The sound of my alarm blaring slowly dragged me into consciousness at four pm the next day. I sat up and stretched with a groan, trying to resist the heavy pull of sleep. It was always difficult for me to be awake in the daytime, it felt unnatural somehow. When I had first turned I had slept all the way from sunrise to sunset, it had taken years before I could pull myself awake earlier. Still, anything before about three in the afternoon would be a serious challenge.
Once up I made sure to carefully apply my makeup to look as alive as possible. I thought it would be better to leave my hair down, although I did braid a part of the front to keep it out of my eyes. I dressed in a pretty pale tea dress that Lillian had helped me decide on the night before. It had delicate red and blue flower patterns running down the skirt which stopped just above the knee. I put on navy coloured tights and a pair of dark red ankle boots to complete the look.
I wanted to look like a normal girl going on a date, but at the same time I also wanted to be able to fight if anything unexpected happened. Due to the chilly weather I layered up with a dark blue scarf and coat and a pair of red gloves. Luckily it was raining slightly so I would have an excuse to pull the wide hood over my head, shielding me from the daylight as much as possible. Just in case, I made sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin.
I put my purse and mobile phone in a smaller bag with a long strap that went across my body. It would be secure if I had to do any running. It made a change from the bag I usually took to work, which was larger and filled with random items that I may or may not need.
Realising I was running out of time I hurried out of my house, waving to Lillian on the way out.
“Good luck!” she called after me as I locked the door.
I arrived at outside the Coffee Stop at 4.59pm. Nick was already there. I spotted his dark figure leaning against the wall under the overhang, sheltering from the weather. He wore a nicely fitting leather jacket over a black shirt and jeans. He looked up and met my eyes as I approached and I returned his smile.
I imagined that if I was really the human girl I appeared to be, this would be the moment that my heart fluttered with nervousness and anticipation. I would blush and probably look at my feet in embarrassment. As it was, I just kept smiling like an idiot.
“Hi.” I said when I got near enough.
“Hi.” He said, straightening up.
I stopped a few feet away from him. I was wearing gloves so it was safe to touch him without alerting him to my cold skin, but something about his manner warned me to keep some distance. I settled for a slightly awkward wave of my hand instead.
“You’re early.” I told him lightly.
His shrug was very casual, “I was in the area anyway. I had to do some research this afternoon. How has your day been?”
I wanted to question him on his research, but I had to come up with an answer about my day. In reality I had been sound asleep since the sun had crossed the horizon to the moment my alarm dragged me into consciousness, but that was not something I wanted him to know.
“I slept in pretty late.” I said, trying to keep it as honest as possible, “It’s hard to get in a good pattern working nights, you know? Then I just messed around at home. Did some cleaning, watched some TV… nothing too crazy…”
“What did you watch?” He asked. I silently cursed his perceptiveness.
“Nothing good.” I told him, “I do not recommend daytime TV. What were you researching?”
The glint in his eye told me he knew I was purposefully directing the questions back to him. He shrugged again, effortlessly relaxed.
“Nothing interesting, I have an assignment I need to finish.”
“So, am I allowed to know where we are going now?” I asked, making my tone light and playful. I actually was a little concerned about not knowing. He started walking, leading me down the main street into town.
“Well… I suppose there is no harm in telling you now.” He said with a hint of humour. “I was thinking… if it is alright with you of course, that we could walk into the city centre and cut through the park. There is a little pub on the other side near the river, the food is great and the restaurant is in a conservatory overlooking the water.”
“That sounds nice.” I agreed. The walk would take us a while but it was pleasant. The park in the city centre was beautiful, even on a rainy day. I would deal with the food. I could eat if necessary, I just didn’t gain any benefit from it.
“I’ve never been over that side of the river.” I added, to make conversation.
“It’s great.” He told me, “If you keep walking in that direction it takes you right out of the city into the countryside. There are a lot of wild birds around the river area.” I detected a note of genuine enthusiasm in his voice.
I sensed that he was the kind of person to find the outdoors interesting. Being immortal I did place a high value on the environment. I liked the countryside but I often saw it at night-time as opposed to in the day. Lillian was a massive fan of birds.
“I put some bird feeders up on the windows of my house but…” I frowned, “They worked well for a while until the pigeons discovered them. After that they just kept emptying them faster than I could fill them.” I laughed, “I have been trying to figure out a way to provide the smaller birds with food but stop the pigeons from eating all of it. The mission has so far been unsuccessful.”
