The coven house was alive with hustle and bustle. Everyone was making calls, everyone was moving about and making preparations. Laramie called Lolita, and she had agreed to bring her harem and fight with us. He and Nicholae called several others, some I had heard of from Nicholae’s stories and many I had not. Most were willing to come to our aide, but a few refused to put their lives at stake over this matter. I was grateful for the ones who agreed to help us, but I couldn’t blame the ones who didn’t. I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want anyone to risk their life for me, especially not Nicholae.
I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just turn me now. If I were a vampire, I’d be able to defend myself at least. But Nicholae and Laramie insisted that there were too many unknowns, and it wasn’t the risk of having me be totally incapacitated. But then what would they do with me? I couldn’t fight. I could hardly stand against a human my size, let alone a vampire.
“We will keep her in the dungeon,” Caeler said. “It’s the safest place for her to stay during the battle.”
“I will not stay in that bleak, smelly place by myself while you all die up here,” I protested.
“Caeler’s right,” Laramie said. “The dungeon is at the heart of this compound. They would have to go through all of us to get to her.”
Nicholae nodded. “You won’t be alone,” he reassured me. “I’ll be with you, I won’t leave your side.”
“And seeing as you are human,” Caeler added, “we will make sure that you are heavily armed. Have you ever shot a gun before?”
“Well, yea, a few times,” I said. “I’ve gone shooting with my cousins, but what good will a gun do against a vampire?”
“It won’t have much effect against an older vampire like me, but it will slow the younger ones down, and, if you aim right, even kill them. If you get a good shot in the heart, or clean through the spinal cord in the neck, they will die.”
I nodded, swallowing hard.
“Here, come with me,” Caeler said, extending his hand. “You should practice.”
I took Nicholae’s hand instead, and said, “Lead the way.”
Caeler closed his hand and turned around, gesturing for us to follow him. He led us through hallways and down some stairs to a large shooting room. The hanging targets at the other end of the room had not a single hole, and the guns on the racks were covered in dust. It didn’t appear this room had ever been used, and I wondered why they had it at all.
Caeler took a few pistols off the rack and placed them and a case of bullets on the steel table. He handed me a gun, and I started to stock it as he stocked the others. I had been shooting twice before, just for leisure, and I wasn’t very good at it. How he expected to turn me into a perfect shot in one night was beyond me. But I was glad to be given a weapon, anything to help protect myself and those who were willing to die for me.
When all the guns were loaded, I began to shoot at the targets. The rounds in the first clip didn’t even hit any of the sheets. But after about two hours of Nicholae’s and Caeler’s tutoring, I got a bit closer to actually hitting the silhouettes where I intended to. By that time, my arms were shaking and I was jittery from hunger, as I still hadn’t eaten all day.
Caeler went up the stairs to fetch me something to eat. I went to Nicholae and put my arms around his neck and rested my forehead against his chest. He put his arms my waist and kissed the top of my head.
How did we get here? Two nights ago, we were happy, planning on making our love official, and now we were in a shooting range of a coven house getting ready to fight perhaps all the vampires in the world.
It was all because of my stalker, the vampire named Kerrich. He’d been following me all that time, apparently on behalf of this coven mistress Delilah. But why? If she was so angry about my Amarant gene, why couldn’t she have just come to me herself and killed me? Why leak it the vampire world? And why declare war on me?
“Nicholae, who’s Delilah?” I asked. “What does she have against me?”
“Do you remember Arianna?” he asked.
How could I forget. Arianna was actually one of my favorite characters from Nicholae’s stories. “Yes,” I said.
“Well, she had a sister,” he said. “One just as fiery and vindictive as she was. When Delilah discovered that her dear beloved sister had been murdered, and by one so young, she was furious. She wanted to kill me right then, but she knew that I had taken Arianna’s blood and would thus be as powerful as she had been. We would have been evenly matched, and on top of that, I had connections to vampires more powerful than her who would defend me. She wouldn’t dare strike at me under those conditions. But she swore to me that one day she would avenge her sister. She’s been plotting against me ever since.”
He was quiet for a moment, brooding.
“I should have known to be more careful,” he said after a while. “I should have been aware of anyone following me, or spying on you. All that time that I was watching over you from afar, Kerrich was spying on you too, and I had no idea at all. I inadvertently led him to you.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “If anything, it’s mine. If I had never looked up your name, never started researching you, you would never have found me, and none of this would be happening. You’d be safe.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said, shaking his head. “One way or another, I would have stumbled across you. I believe that we were doomed to find each other.” He smiled and kissed me. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
“I’ll do the same.”
