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Chaney’s was a mom and pop version of the big restaurant franchises that were rampant along the east coast. Set on the corner of west Elm Street, it was in the seedier part of December City, Virginia, but the quality and affordability of its food goaded its loyal patrons to return night after night- in spite of the dangers that everyone knew lurked out in the darkness beyond the cheerful neon sign.
Detective William Buchanan, seated at a table towards the middle of the restaurant, was well-acquainted with those dangers; they were just another part of his job. Daytime cops were charged with everything from issuing speeding citations to bringing down meth labs and crack dealers, and he’d done his share of that too of course, but for the past two years since he’d transferred in from Philadelphia his nights had been spent hunting adversaries far more exotic than the usual perp- and infinitely more dangerous.
Vampires...he’d have laughed if he didn’t see their victims pulled out of the harbor and city alleys on an almost daily basis...if he didn’t have to kill the undead bastards almost every night too. Except they weren’t undead, he reminded himself with a grim form of humor as he stared down into the glass of wine the waiter had just placed before him; the one who’d mailed a tape to the national news on Blood Dawn had made that very clear. They weren’t human, but they were far from being the walking dead.
There would have been comfort in that, he mused, wincing at the bitter taste of the wine as he took a sip, if vampires were reanimated corpses as the old world legends had maintained for centuries- then if nothing else there would have been the hope that aside from conversions, there would be no chance of them increasing their numbers. But they were very much alive, so not only could they recruit former humans, willing or not, into their ranks, but they could create new vampires the old-fashioned way; by having children.
If only they’d acted sooner, there was no telling how differently things might have turned out. There was no exact figure of what their numbers had been then of course, but compared to the billions of humans walking the face of the Earth, it had been very, very small. If Humanity had rallied itself in the days and weeks that followed the attacks, if all the nations involved had come together and gone after the freaks as one force; they could have turned the tables entirely and won the war before it had even begun. They could have wiped them out.
But the attack-which had to have been years, if not decades, in the making, had been so utterly devastating that it had sent the entire civilized world reeling into a downward spiral of fear, chaos, and panic.
And no wonder...the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, France, Italy, and Germany; that was just a sampling of the countries that had lost its leader the night before Blood Dawn. And the damage hadn’t ended there. A few members of the Japanese royal family, for example, had been killed, but the majority of them, along with the prime minister- had been changed.
And those weren’t the only conversions that had taken place. Australia, China, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Israel...the citizens of every country that had widespread access to advanced weaponry and technology had woken up on Blood Dawn to find their leader either dead, or the pawn of whatever vampire had transformed them.
In America, the President had been slain, but his vice President had been converted. For whatever reason, the vampires had deemed him more malleable than his commander-in-chief. He hadn’t had much time to enjoy his newly-gained immortality though- in one of the isolated cases of swift action, the secret service had taken him down in a hail of bullets; providing proof to the shaken masses that immortal didn’t necessarily mean indestructible.
He sighed and pushed the now empty glass away, absently drumming his fingers against the smoothly polished surface of the bar. Dwelling on the maybes and what-ifs couldn’t change anything, could it? The night squad that Buchanan belonged to could bag as many as three or four vampires in a single shift’s work, and sometimes did- but there were hundreds...maybe even thousands by now, to replace those few that fell, and it offered no consolation at all to the angry, grief-stricken family members he and other officers had to tell that their loved one had just joined a seemingly endless line of victims.
And the sea of vampire fatalities truly did seem to be never-ending, he thought bleakly, raising his hand to catch the waiter’s attention to order another glass, and why shouldn’t it? In the past, when they’d lived in humanity’s shadow, they’d fed from their victims, but had rarely drained them. Vampires who’d been captured alive and interrogated had revealed that much at least. In previous centuries people had been too paranoid, too superstitious of anything that was alien and unknown that had the vampires slaughtered at will and left the remains of their meals out in the open to be discovered, the frightened humans would have used their superior numbers and driven the blood-drinking demons into oblivion. If only...
But no, the occasional over-zealous individual aside, as a race they’d chosen restraint over appetite back then, and as a result had kept their existence a secret save for the volume of myths and legends that had trickled down to the present day.
Too bad most of that was useless information, if not outright flights of fantasy.
Like the most obvious example, vampires were indeed killed by sunlight, but they didn’t burst into flames or crumble into ash when exposed to it. Instead, they blistered so rapidly and devastatingly from what was apparently a severe allergic reaction that they died within a matter of minutes. Sun block didn’t seem to help their condition, thank God.
But garlic, crosses, holy water, shavings of whatever tree the source wanted to ascribe magical or holy properties to- all of them were no more effective than the single bullet he’d taken two ordinary criminals down with on two separate occasions. Bullets could work, if you shot them literally to pieces or completely destroyed their heart or brain, but bullets were expensive-as their chief constantly reminded them-so they were encouraged to do their job in as an efficient, and budget-conscious, manner as possible.
