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Dead & Living

By Artie Gallezi

Action / Romance

Full Circle

The longest night of my existence began like any other.

I began to stir, night had barely fallen for more than half an hour, feeling quite relaxed and content. It seemed I was still riding that relaxing floating high that came with sharing a bed with a goddess. I instinctively reached out to bringer her closer to me, sleep still fighting against me.

I grasped nothing but air.

I opened my eyes and found myself alone in bed. I sat up and my mind went into a state of hyper awareness. The bedsheets had been thrown back where Wilhelmina had slept next to me. Her robe was missing, but the torn remains of my sweatpants and undershirt remained. I looked to the door and saw it been left ajar and I was certain I had closed it the previous night. Logic told me Wilhelmina had simply awoke earlier than I had, one as old as her did not require as much sleep like me, and had taken her robe with her and she had not bothered to close the door.

Then why did I feel uneasy?

Why did this feel so familiar to me? Like a favorite song that I had not heard in some time.

Then I remembered.

I was sixteen and I finally had my own room after being forced to share with my brother. I came home one day from work and knew instantly. The door was not broken, the window had not been forced open, and I could not see any sign of vandalism, but I knew. Call it a sixth sense or I was subconsciously aware of a faint scent in the air. Maybe my bed was a fraction of a inch from where it normally sat. It didn't matter how I knew: I knew. I would later learn my mother had entered looking some old clothes that I had long outgrew to donate to charity, but someone had entered my room while I was away. Now it had happened again, this time on a much more personal scale.

Someone or something had crept into my room while Wilhelmina and I slept, completely defenseless.

I looked down at my bare chest and saw no stake protruding. Then I looked down at the sheets and saw no bloodstains. If I was staked and the assassin took the stake with him, my chest would heal as I slept. If he somehow knew of my heart defect, then I wouldn't have woken at all. The lack of blood stains also told me that Wilhelmina had not been staked either. I peered at the floor around the bed and saw them as unstained as the sheets. I then sniffed the air and caught no strange scents.

"Wilhelmina?" I called out. "Are you there?"

I know it was not the smartest of things to do, but I called to mask the creaking floor as I walked to the corner where my cane sat still in the hidden pocket of my greatcoat. There was still the chance that the intruder was still in the apartment. Had this been a simple robbery, some things would be missing, my vinyl record player and records for one thing. My entire comic book collection had been untouched and some of them were first editions from the 1960's that would collectors would pay hefty for just one.

"Adrian?" I called out as carefully extracted a pair of jeans. "Is that you?"

I quietly donned the jeans, keeping the door insight, as I waited for a moment. When I heard nothing, I walked to the right of the door and pressed my back to the wall and held my sword at the ready to sever the head of whomever stormed in. I threw the door open and swung the sword back for maximum damage, but no one entered. Rather then stick my head out, I held out the blade and used the length as mirror. I adjusted the blade several time, toying with different angles, and saw no one just on the other side of the door or in direct line of sight from the living room.

In the time it took to blink, I crossed the small hallway and threw the door that had been Doyle's room. It was empty besides a bare bed and mattress and nightstand. I turned my head slightly and saw nothing out of the corner of my eye. Like before, there were no scents in the air to betray a presence. I did the same and entered Adrian's room which sat next to mine. It was as empty as Doyle's and Regina's when repeated the maneuver once more which left Wilhelmina's the only room unchecked.

I walked to the room and stood in front of Wilhelmina's door. If I was going to be ambushed and my attackers did not spring sooner while I checked the rooms, this was the only place left. I mentally ran through a list of who had a reason. I settled on either a surviving member of Sebastian's pack or the Alpha and Beta packs discovering whom had discovered their secret hideaways. Either way I was not dealing with humans that were aware of vampire existence, there had to be some out there, or fellow vampires.

I threw open the door and stood dumbfounded in the doorway.

Wilhelmina's king size canopy bed was bare. No silk drapes hanging around the edge and no silk sheets that left the mattress bare. The walls lacked William Wallace's sword and hammer, only the faint outlines of their frames remained. Wilhelmina's mirror, where she had brushed her hair only last night, still sat where it should, but I saw none of the little trinkets and pieces of jewelry or any make up. I rushed to it and opened the drawers and saw they too were empty. I went to the polished dresser and saw each and every drawer was empty as well. Not even a sock left behind. I finally checked the closet and found only wire hangers that were bare as the rest of the room. Dreading what I might find, I braced myself and pulled open the false bottom.

Even Wilhelmina's coffin was gone, but I saw something at the bottom of the hole.

I reached and brought a necklace up.

I had bought Wilhelmina the necklace from a street vendor almost a year ago. While it looked be genuine silver, it was not. It was a simple chain and actually reminded me of the chain I used to secure my bicycle when I was human, only much smaller and lighter. I had often seen Wilhelmina add a charm or two whenever the mood found her. It could be something as a medieval iron cross with sapphire in the center or a circular pendant from the Renaissance beautifully adorned with deep green emerald that matches her eyes, but what hung on the necklace did not belong to Wilhelmina.

It looked to be a handmade, hand carved I guessed, depiction of a wolf on an arrowhead. It was in profile of the beast howling, showing its teeth. On the end, attached by small rings, hung three little feathers and I had the feeling it was from some Native American tribe. Then I recalled what had said about the name of Sebastian's pack and how the Mahingan was the Algonquin word for wolf.

I transferred the necklace to the palm of my other hand.

"Ahh! Shit!" I hissed as I realized that while the necklace was not, the arrowhead was genuine silver. I quickly grasped it with my other hand by the chain. "Damn it."

I brought the necklace to my face and sniffed it, careful to not let the arrowhead touch my bare skin. I caught the scent of Wilhelmina, which I expected since she often wore it, but I also caught the unmistakable scent of werewolf and shifter. So I had been right.

I stood up slowly, stuffing the necklace into a pocket, and began weighing options. I did a quick search of the rest of the apartment and found nothing out of place other the faint scent of werewolf and shifter on the necklace, but not anywhere around the apartment. That was impossible. Weres may not need an invitation to enter or wait for the night, but they couldn't just enter and not leave even a trace of their scent. The only reason my mind could think of was that Wilhelmina herself had brought it into the apartment, but as to why she would be in possession of a silver wolf pendant was difficult to explain.

