Archive for Vampirony

DJB: Letting the Fur Fly

Posted in Vampirony with tags , , , , on September 6, 2021 by vampirony

She was whispering to him again but the sound couldn’t be heard above the tinkling of the fountain.

“Do you have another message?” she asked excitedly.

He laughed heartily, “Just once, I would like to know that you look forward to seeing me and not just because I carry a message from the Sultan.”

He could only imagine the smile that crept across her face, hidden behind her veil.  She dropped her eyes and left him wondering at her thoughts. So much was still unspoken between them, out of caution, out of duty. She was a treasure to the Sultan, a truly learned man who hungered to find and possess knowledge. She spoke innumerable languages and could translate any with time including ones from far to the east in lands along other oceans. She authenticated manuscripts, could even repair them if the Sultan desired it. She advised him on promising acquisitions and had once been his most trusted appropriator, traveling throughout Europe, until that catastrophic event.

Just one more book, this one purportedly harboring the most prized secret of science and mysticism.  Behind enemy lines, a simple wagon, no observable guard to draw attention, disguised as a young lad.  She’d done it many times before, procuring Aeschylus’s seventh play discovered in Baliabadra before it fell back to the Venetians. Then there was the cache of astronomical writings from Ibn Al-Haytham uncovered in Cairo, right under the nose of the Mamluks.

But luck was not with her this last time and she had been uncovered, by an unnatural creature, in the service of the Moldavians. It had caught her scent and directed a general on loan from the Hungarian Black Army to pursue a prize worthy of ransom.  She couldn’t have known the great lengths men at war would go, the landscape transformed into Hell on Earth to prevent the Ottoman advance. With the Ottoman defeat, she had been trapped with no way out, save one very ardent wild man and his pack.  

The ramifications of that event had encircled them in this golden cage: she was safe and well cared for but within the embrace of the Harem. As such, she had to follow its rules or lose the Sultan’s protection. So started the ruse. She was ugly, as many of the other girls declared, guaranteeing the Sultan would never call her to his bed. Which also served her as accidents sometimes befell the beautiful of the harem. It was best not to stand out. Unlike most of the others, she never dropped her veil, perpetuating the myth.

She’d been burned…or carved up….(or was it branded?) by the general during her brief capture. Raped, made lame, had all her hair pulled out….he forgot how many tales had been spun about her, many of them through her own manipulations. Only one woman in the harem had ever seen her uncovered: the Kahiye-Kadin, the eldest lady of the harem. And for reasons that were the Kahiye-Kadin’s alone, she had kept the truth to herself.

For his part, he did what he had to stay near her, to be of value to the Sultan. Once the beast had been tamed from fever and word of his deformity had spread, he had enjoyed a small measure of goodwill for heroism and sacrifice saving the Sultan’s “treasure.” He earned the title “eunuch” and took up a role guarding the Sultan on outings, the lie of his Janissary status turning into truth. After a time, the Sultan found him pleasing to look at and assigned him to the Enderun, where he now couriered messages and work to her.

The legend of her rescue and his maiming meant he could drift carefully between worlds, but he feared that their time would run out before the length of her servitude. Seven years, two already spent since her father’s death had transferred her into the Sultan’s keeping. Desperate to find other ways to give favor to the Sultan, he had asked her to teach him letters, words, languages, so that perhaps he too could serve as translator, that the Sultan would once again let them pursue mythical texts and manuscripts. To break them out of the cage, where they could be together. Where he wouldn’t have to fear spilt tea and other dropped items and the reprisals that followed from disobedience.

Again, the sound of the fountain caught his attention.

“I wouldn’t want you to think that,” she softly spoke, barely audible as if she hadn’t meant to speak out loud at all. Her eyes lifted and held…my gaze…just as in the hotel, remember, let this caress speak, it is only the beginning…and felt whatever liquid ran through my body thud, my chest contracting, my heart glowing.  

I needed to keep her safe. And as I pulled my mind from distant memories to the current moment, I found myself sprawled out on some dank, cobbled floor, watering dripping along the subterranean wall somewhere nearby.  I realized it was the first time memories that I had left open to roam after first touching the Book had merged back with me. My own memories, my voice, my heart…when we had once existed in the same world, but she had not yet become my Helene.

“Gaat het goed met je?”

I raised my head at sound. A short, brown-skinned woman with what seemed to be brilliant multi-colored feathers for hair leaned over me, hand on my shoulder. Was I not in the Prague Redoubt? Had I misdialed? I tried to push myself up but as I tried to stand, I felt tethered. My head swam as I looked back towards my right leg to find the phone handset on the floor and my ankle disappearing into it.

A wave of nausea hit me as I realized I hadn’t come all the way through. No, I needed to protect her. This can’t be happening, not again. The woman spoke, but I collapsed to the cobbles, exhausted. I tried to think myself through, tried to envision my right ankle, connected to my right foot but the sensation of my body itself was fading. The room turned all the way to black just as I saw her reach for the handset and put it back in place.

“I think he’s coming around. Fetch Lord Valerian.”

I shook awake and tried to throw off the hands that held me against the bed.

“Damn it, hold him down!”

My eyes wouldn’t focus; I just saw shapes but felt pairs of hands bear down. I struggled and felt the panic of needing to be free burning in my belly. Not restrained again. Not so soon.

“Ay!”  Muffled sounds and thumps as the hands suddenly lifted as I continued to blink, a sudden whiff of burned fur.

“Jesper, calm down!”

The voice sounded so familiar that I stopped my thrashing. My eyes cleared gradually as I tried to control my breathing and soon revealed Aubry, holding his hands up with open palms. It was him but inexplicably furrier, his palms singed for some reason I struggled to grasp.

We stared at each other, as I realized I was in the Redoubt. I lay in a tall four poster bed, still naked. I felt feverish. Aubry stood to my left, his ears cocked strangely. A glance to my right showed the woman from before and one of the men from the South American tribe. Alejandro, maybe? He nodded and smiled uneasily as I looked at him.

They all held their hands up as if ready to restrain me again. That was when I felt my toes on my right foot wiggling. It was a relief to see me back in one piece.

“Sema, get some tea,“ Aubry commanded calmly, his shoulders relaxing.

“And maybe some ice, no?” Alejandro added, amused.

Aubry clenched and unclenched his fists while Sema, the woman, was suddenly there with a porcelain cup, holding it up to my mouth. I was quite thirsty and as I stared into her eyes, they held me in place and I smelled the jungle, felt the weight of humidity in the air, but tasted pine.

I flinched to sitting but only after I drank the whole cup. She stood back, a strange smile on her face. But as the liquid moved through me, I heard the roar of fire and I sprung up, looking for the pitcher. I bounded around Aubry who stopped Sema from following, from interfering, while I picked up the carafe and drank the whole thing down, rivulets of liquid escaping the corners of my mouth and traveling down my body.

As I put it down, Aubry folded his arms as if he’d seen this show but before I could ask him anything, my awareness breezed through cool pine tree forest, morning fog high on the mountain, running with the wolves at my side, solid dark soil beneath my feet. I pushed the sensation away; I need to be here in the present to protect her.

I looked back over to Aubry who’s notoriously implacable face was stunned, as if all the hairs stood up on his now very furry neck. I breathed a sigh of relief; the burning sensation had subsided. I had little time to unravel the effect of sunlight on me let alone Valerian’s pine needle tea. I needed to call for an assembly.

I stepped towards Aubry to do just that when a roar of another sort ripped through the door and I was thrown to the bed, Valerian’s hand clamped around my throat, his blood red eyes and fully fanged face just above mine.

“What the Hell are you doing here?!” he shouted, the whole room reverberating with his angry Vox. Sema and Alejandro were knocked to the floor, with Aubry gripping the bedpost to stay standing.

“You’re supposed to be protecting her!”

As his grip tightened, I felt the rush of a folded memory, of a time when Valerian and I had been adversaries. The memory wouldn’t unfurl but, for a moment, I saw all his emotions in his normally taciturn face. He’d loved and lost her too. He hated that he’d had to send me to save her. He wanted to claim her for his own.  Here. Now.  And I realized it was useless to fight against their past even as my gut twisted at wanting to know and tear out any history they had together.

“I’m here to bear witness, “ I choked out, my hands wrapped around his arm but only giving the slightest resistance.  “To Conclave. As her….” His grip steadily tightened as if he feared the words. Sema and Alejandro struggled to get to their feet, the force of Valerian’s will holding them in place.

I might be preternaturally long-lived and a broken neck might require months of recuperation. But a severed head or one otherwise forcibly separated from my neck, that was another matter. I shut my eyes, trying to calm myself, gathering my wiles to find a way to convince him.

The growl started low, hyphenated by the merest whine. But it built quickly, a series of warning yips that turned guttural, like an engine revving and the bed started to shake. Then the barks intermixed with an almost rabid growling that finally broke through Valerian’s awareness. I opened my eyes just as his grip slipped a millimeter as he turned, his right arm swinging to defend just as a maw full of glistening teeth clamped down.

I stared in disbelief as Aubry transformed from the slightly furry version of his dignified self into a full were form. No, not just were. Wiklas. As he tore at Valerian, Valerian turned to him in shock but centuries of training wouldn’t loosen his grip completely and I was yanked from the bed. I shielded my fall with my left hand and as Aubry continued to thrash his clench over Valerian’s arm, Valerian finally relented.

“Aubry!” Valerian shouted, still stunned as his oldest ally, his friend, some wondered if more, had a death grip over his forearm and was shredding it. Valerian froze, his stance turning to stone but his face barely registered the creature before him. As I finally stumbled to my feet, leaning heavily against the bed, his eyes clouded as if pulled back into memory, an emotion I had never ascribed to him: fear. But it was a flash and the betrayal and anger that replaced it heralded his powerful strike. In Wiklas form, Aubry had nearly doubled in size, towering over Valerian with all his limbs elongated and muscled, now more wolf shaped than man, having ripped through his exceptionally tailored ochre tweed suit with matching vest and purple pocket square.

Valerian flicked his wrist and while he must have broken a bone or two to do it, I heard a sharp crack as several of Aubry’s teeth that had locked into Valerian’s flesh snapped and he sailed across the room, ricocheting off the far stone wall.

I couldn’t help but let out a sigh but my relief was short-lived as Valerian turned back toward me. It was obvious Aubry’s attack was just a distraction; he was still bent on aggressive interrogation. He made only a step in my direction before the growling stopped him in his tracks.

He spun back to see Aubry’s Wiklas form crouching to make another attack. This time, he wasn’t emotionally prepared and the hurt bit into his brow. Aubrey’s wolf mouth foamed with blood but the growling grew more fevered.

“Aubry! What is this?”

Just as Aubry looked ready to strike again, I stepped up to Valerian, left arm around his back and right hand straight out toward Aubry.

“Enough, Jovan!” I shouted, in Vox.

The room was suddenly awash in light as if the shout I’d used against Sophie’s half-vampire goth girl had instead been broadcast throughout the room. As the light faded, I saw Aubry hunker down, his sanity returned and his wolfen face full of regret. He panted, obviously in pain, and he bounded out of the room as Alejandro sped to follow, with a singular glance back at us. Sema had backed against a wall; she clearly wanted no part of this.

