Gabriel kicked at the snow and it fluttered up through the air like confetti. At his feet, icy slush pooled in its place and he crouched down to scoop some into his hand. In his palm, the shards shone in the moonlight and scratched at his skin as he turned them over. Every year the snow was melting earlier. Just by a week or two, but he noticed. Change was all around. He could sense it in the earth and feel it on the wind. There was a certain vibration, a shift of some kind. Something was coming.
He tipped the ice back onto the ground and stood up. It was a stupid idea. To go back to the farmhouse was suicide, but they had something to do with the change he felt. It couldn’t be a coincidence, it had to be connected somehow. He needed to find out what they were planning.
He glanced toward the cabin at the thin curl of smoke rising up from the chimney. As a child, every summer he and his family had come here to hike and fish. It was where he had first learned to hunt, a skill that had certainly become useful since his transformation. It was his home now, his sanctuary. If something was threatening that, and the town where he had grown up, then he had to stop it. He had no choice.
In his former life Gabriel had been a soldier. He had led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had fought the enemy head on. He couldn’t let what had been done to him, this change, take that away. It was his duty to find out what was going on, to determine the risk and take action. It was the only way he could stay true to himself. To not let the monster inside win.
He quickly decided to go back to the farmhouse and carry out a little recon, as his army mates would have put it. He would stay out of sight, out of earshot, and see what he could find out. Then he would come back to the cabin and figure out what to do next. It was as good a plan as any.
Confident in his mission, Gabriel set off through the forest determined that this time he would not lose his nerve, no matter what.
At the perimeter of the farm, he found a sheltered space beneath a tree and crouched down. The Army had taught him not to be hasty about approaching hostile territory. Last time determination had got the better of him, but he wouldn’t be making the same mistake twice. This time he knew what he was up against. Five female vampires and a wolf. It was risky, but he had no choice. He needed to know what they were planning.
The two-storey farmhouse was set back from the road on land that stretched all the way to the forest. It was the perfect hideout he thought, with no close neighbours or annoying doorknockers. No one had any reason to even come out here, no one in their right mind anyway.
Inside the farmhouse, all the lights were on and it was easy for Gabriel to see into the rooms.
Downstairs four females sat around a table and upstairs was Aurora. She was standing alone by the window looking up at the night sky.
He peered at her, willing his eyes to see closer, to notice the tiny details of her face, but she was too far away. Maybe if he crept forward, just a little…
Down on his stomach, Gabriel inched his way toward the house. There was every chance she would catch sight of him, but there was something about the way her shoulders caved and the angle of her jaw that made him wonder if she was crying. He had to know.
Despite his plan not to get too close, Gabriel moved in further until he was only metres away from the house. Any sign of weakness in her would provide an inside edge, proof she was not as strong as she pretended to be. He told himself that was as good a reason as any to be this close, but the truth was that the sight of Aurora crying just made him want to be near her.
Mud and slush clung to his clothes and snowflakes littered his hair as he crawled even further toward the house. When he neared a tangle of trees just below the window he stopped and looked up. He could see her as clearly as if she was standing right beside him, and she was crying. For some reason the sight of it made his chest hurt.
“She’s a vampire,” he reminded himself. “The only reason I’m here is to find out what the hell is going on. Do not let yourself be fooled.”
Hearing something move below, she glanced down.
“Shit.” He inched back and tried to fold himself in further beneath the branches. “This was a really stupid idea.”
When she turned away he retreated, sliding out from under the tree and hurrying back toward the fence line where he tried to shake the muddy slush from his jacket and jeans.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you might be at risk of catching a cold.”
At the sound of the man’s voice Gabriel instantly spun around and threw his hands up into a fighting stance, but all he could see was his own shadow stretched out across the snow. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
An unmistakable scent quickly wrapped itself around him. A vampire. His heart raced as he spun around in every direction. “Where are you? Show yourself damn it!”
“Quiet child,” the voice whispered. “You don’t want everyone to hear you. They are quite angry with you, especially that wolf.”