Nothing had been left behind or dropped that pointed me in any direction. No business cards, custom nightclub matchbooks, or hand written orders. I was fairly certain that Wilhelmina had been abducted, not killed. I surmised that the werewolf packs had learned of my involvement and sought to use her as leverage, but then I realized they would have left a list of demands or had contacted me somehow. If they had been serious, I would have awoken chained in silver on a wall with a stake to Wilhelmina's chest if I did not comply.

I growled to myself as another thought came to me. It was possible that Matthew might have found the combined force of two packs too great to handle and offered me in exchange as a peace offering. The vampire that had a great hand in massacring the Mahingan pack and had discovered the secret hiding places that had remained secret since 1899 when the Bronx Zoo first opened its gates to the public. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had the notion to make a most wanted list with me as public enemy number one.

Betrayed or discovered, either way Matthew was about to have an unexpected visitor.

I shoved my sword back into its cane and rushed to the door, but I paused when I threw the door open and came face to face with an old woman. She quickly looked away and made an embarrassed gasp. It took me a moment, but I looked down and saw I was wearing a pair of ratty jeans and nothing more. I snarled and rushed to my room, not caring if the old woman witnessed my vampiric speed. I quickly dressed, hardly glancing as I snatched random pieces of clothes that were tossed about or within quick reach, was out the door.

I did not bother with the elevator, choosing instead to run down the stairs as fast as my legs could carry me. I reached the ground floor in minutes and I did not bother to slow down. I did run past a couple with an infant in a stroller, but I am willing to bet they hardly saw more than a blur. I did finally stop when I reached the alley where my motorcycle sat under a tarp, giving one of the two humans quite a start. One was a woman, somewhere in her early thirties, and wearing an old sweat shirt and jeans. The other was a man, roughly the same age and wearing almost identical clothes, sitting on my motorcycle as he fiddled with wires.

"Jeez!" said the woman.

"Ah!" a spark jumped between the man's fingers and pulled them back. "Did you say something?"

"He just came outta nowhere." She pointed to me.

"Who?" the man looked to me. "Him?"

"Uh huh." the woman nodded.

"What are you doing?" I asked not too friendly.

"Lost my keys." said the man confidently.

"You're lying." I growled. "That bike is mine."

The man slid off the bike and walked to me, no doubt trying to sound and look as intimidating as possible. "Now who's lying? If that bike, a very nice bike by the way, was yours then ya woulda parked it in the street."

"I don't have time to deal with you." I said. I don't think I've ever sounded more like vampire until then. "Leave!"

"That's the problem with this city." said the man as casually slipped a hand behind his back, not even trying to conceal it, and produced a small gun. "Everyone's in a hurry. Now if this fine motorcycle is yours, why don't show me the keys?"

If I had been thinking clearly, less vampiric, it would have occurred to me to simply glamor them, but I was not about to even consider wasting the time it would take for me to do so. Instead, in the blink of an eye, I drew my sword and slashed upward. It happened so quick and suddenly, it didn't even register that something was wrong until he heard wet slap at his feet.

"What the . . ." His gaze drifted down to his feet and stared dumbfounded at his severed hand, still clutching the firearm. He held up a stump, savory squirting blood that looked pitch black in the moonlight, and looked to me. "Did you . . ."

I hissed, revealing my fangs and sank them into his neck. I drank deeply for a few moments. Between his ulnar opened when I severed his hand and my feasting on his carotid artery, his body went limp in seconds as he went into shock and lost consciousness. I let his flaccid body drop at my feet and I looked up as I licked my chops. I sighed and savored the flavor for a moment, noting I have had better. I then remembered the man was not alone and my other hunger came alive, but I reeled that in. Not only did I still refuse to commit that particular act, but I just didn't have the time.

The woman had not moved from where she had been standing, but she had the presence of mind to draw her own firearm. She was terrified to her very core and it was apparent how much her hands were shaking. Tears ran down her face and her lips were trembling and I had notion she could not decide on whether to cry or scream.

"Last chance." I bent down and tore a piece of the dead man's shirt. I wiped my mouth. "If you wanna go, go."

"I . . . uh . . . the fuck . . ." she said, trying to comprehend what she just saw.

"Forget it!" I snapped and rushed to my motorcycle.

Maybe it was not wise to use my vampiric speed, but in my defense I was not aware I had used it when I ran to my motorcycle. With the speed comes the reflexes so one did not collide with walls and such. At any rate, it was enough for the woman's finger to twitch and fire a round that pushed me sideways, splattering the wall behind me with my blood.

Anger filled me as I growled at her and attacked. How dare she shoot me when I gave the opportunity to walk away, an opportunity few others would even consider?!

I recall her gun going off a second time and a hot lance lightly touching my shoulder just over my clavicle, but in that moment I was only aware of my mouth filling with her blood and her heartbeat going frantic until it finally ceased altogether. I let her limp body drop at my feet and did not spare her a glance as I rushed to my motorcycle, pausing only to wipe my mouth and chin before slipping on the helmet. I paused once more to flick off the blood from my sword and slipped it into what I learned were shotgun holsters that the late Jacob Lautner had installed.

I kick-started the engine and, as fast as possible, I was speeding out of the alley with screeching tires and the roaring of the engine added with the cacophony of the city's many, many, drivers. It seemed the gunshot had not gone unnoticed and had been reported. As I threw myself and sped down Centre Street, many police cars heading towards Broadway barreled past me when I crossed over Canal and Hester Street, all with flashing their red and blue lights and sirens piercing enough to crack glass.

Part of me was concerned that one car might think to pull over the clearly speeding motorcyclist trying to get the hell out of dodge, but none did. It was just as well since I was not about to waste time and would kill anyone who dared get in my way. It was also just dumb luck that I could weave through traffic.

Had I been in a car, the casualties would have without a doubt hit double digits before I went a block and maybe even septuple by Brooklyn. It was one of those rare nights I was cursing the fact how crowded and congested the streets of the city were. Even at eight at night on a Tuesday could have traffic jams that other smaller cities had nightmares about.

