Chapter 17: The Wrath of Aubade
There were many outcomes to the situation we were facing. Most of them ended in death.
I expected the Elders to leave us to die—I was surprised they hadn’t left yet. It wasn’t like they were obligated to protect us from the Leeches that approached us. But they didn’t leave. They stood defensive, Hezekiah still holding me behind him. I looked over at the girls—Kizzy, Rocio and Esther—and knew that it would end in death for them if we were unsuccessful. My fate lied in the hands of Abraham. That’s why the newborn bloodsuckers were after me. And despite this target on my forehead that kept Abraham relentless in his effort to find me again, I thought about the girls.
“You have to go,” I whispered to them. I didn’t look at them; I couldn’t see their reactions.
“What?” Esther whispered back. “No! We aren’t leaving you here!”
“They’re here for me. Not you. If you leave now, there’s a chance you can make it to the car in one piece.”
It was clear that Esther was the most opposed to the idea. Maybe she felt indebted to me somehow because I saved her life, a couple of times. However, I didn’t feel like I “deserved” companionship, especially if it meant putting their lives at risk. Sure—meeting Sajida the Shunned was one example of putting all our lines on the line. But this? This isn’t a choice. I didn’t choose to have Leeches on my back. But they were there. And I did have a say-so in whether the girls survived.
The Leeches were there for me. The girls had a chance.
No longer did the mist partially veil their figures. They came forward, disbursed quite isolatedly around us. I turned my head to find a Leech on a small dune in the distance; a painting would be envious of how immobile their posture was.
Three of them approached the Elders. All of them were similar in appearance—snout-nosed, pale skin, cavernous cheeks, and eyes the color of rich red wine. Some Leeches were white, others were black, all of them were menacing. They were not yet granted the luxury of looking somewhat “normal” in appearance like the Elders.
The first thing the three Leeches did in the presence of the Elders was bow. The twelve other ones that stood behind them lowered their heads, too. The Elders looked unfazed by their act of flattery. I remembered Abraham’s words to his clan the night he had arisen:
Under my rule, these Elders are my word! You look to these Elders as you look at me! Their power will be manifested!
“Predawn, Master Hezekiah,” the Leech in the middle greeted when he finally stood taut. His eyes—as all of the other bloodsuckers’—flickered between me and the Elders. I forced myself to look away from them; I wanted Kizzy to run. I wanted all of them to run while they could.
“Predawn,” Hezekiah replied, his voice as low and as menacing as the Leeches appearances.
“Y’all are far off from our territory,” Beau told them.
“We’ve been hunting, Master Beau,” one of the other Leeches replied. “The Bayou of the Shunned has lots of game. They don’t fight much. Easy kill.”
“Well, ain’t that right?” Hezekiah said in a joking tone, making the Leeches laugh. Hezekiah was trying to soften them up a bit, but it wouldn’t dismiss the fact that I still stood among them—Abraham’s prize; the treasure he had lost in the crossfire of the Coterie’s interception.
“What’s your name, boy?” Hezekiah asked the Leech who spoke first. The Leech looked surprised that Hezekiah cared to even ask.
“Eric,” he answered. “M-my names is Eric.”
“I ain’t never seen you before. When was you turned?”
“Sometime around the winter, Sir,” Eric ran his hands across the sleeves of his blood-stained shirt. “Mr. Boone the one who trained me, Sir. Put me in real good shape before the Jubilee burned up.”
“Ain’t surprising. Boone got a good head on his shoulders. Looks like you do, too,”
“Thank you kindly, Master.”
Hezekiah knew exactly how to charm. Believe me, I know more than most. If Eric’s blood wasn’t frozen still from his death, he would have been redder than the ripest apple on the farm.
After reveling in Hezekiah’s compliment, his teeth at full display, Eric nodded to the only mortals in the group. “Y’all done hunted good tonight, I sees. Four bloodbags.”
Hezekiah nodded. “We did. Caught them wandering from Sajida’s place. One for each of us.”
The Leeches laughed again. Tekoah bowed his head at Hezekiah—he was good. Maybe good enough to get us all out of there alive. But Leeches were loyal to their master—their real master. And many of them were recruited after Terah’s death; Abraham was their God.
Eric looked at me again. His eyes, the color of bloodlust, bore into my soul. Then his eyebrows furrowed; his snout twitched. I clenched my teeth in the silence.
“I remember her,” he suddenly said. The sweat beading on my neck quivered like my breath. The Leeches behind Eric quieted their chatter and looked at me. Many of them were present when the Jubilee burned down. The chances of a couple more of them having seen me are anything but slim; I was a fool to believe that I could somehow hide behind an Elder to avoid being noticed.
