her feet, on the wall, and then on the ragged bloody hole in the shoulder of her sweater.

Greneth touched his still bleeding neck, then uncomfortably tugged his tailored coat smooth. “About that…I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly. “Let’s finish this.”

She darted through the curtains again. He watched the cloth swing back and felt something cold settle in the pit of his stomach. He’d had encounters like this before; quick, hot, intense, and over in an instant, but usually his partner had a smirk, a wink, some sign that they’d enjoyed it.

Something more than a furtive glance as they ran away.

He shook it away and followed. There was no sign of her in the twisting hallway, so he hurried on. A room hanging with skeletons was empty, as was another smoke filled stretch of hallway. Dark curtains had a glowing exit sign over them, and he burst through the tatters to find the other side of the tile lobby, separated from the beginning by those large black curtains.

Griselda was already at the exit. She cast a look back over her shoulder before she shoved her way outside.

A man dressed as a monkey shoved a flyer at Greneth, but he pushed it away with a growl and rushed after her. He pushed through a crowd of laughing teens, to see she’d already made it to the car. For a moment his instincts told him to run to catch up, but then his pride kicked in. He didn’t run for anyone, let alone someone acting as bizarre as she was. She was the one who’d initiated it, so to act like she hadn’t wanted it now…

What do you expect? She believes in ghosts for crying out loud.

He straightened his shoulders and took his time getting to the car. She waited next to hit, her arms crossed, and didn’t meet his eyes even as he unlocked the doors.

The ride home was silent. He snuck glances at her from under his eyelids, but she was turned away, her attention focused out the window. Her stiff body was drawn away from him, her hand occasionally sneaking up to cover the wound on her shoulder, as if trying to manually press it into nonexistence.

When they parked in The Guild’s garage, she was out the door before he had the motor shut off.  As she dashed away between the parked cars, he called after her, “Gee, I had fun Greneth! Thanks for taking me! You’re welcome, Zelda!”

He muttered a few choice words under his breath, and kicked the tire of a nearby car for good measure. This wasn’t the way the night was supposed to end. The haunted house wasn’t supposed to be like that. It was…well, he didn’t know what it was supposed to be, but something less exciting than that. Something amusing, that left them laughing all the way home, so that they could walk back to the Executioners’ block lost in conversation – a conversation they’d have wanted to continue into one of their apartments. And afterwards, she wouldn’t have run away.

Growling low, he dropped down the ladder and then down a corridor and past a pair of nervous guards. When one looked at him twice, he snapped at him, enjoying the way the vampire recoiled.

That’s what I should have done to the humans in the stupid Castle of Terror. I should have shown them what real fear was!

Greneth took the elevator to his floor and stormed to the Executioner block. He let himself inside and was nearly to his door when Verchiel stuck his head out. “How did – That bad?”

Greneth snarled. “It’s none of your business!”

“Wow! So touchy.” Verchiel padded out into the hallway. “What happened?”

With another growl, Greneth jammed the key in the door lock, and shoved it open.

Verchiel winced. “Oh wow. But hey, you got lucky.”

Greneth spun on him, snatching for the front of his shirt, but the redhead evaporated and reappeared a few feet away. “Don’t take it out on me!”

“Get out of my head, before I rip your heart out and show that goddamn haunted house what it’s supposed to look like!”

“Hey, hey! Sorry.” Verchiel held his hands up. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think she’s mad at you. I think she’s more likely embarrassed. You might try talking to her.”

“It’s none of your goddamn business!”

Greneth stormed into his apartment and slammed the door. If he had to look at that idiot for one more second, he’d kill him, right there. Why Malick had ever made him an Executioner was beyond him.

“Moron.”

Greneth flung his coat over a chair and stomped into the bathroom. He took a shower, but it did little to settle his irritation. As he flopped in bed, he wasn’t sure who he was really irritated at. Himself, or Griselda.

Or Heather.

He rolled over and pressed his face into the pillow, as if he could suffocate the memory. He hadn’t thought of her in a long time, at least not when he was awake. He could still see her, etched perfectly in his immortal memory. Long red hair, a sprinkle of freckles, and those strange eyes, one brown and one cornflower blue, like Zelda’s.

In his memory she smiled and turned away, face upturned to the moon. He’s loved the way the light traced over her skin, the shadow it painted between her breasts. He’d loved the way she smelled, the soft way she purred like a contented kitten in his arms, the way she always enjoyed the rain.

The way she loved me. Until the day she didn’t.

He hadn’t noticed the waning of her affection, or else he’d pretended not to. He was only a guard then, but The Guild kept him busy enough that he could ignore it. He’d come home to her, flecked in the blood of another vampire, and taken her before she had a chance to even say hello. When he’d finished, she pulled away, her eyes everywhere but him as she pressed a hand to her bleeding neck. He’d seen it on her face, in her stiff posture, in the way she wouldn’t look at him. All the million moments he’d ignored leapt into crystal clarity, and though he was no mind reader, he saw to the core of it all, to the core of her.

She doesn’t love me anymore.

Even now he could feel the shadow of that crushing moment, feel the unneeded air stolen from his lungs, feel the sick ice that froze his insides.

“I’m sorry,” was all she had to say. “I’m sorry.”

So am I.

“You’ve changed,” she told him later, while she packed her dresses. “You enjoy killing too much. We may be vampires, but we don’t have to revel in the blood.”

Of course we do. What else is there?

And that’s what he’d told her. When she tentatively suggested love, he’d laughed. Long and loud, and when tears sprang into her eyes he laughed harder. It was a laugh of fury, not humor, but she wasn’t a mind reader and he didn’t tell her. How could he?

What was I supposed to do? Tell her that she broke my heart like some weeping school girl?

And now there was Griselda, eyes darting away, hand pressed to her bleeding wound as if she was ashamed.

At least she didn’t apologize.

***

Greneth rose the following evening, dressed, and drank a draught of blood from the refrigerator. He shook the container and admired whatever they did to it to stop the congealing. If only they’d had that years ago.

With no messages waiting, it seemed he had a day off. The door beckoned, with the promise of a thousand entertainments scattered in the citadel’s public areas, but he couldn’t make himself go through it. He didn’t want to see what else might be out there. Verchiel. Or Senya.

Or Griselda.

He flipped the TV on and tried to feign interest in the shows. Most were too stupid to bother with. He landed at last on a music channel. Videos flashed by with made up men in leather, woman bound in chains, cut up dolls.

It looked too much like the haunted house, and he shut it off and threw the remote across the room. This was ridiculous. He was going to have to leave his room eventually, see her eventually. He might as well act like a man and get it over it.

Despite his resolution, he took extra time dressing and rebrushing his already perfect hair. Out of excuses, he charged out into the empty corridor. He spun both directions, then strode around the square shaped hallway, to Griselda’s door. He raised his hand to knock, then hesitated. He could smell her inside, or thought he could. Was this really a good idea? Going out and bumping into her was one thing, but purposefully hunting her down? That was something else entirely.

Stop being a child!

With that self-rebuke, he pounded on the door. Silence greeted him, and a small flame of relief flashed in him. Maybe she wasn’t there, after all. Maybe-

He heard someone move, heard the soft sound of feet walking the door.  As he could smell her, he knew she could smell him, that she knew who her visitor was. Maybe she wouldn’t want to see him either. Maybe she wouldn’t open the door.

As if to prove him wrong, the lock clicked, the knob turned, and the door swung in. She stood in the opening, her blonde hair down around her shoulders, wearing a free-flowing dress of blue that ended at her knees and matched her eyes.

“Greneth.”

They stared at one another, until she dropped her gaze, nervous hand still playing wth the doorknob. “Look, about last night…I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry.

So much for not apologizing.

He stepped back and held up a hand. “Forget it.”

She looked up sharply as he turned to go. “Wait. It’s-“ She made a low growl and grabbed his arm. Before he could react she dragged him inside and slammed the door.

She released him and stepped back quickly, wringing her hands. He’d seen her apartment before, even been inside. On those occasions it had been clean to the point of weirdness, but today it was a mess. Scattered magazines, knickknacks laying at odd angles, a broken glass. Had she had some kind of temper tantrum?

She snarled again, more to herself than at him, and finally snapped, “Look, I know I made an idiot out of myself, but I’d rather you not tell anyone.”

He blinked from the mess to her. “What?”

She glared. “Don’t play stupid. I know how men work, how they high-five each other and snicker. How they brag about their conquests.” He hands balled into fists. “I’m not a goddamn conquest!”

Greneth eased away from her anger, sliding along the green painted wall. “I never said you were.”