So urgent I thought my objective, I did not bother slowing down or stopping at intersections. I remember horns honked in my direction mixed with the sound of shattering glass and obscenities in different languages, but I charged on past Broome Street and throwing myself onto Kenmare Street. To avoid crashing, I was forced to enter oncoming traffic several times, but the advantage of such small vehicles is being able to weave between cars and trucks before entering the correct lane and causing those behind me to slam on their brakes and honking their horns at my recklessness.

I continued on Kenmare, crossing over Bowery and nearly causing another accident or two, until it became Delancy Street which I followed and was on the Williamsburg Bridge and over the East River. I briefly thanked circumstances I hadn't opted for the the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and went under the river. The last thing I needed was police and such on my tail for barreling through a toll.

I raced across the bridge, again obscenities and horns protesting my haste, and shot down the exit that led west on Broadway. I briefly recognized I was now in Brooklyn and opened the throttle farther with the Grasslands Gallery barely half a mile away. I continued on Broadway, turned on Kent Avenue, and was in front of the Grasslands Gallery in a mere three minutes. I parked in across the street and walked to the entrance, cane in hand.

Even on a Tuesday night in early December, there was a long line of humans wrapping around the corner toward South Second Street, and they were not pleased as I strode up to the same two large bouncers that flanked the entrance the first time I paid Matthew a visit.

"Line's starts back there." said one on my right, jerking his thumbs so there was little chance of a misunderstanding.

"Get Ian." I said impatiently. "I'm here on business."

"Hold on." The bouncer on the left stopped his partner as he reached for a radio. "He was here a couple months ago. Ian said he's cool."

"He also said we'd lose our jobs if we didn't run things by him." He pulled his arm away and spoke into a radio he took from inside his suit jacket. "Hey, Ian, we got a kid here. Says he's on business."

"What was that? I can barely understand you." Ian asked, his voice full of static. "Never mind. I'll be there in a few."

I wanted nothing more to push through, but some of my reason broke the surface of my urgency. There was a great chance I would require Matthew's help, as well as information, in rescuing Wilhelmina and I was not about to throw that away when all that was needed was a few minutes patience.

But it seemed one of the humans in line had exhausted all of his. "Hey, buddy, didn't you hear him? The line's back there."

His words went right over my head as I impatiently waited for Ian to appear behind the two bouncers.

"Hey!" the human continued, now becoming annoyed. "I'm talking to you!"

I stood stock still, but I flicked my eye to see who was making such a racket. He looked like any college student out for a night of fun. Groomed and styled brown hair meant to look ungroomed with a single earring in his left ear. He wore a tan dress shirt and dark blue jeans with loafers. His friends, or just the humans standing with him, were dressed more or less the same with varying colors and accessories.

"Yeah, that's right, buddy." He sneered. "What makes you so special that you can't wait like the rest of us?"

I turned my attention back to the entrance.

"Oh snap." said one of the humans to his left. "Burned dude."

"And without a word." guffawed another.

"Hey!" he shouted again. "Hey! I asked you a question!"

I ignored him, severely tempted to simply walk in and insulting Matthew be damned.

That when I sensed a bit of movement and caught the human by the wrist. I did not hiss, I had enough sense to not hiss and reveal my fangs, but I must have stared unblinking volumes of terror and warning. He winced and gasped which meant i was gripping his wrist a little too tight for his liking. I knew that the moment his eyes went wide and tried to back away. I was a blink away from twisting my hand sharply and snapping his wrist like a frail branch, but luckily for the human Ian chose that moment to appear.

"Hey, Dominick." He said warmly, doing his best to act human. "'Loooking gooood by the way. Very macho."

"Kid says he's on business." said one of the bouncers. "Figured we'd run it by you first."

"Yeah he's cool." Ian casually threw an arm around my shoulder and I released the human who wisely backed into line. "Come on, cool cat." Ian waited until we entered the club proper so the loud music would hide our conversation. "Why are you here? I thought Matthew was all but finished with the local packs."

"I need to see him." I said urgently. "Now!"

"Normally, one does not see the Sheriff unless he specifically summons him." Ian saw the look I was giving him. "But I don't think he'd mine since you've been very helping." He handed me a key. "I trust you remember how to reach Matthew?"

"Yes." I snatched the key from his hand. "Thank you!"

I took three steps before Ian's hand on my shoulder stopped me. "Wait!"

"What?" I demanded.

"You were using your speed." He told me. "We are surrounded by humans." He leaned to look at me. "What's going on?"

I shrugged off his hand and ran to the bar's storage room, taking special care not use my vampiric speed in full view of the human patrons. I entered and rushed to the lift, using the key Ian had provided, and was slowly rising to the upper level of Matthew's club.

The door opened and stepped out. Fortunately, Mae was in the room, but she was also feeding from a young woman who barely seemed old enough to enter the club. If there is one thing that you want to avoid doing, human or otherwise, is interrupt a vampire during a feed, but in my defense it was not intentional. The moment the door closed and I stepped out, I found myself pressed up against it with my feet off the floor and Mae growling at my intrusion. Fortunately, she recognized me and released me.

"Dominick?" She cocked her head.

"Yes." I bent down and picked my cane. "I need to see Matthew."

"Something has happened?" she said. "Are we under attack?"

"No! Yes! I don't know." I sighed. "I need to speak with him. Now!"

"Very well." She wiped her mouth. "I shall inquire after him."

Mae was blur for a second and she disappeared another second later. I walked to window, ignoring the dead girl laying on the desk. I was not hungry after the two humans in the alley and Mae would not be pleased if I took such a liberty. I think it was like helping yourself to another's plate while they excused themselves to the bathroom.

I looked down at humans, dancing and reveling in the night, and couldn't help but be envious for moment. I suppose if I ever had gathered the courage to leave my home, I could be down with the rest of them. Just another blissfully ignorant child enjoying my youth before I settled into a dull routine of car payments and mortgages.

It was then that I noticed what I was wearing in my reflection. My hair was a bit ungroomed and my skin had not changed, but I found shocking how much I had changed in such a short time. It was not something strange or exotic I had bought with my new found wealth, but clothes that I had owned for years and yet never combined them in such a manner. I wore a long sleeved V-necked T-shirt that was a deep shade of burgundy. Over that was a medium-length faux leather coat with big lapels that had seen better times.