“Sema? Please help Alejandro take care of Aubry,” still using Vox but much more subtle. I wasn’t sure how I was doing it nor whether it would be used against me later given the prohibition of using our powers against our own kind. But given the circumstances, I needed everyone out of the room as Valerian and I worked through this….whatever this was.

I turned to him, my jaw tightened with resolve to find him staring wide-eyed at me, lightly holding his right forearm together.

“Who are you, Scribe? What have you become?” Valerian insisted.

I gave his left shoulder an easy shake. “I was trying to say her advocate but you didn’t let me finish.”

His eyes tightened as he demanded, “What power do you newly possess to command my ever-faithful servant to first attack me and then be warned off like a pet?”

“You think I did this?” I commented, bemused, glancing down at his arm, as it already knitted back together. I dropped my arm and went to sit back on the bed, suddenly exhausted with my whole head hurting. As I raised my hand to my head, I noticed it shook.

“Your glowing eyes would seem to say so,” he accused. When he realized that maybe I couldn’t explain it, his mind whipped back to his earlier anger. “Whatever your abilities, you were meant to stay with her, to protect her, not run back here and leave her unguarded.”

“You’re wasting time. You must call Conclave to assemble. I must be allowed to report everything that has happened. Immediately!”

Valerian looked suddenly wary. “Why is that so important?”

“Because we killed a vampire and the Conclave must not perceive her as a threat or the area of Seattle will become a war zone.”

A vampire? Well, turns out you are woefully uninformed. Where have you been hiding the past week, under a rock?” He was still angry, his eyes still red, his fangs still extended, but my fervor seemed to be winning him over.

I noticed his emphasis on the “a” as in singular. “What are you talking about?”

Valerian, still holding his arm, walked over to the table with the empty carafe and peered in, then gave me a dubious look. He huffed and turned toward me. “What you killed was a revenant, borne from the Taint, the last unaccounted bottle of it. Who knew that one born like that would have the strength to reproduce?”

“There was another?” I replied, shocked.

Valerian’s arm must have finally felt on its way to healing as he pitched it on his hip.  “Yes, and was dealt with by your…associate through some formidable fighting that also bears some scrutiny.” He eyed me critically. “If I hadn’t known you for the last hundred years give or take a few decades, I would be concerned you might be reproducing.”

I bent my head. “You know I can’t, Valerian.” I tried to think. Morena must’ve broken the skin. But it would’ve been so little of my blood. It didn’t make any sense. But none of what I was becoming made any sense. “You say she fought another revenant?”

“She had some sort of help; it’s unclear the whole story.” Then he huffed, “I was expecting to hear it when you brought her to testify on her own behalf.”

“Bring her here? Are you insane?”

At that jibe, Valerian snorted,” That remains to be seen as I have a bookish vampire who seems intent on doing the exact opposite of what I need him to.” Then, with a tang of humility, “Well, except saving her.”

It wasn’t true, not really. She’d really saved herself. The Kukri, her wards, their strange band of irregulars that had boxed me up and taken me to the hotel. Valerian needed to not know about her vampire wards, or her assistant Nick, and I was already regretting that Morena was on his radar. It had been safer for all when he knew nothing about my life in Seattle or the company I kept. But it was obvious that I was not his sole surveillance in the area. And I had been trapped in rigor dormitus for too long to control the breaking of this story. But perhaps there was still a chance to color the commentary.

“Revenants, you say? Not other Carpathian spawn?”

“Definitively. We’d been tracking the male for some time.”

I nodded, “Then even more reason to call Conclave to assemble. I can stand witness to how she tried to diagnose him, tried to help him, not knowing it was futile.” I stood.

Valerian just stared at me skeptically. “That’s all I’m going to get from you? A proposal to stand up for her…when you’ve so obviously been….influenced by her?”

“What do you mean?”

He shook his head. “Can you actually say you are the same Jesper that I sent to contact her?”

He wasn’t wrong. In such a short period of time, the veil that I myself had pulled over the world to mute it from a history so painful I had tried to write it out of existence…it had been burned to cinders. And while I knew I myself could be the very evidence anyone in Conclave could need to show how she meant no harm, how she only sought to help, to heal, something deep within told me now was not the time for that.

“I will talk to Conclave, if I have to summon them myself.” I needed to make her safe, safe from the very interference that Valerian and I represented. She apparently could take care of the rest. She always had….except….

I strode past him, towards the open door, not able to stomach further delay. I’d obviously come across the line during the day but with Valerian up, it meant at least half a day had past. She might be sleeping now. I hoped she’d heard my message. Hoped she knew I was doing this for her.

“You might want to put on some clothes if you’re going to do that.”

I looked back at Valerian.

His eyes had faded back to brilliant blue but the line of his mouth was grim. He shrugged. “You may not feel up to sharing your own story, but it’s written all over your body. So unless you want to explain how you’ve suddenly become able to share boons with humans, turn men into werewolves, and summon light from your Vox, let me fetch you something to cover you up. You’re practically glowing.”

He moved towards an inner door, likely to his dressing room, and disappeared. He returned with a similar cloak to the one he wore to cover himself when he was back from a journey, a collar that could be turned up. I donned it quickly, but felt something just inside the pocket. I pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses.

“I’d recommend those too,” he said bluntly.

“What about Aubry?”

He sighed, his face a mask again hiding his feelings. And his recollections. Aubry’s actions had loosened something in Valerian and he was just as wiling to face it now as I was tying Aubry’s unexpected transformation to my past with the Wiklas.

“I’ll give him some time to settle.” He met my questioning gaze. “There may be more than one testimony to witness here tonight.”

…Nothing like the Sun

Posted in Vampirony with tags , , on August 8, 2021 by vampirony

“Wow, did you decide to hibernate in here?”

It was early evening and going into a fourth very lonely night. I didn’t need any reminder of beings in stasis, but Nick hadn’t seemed to understand the inappropriateness of his joke.  Sometimes, I really wondered why I continued to employ a rather mouthy millennial who insisted on checking in on me.

After Maurice’s healing, my body had been fully restored but my mood had become dour indeed. Leaving the hotel room when I was literally counting the minutes that Jesper had “slept” was an impossibility so room service with the drapes drawn tight and a single lamp turned to its lowest setting had become the extent of my existence. That and pouring over my tomes and the Internet trying to figure out why Jesper still slept.

“Why, come on in, Nick,” I answered as he stepped past me carrying two grocery bags and his satchel. He made his way to a table I’d pulled over next to the crate. Before I could warn him, Thunk!

“Owww!”

He slipped the bags onto the table, his satchel to a chair, and stooped down to see what he had run into.

I grimaced. I wasn’t going to like this. When I didn’t hear a snarky comment or exclamation, I wandered over to stand behind him just as he stood, holding his foot’s assailant. He turned the crowbar over in his hand.

“Um, aren’t we supposed to leave the boytoy in his hermetically sealed box?” He turned to me but his face was in shadow. “For his protection?”

I sighed heavily. I couldn’t help it. First I’d removed one board on Jesper’s crate so I could reach in and touch the marble that was his current form. But it hadn’t been enough; every time I laid down to sleep, it was like I felt him screaming to get out. So board after board got removed. It wasn’t in any sort of meaningful order so it looked like the crate was splitting open from the inside.

“You’re going to lose your Ritterreiter warranty with this.”

I sharply inhaled but Nick reached out and patted my arm. It was a joke. He stared down at me for a few moment’s more before he shook his head and turned to the crate.

“You want this side opened up? You’re not planning on watching the sunset, are you?”

Hmmm, how about right in front for all to see?

My head pulsed suddenly, like the twang of dizziness you can get when you stand too fast. For all to see… the courtisane…

“Eh?” As Nick started on another board, he looked back at me. It cleared my head.

“No it’s ok, that side will be fine, thank you.” I nodded emphatically.

My head was a mumble; lack of sleep, confidence, overload of worry, even the medication perhaps, had set the thoughts not free exactly, but the tethers were…loosening.

To lighten the mood, I asked, “What did you bring me?”

“Some healthier snacks, stuff I used to eat when working on an all-nighter. Some water too. It’s gonna be hot hot hot this week.”

“Ugh,” I moved over to peek into the bags, “Isn’t Seattle supposed to have temperate summers? Mmm, more gyoza. Pocky! Is that healthy?”

The nails squeaked in protest as he worked them loose. “Naw, they just looked fun.”

I felt my fatigue and looked back in the bag for any caffeine. I brought out a bottled coffee drink and smiled in delight.

Meanwhile, Nick silently worked to bring order to the chaos I created. And in that moment, I knew exactly why I still employed this millennial renaissance man.

As I snapped open the bottled drink, I felt him staring at me. “Go ahead and ask, Nick.”

“Rather more a statement than a question: This isn’t working. You’ve been looking through books and the Internet for days. I’ve been scouring the Memento. I think we need a new approach. Can’t we just ask Luce?”

I opened a package of matcha Pocky and snapped it into segments one by one into my mouth. There should’ve been righteous indignation at his suggestion, but he was not wrong. “Oh, it’s Luce, now, eh? Well, considering neither she nor her brother have been around other full vampires that much, I’m not sure how much help she could be.” Even if Jesper resembled any other vampire.

The courtisane…just like any other monstre masculin.

“You sure you know all that those two have been up to in the last few centuries?”

Ignoring the murmuring, Nick’s question made me think of Maurice, how he’d healed me, how I couldn’t really remember how, and how I was supposed to be immune to vampire abilities. Unless it was something else.

Quite so, you should remember your own.

That stodgy arrogant voice from the northern climes in my head sounded louder than usual. Who let her out? Shush!

At any rate, I didn’t answer which he took as a No.                                                                                            

I deflected. “Where’s Morena?”

“Ah,” he seemed glad I brought her up. He paused, standing back up to look at me. “She’s convinced that she’s persona non grata because she blood-doped your boy.”

…votre monstre masculin…

I shook my head, tapped my ears.

“Hey, if she hadn’t, we’d both be dead. As well as our disappeared deli friends…”

The murmur grew more voices, some arguing with each other in all manner of languages.

Nick continued, his voice just barely making it through the chatter, “Who seemed to have vanished in thin air. Which might later present a problem with ownership of the deli. Especially as we continue to work on the repairs and upgrades…are you listening?”

“Hmm,” I stood up and made my way to the window. “I understand.”

He finished with the last board and made a neat pile behind the chair where no one’s toes would be at risk from loose boards or a crowbar. He approached me, “Do you?”

“Morena is….one of our own.”

“Our own?”

“One of us. I mean,” I fought with words, phrases from different conversations, different timelines, different versions of me. “Morena is welcome here. While I know we don’t see eye to eye on all things, I know she wants to look out for Jesper and more importantly for you.”

I looked up at him and the voices silenced as he blushed and grinned haphazardly, nervously brushing his hand through his hair. I smiled, which felt like an odd thing painted on my face, and stepped away from him, to lift the curtain back a smidge the opposite direction of the crate. It was early evening, but the sun was still high, seemingly bending around the northwest side of the building. So much for a sun-free room.

He cleared his throat, pointing back towards the corner, “Now that crowbar stays put. I don’t want to lose our deposit if you decide to expand the closet.” I simply nodded and he continued, “Morena will be glad to hear you’re cool…since she’s actually on her way over. She wanted to see how you are and….if anything had changed.”

We cannot change the past…we are doomed to repeat it if we do not let go.

That voice was new or at least not one I remembered hearing as clearly. I suddenly smelled flowers and thought of my daughter. Who was safe. Away from me.