“Right. That wasn’t what you had in mind when you took me to that ridiculous place? And don’t pretend you didn’t. That’s why you humored my ghost talk, wasn’t it?” She tossed her hair and bored her gaze into him, her eyes like two burning lasers seeking the truth.

“Well…” he licked his lips and tried to decide how much to admit. “I won’t say I hadn’t considered something like that, who wouldn’t if they were out with you? But not like that! And I didn’t plan on telling anyone, or high-fiving anyone, or…or whatever.” When she didn’t immediately try to kill him, he added, “And I didn’t humor your ghost talk just to have sex with you. It – it was interesting.”

“You’re lying.” She stepped closer, eyes narrowed, as if she was focusing those truth seeking lasers into razor sharp points.

“I’m not. Really. Just because I’ve never seen…I mean there was a time we didn’t believe in vampires, huh?” He tried a smile, but it faltered under her glare and he surrendered. “Look, I’m sorry if you think that’s all I was after. Sure, I was hoping it might go that way at the end, but I thought we’d get home first, and I didn’t plan for it to end with you stomping off. Maybe staying awhile, waking up today and…I don’t know, but not running off and acting like I’m some bad guy who took advantage of you.”

“I never said that!”

He pushed away from the wall. “You don’t have to. It’s pretty obvious from the way you’re acting. Forget it. I have other things to do.”

He turned for the door when she grabbed him by the back of his shirt, he spun, readying for an attack, but instead she pressed him back against the wall and covered his mouth with hers. He froze, eyes wide, hands in the air as her tongue dove into his mouth. Coppery tasting, like the blood they drank. At the flavor, he melted around her, pulling her into him, tipping her head back to delve his own tongue past her lips.

She moaned in her throat, and then wrenched free, leaving him blinking in confusion. She stood back, and he waited for her craziness to swing back, for a slap or a shout. Instead she just stared at him, calculating.

“I don’t need a boyfriend.”

He blinked at the statement. “Um…all right.”

“I’ve had boyfriends. They’re a complication.”

He nodded, trying to puzzle out where her lunacy was headed.

“And I’m not going to be the topic of the boys’ club. No bragging around, or making a big deal out of…whatever.”

Was she setting ground rules? It sounded like it, but ground rules for what?

She tapped her foot, hands on her hips as if expecting a reply, so he finally mumbled an agreement.

“Fine.” She turned to the mess and fished her purse from between the couch cushions. “Are you driving or am I?”

He stopped from scratching his head like an idiot. “Driving where?”

She muttered something in German that sounded like an insult. “Back to the haunted house. If you’re taking me out, it might as well be somewhere we know is fun.”

Greneth was still confused, but it didn’t seem worth discussing. He was smart, he could figure it out as they went.

Hopefully.

*****

Next week is Griselda’s story. How fun!

And now for guesses!

Topic: Sallon

Picture: Trevor

1.ruby red lips 2. three way 3. bite 4. bauble 5. want a kiss? 6. why does this make me think of twilight? 7. Or rocky horror picture show. 8. That at least makes sense. 9. Just a taste 10. this one is hard 11. I bet Jonathan guesses it 12. Maybe not. Maybe his voodoo is not that strong. 13. Mine sure isn’t. 14. I mean – no voodoo here. 15. Um…the taste of money 16. a taste for the finer things 17. not for children under three. 18. small parts they could swallow. 19. that was lame. 20. I really have no idea. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogophilia 30.10: Franklin Part 4

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

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 31.10 Topic – Vintage Lies
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts) Incorporate a lyric from the rock group Genesis
Easy (1 pt) Include a scent

Jonathan has been pretty busy lately, and is apparently out of rubber chickens (he did tag me on facebook with a shop in New Orleans that I believe sells new ones. I assume he’s hinting for a Christmas gift.) so he didn’t get to use his magic voodoo last week. Without it, I was able to swoop ahead of him and snatch the jacket! Bahahaha!

And now on to the story. This segment is kinda long. I was going to end it earlier, but Martien and Commander K wanted a fight scene, so I had to go all the way to the end.

WARNING: If you have not read Shades of Gray there are HUGE spoilers here!

***

Franklin pushed away the past and met the others near the house. Senya, phone pressed to her ear, motioned them into the vehicles.

She hung up and swung into the passenger seat. “The Execution Council is en route.” She looked over her shoulder. “We’ll park just down from the den and arrive on foot to prevent a surprise attack from them. The drive will be significant – more than an hour.”

Greneth elbowed Zuri for more space. “Why didn’t we stay closer?”

Senya scoffed. “Because we have no hosts that live nearby. Oren’s coven has been in the same place since before the Civil War, and his territory is well known. There have been incidents with those who get too close.”

She tossed a folder back. When Greneth only glanced at it, Franklin snatched it. He scanned the contents; amended lists of known coven members and various reports from over the years. The oldest were handwritten, then done with a typewriter, and finally neatly printed from a digital source.  Just as Senya said, Oren’s coven claimed a large territory and defended it fiercely. Almost as if they had something to hide.

No wonder there are rumors.

Still, there were no records of them being random aggressors, or participating in anything like a kidnapping.  Though Oren and Claudius had come in contact with one another several times in the past. From what he could see, Claudius had once lived nearby. Still, there were not hostilities until a dot matrix printed report said that Claudius had filed a complaint. Oren’s sister and one of Claudius’ coven fought over a man, and the later was killed. The complaint was full of flowery  arguments, vintage lies that told a story a handwritten note denied. An Executioner  – Verchiel by the handwriting – had deemed the fight legal, commented that Claudius was known to over exaggerate, and added that no legal action would taken by The Guild. Was that what the root of this was?

Franklin closed the folder and handed it back.  If such a small death warranted a war, what did the massacre of your whole family warrant? Should he have killed Kelly?

Not that I didn’t think about it a million times.

With nothing else to do, Franklin turned to thoughts of the upcoming confrontation. He pulled his bag into his lap and dug out a set of daggers and something that looked like a machete in a leather sheath. He tugged it out, double checking that the three square cut notches were clean. They were what gave it the ability to grab a vampire’s heart and rip it out a single move that earned it the title, “heart breaker”.

He jammed it back in the sheath. We’re going to break some hearts tonight, sweetheart.

***

It was almost ten when the vehicles pulled over and they climbed out along the side of the road. Franklin’s instincts said to call Migina a final time, but dismissed it. He’d talk to her when it was over with. She’d only make him promise again that he’d come back alive – a promise he’d already made twice.

The rest of the guards were already waiting, nervous eyes darting to the quiet fields around them, hands curled around various weapons, but there was no sign of the Execution Council.

Senya checked the time impatiently and clicked her phone.  A quick conversation later, she snarled and motioned towards lights in the distance. “They’ll meet us there. We’re to refrain from killing anyone until they arrive.”

Bren gaped. “Are you serious? They want us to…what? Take Claudius’ mate back without killing anyone?  Has Malick gone insane? The Hand of Death is rumored to be there, and the Tormenter. Does he think they’ll hand her over without a fight? Does he think Oren and his coven will-”

Senya scoffed. “It’s because The Hand of Death will be there.  Malick can’t risk us hurting his precious son.”

Greneth frowned. “You’re sure it’s because of Jorick?”

“Their exact words were, ‘Malick has a list of those who aren’t to be killed. The Execution Council will share it with you.’ Whose names do you think will be on it other than Jorick and Kateesha’s?”

“What about Jorick’s fledgling?” Bren asked. “Will he also be exempt?”

“I imagine so, as well as the rest of his bloodline. It’s disgusting.” Senya shook her head. “But no matter. We have a job to do. Let’s do it.”

With a murmur of agreement they headed in the direction of Oren’s den. As a large southern mansion slowly came into view, Franklin turned the orders over. It was disgusting the way the master had favorites, the way the law was enforced when it suited Malick and dismissed when it didn’t. But Malick was ancient – more than two thousand years if the stories were believed – and his age alone gave him the power to rule The Guild.

Senya stopped them at the edge of the property and glanced to Greneth. “I don’t suppose your demon eye ability can see anything useful?”

Greneth drew up. “Of course it does.” He closed his eyes, but as the seconds passed a valley formed between his eyes. “I see a fight. Fire.”

“As if we didn’t know that already,” Senya said with annoyance. “Never mind. If you happen to stumble on a vision of us finding the prisoner so we can cut this short, I’d appreciate it.” She turned to the group and motioned to half of the guards. “Go left with Zuri. You,” she looked to the others. “Go right with Greneth. Use the signal flares if you’re engaged.”