I recalled I had purchased at thrift store and the counterperson had said it belonged to a marine who donated it as part of his will when he perished overseas. My pants were as hard-wearing and dark black as the jacket. These were kind of pants you'd see on a uniformed policeman. I half expected myself to be wearing combat boots, but they were just a pair of old loafers that had belonged to my father.

Had it been 2005 or so, I would have remarked how my clothes were almost exactly what Christopher Eccleston wore when the BCC semi-rebooted Doctor Who.

"Dominick?" said a voice.

I turned to see Abraham. He was wearing roughly the same clothes I had first met him in, button down shirt tucked into a pair pristine denim jean and pointed brown boots. He seemed to be holding an envelope.

"It is you." he walked to me and handed my the envelope. "This for you."

I took the envelope, but did not open it. "What's this?"

"I don't know." he said. "It was dropped off this morning while the humans cleaned with specific instructions to be given to you when you arrived." He motioned to it. "I have been holding on to it until Mae came into Matthew's office, but I have not opened it as you can see."

I looked down and saw he was right. My name was written in flowing script on the front and it had been sealed with wax, like old messages from the middle ages. But that was impossible. I did not even know I would be at Matthew's club less than half an hour ago. Clearly someone, most likely whomever had kidnapped Wilhelmina, knew that sooner or later I'd visit Matthew.

I open the letter and the message was written in the same flowing script.

My dearest Dominick,

You have changed impressively in such a short time. You are no longer the scared little child that I first mistook you for when we first met. I am sure you must feel quite confused, not An all too familiar feeling considering your gift, so please keep reading and hopefully It lay your questions to rest.

From the smallest sparrow to the mightiest Dragon, there comes a time for the offspring to leave the Nest and find it's own way in the world. I speak, or write rather, figuratively since you may do with what you will with the apartment. Fill it with whatever pleases you aNd live alone, Share it with others of our kind and create a new Nest, Or you can merely leave as iT is and Explore the world beyond what you have seen. You once said you found the teaching of the samurai quite interesting. I have never been, but I hear that the Aokigahara forest of Japan is sight to be seen at night.

I know this may seem sudden and without Preamble, but you knew full well that our relationship would eventually come to an eNd. If you did not, then I was correct to use this manner rather than explain face to face as you no doubt would refuse to accept This and make A scene.

If there is one Thing that all of our kind must learn is that nothing can last forever.

Sincerely and with love,

Wilhelmina Wallace.

If my own mother was to suddenly appear in front of me and sink a stake into my heart, it would easily be the second largest shock I had ever received, both as a vampire and human.

It had occurred to me on a few occasions, so few that I could count them on a single hand in the near year and a half that we have been together, that I might wish to leave Wilhelmina's side and go on my own path. But I had always assumed that would not happen for sometime, perhaps even a century. I had based that assumption on all that she had told me about the rest of the nest. Adrian had been turned in 1726 and had parted with his maker just under eighty years in 1802 while Wilhelmina spent five decades with Wymark when they parted in 1355 or so. Even Doyle and Regina, who had spent the least amount of time with thier sires, each had about a decade.

It just did not make sense. Why would, after drilling into my head the responsibilities of being a sire and how it should not be done carelessly, she decided that our time together had come to an end? She practically rose each night claiming that abandoning a newly made vampire was exactly tossing a newborn in the streets. I had often, more accurately, thought it was more like tossing a hungry leopard into a pen of wild boars. The leopard may kill a good number, but it would eventually be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The point was, even with my gift, it was near impossible to even conceive that I had learned all the necessary information in just under two years.

It had to be a trick I thought to myself. They must have forced her to write this so I would drop my guard and assume nothing was amiss, but another thought to came to me. They could not have forced her to write this because Abraham had said this letter had been delivered this morning and if they had somehow managed to wake, and keep her that way, then it would have been sloppy and illegible instead of pristine calligraphy I held. Unless they had some leverage over her, it would certainly explain her dour mood and the nights she spent away from the nest, and had compelled her to write this ahead of time.

With that last thought burning in my bright mind, I began to read and reread her letter. She would try to warn me, give me some subtle clue buried between the lines. Wilhelmina would no doubt make it obscure and hidden in plain sight, trusting my gift would make it apparent where another would not give it a second chance.

"Dominick?" asked Abraham. "Is all right? Is there something Matthew should know?"

"Huh?" I looked up. I was focused I had forgotten where I stood and with whom. "What about Matthew?"

"Is there anything in that letter that should concern Matthew?"

"Maybe . . ." I sank into a chair and began rereading the letter. "If you have to report back to him, tell him to be wary. I'm know Ian said different, but tell him that it might be best to find a new day resting place for him and his nest."

"Are you sure?" he asked cautiously. "That sounds like a very serious threat. Has something happened?"

"Yes, but I'm not entirely sure he's in danger or not." I set Wilhelmina's letter in front of me on the desk and loomed over it. "Still, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Now get out."

"Excuse me?"

I looked up and growl "Did I stutter?" I returned to staring at the paper in front of me "Get. Out. I need to think."

Abraham seemed to take offense. "I think you have forgotten that I am your elder."

I looked up, annoyed.

"You are not aware of it, but Mae has told me your true age." He smirked superior.

"And you unaware that was one of the first things that occurred to me." I said unintimidated. "So while you may be faster and stronger, are you more intelligent? Are you capable of visualizing each and every variable, the possibility of weapons or strategies, and forming a flawless counter to all of them? Is it possible that you have overlooked a crucial detail that could result in your ultimate demise?"

He stared daggers, no doubt weighing options.

"Judging by your hesitation, you haven't. Well, I have."

His gazed narrowed, "You're bluffing."

"Maybe I am, maybe I'm not, but are you willing to take that risk? If I am, what kind? Is it a bluff? Double bluff, Or maybe a triple bluff? Think on that and make your move." I returned my attention to the message. "If not, then get out and report to your sheriff."