He moved to the chair where he left his satchel. “So if we can’t try the terror twins, I’m pretty sure my other option you will like even less.” He fished something out then held it up. The Memento.

Bâtard!

“You don’t think I know every single page…by heart…have thought through everything written in it…for an answer?” I flicked at the curtain and watched Nick’s eyes bug out.

He strode over, pulled the curtain closed tight, and gestured with the tome. “I’m not proposing we read it.”

I stepped away and pulled another section of curtain open. He followed and snapped it back. “What are you doing? You want to give your boytoy a suntan?”

I grabbed my arms around me. I didn’t know what I was doing. My thoughts and my body were interacting in ways I didn’t feel entirely in control of. In the midst of that, Nick was trying to get me to look at the book and some growing, angry, festering part of me wanted nothing to do with it. That part wasn’t speaking anymore but I felt her crouched in the corner, chuckling, as if she knew she had the upper hand.

She was ready for her moment…

And then the door swung open and Morena strode in.  

Her moment of vindication….

“Hey, how’s our statue doing?” Then Morena seemed to notice the crate. “What the hell happened there?”

Her moment of revenge….

“He has a name!” I gritted through my teeth. And I grabbed hold of the curtains and pulled them all the way open as my mind exploded in a shroud of emerald green and the smell of fetid, burning flesh.

The whole world froze for me; inside my mind, a rustle of fabrics jostled into each other, the voices shouting at once.

What in Yama’s name have I done?

Well, that’s just splendid. She’s gone off her rocker!

 Liberté!

“What the Fuck!”

Morena jumped for the bed, grabbing at the comforter as Nick and I both seemed to notice all the sunlight bouncing off of the buildings into our eyes. Nick became desperate, fighting to try and pull my hands away at the same time he tried to shut the curtains. “Sophie! Let go! What are you doing?”

But underneath it all, one voice remained silent and a calm settled in, one I’d known only once or twice in my life even though I always felt her, just out of my reach. It was with her will in which I trusted most deeply that my hands pulled with the might of all my lifetimes, most of them compelled to my will, and one who smiled with delicious avarice at the expected consequences, as I tore the curtains.

As the whole section of curtain rod came away from the wall, Nick tripped over the Memento he’d dropped and landed in a thud as Morena faced the fact that A) I hadn’t slept in that bed for four days and B) the housekeeping staff were serious professionals so had instituted hospital corners to discourage my bed dismantling. She tugged and tugged but the comforter wouldn’t come free fast enough.

So we all watched as the light from the sun, held aloft high in the summer northern sky, seemed to bend and reflect off the modern prism that Bellevue had become, travelling its course through the windows, aiming right for the now fully revealed hunk of frozen marble in the corner.

At first, the statue strangely seemed to refract the light back out into a million tiny rainbows, like a disco ball, mineral flecks in the stone perhaps aiding the effect. But just as Morena wrenched the comforter free and Nick struggled to his feet, it began to glow and hum, as if from the inside. Then the hum became a rattling, the remaining crate boards fighting against each other to get free. Morena jumped over the couch and when she was almost there, just a few more steps, the surface of the stone started to crack and splinter.

“Morena!” I think Nick and I both called out at the same time.

Luckily, she sensed the danger and used the comforter as a shield as the glow turned hot white, the sound roared to crescendo, and she and Nick dove for cover. But I couldn’t look away as the light seared my eyes, the vibration deafened me…and suddenly abated.

I wasn’t sure if my ears had ruptured but as my tearing eyes blinked, the room returned and the veined, red and mottled brown hue of the rock had melded to a more neutral almost peach fleshy tone, like a newborn.

And then with a thump, Jesper fell back naked into the crate.

“Are we dead yet? Why aren’t we dead yet?” Nick asked, arms protecting his head. I gently pulled at his shoulder to which he first resisted and then finally relent and raised up, eyes still closed tight.

I rubbed his shoulder gently which drew his gaze to me but when he saw my face, he turned back to the corner. His eyes looked ready to pop out of his head. All he could see was Jesper’s legs, the whole rest of his body lay in the shadow of the couch.

“Morena!” Nick called.

“Can I look? Is it ok to look?” She too remained under cover, as if Sodom and Gomorrah lay out before her.

“Morena, bring me the comforter,” I called, peacefully, all the other voices held in awe.

I could see his chest rising and falling, and that he was taking a moment.

“No way, you crazy fucking bitch, you’re the one that did….” Her head popped up and she saw Jesper laying there. “This.”

Jesper moaned as he began to move, trying to sit up, light flashing in his face causing him to turn his head away as his eyes smoked. Morena jumped to her feet, lifting her arms up and spreading the comforter out to shade him. But she wouldn’t go any closer and seemed almost frightened to approach.

She blocked my view so I started to stand, Nick helping me to my feet. Jesper still lay there, blinking his eyes. His skin looked freshly sunburnt, as if even a few seconds more and he would’ve turned to cinders. But he was breathing and blinking and alive. He moaned a bit more as he rolled to his side and pushed his way up to a seat.

As he took his time, I noticed that not all the vibrations in the room had ceased. There was one, faint, low, just over the hum of the mini-fridge. It felt familiar and old and yet wholly new. The room’s AC suddenly kicked in as it sensed the temperature in the room had spiked.

Jesper took in a deep, long breath, the cooling air seeming to revive him. Then he stood up. Only to bump into the chair nearby and have to use it to steady himself. Half-standing against the chair, he finally looked up and saw us by the window.

Saw me. And smiled. And started gingerly, awkwardly moving toward me, as if his legs were shorter than he remembered.

I smiled back my most idiotic, addlepated, completely relieved smile. I think I even blushed and tried to brush the hair away from my face. I mean, he was naked. Nick clung to the Memento he’d picked up off the floor as if it would shield him from the strange events. Then he hazarded a look at my face, did a doubletake, and then his face chagrined when he also noticed Jesper in the altogether.

Altogether. In one piece. The calm presence that had stood up within me receded and I was now just as muddled and confused as the moment he’d turned to stone.

Morena moved with him, never getting closer than a few feet, all of us lucky her height and long arms probably made her an excellent point guard as well as sunshade. Jesper watched her too, a tentative smile as I could now see her shock as she backed towards us. Jesper had to crouch a bit and give her a moment to get around the end table, but she finally arrived at my side, and Nick reached behind me to grab an end and hoist the comforter behind us.

Jesper finally stood before me, straightened to his full height and took in a deep breath. And I must’ve stepped forward, although I didn’t remember doing it, as if a hand in a red sari had guided me.

Gone was the sometime auburn, ash, strawberry, or even white blond, in its place was a hue that could only be described as golden. I put my hand up to touch it, hours spent wondering if I’d ever have the chance. He let out a long sigh as if he knew my thoughts and shared them. He didn’t make a move to touch me, just let my fingers work through his hair until they finally, inevitably landed on his cheek. I couldn’t help brushing my thumb across a freshly shaved chin to which he let out a quick breath.

His eyes caressed every part of my face. There was only one color to describe them. And you wouldn’t find it on a color chart.

Nick, never one to suffer a quiet moment, decided to remind us we were not actually alone. “Oh hey, man, happy to finally see you.” Then a shift in his weight and his mood changed, “Ok well, maybe we don’t need to be that happy to see each other.”

“Nick!” Morena complained.

“What? I mean, he’s the one naked and all that.”

“As if we need to talk about that at a time like this.”

Jesper looked at Morena and Nick, each one with a long thankful gaze and then back at me and nodded. He then made up his mind, reached out finally to gently slip his hand around my head, fingers caressing the nape of my neck, much as I had done on my second examination of him, and said, “I’m sorry. I must be going now.”

The room then spun upside down and inside out and when it stilled, Jesper was suddenly at the desk, its position against the wall just out of the sun’s reach, the phone handset to his ear. I exhaled suddenly, as if I’d been holding my breath underwater. And just as I grabbed all the pieces of my awareness back together and the shouting of my voices shushed themselves to pay attention, he waved a hand, two fingers in a way I’d never forget. Then suddenly his whole being seemed to be sucked through the earpiece of the headset and was gone.

“Oh, you gotta be shitting me!”

Huh, I thought, for the first time ever, Morena and Nick are on the exact same page.

I then proceeded to fall to the floor in another stunning example of my well-honed ability to tackle a crisis.

Some keys open all doors

Posted in Vampirony with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2021 by vampirony

“Somehow you strayed and lost your way, and now there’ll be no time to play, no time for joy, no time for friends – not even time to make amends.”

— The Chesire Cat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Roshni had thought she’d reached the very last key so many times now that she’d lost track of time. But every time she’d grabbed at it and tried it unsuccessfully, there seemed to appear yet another key on the key ring. Which was even more strange as she was the mistress of keys here, in this house, if maybe not so much on the grounds where lemon trees and tea parties had now taken root.

She had been in a rush to free her charge but now she had to pause a moment. Why was she doing this at all when clearly the force of the house itself did not want to raise awareness? She thought of the lemon tree, so fresh and new, but still small and delicate. It reminded her of the new tea plants on the farm back home. It would take almost 3 years and diligent care for them to grow to flower.

Something slammed into the door. “Salut, Rosie!” Hands came through to grab the bars and the figure started to swing from them. “Quand allez-vous me laisser sortir?”

“I’m working on it,” Roshni said but just stared at the last key. “You should practice your English so you’re ready when you get out.”

“Oh Renie is ready, mon amie. Hee hee!”

Roshni felt a pang and knew the trouble with the keys was her own doubt. She felt just as sure that this needed to happen, for the sake of the one they all followed, for the sake of the ones taking tea, for the sake of the lemon tree growing in the garden. For the tree to flourish, the past must be made right. The soul must be washed clean.

“Are you sure, Renie? Are you sure you are ready? What we discussed? Only what we discussed? You promise?”

“Yes yes,” the figure suddenly stopped swinging, and one hand released its grip on the bars. “Hand on heart.”

Roshni nodded. She didn’t always trust herself to know what was best and she trusted Renie even less to keep her word. But these keys, like this door, at the end of this hallway, on this floor had only revealed itself in this lifetime to her. She had heard this lost soul banging around for many many years, even before the Mad Hatter up there had poured her first cup. But it had only been this one’s lifetime that had given her the means to find Renie, speak to her, understand her.

And while it still seemed strange how the shadows moved and secrets still lurked in almost every corner of the house, this path, this moment here seemed destined. Hand on heart. If she had just one more moment with her heart, she would’ve let him know she’d forgiven him. After all, everyone deserved a chance at forgiveness. Especially the ones we cherish most.

And with that, the key ring in her hennaed hand turned into a single brass key.  She lifted her arm and fitted it perfectly into the lock of the asylum door. She turned the key, sprung the lock, and stepped back from the door.

The laugh started low, almost breathy, then grew in volume and pitch and force as the slight figure in a ruined gown and a half-buckled straitjacket pushed open the door.  

“Merci. Merci. Liberté, égalité…Justice.”

In Discord and Rhyme

Posted in Vampirony with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2021 by vampirony

Volta found himself panting open-mouthed before he caught himself, remembering that, in human form, that was generally unacceptable. He cast a quick look around him as he sat at an outside table of some coffee shop. No one seemed to notice, hurrying either through to the parking structure or onwards to the epicenter of this society’s cultural hub. Something called Bell Square. He hadn’t noticed any bells but took a deep sip from the beverage he’d purchased to try and fit in and brave the outside heat, something called a “frappuccino” which, frankly, little resembled any Italian drink he’d ever seen.