I cringed a little at the fact I was blabbering about pigeons, but this brought out a genuine laugh from him.
“That sounds like a losing battle.”
I shrugged, “We’ll see. I will keep trying.” I didn’t like to give up on anything, even a petty war with the local birdlife.
We casually chatted in a similar way until we reached the park. Somewhat surprisingly I actually found myself having a good time. It was nice to just talk with no hidden motives or deception. He had quite a cynical sense of humour which went well with my own. To my surprise I found that on a superficial level at least, we actually had a lot in common. I managed to discover that we shared interests in history, the arts and music.
As I relayed my experience of going to see a recent band, I lost myself in the descriptions allowing my hands to sketch out the crazy antics of the guitarist whilst he laughed along.
“He seriously just threw the guitar?” He clarified incredulously as I relayed the end of the show.
I snorted, “Yeah, some guy from the crowd managed to grab it and then he just ran for it! I imagine he now has it on his wall or something.”
“Or eBay.” Nick inserted with a snicker, “I bet that thing is worth a lot.”
“Huh,” I said, “Yeah probably.” It was strange to be so subtly reminded of modern times. Everything was so disposable now. When I was young, if someone had gained a trophy of such magnitude it would have been treasured for life.
The entrance to the park had a very steep slope that went down to meet the main path. To my surprise he offered me his arm, gentleman style to help me down the slope. Of course, I didn’t actually need the help, heels or no heels but the gesture was nice. Despite myself I began to relax a little.
Once down the slope he made a slight detour to the right, heading towards a little walled garden within the park. I had not yet explored this area so my interest was piqued. Pausing at the entrance I examined the intricate knotted patterns on the metal gate, the artwork that had gone into them was stunning. He had stopped a few feet ahead of me.
Looking up I saw that he was watching me with a strange intensity; his eyes were focused on my face. Frowning I took a step forward and then immediately I understood; it was a cemetery. Not a very obvious one, but the unmistakable cool energy washed over me, similar to when I was around Lillian. Despite its source this energy made me feel more alive than ever, I shivered as it brushed my skin.
This was a test after all I realised darkly. No vampire should be able to enter this area but, luckily for me I was the exception to the rule. The sudden dark feeling of disappointment startled me in its intensity; I had somehow forgotten myself and let hope begin to form. I had actually been quite enjoying the opportunity to get to know a new person. Nick was unexpectedly interesting to talk to, his jokes and reactions had been consistently surprising me. Berating myself silently I pushed my inconsequential emotions to one side. If he had only asked me out to see if I was a vampire, I would turn it to my advantage. I still needed to figure out his motivations.
Mustering the best of my acting abilities I assumed a confused expression.
“What? Do I have something on my face?” I asked, doing my best to appear relaxed as I moved towards him again.
He blinked and I was sure that I witnessed surprise pass through his expression before it settled into humour. Somehow the humour didn’t seem as real as before.
“No,” he said, brushing his damp hair back from his face, “You look fine, nice actually.” His correction was a little rushed, as if something had made him flustered.
“Huh, well you don’t look too bad yourself.” I said, adding some flirtation into my voice. If this was indeed a test, I was going to pass with flying colours. It would help me catch him off guard later. It was true enough that he looked good, better than good if I let myself admit it… and he smelled delicious in the rain. However, that was not a road that I wanted my thoughts to go down so I quickly looked for distraction.
Walking ahead of him on the narrow path, I took in my surroundings. The garden, or graveyard as I now knew it, was in fact very beautiful. It was tastefully decorated with Japanese style plants and flowers. Some of taller the trees were just beginning to develop their bright autumn colours adding additional interest to the scenery. There were some gravestones partially hidden amongst the fauna. Each one looked very old and weathered, as if it had existed for a very long time. I didn’t sense the presence of any spirits in the area; these souls had moved on long ago.
“I heard that there used to be a church here.” He told me, back in conversational mode. “Something happened to it, it burnt down I think. All that was left was the gravestones. When they made this place into a park they thought it best to leave the graves undisturbed so they made this little area for them.”
I nodded, “That makes sense. It’s beautiful in here.”
I noticed that the evening was beginning to draw in. It was impossible to see the sun through the heavy cloud cover, but the light was just starting to fade, indicating sunset was drawing near. He made the same observation as me.