“Don’t play games with me,” Gabriel shouted. “Show yourself!”
Suddenly he longed to be anywhere but here. What had he been thinking coming out here in the middle of the night and with no weapon? He had been a good soldier once, what the hell had happened to him?
“Calm yourself,” the voice whispered again. “No need to get so excited, I mean you no harm.”
“I swear to God…” Gabriel warned.
“Come now, there’s no need to bring Him into this.”
Before Gabriel could respond, the male vampire stepped out from the shadows. His pale skin shone in the moonlight and long black robes flowed out across the snow like an oil slick.
“Who are you?” Gabriel demanded. “Tell me your name.”
“There’s no need to fear me child. Our kind gave up violence a long time ago.”
The vampire had the grace and charm of an old-world gentleman and yet his face had not aged beyond 40 human years. His golden hair was spun into an intricate braid that twisted down to the small of his back and his skin was smooth like porcelain. He stepped closer and Gabriel felt himself being pulled into his eyes. Just for a moment he thought he saw images of himself as a child reflected back.
“I don’t know who you are, but I swear I’ll stake you,” he warned.
“There will be no more staking child, not here and not anywhere. You are no threat to me, you do not even have a weapon.”
“Screw you! And stop calling me child,” Gabriel warned. “I’m no child, believe me. And you can’t tell me what to do.”
The vampire chuckled and circled him slowly. “And yet you sound just like a child Gabriel. You do see the irony?”
Gabriel had no idea how the vampire knew his name, but the game was wearing thin. “Now listen…” he tried, but once again he was cut off.
“What you’re doing is wrong Gabriel. These descendants pose no threat to you or to humans, quite the contrary in fact.”
It was that word again, descendant. Descendant of who? Or what?
“The way you think of yourself is also wrong, but it is not your fault. You should have been educated in our ways. You should have been mentored, although your hunting is quite unique. I’ve never come across a strigoi that kills, what he thinks, is his own kind. Not in all these years.”
Gabriel willed himself to fight back, to tell this stranger to shut the hell up, but something was stopping him. He felt calm inside, peaceful like when his mother had held him after a fall. “What’s happening? What are you doing to me?”
“Just helping you to listen child. You are far too rebellious for your own good.”
“You put a spell on me?”
“Not a spell, just a temporary adjustment of your emotions.”
“That’s a spell any way I see it,” he mumbled with all the fight he could muster. “Who are you? Tell me your name.”
The vampire smiled and bowed his head. “Of course, forgive me. I am Lucius.”
“Lucius,” Gabriel repeated. “Where are you from? Why are you here?”
Lucius reached out and touched Gabriel lightly on the shoulder. “You are in need of my help child. You have a mighty task ahead of you and you will not succeed if you do not understand who you are.”
Gabriel’s head was swimming. “What task? What are you talking about?”
Lucius grinned and glanced back toward the window. “Aurora.”
Gabriel wasn’t sure if the spell was wearing off or if his frustration was growing, but anger coiled in his chest. “You need to start talking in plain English,” he hissed. “I’m getting mighty tired of this. Just tell me what you want.”
“Interesting.” Lucius looked Gabriel up and down like some kind of experiment. “Your feelings for her override my powers.”
“What feelings?” Gabriel snapped. “What powers?”
“Your feelings for Aurora, they’re stronger than we realised.”
“First of all Lucius, I have no feelings for that woman and second, who the hell is we?”
Gabriel was so worked up that he couldn’t even think straight. Inside a floodgate opened and all the anger and frustration the vampire had blocked came rushing out like a wild tide.
“You know what… Just… Whatever. Don’t bother telling me, I don’t care. I’m leaving. And don’t follow me!”
“If you walk away she’ll die.”
Gabriel stopped where he was and spun around. “What did you just say to me?”
“She’ll die,” Lucius repeated. “If you don’t stop what you’re doing and help her, Aurora will die. The choice is yours, but you must decide now.”