Eric took a step closer towards us. Hezekiah’s shoulders rose defensively.
“Ain’t this Madam Dumont’s daughter?” Eric asked. But it wasn’t a question he needed answered. He recognized me, then smiled with gratitude at the masters before him.
“The Elders prevail again!” a Leech yelled. Cheers and wails followed, but the Elders did not mirror the Leeches’ happiness. I turned to Kizzy; her expression was hard and hopeless. I counted the army again, hoping that fifteen was a miscount on our part. But it wasn’t. I remembered Sajida’s words about newborn vampires—they’re not the smartest, but they’re fast.
“Abraham’s gonna be real happy once he hears the news.” Eric grinned even wider. “I’ll go let him know that you’s on the way with her—”
“That won’t be necessary, Eric,” Hezekiah said—demanded. Eric furrowed his brows the same way he did when my face rang a bell in his head. The two Leeches that stood on either side of Eric exchanged looks of confusion.
“I said that won’t be necessary. We got everything handled, boy.”
My lungs tightened. Oxygen was harder to attain. Hezekiah’s defensiveness—the defensiveness of the Elders—was seen as more than something to dismiss. I was part of Abraham’s orders; I was the one who escaped from his clutches, and now that I have been found again, Abraham’s most trusted confederate suddenly shows reluctance in handing me over to their supreme master. At any moment, I thought the Elders would come to their senses and wonder why they were protecting us. I asked myself the same question, but knew better than to verbally question it.
“I don’t understand,” Eric said to Hezekiah. “What y’all gone do with her?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jeanie interrupted.
“She belongs to Abraham,” another Leech commented. “He was real specific on her capture and such. What else can you do with the daughter of a voodoo witch?”
“It ain’t your business,” Hezekiah growled at them. The Leeches trembled at his authoritative tone, taking a few steps backwards. But Eric knew better than to defy his supreme master. And despite Sajida’s assumption, this particular Leech was smart. He knew exactly what was going on—by the way the Elders stood between the girls and I, the soft grip Hezekiah had on my forearm and the taut stance he held in between Eric and I, it was safe for them to assume the worst:
Treachery. Betrayal. Treason.
Eric closed his eyes tight and whispered a prayer. Then, with a spurt of courage, he said:
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you take her, master. She belong to Abraham, and we gots to take her to him at once.”
The Leeches began to close in, but they all teetered between remaining loyal to their supreme master or walking away with their lives. I counted in my head—four of them fled the other direction when the tension came to a boil. Two uncertain; one slowly began to navigate towards the Elders’ sides. Five and Nine—Five patriots, nine loyalists. Or so that’s how it seemed; I forced myself to weigh out the rest of my options, which were minimal—run, and Aubade. Run and Aubade. Run or Aubade. I had to choose. We had to choose. I wanted Kizzy to choose, since she was the most level headed. But she was also the bravest—brave enough to use Aubade on not one vampire, but eight of them. So, whether or not she would risk it by running or risk it by fighting, the look I gave her told her that whatever she thought was the smartest option, I would rally behind. My vision blurred out the bloodsuckers surrounding us and focused on Esther. Her face was glistening with sweat that shone like the tears pooling in her eyes. My sight then zoomed in on Kizzy’s bag on her shoulders—heavier on her frame considering she carried her crossbow, too. Esther and Kizzy’s bag. Those were the only two things I could focus on. And when loud, animalistic screeching coming from the dark horizon bellowed out until it echoed against the trees, that’s when I knew my choice—our choice.
The cold of Hezekiah’s palm was lifted from my arm; that’s when I knew. The air became heavy; everything was in slow motion. The Elders lunged forward, speed rivaling the momentum of a speeding bullet. I locked onto Esther and pushed myself forward into a sprint. With my arm around hers, I pulled her close to me, my other hand yanking the bag off of Kizzy’s shoulders. And that’s when the four of us sprinted across the cursed expanse. My hand gripped Esther’s damp flesh with all the strength I had and forced her to run. One leg in front of the other, straining our muscles to make us faster. Any less of an effort, and it was death. This was our motivation—our motivation to bear down against our burning lungs and weakened limbs. The trees were blurred in my peripheral vision. I felt consumed by them, how fast we were running.
The sounds of slaughter followed us regardless of our efforts to escape. The hopelessness crept inside me, but I kept moving—we kept moving. Esther was tired to near detrimental exhaustion, but the road was not in sight yet. We couldn’t stop; the shrieking became louder—the sounds of the Elders tearing the Leeches to pieces. That, or it was the other way around. I didn’t know until we were finally confronted.