Her favorites – still not in regulation uniform- moved to join, but she stopped them. “With me.” She looked back to Bren and Franklin. “Come.”

Bren gave a mock salute and grinned, nudging Franklin. “She knows who the better men are.”

Senya shot him a look that said to shut up, then headed toward the house.  Lights blazed in the windows, and the scent of immortal life hung heavy, mixed with the smell of humans. No doubt the coven had mortal slaves.

An autumn wind swirled past, carrying their own scent to the mansion’s occupants. Lights blinked out in some of the windows, then stopped abruptly.

They know we’re here.

Franklin drew the heartbreaker from its sheath, holding it at the ready as they crept over a curved drive and leaf littered lawn. He tried to peer through the windows, to guess what the flitting shadows inside were doing. Readying to fight? Hiding their prisoner?  Burying their secret?

They’d nearly reached the porch when the front door swung open. A tall human stared out at them, eyes wide and hands shaking. Senya stormed toward him, flashing the medallion around her neck. “Who are you, human? Where is your master?”

“Ch-Christian,” the man mumbled. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. “My master isn’t home.”

Senya grabbed him and in a smooth motion swung him to his knees, his back pressed against her legs, and her dagger pressed to his throat. “Do not lie to me, human. Where is your master? And where is his prisoner?”

“What prisoner?” Christian croaked.

Noise came from the right, followed by the flash of a flare. A second flash came from the left.

“So they’re ready for us?” Senya demanded, pulling the human’s head back by his hair. “Where is the prisoner?”

Franklin could taste the man’s fear, smell the terrified blood that pounded through his veins, laced with whisky. “What prisoner?”

Another flare went off, and another. With a snarl, Senya drew back the knife and slammed it through the human’s chest. When she ripped it free a spray of crimson was followed by a horrified scream; the scream of death.

Senya kicked the bleeding body away and pushed inside. A foyer led into a portrait lined hallway. A redheaded vampiress dashed through a door, wearing heals and a slinky dress. Sultry eyes flashed fear and then hardened with anger.

“Who are you and by what right-”

Senya brandished her bloody dagger and closed the distance between them. “By right of The Guild. Identify yourself.”

“I don’t have to tell you anything!” the redhead dropped into a fighting stance, her long nailed hands like readied claws.

“This is going to be tedious.” Senya lunged in a move similar to what she’d used on the human. Stronger and faster, the redheaded vampiress twisted free. She grabbed a nearby side table and swung it like a weapon.

“You are not welcome here!”

“We need no welcome.” Bren bounded past Senya. He ducked as she swung the piece of furniture, to hit her across the knees as he swung past her. Her legs buckled and she landed hard on the floor. The table flew from her grasp and smashed on the floor, sending bits flying.

Senya stepped over the mess as Bren held down the struggling redhead. “Bind her, and establish a base outside, well clear of the house.”

He shot her a questioning look, but she only turned to her guards and pointed to one with a bulky bag. “Set the explosives. If we have to do this the hard way, it is going to be spectacularly hard.”

He saluted and moved away, while the redheaded prisoner writhed and shrieked. “You’d better leave before Jorick gets down here!”

Though the name filled Franklin with a secret dread, Senya smiled. “I hope he hurries. I’d like to speak to him.”

“He’ll rip your heart out!” Their prisoner shouted.

“I rather doubt that,” Bren said, applying more pressure on her struggling body.  His prisoner kicked shapely legs, and threw her curly tresses from her face. The fire in her eyes made Franklin think of Migina for a moment; furious and hungry for blood.

Senya’s voice pulled him back.

“Franklin! With me!”

He gave a mock salute and hurried to follow her deeper into the house. He could hear fighting outside, and then the crash of a window.  Was someone jumping in or out?

Either way, they won’t escape us.

A vampiress met them in a room with a piano. Tendrils of black hair had fallen from her updo, and gray eyes flashed fury. “Who are you?”

Senya flicked the medallion around her neck. “You know who we are. Identify yourself.”

The black haired beauty raised her chin a notch. “I am Jesslynn, master of this coven.”

Franklin spoke before he could stop himself, “Master? I understood that was Oren.”

Jesslynn flashed him a cold look. “Oren is my husband. You have not been invited inside. Leave now.”

“That isn’t the way this works,” Senya said. “Where is your prisoner?”

Jesslynn met her eyes, unyielding. “I have no prisoner.”

“Of course you don’t.” She motioned to two of her remaining guards. “Take her to Bren. When enough have joined to guard her, return to me. It looks like we’ll need to play hide and seek ourselves.”

Jesslynn snarled as the guards closed in. Though Franklin glanced back to see her knock one away, he had to hurry to keep up with Senya’s deliberate stride. She moved through rooms, kicking aside furniture large enough to conceal vampires. In a sitting room, Greneth and two guards joined them.

“We found a nest of unmarked humans,” the Executioner announced.

Senya frowned. “You’re sure they’re e unmarked?”

He snickered. “We checked a couple of the women thoroughly. None of them know anything about  a prisoner, of course.”

“Of course.” Senya tapped her fingers. “Tell Bren to oversee a bonfire. We can’t kill the vampires, but unmarked humans are fair game. Perhaps if we burn a few, the others will become more compliant.”

Greneth snapped his fingers and the guards with him saluted and quickly hurried outside.

“We took a few vampires as well.” Greneth fell into step with Senya and Franklin. “Zuri’s done better in that department. I imagine being a titan makes it easier.”

Franklin thought he detected a hint of jealousy in the demon eye’s voice.

“Your own ability should be useful enough,” Senya barked. “That is…”

“Not yet,” Greneth said petulantly.

Senya hefted her bloody blade. “I suppose it’s just as well, now that I’ve decided to enjoy this. Come. We’re still missing our Hand of Death.”

They circled back to the hallway, where they met Zuri. “We’ve rounded up most of the coven.”

“And?” Senya asked.

Zuri shifted his weight. “We found something strange upstairs. A nursery. And children’s toys.”

“Children of the servants?” Senya looked to Greneth. “Did you find a baby or children with the humans?”

As he shook his head, Franklin looked to Zuri, but the big vampire only shrugged.

“Never mind. We’re not looking for children. Have you found Oren or Jorick?” Senya asked.

A voice boomed from down the hall. “You have now.”

Franklin’s eyes swung to the sound. A tall broad shouldered vampire stormed toward them, long black hair fanned out behind like a war cape.  An aura of fury and age emanated from him, weaker than Malick’s but no less similar. Though it had been more than a century since Franklin had seen him, he knew who it was.

Jorick.

“About time,” Senya drawled, hand on her hip. “Where’s your fledgling?”

A vampire stormed through a nearby doorway, hands fists and fangs bared in a snarl. Golden blonde hair, the color of a lion’s mane, fell to his shoulders. The fury in his eyes told his name before he spoke.

“I’m here! What business do you have with us!”

The vampires closed like two angry tigers. Franklin hefted the heartbreaker, threateningly.  Greneth brandished his blades and Zuri his fists. Senya dropped into a defensive stance, and her eyes bounced back and forth between the two . “You know why we’re here. I offered to do this the easy way, but your wife wasn’t interested.”

At those words, Oren’s face wadded in fury and he charged. Senya dodged out of the way, leaving him to crash into Greneth. They fell to the floor, but Oren ripped free before the Executioner could do anything.

Jorick lunged and sent Senya flying into the nearest wall. Migina’s words ran through Franklin’s mind, “Don’t engage them. There will be plenty of smaller fish.”

So much for that.

Senya jerked to her feet, wiping blood from her eyes. “I’ve found them!” she bellowed. “To me!”

“You would need reinforcements,” Jorick sneered.

“I don’t know that I need them, but I see no point in wasting my assets,” she replied. “Don’t forget boys, we’re not to kill them.”

Franklin looked at his weapon and then the vampires. If he couldn’t kill them what was he supposed to do with it? Could he chop off limbs, or would that lad him in punishment for a lifetime?

On his feet, Greneth went for Oren. Franklin weighed his options, as he sheathed the heartbreaker. He couldn’t kill them, couldn’t maim them. With only his hands as a weapon, Jorick’s fledgling  was the safer option. It wasn’t that he was a coward, but…

But I promised.

Oren pounced towards the blonde Executioner, and Franklin took the chance to attack from behind. He slammed Oren across the kidneys, and then in the back of the head. With a roar, his victim swung back to fight him. Greneth used the distraction to trip him.

Franklin jumped to restrain him when someone grabbed him from behind and flung him into the staircase railing. Spindles snapped and he banged his forehead on one of the steps. He pulled free, shaking splinters from his hair. His hand went to his weapon, and again he reminded himself that he couldn’t kill them.