“We should keep moving.” He said, “The pub is just past the river.”
The river ran through the bottom half of the park, effectively cutting it in half. We passed out of the graveyard area, following the river as it curved around and away from the main park area. After passing under a wide bridge that carried the train line out of the city we met up with a cobbled road. I spotted the quaint little pub, framed on one side by some older looking trees, and smiled.
“Charming” I said honestly. “This must have been here for a while.” I liked to see a business that had withstood the test of time, but still retained a fresh, pleasant atmosphere. It was as though they never tired of the trade.
“Shall we?” He asked, opening the big wooden door for me.
Warm air washed over me as I stepped inside it, carrying with it the mixed scents of the patrons, various foods and a log fire. I looked around appreciatively. The bar was busy with the typical Saturday evening crowds. It was still early but the surrounding tables were just starting to fill up. The room was tastefully decorated, leaving enough of the original features of the building to give character but with modern conveniences subtly mixed in. The walls looked recently decorated, with stylish sapphire blue in-between dark wooden beams. A double glass door at the end of the room led to what I assumed was the conservatory area.
“Table for two?” A pretty young waitress approached us, her blonde hair bobbing in her high ponytail.
“Yes please, in the conservatory if possible.” He said. I detected only politeness in his tone.
“Certainly.” She said with a big smile, leading us towards the doors I had previously noticed.
The conservatory was even nicer than the main room. The ceiling was high and arched, making the tall windows look even bigger. I noted lots of colourful flowers in various vases around the room. I was impressed that they were actually real, their various scents mixed together to create a pleasant floral aroma. All too often places used fake flowers to improve their décor. Another waitress was just going around lighting candles on each of the tables ready for the evening.
We were led to a small table right next to the window. Just as I sat down the last few rays of the day’s sunlight broke through the cloud cover, creating streaks of red that reflected off of the conservatories glass and the silver river outside. I sighed in appreciation, enjoying the beauty of the moment. For a normal vampire, even that small amount of light would have been painful. Whatever the reason was that meant I could tolerate it, I was glad. I would not have wanted to miss out on such a magnificent sight.
I realised that Nick was watching me quietly. He held my gaze and I observed that the light brought out interesting highlights in his dark eyes that I hadn’t previously noticed. I sighed quietly again; it would have been wonderful if this was a real date, meant for nothing more than to impress me. As if sensing the change in my mood the sun disappeared again, finally sinking below the horizon. The room was filled with the soft glow of the candles and the subtle lights evenly spaced along the walls.
I looked away from him and he shook his head a little, as if waking up from a trance. He quickly regained his confident smile.
“I thought you might like to go somewhere a little different from work.” He told me, “Do you like it?”
“It’s lovely.” I said truthfully, focusing back on the moment. “Do you come here often?”
“Occasionally.” He shrugged, “They have a garden which is nice for drinks in summer.”
I nodded politely; I didn’t make a habit of staying outside for long periods in the daylight if I could help it. The waitress returned with menus and we both thanked her.
I looked at my menu, arranging an interested expression on my face. It didn’t really matter what I ate. I didn’t get any nutritional benefit from human food and in comparison to blood I found that all of it was bland and boring. I never ate unless it was required for social convention. I chose a pasta dish, it would be easy to eat and aside from being an amusing private joke, the garlic would be an excuse to avoid physical contact. If he was looking for a vampire, icy skin would be a dead giveaway.
When the waitress returned she looked at me expectantly, “What can I get ya?”
I glanced quickly at Nick and he nodded for me to go ahead, “Could I have the rigatoni please?”
She noted it down, “Of course, and for the gentleman?”
“The steak please.” He said.
“How would you like that cooked?” She asked.
“Blue, if possible.”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. It was rare that I saw anyone willing to eat a steak that rare; it would practically still be bleeding. But of course I quickly realised, it was another test. Some vampires, especially young ones would be driven to distraction at the barest hint of blood, even partially cooked animal blood.
For me that was not the case, it had to be alive for me to want it. I had tried to choke down some blood that I saved in a bottle in the fridge once, when fridges were invented. I had thought it was a great plan; if I could store blood it would dramatically reduce the frequency of my trips out. It hadn’t worked out well, as soon as it was out of the body for a short period of time it had smelled all wrong. I had tried to drink it anyway, for the sake of the experiment. It was repulsive, and not only that, it had also made me violently ill.