So, when a vamp was located by the night squad, it was tracked to a location that would minimize the potential damage to civilians as much as possible, without allowing it to escape, and then it was immobilized; usually with a heart or head shot if the squad had a sniper on hand- and then finished off by decapitation before it could heal from the initial injury and flee.
And vampires healed fast, from wounds that would kill a human within minutes. Buchanan had seen one that had taken a round to the heart get up a few minutes later as his much younger and naive squad had been congratulating themselves on a successful kill- laugh, laugh! And then snap his shooter’s neck before escaping into the night. They still hadn’t caught that bastard, but the incident had spawned the introduction of the rapid move-in following the initiating strike, as well as the implementation of flame-throwers and decapitations.
At least fire and decapitation did work, he mused, giving his head a shake before ordering a cheeseburger to go with his drink-no sense in getting wasted just because it was his rare night off...but then again, the list of things that weren’t immediately killed by either of those things was extremely short, except perhaps cockroaches and shape-shifters.
Shape-shifters, lycanthropes, were-whatevers; whatever the hell you wanted to call them. They’d gone public, so to speak, soon after Blood Dawn, if for no reason other than to make it known that as a whole they’d had nothing to do with the mass assassinations of the world leaders- though they freely admitted that individuals or small pockets of their kind could have lent their support to the plot.
Well, you couldn’t condemn an entire race, or races rather- since lycanthropes had proven downright touchy when someone lumped them all together into one group- could you? Most had gone into hiding after revealing their existence as a whole, but others had come forward, offering their services to the police and military in helping to track the vampires down. Hell, the night squad in New York City was even headed by one- wolf-flavored if he remembered correctly, and his human men seemed to have no problems with serving under a leader who had a tendency to turn furry once in a while, because he was so damned good at his job.
Cases like that had provided two more useful bits of information; lycanthropes could change form, vampires could not, and as formidable as vampiric senses were, a lycanthrope’s were even better.
Surprisingly, even a few vampires had turned themselves in during the aftermath of Blood Dawn. They’d been far, far fewer in number than the lycanthropes that’d shown themselves though, and the fact that some of the first few who’d done so had been butchered in reactionary anger over the attacks no doubt hadn’t exactly encouraged others to follow in their bloody footsteps.
Some were still alive, and being held in protective custody by their respective governments though and it was from these scant individuals that they’d learned much of what was now known about vampires- in addition to what had already been gleaned from the examination of slain ones of course.
Lycanthropes had superior strength, speed, senses, maybe even self-healing abilities, but vampires outclassed them when it came to mental prowess, and it had nothing at all to do with intelligence.
That was one thing Hollywood had gotten right, Buchanan tore into his burger with unexpected zeal as he lifted his gaze to regard the framed black and white glossy of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula bent over the bedside of some sleeping maiden or other- telepathy, empathy, hypnosis, the power to charm and subdue their victims; all vampires possessed some degree of them, with the unpleasant tendency of growing stronger with age...but others had still more disturbing talents up their sleeves, like the ability to move things with their minds, manipulate fire, or even to control animals.
Vampires, lycanthropes, made you wonder what else could be out there, and whether it was on your side, or theirs.
A flicker of movement drew his attention away from the picture on the wall to the bar that dominated much of the restaurant, and he watched with casual male interest as a slender young woman dressed simply in a pair of jeans and a black tank top made her way to an empty seat and claimed it.
And truly, once she’d captured his attention, she held it...with ease.
It had been noted, in the twenty-four years that had passed since Blood Dawn that many vampires preferred their victims young and attractive; a perverse form of conceit on their part, Buchanan wondered, or revenge for all the centuries in which they’d had to take whatever human was foolish enough to be out after sunset. Regardless of their reasoning, the end result had been the same; if you were wealthy, attractive or not, and you went out at night, you went with bodyguards trained to hold their own against even a vampire. For that reason alone, many lycanthropes who’d chosen to live openly had found a practical niche for themselves.
Buchanan himself had once been a bodyguard. The pay had been great, and despite the high mortality rate the human versions of such guards faced, it had ironically been a safer job than his current one with the night squad. He hadn’t stayed even a year with his client though, there just hadn’t been any soul to it; catering to the whims of a paranoid businessman. Now he was paid no more than a run of the mill cop, even though the members of his squad literally risked life and limb on a nightly basis, but he was far more satisfied there than he’d ever been as a bodyguard. There just seemed to be more honor in protecting the average citizen; the ones who couldn’t afford the luxury of having a hired mercenary to protect them at night.