I hate this favoritism.

With a snarl of his own, Franklin grabbed the nearest broken spindle. He charged Jorick, swinging the make shift weapon as a bat. His opponent’s growl sent a shiver through his fury, but he ignored it and swung.

It took him a moment to realize his enemy was no longer there. He skidded to a surprised stop, and looked down to see Zuri holding Jorick down. A titan, Zuri was stronger than even an old vampire who had Malick’s blood.

Oren sprang at them, but Greneth tackled him to the ground in a snarling heap as the other guards charged through the door, some bearing flaming torches.

“You will pay for this!” Jorick seethed through clenched teeth.

Senya, her hair mussed from battle, wiped a smear of blood from her chin. “I doubt that.” A cruel smile flickered over her lips. “I imagine Oren would like to join his wife. Take him outside to the bonfire.”

The amber haired vampire roared, and Senya laughed.

“If she has been harmed-”

“Then you’ll share her fate,” Senya tossed back. “You! Which one of you is a titan?”

A guard with a torch stepped forward. Senya wrenched the flaming wood from his hand. “Help Zuri with our legendary Hand of Death.”

The guard saluted, and another said, “The Execution Council is here.”

“Good. Perhaps we can get the go ahead to deal with this the right way.”

As three guards took possession of Oren, Greneth leapt up, his eyes alight. “The basement! There’s a secret door!”

Oren roared again, and Greneth gave a smug smile. “That reaction gave it away.”

“Gave what away?” Jorick demanded from under Zuri’s straining bulk.

“Where Claudius’ mate is hidden.” Senya snapped her fingers. “Franklin, Greneth, take guards and check. I’ll speak with the council.” She looked at the torch in her hand and thrust it at Franklin. “Burn down whatever you need to.  No one said we couldn’t destroy the den for our trouble.”

Franklin took the flaming wood, then followed Greneth and three of Senya’s mismatched guards.  They wound down a set of stairs to a stone basement.  A row of coffins gave them an approximate count of the coven members – but two small coffins seemed out of place, one even littler than the other. What could need a box that tiny? A cat or small dog?

Or a baby.

Franklin sucked in a breath at the thought. That Oren’s coven had a secret…but such a secret? An immortal child – or children? Not only was it against The Laws, but it was the ultimate act of cruelty, to trap someone in a child state forever, leaving them with an immature body even as their mind tried to develop.  There was a good reason it was illegal, and to do it to a baby…

They stopped next to the boxes. Franklin thought Greneth might have drawn the same conclusion he had, but instead he pointed to the back wall. “It’s behind there. I saw us opening it.”

“How?” Franklin asked.

“I don’t know. I just saw it swinging open. It can’t be that hard.” He forged ahead, and Franklin followed, the torch raised. Firelight danced off the stones as Greneth poked and prodded them. Finally, he grabbed Franklin’s heartbreaker.

“What do you-”

Greneth scraped the blade along the base of the wall, revealing a crack where it met the floor. Franklin shoved the torch at one of Senya’s guards, then jerked the weapon back. He dropped to his knees, and pressed his face near the crack. The scent of human and vampire seeped out. Two…maybe three immortals. But Franklin was starting to doubt it was Claudius’ mate inside.

He stood and motioned the guards. Two of them fell to scraping with their own weapons, while Greneth smacked the stones. At last a soft grinding noise came, and Greneth leapt aside as a narrow door sprang open.

Inside a small dark space was a pile of vampires. Greneth jerked a blonde female from the top of the heap. She hisses and fought, and he flung her at the guards. Franklin didn’t watch them try to subdue her; his attention was stolen by the remaining occupants.

A human woman sat on the floor. In her lap was an immortal child, dark large eyes full of fear, and half beneath him, clutched in the woman’s arms, was an infant.

An immortal infant.

Greneth pulled the boy out of the room, and Franklin hurried to grab the human. She fought him with one arm, but encumbered with the infant her resistance was worthless.

He let her g and she fell back a step, blue eyes darting around the basement. Greneth looked over he, and the thing she held. “Well, well, what is this? Another human slave left as a final defense? Some good you’ll be!”

With a grin he grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back, exposing her throat. Her knee shot out and caught him in the stomach. It was surprise more than pain that made him let go. Free, she grabbed the small boy and raced for the stairs.

Franklin moved to follow, but Greneth held up a hand and nodded to the approaching footsteps. Senya’s feet came into view, followed by the rest of her.

“I can’t wait for her to see this,” Greneth murmured.

To Senya’s credit, if she was surprised about the children, she hid it well. “I don’t think so.”

She reached for the baby, but the human twisted away.

Franklin saw Senya’s amusement fade to impatience. “It won’t do you any good, human.”  She knocked the woman to the floor, barely missing one of the coffins with her head. Franklin moved closer. He could feel the human’s terror, hear her heart pounding, and he knew Senya could too.

The woman’s horror seemed to soothe Senya’s anger, and she snapped her jaws playfully at her victim.

“Let me go!” The prostrate human shouted. “Get off of me!”

Senya smirked and swept to her feet, jerking the baby from her arms. She held it out, and ran her eyes over it. Franklin watched it wave tiny hands and feet, its thin hair tousled curls that would never turn grow thicker.

With a look of disgust, Senya dumped the baby on him. He stared at the pale, squirming things eyes and shuddered. They seemed to see straight through him, into his head, into his soul, but instead of acknowledging the revelations, the babe’s expression was blank, empty.

Soulless.

“Take them to the council to be discussed,” Senya ordered.

“No! Leave them alone!” the human cried. With a roll of her eyes, Senya kicked her in the stomach hard enough to shut her up. “This one is mine.”

Franklin started up the stairs, the baby in his arms. Behind him he could hear the little boy shout, “No! She belongs to Jorick! He’s marked her neck! You can’t hurt her!”

Franklin flinched in surprise, and looked back to see Senya crouch down to check.

“Well, well. The boy tells the truth. It seems Jorick’s got himself a pet.” She dropped her head. “Take her upstairs and see what is to be done with her.”

The Hand of Death with a human pet? That went against the legends. But then, so did his involvement in this. Franklin wished silently that it made sense. Then he wouldn’t feel so uneasy.

Outside, Bren and the guards had built a large bonfire. Around it were gathered the rest of the coven, most retrained or unconscious, and the remaining guards. Hs eyes found Jorick first, the Hand of death, held back by the two titans, both straining against his efforts.  Jesslynn was also restrained, her arms behind her back. Her eyes snapped like the flames of the bonfire, but some of the heat turned into despair when she saw his burden.

As Greneth said, the reaction gave it away.

She’s the mother.

He kept the thought to himself, and looked to the redhead who lay on the ground, her hands tied. He wondered if she was the sister that had caused the trouble to begin with. If he had to choose a woman from the lineup, she’d be the one he’d pick.

Oren fought against his guards, one of the regulars, and the last of Senya’s favorites. The bag he’d carried earlier was gone, and Franklin wondered about the explosives Senya had mentioned.

“Come to join the fun, Senya?” the guard called.

“I wouldn’t miss my favorite part of this.” Louder, she announced, “I’ve brought the last of them.”

The newest prisoners were dropped to the ground. The blonde they’d pulled from the secret room first wrestled and fought like a hellcat as her captors bent and tied her hands. She snarled and snapped, kicking and writhing. The fury in her eyes wasn’t normal, and it took Franklin a moment to figure out what was wrong with it.

There’s no sanity there, he realized. Most anger was tinted with cunning with machinations, but hers was like an animal’s, just raw instinct.

This coven is insane.

The boy crawled to her, and Franklin looked down at his own burden, at the soulless, terrifying eyes. With a shudder, he dumped it on Bren.

“What in the hell is this?”

Franklin didn’t bother to answer, because he had no explanation.

The infant broke its eerie silence to scream, a long, soul curdling wail that drew the agonized attention of its mother. Franklin stepped away quickly. He’d rather guard the hellcat than that thing.

“Is anyone else hiding inside?” Senya shouted.

Franklin cringed and looked to Bren. Had they found Claudius’ mate yet?

As if he sensed the question, Bren shook his head, his nose wrinkled in disgust at the screaming thing in his hands.

“Let them go!” Jesslynn cried.

“That didn’t answer the question,” Bren called over the wails. “I guess we’ll have to take precautions against any surprises.”

One of the guards headed to the house, and Franklin realized what was coming a second before the explosion ripped through the night, sending a shower of bricks and embers.

