Tag Archive | Amaranthine

Thankfulness #21: Entries!

Yesterday I was grateful for contest entries. After the expo in Des Moines, I had left over stuff; a poster that I won’t be able to reuse (by the Book Born Expo I’ll have book 9 out), some leftover books no one bought, and like 50 bags of swag. I sent some of the swag off to I SMell Sheep review blog and the Book Born group, but what to do with the rest of it?

Initially I had planned to do a raffle and try to recoup some of my expo losses, but a quick google search of “Raffle Legal” proved that impossible. (Hint: Raffles are gambling, and gambling is not legal. Non Profits can get away with it in some states, but since I’m hardly a non-profit…*sigh*) Yes, I’ve seen other authors do it, but my luck would be I’d be the one who got smacked for it, so instead I just have to do a giveaway. I’ve tried to offset this by giving people six entries for proving they purchased Brothers of Darkness, but so far no one has done that. I have gotten 15 “freebie” entries, and 4 “website celebration” entries, and that’s waaaaay more than I figured I’d have on day 2. Usually I do things like this and get maybe 10 by the end of the week.

Want to enter? You can check out the giveaway and find links to enter on my author blog.

Aside from that, we went pokemoning in Red Oak for a couple of hours and, despite the cold, I did walk enough to get the final candy I needed to complete the 400 Magicarp candies and create:

00-1

TA DA!! It’s taken me months to get this thing! I finally had to put magicarp as my buddy and walk with him to get the last candies. Now I need to work on evolving a Pikachu.

We also watched WWE Survivor Series. Some of the outcomes were quite surprising, and some weren’t. I knew poor Kalisto wouldn’t get the win, though I was rooting for him, and I thought if they were doing it the smart way they’d let Goldberg have it, though everyone else in the house thought it would be Lesner, so I got to bask in my rightness and a lot of “Pfffft. Told you so!” I was surprised about Cesaro and Sheamus being the final winners in the Tag Team match, though that meant with the wins/loses so far that I knew which team would win the the big match, but that was okay. Ellsworth taking Stroman out was a lot of fun, and Jericho is always good and… well, I was surprised that they let Bray make the final pin. They’ve kind of under utilized him for a long time. They build him up in promos as the eater of worlds and such, and then he always loses. So while I love Roman, I did enjoy seeing him victorious. Truth be told, I had a hard time picking who I wanted to win, so as long as it was either Bray or Roman that made the final pin, I would have been happy.

And that was my exciting day. i need to get some writing done today if I can figure out how to get some quiet.

Have a 400 magicarp candy kind of day!

Jo 🙂

 

 

Byrn – Blogophilia 44.8

It’s time again for Blogophilia! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia 44.8 topic – “Going The Distance”
  • Bonus Points: (Hard, 2 pts): Name two (2) movies that begin with the letter “Q”
  • (Easy, 1 pt): Include “a bad dye job”

I wrote this as a Christmas “gift” to email subscribers – who will get an edited and formatted version in their inbox in a day or two. (If you’re interested in joining the list you can find it at http://www.joleenenaylor.com/books/newsletter.php AND not only will you get the cool short story below, but you’ll get an exclusive PDF version of my Amaranthine Handbook, the fully illustrated character Encyclopedia. Fun, fun.)

And now, The Explanation:

The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

 

Byrn was an Executioner from 1730 to 1798, when he is replaced by Senya.  This story takes place in December of 1755 in New York.

This story contains violence.

The Story:

Byrn stopped before the heavy wooden door and unconsciously reached into his pocket. His fingers found the missive; official correspondence from The Guild, dispatched by messenger to bring him hence. The master only summoned one for work or punishment, and as he had done nothing to earn the latter he could only assume there was something for him to do.

He pushed inside, nodded to the guard, and swept down the stairs. His long black riding cloak billowed behind him like a cape, and his boots left a trail of mud that petered out as he drew towards the bottom.

The room below was large. Carved from the living earth and lined in rocks, it had taken months to complete, or so he’d heard. The Guild had been established twenty years before he had ever heard of it, and he had only the word of others.

Though below the ground, the room was not bare, and held no resemblance to a root cellar. Tall candelabras stood in random places to throw flickering light on drapes and carved furnishings. Embroidered hangings covered the walls and a pair of doorways in the back led to Malick’s lavishly decorated living quarters and a few rooms for guards and other staff.

Malick. The head of The Guild, the master of the vampires, answerable only to those who hid across the sea, too set in their ways to make the journey to new colonies. Like the subject from a royal portrait, the ancient vampire sat on a throne in the center of the room. His long silver beard fell past his chin, and heavy embroidered robes spoke of days as old as he was. Jewel like eyes watched as Byrn approached and knelt.

“Rise, Executioner.” Malick’s voice echoed in the heavy space, deep and friendly, with a rumble of power beneath the words.

Byrn did as he was told, and Malick continued. “We have had a complaint – a massacre of Acadians to the north.”

“Acadians?” Byrn echoed with a frown. “Pardon me, Master, but these are a people I am unfamiliar with. Is this a settlement?”

“They are a people deported from even farther north, accused of aiding the French in the mortal’s newest war. I care not for their politics, nor even their lives, but we cannot have a rogue draining them to dry husks at a whim and leaving the bodies scattered along the road. How long before the mortals, already drunk with the bloodlust of war, hunt down the monster and discover his nature?” His smooth forehead creased. “We cannot allow such things to happen.”

Byrn nodded his understanding and bowed his head. “Of course, master. I will go the distance, find him, and dispatch him quickly.”

“Good, good. It is as I like to hear. If your haste is great, you will be back in time to spend Christmas with your wife. She is well?”

“Yes, master. Halin sends her greetings.”

A slow smile spread over Malick’s lips. “Does she? How comforting. I had suspected it would be a curse that flew from her lips upon receiving word of our need. It is indeed gratifying to know you have chosen a mate who understands the sacrifices of your appointment.”

Malick motioned him towards the stairs. “The guard above will give you details that you need. Safe travels, Executioner. May you hasten to your task and execute your duty with impartiality.”

Byrn touched two fingers to the silver medallion that hung around his neck, bowed his head, and then turned and stalked back up the stairs. He could hear Malick’s chuckles following him. Halin’s angry words had no doubt been plucked from his thoughts by the mind reading master.

“’tis almost Christmastime, and you are needed? Is there no one else who could attend? Jorick or Ark or Jamie? One who has no wife?”

“Ark has a wife, the same as I.”

Halin had huffed an angry puff of air. “Jorick has none, unless you count the dark harlot who works at his side. Let them go together and be glad of it.”

“They are elsewhere, tangled in other intricacies. I will go, and return before twelfth night.”

And he would. As Malick said, with haste he could be home by Christmas. That should please her.

Upstairs, the guard explained the situation and handed him a map with the rogue’s location marked. Byrn looked it over, then stashed the parchment in his pocket.

“Shall I accompany you?”

Byrn gave the guard a once over. Two traveling together would be slower, and the faster he was there and back, the better. “Nay. There is only one rogue reported. I am sufficient to such a task.”

“Aye, sir. As you say.” Though the guard’s expression was neutral, thanks to his own mental abilities, Byrn could hear the scatter of the vampire’s silent worry, and sense his fear. Malick had ordered him to go, and if he disobeyed…

“Tell Malick the decision was mine, and he may punish me if he likes.”

The guard nodded, but his uncertainty left a bitter taste in Byrn’s thoughts. To be sure, Malick’s will was finicky, and one never knew if disobeying would garner punishment or pleasure. As an Executioner, a pet of the master, it was doubtful he would feel either. The guard might not be so lucky.

He pushed the thoughts away and headed to the stable where his horse waited under the care of a young mortal. The boy’s blood smelled appealing but Byrn had already fed.  Scars on the lad’s neck and hand showed that others had not been so restrained in the past.

Byrn steered his horse outside and climbed on the back. He brushed a few rebellious strands of red hair from his face and adjusted his wide brimmed hat. Though he couldn’t feel the cold anymore, he sensed it; from the plumes of his horse’s breath to the fat snowflakes that fell from the night sky.  He could also sense the sunrise, a few hours away, or maybe longer under cover of heavy winter clouds.

“On, Rayold. While the night is still with us.”

The horse’s whinny seemed to echo Halin’s displeasure.

***

Byrn sheltered in a farmer’s barn beneath a heap of hay for the day. When the night returned he threw aside the straw and helped himself to the livestock. Sated, he cleaned himself at a water barrel, then reclaimed his horse from the hollow where he had tied him to a tree. Rayold’s large eyes held rebuke, but it was the best he could find under the circumstances. Haste had necessitated haphazard arrangements.

They reclaimed the road. He checked the map, then spurred his horse on. The night passed in the quiet of winter, and fellow travelers were nearly nonexistent. Those he did see hurried by, eyes on the ground and cloaks pulled tight, their horses driven at a clip, as if the very hounds of hell were following behind.

By the moon Byrn guessed that it was after midnight when he reached the crossroads. Snow covered corpses were heaped in the middle, and bodies were scattered across the frozen ground on all sides. Byrn reigned in his horse and climbed down to examine them. As Malick had said, they looked bloodless, some with throats torn out, and others with evil wounds in varying places. Frozen blood glittered on the ground and on their skin, and made their clothes and hair stiff.

With a grunt of annoyance he surveyed the carnage. The bodies were too frozen to burn, yet they needed disposed of.  Burial seemed the only option, though it would take the rest of the night. He wished now that he had brought the guard.

He pulled a shovel from his pack and began the grim work. With his vampire strength he was able to break the frozen ground quickly. When he finished a hole, he chiseled a body from the heap, buried it, and repeated the process. Near daybreak he was streaked with dirt and short on temper. Several bodies remained, but the driving urgency of the sun said they would have to wait.

He led Rayold into the nearby village and paid a sleepy inn keeper for a stable and a room. The latter was tiny and the window even smaller. He covered it with the bedclothes, washed with cold water in the basin, and barricaded the door before he dropped into the oblivion of sleep.

***

He woke the next evening to pounding on the door. The landlady looked furious. When he met her eyes, the hostility was replaced with a pleasant smile and the offer of dinner. The invitation was one he couldn’t refuse. When he ducked down the narrow stairs he left her leaning against the wall, eyes closed and a wound on her hand, but breath still in her lungs.

The stable attendant rounded off his breakfast and from his thoughts Byrn plucked the information he needed. No one knew who had killed the newcomers, but there was someone acting strange; another new resident known only as John who was rarely seen.

No doubt that was his vampire.

Byrn followed the stable hand’s directions away from the village. John’s cabin sat in a small clearing surrounded by the black trunked ranks of a forest. No outbuildings existed, and the cabin’s chimney was cold. Inside there were only a few personal items and a large wooden box. The thick smell of vampire proved Byrnes suspicions, though now he needed to find the man.

He stepped outside and moved towards his horse when he felt the presence of someone else. Someone immortal. With his hand to the dagger in his coat, he turned slowly. “John, is it?” he called conversationally. “Why don’t you come out so we can talk?”

The reply came from the trees. “Who are ye, and what do ye want?”

Byrn focused on the sound, and his eyes picked through clumps of naked branches.  “My name is Byrn and I’ve been sent by The Guild.” He held up his medallion with one hand.

“As if that means anything. I belong to no guild.”

“Aye, but you do in a sense, once you drink the blood of your master. The Guild rules our kind.” Byrn continued to look for him, eyes tracing branches and clinging leaves. Where was he?

John grumbled, and then called, “That may be so, though I’ve not heard of it. Be quick and tell me what ye want.”

With those words, Byrn found him. John was high in a tall tree, wearing dark clothes and clinging to the tree trunk like a lizard to a rock. Messy gray hair fell around his shoulders, and bushy brows shadowed angry eyes. “

You’ve been busy killing mortals,” Byrn called.

“Aye. Traitors and spies the lot. They helped the French in Canada, but are they killed like they ought to be?  No, they’re sent here where they can interfere some more.”

Byrn had no idea what he was talking about, but suspected it might have something to do with the mortal’s war. “Why did you butcher them?”

“For Queen and Country!”

“I can only assume you mean the mortals’ queen, but there is a king now, and he holds no power over you. You have stepped from the borders of their rule, and into ours. Their laws are not ours, nor are their wars and petty prejudices. Britain, France, neither concern you now.”

The vampire chortled. “Have you so easily abandoned all that once mattered to you?”

“If you mean those things that mattered when I was mortal, then yes. As should you. Now come down and make this easier.”

John hesitated. Then, with a cry, dropped from the tree, snapping branches as he fell. Byrn waited, muscles tense, as John picked his way out of the brush and shook loose the bits of branch and plant. The vampire met his eyes; golden crashing with his own dark brown. Byrn sensed the hostility a moment before the vampire launched himself at him. He dodged, but he wasn’t fast enough, and they tumbled to the snow in a heap. John’s fangs flashed in his face. He felt a scrape against his cheek that drew blood. He closed his hand around the dagger in his coat, but John pinned his arm in place so he couldn’t pull it free.