And that was most people, he thought ruefully, taking another bite of his cheeseburger; you went out in groups of at least three or four if you wanted to be safe, or you stayed home behind tightly latched doors and hoped the vampires went in search of easier prey. Unless you were military, police, or highly trained in the use of a gun, you just didn’t go outside after dark if you were alone; especially if you were a young, attractive woman.
The girl sitting at the bar was clearly both of the latter, he mused, his gaze lifting from his plate to regard her graceful figure, and unless she’d come to Chaney’s planning to meet up with friends later on, she was obviously the former as well. Post Blood dawn, you just didn’t see that kind of fearless confidence even in most men, let alone from women....from human men and women at least. Lycanthropes could take on a vampire easily enough to not fear the dark, and the only threat a vampire faced at night was from a squad like Buchanan’s. Professional instinct re-asserting itself, he tried to get a better look at the woman while being as discreet as possible about it.
She certainly was striking; tall and with a build that suggested she worked out enough to keep her figure just muscled enough to allure, without overdoing it. Her skin was pale, more than the average woman’s would’ve been, he supposed, but nothing that set off alarm bells to his keenly trained eyes. He’d encountered enough vampires to know what to look for, and how pale was too pale.
His brief flicker of suspicion was quickly allayed though, as a waiter swung by and deposited a basket of chicken wings in front of her and she actually began to eat them; proving her humanity beyond the shadow of any doubt. One thing everyone knew about vampires…they could stomach some liquids beyond their preferred vintage, but they couldn’t eat solid food. It was possible she was a lycanthrope, but he didn’t think so; the leader of the NYC night squad aside, they tended to leave big cities to the leeches and to stick to more rural areas.
From the distance he was from her, he couldn’t make out what color her eyes were, but her hair was thick and wavy; falling loose and carelessly down and around her shoulders and ending just past the middle of her back. The color was what drew his attention more than the length though; it was a rich, deep burgundy red, just like an expensive wine. He doubted the hue was natural; real people just didn’t get hair the color of rubies from any place other than a bottle.
Still, unlike a multitude of women he’d seen with brightly dyed hair, it actually looked good on her, and complimented her skin tone and sharp features.
But now that he was really looking at her, the realization slowly sank in that there was a nagging familiarity about the girl...he’d seen her somewhere before, he was sure of it.
Enough alcohol Will, he decided, pushing the still half-filled glass to one side and ordering a cup of coffee instead, wondering not for the first time as he did so which of his parents he’d inherited his embarrassingly low tolerance for alcohol from; his mother or his father.
He finished his burger in silence, distracted from his observation of the woman by thoughts of his work schedule for the rest of the week. The next three evenings were going to be pure squad nights, but then Friday was routine, vanilla cop work; a day shift for once. A smile crossed his face at the thought. He knew all too well just how dangerous any officer’s job was, even if they were lucky enough to never have a run in with anything non-human.
He’d lost his first partner to a bullet during a drug bust gone bad, in his early days in Philadelphia, and had almost lost his second one barely a year later during what should have been an ordinary traffic stop. In an attempt to avoid a simple speeding ticket, the man had sped off, hitting and then dragging his partner under the car for almost a half-mile.
In that respect at least, Buchanan had been lucky. The only time he’d ever even had a relatively close brush with death had been after he’d joined the December City night squad, less than a month after its formation.
The vampire had remained flat and still on the pavement, acting as if the bullet really had pierced his heart as intended and taken him down, if only for those few precious minutes they needed to seal the kill. But the officer’s aim had been off, and the leech had taken full advantage of the missed shot. It had been his own fault, really; after seeing one of their squad taken by surprise and killed a week before, he should’ve been more cautious. They were supposed to move in as one unit, to lessen the risk of a target being able to single out one person if it managed to get up and attack before it was terminated.
But then again, perhaps it had been remembered anger at the death of that officer that had made him so reckless in the first place. The vampire in question had born a resemblance to the killer, so it was likely that factor had combined in his mind with the freshness of the loss to make him act without thinking. He’d moved in without waiting for the rest of the squad, and before he even had a chance to react, the previously motionless vampire had sprung; hitting Buchanan with the hardest tackle he’d ever experienced in his life and knocking him not only completely off of his feet, but a good ten feet backwards as well.
Even now, more than a year and a half later, he could remember it as if it had just happened the night before…the sharp pain of the concrete against his back as the breath was driven from his lungs, the vice-like grip of his sharp-nailed hands as they closed around his throat, even the off feel of his skin; not cold, but still slightly cooler than a human’s hands would have been.
The vampire’s build had been slim, almost wiry; it had seemed almost incomprehensible that such a slender body could contain so much physical strength within it. Like his comrade before him, if the vampire had truly wanted to, he could’ve easily snapped his neck, and with his hands around his throat, he’d had plenty of time and opportunity in which to do so. But luckily for Buchanan, the one that attacked him had been more cocky than practical.