There was something special about living blood that was lost and could not be replaced once the blood was taken. Animal blood was almost as bad, even if it was alive. I could almost tolerate it, but it didn’t seem to give me the same benefit as human blood. I would still be starving, no matter how much I drank. A simple steak, blood or no blood would have no effect on me.
“Drinks?” The waitress asked, bringing me back to reality. I looked at Nick to see if he had any preference.
“Do you want to get a bottle of wine?” He asked.
“Sure,” I agreed easily, “You can pick.” He would be the only one enjoying it after all. He ordered a fancy sounding red from the menu and I nodded in approval.
“You have interesting taste.” I said, once the waitress had left.
One corner of his mouth pulled up in what I was starting to think was his genuine smile. “Thanks, my family travels a lot. We like to try different things.”
“Really? Where have you been?” I asked, honestly interested despite myself. I had visited many places throughout my history but the world changed so quickly. It was always fascinating to see how places changed.
“Hmm… lots of places.” He said thoughtfully, “North America, most of Europe… some of Asia. We’re planning on going as a family to Australia next year.”
“Where in Europe?”
“Mostly cities,” he answered, “Barcelona, Rome, Geneva, Paris…”
“Ahh Paris,” I sighed, it had been a long time since I had visited. They had just constructed the Eiffel Tower and the World’s fair was happening. Many people including various artists had objected to the tower but I had thought it was delightful. When I was born, people in my tiny village rarely thought about building anything more than a story high. As mankind developed it was wondrous to see fantastic structures reaching up to the heavens.
“You’ve been?” He asked, looking curious at the nostalgia showing in my expression.
“Yes,” I admitted, “A while ago, when I was younger. There is so much art there, so much creativity. It was great to see.”
“You have an interesting accent.” He told me, eyes searching my face, “It’s very subtle, but it’s not from around here.”
His observation took me off guard. I had lived in so many places with so many people; I felt that I no longer had a distinguishable accent. Scrambling to remember my current story, I laughed to cover up my brief pause.
“Yes, I moved up here from Northamptonshire, but my family is also well travelled. We have roots in Scandinavia.” Only the last part of that was true, I was born in Scandinavia, although a lot had changed in over a millennium. I doubted my original accent still existed in modern language. I had spent a lot of time in the United Kingdom, enough to consider it my home. My accent was now a mix of many places and times, which blended together quite smoothly.
“Do you see much of your family?” He asked.
I frowned a little, disliking him probing into my private life. My cover story worked on a basic level, I even had excellent forgeries of all of the required documents. However, since my history in Northamptonshire didn’t actually exist, it wouldn’t stand up to in-depth scrutiny.
“My family and I are… not really on speaking terms at the moment.” I told him. “We don’t really get along so it’s better for everyone if we just…” I trailed off, hoping it would seem as though it was too uncomfortable for me to talk about.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He said quietly, taking the hint.
“What about your family?” I asked, attempting to direct attention away from me. “Do they live in the city?”
“Yes, they live nearby.” He said. I got the sense that I somehow wasn’t getting the full story, but since I wasn’t sharing, I couldn’t exactly pry.
“Your accent definitely sounds local.” I told him with a smile, “Although, there is something more in there, am I right?”
“I grew up here, but my grandfather is from Scotland.” He admitted.
“Scotland it beautiful.” I sighed, “The highlands are just stunning.” I had spent many years in Scotland; it was one of the first places my people had landed when we came over the sea. It was a place I regularly returned to. Even in present times, a lot of the highlands were still untouched by modern life. I still had the odd friend or two there, people who knew me.
“I’ve never actually been.” He confessed, “I seem to have been pretty much everywhere else, but not there.”
“I would recommend a trip.” I told him. A little voice in my head whispered caution, but I silenced it. The chances of him going and actually managing to come into contact with someone who knew me were slim to none. Besides, anyone who knew my secret who was still alive I trusted.
The waitress arrived with our food, distracting both of us from our conversation. I saw Nick watching me carefully as she set his plate down. The faint scent of blood hit me, but as I had predicted it was not tempting. The weak animal scent was not at all appealing, especially after being cooked. I was actually glad I had ordered pasta, it was better to eat something that didn’t even resemble blood; at least it would go through me without making me sick. I thanked the woman as she set two glasses down and poured a little wine in each. After she left I raised an eyebrow at Nick.