John snarled and snapped again, missing Byrn’s face by a hairsbreadth. With a snarl, the Executioner kicked his legs. He managed to wrap one around John’s knee. With a cry he pulled, as though trying to flip the vampire off of him. Though he didn’t free himself completely, the sudden motion broke John’s hold and he pulled the dagger free. The blade pierced the vampire’s throat and hot blood poured out from the wound to rain on Byrn’s face and chest.

John fell back, a hand to his throat, gurgling and cursing. Byrn followed and knocked him to the ground. With a single swift motion he rammed the blade between his ribs. John’s eyes went wide in shock and then he fell lifeless.

Byrn pulled the dagger free. He stumbled back to lean against a tree and gather his wits. He wiped blood from his face and blinked it from his eyelashes. John lay sprawled in the churned snow, dark crimson spreading under the moonlight.

Byrn cleaned his dagger and stashed it away. Rayold whinnied, but came to the call. With a sigh Byrn unlashed his shovel.

Another corpse to bury.

**

When his grim work was completed he turned his attention to the contents of the cabin. He dragged the box into the clearing and prepared to burn it. The less evidence that remained, the better. Of the personal belongings there were clothes too shabby to give to anyone, a crumbling cake of soap, a broken pocket watch, a pocket bible printed in another language and missing half of the pages, and a ruffled shirt that someone had tried to color red. A bad dye job had left it streaked in pink, though perhaps it was only a question of taste and John had liked it that way.

Byrn tossed the items in the box. As he readied them to burn, he found a worn velvet pouch tucked away in the corner. Silk cords untied to reveal the contents: a pearl necklace and a faded silk flower, still scented with the hint of perfume. Byrn turned them over in his hand and wondered who they had belonged to. A former lover? A mother? A sister? Where had she gone? Was she dead, or had she left him when he became immortal – or had he left her?

Byrn would never know the answer, but that didn’t mean the pearls should go to waste. A gift was sweet balm to the sore soul of a woman, and when he handed his present to Halin she might forgive his absence and the state of his clothes – a bloodstained mess she would have to slave over to clean.

He tossed the flower, but pocketed the bag and the necklace, then torched the pile. The flames snapped into the night, and shimmered the air. He waited to be sure the destruction would be complete before he mounted Rayold and headed back to the crossroads to finish his burial tasks.

***

Malick took Byrn’s report without comment, and the Executioner rode away from The Guild as quickly as he could, lest the master think of another assignment.  It was a snowy Christmas night when he reached home. The windows glowed with light, a welcome beacon that reminded him of winter nights long ago, when he was a child. He thought briefly on his parents, on his mother’s heavy Irish accent and his father’s British clip. She was full of lullabies and stories of magic and mystery set in deep green forests and peppered with fairies, while his father’s heart was with the sea. Morning walks to the harbor where he stood, hands on hips, created imagined stories about the crews, passengers, and cargo. Where had they come from? Where were they going? Why?

Byrn thought of the pearls in his pocket and wondered again about their former owner. Had she been young? Old? Beautiful? Plain? Were they a gift, given to soothe her anger, or to draw a smile from sad lips?

He shook the fancies away and stabled Rayold. As he came out into the night Halin hurried forward, her blonde hair bound in the popular fashion and her dress damp with snowflakes.  He caught her in his surprised arms, and waited until she drew back to smile down at her. “I am home in time for Christmas.”

“And so you are. How went it?”

“Fast. A vampire was misbehaving, but he was quickly set to right. How went things here?”

“The same as ever. Though I have hung the juniper and boxwood in your absence. Come and see.”

She led him to the house where he noted that a branch of greenery hung on the door. Inside she had tied branches around, leaving the room heavy with the scent of sap.  “It’s as pretty as the church used to be.”

Halin smiled. “That was the intent. I miss the service sometimes, never more than on Christmas.”

He cringed as he said, “There is no proof that we would be struck dead by God upon the threshold. We could-”

“No. That God would allow such as us to enter his holy place is unheard of. I would not risk our lives in such a way – your life. I worry enough when you leave to do their bidding.”

Her eyes narrowed, and he sensed a tirade coming. “I brought you a gift.”

Her unspoken words died on her lips as surprise lit her eyes. “A gift?”

“Aye.”

He pulled the pouch from his pocket and handed it to her. She turned it over, as if testing the weight, and at his urging opened the end and dumped the contents into her palm. He smiled as her eyes went wide and a gasp escaped her lips.

“Byrn, it is beautiful!”

“When I saw it I thought of you. I hoped that this would make up for my absence.”

“Nothing can replace you, but this does make a good effort,” she teased. “Come, my love, and fasten it.”

He hung the necklace around her neck and stepped back to study the effect. She fingered the pearls and beamed down at them. “Mary will be covetous when she sees these.”

“Aye, and so I thought when I saw them. ‘How beautiful these will look on my Halin, and how they will drive her sister-in-blood mad with desire for her own, as making another woman jealous is the only reason any lady bothers to possess finery’.”

Halin tsked at him, and shook her head in exasperation. “’tis not the only reason, but a pleasant bonus. Come now, you must allow a woman her small vanities.”

“I would deny you nothing, my dove.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Now, mayhap we should discuss my laundry.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “What have you done this time?” She pulled the bag from his hands and rifled through to produce the stained shirt. “Did you bathe in blood?” she cried. Her sharp eyes snapped to his face. “This is not yours?”

“No, no. Just a messy eater.” He gave her a fanged grin that left her shaking her head.

“You make the mess, then ask of me to clean behind you. Next time, the washing will be yours to do.”

“And a very fine job I shall do, though I will not look nearly as fetching in the doing as you, nor will I be so accessorized.” He flicked her necklace and she drew away, her hand to it.

“A lady does not do washing up while wearing pearls!” She gathered up his cloak and clothing. “Get yourself settled and prepare your pipes, for when I return ‘tis time for caroling. We may not have the meal, but I refuse to give up the music.”

She disappeared and he dropped into a chair before the fire with a silent groan. The pearls may have saved him from her wrath, but it seemed nothing would save him from Christmas.

****

You can read other Executioner stories on my blog or get them free from various retailers.

Have a good one!

Jo 🙂

 

Peel Mansion – Blogophilia 15.7

 

It’s time again for Blogophilia! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia Week 15.7 Topic: Fire and Ice
  • (Hard, 2 points) Incorporate the opposite meaning of “equanimity”
  • (Easy, 1 point)  Include Dark Demons 

I had hoped to have another vampire short story ready, but it’s not happening, despite the awesome prompts. This has been one of those weeks where i feel like I’ve been through fire and ice – there’s been some major disaster every day. I wish I could say I greet them in a state of equanimity, but I don’t. There’s been much shouting, crying and teeth gnashing. Okay, maybe not teeth gnashing because I’m getting low on those (only one more trip to the dentist and then they’re all gone and we start the process of plates) but it sounded cool.

Speaking of processes, we’re still in the process of fighting the dark demons for our house. Or it feels that way. Our agents aren’t too bad, but the listing agents are something else all together – we have dealt with them before when we last looked at houses and we forwent them this time because we were very unimpressed. Well, since they’re the listing agents they’re still involved, and I am still not impressed. We have the abstract report from the lawyer, saying the title is clear and all that, we’ve done the inspection, we’ve signed heaps and heaps of paperwork, and we still don’t have a closing date. Hell, they may not have accepted the offer yet for all I know. Our Realtor can’t get any information out of them, and we finally even tried calling ourselves – and we got through (unlike our realtor who they won’t even talk to most of the time) but once they found out who we were they snappily said “I’ll look up the paperwork and call your agent” and then hung up on us. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s too much to want to know when the closing date is on the damn house, or if they are even accepting our ****ing offer or not. For all we know they’re selling it to someone else and all of this is a waste of time and money.

Now that I have vented here are some photos from hubby and I’s trip to Arkansas. Well, not the whole trip, just the Peel Mansion gardens. The mansion itself was closed for a wedding (which was fine because we barely had time to make it to Pea Ridge and through it), but the gardens were open, so we did a quick walk through. (if you click the pics you get a pop up slide show you can click through where they’re bigger)

 

If anyone knows what that pink flowering bush is I’d appreciate the name of it. It smelled SO good – I want one!

And as usual there are lots more photos in my flickr.  Have a good one.

Listening to – Submarine – Alex Turner

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Ark- Blogophilia 13.7

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten to do a blogophilia post! I’ve really missed everyone!! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

Blogophilia Week 13.7 Topic: Time Won’t Let Me

  • Bonus Points:
  • (Hard, 2 points) Incorporate a line from the song “Pompeii” by Bastille
  • (Easy, 1 point)  Include a newscaster or reporter

As you can see from my snazzy banner, this is the second of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection.  The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

 

Ark

This takes place April 1972.

Rain streaked the windshield and Ark stared through it to the dark landscape beyond. The world was colored in night; shades of blue and purple. It had been so long since he’d seen the sun that he’d forgotten the other colors. Vague memories stirred, over bright and painted in green, blue, and yellow. They belonged to another place and another time. Just like she did.

He brushed the memories away and focused on the voice of the radio. A newscaster reported heavy storms coming, but nothing short of a tornado worried him. The chat faded, replaced by a sad song wrapped in a cheerful tune and he shut it off. He wasn’t in the mood.

Not tonight.

A sign went past. “Welcome to California”. The painted letters filled his stomach with lead and his chest with ice. Unwittingly, his eyes were drawn to the manila folder in the passenger seat. He knew the contents by heart. The neatly typed papers outlined the terrible crimes of a vampiress and passed sentence on her. He’d read hundreds like it in the last two hundred and sixty years since he’d joined the Executioners – the elite police force of the vampires. He’d seen hundreds of pictures and hundreds of sketches, and had always taken them with the cold detachment of someone with a job to do. But this time, when he’d looked into the dark Xeroxed eyes, his insides had turned to glass.

Suddenly the radio didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

 

It was three in the morning when he stopped for gas and directions. The man inside was courteous but wary, as he should be. Though Ark was careful not to show his fangs, or do any of the hundred and one thing that would send the cashier into a panic, the man could still sense the unnatural danger standing next to the candy bar display. Ark knew because he could smell the man’s fear, but most of all, he could hear his thoughts. It was a trait he’d inherited when he’d been turned into a vampire and he’d spent the last three-hundred-plus years perfecting it.

The man’s directions were good, and Ark soon parked in front of a stucco house on the edge of town. Yucca plants swayed in the dark and palm trees rustled above his head. He checked the time and logged it in his book, then grabbed the dagger from the glove box. By habit he pulled it from the scabbard, just enough to see the cold gleam of the clean blade. He snapped it back with a clink of finality, and forced himself out of the car and up the stone walk.

He didn’t knock, only threw the door open and strode inside. A guard sat on the couch wearing the customary gray uniform of The Guild. He jumped to his feet, magazine in hand and surprise on his face. His fear melted into terror and he snapped a shaky salute. “S-Sir. You’re early.”

Ark shoved a folded piece of paper at him. “Take me to the prisoner.”

The guard quickly scanned the contents. Underneath the pronouncement was Malick’s signature, and seal; A knot of three interlocking rings. It was the same symbol Ark wore around his neck, the sign of the Executioners and everything that entailed.

The guard gave a stiff nod and mumbled, “She’s, um, she’s this way. Downstairs.”

Ark followed through the house and down the cellar steps. The basement was a single windowless room with a dirt floor. A pair of coffins sat against one wall, the lids askew. Guards were scattered around like men on break. Three played cards, one fiddled with a transistor radio. Two more were lost in conversation. In the midst of them all sat Dovina, tied to a chair, arms behind her back. She wore a pair of faded jeans and a loose, patterned top. Her long golden hair fell around her shoulders, a casual braid intermingled amongst the strands. Her pale skin was as flawless as Ark remembered and her eyes…

Ark’s escort cleared his throat. The guards jerked to their feet, their pastimes forgotten, but Ark barely noticed them. All of his attention was riveted on Dovina. He wasn’t in the basement anymore, but in one of those half-forgotten sunlit memories. She stood in the courtyard, a pail in one hand, her hair tied up, and a rough dress draped over her frame. As if she sensed his attention she turned towards him, and when their eyes touched, fire erupted in his chest and left him breathless.

He tried to swallow away his emotions. Now was not the time to lose himself in the myriad of shimmering memories that rose like ivory keys beneath his fingertips. The tinkle of piano played in his head and he saw her as she was when she was his, dressed in silk, her fingers trailing across the keys languidly, the same way that she touched him in the dark. The pretty smile was on her lips and, though the other men stared, the gleam in her eyes said she only saw him.

Just as he only saw her.

“Ark. I hoped it would be you.”

Her voice brought him back to the present, and he jerked the paper from the guard’s hands.  Two of them hurried forward to untie her and pull her to her feet. One stood at each arm, holding her up, waiting for Ark to announce the sentence and carry it out. He was an Executioner. He had other assignments. He didn’t have time to linger. He would want to do it quickly.

And I should, he thought. Before it’s too late.

But it was already too late.

The guards looked at Ark expectantly, and he motioned them to release her. “I can handle this myself. I suggest you get started on the paper work.”