Franklin swiped burning ash from his coat and looked to Bren. “But Arowenia?”

“She’s not here,” Bren muttered. “They’re getting ready to interrogate the humans about it.”

Franklin followed Bren’s gaze to see guards dragging a human towards the bonfire. A too big maid’s uniform, weirdly comical considering the situation, flapped around her body as she screamed.

Jorick’s human tried to stand, and with a smile Bren kicked her to the ground. “You’ll get yours in a minute. Do you rush to meet death, servant of abominations?”

Senya stopped before them, and looked down her nose at the fallen human. “She is Jorick’s toy, Bren, not one of the others.”

“Jorick’s?” Bren asked. “How interesting. I had no idea! I thought she was the nanny.”

He broke into laughter that was drown out by the burning human’s screams. Though over dramatic, Franklin understood the display. It wasn’t just to scare the human slaves, but also the vampires. Of all the forces in nature, it was only fire that could kill them. They could heal from everything, except having their hearts torn out and being turned to ash, because once you were ash, there was nothing to come back from.

Bren stepped closer to Senya, and Franklin had to strain to hear over the screams. “What did the council say?”

Senya’s good mood slipped. “We can’t kill Jorick, or any of his blood, or any of Oren’s coven, except in self-defense, which seems unlikely at this point.”

Bren looked down at the crying baby. “What about this? And its maker? The penalty is death.”

“I’m going to ask them, now.”

Bren nodded and Senya slipped away, toward two figures who stood in the shadows. Dressed in long hooded cloaks, they looked the part of mystic councilmen.

If only they were more than Malick’s mouthpieces.

He watched Senya’s quick conversation, and saw their slow nods as they acquiesced the punishment. Franklin wondered if they’d still be so agreeable if it turned out Oren, or even Jorick, had turned the monsters.

As Senya started back, the Execution Council moved away, no doubt headed back to their car and then on to wherever they were staying. And why not? It wasn’t their job to do any hard work, just to hand out Malick’s orders and then go sleep comfortably.

Franklin’s bitter thoughts fell away as Bren stepped forward, holding the baby up with one hand and pointing to the little boy with the other. “Who will speak for these abominations? Who will mourn their destruction?”

“No!” Jesslynn screamed.

Bren smiled. “She must be the mother.”

Franklin bit back a sarcastic retort, as Bren pulled up his best pompous face. “You know the laws! Whoever created these monsters shall be punished!”

He walked towards her, swinging the child, and Oren roared, “Leave them alone!”

“Tut, tut. You know the laws. This is an abomination and must be destroyed.” Bren raised his arm, to pitch the infant in the fire, but Jesslynn broke free. She snatched the child from his grasp and pressed it against her breasts.

“No! You can’t! He’s my child! You can’t!”

Franklin shuddered. Better to destroy him than to leave him like that.

But Bren wasn’t horrified, only amused. “You should have thought about that.” He ripped the baby from her by an arm and swung it into the nearest tree. The tiny skull shattered in a spray of blood and brains that rained on everyone within range.

Jesslynn fell to the ground, screaming. “No!”

Bren tossed the remains into the fire. “Bring me the other one!”

Franklin hesitated. Did he mean him, or one of the guards? He felt a wave of burning fury and looked to Oren. The vampire looked more like a beast than a man, struggling with his captors and roaring In wordless fury. Whoever handed that little boy to Bren might as well be the one to kill him, and the look in Oren’s eyes said whoever did that had earned a death sentence.

I did promise Migina.

Franklin stepped back and let one of the guards drag the small child away from the hellcat. As he was pulled to his feet, the mad vampiress snapped her bond. Hands free, she lunged at the guard, fangs tearing through his throat as they fell to the ground.

Franklin jumped towards them in surprise as a spray of blood soaked her. She blinked the crimson form her eyes and clawed at her victim’s chest. Tearing through his uniform and into his skin. With a snap she broke through his ribcage and ripped out his heart.

Franklin was already reaching for her when she abandoned her dead victim and leapt at him. Stronger than her slight frame appeared, she pinned him to the ground, Blood dripped from her face and hair into Franklin’s eyes. He tried to blink it away, and shoved blindly at her.

One of the guards grabbed her arms. Before Franklin could do more than wipe his eyes, she’d flung the guard away and was back, claw-like hand ripping through his lucky red leather.

He grabbed for the heartbreaker at his side, but it was pinned by her leg. With a snarl, he started to roll over – but the crunch came. It echoed through him like an earth quake, followed by a burst of fire in his chest.

He glanced down to see her hand buried to the wrist in his bloody chest. He blinked, uncomprehending, then looked up into her gory face. Her wild eyes stared back, as strange as the baby’s, but not as helpless, not as defenseless.  No, she might die too, but she was going to take them all with her into hell.

As she ripped her hand free, he had a momentary glimpse of his heart bulging between her fingers, clotted with crimson. He saw Senya, a hazy dark shape, saw the flash of dagger as it pierced the hellcat’s back, and then it all melted away and he saw only Migina, her jewel-like eyes glistening with worry.

“Then promise you’ll fight only the weaker ones.”

And he had. Except for that moment in the hallway, he’d kept his word.

I tried, Migina. I really tried.

I promise.

***

And that’s the end. We’ll start a new story next week! It should be Greneth, but I might skip ahead to Griselda or Krill depending on the prompts.

Guesses:

Topic: Barbara

Pic: Christine

  1. blowing smoke 2. telling tales 3. siren’s song 4. siren’s call 5. adrift 6. sea of dreams 7. sea shanty 8. song of the sea 9. wind in their sales 10. the four winds 11. drifting 12. on stranger tides 13. at world’s end 14. Tell no tales 15. sailing 16. little mermaid 17. Part of your world 18. lure 19. I need some of Jonathan’s voodoo. 20. alone

 

Blogophilia 30.10- Franklin Part 3

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 30.10 Topic – All I Wanna Do!!!
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts) Quote William Wordsworth
Easy (1 pt) Quote Margaret Cavendish (Dutchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

All I wanna do is finish this story, but between internet issues and needing to get to bed, I didn’t make it. Plus, I don;t know where to end it. If you’ve read Shades of Gray you know which battle this is leading to. How much of it do I want to rewrite from a different PoV? I mean, how boring would it be for people who’ve read the book? Anyway, I guess I have another week to decide. Meantime, here is what we have for this week:

**

Franklin listened to the first three interviews, but the sameness bored him.  It was almost as if they were rehearsed; even going so far as to use the same phrase: “Michael betrayed the coven to help Jorick and his fledgling.” What might have been interesting – such as why he betrayed them, or why Oren and the Hand of Death had suddenly decided to take Claudius’ mate over an “old disagreement”, or even  a some clue about Kateesha’s involvement  – were topics that Senya and Bren ignored.

I suppose they’re not interested in it.

Claudius skulked in the background, looking angrier and angrier with each passing minute. When Franklin abandoned the interviews, he made a point to walk past the irate vampire and caught a snarled comment to Troy.

“-stop all of this time wasting! If they mean to begin, begin!”

Franklin kept his reply to himself and headed outside. Zuri leaned against the building, arms crossed, eyes closed. He didn’t open them, but still nodded as Franklin stopped next to him.

“The Hand of Death,” he said finally.

Franklin sucked air through his teeth and looked up to the star strewn sky. “And Kateesha, the Tormenter in the same fight.”

“Did you work with them?” Zuri turned reddish-brown eyes on him.

“I was a guard while he was there, though I never worked an assignment with him. I was prompted to Executioner after her revolt.”

Zuri nodded. “I worked with both as a guard, and was made Executioner when she left the first time.”

“You served under her command, then?”

Zuri nodded. “She makes Senya seem sweet. They say women’s tongues are as sharp as two edged swords…everything about Kateesha was deadly.”

“I know. And him…”

They fell silent, and Franklin knew they were both thinking the same thing: five Executioners wasn’t enough.

Not to fight both of them.

***

Senya and Bren finished their interviews, then Senya took time to threaten Claudius one more time before they climbed back in the vehicles. A short trip later and they were at the airfield again.

“The flight should be just over an hour,” Senya told them as they took seats on the plane. “We’ll meet the others and take shelter for the day. Tomorrow night we’ll retrieve his prize, assuming she’s even there.”

“You think he’s lying?” Greneth asked with surprise.

“Claudius? No, though I’m sure he’s withholding plenty about this so-called hostilities. He’s been in trouble several times recently for unlawful wars.” She brandished the folder. “His accounts have even been frozen until it can be sorted out. I imagine that has something to do with taking a month to report the kidnapping. No doubt he’s just as guilty as they are. Why else would there be a sudden escalation in a war that’s dragged on for more than twenty years?”