Instead of doing what the earlier vamp had done and then making good his escape, this one had wanted to toy with his prey first. He’d tried strangling him, and had the squad’s sniper not landed a picture perfect shot right between his eyes, he had no doubt that he would have succeeded. Since then, he’d been a much, much more cautious man when it came to moving closer to a downed target. As far as he was now concerned, a vampire ceased being a threat only when its head was separated from its body and the flamethrower had finished the job.
Giving his head a bemused shake, he looked up, only to see that the stool the red-haired woman had occupied at the bar was empty, and its former owner was nowhere in sight. Feeling a jolt of instinctive alarm, he rummaged quickly through his wallet, putting enough money down on the table to cover both his tab and the tip before rising to his feet and crossing the room to the bar. “Where’d the girl go that was sitting here?” he asked once he’d managed to catch the bartender’s attention.
The man turned around to regard him, and he was unable to entirely keep a look of instantaneous displeasure from crossing his face when he realized who it was. Chaney’s was one of the most popular spots in the neighborhood, and a good deal of that reputation was due in no small part to the open, friendly attitudes of the people who worked there. George was the one glaring exception to that rule; to the point where it was the privately held opinion of most of the restaurant’s patrons that the only reason he stayed employed there was simple charity, and nothing else.
At first, the only response his query was given was a faint, non-committal shrug. When he made it clear by his expression and posture that he was far from satisfied with that answer, the bartender looked annoyed, but did finally speak. “The redhead? She left with some guy.”
Buchanan frowned, a feeling of trepidation moving through him. If not for the grim reality of vampires, he mused, he would’ve just stayed at his table and maybe even pondered ordering dessert; assuming the woman had just done what people had been doing since the dawn of time and found herself a companion for the evening.
But given the cold truth of his job, he knew perhaps better than anyone that luring a victim away from the safety of a crowd was a frequently used vampire hunting tactic. Granted, statistically the common vampire seemed to prefer to seek their prey at bars, clubs, and even less savory places like strip joints, and Chaney’s was just a restaurant with a liquor license; but just because he’d never seen a vampire on the prowl there before, it certainly didn’t mean it couldn’t happen. In a very real way…the fact that people wouldn’t expect to encounter one within these welcoming, cheerful walls might work to said vampire’s advantage; an unsuspecting human had a bad tendency of becoming an opportunistic leech’s meal.
“Was it someone she’d planned to meet up with, or a stranger?” He knew he was probably coming across as nosy, but he didn’t really care; in his mind, each and every person that could be saved from becoming another victim was a victory.
George snorted, giving him a sour, dismissive look as he wiped down the bar with a worn washcloth, “How the hell should I know? I’m paid to make people drinks, not baby-sit. If you wanted a shot at her, you should’ve moved faster…the guy got there before you, simple as that.”
For a moment, he debated flashing his badge to put a little fear into the surly man, but then thought against it. It might sooth his irritation with his crappy attitude a bit, but it wouldn’t help the woman if she had, indeed, been picked up by a vampire. “Thanks for the tip.” He muttered darkly, turning away from the bar without another glance and heading at a relatively brisk pace for the door.
Maybe he was just being paranoid and it was a false alarm; he’d had those before in his career after all, but if nothing else, Buchanan would sleep better that night if he could at least get a look at the guy the oddly familiar young woman had left the restaurant with. If he was human…fine, if he was a leech, well, he’d cross that particularly messy bridge when he came to it.
He’d just barely crossed the threshold and stepped out onto the sidewalk when his pager went off; startling him. Fishing the device in addition to his phone from his pocket, he repressed a groan when he saw it was from the chief, craning his neck to peer this way and that down both sides of the street and surrounding area as he tried to catch a glimpse of the girl’s distinctive burgundy hair even as he dutifully dialed the number to the station, frustration making itself known when his scan came up empty. As negative as he was, George had been right in one respect, he had been too slow; there was no sign of her or her companion anywhere. Damn it.
“Buchanan.” He sighed into the phone, his voice more than a little tense and far from cheerful.
“I know it’s your night off and all that,” the chief began without preamble, his own voice possessing an unpleasant, rasping quality to it that Buchanan had always assumed stemmed from the fact that the man smoked like a chimney when not in the office, which thankfully was a non-smoking zone, “But we got some new recruits sent down from Baltimore for the squad, and I need someone to show them how we do things down here, someone that actually knows what the hell he’s doing.”
Barely listening, he’d continued his sweep of the area, feeling his heart sink. Even though they’d only left a few minutes before, they could literally have been anywhere by now; for all he knew they could’ve gotten into a car right outside the entrance and driven off.