Like you’re some man of the world, he chided himself. First airplane rides during which he nearly threw up twice and now he was considering himself a man of the times for trying a frozen drink that was so sweet at first taste, he nearly gagged. He switched back to the bottled water, even that not quite tasting real. “Fresh from the Spring.” He doubted it.

He shook his head. This world really wasn’t for him. Noisy, stifling, noxious. A blend of antiseptic sprayed over the stench of piles and piles of waste and decay. But it was a newer decay here, rather than in the cities of Europe that had been building over and over and over the top of themselves for centuries. Here it seemed that the second generation of city rebuilding was underway, with some casualties.

Further down the block, a larger skyscraper under construction was roped off, blocking off part of the street along its base with yellow tape, orange striped barrels and sawhorses. He’d overheard some passersby discussing some collapse of scaffolding, a cement mixer, and some sort of fire in the newly constructed shop. Something called a wine bar, which seemed a paradox to him.

If he hadn’t known that Vega had only just arrived in her slick black automobile, he might’ve suspected her paw in that mayhem. Tracking her from LA had been surprisingly easy as she had taken many stops along the route, more than once instructing the driver to continue while she went for a run. He’d had to exercise extreme caution at that point not to be so close she could pick up his scent. He recognized her complacency in this modern world and she’d never been the best tracker in the pack, relying on underlings to set the trap so she could use her tactics and brute strength to capture the kill.

She also seemed quite oblivious to anything beyond her purpose. It was in the set of her ears. Something had her on edge, almost nervous, but determined. Strength and prey assessment may have been her assets, but stealth and maneuverability were his. He calculated the pattern of her jaunts and managed to get ahead of her by hitching a ride. Being likable and friendly always served best while traveling.

Not that he’d done much traveling once he’d taken up residence at the monastery-turned-mosque-turned-museum-turned back to-monastery. Ages spent roaming the grounds, befriending the residents, living among them, protecting them and that sacred patch of forest. Then, at the time that felt most advantageous, disappearing back into the forest to let a generation pass only to be rediscovered, and once again become the protector of the forest.

The story had turned to legend until it was just now an expectation: There is always a wolf roaming the forests of Rila, protecting the faithful, punishing the wicked.  Well, there hadn’t been much need for punishment in a while and now he had more to fear from tourist traffic and littering than from bandits.

His life had become sedate. And while this whole hunt filled him with dread, he couldn’t deny the thrill he’d felt in his bones as his ancient friend Imperius had once more called upon his help.  If this was finally the end, perhaps he could make it a glorious end. What purpose had the gifts he’d been bequeathed served if not to make an end in glorious righteous flame.

 But Vega wasn’t about righteousness. Nor glory. She suffered. She stank of bitterness and avarice, a hopelessness of a life long-lived and yet still wasted. And underneath all of that, the stench of death and horns. Antlers to be exact. He believed his transmutation had been a natural evolution of his kinship with a sacred being. The individual pulling Vega’s fur had relations at the other end of the spectrum.

In LA, he had smelled more than the paparazzi surrounding that starlet’s mansion. The place reeked with a signature bloodletting that only his kind could mete out. His kind. He’d too left them behind and now looked at Elba and Vega as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of their line.

He still remembered the Night of Cinders, when all their worlds had collided and the chaos of man’s war had stripped them of their benefactor for good. The blood, the screams, the devastation as the two forces had crashed into each other like opposing pyroclastic waves caused the hair all along his back to raise in memory. The Golden One, he’d gone to salvage the innocent; he’d been felled by a demon’s spawn. Or so Elba and Vega had thought.

He had heard the girl’s call, tracked her carriage from the monastery to the battle, his panic rising to protect her as he passed through ruined, burnt forests, ground spoiled with blood and bone, and the wolves, they had followed. After the clash at the carriage, both combatants lay bleeding on the ground. Elba and Vega had tried to pull the Golden One away but with his last bit of strength, he lunged for the carriage, falling at the girl’s feet.

Inexplicably, Elba and Vega, after a brief pause, fled the battle, likely planning to return later to feast on the remaining corpses. Only Volta had stayed behind. He could help. The fire closing in on the scene meant nothing to him. The screams he could close his ears against. Only then had he seen the truth of it.

As the Golden One’s blood flowed out of his ruined torso all over the floor of the carriage, sopped up by dusty tomes and freshly prepared vellum, there was still life in both him and the instrument of his rending. The Black Knight clutched desperately at his throat, trying to hold together what Vega had torn open after Elba had brought down his draft horse in similar fashion.

Volta had paused as he reached the carriage. His yellow eyes took in the girl who had pulled a strap from around a great book and tried to fit it around the Golden One’s body, desperately trying to hold the chasm of his flesh together. Her odd boyish clothes were drenched, her face splattered with red, but her face never wavered. Her determination, her belief was complete even as Volta’s faltered as the face of his benefactor turned ashen.

Volta raised a paw to move to her, to help her but he paused, turned back to the knight, who clanked and seized in his heavy black armor, gurgling sounds and gasps meant the end was near. His armor would become his tomb, that and his bastard sword no match for Vega’s ferocity and precision. He almost pitied him:  whatever his goal in attacking what appeared to be a royal carriage full of books and a simple librarian, he never stood a chance in his quest.

A feeling of a great unnaturalness caught on the wind, coming from the trees. He spun and crouched, ready to protect the girl and the Golden One but the creature that emerged paid him no heed. A vagabond, in tatters even worse than the poorest peasant in this godforsaken land, made its way to the knight and bent beside him.

All his hackles raised at this creature but his priority was getting the girl and the Golden One to safety. He had to be quick. He sprung into the carriage to the shock of the girl. They had a moment of recognition, both bound to this body bleeding out. She leaned out of his way as he took the thick leather strap fastened low around the Golden One’s hips and used it to haul him fully into the carriage. The girl, working with him, managed to pull what was left of his ruined lower extremities in through the door while he jumped back out.

The sounds of the knight had ceased. Only the soft words that must have come from the creature could be heard, its robes completely concealing them. Volta sniffed as another scent approached. The captain from earlier who had critically failed in his duty, leaving the knight’s flank unprotected so Vega easily slipped through. He, still mounted, postured and shouted at the vagabond, but not drawing his sword nor hailing his comrades to the fallen knight.

Volta knew this was their moment and he came around the front of the carriage where the lead horse had been swallowed in the mud as he flailed his last. Volta snapped through his harness and took it in his teeth. It would take all his strength to wretch the carriage out of the mud but just as he began to find purchase, he smelled cavalry coming this way. He quickly crouched under the carriage, readying for a fight.

Volta glanced quickly back towards the knight. He and the vagabond had vanished, leaving the captain behind on his mount just inside the tree line. His face showed his shock and then rage as he looked to the sky and then galloped away from the oncoming force, as if it mattered little which side they were on.  

The clothes of men arriving looked much like the girl’s and on their banner, Volta made out a crescent shape. These were her people. But as they approached, they shouted and raised their long spears towards the Golden One who had ceased to move. But before Volta could pounce, the girl covered the Golden One’s body, shouting at the men. With one hand she pointed into the distance where neither the captain nor the vagabond had come from, the other she waved Volta away. Whatever the fate of the Golden One, this girl would now carry the burden.

Volta didn’t pause; he slipped quietly away into the forest, avoiding both armies but not the indiscriminate devastation that had been done. Cautiously, he trekked for days, back into the high mountains, to the monastery that he discovered had been burned out. The soldiers had left none of them alive, save one.

“You gonna finish that?”

Volta squinted up as his awareness returned back to this time, this city that purported a “pretty view,” to the figure that now shadowed him. As his vision adjusted, he noticed the umbrella hanging from the crook of the bearded old man’s arm.

The bearded man pointed to the Frappuccino Volta had abandoned.

“No, help yourself.”

Imperius smiled and settled himself down in the other seat at the table, picking up the drink and taking a long sip noisily through the green straw. Then he tossed his head casually towards the hotel.

“So, when do you think our huntress will make her move?”

Volta sat back, shaded by the green umbrella over the table. “As soon as she spots her quarry and an opportunity, she’ll strike.”

“She won’t wait for the other?”

Volta shook his head.

Imperius nodded. “Then, we have a little time.”  He rested the crook of the umbrella on the top of the table, unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and fanned himself with a clutch of napkins. “Maybe a little shopping, perhaps? You could use some khaki chinos, I think. But first I want another one of these glorious concoctions. I think I saw that they had a strawberry one?”

The Shellfish, the Bumbershoot, and the Prodigal Son

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony, writing with tags , , , , on August 19, 2013 by vampirony

“You do not want to go up there.”

Nick turned his head as he entered the Wintergarden of the Bellevue Hyatt to see Morena at the front desk. Per usual, he had his moment of sheer awe caused by her now-proven deadly combination of beauty and brains. This evening it had been poured into a particularly tight pair of jeans just barely covered up with a low cut black silky tank. He stopped for a moment and blinked. Twice. Then with what he hoped was casual nonchalance, he strode over.

The delay was perceived but credited to their tiff. Morena attempted a meager smile but by the time he’d stopped in front of her, it had slide off. Instead of speaking, he just stood and looked at her, waiting for her to explain.

Her comment was so much easier to explain than her feelings so she stated, “She’s in a real mood. Jesper hasn’t roused yet.”

Nick threw a look behind her at the man at desk she’d obviously been chatting with and tilted a nod. ”Gabe.”

“Nick,” Gabe, a much broader shouldered fellow in a security uniform, gave him a curt nod back before letting his eyes float back to Morena. When Nick didn’t return his attention to her, Morena tossed a look back, then with a dismissive glare, stepped forward to take Nick’s arm and led him away, both of them stepping down into the atrium.

The moment they were out of earshot, Morena dropped his arm and he took several more steps away than was needed. It wasn’t lost on her. In fact, all her senses were tuned on him, awash in relief he’d returned and concerned at the state he was in. Despite his casual appearance in just a T-shirt and relaxed fit black denim, he had a stillness that hinted he was still angry. His face looked haggard and blank with no trace of the easy grin she desperately wanted to see.

“You look tired. Did you get any sleep?”

“Morena, your text said we needed to talk.”

Not at all the attitude she wanted. All business. She’d been determined to give him space to make the choice of whether to come back into crazy vamp land. But she’d been unable to let it be and when by half past midnight Jesper hadn’t snapped out of rigor dormitus and Nick hadn’t given a peep, she’d taken action. Sophie had been pelting her with questions ever since the emotional ire had taken the place of the physical pain and the more details Morena had related about fighting the revenant, the angrier Sophie had become.

“Yeah,” was all Morena could think to start with. “We do.” She shrugged her hands into her pockets. Then, she began to plunge headlong into it because she couldn’t handle it if he walked out the door on her again and here, in the atrium, he hadn’t quite walked back in yet. “When you didn’t text back…”

“Look, I know I said I’d be back soon to check on Sophie, but there were so many things to do. When you texted me, I’d finally wrapped up what I could and was actually sleeping. I figured I could waste time texting you back or just get on my bike and get over here.”

