Prologue: The Calm before the Storm
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” ― William James
The meeting of vampires within Carcassonne was undisturbed by the rain dousing the castle’s windows, the thunder was far enough away that only a few of the younger ones would glance up to watch the lightning flash. The rain had begun to pound itself against the thin glass within the restricted section of the castle, these vampires had been meeting there for almost as long as the castle had been around and human interference and the sudden influx in tourism wasn’t about to stop their council. Within the last few centuries, the beings that all of the vampires at the table had been born amongst had flourished, more so than any of the creatures had believed possible, for they were weaker than even the weakest of any kind but further still they had expanded into the world and beyond it. Humans were an oddity in the seeming natural flow of the survival of the fittest, their highly social behaviour meaning that it seemed impossible for them to go extinct without any help but that was not what these vampires were there to discuss.
The oldest of the vampires, with his dark beard and the gaunt features of someone who’d roamed the mortal realm too long, ran his finger around the lip of his wine glass, stirring a slow haunting sound from the motion that captured the attention of everyone within the room. Yves Torres, from where he sat at the head of the table, chided the younger vampires silently, knowing his disapproval would be displayed well in his dark eyes. It was rare for him to be distracted, nearing his fifth millennium Yves had centuries of experience more than any other vampire in this gathering, the closest to his age being almost six centuries his junior. Inhaling, he caught his wife’s eyes for a brief moment, the warmth in her expression enough to settle the near nervousness he found creeping up his spine. The news he was bringing to the council wasn’t good and wouldn’t be received well either, but given they were the largest council meeting within the European borders, it had to be here.
It was Valentina Ricci who spoke next, her voice carrying her sweet English and Yves found again that he envied the Italians and the way they spoke English as if they were singing, almost as though they were caressing the vowels. Valentina was one of the more recent additions, she had been inducted into the council a few centuries prior, during a time of human war when most of the vampire community had had to flee Europe for safer ground. She was tall, waif-like with streaming dark red hair that was only offset by the vibrant ebony of her skin, which gleamed like dark chocolate in the grey light.
“The Northern Coven sends their regards and Giulietta sends her apologies for her absence, one of her fledgelings is making her life difficult,” That was who was missing, Yves almost hadn’t fully been alerted to the realisation that they were indeed missing several of the council and as his eyes swept the vampires, he found he could note almost instantly who wasn’t in attendance. Unfortunately, Yves had a dark feeling he knew just why they weren’t present and that his news would correlate with their absences.
“Now that it has come to my attention, we are missing several members of the usual council, none of whom have made excuses as Giulietta has and I believe my news may quadrate with their absences,” His face grew almost impossibly graver and he caught sight of Melisande’s knuckles whitening as his wife drew her hands together. There was a tension, as though tightened string was being strung throughout the room and for a moment, there was nothing but the rain lashing against the world outside.
“There are talks of murders, of our kind and of the others, throughout Europe and beyond. I have had word from the Americas from a reliable source that confirms the suspicions, as well as news from Australasia that also indicates the possibility that someone is hunting our kinds. The known death toll in the Americas is higher than ours here, but both are steadily rising and neither of these new reports sits well with me. I believe we all must be on our guard and be wary of our own kind as we are of other kinds,” There was a hiss throughout the room, it had been long since they had discussed the other kinds within this room but now was as good a time as ever, as at this current climate, it seemed that no one and no kind was safe. Shifters, sirens and the magickal had reportedly suffered the brunt of the losses, where demons and vampires were harder to kill and thus less of them had been culled. Nevertheless, the news of the killings was horrifying to ponder, as it gave light to several theories that most others didn’t want to even imagine or consider.
“Surely these killings are sporadic, or at least have something to link them to each other, it seems as if we’re almost going out on a wing, on the hunch of someone who will use fear to drive us all apart,” Seraphina Remini spoke, a Southern Italian with the same songbird voice as Valentina, though hers was not as confident, worry had begun to seep into her tone by the time her sentence had fully formed.
“The accords will not hold in times like these, you are correct Seraphina however, the correlation between these reports, is something we’ve never encountered in any of our times,” Melisande kept her voice diplomatic, peaceful and Yves let his eyes sweep the table again. Of the fifteen present, only a handful seemed reluctant to believe that these were cullings rather than chance and it was quite clear why. They were younger or lived in safer areas, those who recognised the killings for what they were, they were older and wiser and they had most likely heard their own reports.
Cassiel and Bjarne, two of the Germans, or as he had first known them, Saxons, were conversing quietly and Yves picked several names from their jumble of German and old speak, the language of the beings before the humans started designating definitive languages to regions. Several of the missing were amongst those names, Alina and Johann were a mated pair and were usually among the first to arrive at these meetings, their absence did prove concerning and Yves wondered how many more of their kind had been killed, if several of the few vampires on this council had been picked off or at least sent into hiding. Then there were those from the east, Siva, Rhiannon and Elijah, who went unmentioned as they were the only representatives from their areas. Leda, of Ios, was alone as well, Alexei missing from her side and Yves felt worry beginning to gnaw at him, if the killings were this noticeable, amongst their small council, why hadn’t their attention been brought to it earlier?