“I am definitely glad I went with the pasta. If you like that, then good for you but…” I trailed off grinning. If he was eating something he didn’t like all for the sake of testing me, then I would get some petty satisfaction out of it.
“I have unusual taste.” He said a little stiffly, making my smile widen.
I let the conversation trail into more casual realms as we ate. I dipped my complementary garlic bread into my pasta sauce to soften it and chewed it quite deliberately, as if I was enjoying it. I do understand why people depict vampires as being afraid of garlic, the scent was so strong it was overwhelming most of my senses, even if it was harmless.
After the meal was finished I could see that he was feeling much more relaxed. He leaned forward in his seat, chatting to me about the city and the local area. I was starting to grow irritated. It seemed as though the two of us could naturally get on well, but the entire evening had been a lie. It was all so that he could investigate me, whilst I was not really getting any useful information in return.
I waited for a natural lull in the conversation before I addressed the elephant in the room. Since he clearly didn’t suspect me as a vampire anymore, I wanted to call him out on his tests. It would be the only way I would ever find out what his true motivations were. Every time I had tried to turn the conversation towards the mysterious project he was working on, he had skillfully maneuvered out of it, twisting the conversation in his favour.
“So,” I said when silence had fallen, leaning on my left hand to mirror his pose. “Did I pass your tests?”
He tensed up instantaneously, his guard going straight back up. Slowly he straightened up in his chair, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. His voice was overly casual when he finally answered.
I was fed up with beating around the bush and being careful. I lifted my hand to count off on my fingers. “You invited me out a little early for dinner. The walk took some time but the real goal was getting me outside in the daylight, right? Then, on the way here we walked through that very charming cemetery… not to mention you just suffered your way through that extremely rare steak. Did I miss anything?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” He was gritting his teeth now.
I blinked innocently. “Actually, I think you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
With a sigh I leaned back in my chair and crossed my legs. I was ready to jump up at a seconds notice but I wanted to appear relaxed.
“So… this brings me to two new questions.” I mused, ignoring his denial. “Why are you looking for a vampire? Plus, why on Earth did you suspect me?” I phrased it in such a way to suggest I thought the very possibility of me being a vampire was ridiculous.
He stared at me for a long time, assessing everything I had said. The suspicion did not leave his eyes but when I remained serious, eventually he seemed to decide it was worth indulging me.
“To answer your first question, yes you passed.”
“Well good.” I said, adding a good measure of indignation to my voice, as if the very idea offended me. “So why me in the first place?”
“That’s complicated.” He said, not taking his eyes off of me.
“So un-complicate it.” I said, just keeping the hiss out of my voice. To my slight surprise, I realised my anger was real. It was petty but I was still annoyed that he had faked an entire date, just to investigate me. Even if it was technically a good plan.
“I…” he paused, a crease formed between his eyebrows, “A vampire told me I should go to you.”
“What?” His answer took me by complete surprise. “Why?”
“Well that brings me to your second question.” He said slowly, I could tell he was unwilling to answer. “A few weeks ago… my brother went missing. I have reason to believe that a vampire was the one who took him. The other night, I cornered a vampire in town. He… told me that I was looking in the wrong place. He said I should be looking at you.”
I stared at him in complete confusion. “So, he said that I am… an evil vampire who kidnapped your brother?”
“Well, that was what he basically implied, yes.”
“I’m sorry,” I said slowly, “But I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about.” To my knowledge I had never met his brother. If he was anything like Nick, I would have remembered him.
He pulled out his phone and tapped the screen a few times before holding it up for me to see. The boy on the screen had similar features to Nick, only he looked a few years younger. I didn’t recognise him.
“This is my brother, Darren.” He told me.
“I’m sorry,” I said again, “Really, I am. But I have never seen him before. Heck, I’d never seen you before you came into the Coffee Stop the other night.”
He sighed, looking defeated. “So, why would he point me to you?”
“Hang on a minute.” I said, “You said you cornered a vampire, how did you get him to talk to you at all?” I was quite surprised that he was still alive.
“He… was under duress at the time.” He muttered.
I raised an eyebrow, reassessing him. His toned muscles and lean frame took on a more dangerous meaning. He didn’t just like to go to the gym, he trained specifically for this. He was a vampire hunter and quite a good one if he was still alive. Most likely the vampire he had cornered had been a young one from the city, possibly from Rowland’s coven. Quiet fury washed through me and I shut my eyes to hide the inevitable red that would be showing.
