The First Realm, normal Earth,
The city of Moonlight Hills
Dirk Calden felt at home in Moonlight Hills. Deep within this city were creatures of the night that lived side-by-side with humans. Few humans even realized that the creatures that occupied the city were more than just fairy tales and Hollywood magic. This city wasn’t home for him, but he had arrived on urgent business. Not that he was on official business right now. The people who had agreed to meet him were running late and he hadn’t eaten yet. He had grown tired of waiting.
His impatience had resulted in one good thing, however. There was a soft, feminine giggle as he pushed a woman back to the wall of a dirty alleyway. The wall was the back of the bar they had just come out of. Normally, he wouldn’t go after women like this. Housewives didn’t appeal to him. She was an exceptional beauty though, with long hair done in graceful curls up around her head, exposing her bare neck to him. That was a rare opportunity, a woman begging to be bitten. She had been staring at him all night as he had watched people go in and out of the bar. No other men were with her; few even noticed her. Rare opportunity indeed, for a woman so gorgeous.
He had made a point to avoid her personal questions and charm her instead. There was no point in getting to know her, after all. To him, she was just another anonymous face to be forgotten about. There would probably be people who missed her if he drained her dry...not that he really wanted to, of course. It was an option, as hunger was always near, but he refrained. The option stood, tempting. He wasn’t the only vampire in this city, after all. No one would ever think of coming after him. He may have been considered exotic looking in some places, but here in this city, he would have been quite ordinary, even if his dark eyes reflected red in the dim light. There were plenty of paper-pale people here that he could be forgotten about.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a voice interrupted.
The voice was female. Annoyed, he looked up to see who would dare interrupt his dinner. There, a tan-skinned woman stood in the same alleyway he was in. Dressed all in black, she blended in with the shadows, hidden until she chose to reveal herself. Dammit. Of all the buildings to hide behind, he had to have picked the one with nosy humans in it.
No, not human. There was something definitely not human about this dark-haired woman. He could smell the aura coming off of her as if she was wearing a strong perfume.
She wasn’t pure demon, but there sure as hell was something demonic to her. Even the naive human could sense it. The woman shouted angrily at the one who interrupted, but beneath the anger was a current of fear so rank it made his heart race. Oh, how he missed hunting. This woman should have been running from him, terrified. She was much too easy a catch.
“What do you want, girl,” he snapped impatiently, brushing some of the dark brown hair from his eyes. “There’s nothing for you, here.”
“Let the woman go,” she said, her voice even, as if she was trying to talk down an animal about to attack. When he only glared at her, she added, “You’re not from around here are you, leech?”
Oh, that bit into him. The term leech wasn’t a particularly insulting slur, but it wasn’t something he liked other people calling other vampires. When it came to him? Hell no. All thoughts of feeding left his mind as he glared at her. He let the woman go, ignoring how she fell back into the brick wall. He ignored her protest as well. The woman stormed out from the alleyway, her stilettos marking her exit one heel-click at a time.
He watched her go with distaste and glared at the intruder. “You lost me my dinner, girl. Since you know what I am, I suppose you know how you’re going to make it up to me?”
“I can find you a willing donor,” she said, not affected by his angry gaze at all. It was as though she had stared down at dozens of angry vampires daily and just wasn’t intimidated, as most people should have been. “If you’re not with the Order of the Moonlight, I can only assume you’re the man I was supposed to meet earlier tonight?”
What. This girl is who I was supposed to meet? His eyes narrowed as he focused on her. There was no way. She was so young. She had to have only been in her twenties, barely out of diapers when compared to him.
“I was supposed to meet up with Doctor Edward Fyrn,” he said. “Not a child.”
“I work with Fyrn,” she said, her dark eyes narrowing. “My name is Evangeline.”
Evangeline. So there was a reason why she seemed so familiar to him. Her face and her name brought up the memory of another woman who looked just like her, but any relation had to be of astronomical chance.
He straightened and let his leather jacket fall back into place around his faded jeans. He felt odd in these clothes, this disguise he adopted for traveling purposes. In his home city, he wouldn’t have bothered with what he distastefully called street clothes, but here, he tried to blend in. He wasn’t sure if it was fashionable or not.
Realizing she was still waiting for a reply, he extended a hand. “Dirk Calden, at your service.”
“Dirk,” she repeated, returning his handshake. “Dr. Fyrn is waiting for us in another location. Come with me.”