I was answered with the sound of feet running at blinding speed and the unmistakable sound of a door being slammed shut. With that settled, I stared at the line that was nagging, teasing me for attention like girl at a bar. I was certain she was trying to tell me something. Wilhelmina wasn't one for flowery words and sugar coating, she was direct and to the point. Knowing that, one line stood out to me. It was very un-Wilhelmina.

"From the smallest sparrow to the mightiest dragon," I read aloud. "There comes a time for the offspring to leave the nest and find it's own way in the world." Then something caught my eye. "Hmm . . ."

I noticed in her letter the words 'Dragon' and 'Nest' both began with capital letters, but neither were the beginnings of sentences. Wilhelmina must have had mastered quite a number of languages in her time and even though modern slang escaped her, her grammar was exceptional when written. I mentally run though a list of grammatical reasons for the use of capital letters. Neither word was the start of a sentence so that was out, but names were a possibility. I ran though another mental list of vampires I knew, but none were named Dragon or Nest. I thought perhaps she had used an anagram, but she hadn't. I retrieved a pen and paper from the desk to make sure. I even attempted to find an anagram using both words, but none came. At least none that I recognized.

I was about to give up on the train of thought when another line came to me, the one about visiting the Aokigahara forest of Japan. Was it possible she was hinting for me translate the entire message into Kanji because each character had multiple meanings? No, her captors would not have given her much time to write for fear of her leaving me a clue. Perhaps if I merely translated the two words. I racked my mind, countless hours spent trying to translate some of characters that I had seen in old samurai films. The dialogue was dubbed over in English, but the signs hadn't been and curiosity drove me find their meaning.

It took several tries, but I was fairly sure I had found the correct word for nest. When translated, provided I had remembered correctly, the word for nest was Su. It meant absolutely nothing to me, barely a word. To be thorough, I translated Dragon. Which gave me exactly what I need.

"Let's see . . ." I tapped my temple as muttered. "You were one first things I learned . . . dragon . . . dragon . . . it had something to do with an arcade game . . . Street Fighter!" I stood up. "That's it."

I quickly snatched the letter and stuffed into my jacket pocket. Taking care not use my vampiric speed, I took the elevator down and ran to my motorcycle as fast as my legs could carry me. Luckily neither Ian or the bouncers stopped me and I reached the bike in minutes, berating myself for being so dense.

It had been years since I entered an arcade, but I recalled I played a game called Street Fighter when it was released in 1987. The main character on the side had looked strange to me. He wore a tattered white karate gi with a white hachimaki, red gloves, and red shoes. His name was just as strange to me. I eventually learned it was a Japanese name and in their culture names usually meant something. His name meant dragon and the name was Ryu, sometimes spelled with an extra 'U'. Wilhelmina was telling me to seek out Ryuu's nest. As to why, I had not idea. Perhaps Matthew's was involved or compromised, either way I had a destination.

I slipped on the helmet that I hung on the handle bars and slipped my cane into the shotgun holster. I kick-started the engine hard and shot out between two cars that had parked behind and in front, forcing a passing taxi to slam on its brakes and honk the horn in protest. Judging by the way his apology was drowned out by the sound of my engine, he was not a native and hadn't been in the city for that long.

It was fortunate that Wilhelmina mentioned Ryuu's nest. If she had merely mentioned Ryuu, I would have been forced to choose between his club in Freeport, Yojimbo's, or his nest in Mill Neck. Both were on opposite sides of each other and the island. I would not have time to visit both in the same night if I chose wrong. It was the first time I cursed becoming a vampire in almost a year. Then again, if I had not become one I would not be in this situation in the first place. Of course, after i had time to cool down, it would have been easier to simply call both places. Perhaps I should have kept Wilhelmina's cellphone even if it did resemble a white plastic brick.

I stowed away those thoughts and forced myself to focus on the task at hand. I continue north on Kent Avenue, made a slight left and it became Franklin Street. I hardly stayed for then a minute, at my speed I hardly stayed on any street for much longer, and made a right onto Greenpoint Avenue which I followed over John Jay Bryne Memorial Bridge, sometime called the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and merged onto the Long Island Expressway heading to the island's eastern side. Luckily most of the traffic on a was heavily congested going into the city, not leaving like I was. I'm sure I would've remarked how light traffic was, but not this night. Anything short of being the only one on the highway was too heavy for me, each second loss by squeezing the brake irritating me beyond reason each and every time.

To say I was paranoid would not be unreasonable, but it was when I came to a dead stop when the expressway reached the end of Queens that it became less suppressible. I had made decent time, decent on any normal night for the city, passing through the rest of Brooklyn and most of Queens, but a few minutes after passing the exit for the Clearview expressway I reached an impassible wall of cars.

I craned my neck to see what was the cause of such an inconvenience, but between distance of the many freight trucks I could not see any indication even with my acute sight. I could make out the red and blue flashes of several police cars and maybe some ambulances as well, but that was the extent of it. I gazed around and saw many of the drivers had turned their cars off. Some were shouting into cell phones while other shouted at each other. I drove forward slowly , the motorcycle's lack of bulk allowing me to, between cars before I reached an impasse.

I removed my helmet and tapped on the glass of a random car. The man, who was reading a newspaper, jumped in surprise and looked confused. I motioned for him to lower the window and he did so. I saw he was with his family, a woman who I guessed to be his wife and two small sleeping children in backseat, were in the car with him and they eyed cautiously. They must have sensed something unworldly about me.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Radio says an oil tanker crashed into coach bus." he said sounding both worried and awed. "Both were full."

"How long ago?" Perhaps sounding less concerned than what was expected.

"About three hours." He motioned to his family. "At least that's how long we've been stuck here."

I cursed. This would not be resolved for days at best and I only had the rest of the night. Once again, I cursed the fact that I had precious little time to not only find Wilhelmina but rescue her as well, making sure to leave sufficient time to find shelter for the both of us. Had we been human, neither of us would be in danger for falling asleep in an inappropriate time and place. Then again if we had been human, we would have never met.

I cleared my head and thought for a moment. "Do you have a map?"

"What for?" He asked then he realized it was a stupid question. "Never mind." He spoke to his wife. "Sheryl, can you check the glove box? I think I had one in there." A moment later, he handed my a folded piece of paper. "Here ya go."