Morena couldn’t hide the puzzlement on her face. This was not the conversation she’d practiced in her head for the last three hours. The one where she did all the talking and Nick stood there brooding over her with disapproval. “Things? What things?”

Nick flashed a smile that was an attempt at the Cheshire cat which came off more like Snarf from Thundercats. “Well, the deli was a mess and the office trashed so I got my bro to get me the name of a contractor so then I had to whip up some specs for modifications like dark rooms, a decent kitchen, a bedroom, and a lot of plumbing rework to allow for a Fire Box. Greg and I figured out—“

Morena folded her arms to cover her surprise. This was the old Nick. Like nothing had even happened. Like they hadn’t even argued. It was pissing her off. She wanted to explain. She needed to apologize. “Who’s Greg?” she asked, sounding rather shrill.

“Oh. Reiterritter.” When Morena still didn’t acknowledge, Nick tried, “The guy that helped us out? Army jacket? Police uniform?”

Morena rolled her eyes. Nick took it as a sign to continue and as he walked her through the finer details of the fire box, the fireproof room that they’d be putting in the basement, she took his arm again and led him towards the elevator. Between Sophie rolling through all the scientific purposes for rigor dormitus and explaining her concern away with all the rationale for why Jesper wasn’t up yet and Nick yammering about this essentially oversized BBQ box, she figured her apology was unwarranted and unnecessary. She stuffed Nick into the elevator and stepped back hard against the wall, her arms folded up to her chin.

He’d been over at the comic book store, which apparently was like the Bat Cave for the Gypsy Twin Irregulars, all day hatching through his fourteen point plan to reconstruct the deli building into their very own VP HQ (Vampire Psychologist Headquarters, he explained), until Lucy showed up and forced him to go home ASAP. But not before assuring him that she would check in on Sophie to make sure everything was OK.

“So have you seen her?”

Morena, stewing in her emotions, lifted her head, “Sophie? Of course I have.”

The elevator dinged at their floor and they both stepped outside. “No, silly, Lucy,” Nick replied.

It was all she could stand. “Silly? You know what’s silly? Me feeling bad and worrying all evening, thinking I needed to apologize to you so you’d come back, that I might have pushed you away just like every other guy in my life. That’s what’s silly.”

It took her a few breathes to notice she’d backed him up against the wall and now, at eye level and pressed up against him, she couldn’t really remember what had made her lose her cool. The sheepish look on Nick’s face didn’t help and she was absolutely sure that wasn’t a pencil in his pocket. Rather, more like a compact umbrella.

No, what was really silly was how she didn’t step away immediately, how there was this wild jangle of sparks all the way through her as she stayed there, realizing the only one being intimidated by physical proximity was her. She eased away from him a little, but not enough to miss his ragged breathing.

“I mean…” She didn’t want to retreat, didn’t know how.

“You were worried I wouldn’t come back?”

It was his incredulous tone that lifted her gaze back to his. The corner of his mouth dimpled into a half smile and for a second it almost looked like he might…lean…forward.

She half-shrugged, taking a step back. One hand pulled the opposite elbow as her shoulders crept up and curled forward as if to hide her face and her embarrassment.

“Uni, I said I’d be back. I meant it.”

She nodded once, because there was no way words could be forced through the clamped garble that passed for her throat. Not when he was still giving her that look, some mix between adoration and affirmation, like he knew he had something on her. That she cared. Fuck, she did care. She was waiting for him to throw that in her face like a well-placed stun grenade.

As if sensing the moment was becoming too much for her, he peeled himself off the wall, breaking enough of the spell so she stepped further back and turned away. When he didn’t make more of the revelation, she relaxed. Even tossed her head back over her shoulder at him to ask a question.

Uni?”

The sheepishness bleated into his cheeks. “Yeah,” he nervously rubbed at his neck. “It was the best I could think up while you were, uh, right there.”

She recognized it for what it was. He’d just given her a nickname. “What does it mean?”

Bashful, but brutally honest Nick was back. “Uni is a word; it means a sea urchin.”

Her face showed her puzzlement, was creeping towards offense.

“I just meant you can be hard and prickly on the outside, but, uh, soft on the inside.”

She absorbed the comment and considered that if it had given by anyone other than the slightly awkward guy who she’d just moments ago backed against a wall and been incidentally acquainted with his not-so-soft parts, she’d likely have been offended. The smile was a reflex, maybe from when she was fifteen, before the world had landed responsibility on her shoulders and let her just be a girl.

She pivoted on her heel. “Well, I guess I’m not the only one that can be hard on the outside.” Before her courage left her, she began to walk away, her cheeks flaming at her own boldness.

She heard him swear to himself, “Shit, you noticed that.”

She spun around, grinning now, “Oh yeah, I noticed.” But had turned back around and was heading back down the hall before her teasing could catch up with her. By the time Nick met her at the open doorway, he’d wrestled with his own discomfiture and had thought up an appropriate comeback intended to pierce a little deeper into the soft spot he’d just uncovered. Something about Uni being quite tasty.

But when Morena turned her head back to him, hand on the handle of the open door and raised a finger to her lips for silence, the flirtatiousness was long gone, replaced by the warrior on high alert. He took hold of the door so she could step in and quickly survey the room. After the quick tour, she returned to the doorway to his questioning face.

“What is it?” Nick asked, not noticing anything out of place in the quiet room.

“It’s Sophie,” Morena answered. “She’s gone.”

symbol_dharmawheel-color

I’d been in the middle of rereading my inventory of Jesper’s injuries for maybe the twentieth time, trying to cross-reference it against known lethal vampiric allergies when I realized something. The longer Jesper didn’t break out of rigor dormitus, the more angry with him I got. In recollection, it was obvious that while he seemed to shrug off silver, something in the cabling that Skovajsa had used to tie him to the scaffolding had made him unable to tear through them. After a few dismal attempts to identify it, I felt fairly certain it was optical cabling and therefore likely filled with silica. Glass.

Could Jesper be allergic to something as pervasive as glass? It was terrifying. I’d heard on the news how someone had smashed through a window at the penthouse floor restaurant in the wee hours of the morning. A singe shard of that stuff might kill him? Then why the hell was he fighting a Carpathian pretender!?

Without him here to rail against, it was exasperating. What if some of the slivers of glass had gotten embedded into his skin before he converted to rigor dormitus? Would that make him unable to transform back out? If I could remember exactly where he was cut by the cabling, perhaps we could drill the glass fragments out. So back to my inventory and I sketched out a body, drawing in the injuries I remembered.

Forcing away the memory of his chin, I stuffed my face in one of my older notebooks. Without the Memento which I’d given over to Nick, I couldn’t complete much in the way of full identification. Although I tried hard not to question why Nick was still AWOL, especially since the moment I’d even prodded at her about it, Morena had stormed from the room. Too much drama there but I was trying to deal with my own shit. And having a 3000 pound marble-frozen vampire constituted a significant amount of shit.

Tante. Tante, come to me.”

“Maurice?” My head perked up and when I looked around the room, I realized I was suddenly on my feet. The blood rushed to my head and I swooned against the desk.

“I need you to come to me.”

Before I could even wallow in the pain it caused, I was up again and walking toward the door. The pain meds were not strictly speaking meant to cover all that I had to do to follow his call but I did it and several minutes later, I was outside, limping across the roof towards his shadowy figure.

“Maurice?” I couldn’t stop the panic in my voice. I hadn’t had any contact from the twins, just their surrogate Mr. Reitterritter and he had also gone dark. If anything more had happened to the twins, I couldn’t deal with it. I hobbled toward him only to stop up short as, in an inky burst, he appeared right in front of me.

I grabbed his arms, “Are you ok?”

He smiled in a pained way. “Fine. It is you who are unwell.”

I was gasping for air, whatever motivation had seen me to this point, adrenaline mixed with the last of my pain meds fled me completely and I doubled over to breath, clutching at him. “You said…you said you…needed me.”

This sense of warmth and welcome emanated from him as he wrapped arms around me to support my weight. It lessened the pain a little but I could at least look up and him and open my eyes as he raised my chin to look up at him.

“I needed you to come to me. Of your own free will,” he spoke distinctly, so I might understand.

But I didn’t understand. “But why?”

He shook his head gently at my confusion. He brushed strands of hair that clung to my sweaty face away with his thumb and forefinger, tucking the hair behind my ears. “Because, Sophie, you have become a danger to yourself and I need to keep you safe.”

As my ire was about to rise at his impertinence and I was about to ask him what he meant, his gentleness won me over, his fingers felt soft and cool against my fevered cheek, his arms reliable, strong, his whole frame contracting around me to hold me close. Somewhere deep in my brain, doubtless in a prim British accent, I shook my head, knowing that such influence on me was impossible. But not so. One other vampire had held me in sway…

“Maurice, I don’t…” I suddenly exhaled from the sheer weight of doubting him.

“Relax and trust in me. I will do you no harm.” His words lulled me, freed me from all the responsibilities throughout all of time and I blinked into sudden awareness, as he tilted my head back, his thumb gently brushing the corner of my mouth as he bent his head and kissed me.

I thankfully don’t remember much after that, although for some reason, he felt it necessary to keep that moment, the one in which he’d bent to his will, in my memory. And as much as I tried, as much as I heard the distinct snap of a rule against a desk and the rustle of skirts, I couldn’t find anything distasteful in that memory. It wasn’t the best kiss I’d ever had. But it wasn’t the worst either.

Awareness came back as I realized I sat, my legs to my side, on the rooftop. Maurice sat there next to me, not touching me but not shrinking away either. I realized that he’d made this decision himself as I couldn’t sense Lucy anywhere nearby. This was between him and me. And there was no regret in his shoulders nor did he seem pleased with himself. It had simply been his will. The force of his will.

“Please, do not be angry with me.”

But he was still my Maurice.

When I found my throat was free of constriction to speak, I came into complete awareness that I no longer felt pain anywhere. I was certain all cuts, bruises, strains, sprains, all of it would be gone now. And while that made some sort of sense to me, I needed to know his reasoning, needed to understand what this new Maurice had done and why. This new, more powerful, more controlled Maurice.

“No. I’m not. You made sure of that. I’m not sure how but you have. But it would help, for later, to know why you did it.”

He turned his head to me and I saw him for the first time, not a boy clutching at the awkwardness of his manhood, but a man, firmly in control of his abilities and committed to his beliefs. Whatever gentle feelings he still held for me were there but he was no longer at the mercy of them. He decided where it all fit and it all fit rather nicely.

“Sophie, you were damaged beyond what your doctors knew. For your own safety, you needed to be healed. And after last time, I needed to insure you allowed me to help you.”

I noted his new usage of this lifetime’s name. I would never again be his Tante. I nodded my head in acceptance. He smiled and let me see for a brief moment that somewhere in him, my acceptance denoted approval, which he did still want. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the idea that he would’ve done it whether I approved or not.

“Some lives are drawn together forever.”

My brows drew down. Something in how he said it sent a flutter through my consciousness and I distinctly heard a tea pot clatter. A memory threatened but I slapped it away.

I felt his hand again on my arm. “Sophie?” I nodded and he helped me to my feet.

“I’m alright.”

He nodded as he looked down at me. Then, he opened his mouth to ask something but paused. There was a question there but his eyes showed compassion, maybe pity, I’d never seen directed at me before. But then he closed his lips and gave me a meek smile. He reminded me so much of that whisper, a presence so recently felt, one that had saved me from the Taint, the kind of presence that was creeping from the shadows back into the light. But the recollection wouldn’t come and he stood there apart from it, his own self, a man molded out of his uniqueness and his duality.