Franklin cocked an eyebrow. “So we’re not going to get involved?”

Senya scoffed. “We’ll follow our orders. We’ll attack Oren’s den, deal with the occupants, and if Claudius’ mate is there, we’ll take her. If not, it won’t be time wasted – not if the rumors are true.”

“What rumors?” Greneth asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” Senya asked, a hint of mocking in her tone. “They say Jorick’s fledgling keeps a secret.”

“What secret?” Greneth asked impatiently.

She rolled her eyes. “If that was known, it wouldn’t be a secret!”

Bren snickered, and with a huff Greneth turned back to his little red book.

***

They landed in Virginia, where vehicles were waiting for them. They were driven to a local den, where they met up with the other guards.

After a quick call to the Guild, Bren informed them that the Execution Council would meet them tomorrow. “At Oren’s den,” he added with a glance to Senya.

“They’re too spineless to even travel with the warriors,” she said. “It’s a waste of time. It would be better if Malick just gave us permission to kill everyone.”

If we can, Franklin thought.

They bedded down in room with covered windows. Franklin called Migina with a quick update, and promised to be home soon. “It’s just a battle with two legends. How could it go wrong?”

Though it was a joke, he heard the fear echoed in Migina’s voice, “Don’t engage them. There will be plenty of smaller fish.”

“You doubt my abilities now?” he teased.

It took her a moment too long to answer. “No.”

“Then you doubt my word? I promised you I’d return.”

It was another moment before she said, “Just be careful.”

“I will.” He smiled into the phone. “I promise.”

***

Franklin woke just before sunset. In a strange place, he had nowhere to go, so he waited until the others woke to climb to his feet and dust off his coat.

Bren gave one of their hosts a hard look. “Where do you feed?”

“In-in the trees. There’s animals.”

“There are,” Greneth murmured.

Franklin shot him a questioning look, and Greneth repeated, “There are. There are animals. Never mind. Writers are sensitive to poor grammar.”

And so are bad poets, apparently.

Senya checked the app, then told them to feed quickly. “We want to get there early so we have plenty of time.”

Franklin trooped outside and through the trees. He found a fox quickly and used his abilities to freeze it in place. Unlike a whisperer, who could soothe and calm their victims, a puppet master’s target remained completely aware, just unable to control their body, even as their brain screamed in terror.

He emptied the animal quickly and sat back on his haunches, the smell of dead leaves and undergrowth heavy in his nose. With the smell always came the memory of that night. By the time they’d dragged him from under the bed, his family was already dead.  He couldn’t remember exactly what was said, but Kelly had announced something to the effect that they could use a slave. Instead of killing him, they’d taken him with them. He’d escaped once on the way through the dark woods. He clearly remembered running, stumbling, falling face first among the dead leaves. Even now, so many years later, that smell brought back a shadow of the terror he’d felt; a stab of blood scented fear.

Fear Kelly taught him to hide with the lash of a belt.

Or several lashes is more like it.

Franklin pushed away the past and met the others near the house. Senya, phone pressed to her ear, motioned them into the vehicles.

She hung up and swung into the passenger seat. “The Execution Council is en route.” She looked over her shoulder. “We’ll park just down from the den and arrive on foot to prevent a surprise attack from them.”

Franklin pulled his bag into his lap and dug out a set of daggers and something that looked like a machete in a leather sheath. He tugged it out, double checking that the three square cut notches were clean. They were what gave it the ability to grab a vampire’s heart and rip it out a single move, and what had earned it the title, “heart breaker”.

He jammed it back in the sheath. We’re going to break some hearts tonight, sweetheart.

****

Guesses:

topic: Trevor

picture: Rebecca

  1. elements 2. water bending 3. fire and water 4. set fire to the rain 5. burning ice 6. ice candle 7. I bet Jonathan guesses this one. 8. His voodoo skills are strong. 9. If he doesn’t guess it then I’ll know he’s holding back on purpose. 10. or else he ran out of rubber chickens. 11. frozen fire 12. burning cold 13. cold as fire 14. blue light 15. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. 16. cold flame 17. a song of ice and fire 18. freezing in the dark 19. cold comfort 20. drip

Blogophilia 29.10: Franklin Part 2

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

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 29.10 Topic – Lost and Found
**BONUSES:
Hard (2 pts): Include the word “Inuit” or “Eskimo” but not both
Easy (1 pt): Incorporate a Favorite Color

.

Last week we started Franklin, whose story begins during the novel Shades of Gray (If you’ve read the book you’ll know where this is going.  if not, you’ll be surprised.) Franklin and four other Executioners are being sent to deal with a complaint that involves Jorick – the so-called Hand of Death. A former Executioner, Jorick is the fledgling of the Guild’s leader, and a bit of a legend.

Now on to part 2!

***

Franklin climbed inside a vehicle and tried to relax as it thumped over gravel roads to a rural airport. A large rural airport, whose runways had been expanded to handle The Guild’s private jets. Though how all of them were going to fit in one of the jets was a mystery. Franklin was pretty sure that their maximum capacity was twelve.

They disembarked, and Senya answered the question. “The guards will take a plane to Virginia and wait for us. We– ” she motioned to the executioners and her four favorites, “ –will stop in New York first. I’d like to speak to Claudius myself.”

They boarded the planes. Overstuffed seats, small tables, a kitchen and sofa made it look more like a meeting room than a vehicle. Franklin inhaled the scent of leather upholstery and took a seat near a shuttered window. Greneth dropped next to him, the red book open again, pencil between his lips.

Franklin leaned over to see the poem in progress. The mention of an Eskimo had done nothing to help the prose, and Franklin bit back a snicker as he settled in for a quick flight.

***

By the time they landed at a New York airport, Franklin was thoroughly sick of Greneth, his poem, and his artsy airs. The only amusement had been seeing the blonde shoot dagger looks at Bren’s back. Every time Senya leaned close to whisper into Bren’s ear, Greneth’s narrowed eyes got tighter, and a little muscle ticked in his jaw.

Maybe Migina’s right about them?

Franklin made a mental note to mention it when he called her later, and exited the plane. The airport was on the outskirts of a small town whose lights twinkled in the darkness. The facilities lights blazed; runway lights, pole lights, even the windows of the buildings were bright, but there was no other sign of life. No people – or cars – waiting for them.

Senya made an impatient noise and motioned to her guards. As though they were psychic – and maybe they were, Franklin didn’t know their names or their talents – one quickly snapped their phone on and in less than a minute was threatening someone on the other end.

“We expect transportation to arrive immediately,” the guard snapped. “Your coven requested our presence, the least you can do is contribute what is asked of you.”

A few murmured sounds told Franklin that the vampire on the other end had capitulated. The guard hung up and announced, “They’ll be here post haste.”

“They’d better.” Bren crossed his arms. “Claudius may be an old vampire, but he doesn’t have as much political power as he thinks – certainly not enough to make us wait.”

Senya broke into angry agreement, while Franklin nudged Zuri. “This Claudius…Is he the one I think he is?”

“The one who’s been complaining for years?” Zuri asked.

Franklin nodded. “He has a large coven?”

Zuri tugged out his cellphone and opened the Executioner app. A few clicks and a swipe, then he held the phone out for Franklin to see. He skimmed the information:

“Fledgling of Francoise (deceased)… turned in the 1500s in France…immigrated…coven fifty plus…multiple dens… mate, Arowenia…fledglings: Arowenia, Kale…quite a list there. Known associates…known antagonists…Oh wow. Now that’s really a list…Though I don’t see Jorick’s name.”

“He’s new.” Zuri flipped the phone back around. “See this Oren mentioned here? He’s Jorick’s fledgling. They’ve been at it since the 80s, so I’d guess Jorick finally got involved. If he really is involved, that is.”

Franklin nodded as Zuri slipped his phone back in his pocket. He also doubted that the Hand of Death had suddenly come out of retirement for a minor skirmish. But then, stranger things had happened. Maybe he was bored after more than a hundred years lying low?

I would be.

Two vans arrived, one driven by a redhead and the other by a stocky bald guy.  Franklin could sense the alpha attitude from the later, and slipped into the backseat just behind Bren. This was likely to be interesting.

“It took you long enough,” Bren snapped as he got comfortable. “Next time I assume you’ll be on time – as ordered.

The driver scoffed. “Ordered by who, huh? Claudius is my master, and he didn’t say shit to me about picking you up. He probably assumed that with all The Guild’s resources you could handle driving yourselves.”

Bren snarled. “What’s your name?”