“We’ve already-” the guard faltered and broke off at one look from Ark. “Yes, sir. Of course.” He snapped a quick salute and motioned the others to do the same. Though the pair that held Dovina’s arms exchanged quizzical looks, they relented and followed their fellows upstairs.

The cellar door closed and Dovina remained standing, her ocean colored eyes locked with his. Though he couldn’t feel it, he knew she was in his head, sorting through his thoughts. Just as he could read minds, so could she. The product of sharing the same master.

“You might as well read the sentence. I know what it says.”

He drew a deep breath and looked away. Masonry crumbled in the corner and it held his gaze, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. “I did what I could. I asked Malick for leniency.”

And Malick’s answer had been to give Ark the assignment instead of Phillip. “Since it so concerns you,” he’d said, wearing his cold, benevolent smile. Ark could see beneath the fake kindness to the darkness underneath, but there was nothing he could do. He had sworn an oath to uphold the laws and, as the head of the Executioners, those laws were at Malick’s whim.

“You killed an entire coven, Dovina. Why?” She stepped towards him and he looked to her, then back to the corner again.

“They killed Eric, Ark. What was I supposed to do?”

Eric. His name was like the dagger that Ark stuffed in his pocket. “And what did Eric do to them?”

“Nothing.”

She came to a stop before him. For a moment he could see their entire history written on her face, hear the echo of past laughter in her voice, the shadow of forgotten tears in her eyes. The world was old even then, but they were young. Constance was his aunt, or so she called herself, and he worked diligently at every task she set for him. When she offered immortality to her “pretty nephew”, he took it, and when she offered him a gift of anything he desired, he asked only for Dovina, the pretty servant girl down the street. The one whose golden hair shone like a halo in the sunlight.

Constance acquired her, and Dovina came to him readily enough. Together they tasted the darkness and all it had to offer. It wasn’t the dark gift that changed her, rather time itself. A new century crept close and they left Constance for the New World. In the wilderness they spent nights lost among the trees, slipping into what passed for civilization and out again, like ghosts. They made love in the wilds with only the birds as witness, and danced naked under the cloak of moonlight. But eventually the siren call of humanity was too strong. It was harder and harder to leave behind the fire lit cities, harder to give up the taste of human blood for that of the beast. They rented a room above a shop, and paid their bills with coins taken from their victims. Dovina wore gay frocks and slippers, and he had a ridiculous wig that was the envy of half the township. They thought themselves dashing after the fashion, but privately laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

Then the vampire came. In a single night he slaughtered the inhabitants of one street and started on a second. When he reached their room Ark removed his head and cut out his still beating heart. The Executioners arrived the next night, surprised to see their work finished for them. There were only two of them then and they were recruiting. They could use the help, and it would be good for him to do something useful; something besides wear silly wigs and buy silk.

Dovina watched as he bowed before Malick and swore the oath. The job was easy enough at first; mostly rogue vampires who thought a new world meant they could slaughter at will with no regard for secrecy, but as time passed the assignments became more frequent and more complicated. The territories continued to expand, and his absences grew longer. He rode away one too many times in the middle of the night, his orders clutched in his hands, Dovina watching from the doorway. One evening he returned to find the sad eyes of a stranger looking back at him. Dovina’s words were soft, but the meaning behind them hurt. There was someone else, and though she hadn’t allowed him to openly court her, she was considering it. She loved Ark, but she was tired of being alone. She was confused. She needed time to think.

If only he’d known how much time she meant.

She left in the rain, wearing a long hooded cloak that dragged in the mud. Ark stood in the doorway and cursed under his breath as the carriage drove away. He wished he could drown himself in drink and forget the world, but even feeding on the blood of drunks only did so much. His vampire physiology metabolized it too quickly and left him sober through the decades that followed. Soon seventy years had passed and he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. He went looking and he found her.

The memory popped to the surface of his mind, sharp despite the eighty years since. Red roses climbed the side of the house, and laughter tinkled through the open windows. He couldn’t see them, but he could smell them: Dovina and her Eric-

She stiffened in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me you were there?”

“What was the point? You’d obviously made your choice.” And it wasn’t me.

Her eyes moved up and down his lean frame before she brushed his cheek with her fingers. His breath stuck in his throat and for a moment he couldn’t move.  “You made the choice for me. You were always gone.”

He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Then why didn’t you ask me to quit? I-I would have. One word from you and I’d have left it behind.” He searched the depths of her sea colored eyes, pushing past them into the thoughts beneath, looking for an explanation, but there were only mismatched memories. “Dovina?”

“You swore an oath to them, Ark. You wouldn’t break it lightly.”

“I swore one to you first, or did our wedding vows mean nothing to you?”

“They were the promises of youth, Ark. A vow you gave before you had a chance to contemplate the long fall of the years. When you pledged yourself to me did you imagine what a hundred years would really mean? Two hundred? Three hundred? The changes they would bring?”

“Is an oath any less valid because it lasts longer than you first imagined? Are feelings any less…” He trailed off and looked away.

She pulled her hand free. “It doesn’t matter. You can see the truth in me, just as I can see your orders in you. Can’t we part as friends this time?” He didn’t answer, and she pressed on. “Read the sentence.”

He knew he should, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. He crumpled the paper in his hand, as if to make it disappear, and she gently pried it from his fingers and read aloud, “Dovina, fledgling of Constance, on this day, the twenty-first of April, 1972, based on testimony and evidence submitted to The Guild, you are found guilty of coven slaughter without just cause, and are hereby sentenced to death, to be carried out by Executioner at earliest availability.”

She handed the paper back to him. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Do you want me to sit over there, or should I just stand here or-”

He grabbed her up suddenly and captured her lips with his. She stiffened and then flowed against him. Her lips parted and soft sigh escaped as her tongue darted into his mouth. Though he clutched her as hard as he could, the kiss finally ended, and she lay her head on his chest. “Do you remember the party Monsieur Pelotte threw? Before you joined the Executioners?”

He thought of her again, leaning over the piano, toying with the keys, but his voice wouldn’t work.

“He had that violinist, from Boston. What was the song he played?” She started to hum, swaying to the tune. “Dance with me Ark. One more time.”

She slipped her arms around his neck and he reflexively wrapped his arms around her as she continued to move to the music in her head. “It’s been a long time, Ark. But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? As if all the things in between never happened.”

He buried his face against her neck and inhaled deeply.  Beneath the scent of her shampoo she smelled the same as she had on that long ago night. Her body was as soft and yielding as it had been, and her hair as silky. But he knew better. Though she might appear the same on the outside, the blessing of immortality, on the inside she had changed. She was still the cold stranger he’d come in the night to find, and the sameness was an imitation, like a moment from his youth he was trying to recapture and live over and over. “Time won’t let me forget.”

“No, I suppose it won’t.” She released him reluctantly and stepped back.  Tears trailed silently down her cheeks, like the rain on the windshield. They both knew what had to happen; what was supposed to happen. He would jam the dagger through her heart, twist it once or twice for good measure, and then perhaps cut it out just to be sure she was dead. The guards would log the time of the execution, dispose of the body, and head back to the citadel in Iowa where they’d file the paperwork. Meanwhile he’d be somewhere else, killing someone else.

They broke the Laws.

The balm that usually soothed his conscience tasted like poison and he wanted to spit it out. His mind raced as he tried to find a solution, a way out, but there was no more hope than there’d been two days ago when he left the citadel. Malick had passed judgment himself. There was no way to appeal. There was nothing to do except run until there was nowhere left to run to. And then – and then the other Executioners would come. They’d bring an army of guards and no matter how good Ark thought he was, he knew he would die. Maybe he’d get lucky and they’d strike him down first, or maybe he’d have to watch as they hacked Dovina to pieces.

“It’s not the ending I want.” She gave him a sad smile and he wiped away her tears. “This will be quick but that…they’ll make us both suffer, Ark.” She reached into his pocket and pulled out the dagger. “Just be done with it.”

He jerked the weapon from her hand and fell back.

“You don’t understand. You asked what Eric did to deserve death, and I told you nothing because it’s true. I’m to blame. I was the one who refused to leave. That other coven wanted our territory. First they asked, then they pushed, and finally Eric pushed back. He didn’t want to but I-I talked him into it. We were here first. We had a right to be here. They were the ones who should leave. So he went to their den and confronted them, and that’s when they killed him. Don’t you see, Ark? I as much killed him as they did. Had I left him alone we would have moved on and he’d still be alive but I-I had too much pride. This was our house. Our land. Our hunting ground. Our-” She broke off and gave a mirthless laugh. “They screamed, Ark. They screamed when I killed them. They were young and cocky, but when the moment came they were all cowards.” Her spine snapped straight and she met his eyes. “I’m not a coward. I accept the punishment, so do it and be done.”

The dagger was like a lead weight in his hand, too heavy to draw and lift. He didn’t want to do this; couldn’t do it. And yet…

“You can hear their thoughts, too,” she whispered. “Those guards. One is on the phone right now, reporting to The Guild that you’ve dismissed them, that they don’t think you’ll go through with it. You know they have orders to kill you if you don’t.”

“Let them try. I’ll-”

She laid a finger to his lips. “In the end you’ll die, too, like Eric, a second casualty to my pride. How many should lose their lives because I was here first? Think of it as just another assignment, like all the others.” She met his eyes.  “You swore an oath to uphold the laws. I broke them. I was found guilty. Keep your honor.”

Honor. It was a cruel word for her to use, and she knew it. He wanted to rage at her, demand to know where her belief in his honor had been when she left in the rain, but there was no point. They could talk in circles, still the end would be the same.

He unsheathed the dagger and held it up like a macabre offering. Light glinted from the cold steel with a finality that cut through him. Somewhere deep inside a voice screamed that there had to be another way, that Malick would make an exception, even though he knew he wouldn’t. Not for him.

He closed his eyes as the dagger stabbed into her. The force of the blow knocked her backwards and he looked to see her stumble and fall. She landed on the floor, her golden hair fanned out around her head like a medieval halo. The dagger protruded from her chest, and crimson surged up and around it to soak the thin material of her blouse.

She choked a mouthful of blood, then met his eyes for a final time. “I…always loved…you, Ark.”

He dove to pull the dagger free, to stop it before it was too late, but she grabbed the hilt and rammed it the rest of the way. Her body seized and shuddered, then fell still. He landed on his knees and cradled her against him. Her blood gushed warm and wet against him and he buried his face against her neck. Even now she still smelled just the same; just the same as she always had.

And that was when he realized that she’d been the same all along. He was the one that had changed.

*****

I think it needs a bit of work still before Smashwords sees it, but I dunno. I think Beldren is next on the list.

Have a good one!

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Aine – Blogophilia 33.6

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten to do a blogophilia post! I’ve really missed everyone!! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia Week 33.6 – A Book With No Cover
  • Bonus Points:
  • (Hard, 2 pts): quote Walt Whitman 
  • (Easy, 1 pt):  use a ballet term

As you can see from my snazzy banner, this is the first of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection.  The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

(You’ll notice a couple week’s worth of prompts in this as I have been working on it for awhile, LOL!)

Aine

This takes place during Heart of the Raven.

The phone reception was good, though background noise made of the bus hard to hear. Aine nodded and added, “Right. You two keep looking. I think I’m in the last known neighborhood, or I should be soon. If you see him call.”

The male on the other end agreed and Aine hung up. The two were more than capable of handling things on their end. They’d been trained, just as he had.

He tapped an app shortcut and flipped through the information on his cellphone screen.  He’d memorized the photo and the details. The GPS map showed that he was right, he was only about half an hour from the guy’s den. Hopefully he would stick to his usual routines and it could all get sorted out quickly.

He stashed his cellphone in his coat and turned to the widow. The bus pulled away from the curb with a load of new arrivals. Not that there was room for more. Despite the late hour, the bus was crammed with people jostling, arguing, laughing, talking, and, in the case of the man next to him, drinking. Aine scanned the crowd, seeking the newcomers. His brown eyes moved from person to person and then-

“Hey! Watch it!”

Aine jerked away but didn’t avoid the splash of hot coffee. It soaked into his coat and splattered across his black t-shirt. He was still better off than the coffee’s owner, who now wore it on his pants and his heavy sweater.

“Sorry,” the guy said and mopped at the mess with a flimsy paper napkin. His eyes moved to the large, dark skinned man who’d nearly bowled them over. “Lousy drunk.”

But it wasn’t just a lousy drunk, not if Aine’s nose and experience told him anything, and a hundred plus year couldn’t be wrong.  It was a vampire. Or rather the vampire Aine was looking for. It was almost as if he’d stepped off the cellphone screen.

“Excuse me,” Aine murmured to his seat mate and then casually stood and moved towards the front of the bus. This wasn’t the for a confrontation. Alone, he wouldn’t be able to manage the guy and the crowd.

The bus ground to a stop and Aine followed his quarry out onto the sidewalk. The vehicle had barely pulled away when the vampire glanced over his shoulder at his pursuer. Their eyes met and then he seemed to vanish.

Aine groaned. “A wind walker, great.”

He gave the darkened street a quick glance and then hurried after him, though he knew he had no chance of catching him. They might both be vampires, but their skills varied, and he was no match for the other’s speed.