I forced a smile, by way of a thank you, and unfolded it. It took me less than minute to find where I currently was and another two to plot an alternate path. While I am sure they were long dead, I thanked whomever designed the highway system of Long Island. While not an official highway, Northern Boulevard could take me almost exactly the way I had originally planned, but it had the advantage of shortening the distance significantly. I might have tried the Grand Central Parkway which became the Northern State Parkway when you entered Nassau County, but no doubt it would be just as crowded since it practically ran paralell to the Long Island Expressway with almost the exactly the same exits.

I handed the map back and pushed the bike to stone divider. It never occurred to me to see how much stronger I had become since I had been human. I knew I had gained immense amounts of strength, but it could not be improved upon or modified. I could not exercise like humans could to increase my power and I also lacked adrenaline that allowed humans to perform superhuman feats, like mothers lifting car off of their children, but I could not continue on the road and nor could I go back.

I ignore the onlooker that I was no doubt attracting, and would attract, and lifted the front wheel, resting it on the divider. I walked to the rear, the heaviest part that held the engine, of the bike and squatted, gripping the sides tightly. I certainly expected resistance, but not as much as I encountered.

It took almost everything I had to merely lift the rear and hold it on my thighs. I never did exactly learn why muscles burned when pushed to their limits, but I was familiar with the feeling, and it seemed vampires had their own version of the sensation. At best, I could describe it akin to being battery drained of its power. It felt very uncomfortable, but not exactly painful.

"Jesus Christ!" I heard a voice shout. "Are you insane?!"

I ignored the question and use what little strength I had left to throw the contraption upward. It did not sail over the stone divider several feet in the air. It scraped it, making sounds like a hundred nails run across a chalkboard with sparks, and fell on the other side with loud crash. No doubt there would some cosmetic damage, but that was least of my concern so long it ran.

I took step forward, but fell on to a knee. It seemed I needed a moment to recover from such a sudden and drastic use of my strength. I was aware of a man, the same one that had provided me with a map, was kneeling by me.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

I looked up and stared, his carotid artery throbbing with each heartbeat and just begging to be opened. I was suddenly hungry and surmised that it was my body's way of telling me it needed more than just time to recover. I licked my lips and fought to urge clamp down on his neck.

The human noticed my staring. "What?"

"Nothing." I stood quickly. I did not have time to feed and there was the dozens of onlookers. "I'm fine."

"You just lifted a six-hundred pound bike over a four foot wall." he told me.

"So that's how much it weighs." I climbed over the divider slower than I wanted to. I lifted the bike, no easy feat after the first time, and mounted it.

I paused a moment to slip on the helmet and was gone before the humans had the idea to inform the police of my abnormal feat. I kick started the engine and drove to the nearest exit, Springfield Boulevard in Bayside. I took Springfield through was obviously a higher income residential area. It was one cookie cutter home after another, each with mock roman columns and decorative wrought iron railings with white picket fences separating them.

Clearly I was no longer in the city, but I was still fairly close I realized once I passed over the Cross Island Parkway. From what I remembered from the map, I was roughly in Douglaston which meant the road would soon begin to inch farther and farther north to higher and higher income towns. I would pass through the smaller villages and hamlet communities, like Manhasset and Greenvale, as I sped down Northern Boulevard until it crossed with Route 106 several miles south of Oyster Bay.

Once I reached Route 106, I worked from memory. While it had been nearly a year since I was last on this road, I was absolutely certain how to reach Ryuu's nest. It would feel longer than it actually was, but I only had to follow a straight line for the most part. Unfortunately a major part of that line was heavily patrolled by the private police force of Muttontown and Brookville.

It did not even register in my mind until I heard the indisputable sound of a police siren and the near unlit road was bathed in swirling red and blue. I looked behind to see, once the temporary blindness subsided from the flashing lights, a white police cruiser with the Muttontown police insignia and name on the side. I had forgotten these policemen will look for any excuse to give out a ticket, especially to non-residents of the little privileged village.

I snarled and opened the throttle, what little there was left of it to open, intending to outrun the cruiser. I felt and heard the engine push the bike further and faster, but it quickly puttered out and quieted. I wasn't certain if it was the result of lifting the motorcycle over the stone divider or the combined neglect of myself and the previous owner, but it seemed the motorcycle had reached its limit and shut down completely. I managed to steer the dying bike to the side of the road, more or less cementing the notion this was just not my night.

I was somewhat aware the cruiser had pulled up some distance behind me, but I was cursing the dead human couple in the alley. The man had been fiddling with wires on the small dashboard, trying to hotwire it, when I arrived. I was too preoccupied to notice that maybe the bike was not operating as it had been and it reached its limit when I suddenly put a massive strain on an already hampered engine, and I'm sure the sudden drop on the hard floor on the Long Island Expressway did not aid in anyway.

"Bike trouble?" asked a gruff smug voice.

I whipped head up to see him, the helmet hiding my fangs and hiss quite well. The man standing before me had light brown skin, dull green eyes and short, straight black hair that had been combed neatly. He had a sharp pointed nose and a square chiseled jaw. He was about six feet tall and has a medium build. His clothes were what I had seen countless other officers of law wear, dark navy blue shirt and pants with belt full of equipment. I caught the faint smell of cigarette smoke that I was all too familiar with, his aftershave doing nothing to mask it.

"Could you please take off your helmet?" He tapped the hard plastic visor of the helmet.

I narrowed my eyes at him, but removed it. And he would regret it soon enough. I briefly considered simply killing him and going on my way, but then I would waste time staging the area to make it look more natural and I did not have time for that. Had I heeded Wilhelmina's advice, the one concerning emotions and mastering them, it would have been obvious to glamor the officer. Unfortunately, I was barely in control of my hunger at the moment, let alone my emotions.

"That's better." He said smugly. "Now license and registration."

"I don't have it." I said plainly.

"Excuse me?"

"I. Don't. Have. It." I said slowly, hopefully enough for him to comprehend.

"Alright." He made a note on a small pad. "Were you aware of how fast you were going?"

"Of course, it's right in front of me." I pointed to the dashboard. "What I wasn't aware of where you were hiding."

"Hiding?" he asked cautiously before h shrugged and made another note. "And you are aware of the state speed limit is fifty-five?"