“That’s what happened to you the other night.” I sighed, re-evaluating his still healing injuries. He grunted in confirmation.
“I know why he sent you to me.” I growled.
“Why?” his voice was urgent, desperate for leads about his brother.
“It’s complicated.” I muttered. “The vampires in the city and I… don’t really get along.”
It made sense, the stupid vampire was cornered. He would have seen the dangerous vampire hunter and an excellent opportunity to possibly get rid of me. The local vampires didn’t like that I had so much power over them, even if I didn’t really bother to use it. I am sure they would like the best hunting grounds back. It must have been someone young and foolish though, to think that this hunter would really pose a threat to me. He was just a human after all.
Now that Nick’s true identity had been revealed, I really should kill him on principle. It would be better for my kind and save me any long term risks. On the other hand, numerous people had seen me dining with him and I had to find out exactly which vampires were trying to plot against me. I would not tolerate betrayal from my own kind, even if we didn’t get along. Nick could be useful for this.
I took a calming breath and opened my eyes, confident that the red had given way to my usual blue. Nick was still waiting for an explanation.
“I really have no idea about your brother. But, the vampires in the area… let’s just say that they would be glad to see the back of me. I am guessing that they saw you, and hoped you would do the job for them.”
He looked more confused than ever, “What do they have against you? Forgive me for saying so but… surely if they wanted to get rid of you…?” he trailed off, not wanting to offend me by stating the obvious. By all appearances I was nothing more than a skinny girl in her early twenties who barely reached five foot four. I didn’t exactly radiate danger.
I laughed and he looked a little taken aback by my abrupt change of mood.
“My issues are my own, but let’s just say that I can look after myself.” To be fair, even if I was still human, I could probably do a reasonable job of defending myself, I was pretty handy with most weapons and my extra abilities could come in useful sometimes. For instance, whatever power I used to transfer energy to Lillian to make her visible could also be used in the opposite. Where I gave energy, I could also take it away if needed.
He looked a little sceptical but he didn’t pry further. I think that he sensed he had already pushed me far enough for one evening. I was glad, I had more pressing concerns.
“Do you know the identity of the vampire you spoke to?” I asked.
He shook his head. “He didn’t give me a lot. He wasn’t very happy to talk.”
My eyes narrowed. I would make him talk. “Where is he now?”
Nick leaned towards me and I caught something dangerous in his dark eyes.
I think he expected surprise or shock from me but I was too annoyed. I wanted to punish the betrayal myself.
“Do you know anything about him? Where he came from?”
Again he shook his head and I growled. “Damn.”
I looked down at the table away from his gaze whilst I got my temper under control. It wouldn’t do to accidentally reveal myself after all of the effort I had gone to.
When I finally looked up I saw him looking at me with calculating eyes. He saw me reacting to the news that a potentially dangerous vampire wanted rid of me and the news that he had killed said vampire without even a hint of fear. I found that I didn’t care. I was willing to hide my nature from him in the name of safety and convenience, but I would not hide my personality. I could not make myself pretend to be afraid, I had fought my own battles for many years, I wasn’t about to stop now.
“I should go.” I finally said. “I need to deal with this matter.” I would not allow anyone to work against me. I would find out which vampire was responsible and I would wipe out his entire coven. I also had to find a way to take care of Nick; I couldn’t have a vampire hunter running around town unchecked. I would have to wait for a time though; a lot of people had seen us out together.
“Wait.” He said, his voice taking on an urgent tone I hadn’t heard before. He made as if to reach for my hand on the table, but I quickly moved it back before he could touch my skin. I did however wait in my seat, watching him cautiously.
“Maybe we can help each other.” He said, his face looking more open than I had ever seen it.
“In what way?” I asked cautiously. Part of me wanted to leave and not have any further association with him until I killed him. Another part of me wanted to see what he had to say.
“I want to find my brother; you want to deal with the vampires. I am pretty good with dealing with vampires, and… along the way we might be able to find out what happened to my brother.”
My eyes narrowed sceptically, “So, you want us to work together?”
“Why not? It makes sense.”
I shook my head, “It doesn’t make sense, I don’t need your help. Why should I help you?”
He sat back in his chair, looking thoughtful but determined. “I have a lot of information, resources that could help. Plus, if we find my brother he would help us too.”