Caeler returned then with a plate of delicious smelling warm food and a glass of iced cola. He set it on the table and I eagerly dug in.
“Thank you,” I said with a mouth full of food, abandoning decorum in my hunger. I only mildly wondered why a house full of vampires would have food.
“We often throw dinner parties,” Caeler said, answering the question I hadn’t asked. “Our mortal guests stay for dinner, and then they become dinner.”
I stopped mid-chew and dropped my fork. I looked at Nicholae and he was sneering at the thought of it. I swallowed.
“And what kind of people do you invite to these parties?” I asked.
“Tourists,” he replied. I had come to know earlier that this coven house was located in Massachusetts somewhere outside of Salem, an old fort that had been repurposed.
“You kill innocent people?” I pressed further.
“Of course,” he replied simply. “Innocent blood, bad blood, it all tastes the same. My coven and I don’t discriminate. Does a farmer judge the morality of his cattle before butchering them for steaks? Does a fisherman sort through his catch and toss back the pure of heart? A meal is a meal.”
“That is such an outdated notion,” Nicholae said, shaking his head.
“To each his own,” Caeler said with a shrug.
I finished my food in uncomfortable silence, then we went back to target practice until I was spent. We retired back to the parlor so I could rest before dawn.
The house was just as busy as when we had left it. I sat on one of the couches, watching, as Nicholae went off to find William. Even in their haste, every vampire was so graceful in their movements. It was like watching a ballet.
Three vampires, Myra, Levy and Serge, came to join me on the couch.
“This is so awesome, we actually get to fight!” Levy said. “I thought those days were over, the days of battles between covens. But now we get to test our skills against our own kind! I am so pumped for this!” He flexed his arms, and I sensed he had been something of a jock when he was human. Judging by his grammar, he had been made fairly recently.
“Yeah, I can’t wait either,” Myra said. “I hear that Delilah’s coven is just as big as ours, maybe bigger now. We’re going to have our hands full, but I welcome the challenge!”
“But aren’t you guys worried about facing the older vampires of the coven?” I asked. “Delilah herself is really old.” I tried to remember what I had read about her sister Arianna. Arianna said that she was born in the pagan days in England, before the Romans came. That would make her around the figure of two thousand years old, give or take a few hundred years.
“Pff! Let the ancients try and take me on!” Serge said. “We are children of the millennium, we have tricks they’ve never even seen before.”
The others agreed, but I wasn’t as sure as they were. I was happily surprised that they were excited to fight, and that they made me feel welcome in their ranks. I had feared they were all secretly hating me for putting them in this predicament.
“And besides, we have our own ancients,” Myra said. “First of all, we have Caeler, the oldest of all of us. And then we have Turq.” She pointed to the large, muscular black vampire sitting on the armchair in the corner who I had been trying not to stare at all this time. He did look very old, his black skin glittering like buffed, polished iron.
“And there are also all the older ones on your side, Crimson,” Serge said. He drew clandestinely into our circle and spoke in a hushed tone. “Don’t tell anyone else I said this, but I have read all of Nicholae Albaric’s books.”
“Me, too!” Myra whispered with a giggle. “Even though Caeler doesn’t like him, I think it’s the coolest thing in the whole world that he’s here right now. We actually get to see him in action. What’s it like to see him fight?” she asked me.
“Oh, it’s incredible,” I said, flashing back to the chase. “He’s really fast, like lightning, and just as hounding. When one of the other vampires tried to grab me, Nicholae crushed his arm with one hand, bones and everything, and this vampire was older than him.”
“Wow,” they all whispered.
“If I were in your shoes, Crimson, I wouldn’t leave Nicholae for our coven,” Myra said.
The other two men looked at her like she was some kind of traitor.
“What?” she shrugged innocently. “He’s gorgeous, and so cool. If he loved me, I would be the happiest girl in the world. You are so lucky.”
Levy and Serge looked at each other and shook their heads in shared jealousy; apparently, they both had a thing for Myra.
“Don’t you boys agree that she should stay with Nicholae?” Myra asked them.
“Well, it’s kind of hard to be unbiased about it,” Levy said. “I, for one, would love to have Crimson in our coven. All that power! We would be the number one coven in the world.”
“What if Nicholae joined our coven?” Serge suggested.
“Not likely,” Levy said. “Caeler would never let Nicholae in the coven and Nicholae would never want to join the coven. They’re both too stubborn.”
I didn’t add anything to this discussion. I didn’t want to tell them that I would never leave Nicholae, that I would never be a member of their coven. I was afraid that, if I did that, they would reject me and decide not to fight. I didn’t want to put them in danger, but we needed as many people on our side as we could get.