"And you aware of the reason for that speed limit?" I countered.

"Excuse me?" He clearly was not accustomed to attitude. "It's for safety so reckless punks don't drive like they own the road."

Actually it was due to the 1973 oil crisis where congress in 1974 enacted the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act that prohibited speed limits higher than 55 miles per hour. It was drafted in response to oil price spikes and supply disruptions during the 1973 oil crisis. From what I remembered, it hadn't exactly helped and many police officials opposed it saying they could have men looking for drunk drivers coming out of bars rather than sitting and waited for someone to blur past who was clearly sober.

"Alright, look around." I ordered. "Other than myself, who is on the road at this hour at night."

"That's moot." He motioned for me to dismount. "I'm placing you under arrest."

"Funny." I actually chuckled. "What for?"

"No license or registration, excessive speeding, and attempting to flee from an officer." He produced a pair of handcuffs and stepped closer, just within range. "Now get off the bike or I'll add resisting arrest to the list."

Quick as lightning, I lunged and sank my fangs into his neck as I tackled him to the floor. It must have been so sudden for him that I did not feel him begin to struggle at first. He did eventually gathered himself, but by that time it was too late and he passed.

I stood, feeling somewhat rejuvenated, and surveyed my surroundings. There were no indications that someone had witnessed my crime, but I did wish to stay if that assumption proved false. Normally, I would carefully and meticulously arrange the body and scene so a more believable scenario would be evident, but I did not have time or resources.

First I made sure that my motorcycle would start, I really did not want to draw attention to a speeding police cruiser this late at night. I kick started the engine and revved it a couple of times to make sure I had way of leaving. I picked up the officer's body, Jefferson read his name tag, and placed in the back seat. I quickly removed his socks and tied them together to form short rope which I stuffed into the gas take with small length sticking out.

Going by the cigarette smoke I caught earlier, I searched his pockets and found a disposable lighter and an empty carton. I looked around once more, saw that two rabbits watching me from under a nearby tree were not about ambush me, and lit the sock rope. I quickly rushed my motorcycle and rode on, not wanting to be anywhere in the nearby area.

I was beginning to think that maybe the fire had gone out before it could reach the gasoline in the tank when I heard, and felt, the earth shaking KA-BOOM. I spared a glance in the mirror to see the intense light by inferno that engulfed the cruiser, and officer Jefferson along with it. The fire would consume any trace I was there and the heat would evaporate any liquid left in the body so it would difficult to prove that the good officer died due to major blood loss, but it would be far natural to suspect a defect in the car caused a spark in the gas tank and anyone could tell lighting gasoline in an enclosed space was highly lethal.

I carefully followed the speed limit for the little stretch of road before I reached an intersection with an empty gas station on my left and a statue of Theodore Roosevelt on a stallion to my left. I was just about to make a left turn when I heard the unmistakable sirens of several police cruisers couple with two ambulances. I looked ahead to see them barreling down the road just on the other side of the traffic light. I pulled onto the sidewalk to let them pass, no doubt on their way to see if their comrade could be saved, and turned left onto Lexington Avenue just as they passed. No one even glanced in my direction.

Once I made another left turn and a quick right, I was riding alongside the ocean as it crashed against the rocks to my left. Perhaps on another night, a far more auspicious night, I would marvel how the pale white crescent that was the moon made the ocean sparkling and shine with its radiant light. Or I might reflect how the delicate scent of salt in the air stirred memories of my youth when my grandfather took me fishing, but it all might as well not had existed for the attention I paid.

I finally reached Ryuu's home, a very large white manor that sat upon the crest of hill that overlooked a small duck pond and had an excellent view of the ocean. I drove up the winding driveway, my motorcycle beginning to sputter and cough. I managed to reach the car garage, just on the side of the house with a sliding door to enter and leave. There was a small patio with a clearly unused gas burning barbeque grill and various pool toys stacked against it. While I had never seen the back of his home, going by the pool toys and the strong scent of chlorine in the air, it would be fair to assume it sported a large swimming pool.

I looked down to see if I could fix what damage the dead thief had caused by his fiddling when I mentally slapped myself. It was not the thief's meddling or the sudden crash onto the floor that caused the motorcycle to fail, it was the lack of fuel. In my haste I never bothered to check and see how much gas was in the tank. So naturally, the engine would strain and die without it.

"Dominick?" I heard the sound of a sliding door and a familiar female voice. "Is that you?"

I turned to see Tasha, wearing an old sweatshirt and sneakers. It seemed she did feel the need to dress in sexy clothing when she was home.

"Yes." I dismounted and rushed inside in the time it took her to blink. "Is Ryuu or Kim here?"

"No." She closed the door and seemed scared. "Just us."

"Us?" I looked and saw Hillary and the rest of the humans. They seemed to have just finished cleaning after dinner. "Oh. Where are they?"

"They went hunting." said Hillary. "We don't know when they'll be back."

"They don't tell exactly give us an itinerary." said Tasha. "Is something wrong?"

I closed my eyes and thought for a moment. Wilhelmina's message had hinted for me to come here, that much was obvious, but she hadn't exactly explained for what purpose. Was I suppose to wait for Ryuu and his nest to call in a debt and mount an attack? Did he possess some means of locating her? Or had she simply been warning me to leave the apartment and place myself under Ryuu's protection because she knew she would be killed and sought to save me?

Then another possibility came to me. She might have foreseen something might happen and she had enough time to set up a way to warn me without tipping her hand.

"Tasha!" I said suddenly.

I noticed all of the humans jumped at my outburst. I must have gone erect like our kind tends to do.

"Yes?" she said, recovering.

"Has anyone delivered a letter?" I asked. "One without any postage marks or stamps."

"Just bills for the house and the newspaper." said Hillary. "We check it every morning while Ryuu and the rest sleep."

"Check it again." I ordered. "It would have arrived much later. Maybe just before nightfall."

"Should we be worried?"

"NOW!" I shouted.

Hillary yelped and sprinted towards the front door.

"Tasha, are there any gas cans in garage?"

"W-what?"

"Gas cans!" I hissed. I know vampires have much more sensitive hearing than humans, but this was ludicrus. "Garage! Any?"