The chief, never known for his patience, snapped in his ear, and Buchanan bit back another sigh, “I’ll be there, give me fifteen or twenty minutes.” He flipped the phone shut without waiting for a reply, slipping both it and his pager back into his pocket. Having to deal with George, the chief, and a set of completely green squad recruits wasn’t exactly his idea of a great night off, but he knew better than to try to get out of it.
He only hoped his suspicion about the man the red-haired woman had left Chaney’s with had been wrong…and that the next time he saw her it wouldn’t be a moment before she was zipped up into a body bag.
Even after being a vampire for more than a century, it still amazed him sometimes how easy it all was. Take his current acquisition for example. When he was human, he never would have been able to get a girl as stunning as her. Oh, he wasn’t unattractive, but although human to vampire converts were now often chosen on the basis of their physical beauty, his maker had selected him more for his family’s wealth than for his looks.
Not that the reasons mattered anymore, did they? He had everything now; money, power to get any girl he fancied, and best of all, the immortality to enjoy them both.
He’d been on his way to his usual hunting ground; a dance club in the more affluent part of the city, when he’d felt it. Before his conversion, he’d possessed no active psychic abilities, but after he’d been changed he’d gained the telepathy that came standard with his new race, as well as the power of persuasion that made acquiring prey so much less vexing than the use of sheer brute force would have. He’d met many of his kind with superior gifts, but he’d also met just as many whose talents were inferior to his own too, and those gifts had served him well tonight.
Although he was known for his tendency to ignore his responsibilities when such suited him, his primary duty to his people was as a recruiter. And the psychic sparkle he’d felt coming from somewhere inside the otherwise forgettable restaurant had been what had drawn his attention.
The oldest and most powerful among their ranks were getting impatient; it had been almost a quarter-century since the event the humans had named Blood Dawn; and the complete and utter control their kind had sought to gain over the most advanced and influential countries of the world had mostly failed.
Well, it hadn’t been a total defeat; it was true they’d lost their grip on America when the newly changed vice president had exposed his new nature too soon and been shot literally to pieces…his lip curled in derision at the memory. He was supposed to conceal it until after he’d taken over the presidency and their hold on the nation had been cemented.
The country, so badly shaken by the worldwide attacks and the devastating revelation that what they’d always assumed to be monsters out of old legends were horrifyingly real, would have clung tightly to anything familiar for comfort and guidance…anything human.
It wasn’t that hard to fool the average person; even with the proof of vampires shoved right in their faces, some still had the gall to maintain that it had all been a diversion; a hoax to cover up some nefarious government plot…it really was too amusing. But for the rest of humanity who’d accepted reality, well, it had been both easier and more difficult to hide in past centuries.
During the aptly named dark ages, one had to be especially cautious, or so he’d been told. But during his own era, when the world’s collective focus had shifted from superstition to reason and science, it had been almost effortless. Even during his early years, when a human-born vampire’s control was at its weakest, he’d been able to go among the esteemed ranks of high society just as he was. Some might have made the occasional comment about the unusual pallor of his skin, or his oddly sharp nails, but they were men of science, with no time or patience for ludicrous peasant stories.
And now it was even easier to hide in plain sight. There was a multitude of make-up foundations, bases, and concealers that could be used to cover the skin, gloves could hide the nails, and the fangs…well, they were safely retracted until needed for feeding anyway.
Others chose to use their powers to cloud the minds of the humans around them, using just a little nudge here, a hint of suggestion there to make them see only what they wanted them to see. Still others, mostly among the up-and-coming generations, chose neither of those options; instead socializing and feeding among selective crowds where their differences would be ignored or outright embraced. Ah, God bless the Goths…
In any case, it should have been a simple matter for the vice president to hide his conversion all those years ago. But the man had lacked even the small bit of self-control that had been required for the task, and now the United States were essentially in a state of war…subtle as it was.
Many countries they still held; Japan and the whole of Asia had never been wrested from their coup, Russia was also theirs, Austria, Poland, most of continental Europe in fact, save for ever-stubborn Germany. France, Spain, Australia, the whole of the United Kingdom, they remained unconquered even still. Italy however, was the crown jewel of their conquests, but like America and Canada, many more nations were in a constant state of flux.
Well, that would change with enough time, patience, and careful planning. That’s what recruiters like him were for after all. They were to go among the humans and search for anyone who might prove to be an asset to their ranks if converted. Influential politicians, brilliant scientists, even a much-beloved musician, actor, or entertainer could hold a remarkable sway over the masses that adored them. Religious leaders too, were prime candidates; how else would they have taken Italy without infiltrating the Vatican first?