He swung down an alley that was thick with the other vampire’s smell, and skidded to a stop as a large, hulking object seemingly appeared from the shadows.

“Who are you?”

Aine fingered the dagger in his coat with one hand, and with the other he flashed the silver medallion that hung around his neck. Made of twisted silver bands, it was more than just jewelry; it was a badge that identified him as one of the vampire guild’s elite police force.

An Executioner.

A quick hiss of breath and a step back showed that the vampire knew what that meant and all the shades of dark subtleties it implied.  “What do you want?”

“The Guild sent me, Tom,” Aine said and let the medallion drop back to his chest.

The reaction was slow, thoughtful. “What for?”

“You know very well, after the mess you left. If you’d like to come with me, we can do this the easy way-”

Tom snorted. “I don’t take invitations handed out by Executioners.”

“Look, just come with me and-”

Tom was gone before Aine could finish his sentence. Of course this had to be difficult. That was why he’d been handed the assignment. The Executioners with seniority didn’t want it, and they couldn’t hand it to the two new recruits, not that Aine had been an Executioner for more than a month and a half himself. He wished that Verchiel was back from his trip to Germany. He seemed like the kind of guy who would enjoy an assignment like this.

With nothing else to do, Aine turned and headed back to the street. The light above the bus stop threw flickering light over the bench and its two new occupants. The pair of teenage girls looked on their surroundings with wide eyes and nervous, drunk giggles.

Aine checked his watch and the faded bus stop schedule. It claimed another bus would stop within the hour, though he wasn’t sure if he should bother. He’d lost Tom, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find him, if The Guild’s information was correct.

And that was always a big if.

He leaned against the light post and waited. The teenage girls checked him out, and giggled, at first obviously finding his young face and long, copper colored hair attractive. But, as moments passed and he remained motionless, not quite human but not quite something else, their approval slipped into dislike, and they shied away, sliding to the far end of the bench with apprehensive looks.

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis. That was what one of his superiors had called it. That moment when you were too human, but still not human enough, and the mortals got scared.

He didn’t feel like messing with them, so he abandoned the wait and headed out on foot.  It would be easiest to go to Tom’s den and wait. There were only a handful of hours left until dawn, and no vampire would stay out after that. He tugged his cell phone from his coat pocket to check the map again, but the device was damp with coffee and when he pressed the button nothing happened.  It was just something else to make the night complete.

What have I done to deserve this?

He tried to remember the map, and came up with a vague, shadowy impression of it. The street names were a blur and the little red line seemed to appear in more than one place. He reminded himself that Executioners had survived without GPS for thousands of years. Surely he was as good as they were?

As he walked, he sniffed the air, seeking Tom’s scent. He picked up a variety of smells; sweat, paint, cinnamon, and something very like old varnish. There was the scent of another vampire, one he didn’t know, and then, finally, there was Tom.

He wound down a dark street and an alley, until he came to a rusty door. Tom’s scent was strong; he’d been there recently, though whether it was his den or not was hard to say. There was only way to find out.

The door wasn’t locked, so Aine opened it and peered inside. He sniffed again and came up with stale cigarettes, blood, and something else. It smelled vampirish and yet it didn’t. Another complication.

He couldn’t smell anyone else, so he pushed past the door and up a set of dark stairs. His vampire eyes could see in the gloom, but there was nothing to look at. The walls were bare and the hallway at the top of the stairs was empty except for another door at the end. The scent was stronger as he crept towards it, and he paused at the door and listened. He could hear something, like soft scratching; perhaps someone moving around?

He gripped his dagger in his hand and threw the door open with a shout, “Executioners! Come out!”

No one replied to his call, and he stood tense and expectant as his eyes scanned the room.  It was dark and sparsely furnished; a folding a table, a chair, a broken couch and on the floor a well-worn book with no cover. A door on the far wall led to what he assumed would be a bedroom. Whoever had been moving had fallen silent now, but he could guess where they were.

He raised his voice and tried to sound scary and authoritative, like Senya did. The woman was a bitch, but she knew how to instill fear in others. “I said, Executioners. Come out, now!”

Nothing happened and Aine groaned silently. “This is your last chance!” He counted off the seconds and then charged the door. He kicked it open in a flurry of splinters and landed inside with a cry.

A low growl came from under the sagging bed, and, slowly, a pair of glowing eyes emerged. Aine blinked in disbelief and slowly lowered his weapon as a large, angry cat slinked into view; back arched and tail like a bottle brush.

Aine stepped towards it and the animal hissed and darted for the door. The Executioner was faster, and he caught the seething mass of fur behind the neck and hefted it in the air. It snarled and struck out as Aine sniffed it. This was what he’d been smelling. Had Tom…?

He could smell the immortality and knew it had to be true. A vampire cat. What in the hell was he supposed to do with that?

He heard the downstairs door open and close, and footsteps tromp up the stairs. He dropped the creature and hid just inside the bedroom, tensed and ready. Tom’s scent wafted to him as the vampire shuffled to a stop outside his door. Aine cursed silently; he’d left it open and now Tom knew-

“Executioner!” the vampire roared. “I can smell you. Come out!”

So much for surprise.

Aine debated for a moment and then decided he had had enough. He slid the dagger back into his coat and stepped into the doorway. He leveled his gaze with Tom’s. The vampire snarled and made to charge, but his body didn’t move.

“What in the hell?”

“We’ve already done the introductions,” Aine said coldly. “I am here to escort you to the citadel where you will stand trial for a long list of crimes, including turning an animal without due permission.”

Tom strained and snarled, but his limbs stayed stationary, held in place by Aine’s abilities. “You’re a puppet master, aren’t you?”

“Yes, actually. Do you have a phone?”

Tom looked puzzled. “No, why? Is that a crime, too?”

“No.” Aine pulled his cellphone out and pressed the buttons but it stayed dark. It would have been easier to call the guards and let them restrain the prisoner and haul him off, but it looked like he’d have to do it himself. “It doesn’t matter. Do you have an animal carrier for the cat?”

Tom adopted an attitude of fake innocence. “What cat?”

At that moment the animal strode out of the bedroom gave a loud “meow” and rubbed against his legs. Tom looked away and then muttered, “Oh, that cat.” His voice rose as he snapped, ‘It’s a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense, demanding that we ask their permission to turn something. They don’t care about making more vampires, but don’t turn your bloody cat immortal or the police come for you.”

Aine was inclined to agree, but he knew better than to say so. “I’m not here because of the cat. I’m here because you tore up a diner, killed two people, and left a score of witnesses to the fact.” Tom’s mouth opened and Aine quickly added, “Save it for the council.”

Tom fell into an unhappy silence, except for the occasional straining sound as he tried to force his limbs to move, and Aine searched the apartment for a box to cram the cat in. He wasn’t sure what would hold the creature; with immortality came increased strength, and he didn’t want it ripping its way out during transit and running loose in the city.

He found a metal safety deposit box under the bed that he thought would work. Like themselves, the cat wouldn’t need air. Tom gave another loud grunt and fought against his seeming paralysis. Aine’s head ached with the force required to keep the vampire immobile. He wasn’t sure how he was going to make him walk down the stairs and through the streets to the appointed meeting place. He’d have to deal with it when the time came.

He rubbed his forehead, then turned to the feline who was systematically shredding the book on the floor. “Here, kitty, kitty.”

The cat gave him a long, cold stare, and then in a single leap disappeared into the bedroom.

With a muttered, “God dammit, I’m ready for this night to be over!” Aine bounded after it. The thing tore around the small room, over the bed, halfway up the wall, down again, and around the floor, circling like a ballerina doing  Manèges steps. He finally managed to tackle the beast and force it into the box, howling, hissing, and slashing all the way.

“There,” he proclaimed to no one in particular and stormed back to the living room.  His head pounded and he was covered in long, angry scratches. To make his mood worse, he found that Tom had managed to raise his arms and spread his feet, though he still hadn’t actually moved. The prisoner stopped his struggles when he saw the metal box, and Aine had a sudden burst of inspiration. “You can cooperate or else I’ll incinerate this monster myself.”

Tom’s face went pale and his eyes burned with a mixture of fury and fear. “You wouldn’t. It’s not the cat’s fault.”

The future is no more uncertain than the present, Aine quipped. “If you think I’m in the mood to mess around, you’re mistaken. You will accompany me to the Guild, where you will stand before the council for your crimes and receive just punishment.”

“Sure I will. More likely you’ll cut off my head when I’m not looking and eat my heart for kicks. I know how you and your friends and your boss Malick operate.”

Aine began to slowly release his influence, watching for any signs of Tom’s fight or flight. “Malick isn’t in charge anymore. It’s Eileifr now, and the rules are a little different.”

Tom’s face twisted back and forth between surprise and bitter disbelief, and stopped on the latter. “If you say so. Just don’t hurt my damned cat or I’ll tear you apart myself.”

“You’re not in a position to call the shots,” Aine pointed out. “But if you cooperate I won’t do anything to it.”

Tom growled low in his throat but, as Aine pulled away the last of his control, he continued to stand motionless. “So where the hell are we going?”

It was a long walk to the abandoned warehouse. Tom strode next to Aine like a thunder cloud, his glittering eyes mere slits that said he was going to grab that metal box and run for it at his first chance. Aine held it tightly in one hand, and his dagger in the other. He wished he had a more substantial weapon, but there hadn’t been any way to get something larger on the bus, and since The Guild’s intel said that Tom rode the bus every night…

The pair of guards was suddenly visible in a slice of streetlight. They stood like dark statues against the rusty, corrugated walls of the warehouse, barely disguised masks of irritation on their faces.

“I got him,” Aine called, just for something to say. “I would have called but my phone got coffee spilled on it.”

“Coffee?” One of the guards demanded. “Or did you just want all the glory yourself?”

“Roger!” Cried the other with alarm. “You can’t talk to Executioners like that.”

Roger rolled his eyes. “It’s not like it’s one of the real ones. It’s only Aine. For crying out loud, I’ve been a guard longer than he was.  Just because he’s got a title now doesn’t mean anything. Two months ago he’d have been in your place!”

“That was then,” said the other quickly. “Now he could kill you for back talking!”

Aine didn’t have time for this. He couldn’t believe Tom had cooperated as long as he had, and any moment he knew the vampire would decide to abandon the cat and take off. If he did they might not catch him. “Sorry to interrupt, but could you take the prisoner into custody?”

The nervous guard gave a high pitched “eep” sound, snapped a salute and muttered apologies as he ran to take one of Tom’s arms. Roger produced another eye roll, but did the same. They quickly bound Tom and hauled him towards a van that sat half concealed in shadows.

“We’ll take him in,” Roger said with no small amount of bitterness. “And I imagine we’ll do the paperwork.”

Normally Aine would have done it himself, but his head still hurt and Roger’s attitude annoyed him. “Sure, go ahead. You’ve had a lot more practice than I have, since you’ve been a guard longer.”

Roger scowled darkly. “The next time an Executioner spot opens-”

“You should put in for it,” Aine agreed. “You’re probably good at filling the application out by now.” He nodded to a black sports car that was parked near the van. “I’ll follow you in, unless they give me another assignment in the meantime.”

“Your phone would have to work for that.” Roger sniffed disdainfully.

Aine gave him a smile. “Then I guess I’ll get a vacation, huh?”

When Aine got back to the citadel he filed his report and turned his cell in for a new one. As he tested out the menu he asked causally, “So, the prisoner?”

“They, uh, took him to detention.  Looks like he’s likely to get ten years or more, if they go by the, uh, book.” He gave Aine’s paperwork a quick, nervous read through and stammered, “Uh, s-sir? You, uh, you mentioned a cat in your, uh, report.”

Aine wanted nothing more than a shower and a nice, big glass of blood. “And?”

“Well, beg your pardon, sir, but I, uh, you, you didn’t fill out an extermination request for the, uh, for the animal. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to fill one out and, uh, you’ll have to take it down to the basement.”

“Didn’t Roger do that already?”

“Roger? Uh, no, no sir, I don’t believe so. He did file some paperwork on the prisoner and such, but um, not, not anything on an animal.”

Aine rubbed his forehead with irritation. “He didn’t let the damn thing escape did he?” He suddenly narrowed his eyes and snapped, “That’s great. Now there’s a vampire cat running loose somewhere. Put him on report for negligence!”

The stammering guard gave a quick salute, and started to shuffle through papers. “Yes, yes, sir. Of course, sir. Right away, sir.”

“I’m tired of incompetence,” Aine added for good measure. “If there’s nothing further that Roger forgot to do then I’m going to my quarters.”

“Y-yes sir. Of course, sir. Have a nice day, sir.”

Aine took a shower, dressed in fresh clothes and fetched himself a large bag of blood. He dropped onto the sofa and poured some of the crimson liquid into a cup. It shimmered in the light and he reluctantly set it aside and turned to the metal security box at his feet.

“All right, monster. I’m going to open this, and if you try to take my head off I swear I’ll fill one of those forms out.” It was a lie. Evil or not, he couldn’t bring himself to have the thing destroyed.

He snapped the locks and waited for the cat to spring at him, but instead it sat hunched back in its box and meowed piteously.