He followed her back around to the front of the bar. She led him through a parking lot filled with automobiles of all shapes and sizes. This land was so strange to him. He tried to hide his confusion as she went to a sleek, black sedan, unlocked it and got in the driver’s side. No one drove vehicles like this in the land he was from. He’d had few experiences in these hulking steel and glass devices. He followed suit and opened the passenger door, slid into the seat and closed the door, as she did.
As she slid the key into the ignition, she glanced at him once with those dark eyes of hers. “I’m sorry if I was rude to you earlier. Most of the Order knows me and they don’t argue back when I tell them to get lost.”
“I assume the Order is a vampire coven?” he asked, smoothing his shoulder-length brown hair back into place. He knew little of the Order of the Moonlight, other than that the coven was the largest in the area, the home that the majority of vampires in this city flocked to when they needed shelter and maybe even a mentor into the strange life they led.
“You’re correct. Moonlight Hills was founded by the Order of the Moonlight. Since leadership in the Order changed some time ago, hunting citizens of the city has been limited. That’s why I originally intervened.”
“You kept me waiting. I was told to meet at this bar.”
If she heard the annoyance in his voice, she hid it well. Instead, she focused on backing out of the parking space. “Sorry. The Shadow Assassins had another job tonight and it took longer than we thought it would.”
As she drove, silence settled between them. He didn’t mind. So he had successfully found the Shadow Assassins. In this land, they were an organization that worked in secret, usually under the cover of night, away from pesky humans who would expose their operations. They were well known where he was from and he had been tasked to find them. He could only hope that everything would work out. Lord knew he needed their help.
Evangeline Audratha drove Dirk the vampire to meet Dr. Fyrn where the doctor and her team lived. Fyrn Manor wasn’t nearly as big as the mansion owned and inhabited by the Order of the Moonlight, but it was still larger than most human homes, especially in the suburban area it was in. Three stories tall and built with a mix of modern flair and classical Greek architecture, Fyrn Manor had more than enough room for a visitor.
Not that Evangeline particularly liked this visitor. All too often, she had to clean up the messes vampires left behind in this city. Some vampires didn't abide by the Order's rules for hunting humans. Humans weren't supposed to know that vampires had founded and secretly ran the city. They also weren't supposed to know that they were really just prey, cattle with better living conditions than the actual cows the humans raised for meat. The number one rule with the vampires was that humans were not supposed to know of their existence. Not all vampires followed that rule. That was where the Shadow Assassins came in, most of the time. The team Evangeline served on would intervene, rescuing humans from dangerous situations or restraining vampires from entering certain human-only locations. Some vampires, kicked out of the Order, refused to vacate the city and she had to physically remove them from it.
This man, while foreign, wasn’t like one of the stupid city vampires she usually encountered, but that didn’t make her any more friendly towards him. Polite indifference was a mask she wore well, when she needed to.
She parked her car in the small, gated driveway next to a few other cars. The cars belonged to the man that headed their team, but he allowed them to use them, as he allowed them to live in his house. It was a nice deal, sometimes – exchanging a dangerous line of work for not having to worry about housing and other ordinary financial problems.
She exited the vehicle quickly, smoothing her black tank top and black cargo pants. She wasn’t dressed for meeting a diplomat, but there hadn't been enough time to change after the fight in the alleyway. They had been running late when they had caught up to the female vampire.
Kaydee would have been better, personally, she thought, disgruntled. That woman was gentle as a lamb, friendly to all. She could treat this vampire better than Evangeline could. Unfortunately, at the time, Kaydee had needed to rest, as her companion had said. They had already cleaned up another mess earlier in the evening. They would all need to rest after meeting with Dirk.
Evangeline led Dirk through a cement pathway to the front door. She had enough decency in her to not shove a visitor through the crowded garage, although the garage was much closer. She opened the door and let him enter first. A murmur of approval left the vampire’s upturned lips.
“Dirk, I’m sorry for the unfortunate circumstances in our meeting,” another voice said, echoing in the expanse of the marble-floored entrance. From the double staircase that drew the eye to the center of the room, an older man was descending, his smile warm and friendly. He crossed the marble floor and met the vampire. Just a little shorter than his visitor, this man was no less impressive, with his salt and pepper hair and bright green eyes. Pressed khaki pants and a neutral dress shirt were almost hidden behind the white lab coat he wore.
“Ah, Dr. Fyrn,” Dirk said, breaking out into a smile wide enough to show extraordinarily pointed fangs. Shaking the doctor’s hand, he added, “Nice to meet you. And no problem with the meeting. Your employee was gracious enough to remove me from a situation in which I no doubt would have broken city law.”