Of course, not everyone kept standards or racial goals in mind when they chose to turn a human. The ensuing decades since Blood Dawn had seen a thrilling rise in their numbers, but so many of the converted were useless…mongrels; common people who added nothing to their cause, and who’d been chosen purely for the sake of their beauty, or the whim of their creators.
The girl on his arm was beautiful; no one would be able to deny that when he showed her off at the next big gathering, but he was sure her psychic prowess would show that he’d been making a choice this night that would eventually benefit them all. Oh, it was clearly dormant now; the complete lack of even a bit of natural resistance to his control proved that, but once the troublesome matter of her humanity was taken care of he was sure it would blossom and grow.
That hollow, familiar ache swept through him as he guided her off the sidewalks and drew her into a nearby alley for the privacy his act would require, hunger making itself more forcefully known. Just as well humans had to be drained beforehand; else the conversion might not take.
He wondered inwardly if she’d been drinking before he’d picked her up in that restaurant, she hadn’t been when he’d walked over and introduced himself, but that didn’t rule out the possibility that she’d indulged earlier in the evening. Alcohol did, after all, increase a human’s susceptibility to vampire persuasion.
Far be it from him to complain about his good fortune though; she was being so wonderfully cooperative, so delightfully soft and pliant as he pressed her against the bricks of the alley wall. Leaning into her, he brushed his lips against her hair, marveling at the unusually silken texture of it and feeling surprise when he could detect no scent of chemicals that always accompanied artificial dyes. The brilliant, striking burgundy was apparently her natural color.
He eased back then, just enough to get another good look at her face. She truly was a prize; her eyes were a dark violet, a startling shade that was both off-set and heightened by her red hair, her skin was smooth, without a single freckle, mole, or blemish to mar the perfection of her features, and pale like the ladies of fashion had once so envied in his day…not burnt, or tanned like so many human women seemed to be today.
He could already picture how she would look once her change was complete, the near-white flesh she’d gain would make her unique coloring even more dramatic, her amethyst eyes would nearly glow, and well, fangs made any woman more alluring in his opinion.
Her beauty coupled with the psychic gifts he was certain would be brought out by the conversion…oh yes, he’d be the envy of many a recruiter for years, if not decades to come. He’d changed more than a dozen humans, and while there were others who had far more conversions under their belts, he took pride in the knowledge that he reserved the honor only for exceptional individuals.
For a moment, he felt a pang of regret; he would’ve loved to have had the chance to enjoy a bit of sport with her first, especially since his persuasion was working so well…but his hunger was sharp and immediate, and he’d staved it off long enough to get her away from the restaurant. Once she was changed…well, he had his own code of honor. The average human was little more than nourishment or a source of possible amusement to him…but if he found one suitable for conversion, well; they then became his equal and were no longer a plaything. He was to be her maker and mentor, and he wanted to start off on the right foot so to speak.
“So what are we doing out here?” she asked suddenly, regarding him through her remarkable eyes with the soft, faintly bewildered look that all humans had when they were being manipulated by vampire telepathy; as if somewhere deep inside them, they knew something was wrong, but just couldn’t muster up the willpower to fight it. Her voice was just as pleasant as the rest of her, he mused, a lovely, rich contralto.
“We’re out here…” he said, smiling broadly at her even though he was sure she couldn’t see him very well in the dim light of the alley, “Because I’m going to bestow upon you a very great honor. You see my dear; you might call me a collector of exceptional individuals. I find you beautiful, and fascinating, with a potential for very great talent, and I want to make sure you don’t go to waste.”
She frowned, and as he loosened his mental grip on her a bit, finally tried to pull away. It took almost no effort on his part to firm the hold his hands had on her and keep her pinned against the wall. “What are you talking about?” the woman began, and then froze, her violet eyes widening, “wait a minute…you, you’re a vampire, aren’t you? Let me go!”
He chuckled, feeling amusement and renewed hunger as she struggled under his hands, “Don’t be frightened, I have no intention of killing you. The conversion itself will be a bit uncomfortable once your body begins to change…but the process leading up to it can be quite pleasant if you just relax and give yourself over, and once it’s finished, you’ll have power you’ve never even imagined before and an eternity in which to enjoy it. I’m giving you a gift.”
The girl stopped squirming in his grip then, and it took him a moment to realize that the soft trembles of her body he could feel beneath his fingers were being caused by her laughter. Well, that was a reaction he’d never encountered in one of his converts before…
“You want-“, she gasped out, trying to catch her breath from her obvious amusement, “to turn me, into a vampire?”
He blinked, feeling a flicker of uncertainty; surely she wasn’t mentally unstable? He knew every human reacted differently when faced with one of his kind, but he didn’t want to change her if she were actually mad; an insane vampire was never an asset to his or her race, and he didn’t want the responsibility for bringing one into being. “Yes, I want to convert you, but I find myself a little concerned about your mental state my dear…”
The young woman shook her head, eyes sparkling with mirth as she looked up at him, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not crazy…it’s just the last thing I expected when you wanted to come out here.”