Aine sighed and stuck his hand inside. “Come on, kitty, kitty. I won’t fill the form out. Come on.” He picked the cup up in the other hand and waved it towards the feline. “Come on and have some nice blood.”

The cat gave a long, low howl and leaped. He bounced off of Aine’s chest, pinponged off the arm of the couch, and pounced to a stop on the floor at his feet, expectant eyes peering upwards. Aine slowly set the cup in front of it, and drew back before the beast could tear him to shreds, but it only set on the blood like a kitten to milk, lapping happily.

Aine leaned back and sucked at his own dinner. He’d have to wait a week or two, but then he could put in a request for a cat. Everyone was so busy with construction and organizing new policies that he doubted anyone would oppose it. Though a cat was something he needed like a hole in the head, even if it was only for ten years.

Finished with its meal, the creature hopped up on the couch and settled itself in Aine’s lap, purring loudly. The vampire tensed for an attack, but when none came he relaxed and gave it a half-hearted pat on the head. Maybe having an immortal pet wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

*****

And that’s all I’ve got. No real purpose, but it happens. Next up will be Ark.

Have a good one!

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Vampire Art

I call it that, though unless you *know* that the following are images of vampires you might not know it. For those who are out of the loop, these are the main characters in my newest vampire novel Heart of the Raven. This blog isn’t about advertising that, so if you want more info check out my author blog.

 

All in all I was pretty happy with the way the new ones came out. There are a couple I might redraw next time – Verchiel, for instance – but then again maybe not. We’ll see what’s going on at the time.

signaturesong playing at the moment – 3AM – Poets of the Fall

 

The New Book and More More Random Photos

I keep promising to show you something else… and then I don’t. But I do have one novel thing – a novel.

Ha ha! Get it? Novel/novel?

Okay, that was bad. Anyway, Heart of the Raven, book 5 of the Amaranthine series is currently available as an ebook from Smashwords and Amazon. B&N and paperback are both on the way, as are Kobo, Apple and more.

cover vs 2 - 200

Okay and now for random photos. Oh fun.

This is the end of the random cell phone photos for awhile. Expect an art post and a memorial to my father-in-law in the future. He passed away March 12th (actually as I was in the middle of making this post – it’s taken me a few days to get back to it and finish it up) so things have been topsy turvey. They should be falling back into place though.

signatureSong playing at the moment – Life Burns – Apocalyptica and Lauri Ylonen

Velnya – Blogophilia 16.5

WARNING: a HAPPY story….

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

  • Blogophilia week 16.5 – “Behind Closed Doors”
    Bonus Points:
    (Hard, 2pts): use a quote from P.J. O’Rourke
    (Easy, 1pt): include a spring break destination

This is the LAST vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. I am going to bundle them together – probably next month – and publish the collection. Meanwhile you can get them individually at Smashwords, Barnes&Noble and other retailers for free

Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂

 

Velnya

(You can find mention of Velnya in Legacy of Ghosts. Traven and Jeda are in Ties of Blood & Ashes of Deceit. This story takes place in 1855 near Springfield, Massachusetts )


Moonlight splashed on the leaves and the last of the summer grass. Velnya peered through the window and let the evening breeze kiss her skin.

“Turn your head, ma biche!”

She is slipping back to French. Oh dear

Velnya did as ordered. Her sister’s brush strokes were more violent than necessary, and Velnya bit her lip to stop a complaint.

“Place your hand just here.” Jeda pressed her fingers against her skull, and Velnya obeyed. This was not the way she had imagined the preparations for her wedding day. In her mind there was a number of cheerful bridesmaids snipping flowers and giggling, discussing the mysteries that young ladies could only speak of behind closed doors; the dreams, the possibilities, the endless years stretching out before them that would promise them happiness.

Instead she had her sister and her cold, angry eyes staring down at her in the mirror.

It was more than she could bear.

She turned in her seat and caught Jeda’s pale hands in her own. “Let’s not fight. This should be a happy occasion!”

“And it would be, if you were not going so far away! Why must he take you to the Nebraska territory? He has a fine house here!”

Velnya sighed and drew her hands back. “I’ve told you already. He’s worried that the hostility between the states will turn into something more serious, and he wishes to be as far from it as possible, and of course he wants to move farther away from his master.”

Jeda’s voice was controlled, but her eyes narrowed dangerously. “The same master he moved here not two years ago to be near? Why the sudden need to get away? And so far away?”

Velnya fidgeted with the lace on her sleeve. “I know, it is far. But not so far as it could be. It’s not as if we were going to Mexico.”

“For now,” Jeda bit back. “Who knows what he plans to do in another year, or five!”

Velnya smiled softly. “Of course we won’t. What purpose would such a move serve? Oh, Jeda! It really isn’t so very far as it could be, at least there will not be an ocean between us, and we are not going immediately.”

“No, you will go to Virginia first, to honeymoon on his plantation – another home he will leave behind – and then you will go to the wilds. There is nothing there, only dirt and shacks made of sod! There won’t be any of our kind!”

A soft rap sounded on the door and Traven’s voice floated through, “May I come in?”

Velnya glanced down at herself. She was properly dressed, it was only her hair that wanted finished.

“Yes,” Jeda called, and forced Velnya to turn back. She jabbed a pin into a coil of hair forcefully and added, “Hold still.”

Velnya sat motionless and watched in the mirror as the door opened and Traven walked in. His chestnut hair gleamed in the candlelight and his clothing was more ornate than was the fashion, a remnant of their earlier lives, before they became what they were now.

Vampires.

Velnya had been one for so long, a century at least. Each night the moon had risen to shine on Jeda and her husband and Jeda’s lonely younger sister. Though Velnya was with them, she was always alone; the one who allowances must be made for, the extra, the third wheel.

Traven stopped next to Jeda and spoke to her in soft tones; the furniture had been moved, the guests were ready, the flowers were set, the minster had arrived from Springfield. The words were unimportant. What did men and women have to talk about but the mundane? What mattered wasn’t the conversation, but the way they stood near one another without shyness. The way Jeda’s eyes would stray to Traven and something would soften in their depths. The way they said goodnight to one another every morning.

Velnya was tired of watching it and not having it for her own.

But Jeda wasn’t happy. “It’s not too late,” she murmured. “The wedding could still be postponed until we can convince him to stay. If he truly cares for her he will understand.”

“And what if he doesn’t?” Traven hissed back. “She will not find a better match. He’s an Executioner, Jeda! No, the head of the Executioners! Think of it! You know who his master is! Imagine having such an ally!”

“I am not interested in an ally, but in a husband for my sister! One who will not drag her away to the wilds!”

Traven took her hands and his voice turned into a soothing lullaby, “And would your mother not have said the same of me, bringing you here?”

“That is different! We don’t have to live in a shack and bury ourselves in the dirt!

“And neither will they. They will have a house and all the things of comfort, ma mie. Can you imagine one of his rank and privilege going without? No, he will have only the best and so will your sister. Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Instead of seeing the clouds, the separation, you should see the silver lining, such as your sister’s happiness. ” He looked past his wife and met Velnya’s steady gaze.  Something in his eyes said it wasn’t her happiness he cared for, but the advantages the match might bring him. “Have you asked Velnya what she thinks?”

Jeda pulled away from him and back to her sister. “Yes.”

“And?”

“She says she is happy in this match.”

Traven gave a satisfied nod. “As such, there is nothing more to discuss. Velnya wishes to be married, I have given my blessing, and even now the guests and groom are gathered.” He bowed to the ladies and added meaningfully, “ Let us not leave them waiting.” Then he slipped out the door.

Jeda finished her work in silence. Velnya watched her progress in the mirror and noted that she wiped her eyes more than once. Each tear filled Velnya with trepidation.

Despite the assurances Traven had given, they knew nothing of this Nebraska.  From what Velnya understood it had only become a territory a year before. She had never seen a frontier and had no idea what to expect. Would there be wooden houses with pianos and chandeliers and carpeting or would it be shacks of sod – whatever that was –  as Jeda insisted? Velnya had heard of vampires that, with no shelter from the sun, were forced to dig holes to protect themselves in the daytime. Would she really have to stoop so low? Would they not have proper coffins in a dark room or cellar? She thought of lying under the earth with the worms and the bugs, like one who was dead, and shivered. Surely Traven was right; he had to be.

Jeda helped Velnya to her feet. She placed the veil, then stepped back to eye the effect. When she didn’t speak, Velnya prompted, “Is something amiss?”

“No. It is perfect. You are perfect.” Jeda turned suddenly stern. “Promise me that this is what you want.”

Velnya swallowed hard and a thousand doubts suddenly screamed through her brain. Is it what I want? Do I want to go to the Nebraska territory? Do I want to be married? Or do I want to watch my sister and always be on the outside?

She knew the answer to the final question, and it made the rest superfluous.

“Yes. I want to marry him, Jeda.”

Her sister picked up the bouquet from the washstand and weighed it in her hands, as if it was a physical manifestation of her options. “You know he will be gone much of the time with his work. You will be alone.”

“Only at first,” Velnya assured her. “He’s going to speak to his master and ask to be set free. He’s more than paid his blood debt. Once he does, he will come home to stay. ”

“And will his master let him go?”

It wasn’t something Velnya had considered. “Why wouldn’t he? What could a master gain by holding on to their fledgling? After all, Henri let Traven go.”

Jeda made a soft noise in her throat and looked away. A secret glittered in her eyes, but it was one Velnya didn’t care to know, so she let it pass without comment.

A soft knock sounded on the door. Instead of Traven, it was a woman with hair almost as black as the sisters’. A small boy hung off her hand, his eyes.  Velnya recognized them as friends of her fiancé.  They were his neighbors in Virginia, and they were vampires, too.  That they had made the journey to Massachusetts said much about their relationship with him.

“Yes?” Jeda asked politely.

The woman – Mrs. Jesslynn Cotterill, if Velnya remembered correctly – replied, “Mr. Laurent asked me to see if you were ready.”

“Yes. Tell him to start, please.”

There was a long moment as the two dark haired women surveyed one another; an invisible clash of wills that washed past Velnya. At last Jesslynn broke away. “Of course. Come, Alexander.” Then she tugged the child out the door.

As soon as they were alone, Jeda moved to a bureau and removed a small box. She handed it to her sister. “I believe Mère would want you to have this.”

Velnya opened the box to reveal – “Momma’s cross.” She lifted it out gently and held it in her palm, turning it this way and that so that the candlelight reflected on the silver.  “She gave this to you.”

“No, she gave it to us.” Jeda stuffed the bouquet in Velnya’s surprised hands, then tied the necklace around her neck. “Wear this always, ma biche, and it will bring you luck.” She blinked back the emotions. “Come, they will be starting.”

The words had barely left her mouth when the music began.  Jeda gave her sister a last look and a quick hug, and then hurried through the door to make her descent as the matron of honor.

Velnya took her place in the hallway and waited nervously for her cue. She could see Traven standing at the bottom of the stairs, ready to walk her down the aisle and give her away. It wasn’t that she disliked Traven. In his own way he had done what he thought best for all of them, but she always felt that beneath the surface of his smooth words and suave demeanor was something coiled, like a snake, waiting for the opportune moment to break lose and reveal his true intentions.

I won’t need to worry about it any longer, she told herself. Nor would she need to worry for Jeda’s safety. She was his wife. No man would allow harm to come to their own wife.

The first strains of the wedding march swirled up the stairs and Velnya straightened her shoulders and glided down the stairs. Her eyes moved from the flowers and gleaming candles, to the assembled guests, each dressed in their finest.  Her fiancé had very few guests; only his neighbors from Virginia and a dark haired man he’d introduced as Jamie. The rest were acquaintances of Traven and Jeda, part of the burgeoning vampire society in the area.

At the far end of the room, between two large gilt candleholders, stood the minster – The Guild’s official  minster, no less – in his robes and finery, the bible in his hands. And in front of him stood her fiancé. His dark hair hung down his back and he wore his usual black suit. What was different was the rose in his buttonhole.

Though he couldn’t see her face, she felt as though he met her eyes, and a smile stole across her lips. In his face she could see the reflection of her girlhood dreams. Here was her future, her fairytale prince, the man that would take her hand on winter strolls and whisper good night in her ear. His were the arms that would shelter her when she rained tears and the laughter that would celebrate when she bubbled with joy.

And he would be hers for eternity.

She wouldn’t have to be alone ever again.

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

And that’s the last of the morsels! For now.

Troy – Blogophilia 14.5

WARNING: Violence, male/male sexual situation 

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

  • Blogophilia week 14.5 – “In Order to Live with Myself”
    Bonus Points:
    (Hard, 2pts): use the words “Waiter! Check, please.”
    (Easy, 1pt): mention the Full Moon

This is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!

Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂

 

Troy

(You can find Sarah in Shades of Gray. This story takes place sometime before Shades of Gray. I don’t know when. It doesn’t really matter. )


Troy leaned back against the metal building and stared at the sky. Shreds of clouds drifted past the full moon, like tattered silk, and a lone bird called in the distance. The sound was harsh and eerie.

It was lost on Troy.