“Ah, so you haven’t eaten yet, huh?” Dr. Fyrn gave a laugh and pat on the vampire’s shoulders. “I hope Evie wasn’t too rough on you. She can be quite...aggressive towards vampires.”
Dirk laughed, even as Evangeline glared. Shaking his head, he said, “No, no worries. She was perfectly fine. You have a great woman working for you.”
“I only hire the best,” Dr. Fyrn said, as if to soften his jab at Evangeline. “Would you like to talk to me alone or would you want the rest of the Shadow Assassins present?”
“All of you at once would do nicely, if you please. I’d rather not explain everything twice.”
“Go fetch the others, please,” Dr. Fyrn nodded to Evangeline. She gave one nod of her head and headed up the staircase.
After Evangeline had left, Dr. Fyrn turned and led Dirk into the room next to the entrance. The parlor was also marble-floored, with plush Oriental rugs cushioning the walking paths. An equally plush couch was along one wall, with a table and two wing chairs nearby. The doctor offered one of the wing chairs to Dirk, then took the other next to him. There was only enough time for some pleasant side-chatter before Evangeline entered the room, followed by three others.
The three others were her co-workers, roommates and friends. All four worked under Dr. Fyrn’s instruction. Kaydee was the woman behind Evangeline, her soft brown hair falling in tight curls around her face. She stood meekly to the side, as if she didn’t really want to be seen, even in the bright green and white floral-patterned shirt and blue jeans she wore. Off to her right was a man also in his mid-twenties, with dirty blond hair that shifted colors, from brown to gold, falling carelessly into eyes that seemed to shift color as well but were a stormy gray for the time being. Behind him, bringing up the rear, was a man with tanned skin like Evangeline’s. He could have been her brother, if it wasn’t for the blue-gray eyes. Both men were wearing black jeans that had seen their share of abuse and black muscle shirts that fell over the waistbands of their pants. The man with the blue-gray eyes had a nice rip in the side of his shirt.
Dr. Fyrn caught sight of them. “Here they are. You’ve already met Evangeline. This is Kaydee, Kaleb and Marco. Everyone, this is Dirk. He’s a guest of ours.”
Kaleb, the man with the eyes that seemed to shift color, nodded briefly. “Nice to meet you.”
Marco gave a half-smile. “Does he have a job for us?”
“Well, he’s about to tell us,” the doctor said.
“Thank you, Doctor. I think I should start then?” when he was encouraged with a nod, Dirk continued, “Alright. Well, my name is Dirk Calden. I come from...well, you might say it’s a land of myth and legend.”
“So you live in town?” Marco laughed.
Dirk echoed his laugh. “No, not quite. Have you ever heard of the Second Realm?”
Kaydee spoke up, clearing her throat quietly beforehand. “I’ve read about it a little.”
“Do you want to describe it then? I don’t know if I would be able to describe it in a way that would be...easily understandable.”
She nodded and turned to the others. “You know how vampires are present here right? Well, it used to be like this hundreds of years ago. Vampires and other creatures of myth and legend were common and lived with humans everywhere, until people started getting persecuted for magical powers. That’s when the supernatural creatures created a totally different world to live in. They left this world behind to live in their own.”
“So...you come from a different world?” Marco asked the vampire. He still looked confused.
Dirk shook his head. “Not really. Her description was dead on, though. Magic used to be everywhere. The kind of magic you guys face on a daily basis. Where I live is...maybe, you can say, another dimension? Still on Earth, but not quite on the same plane of existence.”
“Okay, I think I get it...”
“I can see that.” Dirk said with a small laugh. “Point is, close to where I am is the Emeralde Kingdom. The king has been getting difficult to work with. He’s become extremely paranoid and developed a hatred for anyone who isn’t pure human. Now his army is arresting those with magical powers, even outside of his own land. I work for a school that develops supernatural abilities and we have heard of what the Shadow Assassins do. Several of our vampires came from this city, after they were exiled. They told us about you and...frankly, well, we need your help. We humbly ask you to help us, in any way you can.”
The four glanced at the doctor, then each other.
“What do you want us to do?” Kaleb asked.
“Nothing fancy. Cross into the Second Realm with me and meet the people I work with. Be our eyes and ears for news on the Emeralde Kingdom...and bodyguards perhaps.”
“For how long?” Evangeline asked as she took a seat on the couch.