There was a soft sound deep inside the castle, so quiet that Yves almost missed it, though he paid it very little attention as the old building was known for its creaks, instead steepling his hands as he gazed over the council members, the emotions breaking over their faces something he hadn’t been privy to in quite a time. Vampires were remarkably in tune with all expression, though it remained to be seen how they’d react in times like these. The younger ones, naturally, displayed full ranges of emotions where the old ones could only grimace and purse their lips for it had been so long since they’d needed to rely on their own faces to convey what they were feeling.
“We’re missing enough vampires tonight for us to have reason to worry. None of us has heard from those among them we call friends, in months, it would have been a year for Alejandra as she didn’t attend the last council meeting and Siva and Rhiannon checked in around the same time with me about eight months ago,” Yves looked toward the speaker, Helena had been born with a sharp tongue but over the years, it had lessened as she’d grown but he could still hear the acid that had once burned every single word she’d uttered. She was the palest of them, Norwegian born and Viking raised, with unusually silver eyes and a penchant for sailors, she’d stirred trouble with many a siren in the old days.
The smell of burning was eventually what caught their attention, every single vampire snapping around as the taste of fire filled their lungs. It was a taste they were all familiar with, though previously, it had been believed to simply be torches or fires within the castle, this was stronger, more potent than any torch; there was an ominous headiness to the scent as if it wasn’t just a candle or torch bracket that had been lit but something that required the fuel, which now they could all smell alongside the reek of the flames. Yves stood, slowly but definitely and the others rose around him, a show of blackened eyes as they all focused on the source of the flames before the door seemed to explode off its fragile hinges, sending Seraphina sprawling back as it collided with her, fast enough that most of the vampires hadn’t time to react.
Yves had somehow had the foresight to fall into motion, pulling Melisande out of the way of the spray of debris that followed the explosion, wood splintering and showering those closer to the door in shards and someone screamed, the shrieking wail of a dying vampire and then the roar of the flames finally reached their ears. Melisande crumpled where she fell and Yves could not detect movement from her as Valentina reached him, snarling at him that they needed to get out of there, to leave, to fight, something. She was desperate, her eyes still coal black in their vampiric state as she searched around them desperately for the others.
Something flashed through the air, bright and wet as it splashed across the floors, soaking into the carpet before Yves could even strain to work out what it was, the reek of petrol reached him and then the floor was made of flames as the fire surged forwards. Yves stared into the fire desperately, trying with all of his senses to detect who or what lay on the other side. They weren’t human, no this fire had magickal traces staining it and he could sense the other being faintly, though through the haze of the smoke it was difficult to tell if he was merely mistaking his companions for the intruder. For the first time in what felt like a millennium, Yves was fearful. For himself, for the survival of his wife and of the council members, several of whom he was unable to pick out amongst the smoke and several still he could see, they were closing around him as though seeking protection and then he caught a glimpse of Bjarne at the window, shattering the thin glass in a furious motion.
Yves felt himself being lifted, he had been unaware he’d sunk to the floor in mourning, he could no longer make out Melisande’s figure in the flames and he could not seek her essence for lack of trying. A growl, low and furious slipped through his lips as Yves stood, his chest feeling more hollow than the night his heart had been ripped from his chest by a furious Swede and followed Valentina out of the window, the rain searing his skin as he entered the storm outside. Glancing back once before he leapt after his kin, Yves watched the flames swallowing the last remaining of the fallen vampires, the golden ringlets of Baptiste and then he vaulted from the sill, loose terracotta crumbling away as he descended into the darkness.
When Yves rose, he did it slowly, his eyes burning black fire as he identified the vampires around him, some smoke stained and others carrying dark burns and Valentina had a deep gash marring her features and beneath the angry mark, her face echoed his own, fury corrupting her beautiful face into one like that of a snarl. A quick sweep of his surroundings and Yves had a headcount, eight of them had survived, though he knew not the fate of those who had remained, his mate amongst the deceased. Helena, hair dark with ash, spat furiously onto the ground, her narrow features plain with rage though fear lingered in her paling eyes, Leda leaning heavily on her, an alliance which would have previously drawn surprise from Yves.
“Spread the word, all of you. We will have vengeance, but our kind, and the others, they need to be warned. That was no creature I know who attacked us, it was something else and gives me reason to fear not only for my own kind but the survival of all of us,” Yves let his eyes wander over each face, all holding similar expressions of horror and anger, the helplessness that they could not help any of those trapped within the burning turret all displayed uniquely. Yves hoped they’d move off quickly before he crumbled but Valentina grabbed his shoulder, her fingers digging urgency and he looked at her, coal eyes empty as he felt himself sag. They began to move as one, despite their pride, they began to retreat into the night, only occasional glances being thrown back towards the burning turret of Carcassonne before they slipped back into the darkness from which they were birthed.