The driver chortled. “Troy, fledgling of O’Cuinn.”

“You said Claudius was your master!”

“He’s the coven master. Don’t you guys do your research, or do you just fly in blind?”

“Watch your tone, Troy, fledgling of O’Cuinn, or I may find you an interference.”

Troy fired the van up. “You go right ahead and do that. Then you can drive yourselves.”

They took off, spraying gravel. Franklin glanced to the guard at his elbow, but the vampire didn’t seem amused. He missed Migina. She’d have found the display hilarious.

Bren made a show of removing his gloves in short, choppy motions, then called The Guild to loudly report that they were “-finally en route to the den. Make a note that Claudius did not even provide adequate transportation, despite being ordered to. Also make a note of Troy, fledgling of O’Cuinn as potentially needing dealt with.”

There was more, but Franklin tuned it out to watch silent countryside pass by outside; dark hillsides kissed by moonlight.  He’d seen thousands of similar landscapes, had ridden through them, walked through them, gazed out the window at them. He had dim memories of looking through wavy glass on such a scene, the sound of dogs baying in the background. His mother’s hand rested briefly on his back and she whispered for him to go to bed. There was nothing out there in the darkness. Everything was safe.

How could she know what was really there, hiding in the dark?

The hounds had known – or had at least sensed the monsters. Their howls had fallen away one by one, and then the footsteps came. Franklin had been in bed by then, the rough blanket pulled up over his head. His mother had shushed his trembling, and told him to hide under the bed, her voice shaking with fear. Not that he could remember the sound of her voice anymore, or even what she looked like, only that she’d had the same eyes he did, and the same pointed chin.

The rest of his memories were just as vague. There was the dusty smell under the bed, the sound of his father’s gun firing. His mother’s scream. Then, more footsteps. Finally, a pair of dirty boots had stopped next to the bed. The toes were scuffed. Slowly, knees had bent, and then a hand shot underneath and dragged him out into the open. He’d probably screamed – or maybe he’d been too scared to move. It was hard to say. But that was when he first saw Kelly, the vampire who would become a sort of surrogate father and later go on to give him immortality.

A very twisted surrogate father.

Franklin dismissed the memories as the den came into view. A small, single story brick building squatted in a gravel parking lot, lit by a pole light and surrounded by cars. After skimming Claudius’ description, it wasn’t the kind of den he’d anticipated. A mansion would have been more fitting.

It just shows you can never tell.

They parked and climbed out. Franklin hung back near Zuri while Senya gave them another once over; checking that everyone had made it.

She pivoted towards Troy, her tin lips twisted in a sneer. “And does Claudius have accommodations prepared for us?”

Troy scoffed. “I doubt it.”

“He was ordered to be ready,” Bren barked, earning a hard look from Senya.

“As my…companion stated, Claudius was informed,” she bit out. “I suggest you run and get to him before we do. Make sure he has things ready before we reach him.”

Troy eyed her up and down. “I don’t run for anyone, especially not The Guild.”

Bren snapped angry fangs, but Senya pulled him back. “Later. We have an interview to conduct now.”

She tugged him toward the building, and the others followed. Though Troy sauntered just ahead of them, the redheaded driver hurried inside.  Franklin imagined he was warning his master.

Despite the warning, there was no welcome committee inside, just a narrow hallway with a door halfway down its length, and a set of stairs at the opposite end. Franklin could smell the immortality below; the group of vampires waiting in a cluster. He concentrated and could hear the pitter pat of the redhead’s voice, explaining that the Executioners were there and in “a bad mood.”

Senya stopped at the head of the stairs and called down, “Any foul mood on our part is your fault.” She strolled down, her long black coat sweeping behind her like an evil villainess’ cape. “I assume you have an appropriate excuse?”

Franklin followed Bren down the stairs behind her.  A chandelier, bizarrely out of place, threw patterned light over a large concrete basement.  Several vampires, including the redhead were clustered around a high backed wicker chair. The only piece of furniture in the room, it sat directly under the light, like a makeshift throne. In it sat a vampire who looked no more than nineteen.  Blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and green eyes were hooded by thoughtful lids. They were the kind of eyes that were either calculating your strengths, or else wanted you to think they were.

“Claudius, I presume?” Senya asked, as the last of them reached the floor to stand in front of the young man.

Claudius drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair for a moment, before finally sweeping to his feet. “What are you doing here? I requested you go to Virginia!”

Senya gave an incredulous snort. “Bren, arrest him for wasting our time. The rest of you, back to the airfield.”

Franklin hung back, confused, as Bren closed in on their host and Senya pivoted for the stairs. The young man hopped back a step, face twisted in fury.

“Don’t touch me!”

Senya paused and looked back. “I assume you have an appropriate excuse for why our transportation was not where it was supposed to be?”

The young man tugged at the lace on his sleeves, and sniffed disdainfully. “I’ve never needed to provide transportation before.”

Senya brandished a manila folder. “That’s because you’ve been dealing with an imbecile. They’ve sent the real Executioners this time, and I can assure you that I’m not as forgiving of slights as he is.”

Claudius gave another sniff, then dropped back into the chair. “The question remains: why are you here and not in Virginia? That’s where they’ve taken Arowenia!”

“So you said.” Senya flipped the folder open and pulled out a sheet of paper. “You contacted The Guild the night of the twenty-second, regarding your mate’s kidnapping? It seems she was lost and found?”

“Yes!” Claudius smacked the arm of the chair impatiently. “She is being held at Oren’s den in Virginia! Do I need to raise a party and retrieve her myself? Isn’t that what you’re for?”

Senya dismissed his tirade with an eye roll. “Verchiel has been previously assigned to this case, correct?”

Claudius groaned and leaned back in the chair. “Yes! For all the good the idiot has done! I’ve been stuck with him for years.” He straightened and eyed them. “I’d started to think he was the only Executioner left.”

“It’s safe to say you’ve been unhappy with his performance.”

Though Senya obviously meant it a statement, Claudius took the opportunity to smack the chair again and shout, “Yes! That’s why I refused to speak to him the day before yesterday!”

Senya gave a crisp nod and tugged out another piece of paper. “Regarding your mate-”

Claudius gave a low groan. “Should I start at the beginning? Since you seem determined to waste time by going over every moment of the story? My mate was taken – kidnapped – by Oren, Jorick, and Kateesha, as part of an old disagreement. She’s being kept at Oren’s den, in Virginia, and has been there since June! That’s four months! If you can’t do something in that time-”

“If she was taken in June, why did you wait until July to report it?”

Claudius faltered for a moment and Troy stepped forward, arms crossed. “Not that it’s any of your damn business, but he wanted to give the perpetrators time to bring her back on their own. Claudius is magnanimous like that.”

Claudius cleared his throat and tugged at the ruffle at his neck. “Yes. Of course. Considering one of our own was involved, I thought it best to handle it myself.”

Senya rifled through the papers again and paused to read. “Michael, fledgling of Elsa, and a human slave, Patrick, joined your enemy?”

“If you want to call Oren that,” Claudius said dismissively.

“However you said on the twenty-second that Michael had returned? We’d like to speak to him.”

Troy chortled. “That’s a problem, honey, unless you’re planning a séance. After he confessed, we made sure justice was served. Sniveling little shit.”

“Enough,” Claudius snapped, then looked back to Senya. “Michael was found in Jorick’s company, and taken prisoner by my coven. He confessed to helping kidnap my mate, and named Oren’s den as her prison. He also implicated Oren, Jorick, and Kateesha.” Claudius’ face hardened at the final name. “Why she’s involved is beyond me, except that she and Jorick are on-again off-again lovers.”

“And after Michael told you all of this, you killed him, right? I assume you burned the body and disposed of it properly?”

“Yes!” Claudius cried. “Are you here to find wrongdoing on my part, or to retrieve Arowenia?”

“Both, or perhaps neither,” Senya said coldly. “I’d like to interview any of your coven that was present for– ” she checked the paper again. “For Michael’s interrogation.”

“Or you could leave and retrieve Arowenia while she’s still alive!” Claudius bellowed.

Senya snarled, and Bren stepped forward, a hand up.  His smile looked fake, even to Franklin, but Claudius let the Executioner draw close. “We understand that you’re agitated, and concerned for your mate’s wellbeing. However…” Bren suddenly grabbed Claudius by the lace at his throat. “If you want The Guild involved, you do things our way, got it?”

Claudius’ eyes bulged in fury. His followers shifted uncomfortably, some with fists at their sides, others looking more scared than angry, but none knowing what to do.