He had unwittingly caught my interest. If I continued to associate with him, I could get my hands on the books and information I knew he owned on my kind. I had not recognised the one in the coffee stop which was unusual. Over the years I had gathered many resources on my kind in an effort to figure out my unique abilities. So far, I had found nothing of use. Additionally, when it was all done I might be able to kill two vampire hunters instead of one.
Leaning forward in my chair I raised an eyebrow, “I take it that what you do is a family business then?”
I could tell that he was hesitant to respond, but he knew he needed to sway me to his idea.
“Yes… but my brother is still young, he’s training.”
So, access to a vampire hunter and a would-be vampire hunter. Plus, any other family members he hadn’t told me about. This deal could be more beneficial to me than he realised. I would have to let him believe it was just about taking care of the vampires for me, so he didn’t see my ultimate betrayal coming… but I thought it could work.
Letting him wait, I stood up and put my coat and gloves on before I answered him.
“We have a deal; I will help you to find your brother.” I said finally, holding my gloved hand out for him to shake. After a brief look of surprise at my agreement he stood up and took my hand, holding it for a few more seconds than I deemed necessary as he started down at me searchingly.
“Ok,” He finally said. “We have a deal.”
The waitress appeared with the bill whilst I wondered silently what I had gotten myself into. Hopefully, finding his brother would be quick and easy. Then, I could kill them, kill the vampires who had betrayed me and go back to the business of living my life.
I offered to pay the bill or split it but he insisted on paying it in full. I shrugged, letting it go. Money was unimportant. We had spent a surprisingly long time eating and talking. Most of the other diners had come and gone, leaving the place almost empty as the staff discretely prepared for closing time.
I exchanged phone numbers with Nick so that we could work out the next move in our deal. It had taken me a while to get on board with modern technology, but once I did I somehow questioned how I had any time without it. Everything was so easy now.
“Can I take you home?” He asked as we left the building.
I shook my head as I took out my phone, “No, it’s fine I’ll call a taxi. Do you want me to ask for two?”
“No I’m good, I’ll walk.” He said, shaking his head.
I could easily have walked, but I wanted him to think I was going to go safely home like a sensible human girl. In actual fact, I was going to go into the town centre to feed. It hadn’t been that long since my last outing. But, if I was going to be dealing with Nick I wanted to be at my most alive looking and with the coming fights, at my maximum strength.
He waited with me until I was safely in a taxi before he left. I waved as the car pulled away and turned the corner. Once he was out of sight I sat back in my seat and sighed. It had been a long evening. Parts of it had been surprisingly pleasant, despite the ulterior motives between us. Still, I looked forward to returning to my quiet, peaceful existence.
I had the taxi drop me in the main street. The area was conspicuously empty of vampires I noted darkly; I couldn’t detect any new traces of scent. I didn’t linger in town like I often did; I wasn’t in the mood to mess around. I took care of business quickly, visiting a club that I was less familiar with for the sake of convenience.
On my way home I was very cautious. I was overly paranoid about being followed, leading me to take a longer route than necessary. I wasn’t worried about anyone being a danger to me whilst I was walking, but I didn’t want anyone to know where I spent the day. A common trick of vampire hunters was to wait until the sun was high in the sky before staking the unconscious vampire as they slept. It avoided them having to face the vampire at night time when they were at full strength. Now I knew that there were hunters in town, not to mention the other vampires that wanted rid of me, I was wary.
It was a surprisingly pleasant night, despite my paranoia. The earlier cloud cover had disappeared, leaving a clear view of the stars. My eyesight was a lot better than a human’s, allowing me to see much more detail in the sky than they could, even with their telescopes. The moon was just a thin sliver, providing little light to distract from the brilliance of the heavens. I suspected that it was probably quite chilly but to me the air felt soft and pleasant as I walked. I detected nothing out of the ordinary from the soft breeze that carried the scents of takeaway food, cars and Saturday night human merriment.
Amir was just leaving when I arrived home. “Hey Scarlett,” He said sounding tired. “You look nice, been out anywhere fun?”
“I had a date.” I told him, glad to have an apparently normal activity to talk about.
“That’s great. Did it go well?”
The question was innocent but I found it a bit difficult to answer. Did it go well? It turned out my date was secretly a vampire hunter trying to find his missing brother… but we did end up making a potentially useful deal which could lead to me killing more than one person...
“Yeah it was good.” I said, simply shrugging. “Don’t tell me you are going to work at this time?”