God, I am so fucking bored. I don’t know why Claudius put me on greeting duty.

But there was only one guest left to arrive and then he was done.

The noise of a motor reached his ears and his shoulders tensed. The sound grew louder and a black car appeared, a cloud of gravel dust trailing behind it. Troy stood and stuffed his hands in his pockets as the vehicle pulled to a stop.

The back passenger door opened and a tall, thin woman climbed out. Her hair was as black as the sky and her expression cold as ice. She sniffed disdainfully and lifted the hem of her scarlet dress, as though the slowly settling dust had contaminated her.

Troy muttered to himself and then moved to meet her. He gave her a once over that left a leering smirk on his lips. Her ass wasn’t bad, but she didn’t have much in the top department. Ah well, not like he was gonna get her, anyway. She was there for the big boys. Claudius didn’t have a chance either, though no one had better tell him that or he’d have one of his fits.

The woman’s cold face got colder. “And you are?”

Troy cleared his throat loudly and made a show of a low, sweeping bow. “My master Claudius bids you welcome, madam. Allow me to escort you, and if there is anything else I can do to make your stay a… pleasurable one…” he trailed off and let the smirk demonstrate his meaning.

“That won’t be necessary,” she snapped. Her words danced with a foreign accent, Italian maybe? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. Like the rest, she was a self absorbed, bossy bitch.

“However, you can keep Costus entertained.”

Her random statement pulled him back to the conversation. “Costus?”

She motioned to the car, as if that was an answer, and then walked purposefully past him, towards the tin building and a pair of guarded double doors. “I do hope it’s better inside than outside!”

Troy didn’t bother to explain the subterranean den concealed by the small metal structure. Why bother? The bitch would see for herself. Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels before she reached the throne room and the conference.

The guards opened the door and leapt out of the way quickly. Troy watched her disappear inside, then turned back to the car and scratched his bald head. “Who the fuck is Costus?”

The back driver’s side door opened and a sulky teenage boy climbed out. Dark messy hair obscured his eyes and the set of his shoulders said he’d rather be anywhere else. His thoughts were the same.

Just the kind I like.

The boy slouched around the car and threw his bangs from his face with a jerk of his head. Cold, dark eyes gave Troy a once over. “Who are you supposed to be?”

Troy returned the long look; from the kid’s leather footwear, past his pressed pants , sharp blazer, and the open neck of his crisp white shirt. “First tell me who the fuck you are.”

He sniffed disdainfully. “I’m Costus, obviously.”

“And obviously I’m the asshole who’s stuck babysitting you while your momma plays with Claudius.”

The change was instant; the kid went from sulking boredom to raw fury. “She is not my mother, you insolent-”

Troy snorted. “I don’t care who she is. I’m not stuck with her, I’m stuck with you. Let’s go.”

Costus’ anger flickered. “Go where?”

“I’ve been greeting the envoys all night and haven’t had time for more than a snack, so I’m hungry.”

Costus looked ready to argue – and he was. Troy could hear the thoughts bubbling through his brain. He didn’t want to take his car, didn’t want the driver to know where he was going or what he was doing. His sister – That’s who she is, not his mother. I knew they looked alike – wouldn’t like it. She’d told him not to go anywhere and charged the driver with keeping him out of trouble. Then she’d lectured Costus. He was tired of being lectured. He wasn’t a child, and hadn’t been for two hundred years.

Bingo.

Troy’s shrug was fake casualness. “Unless you think your mom would get mad?”

As he expected, that did it. Costus’s face twisted and he snapped, “She is not my mother, and I don’t care if she’s angry!” He turned and jerked the back door open. “Are you coming or not?”

The interior was black leather; the smooth, sensual kind.  Troy briefly imagined the kid’s naked skin on it, white against the black. Kid. Though he called him that, he wasn’t. Costus’ thoughts had betrayed his age. Hell, he was older than Troy was by nearly a century. That was the beauty of vampirism. Age was relative; it just depended on how you looked at it, so everyone was only as old as you wanted them to be.

The town was nearby and there wasn’t much to it. It was larger than some of the others, but it was nothing like home. Not that Manhattan had been a great place to live, especially not the part he’d been in. Hell’s Kitchen, they’d called it. The name fit in a way that people who’d never been there couldn’t know. Or at least it used to fit. Last time he’d been there it was full of high rise bullshit and nothing he recognized. Sure, some of the old buildings were there, but they were occupied by suits and yuppies. Oh well, all the old gang was gone too, so it seemed fitting. Not like he needed any of them now, anyway. Truth be told, he didn’t need anyone.

Except for some fun.

The driver glanced back to them. “Where would you like to go, sir?”

Costus looked at Troy from the corner of his eyes, as if seeking the answer.

Oh yeah, this kid’s like putty.

“We’re hungry,” Troy barked. “Take us to a restaurant – a nice restaurant.”

“Erm. A restaurant… sir?”

“Do you always talk back to your superiors?” Troy demanded with authority. “I don’t know what kind of a coven they’re running, but where I’m from, the low men on the totem pole show the proper respect and do what they’re told!” As if to seal it he met Costus’ eyes. “Is this how you let them treat you?”

“No!” the kid cried with moral outrage. He pounded his fist into the seat. “Do as you’re told, Piotr!”

“Yes, sir!”

Troy could hear the driver’s worried thoughts; worried about being demoted, worried about being killed. Worried about being kicked out of the coven and left to fend for himself. He was a vampire like them but he was new – really new. Troy saw a flash of thought, a half formed image of a pretty girl with a bloody face whispering, “Do you want to be like me, pretty Piotr?” And then she was gone and Piotr was alone in the rain and he didn’t understand.

Good. He knows what it is to be alone. He fears it. Where there’s fear, there’s control.

Troy smiled, but not kindly. “You better listen up, there, Piotr, or they might have to replace you with someone competent.”

He could feel Piotr’s fear double.

The restaurant was attached to a hotel. It was nice, but it wasn’t the million dollar kind. There weren’t any of those around. Piotr parked the car and nervously hopped out and opened the back door for them. Troy climbed out and straightened his leather jacket. Costus got out behind him, a frown on his face.

He doesn’t understand, but he will.

Troy motioned to the kid and headed for the door. Like an uncertain puppy, Costus followed into the lobby and to the desk where a lady asked for their reservations. He saw it in her mind; there’d been a cancelation. The Whites- whoever the hell they are – weren’t coming. That sounded like the perfect table to him.

He fished around in her head for their full names but could only get one: Ron. That was enough.

“Ron White said he had to cancel his table and he thought maybe we could have it instead.”

She looked doubtful. “You’re friend of Mr. White?”

“Either that or he’s just calling strangers about his reservations.” He gave her a tight, friendly smile. “Ah, come on honey, I bet you don’t get paid enough to do detective work on everyone who comes in here. The bosses probably don’t appreciate the work you already do. No need to make more for yourself on our account.”

He heard her agree silently. They didn’t pay her enough, and the manager forgot her birthday. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t sleeping with him. But he still forgot it. The bastard!

“I could speak to the manager and see if he thinks it’s okay?” Troy suggested.

“Oh, that won’t be necessary.” She motioned to a passing girl. “Show them to table twenty-six.”

They wound their way through restaurant, past clinking glasses and chattering diners. The table was in the center of the room, under a heavy chandelier. The old fashioned version of wealth.

The young lady hurried away and left them with a pair of menus. Costus blinked at his, and then at Troy. “You know these White people?”

“Sure, kid. I know everyone.”

Costus’ forehead seemed to fold in on itself. “I’m not a kid,” he hissed between his teeth.

Troy’s return grim was wolfish. “My mistake.”

When a waiter appeared, Troy ordered for both of them. Once they were alone again, Troy leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room. “What do you prefer? Boys or girls?”

“Girls!” Costus snapped a little too quickly, his cheeks slightly pink.

Bullshit. You’ll settle for anything that comes your way. Boy, girl, what’s it matter to you? Once the fangs are in they all feel the same.

Only they don’t.

Troy ignored Costus’ vehemence. “Take a look around and find one you like.”

The kid gave the room a casual glance; the kind of casual glance where the owner was secretly cataloging everything and everyone. Troy listened to his inner comments; this one was too fat, another too old, another too young. One was too skinny and a fifth was unattractive.

“That one,” he said finally, and nodded towards a girl with black hair and eyes the color of shadows. She reminded Troy of Costus’ sister, only without the attitude.

He didn’t mention the resemblance. “All right. Keep an eye on her.”

Their food came. They pushed it around the plates and Troy even tasted some of it, then spit it back in his napkin. Costus wasn’t as good at the charade. His back was rigid, his shoulder’s stiff, and he looked toward their prey far too often.

He’s gonna spook her.

He needn’t have worried. She was dining with an older lady – an aunt – and when Troy reached for her mind he found it all giggles. She noticed Costus’ attention, and she liked it. She was already planning on how to get rid if her aunt for the evening.

And then, she did.

She and her aunt disappeared towards the lobby and Troy climbed casually to his feet. He snapped his fingers impatiently, “Waiter! Check, please!”, motioned to Costus and then stalked out after them. He made it outside in time to see the pair separate; the older lady hobbled off towards her car and the girl made a show of stopping to dig through her purse for an imaginary “something”, her eyes on the building and her secret heart hoping that the “hot guy with the dark hair” would come out any second.

It evidentially took Costus a couple of minutes to deal with the bill, and when he stormed through the door he looked as angry as anyone who’s ever been left with the check. Troy caught his furious eyes, winked and subtly nodded towards the girl, as if to say, “There she is, tiger.”

He got the hint.

Troy leaned against a planter and smoked a cigarette while Costus stumbled through his opening lines. Her name was Andrea. He was just passing through. She was just recovering from a messy breakup. He was single. It went on through one cigarette and half of another, then Costus invited her to go with them.  She giggled and said she shouldn’t.

Then, of course, she agreed.

Troy had already spotted the car in the parking lot and led the way. Andrea asked who he was and Costus explained him away as an uncle. She seemed to find that appealing.

A family girl.

She squealed when she saw Piotr. “Oh my God! You have your own driver!” Troy could hear her thoughts clicking away; visions of dollar signs, luxurious mansions and private jets. She thanked her lucky stars for finding a rich boy. It was every nineteen year old girl’s fantasy.

Nineteen? Huh. She looks twenty.

They climbed in the backseat together, Andrea in the middle. She blushed and giggled and talked. And talked. And talked.  “Oh wow, look at the seats! Oh! They’re so smooth. I’ve never been in a car like this. Wow, you must be rich. What do your parents do? My father works for the railroad and my mother’s a teacher. So this is your uncle? What does he do? He looks like a rock star in that leather jacket. Oh my God, is that it? Are you guys rock stars or something?”

Troy tipped her a wink. “Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone, honey. We’re traveling incognito.”

She put her hands to her face and suppressed a squeal. Questions followed; what band were they in? What kind of music did they sing? Had she ever heard of them?

Troy put his finger to his lips, and she fell silent. He leaned close to her ear, as if to whisper a secret. He could smell her hair; honey and peaches. What an interesting combination. Her skin smelled like citrus with a hint of flowery perfume. Under it was the scent of her blood. Warm, salty, thick.

His words were more breath than sound, “If we tell you, we’ll have to kill you.” He laughed softly at his own joke, and she smiled nervously and leaned away. He could hear the alarm bells ringing in her head. Something wasn’t right. She could feel his malintent.

As does most prey, just before the predator strikes.

With lightning precision, he struck. His fangs sliced through the pale skin of her neck, just below her jaw. She shrieked and tried to climb into Costus’ lap, her arms and legs flailing in the confined space. Troy roughly pulled her back and grabbed a fistful of her hair.  He jerked her head to one side, to give him better access. More blood.

With the blood came the visions.

She was six. Candles burned on a birthday cake. She cried because another girl was mean to her. She told her she was ugly. Poor little ugly girl in her birthday dress. Mother soothed her. Told her she had guests waiting.

The scene changed.

Snow fell and cocoa steamed. Her best friend lay on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. They watched horror movies. The TV flickered. A Hollywood vampire snarled, blood on his face. Artificial, yet somehow more believable than the real ones.

Believable because they weren’t in the middle of nowhere New York. Real vampires wouldn’t be there. Not really.

Or so she thought.

The visions pounded over him, and he sought the worst ones; the tears, the pain, the agony. Breakups, broken hearts, loneliness, grief. He felt them all, just as she had, one after another breaking over him like waves on the shore. She felt them too, as raw and fresh as if they were new, and she screamed.

He could still hear Costus, like a small beating light at the edge of his peripheral vision. Troy broke away from Andrea’s streaming consciousness to concentrate on him. Costus had fed earlier but the smell, the sight, the screams – his desire was growing, building. His lips pulled back from his teeth. He wanted the heat, the taste, just a drink. Only a drink.

“Come on,” Troy whispered around a mouthful of her throat. “You picked her.”

Troy edged away from her mind and let her come back to the present in time for Costus’ bite. He bit into her naked shoulder, teeth rending flesh in the quest for her blood. She jerked and fought, hitting him with one arm, kicking her legs uselessly against the seats. And her screams – her screams were terrible, terror-filled. The kind of screams a horror movie producer would pay extra for.