I didn’t hear the front door open or close, but William came into the lounge with a woman and man behind him. Both of them had golden brown hair, and they seemed to be about William’s age. But there was something dark about their eyes, like they had never slept a day in their lives.
“Where’s Nicholae?” William asked.
“Looking for you,” I said. “I see you brought some friends.”
“Yes, Theodora and Michelotto,” he said. “Nicholae will be pleased to see them. It’s been a long time.”
I looked at the two. They were sitting in the corner, shoulder to shoulder.
“So what’s their story?” I asked.
“Ah, now that’s a very disturbing tale,” he said. “Do you remember I told you about a couple I knew who have stayed together and will not part?”
“That’s them. They’ve been together for a hundred years since they were made vampires, and they were together three years before that. The vampire Cristophe that Laramie told you about, the one who conducted the experiments on an Amarant that he found, well, he didn’t just experiment on the Amarant. He did many experiments on lots of mortals. Theodora and Michelotto were two of Cristophe’s guinea pigs. They became very close in the time they were kept by him, and they endured many horrors together. One night, they attacked Cristophe and very tactfully stole his blood so that they could become vampires and escape.”
I looked at them again, this time in a new light. Could that explain the darkness around their eyes? “They were test subjects,” I said. “That’s so horrible.” That could be my fate. If we lose tomorrow, I could still be taken by some sick, deluded vampire and end up a science experiment.
“Don’t think about things like that,” William said. “Nothing bad is going to happen to you?”
I nodded once, just to indulge him.
“William, do you know where Laramie went?” I asked, noticing that I hadn’t seen him around in a few hours.
Something registered in his face, subtle like when a dog’s ears twitch slightly to a sound. “Speak of the devil,” he said, and the next second I heard the front door open then shut.
I turned to face the entrance. To my surprise, Arsinoe jumped into the room, spotted me and ran toward me, panting at my feet.
“Aw, hey girl,” I said, scratching her neck with both hands. “Laramie decided to bring you along, huh.”
“I thought she would be useful in the fight tomorrow,” Laramie said.
I looked up. Lolita was with him. Her lovely enchantresses came in behind them, then made themselves comfortable around the room. Some of them gazed at me, almost with a kind of sweetness. But Lolita herself didn’t look at me.
William went up to Lolita and took her hand.
“I am so happy you decided to come,” he said.
“Yes. Well. I have a moral obligation to come to my friends’ aid,” she said.
“Thank you,” William said.
She nodded and left to sit with her girls.
“Oh, Laramie,” William said with a change of tone. “Theodora and Michelotto have also come to join our little brigade.”
“Ah, splendid,” Laramie said, making his way toward them.
I turned away from them and looked down at Arsinoe. Every now and then I chanced to look up at Lolita’s girls, and they were looking at me every time. Ugh, this was too uncomfortable. I wanted to find Nicholae and got to bed.
I sent out a mental signal to Nicholae, and it wasn’t long before he came to answer the call. He greeted the two vampires William had brought in, and then regarded Lolita and her girls with hollow words of thanks before taking my hand and leading me back down into the dungeon.
The dungeon had been fully stocked with pistols, rifles and cases of bullets, and a mini-fridge for me to enjoy during the day while everyone else slept. We climbed onto the bed and cuddled into each other.
There was so much going through my mind, but I didn’t want to think about the upcoming battle. I needed to get my mind off of it so that I could get some sleep. Unlike the vampires in this house, my mind wouldn’t just shut off when the sun rose.
“What happened between Laramie and Lolita?” I asked him in search of a distraction. “I see the chemistry and the tension there.”
He obliged me without pause, perhaps wanting a distraction himself.
“Laramie was the one who turned Lolita,” he said. “She had been a whore in a brothel in Mexico. He found her in an alley, left for dead by her owner for trying to escape. She was barely alive. She had lost too much blood for his blood to heal her as mine healed your leg. He rescued her, turned her into one of us. He took her in, offered her guidance and protection. They began to fall for each other. He helped take vengeance on her owner, hoping that would heal her soul. But that one kill wasn’t enough for her. Just continued to kill every man who had ever wronged her, and then pursued other men who had wronged her friends. It became an obsession. Laramie disagreed with her constant need for doling out justice, and she disagreed with his passivity. Though they loved each other, they couldn’t stay together, and eventually went their separate ways. Laramie always wishes she’d change her mind, and Lolita always wishes he would put aside his love of peace and stay with her. Neither will concede.”
“That’s so sad,” I said. I hugged him closer, hoping that nothing would ever come between us, hoping even more that we had a future past tomorrow night.