The tension faded from his body then as relief swept through him; she wasn’t having some kind of hideous psychotic breakdown then, she was just surprised, relieved more the likely, that she wasn’t going to end up becoming another anonymous face on a missing person’s corkboard or another murder statistic in a city that was filled with such numbers. She wasn’t afraid at all in fact; he would’ve been able to smell the fear on her if she was. No, she was standing there in front of him at the end of a dark, cold back alley, as if she were a queen, and he was a knight who had just surprised and amused her.
Beautiful, talented, and courageous…what a darling she was!
“I certainly would never dream of reducing such an enchanting creature to a mere meal…” he said grandly, lifting his left hand and gliding the sharp nails of his middle and index fingers just barely across her collar and over her neck, pausing over the soft flutter of her pulse where he intended to bite, “Shall we get started then? I’ll have much to show you before sunrise.”
She relaxed in his arms then, sliding her own hands up until they rested loosely over his shoulders, “Me as a vampire…” her voice was low and intimate, her breath sweet against his face, amusement still present as she asked, “Will I get a pair of fangs?”
In spite of the hunger prowling through his gut, he laughed; equally as amused as his delightful little find, “Of course…but that’s only the beginning, there are so many other gifts you’ll receive once your conversion is completed-“
Her hands tightened on his shoulders before he could finish the sentence, in an iron, unbreakable grip. “Thanks, but no thanks…” she murmured, violet eyes suddenly seeming to take on an eerie glow as she looked up at him, a slow, impish smile curving her well-shaped lips.
He screamed then as ten points of agony pierced his flesh; each where her fingers pressed against his shirt. It took him a moment through his pain to realize it originated from the claws…no, talons- like the sort that would be at home on a giant bird of prey-the woman had plunged into his flesh; holding him as immobile as he’d thought he’d been holding her only a few moments before.
“It’s a generous offer,” she continued, having shown no reaction to his initial scream and seemingly unconcerned by the fact that the wounds her talons had caused were causing his blood to slide down over her pale hands, “But you see…my dear, I have my own.”
Shock and an odd form of horror filling him, he watched as her incisors lengthened much in the same manner as any vampire’s did when about to feed; forming fangs that were slender and deadly sharp, and a good half-inch longer than any he had ever seen before. “What the hell are yo-’ he stammered, not even managing to complete the incredulous question before she lunged, tightening the painful grip of her talons in his flesh as she sank those startling fangs into his throat; her mouth locking against the wound as she began to feed.
Having begun his existence as a human, he knew what it was like to be fed upon; he’d experienced it when his maker had changed him, naturally, but had never thought to experience it ever again, not as a victim at least. Vampire lovers sometimes drank from each other, and he knew the difference between a shallow taste and a full-out drain, and she was draining him.
He struggled, but it quickly became apparent that he’d only kept her pinned against the wall earlier because she’d allowed him to. Minutes passed, and he felt his knees buckle; gasping as she held him upright, drinking harder at his throat. He was weakening, and the edges of his vision were beginning to swim. He would pass out well before he died…
Finally, he felt himself go limp in her arms, a darkness more complete than any night swallowing him down into its depths. His last thought, before his awareness left him entirely, was that of all the possible ends he’d ever imagined himself coming to, he never could have foreseen himself becoming, of all things, a vampire victim.
When she was certain he was dead, she retracted her talons, allowing herself the somewhat childish luxury of licking the blood from them as the body dropped heavily to the cement. That had been more fun than she had thought it was going to be; dinner and a show, as Luci would have said. Toying with prey was a tactic Eris had always preferred; the petite female saying on more than one occasion that she enjoyed the turn-about…playing the part of the victim before revealing herself as the hunter to her stunned targets, but Lilith herself was usually more direct when it came to acquiring a meal.
In truth, she’d just been planning on having a relaxing evening in her favorite restaurant. She had a well-known weakness for barbecue wings and Chaney’s served the best in the whole city. It was in a neighborhood where vampire attacks had happened in the past, but they usually passed through on their way to the really undesirable locales in search of quarry, and she’d never encountered one in her own personal hang-out before. Maybe that’s what had spurred her impromptu bout of play-acting, she mused; the irritation that one of the foul, murdering creatures would dare invade her territory.
She never would have dreamed he’d been drawn by the lure of her psychic abilities, which, cautious as ever, she’d been keeping a tight shield on. Rather, she’d assumed he’d marked her as his prey for the evening, and when she’d felt the brush of his mind against hers had lowered her shields just enough to let him think his attempt at controlling her had succeeded, the way it would have if she had actually been just a human woman.