The kind of screams Troy loved.

He let her go and leaned back into his corner of the car. He watched as Costus took hold of her writhing, flailing body. He pulled her to him and bit harder, deeper. Her back arched and her breasts strained against her dress. Her blood smeared around Costus’ mouth. He tightened his hold for better access and wrapped his hand around the bite Troy had made. Blood oozed between his fingers; scarlet against the pale of his skin.

She went limp in his arms, but still he drank, oblivious to Troy, or to Piotr who was still driving, mild concern on his face as he glanced into the rearview again and again. Troy could hear his thoughts. His mistress wouldn’t like this. She was going to be mad when she found out. There would be hell to pay.

He has no idea.

“She’s empty,” Troy whispered, his voice husky. Costus’ eyes met his briefly, a flash of incomprehension.  He wanted more. It wasn’t about the blood anymore. It was about…

Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly it.

Troy pulled the girl from Costus’ arms and stuffed her into the floorboards. The kid stared at him with wild, half crazed eyes. Troy didn’t wait for them to clear.

He pounced on Costus and knocked him back against the window. Troy grabbed his shirt in both hands and pulled it open. Buttons popped and pinged on the chrome and leather.  The skin underneath was smooth and pale. Under the passing streetlights, it gleamed like polished marble.

Troy caught Piotr’s horrified eyes in the rearview and his smile grew into something smug. It was the driver’s job to look after Costus and keep him out of trouble, but there wasn’t a damned thing he could do now.

Troy bit. Costus gave a strangled cry and batted at Troy, aware for only a moment of what was going on. His awareness disappeared as his blood filled Troy’s mouth and their minds touched.  Oh yeah, the kid was older than he was. He could see it; see the funny clothes, hear his sister’s urgent voice. Costus was born into darkness first, turned by a friend of his mother’s he called ‘Uncle’. The bloodlust tore through him. In his rage he attacked his sister. She screamed but he was strong now – so strong-

“No!”

Costus’ scream tore through the car and Piotr slammed the brakes. Troy let the scene go; let it slide away, back into the depths of the kid’s memories, and reached for something else, something better. Costus moaned and his body relaxed. The pleasure built, coursing through both of them. They shifted until they were nearly laying down, Troy on top of him, pressing him down into those smooth leather seats.  Costus unconsciously wrapped his arms around him, pulling his attacker closer, tighter. His back arched and his body shuddered.

Yeah. Oh fuck, yeah.

The orgasm ripped through Troy and he let go. The connection snapped and cold air slapped him in the face. The door was open and Piotr leaned in it, screaming. Without a thought, Troy slammed him in the face with his fist. The driver stumbled backwards and Troy slid out of the car in a flash. He grabbed Piotr by the lapels and lifted him, his teeth snapping in the driver’s face. He could take him now – right now – gorge himself like some big, fat spider and leave him lay. He could-

“Stop!”

The cry was shaky, but demanding. Troy looked up to see Costus stumble out of the car and lean against it. One hand held his shirt together and the other was out, almost comically, like a traffic cop giving directions. “Leave him!”

Troy dropped Piotr to the ground and stepped over him. “Whatever you say, kid.” He ducked past Costus and slid into the backseat. “We better head back, your sister will want to know where you are.”

He could hear the argument in Costus’ head. Hear him mentally shout, “She’s not the boss of me!”, but he didn’t say it. Instead he fumbled himself into the car and settled into the corner.

Piotr stood and wiped himself off. He opened his mouth, the beginning of a tirade. Troy knew what he was going to say and cut him off. “You’re just a lowly nothing peon. Go ahead, run back to your mistress and tell her what happened. See if Costus goes along with you, because he won’t. He’ll say you’re full of shit and she’ll punish you like a dog for lying. That should be fun to watch.”

Piotr looked to his master, but Costus didn’t meet his eyes. Troy knew he was right, and now Piotr did too.

Without a word, the driver got in and started the car. They pulled back onto the highway and sped through the night towards Claudius’ war den. Troy watched Costus from the corner of his eye. There were wet wipes in a door compartment and he used them to clean himself; his hands, his face, his chest. His fingers trembled as he buttoned his blazer. It wasn’t enough to hide his gaping shirt and the missing buttons. Troy could hear his panicked thoughts as he tried to come up with a lie to explain it. All his attempts were stupid, but Troy didn’t care.

Not my problem.

The car pulled to a stop and Troy hopped out and stretched. He glanced back to the pale faced kid inside. “You coming, prince charming?”

“No. I-I’m going back to our hotel.”

“Suit yourself.” Troy slammed the door and stepped back. He watched as it pulled away, spitting gravel behind it, then faded into the embrace of the night. Costus’ sister would have to find another ride, or else sleep there during the day.

Troy turned for the metal building and thought of Costus and his downcast eyes. It was an expression he’d seen before; half guilt, half bewilderment. Uncertain about what had just happened, and if they’d wanted it or not.

Of course he did. And if he didn’t then he at least deserved it. They all deserved it with their mansions and their money.  Hell’s Kitchen might be a swanky address now, but in his memory it wasn’t. The lessons he’d learned on those streets would stick with him for an eternity. You took what you wanted because no one was ever gonna give it to you. Only the strongest survived, and to be the strongest, he’d given up his soul, long before he’d become what he was now.

And in order to live with myself I don’t try to get it back.

After all, what did a vampire need with a soul anyway?

It would just get in the way of the fun.


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

I am working on Patrick as a Novella, so that leaves only Velnya’s story to write before the short story collection will be complete. Yay! Not sure what I am doing for her as there are several things I’d like to see.

Sarah – Blogophilia 13.5

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

  • Blogophilia week 13.5 – “Absolutely Never … well … MAYBE”
    Bonus Points:
    (Hard, 2pts): include the words “haunting numbers” …. and a pair of dice showing 2 and 6
    (Easy, 1pt): include something that needs liquid fuel

This is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!

Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂

 

Sarah

(You can find Sarah in Shades of Gray. This story takes place during Shades of Gray – if you’ve read the book, this happens the same night that Katelina meets Jesslynn and the baby in the nursery)


Sarah sat on the couch, a bright orange pillow clutched in her lap. “I know it’s been hard on Katelina. I really think she needs to talk to someone. I suggested she call you and set up an appointment, but she’s so stubborn.”

The therapist nodded. Her blonde hair moved with her head, like a solid piece of hairsprayed perfection. “Her boyfriend was murdered, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. They still don’t know who did it.” Sarah frowned. “Though the police have been harassing her about it for a month. And now there’s some joker calling her at work.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t what we’re supposed to be talking about.”

“We can talk about anything you want,” the therapist assured her. “Why do you think this is bothering you so much?”

“Because she’s my best friend,” Sarah answered without thought. “We’ve been friends since we were kids. She was there for me through a lot of crap.” The therapist nodded, and Sarah went on. “I can’t stand seeing her like this. She says she’s fine, but I know better. And then some jack ass thinks it’s funny to call and say they know who killed him…” she trailed off and shook her head. “I’d like to ring their neck!”

“Did their joke upset her?”

Sarah absently bunched the pillow with her hands. “Of course it did!” Her voice dropped. “She went home early and I haven’t seen her since. I thought I should give her a little time, but I don’t know. It’s been a couple of days. Maybe I should call her?”

“What do you think?”

Before Sarah could answer, the timer buzzed.

“And that’s our session for today.” The therapist stood up and offered a lipstick colored smile. “I’ll see you next Friday?”

Sarah dropped the pillow to the couch and swept to her feet. She shook the doctor’s hand, murmured the usual goodbyes, and headed out into the corridor. The colorful fish photographs and cheerfully painted woodwork didn’t make her feel any better.

Her cellphone went off and she tugged it from her purse. Brad’s familiar, smiling picture flashed on the screen and a silly grin stretched over her face as she answered it. “Hey, honey. What’s up?”

“Hey, sweety. Just calling to see how you’re doing.”

Sarah juggled her purse and let herself out through the glass front door. It was only five, but the October sky was already growing dark and the air was crisp. She wished for her jacket and hurried to her car. “I’m okay. Just leaving the therapist now.”

“Feel better?”

It was a joke, but it made her frown. “No, not really.” She sighed. “I’m worried about Katelina.”

“I’m sure she’s fine, honey. She just needs some time.”

“I know.” Sarah unlocked the door and slid in behind the steering wheel. “I just wish to God she’d never gotten tangled up with Patrick! He was bad news from the get go!” It was a familiar speech, but she launched into it, anyway. “He was a drop out – we went to school with him, though he was older than us – you’d think that would have clued her in, you know? A guy who can’t even graduate isn’t going to get anywhere. And he wore eyeliner – eyeliner! What kind of responsible guy wears eyeliner? I’ll tell you – none!”

The tirade continued as she started her car and pulled onto the road. Brad made little noises of agreement until she paused for a breath and then he threw in, “I’m sure it will be fine. Are you coming in tonight?”

His question momentarily confused her. “What?”

“To the bar? Hello! Earth to Sarah! I work tonight, honey, and I thought you were going to come in and keep me company. Unless you’re too busy?”

Her cheeks flushed. “No, of course I’m not too busy.”

“I wasn’t sure. Your Patrick tirade can go for hours, after all.”

She could hear the smile in his voice and she responded with a sheepish laugh. “Okay, okay, I get the hint. I just never liked the guy.”

“Me either, but he’s dead now. It’s so long and good riddance, and time for everyone to move on, huh?”

“I know, I know. My therapist says I have trouble with letting things go.”

“I think she’s right.” His voice turned to innuendo. “Maybe later tonight we can see if you have trouble letting me go?”

Sarah giggled. “Oh, you! All right, let me just change and call Katelina real quick, and I’ll be right there.”

“Okay. I’ll be missing you until then.”

They exchanged their kissy-sounds and goodbyes, and then Sarah dialed Katelina’s phone. It went straight to voicemail. Undeterred, she tried twice more, as though it would magically ring through if she only called enough. As she pulled into the driveway of her little rental house, she surrendered and left a message.

“Hey, it’s Sarah. Just wanted to make sure you’re okay. They said you didn’t call in today, or yesterday. I know you kind of flake sometimes, but I just wanted to make sure everything is all right. Call me.”

There was nothing to do but wait.

Sarah took a shower and changed into the little red dress she saved for special occasions. Tonight wasn’t really special, but she knew Brad felt neglected. On their last date she’d spent the whole night fretting about Katelina. He’d joked about it, but it was obvious it upset him.

“I’m going to show him just how important he is”, she thought as she spritzed on his favorite perfume.

She checked her phone as she headed out the door, seeking the familiar, haunting numbers, but there were no missed calls. Damn. Where the hell is she?

She called Katelina – got voice mail again – and made up her mind. She dialed Brad’s phone and he answered on the second ring. “Hey, whatcha need?”

“I called Katelina but she didn’t answer.” She heard his sigh, and she rushed on quickly. “I’m just going to stop by her place for a little bit, to make sure she’s okay, and then I’ll be yours for the whole evening.”

“Sarah-”

“I promise! I just can’t enjoy myself while I’m worried about her, you know? I swear, it won’t be five minutes and then I’m all yours. No more distractions. Just you, me, and a few dozen drunks hanging around the bar.”

He laughed lightly. “As long as they’re a few dozen drunks who are tipping.” He sighed. “All right, though I think you’re worried over nothing. Every time that girl breathes wrong, you’re fussing and fretting. Sometimes I just feel like you love her more than me.”

“Of course I don’t! You know I love you and Mr. Winky-boo.”

She could feel him cringing. “I wish you wouldn’t call it that.”

“Why not? Oh, come, on, lots of guys have names for it.”

“Cool names. Not something like that. It sounds like a puppet from a kids’ show or something! For Christ’s sake, we’re not in junior high.”

She couldn’t stop the giggles anymore. “All right, all right. I’ll stop calling it that if you stop dogging me about being a worry wart.”

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Deal. Now go check on your air headed friend and I’ll see you later.”

“She’s not an air head.”

“Really? And how often is she completely irresponsible?”

Absolutely never … well … maybe once in awhile…” she trailed off. “Okay, she’s a fruit cake, but so are you.”

“I’ll pretend that means I taste good. See you soon.”

They repeated their kissy-ritual and hung up.  Sarah started the car and backed into the street. Just a few minutes, she promised herself.

The street was crowded and Sarah had to park her car two blocks away. Most of the shops on Main Street were closed, but the ballet studio was letting out and the street was thronged with parents picking up their little princesses in time whisk them home for a late dinner.

Must be nice, Sarah thought bitterly, then just as quickly she chided herself. Her therapist had told her that when she started to feel like that, she should count her blessings. It didn’t matter where she’d come from, only where she was going.

Easier said than done.

The street lights tinted the evening orangy-pink. Sarah hurried down the sidewalk to the book store. Katelina’s apartment sat above it and her living room windows looked out on the street. Light blazed from them and a person shaped shadows flitted across the blinds.

Good. At least she’s home.

A cheery red door led to a steep set of stairs. Sarah hurried up them and froze at the top, one hand on her purse and the other on the stair railing.