“What is it?” I asked him.

He looked out over the night. “A storm is coming.”

“What kind of storm?”

He didn’t look at me when he said, “The legendary kind.”

We didn’t talk more. I went back downstairs and dodged the inevitable questions from Morena and Nick and noticed as I swept by the desk, that Nick had returned the Memento and it flipped furiously to that page that I dreaded as if to warn me that yes, some lives are drawn together. Forever.

Favors in Fur

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony, writing with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2013 by vampirony

As the Lufthansa flight from Munich made its descent into LAX, the passenger in 41A pulled his scarf down from over his nose and was thankful the moon was only in first quarter. The smell from the dinner cart had set his innards quivering and it was only through sheer force of will and a rather tight weave of fabric that he hadn’t bolted from his seat.

His second flight on an airplane followed his first one this morning when he’d booked a last minute flight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Los Angeles, following a rumor. It couldn’t be true. He hoped to Hell it wasn’t true. He straightened in his immovable seat, the worst on the plane, the ticket agent told him. He barely noticed, pulling the newspaper out of his jacket pocket. It was rumpled and turned to a back page of the Entertainment section. Amongst the theories of why a certain sitcom starlet hadn’t been seen for weeks, believed to be hidden away in rehab, or some cosmetic procedure, or eloped to Mexico with her producer boyfriend was a picture of the starlet’s home, accosted by the paparazzi and the police who had been called in due to a scuffle.

While the photog who’d snapped the shot probably never intended it, the camera found her walking along the wrought iron fence line bordering the house, the collar of her short mink coat pulled up around her face, hiding most every significant detail that would call her out. She was just another leggy blonde in sky high heels in LA, albeit with a horrible sense of fashion in the middle of summer. The lack of bling on her fingers as she clenched the collar around her face, trying to blend as an innocent bystander, only made the tattoo above her ring finger that more prominent against the white fur.

From the distance the shot was taken, it almost looked like a smudge on the lens from the print but he knew it. Knew it as well as the one on his own hand, hiding under his fingerless mitten. A tree, an oak to be exact, branches and roots forming a circle. His had the leaves intact, still in full green and rippling in some unforeseen breeze. The skin itched under the mitten and he rubbed at it.

It was part and parcel of the overall sense of unwell he’d come under the moment he stepped on the plane and the further from ground the plane had risen, the worse he’d felt. Still, nothing compared to the pit in his stomach as he thought of what it could mean to have her here, at the house of the famous starlet. Especially with that starlet missing, at least from the glare of the media’s watchful eye.

He peered out into the lights of city in wonderment. He anyone slept with all this artificial light, he couldn’t fathom. But he had always been a simpleton, not needing for much, not demanding much, not happy but content to stay in the mountains, show a few tourists around the forest surrounding the old monastery, continue to help the monks with the grounds.

The plane hit the tarmac hard and he yelped, the sound muffled by the scarf and the rush of the air helping to break the steel bird. The bile rose in this throat, threatening to break loose, but he clenched his eyes shut and stuffed the fingers of his left hand under the mitten on his right, brushing across the oak tattoo. With that, a sense of calm came over him and he heard birds, smelled the musty forest, and could imagine the earth beneath his feet.

Only a little while longer and he would stretch his legs. He collapsed back into the seat back and looked down at the paper in his lap. He could still be wrong but with the calm of the tattoo came the sensation that she was close, closer than he’d felt for a while. He removed his left hand from the glove, mindful she might sense him too and he was not willing to announce his presence before he understood the rationale.

To the best of his knowledge, she had last been in Cairo, exploring the vast archeological heritage and seeking answers of her own for what they all had become. Before Cairo, it had been Vilnius, Warsaw, and Vienna. The last postcard after Vienna was her complaint that she could no longer stand the cold and she would be moving south through Venice. But she hated water. Well, the ocean. She feared large bodies of water after years living in the woods. She’d left a message for him that she had panicked and jumped a freighter for Egypt. There, she hoped to find answers.

So what was she doing in LA? It couldn’t be good. After all, all of them knew the cause of their state and the reason for their abandonment. It was the same type of creature that the media now scrambled for photos of from just outside a starlet’s palatial fortress in the Hollywood Hills. Vampire. And if he knew anything about his fur-enshrouded sister, she wasn’t in the neighborhood for the view.

“Sir, you can disembark now.”

The flight attendant brought him back to the present and he collected the small satchel from the overhead bin and a small leather book. It felt good to hold it again, especially when his thoughts were full of such dread. He would need it on his journey as he feared he would never make it back to the monastery again.

When his feet finally touched pavement, he breathed a sigh of relief. The city was hot, stuffy, loud, smoggy; everything he hated. But he was on the ground. He moved quickly through the endless parking lot, stuffing the book into the satchel and over-tightening the strap over his shoulder until the bag dug into his chest. When he reached the fence that marked the edge of the airport property, he took a look around and sniffed. At this edge of the parking lot, there were lots of shadows and few cars. And it was deserted.

He rolled his neck and sprinted toward the fence which he took in one easy leap as the man that had been sitting in 41A traded flesh for fur and sprinted out into the hot Los Angeles night, satchel bouncing along with him.

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“Did you get them?”

The blonde woman in the fur coat stared past the hooded figure smoking at the railing, transfixed and simultaneously terrified by the view. She took an involuntary step back, clutching her coat closed, the branches of her own oak tattoo devoid of leaves.

Rolling her eyes, Bellecroix stubbed her cigarette out and approached. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s just salt water.” She stood in front of the blond and gave her a once over, her lips pursing in distaste. “I expected more from a born hunter.”

“I got you what you wanted.” The blonde handed over a CD.

“Good,” a syrupy smile crossing her features, Bellecroix took the CD, turning it in her hand. “And you left no trace?”

“None that a human could tell.”

“What about an inhuman?”

The blonde bristled. She still didn’t like how little she knew of this creature’s game but the promise had been given and so far, she had delivered. The Shining One lived and she knew where. For the prize of dispatching one of the undead and planting a few items, she would reveal just where he dwelled.

“By the time they get to the scene, it should be cleared.”

Bellecroix raised her eyebrows but nodded wistfully.

“Seems such a great favor you’ve done me. Are you sure you don’t want more? I could throw in a few more…treats you might like. Good for hunting.”

The blonde growled low. “I only want one thing from you. And if you break your word, the only trace they’ll find of you is a mess of blood on that white carpet.”

“Tut tut tut, unlike others of my kind, I keep my promises.” Bellecroix passed the blonde a packet. When she opened it, the blonde found a plane ticket for the next morning to someplace called Seattle. She raised her eyes to the vampiress to find her gloating. “I assume that this meets with your approval?”

“If he’s there, yes. We’re done.”

The blonde turned on her heel and walked out, bypassing the two armed heavies at the door that she could’ve ripped to shreds in seconds flat. As she passed them, one opened the door for her and offered to call her a cab. She politely declined, noticing the thick Latin accent and skin tone much darker than his other brethren. She hadn’t been aware they bred them south of the equator.

After the door had closed behind her, Bellecroix smiled widely, like the canary that had outsmarted the cat. But as quickly as the smile appeared, it faded. “Oh, no, sweetie, I’m not finished with you quite yet. But you’ll know when I am.”

She pulled her hood down and stared at the glass of the sliding door until her image materialized. The antlers were growing in nicely. She strummed her pearls and thought that a creamy silver wolf coat would make a lovely addition to her wardrobe.

What You Can Buy for a Penny

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony, writing with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by vampirony

At half past ten, Nick gave up on the idea of sleeping in his comfy bed in his parents’ house as reward for a night full of mare. He kept flipping over onto his side and scribbling notes on what needed to be done to fix the office up. As he’d left Bellevue, he’d seen the police cording off the construction site next to the Hyatt. Something about some pretty extensive vandalism, bordering on criminal.

The only thing criminal was the fact that he couldn’t sleep for all the notes rolling around in his head. Sidekicks apparently don’t get to rest easy; always more kicking to do. He let out a mighty groan and got up out of bed, bracing his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. He didn’t need to count the twelve pages of notes he’d taken, the last of which read: “Find fire department rated architect to construct fireproof room.”

Sophie couldn’t expect all her clients to be as well behaved as Jesper, who no one was really saying what had happened to. He was in that wooden crate, probably in some gargoyle form like Lucy had been. As grotesque a form as it might be, Jesper had saved Sophie’s life and that made him good peeps in Nick’s book. It touched a nerve, the way he’d come to her aid, and while Nick was grateful his new boss with her substantial payroll wasn’t out of commission, it gave Nick a pang.

He grabbed his notebook off the nightstand and wrote: Flowers for Morena. Then he promptly scribbled it out. What do you get for the perfect woman who dispatched a vampire with you? Flowers seemed trite or presumptuous. And either way, he’d either offend her by treating her like a girl or pick the wrong ones.

Flowers were a trap, anyways. It was never about the thought. It was always execution and Nick already knew his execution stunk. He was barely able to control his staring around her, he had not a single action star move in his whole body, his only redeeming qualities were his ability to duck on cue and to read and retain ancient books full of crazy. While Morena’s martial expertise didn’t exactly emasculate him, it did put him in a rough spot of how to get her attention in a good way. Food wasn’t something that she took much notice of, his bike, well amateur hour there. Clothes weren’t a strong motivator for her either judging by her own attire. The only thing he seemed to do to make her smile was crack jokes and make self-effacing statements.

He sighed. Girls always liked the guy that made them laugh but they never wanted to be with that guy. But there was no way he was going to ever be able to do more of that Frog Brothers, Death Dealer crap they’d done last night. Not without fainting halfway through.

No, the best he could hope for was the sidekick, but not Robin or Shadowcat or even Rick Jones. He didn’t have the nerves for that. But he could make vichyssoise. Red and green was not his style but tails and a perfectly cooked beef wellington? He could aspire to that.

Look out, vampires, Sophie just got her Pennyworth.

Now, if he wasn’t going to sleep all day, he might as well go see a man in a fatigues jacket about a fireproof room.

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Somewhere along the line although he couldn’t place it, Nick remembered mention of some comic book store in connection with Lucy. And that henchman of hers would likely be a daytime guardian of hers, wouldn’t he?

Nick made Fremont by noon and had to knock on the door for ten minutes before he heard bolts snap, chains crackle, and a final latch pop and the corrugated metal door swing open revealing the disheveled mastermind of their deliverance blinking bloodshot eyes up at him.

Nick’s smile withered under acid glare.

“Whaddaya want? We’re closed.”

Nick realized that he must’ve woken the poor guy up but still, he didn’t expect to be completely unrecognized. “Hi, I…well…I’ve been thinking of some mods…and after this morning…I thought maybe…”

The guy widened his stance. “Oh, right. This morning. Yeah that was, like…” he rubbed his eyes before crossing his arms, “Six hours ago. Not like anyone would want to reward himself with sleep after that perfectly executed campaign.”

“Yeah I suppose not.”

Nick got the glare loud and clear.

“Look, kid, I’m sure you went home and cried on your huge pillow and then couldn’t sleep because you were too scared but trust me, it’s better to start with sleep in the daytime for this to pass over. My advice? A couple of shots of Nyquil and some chamomile tea and you’ll be in lala land.” The guy yawned and then began shutting the door, “Geez, civilians.”