"I-I-I think s-so." She trembled. "W-w-we keep some for the l-lawnmowers and stuff."

"Then go get them and pour what you can into my motorcycle."

I looked as she quickly left through the sliding door. The two remaining humans, Nicholas and James I remembered, who cast their gazes to the floor. I ignored them and caught sight of myself in a window. Normally the mere presence of vampire is enough to unnerve a human, but one who's lower chin is smeared with fresh blood certainly adds to the fear. It seemed I had forgotten to clean Officer Jefferson's blood from my face.

I splashed water on my face and wiped of the remains with a dishrag just as Hillary returned with a letter. Like the one at Matthew's club, there was no postage or any indication that it had even been processed by the post office. The only marks on it were my name, written in same flow script as before, and red candle wax seal. It was then I noticed the wax seal was not a plain one. It depicted a right vambraced hand brandishing a sword that rose between a crown. Over the crown were the ancient latin words Pro Libertate which translated into 'For Liberty!"

Hillary wordlessly handed it over and I broke the seal.

My dearest Dominick,

If you are reading this then you have no doubt Have formed the notion that I was somehow abducted from the nest during the day. I grant you That would be a fair assumption, considering Our tangles in the past, but it is an assumption that is false in this case. Or perhaps you thought Ryuu would provide you with some clue to where I might be. None, but myself, will know where I might be. I have made sure of that.

I could be, at the moment you are reading this, on my way to Westbury, England. I believe I once told how I met the most intresting young woman there. You remember, it was the girl whose hunting in the local cemetery lead to many to seE if they could catch a glimpse of her.

As I told yOu in the last missive, I am ending our relationship. It is time you made your owN way in the world and that would be impossible at my side. Go and have you always wished for, the freedom to Live the life you wanted. While I know you wished to marry at some point, but as you know that is a practice our kind does not participate in. I suppose you will merely have settle for children, if you feel the need

We may cross paths, with our condition it is only a matter of time, but do not count of that occurring anytime soon.

With love,

Wilhelmina Wallace.

I folded the letter into my pocket and ran out. I could have not timed it sooner as three large empty gas cans were on the floor by my motorcycle and Tasha was screwing the gas cap back into place. It was not a moment too soon. Wilhelmina's letter was practically screaming where to go next, but to what game she was playing I had no idea. I simply knew where I had to be, and that I only had three hours before sunrise.

"You got a full tank now." Tasha said. "I know its probably vampire business, but is — "

"It is." I said as I slipped on the helmet and mounted the bike.

I sensed Tasha take a step back when I kick started the engine and opened the throttle wide, leaving a dark skid mark on the driveway and piercing screech in the air. I barreled down to the main road and took the exact same path I took to reach Ryuu's, only in the opposite direction. As I slowed down on Route 106, which took much more restraint that I was willing to admit, I passed the sign of my handiwork with Officer Jefferson which had blocked the entire road heading north, but not the south that I was currently on.

The rest of the way I drove on autopilot, only keeping an eye out for cars and such, and wondered why Wilhelmina was sending me so close my old home. She had mentioned Westbury, England, but I knew she was referring to my old human home. As for story of a young vampire in the local cemetery, it was a complete and utter fabrication. She had never told of spending time in England, but the reference to the cemetery was impossible to miss. For some reason, Wilhelmina wished for to visit Holy Rood Cemetery which was barely a mile from my old house.

I merely followed Route 106 for a while until I entered Hicksville and took the Northern State highway which ran parallel with the Long Island Expressway in certain section of the island. It was practically empty, with the exception of cargo trucks that ran at all hours of the night all over the country, and I made decent time before I took the exit for Post Avenue in Old Westbury and Westbury. I followed Post Avenue, past a few close Latin clubs and market, which took me past the very train station that I had left Wilhelmina when we first met, something that felt so long ago.

The main entrance to cemetery was on the section that faced Old Country Road, less than a few blocks south where I was. I parked the motorcycle in the train station parking lot and rushed to the large wrought iron fence that surrounded the entire perimeter of the cemetery, slipping my cane into my belt loops like a sword.

It was nothing to climb the fence, but I had no idea what I would be looking for. I saw Saint Brigid Church, my family had often visited the church for funeral and baptisms, unchanged to my southeast. I could see both the mausoleum and chapel of the cemetery on the southern end by the main entrance. But I saw, as I had come to expect, mostly headstones. It was forest of headstones, small family crypts, trees, and store bought flowers.

I checked my watched and saw I had just bit over two hours to get what I came for, which I had no idea what it was. But as luck would have it, or something else, a little light appeared in the distance. I squinted and saw a little light sitting upon a headstone. A candle had been lit, and candles did not light themselves.

"Wilhelmina!" I whispered and ran as fast as I could towards the light, like a moth to a flame.

But that was all it was, a flame.

I reached the headstone and looked around. I was in an obscure section of the cemetery. There were large dirt piles, recent additions, on west side and a cluster of bushes hiding me from any onlookers from the street.

"Wilhelmina!" I called out. "Are you there?"

No answer.

"Please, if you're there." I pleaded. "Tell me what's going on."

Again, no answer.

I looked down at the candle and saw an envelope, an all too familiar envelope, had been tucked under it. I picked it up and saw it was. The same script and the same candle wax seal. I went to open it, but a voice spoke out to me as my fingers gripped the tab.

"What?" it said. "No flowers?"

I hissed and drew my sword, whipping around to face my attacker, but he seemed calm.

He looked to be about my age as well as my height and build, but he had a squarish face where I did not. He had tan skin, dark blue eyes and long, frizzy brown hair which is a little appeared a bit unhealthy. His clothes were formal, a black suit and tie with polished shoes. But what fascinated me was he seemed to be not all present. My eyes could see without any effort, but I swear I could what was directly behind as he was transparent. I could not catch scent or hear his breathing.

"Who are you?" I asked, not lowering my sword.

"So you can actually see me. That's new." He regarded me for a moment. "Let's see. Pale skin, fangs, and a faint glow. You're a vampire." He paused as if he recalled something. "Ohhhh, so that's what she meant."

"Who. Are. You?" I asked again.

"I'm Dominick Valentino." He smiled and held out a hand. "Pleasure to meet you."

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