Katelina’s door sat at the end of the hall, wide open. A slice of the front room was visible; the coffee table was overturned and the floor was heaped with books and other items, including what looked like the couch cushions.

Eyes narrowed in determination, Sarah marched through the door, her cell phone in one hand as though it was a weapon. The disarray was even worse inside. The two large bookcases had been emptied and the armchair was overturned. From where she stood, she could see part of the kitchen; the cupboard doors were open and broken dishes littered the floor.

Fury swept through her. After everything that had happened, how could someone do this?

Glass shattered and she stormed towards the sound. Inside the bedroom she found two men. One had long black hair and chestnut colored skin. He’d have looked at home wearing feathers and buckskin. A scar across one cheek only made him look wilder. The other had short red hair and dark eyes. His skin was pale white, and something about the way he stood, perfectly still and staring, seemed wrong.

She refused to let them intimidate her. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” She brandished her phone. “I’m calling the cops!”

The Native American took a step towards her, his eyes narrowed and his hands loose fingered fists at his side. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

She jabbed the icon for the phone app. “Just watch me!”

With a snarl he leapt at her, and she ran. She pounded down the short hallway, the intruder behind her. Her purse fell from her shoulder and she let it go. Maybe he’d trip on it.

She made it to the front room before he tackled her to the floor. She kicked and flailed, but he was too strong. A thousand panicked thoughts raced through her head, each one culminating in the certainty that she had to escape.

A voice floated from behind them, “Did you get her, Joseff?”

The reply came through clenched teeth, “Obviously.”

“Good, then let’s get out of here.”

Her captor stood and pulled her to her feet. She tried to swallow down her terror and remember what she’d learned in self defense class. She knew the first step was to remain calm.

Easier said than done!

Joseff jerked the cell phone from her hand. Impossibly, he crushed it in his palm and dropped the pieces to the floor.

“My phone!” Sarah shrieked. That’s it! She slammed her fist into his surprised stomach and followed it with a sweeping kick to the back of his knee. He didn’t fall, but the moment of surprise gave her an opening and she took it.

She was just to the front door, one foot in the hallway, when he grabbed her arm and swung her around. Her face smashed into the door frame and pain exploded from her nose. She stumbled backwards and Joseff knocked her to the floor.

Something warm and wet ran down her face; blood. The familiar sensation flung her back in time. Suddenly she was a little girl again, crouched in the closet, hiding from her father’s beer scented fury. She trembled and terror crashed through her. Help me! She begged silently. Save me. Someone, please.

No!

She wasn’t a little girl, she was a grown woman, and the only person who was going to save her was herself.

She took stock of her surroundings, looking for a weapon. A broken-spined book lay next to her. Useless. A pair of dice showing a two and a six were near her left hand. Useless. There was a bottle of nail polish – useless – and half of a broken glass ashtray.

Useful.

She slowly wrapped her hand around it, the jagged edge out, and readied herself.

“She’s going to be trouble,” the red head quipped.

“Brilliant observation, Lennon!” Joseff jerked her to her feet. He shoved his face in hers. His dark eyes snapped like fire that left her breathless. “Listen here Kate, or whatever your name is. You can cooperate or you can die. The choice is-”

His words shook her out of her momentary trance and she struck.  The broken glass tore at his check, but did a fraction of the damage she’d hoped for. He roared in surprise and fury and then punched her in the face. She fell backwards over the armchair and lay stunned.

Joseff loomed over her, his face twisted and lips pulled back from his teeth – No, fangs! Jesus! He has fangs! He grabbed a handful of her curly hair and lifted her by it. “Enough games, you stupid human!”

She had a nanosecond view of his fist crashing towards her face.

The world went black.

When she opened her eyes she was greeted by the same suffocating blackness. Her face throbbed and, though she tried to move, she couldn’t. It was as if she was tied up.

Oh, God!

She took a deep, exhaust scented breath and choked. She could feel the hum of a motor, the vibrations of movement.

I’m in the trunk of a car.

Which could only mean one thing: she was being kidnapped.

But why?  If they wanted money they’d have just taken her discarded purse. If they wanted to rape her, they’d have done it back at the apartment. If they wanted to kill her, she’d already be dead. She didn’t know them, so why-

“Listen here Kate, or whatever your name is…”

“Oh my God, they’re after Katelina!”

The realization jolted her. Why would a pair of thugs be after her best friend? What in the hell was Katelina mixed up in?

Patrick. It had to be something to do with him. Probably drugs. No doubt, that was what he’d been killed over and now – and now what? And now they were after Katelina, only they’d grabbed her by mistake?

In her mind, she ran through scenes from movies, lectures from her self defense class, random reality TV shows. None of them had any advice for this scenario. Not even Cosmo had a “What to do if you’re locked in a trunk” article. Like usual, she was on her own.

You can do this, she told herself. Just hang on until we get wherever we’re going. Then they’ll open the trunk. But how long would that be?

Minutes ticked past, or maybe they were hours. Trapped in the dark without her phone, Sarah had no idea how much timed had passed.  The car thrummed along at a steady pace. She was jostled over bumps, but for the most part the ride was smooth. Probably an interstate, she told herself.

Her mind wandered. She thought of Brad. She could picture him leaning on the bar, his sandy blonde hair glinting in the row of colored lights, and his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Only, they wouldn’t be. They’d be ringed in worry and impatience, while he checked the clock and wondered what was taking her so long.

Hopefully he’d go to Katelina’s when he got off work, and when he found it in shambles… what? He’d call the police? And just how would that help her, when she was God knows where?

The car slowed and then the road suddenly got bumpy – very bumpy. She could hear something pinging into the bottom of the car: rocks. They were on a gravel road.

Gravel?

It felt like an eternity, but at last the car pulled to a stop and the engine fell silent. Sarah heard the car doors open and footsteps crunch across gravel. They stopped nearby and someone banged loudly on the trunk.

Lennon’s voice sounded tiny and distant through the metal. “You sure she’s not dead?”

“I’m sure.”

Someone slotted a key into the lock and then the trunk sprang open. Sarah squinted against the onslaught of artificial light; too bright after the blackness.

Joseff grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her out of the trunk. With her ankles bound, she couldn’t stand on her own, so he flung her over his shoulder and carried her towards a small brick building that sat seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Several cars were parked in the gravel parking lot, and a security light threw harsh, strange shadows.

The metal door of the building scraped open and a blonde man appeared. His hair was longish and tucked behind his ears. His eyes held neither hatred nor pity; the expression of someone who was simply doing what they were supposed to.

“You got her?”

“Yes,” Joseff answered smugly. “She walked right in and practically asked us to take her.”

The blonde moved aside so they could enter. As they passed through the door, Sarah missed banging her had against it by mere inches.

They walked down a brick hallway and the blonde asked, “Was Jorick there?”

Jorick? Who’s Jorick?

“Nope,” Lennon answered from behind. “She was all alone.”

“Hmmm. The way that Michael and the others talked, she left with him.”

Michael? Who the hell were these people?

Joseff made a noise of agreement. “I know, but he wasn’t there and it’s not our problem. Let Michael explain it.”

“He can’t. He’s dead.”

Sarah felt a stab of icy terror at those words. Michel was a stranger to her, but that they could be so nonchalant that someone – anyone – was dead…

“Claudius kill him?” Joseff asked as they came to a door in the far wall. The blonde opened it and they started down a set of stairs.

“Yes. He had him burned, shortly after you two left.”

Lennon made a noise in his throat and Joseff grumbled, “I always miss the entertainment.”

Burned? Oh my God, it’s the mafia, isn’t it? There was no other explanation. But the mafia doesn’t have fangs. She still remembered her captor’s flashing teeth. Maybe it was my imagination. It had to be.

The trio of men fell silent as they reached the bottom of the stairs and Sarah concentrated on her surroundings. The room was large and open, like a big basement, with gray walls and floor. A chandelier, strangely out of place, hung from the center of the ceiling, and beneath it sat a large, wicker chair.

A door to the right opened up and several people trailed out. Among them was a bald guy, two scantily clad women, and a sulky blonde teenager.  Sarah didn’t recognize any of them, but there was something about them, something that seemed… wrong.

If this is the mafia, then they don’t look like they do on TV!

The group moved to the center of the room and the teenager dropped into the chair. His cold eyes surveyed them and Sarah shivered.

Joseff dropped her to the cement floor. With no hands to catch herself, she landed painfully on her shoulder. She bit back a cry and told herself to stay calm. Work on the rope on your wrists. Try to get your hands loose. You can still escape.

The Native American propped his foot on her hip and declared, “We’ve brought her, Master.”

“Have you?” The teenager stood and moved to her, absently rubbing his hands together. She froze as his gaze moved from her feet to her head and back again, so intense that she could almost feel it, like fingers gliding over her. “She is interesting. I could see why they might fight over her.”

The bald man made a noise in his throat and walked towards them. He stopped a few feet away and broke into rough laughter.

The teenager’s head snapped up and his cold eyes narrowed. “And what do you find so amusing, Troy?”

“It’s not her,” he answered, his smile wide and fanged.

Fanged?  No, that had been her imagination. People didn’t have fangs. The mafia did not have fangs!

The teen frowned. “Are you certain?”

Joseff growled low in his throat and stepped harder on her hip. “Who else would it be?”

Troy shrugged. “Damned if I know, but Patrick’s girl is a bit of blonde fluff who looks like she might crawl under the bed at the slightest provocation.” He broke into harsh laughter again. “This one’s kinda cute, though. I bet we could find something to do with her.”

His leering tone made her stomach twist. And his fangs continued to taunt her; shiny, sharp, real. How could he have fangs?

The teenager’s face clouded and he glared at Sarah, as if it was her fault. “If you’re not Katelina, then who are you? Speak!”

Joseff ground his heel into her and she yelped, then choked out, “Sarah. Sarah Townsend.” She could tell from their expressions that more was expected, but she refused to play their game.

“And just what do you have to do with anything?” the teenager demanded.

She summoned up all of her courage and stared back. “Untie me and I’ll tell you.”

The teen motioned with his hand. “Joseff.”

The Native American leaned down and grabbed her by her throat. She choked as he lifted her off the floor, crushing her windpipe in his hand. The same hand that had broken her phone to bits. Oh God.

“I’m- I’m Katelina’s friend,” she gasped out.

“What? I didn’t hear you.” The teen motioned to Joseff again and he released her. She landed on her face and rolled over, still coughing. “I’m Katelina’s friend,” she repeated, her voice raspy.

“Her friend, hmmm?” The young man’s eyes glittered like daggers. “Then tell me, where is she?”

“I-I don’t know.”

He leaned down, though not close enough to actually touch her. “You don’t know, or you refuse to tell?”

Her voice rose, though she didn’t know if it was from anger of terror. “I said I don’t know!”

“Hmmmm.” The teen straightened, turned on his heel, and stalked back to the chair. He draped himself over it and stared at her with bored disdain. “I imagine you don’t know where Jorick is, either?”

Jorick. They’d mentioned him earlier. “I don’t know who he is.”

He snorted. “Of course, play innocent. But, we’ll see how long you can keep it up for.” He snapped his fingers. “Troy! Have you heard from Peter and Javier?”

“No, Claudius – Master,” he corrected quickly.

Claudius drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “They should have reported by now, unless they’re dead.” He narrowed his eyes at Sarah. “Are they dead? Did Jorick kill them, perhaps?”

When she didn’t answer, Joseff kicked her in the back. “He asked you a question.”

Though she knew they weren’t playing, she shouted, “I don’t know who they are, or who Jorick is, and I don’t know what happened to any of them! Let me go now and I won’t call the police!”

Troy’s grin seemed to grow even wider, if that were possible. “Let me have her, Master. I’ll make her talk.”

Claudius nodded disinterestedly. “Very well, Troy. Do as you please.” He glanced back to her and added absently, “If she knows anything, I would appreciate the information while she’s still able to speak.”

A terrified scream strangled itself in Sarah’s throat and she struggled against her bonds. This had to be a joke. Wasn’t there a TV show where they tried to scare people? Maybe she was on it. Or maybe it was a nightmare. Or maybe-

Troy bowed low, and then pounced, like a cat with a mouse. He snatched Sarah up by the front of her dress and smiled into her face; that wide, toothy, fanged smile. She could see herself reflected in his eyes, feel the heat of his breath.

Oh God, maybe it’s real.

Troy snickered and glanced to her captors. “Stand back, boys, and watch how it’s done.”

Joseff snorted contemptuously and the other two remained silent. Sarah tried to catch their eyes and send a silent plea to them, but they didn’t look at her. Her gaze swung wildly to the group clustered around Claudius’ chair. Surely one of them would help her. One of the women, maybe?

Help me. Save me. Someone, please.

Troy laughed again, and she told herself she wouldn’t scream, no matter what.

Easier said than done.


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

I am working on Patrick as a Novella, so that only leaves Troy and Velnya’s stories to write before the short story collection will be complete. Yay! Troy is next week, so I think I’ll just see where the prompts take me. As for Velnya… Hmmm. There are a couple of different stories I am interested to see of her, so it will depend on the prompts and random inspiration, LOL!

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