Nick grabbed the edge and cut his hand. “Ouch! Just gimme a chance. I have a whole list. I want to be better prepared next time.”

That perked the guy up. “Next time? What makes you think there’ll be a next time?”

Nick had to stop and think. Because the book had a ton of other entries? But he wasn’t about to tell this guy about Sophie’s journal. So he settled for: “Things always come in three’s, right?”

The guy raised an eyebrow. “You already had three vampires last night.”

“Not three bad vampires.”

The guy took in a deep, thoughtful breath before exhaling it out of his mouth hard. “Alright. I suppose I could take a look at this list of yours. If you’re so intent on sticking your nose in it.”

“Great,” Nick said, and made a step forward only to meet the guy’s hand flat on his chest  holding him back.

“Not so fast. Give me the list. I don’t have time for garlic necklaces or Super soakers filled with Holy Water.”

Nick handed his twelve page vampire preparedness manifesto over and watched the guy purse his lips, nod, and then laugh in something more of a cackle. He was even more stunned when Ritterreiter stretched out his hand and shook his, “Come on in. You can call me Greg. And this list is wicked.”

A Few Words About Heroes, Pt 2

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony with tags , , , on April 8, 2012 by vampirony

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“I don’t care if you think it’s a bad idea. We’re sticking together. I’m not losing anyone else today.”

Morena strode into the room determined. It was one thing to be ignored at the hospital, ignored in the cab, but she would not be denied, treated like she didn’t just put her life on the line. Or her blood, rather.

“Oh, there you are.”

Sophie was out hard on the bed. Even when Morena went to shake her awake, she just snored. Morena stifled a curse. There had been a look on Sophie’s face when she’d first walked in with the detectives. Blank, jealous shock.

She gave Nick a nod and then pointed to the sofa. “You take that one. I’m sure it pulls out.”

“Look, I get it. It looks like Irina and her Grandmother split town and you want to keep an eye out. But I want to sleep in my own bed after taking a horrendously long soak in a tub. And clean clothes. And mom’s dumplings.” Morena seemed to be eyeing the furniture and how best to move it. The thought was confirmed when she started pushing at the back of the couch. “Hey, can you just relax for a second?”

In between grunts to move the huge upholstered beast, she spoke, “What would help me to relax is if you help me move this and then check all the doors again.”

“No.”

The simple rejection of her request got her attention and she stood and faced him. Where was the scared kid from just hours ago who looked like he was pissing his pants? Replaced by this guy who’s face was split by a smile he tried to contain but ended up with an even more goofy look. She put her hands on her hips, stuck one hip out.

“What?”

Nick gave one incredulously laugh. “Just stop for a second. We just killed the bad guys. Both of them. Without even knowing there were two of them. I’ve never been so terrified in my life and now, man, now, I just wanna get out in the sun, go hug my parents, and eat like it was the end of the world…and we stopped it. We won!”

She shook her mane once.

Nick gestured to her. “And you look like you’re ready for an assault from zombie hordes of Resident Evil. You know, that couch would work better as a barricade.”

She tossed her head to look. Hmmm, not a bad idea.

Nick laughed, “I can’t believe you just considered that.” He took a few steps over. “Do you ever bring it down a notch? I mean, you kicked the shit outta a vampire. And we offed her. We survived. We’re alive and practically unscathed. Can’t you just enjoy that for a few?”

But what happens next? What else is out there? What are the ramifications of their actions? They need to report back to Sophie, needed to assess who these people were that helped move Jesper, needed to fortify their position and plan for the next assault.

“Jesus, can’t you just relax for a few measly minutes? You’re getting me all nervy again.”

No, she didn’t do relaxed. She didn’t even have a weapon to clean, which often took her mind off things. Her face remained blank. What was left to do?

Nick sighed heavily and took a few steps over. “Look, I appreciate this.” He meant to gesture to the soldier of badassness that she was but it looked more like a wave. “I mean, you saved my life back there. But right now, I don’t want to think about anymore death, or vampires, or any of that. I’m fucking ecstatic to be standing here and I want some unagi. And probably a beer. Maybe a shot.”

She just kept staring at him. She had been in this with him but right now, the utmost thought in her mind spilled out of her tongue from the dissonance in their reactions.

“You’re just young.”

He shook his head, his eyes getting big for a second, and then he responded, “Wow. Yeah, throw that one out. I’m young alright. Young enough to still want to savor the fact that in the course of twenty four hours I saw my life flash before me AND get to tell the tale. I’ve got a family to go home and hug. I suggest you go do the same.”

When he couldn’t think of anything more to say, he waved his hand again and walked toward the door. She spun to watch him go.

“We can’t just leave her.”

Nick paused with his hand on the doorknob. When he looked back at Morena, he wasn’t sure if his fatigued mind that was so high on life at this moment was tricking him into thinking she was talking more about herself than Sophie.

“She’s not going anywhere. Doc said she’d be out for hours. Plug in her phone and go home. I’ll check in on her later. Oh, and plug your phone in too.”

When Nick walked out and shut the door firmly, Morena got the sense that he meant much much later. If he came back at all. He had a family to think about. Maybe after seeing what he had to lose, he would decide that a young man didn’t need this in his life.

Morena felt very sad by that thought and couldn’t grapple with why. She looked back down at the couch she’d been trying to move. Did she really think a fully fledged vamp couldn’t just throw this about the room like a Lego block?

She came around the front of the couch and sat down, feeling very rigid and ill at ease with the angle and depth of the sofa back. She wasn’t sure what she should do next but going home seemed irrelevant. There were no hugs to be found there. The only hugs she’d had lately were from the creature in the crate straight in front of her. Jesper. She wondered what he looked like in there but as it was sun up, she wasn’t about to open the crate to find out, even in the darkened room.

With her long legs, she felt like the couch was going to swallow her up, butt first. So she swung her legs up onto it, twisting and laying back, her head on the armrest. Then, she shifted a pillow under her head instead to be more comfortable.

What to do now? Well, there were so many questions. So many things to still clean up. But the reality was Morena couldn’t leave Sophie to wake up by herself and think poorly of Morena. That look on her face at the hospital when she’d walked in. She knew that look. She’d been staring at it in the mirror for weeks.

But something had changed last night and now that she had the time to think on it, she realized that she wasn’t jealous any more. She sincerely doubted that Jesper had been aware of the other threat and yet, she remembered his words. She would never forget them.

Nick. You need to make sure he’s safe. Watch over him.

Maybe Jesper had had an inkling that things could go sideways. Sounded like the text message he’d sent on decapitating a vampire was more instructions on the inevitable instead of a back-up plan. He’d sent her, vamped up, to protect Nick. He trusted her that much. It had been a long time since Morena had allowed herself to be close enough to anyone to be trusted like that.

And in hindsight, she’d delivered. The edge of her mouth ticked with urge to smile. Jesper had trusted her with protecting Nick and she had done just that, even though he hadn’t known it would mean facing another vampire. After he had apparently defeated his opponent. But she had managed it anyway. She’d fought the bitch and, with a little help, she’d won.

Now the smile was spreading over her lips. Maybe Nick was on to something about this strange euphoria after a brush with Hell. In the past, when she’d been in combat, or on protection detail, there was always some jackhole superior to report to, and paperwork, God she had hated the paperwork. There was always someone questioning her tactics, her approach, her execution, did she need to spend so many rounds, just how many perps had she engaged with, why had she pursued, why had she not pursued?

What gave her the right to disobey direct orders? So many friggin’ questions every time. So she was always too busy to just be grateful, to just thank her preparation, her discipline, her lucky stars even that this was not the last time, not her swan song.

Sure, she’d had some questions to ask and answer at the hospital. But the carefully constructed story around the truth of their injuries was easy and all too plausible. It gave her a moment’s pause and froze the smile on her lips. She hated calling in a favor. Favors tended to bite you on the ass when you weren’t prepared. She’d been burned by a favor that had been called in and called in badly.

But she realized she hadn’t really had to bend things all that much. Sophie was a friend visiting from out of town. While at the hotel, she’d met a guy. He wasn’t a good guy. He took her to a party. A bad party. She’d wanted to leave. He wouldn’t let her. He made her drink something. Nick, a good guy serving at the bad party, figured out how bad things were and he and a friend tried to get her out of there.

She really hadn’t spun things too falsely and as the detectives had begun to nod their heads affirmatively, she suspected this was a pattern they’d seen. The story had been Nick’s idea. She’d have to find out where he’d gotten it from. But from there, the two detectives, one an old friend of her uncle’s back in the day, and the other, a guy she’d dated briefly before leaving Seattle to join the diplomatic service, hadn’t needed much more evidence or more prodding. They bought in that a bad thing had happened to a good person and they went to do the right thing. They were the good guys trying to do right by a good person.

Sophie was a good person. The way she’d started crying after hugging Nick at the hospital kept replaying in Morena’s head. And then there was the look. It was more of a cascade, that look in her eyes when Sophie had looked up to see Morena striding in, not a blemish on her face. At first, there was shock. Nick was standing there just finishing up the ending of the slasher film “Bad Russian BarBQ.” Then, as Sophie’s eyes moved and took in how Morena moved without a hint of injury, there was the revelation. Her eyes widened. Then they narrowed and she’d looked away.

Morena needed to explain. She felt certain if she did, Sophie would get it. Why it mattered so much, she didn’t know.

Shit if she didn’t. Even though they’d been in different parts of the city, they had all fought the worst kinds of creatures last night. They were comrades now, compatriots. That kind of experience forged a bond. Sophie’s vampire class, her honesty, and her tutelage had saved Morena’s life and allowed Morena to save others. To be the hero again. It had been a long, long time since she’d felt like a hero. And maybe this time, she’d truly deserve it. She’d work harder this time, she wouldn’t lose focus, and she’d always, always remember who had her back.

She was rubbing her aching leg as she dozed off, the marrow deep in her bone pulsing, working overtime to repair the damage done when she’d kicked the door. That moment when she felt useful, needed, determined, and able, that feeling and the joy of being alive eased her into dreamless sleep.

A Few Words About Heroes

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony, writing with tags , , , , on March 26, 2012 by vampirony

It wasn’t the news of the second vampire attack, the complete shock of seeing the office/deli building trashed, or even the retroactive worry over Nick and Morena taking on what could only be classified as some sort of vampire revenant on their own that thrust me into the first stages of manic depression. It wasn’t even the hours spent in the hospital yet again trying to dodge domestic abuse questions and blood draws. And strangely it wasn’t even the after-effects of the powerful drugs used to keep me sedated and the new drugs fighting the pain and borderline panic.

Nope, it was the memory of a perfect moment being held in perfect calm and feeling the warmth of a perfect smile that was sending me running into the arms of what modern psychiatrists call “denial.” There was a hint of promise in sentiment of last night’s rescue and I couldn’t afford to let these things spin out of control. Every feeling back into its appropriate compartment, I always say. But I was having trouble lining up all the unruly children, making sure they washed their hands, got in line boy girl, and didn’t pull the pigtails of the little girl next to them in line.

But I found myself still checking my watch, counting the hours until dusk, and hating myself for it. And while I hated coming out of the romantic fog to find foundations of the very occupation I had committed years to slipping away, at least I was again focusing on the right things instead of pining away for…what, I didn’t even really know.