“Look out!” Rocio shouted. I looked up to see Eric running towards us from our left. I closed my eyes and waited for sweet death to overtake us at the hands of one of the night’s sacred creatures. Eric’s eyes were completely inked black; he was close enough to us where I could see the monstrous state of him, snarling like a rabid wolf. Knowing we had nowhere else to run, I grabbed Esther and pushed her onto the dirt and held my body over hers instinctively.
“Lisa!” Kizzy screamed after us, but in the middle of Kizzy’s cry, Hezekiah came running through the darkened abyss, diving over a fallen tree and grabbing Eric in the middle of the air as Eric leaped to reach us. It happened so quickly—Hezekiah’s hands clutching onto Eric’s shirt right above us and using the rest of his remarkable strength to bring the Leech to the ground, like a Lion who had caught onto a fleeing antelope at the last, thinning second in a mid-air interception. We felt the ground quake beneath us; we dared not move. Not yet. We stared in horror, Esther and I—Hezekiah grabbed Eric by the neck and slammed his body into a tree, effortlessly breaking a large part of the bark off. Hezekiah was going in for the kill, but another Leech stopped him from finishing Eric off as it jumped on Hezekiah’s back and tried to maul him. Hezekiah pushed the Leech off, making him fly back onto the ground, but a third had appeared, followed by the fallen second that had initially come to save Eric. I could have used this time to escape, letting Hezekiah try and pry the two new-borns off of him as his comrades fought off the rest, almost oblivious to Hezekiah’s plight. But despite having known of Hezekiah’s adept ability to have handled the Leeches on his own, I was under the impression that in that moment, he couldn’t.
So, I opened Kizzy’s bag and unsheathed the sun-blessed dagger, Aubade. I tightened my fingers around the grip and with it, I brought the blade into the back of one of the Leeches with all the strength I had left, piercing right through into his inanimate heart. Immediately, the orb centered in the quillon began to glow as bright as the star it was powered by. I felt the heat beneath my palms as the skin surrounding the punctured area on the Leech began to glow. He screamed out in agonizing pain, and as I pulled the now-blackened dagger out of his back, the Leech stumbled off of the Elder vampire and collapsed onto the ground. The wound through his back and affecting his heart slowly began to disintegrate his flesh. And in the final moments, his eyes turned from the crimson color they were before to a bright Aurelian hue. I had little time to appreciate the irony—the dagger I had intended to kill Hezekiah with, ended up being the dagger I saved his life with. Or maybe I only liked to believe that I saved his life; I wondered what his fate would have been, had I not used Aubade? Regardless, my fate would have been completely different, because for one, Aubade would have still worked, had I not used it on a Leech.
The blade’s orb began to dim down to a dirty orange. And as it flickered, holding onto dear life, it finally perished.
“Wh-what?” I whispered down at the dagger, the heavy obsidian secretion from the Leech dripping down onto the dirt. It couldn’t be—I couldn’t believe that one use was all that Aubade had to offer. I waited for the light to shine through the orb again. Some indication that there was power left. But I knew that there wasn’t; Aubade was depleted. And I didn’t know if Sajida had tricked us—giving us a dagger that possessed barely any power—or if Aubade was meant to be used only once.
Hezekiah killed off the last Leech on his back. And when he arose, I saw Eric, wide eyed and completely void of life, his neck broken by Hezekiah’s wrath. But more of them were coming—two more. I saw Jeanie and Tekoah chasing after them, but they were fast—faster than any of us had anticipated. Kizzy, Rocio and Esther were still close by, frozen in their place at the spectacle they just witness. I figured it was one more thing Rocio could blame me for—using up the last of Aubade’s power, regardless that I was unbeknownst of its lack of charge. It was then I realized I had no other option—no other line of defense—but running back to the car while the Leeches were distracted. But when I ran back to Kizzy’s bag before retreating to my group, a silver arrow suddenly shot through the air, piercing Jeanie in the stomach. She shrieked before falling onto the ground. None of us moved; we didn’t know what to do. Honestly speaking, I thought I was hallucinating. There was no way Kizzy could have gotten far enough to shoot an arrow from her crossbow. But Jeanie’s midsection began to burn, brightened like a flame was lit inside of her. Then a second arrow came, piercing right into a Leech’s heart. The second Leech tried to run, but was quickly intercepted by a third arrow that flew right above my crouched figure right into his skull. Tekoah quickly pulled the arrow out of Jeanie’s stomach and pulled her into his arms before disappearing with her off into the night, her heart-wrenching wails dissipating into nothingness. Beau urged Hezekiah to follow him quickly, for they knew of the danger that was lurking—the danger that I couldn’t see. But ‘she’ came out of the shadows and unsheathed her blade before Hezekiah and Beau escaped.