“Sadly yes.” He said with a sigh. Bringing up his career was a fairly reliable way to distract him from almost anything. “I really want to get this experience and I need to show I have done the work hours for my degree.”
I smiled sympathetically, “Well, have a good day… or should I say night?”
He laughed, “Either works, thanks.”
“See you later.” I said unlocking my door. I opened it to reveal Lillian standing right in the entrance, invisible to Amir. With effort I stopped myself from jumping in surprise. Unlike a human she made no noise when she moved, although if I concentrated I would be able to sense her energy.
She disappeared as I walked at her and reappeared on the other side of the room, waiting for me to shut the door.
“So, what happened?” She burst out, “You’ve been gone for ages! I couldn’t decide if you were having a great time or if you’d died!”
“Relax,” I told her, “I think you’d know about it if I died. I’m not about to let you get away with haunting me all these years without haunting you back.”
“You can’t haunt someone who is already dead.” She told me primly. “That would just be… I don’t know, following?” She shook her head, annoyed at being distracted. “It doesn’t matter, tell me what happened!”
“Fine. It turns out he is a hunter.” I sighed with annoyance, things would have been so much better if it turned out he was just innocently interested in me.
“Oh Scarlett I’m sorry. Is he dead?” She was well aware of my feelings towards hunters.
“Not yet.” I groaned, throwing myself down on the sofa. I wasn’t in the mood to dwell on my feelings. “He doesn’t know what I am, he tried to test me but I’m not exactly normal so…”
“Sunlight?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“And a graveyard and some blood. He was very thorough” I admitted.
“Even a graveyard? I bet that made for a very romantic atmosphere.” She snickered. “So what are you going to do now?”
“We made a deal.” I admitted, “One of the vampires in the city tried to betray me, they put him onto me in the first place. He has information and resources, he is going to help me investigate and in return I am going to help him find his missing brother.”
Lillian looked mystified, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
“Well, it turns out that hunting is his family business,” I let a sly grin spread across my face. “I only agreed to help find the brother; I didn’t specify what I would do with him after that.”
Her look of confusion turned to understanding, “You are waiting for him to lead you to more of them, and then you are going to kill them all.”
“Exactly” I said, “Plus, if the family have been doing this for a while, they might really have some valuable information. They might even have something about me or my abilities. If I can find out where that is, it will be an even better bonus.”
“You really can be despicable sometimes.” Lillian said. There was no trace of disapproval in her voice.
I laughed, “Sometimes it is needed.”
“Very true,” She sighed, “It’s definitely saved your life more than once.”
“That it has.” I shook my head, not wanting to get caught up in the past. When you have so much history, it is too easy to get lost in it. Staying focused in the present is much better.
“So what have you been up to today?” I asked Lillian. I always tried to take an interest in what she did in the daytime hours whilst I was unconscious.
She shrugged, “Nothing as exciting as you. I went to the park this morning. Had a nice chat with a lady from the seventeenth century.”
“Ghost?” I asked. It was the most likely explanation, but you can never be sure what’s out there.
“Yes, she said her name is Dorothy. I believe she is quite famous around this area, I think there might even be a ghost tour of her hall.”
“Interesting,” I mused, “If she’s from the seventeenth century I’m surprised you saw her out of her home.” It took ghosts energy to travel to a new place if they were attached to a specific location. The older ones were typically weaker as they lost energy over time, unless they were like Lillian and had someone like me feeding them energy.
“She said it gets too crowded, the place has a long and bloody history. The spirit energy is very strong there.”
“Interesting,” I said again, “Well, it’s nice you found someone you can talk to.” Humans have a lot of ghost stories but true hauntings are actually very rare, the majority of people choose to move on after death. Even rarer are ghosts that are actually interested in talking. Many of them are too wrapped up in their lives (or deaths). Some don’t even realise that they have died, they get stuck in loops, doomed to endlessly repeat actions over and over. I believe this is probably where a lot of stories of hauntings come from, people see glimpses of old battles being replayed or tragedies being repeated as the lost ghosts go through the motions.
“Yes,” Lillian smiled, “She said I was welcome to visit any time.”
“That’s wonderful.” I really meant it, I often worried that she didn’t get out enough. “Be careful though,” I added, “I am not sure what other ghosts you might find at this hall; they might not be as friendly as this Dorothy.”
“Yes I know,” She rolled her eyes at my concern, “What are they going to do? Kill me again?”