Bren released Claudius with enough force to send him back into his chair. “Now. Summon the vampires that need to be interviewed.”

****

Now on to guesses:

Topic: Kim Herndon

Picture: Dahlia

  1. Don’t fence me in 2. robbery 3. up the airy mountain, down the rushing glen 4. we dare not go a hunting, for fear of little men… 5. Nobody ever goes in 6.and nobody ever comes out. 7. escape 8. break in 9. dark skies 10. outside looking in 11. banished 12. the village 13. those are ugly boots. 14. sneaking in 15. I bet Jonathan uses voodoo to get this one 16. the grass is always greener 17. on the other side. 18 greetings from the other side. 19. highwayman – or woman 20. up and over

 

Blogophilia 28.10 – Franklin Part 1

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

  • Ecrits Blogophilia Week 28.10 is a MARVIN Topic – “Tell Us About Your Summer!”
  • **BONUSES:

 

Bonus: Hard (2 pts) Writer’s Choice (use Altar Bridge lyrics)

Easy (1 pt) Writer’s Choice (use the phrase Blood Bath)

Tell us about your summer, you say? Well, I spent most of mine miserable. In June I had swollen lymph nodes. A trip to the new nurse practitioner in town netted some antibiotics, whose name was similar to one I am allergic to (Cephdanir – I’m allergic to cephalexin). however, after reminding her of my allergy, she still said nothing to indicate there would be any issues… Yeah. One week later I was covered head to toe in a horribly itchy rash. A rash that has still not completely faded from some areas (I have really pale, “delicate” skin and any little mark takes weeks to disappear. Often a scratch still shows up as a purple line a month later), though it is gone from my arms and face (yay!). The itching is also gone, and finally the fatigue and malaise are fading, so now I’m trying to run around and get everything done I neglected all summer, including yard work, painting the porches, etc. I still wouldn’t say my summer sucked, though, as there were good moments, like Pokemoning, or seeing Twister at the drive in. All in all, it simply was.

Now, on to the story:

This takes place during the book Shades of Gray :

****

Franklin opened one eye cautiously, trying to feign sleep. Since he was a sun walker, Migina should know he’d woken some time ago, but maybe she wasn’t thinking about it.

That or she’s teasing me.

He watched as she stood in front of the full length mirror, brushing her waist length hair. The ebony strands were a pleasing contrast with her pale caramel skin – a complexion paled by immortality. He would have liked to see her before she was turned; racing over the plains wearing buckskin and feathers. Of course, she’d told him before that it wasn’t really like that. Not that his own experiences hadn’t taught him that. He had run into what they now termed Native Americans before, when he was a fledgling. Still, he liked to think of her in the Hollywood costumes, anyway.

Or better, out of them.

Her tone was cool, and she didn’t bother to turn around when she said, “I know you’re awake.”

He tried to fake it a moment longer, then surrendered. “What gave it away?”

“You’re breathing again.”

He silently cursed his inattentiveness. Of course. As a vampire he no longer needed to breathe to live, but for some reason it was a habit he hadn’t been able to kick yet. “All right. You caught me.” He slipped from the bed and moved to wrap his arms around her from behind, pulling her to him, skin against skin. “Can you blame me?”

“I could try.” Her cold mask slipped as a smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I try.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek and released her reluctantly. “I suppose I should pack.”

Migina stopped brushing to eye him. “If it wasn’t for Senya…”

“Yeah, yeah. If Senya wasn’t in charge I’m sure you’d have been chosen to go. But since she is, she chose a lovely all-male escort.”

Migina scoffed. “And among them are her lovers, no doubt. Bren and Greneth?”

Franklin tugged on a pair of trousers and ruffled his dark hair. “I’m not sure Greneth has made the leap yet, but everyone knows she uses Bren when it suits her.”

“She’d be happy to use all of you.” Migina gave him a glare laced with a warning. “I’ve heard stories about her orgies.”

“Mostly fabricated, I’m sure.” Franklin paused to drop a kiss on Migina’s shoulder, then moved to his closet for a bag and some clothes. “Senya’s too cold, unlike you, my wild Indian princess.”

She rolled her eyes and purposefully turned her back, though he could see her quiet smile reflected in the mirror. He mentally congratulated himself as he stuffed items into an overnight bag. Senya had said two or three days at the most, but considering their prey it might stretch longer. There was only one name, one so-called villain, that would require five of The Guild’s elite police force.

Jorick. The Hand of Death. Fledgling of Malick, head of the High Council. Jorick had been the head of the Executioners for nearly two hundred years before he’d retired. Not long after his departure he’d returned, cutting down everyone who stood between himself and his master. Franklin had been only a guard then, and thankfully hadn’t been on duty, but he’d heard the stories and seen the wounded. That one vampire could do such a thing by himself…it was the stuff of legends.

Or it was in the retelling. Franklin sometimes wondered if his memory was to be trusted as much as he thought. Reason said it must not be, but still…

He shook it off and turned his attention to folding a shirt. In the end, even after all the carnage, Malick had allowed Jorick to leave, and that was the last anyone had seen of him for more than a hundred years. Or at least the last time anyone really noted seeing him. The Guild’s records proved that he hadn’t vanished completely, but rather lived in Maine with a fledgling. Still, if he was involved in the whole sordid business then maybe it was more than they thought…

He finished packing and pulled Migina into his arms for a final goodbye kiss. “I shall see you when I return.”

She kissed the lobe of his ear and whispered, “I’ll be waiting.”

Though he didn’t say it as he strode out the door, he doubted she’d even be there when he got back. A fellow Executioner, it was more likely that she’d be sent on an assignment of her own by then. He was surprised that she’d bene home for two days straight – that they both had. They spent more time out in the field than they did in the citadel.

We need more than twelve Executioners, he mused. Or we need to hand more off o the guards, like we used to.

He met the group above ground, in a gravel parking lot. The chilly October air weaved between the grain bins and many outbuildings that made up the citadel’s exterior, passing over a group of vampires.

Franklin did a quick head count on the guards. Twelve? The standard was two per Executioner, and sometimes just one. With only five executioners, they had two extra guards. Did they need that many?

It’s Jorick, he reminded himself.

Most of the guards wore their Guild issued black and silver uniforms, while four stood apart dressed in plain clothes. Senya’s favorites, Franklin mused. If he was good he could have pulled up their names because she so often requested them.

The vampiress herself was still absent, but Franklin noticed that Zuri – short and stocky with a shock of black hair – and Greneth – slender and blonde with a permanent sneer – were both present.

He nodded to them and took a place nearby. Greneth glanced up from a red bound book and then back again, tapping the page with his pencil.

“Another poem?” Franklin asked conversationally.

The blonde made an airy gesture, as if to say “you wouldn’t understand,” then quoted, Leaves are on the ground, fall has come, while waiting for winter’s queen, to bring with her icy wind and raging numb.”

The syllables felt wrong, but Franklin knew better than to correct him. Luckily he was saved by Senya and Bren’s arrival. Tall for a woman, her black bobbed hair, cut almost comically straight, only served to make her skin look paler and her blue eyes icier. If Greneth was looking for a personification of winter, she was right there.

“The Execution Council will meet us later.” She swept her eyes over them, stopping at last on her favorite guards. “If you’re ready?”

Though they all agreed, Franklin shot Zuri a look and mouthed, “Execution Council?”

His fellow executioner shrugged, and fell into step with the others, moving towards several SUVs. He did the same, his brain still churning. An Execution Council was a tool rarely used by The Guild anymore. Made up of members from the Lesser Council, the council would accompany Executioners on assignments where immediate judgements needed to be made – cases where they couldn’t wait for someone to be dragged back to the citadel and put on trial. Executioners had a free pass to kill under most circumstances by simply saying that their victim had interfered in some way, but an Execution Council was a step further. Despite the official designations, their true purpose was to give Executioners permission to slaughter everyone without needing to make excuses. If they were coming then it meant this wasn’t an assignment, but a blood bath.

*****

More next week!

And now for guesses!

  1. summer fun 2. floating castle 3. lake town 4. where’s smaug? 5. extreme river rafting 6. obstacle course 7. cooling down 8. splash city 9. water world. 10. on the lake 11. slip n slide 12. vacation destination. 13. fun in the sun. 14. look at those boats. 15. I bet Jonathan guesses this right. 16. I also bet he bought a brand new rubber chicken for extra voodoo power. 17. those rubber chickens are super powerful, so he says. 18. this kinda looks like a live action board game. 19. Jonathan always makes me think of board games, though. 20. if it was a board game, he’d win because he uses voodoo for that too.
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