The desire for a rare bit of petty revenge rising in her, instead of seizing him once safely out of sight from the oblivious patrons, she’d continued to go along with the charade; half-wondering how far she could take it before the vampire realized something was wrong with his intended victim. The performance had almost ended early, when she’d started laughing, but she hadn’t been able to help herself when she realized he wasn’t planning on just feeding from her, he’d wanted to convert her into one of his kind.
That had been just…priceless, and she couldn’t wait to tell Luci.
At the memory, a laugh bubbled up in her throat; feeling warm and almost giddy as she always did after feeding. She gave a lazy, almost feline stretch, working the kinks sitting on one of the barstools tended to cause out before straightening up, and releasing her wings.
Though she tried not to be a prideful creature, Lilith considered them her best feature, and she stretched them out to their full span now. Looking very much like that of a great raptor’s, they were black shadowed with teasing hints of a purple darker than her eyes. The tank tops that she always wore at night were for both practicality as well as comfort; the low backs allowed the massive appendages to emerge from their fleshy sheaths without ripping or dislodging the garment, and she’d always been a practical person.
Well, fun was fun, and she needed to take care of more serious matters now…namely, disposal.
Humming softly under her breath, she kicked aside the cheap pair of sandals she’d worn out for the evening and gave a nimble leap; clutching the vampire’s body with her lower talons before leaping into the air; feeling the same exhilaration she always felt when taking wing. She climbed as high and straight as she possibly could, being mindful of where the high rises in the city were and taking pains to avoid them as she headed for the bay. Technically they were supposed to weigh the corpses down before dumping them, but she’d been leaving the remains of her prey in the harbor for years, ever since she’d gotten old enough to hunt, and she knew where the undertows were even in the darkness.
Keeping a watchful eye on the flickering light of a cargo ship heading into the port, she kept a distance between it and herself as she finally reached her destination; hovering over the black water with the ease of long practice before letting the body drop; feeling satisfaction as the sharp, unseen current dragged it from sight a few moments later.
Duty taken care of, she turned in mid-air and flew back towards the city, following a route she’d developed a little more than two years earlier as she headed for the sanctuary of her apartment; located in one of the more affluent neighborhoods several miles from Chaney’s, and conveniently not far from the waterfront. Like Luci’s, her own apartment was on one of the top floors of the building, giving them both access to the roof if needed, as well as the balcony that she now landed on, folding her wings gracefully against her back before entering her living room through the pretty pair of white French doors she’d always loved.
It had actually been a wonderful evening. She’d eaten well in more than one respect, had gotten a vampire recruiter off the streets, and had safely concealed the evidence, all without being seen. The only thing that would make her night even more perfect would be a hot bath to get the dried blood off her hands and his stench off her body, and that was the very next thing on her agenda
Rebecca Weller: Ironwood is an incredibly rich fantasy story with a well built imaginative world. Jacob was a great character, very likable, and you cheer for him as he struggles to restore order to Ironwood. The pacing was decent a good balance of action with plot and character building. There were a few moment...
Marijana1: The melancholy present throughout this story has the power to influence and etch into the minds of the readers, to stay there and refuse to leave even after they have finished reading the story. This is a deep, powerful story, making the readers wonder about everything – about love, about their e...
aliasgar Amir: I am looking forward for the 2nd book to get out.. Not as excited though because all i wanted to know has already been revealed. Overall great story. At times it feels like the writer is pushing it too far involving all kinds of stuff just jumbled in together. Would i continue on with it if anoth...
Hali McGowan: when will the third book be done? I am absolutely hooked. I red the first two books within less than a week. I'm itching for the third one. The plotline is absolutely wonderful. I've never been much for sci-fi ish books. but you've got me hooked on this series
Janna Niemi: This book turned out to be a real page turner and I loved it. It could have gone on a bit longer but the ending was great although it wasn't completely a happy ending. The characters were great and the whole aspect of a whole different world appealed to me very much
jennywren313: This is a throughly engaging and ripping yarn ... I loved the writing style .. the flashbacks so real that the current moments forgotten .. it is a great read and one I would recommend to anyone that enjoys a bit of a mystery .. wrapped up in a story .. carried by well described characters .. and...
JWalker: I loved this story from start to finish! It flows at a really nice pace and the story world feels so real. The fight sequences are a treat especially when Isanfyre is training to become a warrior. I found the names really cool and thankfully easy to pronounce. Personally I have always struggled w...
Warren Bull: I thought this was a fast=paced thriller with elements of several other genres woven seamlessly in. It hooked me early and held my attention throughout. I liked the humor and surprises along the way. I really enjoyed the novel. I am not a big fan of romances or paranormal works,but when those ele...