“However long it takes.” Dirk gave a shrug. “I’m afraid I don’t have an exact answer on that. There is no organization like yours where I come from. Too many people are divided and refuse to work together and we need anyone we can get to help us right now. Our land is too close to where the Emeralde Kingdom has been raiding and arresting those with magical abilities and since our school is for the supernaturally gifted, there would be a problem. The entire school population would be apprehended. Chaos, rioting...maybe even death would follow. And it wouldn’t stop there. Neighboring cities and villages are also under the same threat.”
The four sat in silence, contemplating. This would have been the biggest assignment that they would have taken on. This wasn’t as simple as removing a vampire who wouldn’t leave the Order’s mansion or making sure humans didn’t find out about the vampire population. Those were normal jobs for the group known as the Shadow Assassins. That was what they usually did; help the Order of the Moonlight clean up their vampire problems. What Dirk talked about sounded like the beginning of a war. A war in a secret realm full of supernatural creatures. It was bigger than anything else they had been approached with. Definitely more dangerous.
“Well, what do you guys think?” Dr. Fyrn asked.
Kaleb was the first to speak up, even if his speech was hesitant. “I think this is...huge. If you want us to be bodyguards for an entire student body, that may be difficult but we could take preventative action to protect your students. See if there’s an army nearby. Yeah, I think we can do that, right?”
“Yeah, definitely,” Marco spoke up.
“How are they going to be...compensated?” Dr. Fyrn asked, cautiously.
“Everything they could possibly need will be provided at our school. Food, lodging, you name it. As for your payment, name your price and I will pay it. I have substantial funds in a human bank here. I travel to this realm quite a bit, or at least enough for me to have need for your currency.”
“We can work exact figures out in a moment,” Dr. Fyrn said with a small smile. Turning back to his team, he asked, “Well, do you think you’ll do it?”
They glanced at each other, then nodded, one by one.
“We’ll do it,” Kaleb spoke up.
“It would be interesting to finally see the Second Realm after reading about it,” Kaydee added.
“Excellent!” Dirk said with a triumphant smile. “You can start in two days. You don’t need to pack any clothes or anything. The first day, we’ll just walk you around the school grounds, introduce you and let you get familiar with the area. After that, I’ll bring you back here and you can pack whatever you feel is appropriate and you can move right in with us for a time. Sounds easy enough, right?”
They nodded. After Dr. Fyrn gave his team a quick thanks and dismissed them, they went back upstairs where they had been before, Evangeline following.
Dr. Fyrn stood up for a moment and disappeared for a moment into another room. When he came back, he held a coffee pot and a small silver basket that held creamer, sugar and two cups. He offered a cup to Dirk and the vampire accepted, mixing his coffee the way he liked it.
Dirk settled back in his chair and took a sip. “Extraordinary team you have, Doctor.”
“Thank you. I was lucky to find them.”
“We have heard a lot about them where I'm from, about how they're almost like a police force for the supernatural.”
The doctor chuckled at that. “Police force may be a bit much, but yes, they do a bit of enforcing. The Order of the Moonlight established this town mostly for new hunting ground and freedom from persecution. As more and more supernatural creatures inhabit this town, a bit of order is needed to keep ordinary people like myself from finding out about their existence. Can you imagine if the everyday people here found out that there were vampires everywhere? Chaos.”
“So how did you find out about us, if you're ordinary?”
Dr. Fyrn glanced up at Dirk over his cup of coffee. “Evangeline. She found me and introduced me to this strange world when she was just a little girl. The Shadow Assassins came out of her finding others like her.”
Dirk echoed the doctor's smile with one of his own. “Is it true about their talents? I mean, do each of them have one.”
“Yes.” The doctor went into describing each of his team's powers and unique talents. His voice was ripe with pride over the people he spoke about, but he hesitated when he came to Evangeline.
Dirk looked up, his eyes wide. “Is she who I think she is? Daughter of Audra?”
“Angel-demon hybrids are extremely rare, Doctor. I’ve only seen one other like her.” Dirk took another sip. “It actually concerns me a bit. Did you know Evangeline has a twin?”
At this, Dr. Fyrn raised his eyebrows. “Twin?”
“Twin sister, as it were. Dante. Dante and Evangeline are both daughters of Audra the White Angel and Devoń, King of Demons.” He took another pause to drink again. “I assume she doesn’t know?”
Dr. Fyrn shook his head. “No. She’s never been to the Second Realm.”
“I thought as much. They were intentionally separated at birth.”
“They may just meet again,” the doctor said absently, as if he didn't believe in the odds. “Now, about payment, what exactly are you comfortable with?”