This morning, I had let Lucy and Maurice’s mysterious but capable henchman Ritterreitter clean things up, showing more expertise at moving a vampire in rigor dormitus than I felt comfortable with (especially since it was my vampire. Ugh, no no no.) With the help of three workers from Starving Students, he had deftly overseen draping my sleeping marbleized vampire client in heavy tarpaulin and boxing him up in one of the crates from the building site.

Then problem one arose. Morena and I couldn’t agree on what to do with him. Over the phone, she assured me that the Office wouldn’t suffice. (This was, of course, before I had ventured over there to see the devastation for myself.) She proposed shipping him to his condo. Which I was absolutely not going to do with strange henchmen, even if working for my half vampire gypsy twins. Especially since they were half vampire.

So there was only one thing to do. I shipped him to my hotel room. At the time, my heart was all in a flutter with how he’d wake up in what approximated to my bedroom. And I hate myself now for that sentimentality too. I think I was blushing when I signed the shipping papers. Ritterreiter seemed to find it amusing and for a moment, I thought he was going to ask me if he could deliver anything else, with a mighty leer.

And then he did.

“Shall I have an appropriate meal delivered around dusk for you? Perhaps a rare Kobe steak with broccolini and a hearty Pinot Noir? Your, um, cargo is likely to need a good feeding.”

My eyes bugged out. The presumption was there and the red in my cheeks deepened for wholly different reasons. I snapped out a response as I handed him his clipboard.

“That won’t be necessary. He’s not a pet.”

Then the leer turned to genuine surprise. “Oh, my apologies. After the damage he sustained, I just assumed he served you. All quite unnecessary as we had things well in hand.” Before my brain could keep up and ask all the important questions about who he thought he was and how exactly did he fit into all this, he spoke, “Not to worry. We will handle him with kid gloves and have him happily situated in your room at the Hyatt.” Then he turned on his heel and waved to the three helpers, all wearing similar khaki pants and tank tops, “Handle with Care, Crow.” Then they carted the crate over to a furniture truck with a lift. As much as my senses already on overload would allow, they looked rather sullen about the task.

As I watched them load the crate, I felt all energy begin to sap out of me and nausea begin to well up. I covered my mouth with my hand and made a few horrific hacks, part cough part dry heave. I tried to take in a shaky breath. I needed to pull myself together. I needed to get over to the office/deli. The phone call with Morena did nothing but alarm me, even with her assurances otherwise.

“Some ginger ale perhaps, Miss Quinn?”

I blinked but was so far gone as to not be capable of any more surprise so just took the proffered bottle and began to take small sips.

“Banana?”

I blinked my response again and watched as this mysterious henchman peeled the banana down for me with the precision of one acquainted with the finest food service standards. Then, he handed the half peeled banana to me, “Miss.”

“What are you? Alfred Pennyworth?”

He laughed. “Just a faithful servant to the Gypsy Twins. And now, miss, I think we should get you to the nearest ER. Likely more conspicuous than we’d like at this hour but haste is probably in order.”

I paused for a moment.

“No, I need to go with the crate.”

“You have my word it will be delivered with care.” Just then, the furniture truck slowly ambled across the street and into the back alley of Hyatt.

I paused for another moment. “Then I need to go to my office. To look after my friends.”

“They are being picked up as we speak and transported to the hospital, although I hear their injuries are minor. Everything has been arranged. Please let me help settle the rest of your affairs for just now. You need medical attention.” Then he smiled.

I would’ve slapped that smug look off his face if I’d known that he was part of the reason I needed medical assistance. But true to his word, as he was helping me through the ER doors after having changed into a police officer uniform, I spotted Nick striding out towards me.

“Holy shit! What happened to you?” Nick asked, with his usual charming turn of phrase. I ignored it and gave him a big hug.

He didn’t know what to do. “Uh…”

“Just forget I’m your boss for the moment, ok?” I rasped.

He grabbed my arms as he pushed me back to look me over. “Whoa, you sound like Lucy’s Smoking Voice from How I Met Your Mother.” His face had a few brushes but nothing too bad. I smiled. Then I started crying. His voice mail message made it sound like the end of the world had arrived and somehow, he and Morena had made it through. Relief was loosening all the shock from me and tears just fell as Nick led me over to the check-in desk.

As Nick did the talking with the desk nurse, I did manage to see one last glimpse of Ritterreitter as he handed a doctor in a lab coat a small bottle, having a very calm conversation as the doctor’s face showed surprise. RR slapped the doctor on the shoulder as the doctor looked over to me, holding the bottle.

Then I was caught up with checking in, trying to remember insurance information, and having the doctor hurry over with a couple of blue smocked orderlies who stuffed me in a wheelchair and tossed an insurance card to the desk nurse.

Yes, Ritterreiter had thought of everything. And I was happy to pass in and out of awareness as the doctor ran blood work, checked my vitals, and then scampered off to consult. During which Nick was able to relate what happened in a very clever manner. He told me about a really bad slasher film he’d seen.

Apparently, the story to the hospital was that I had been the victim of an attempted date rape drugging during a house party. Nick and a friend had interceded when the two culprits had tried to remove me from the apartment. Witnesses had been procured, the police had filled out a report, and now all that was left was to check me out and get me to ID my assailants, who had fled the alleyway once they’d been beaten.

When I’d tried to ask Nick where Morena was, he told me she’d had to clean up and then go chat with the officers doing the investigating before they would need to talk with me. Which they did. As the doctor had given me an IV, I was feeling marginally better just in time to get really pissed. Morena had taken blood. It was obvious when she strode into my private room. She glowed in that preternatural way.

Yes, the romance was dying face first in the dust that was settling. And I was getting a headache by the summation Nick was hitting me with. Trying to fit all the pieces together was going to have to wait until after sleep…like a week’s worth.

Luckily, my throat was only bruised, a few stitches closed the wound in my neck and shoulder, which had already begun to knit closed, and my face, well, purple and green were going to be my colors for a while. Morena waited to harass me about her boyfriend. Nick actually seemed to be high on life, just happy to have made it through their ordeal. I took my pills for nausea, pain, inflammation, and didn’t hesitate to pop the sleeping pill. I was gritting my teeth, feeling arms around me that weren’t mine. I felt stuck in the nightmare of post romantic stress disorder and I needed out…now…before I said something I regretted.

By the time the cops and doctors had finished with me, all the pills had put me in the most wonderful numbness. I pushed past Nick and Morena when the cab drove up and got in without a word. I couldn’t handle words. Words meant feelings. And I couldn’t afford them right now. I just needed to get somewhere to sleep. Yes. Sleep away all these tatters of deeper feelings than I could ever remember having, even for Dan.

I was vaguely aware of the hotel staff helping me out of the cab and something about a message waiting at the front desk. I waved it away and let someone helping up to my room. I barely registered it was Nick, who had somehow managed to get into the cab before leaving the hospital. I didn’t want to see anyone from this place or time. This whole trip had been an awful mistake and when I’d had a proper night’s rest, I was going to pack up and head back to Ohio. Substitute teaching didn’t seem like such a bad gig after all.

The porter helped Nick get me up to my room, which seemed to be on a different floor now. I’m certain Nick didn’t think I was still wily enough to slip through the door and lock it behind me, not letting him in but there it was. These drugs were great. Just what I needed to be numb but just aware enough to get away from everyone and everything. I would’ve snickered if I could.

I stumbled across the huge space. What, they had put me in a suite? Whatever for? I was struggling to get to the bed. All my stuff had been moved, including this huge crate I didn’t remember having and my trunk on which I stubbed my toe in the darkness. I made straight for the alcove that held the bed. Luckily, all the windows had double thick drapes that had been pulled shut. Perfect!

I crawled onto the bed and was just about to succumb to blissful oblivion when I heard a racket back in the main room. The bedroom alcove was only semi-private and so I tossed my head to listen but it was too late. Drugs settled it and for the second time in twenty four hours, I let the wonders of modern pharmacology put me under. My heroes had always been chemists.

Prologue – Through the Wilds

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony with tags , , , on February 12, 2012 by vampirony

He awoke with a start. He lay on the floor of a leaf-strewn forest, the pine boughs thick above him, nearly blocking out the stars. His body was naked and cold, almost numb and yet burning. He sat up. Looking over himself, his skin was littered with fresh scars that itched. He rubbed at the puckered skin over his wrist only to see it smooth out, lose its discoloration, the scar vanishing before his eyes.

Flexing his right hand, it seemed not of his own body, like some alien, new thing that didn’t quite fit at the end of his arm. Taking a moment, he realized there were parts all over his body that felt out of sorts with other parts of him, as if these bits and pieces had not always been one.

A breeze rustled the rust colored leaves around him. Autumn. Had he been running for so long? All he could remember was the running away. Not where he’d come from nor where he was going to. Not his name or age or family. No personal thing about himself could he recall. He was trapped in a living nightmare of pain, terror, and endless repetition.

His eyes darted around the forest, trying to discern anything from his surroundings that could answer what his addled memory could not. The woods were thick but the trees did not entirely blot out the sky. Just above him, pieces of a full moon reflected white light into his widening eyes. For a moment, he was mesmerized, the light suddenly washing clean all the corners of his mind, all the dread, the doubt, the anger, the fear.

He let his lids fall shut, hoping to hold in the white light, letting it build in his mind until it churned from a pure white into a glowing pale yellow, harkening back to its source, warming him from the inside. But before he could let the light complete its orbit, taking him back to day, back to a place and time he felt safe and he understood just who and what he was, a single howl split the night open again.

They were back and with that single sound, the previous night’s events ambushed him. Teeth and snapping jaws, drool, hot breath, and blood. So much blood. As the memories of his nightly ritual returned, more joined in the call for the hunt and he remembered what came next. They would surround him, trip him with their extended claws, and he would roll into a ball on the ground. Their collective jaws would snap at him as he fought them off, kicking, punching, screaming, biting and clawing in his own right. He had managed to break a leg or two, wrestle one to the ground, poke out an eye of another, but there was always another to take that one’s place.

And always, the wolves would bite at his flesh, slashing open his back, his side, blooding gushing out of his wounds. He would shriek in pain but finally, they would clamp their jaws around an ankle, an elbow, a wrist. Then shaking their mighty heads, the wolves would tear him literally limb from limb, eating him bit by bit until he lost consciousness. Only to awake whole again. But it always started with the running.

He jumped to his feet, putting the sounds of howling and barking at his back, ready to begin again what was written as the skein of his fate. He took a single step forward but something stayed his other foot. The foot felt odd, like all of his other discombobulated parts, but underneath it, he felt a connection into the earth. Something under his very feet reached up into him, keeping him rooted there. The ground seemed warmer than before, like he’d been running south toward some more temperate land. There was a scent to these trees that roused some wisp of a recognition that sped away with a heavy breeze.

The barking and yipping drew closer and still he could step no further. He lifted his foot up to see what lay underneath, what was impeding his flight, what familiar thing was fighting back his fear. Under the white light of the moon, he saw flecks of mica in the sand that dusted his sole.

Behind him, growls heralded that the wolves had caught up to him. He set his foot back down, twisting the ball of it into the cold sand, feeling its energy feeding him strength. Then, with great deliberation, he turned toward the wolves.

This night, on this ground, he would take one of them with him and have his own feast.