Her sword—glowing brighter than Aubade ever did—came up into the air and sliced through it before decapitating the Leech with the arrow lodged into her heart. The woman then removed the enchanted arrow from the female vampire’s chest and watched as the Leech’s flesh rotted, ending its immortal reign upon the world. The last Leech left pushed the woman down with whatever strength he had left, arrow deep into his brain. And before he could finish her for good, she stabbed him in the heart before retracting the blade and watching him bend over, withering with his now-golden eyes. Esther, Kizzy and Rocio were by my side; we huddled together, not knowing if this was the night we were indeed to die by whatever forces were to do the deed. We watched the woman stand and look around the forest, sword steady in her hands. The Leeches were all dead, but the Elders still remained. And she knew; she was looking for them. I studied the weapon in her hand—it resembled Aubade, only much bigger and clearly more powerful.
“Jonathan!” she called out. A silhouette approached behind us. A man—the man who fired the sun-blessed shot from his own crossbow. I couldn’t see him clearly until he stood right before us, staring down at the four of us with serious eyes. A small lantern was hooked on one of the belt loops of his jeans.
“Are you alright?” were the first words that came out of his mouth. No enthusiasm in his voice—his deep, monotonous voice.
None of us had the courage to speak yet. We stared at Jonathan, then at the woman who accompanied him. I looked around for Hezekiah and Beau—nowhere to be found. The only evidence of bloodsuckers contaminating the area were the dead, withering vampire bodies that surrounded us. Not to mention the other bodies that rested somewhere in the distance; their eyes still glowed with the sainted weapons’ influence. Even the decapitated head that rested in the soil had burning eyes.
“They’re gone,” the woman told Jonathan, wiping a mixture of dirt and sweat off her pale face.
“Which ones, Heather?”
“The Elders. I shot the girl, but they still slipped away. We were this close, John.” Heather kicked the dirt. “Fuck!”
Jonathan didn’t pay attention to Heather’s fit of rage, but instead took it upon himself to help us up. I refused his hand; I was still in shock from everything that happened moments prior, and didn’t want to be touched. The girls, however, accepted his gesture and stood with his help. When we all were on our feet, the first thing Kizzy did was check to see if Aubade was still in our possession; she was relieved to find it sheathed and back in her bag, but I was reluctant to tell her of its uselessness.
Jonathan looked at the four of us. His height was dominating; intimidating. “What were you four doing out here?” he asked us like we were being held for interrogation. Again, we all refused to answer his question. Jonathan’s eyes jumped from each of us, but landed indefinitely on me. In the light of his lantern, I was able to take in his features better. His eyes were a deep shade of blue, almost the color of a dark sky before a storm. His wavy tresses, the same dark brown as his facial hair, was long enough to stick to the sweat on the sides of his face but not long enough for him to feel the need to tie it out of the way. I especially took in his gaze, which was old and wise but contrary to the rest of him; young. Strong. Powerful. I figured that he was an authoritative figure, and my assumption was right once four more people came running towards us, addressing Jonathan before doing anything else.
“Jonathan,” a young man panted. Behind him, two others followed—a woman with brown skin and shaven hair, and a man that walked beside her. My eyes widened at him—he was huge. The biggest man I had ever seen. On his shoulders, he carried four bodies—two on each side—effortlessly. He had no weapons like his comrades, only silver gauntlets on his arms.
The man who approached Jonathan had another member of his faction around his arm. He was badly injured, bleeding profusely from his neck. Heather ran forward and examined his wound as he spiritlessly looked back at her.
“What happened, Midas?” Jonathan asked him urgently.
“We were on our way back when a couple of Leeches ambushed us. The mother fuckers came out of nowhere; I thought all of them were dead, but they ran straight for Evander and caught him off guard. Serj killed one of them, but the other bit Evander right before Azari got to him.”
Heather continued to put pressure on Evander’s wound, but we knew that the wound was too severe; Rocio’s face grew somber at their attempt. I exchanged a look with Kizzy; I wanted to know what she was thinking. I half expected her to make us finish our journey to the car before the Elders came back with a change of mind. Hezekiah was gone. To where? We didn’t know. But she didn’t want to stay and wait for him to come back. I knew that she did not have an ounce of gratitude towards the Elders for defending us. And regardless of the fact that these armed strangers saved our lives, they were still that: strangers. We had overstayed our welcome in the forbidden forest, running from Leeches who were out for blood and conversing with an evil witch. But Kizzy did the complete opposite of what I thought she would do as we stood, staring at Evander bleed out.
“We can help him,” she offered. Rocio, Esther and I swiftly turned our head and wondered what Kizzy was thinking.
“How?” Heather asked—demanded. Jonathan coached her to calm down and repeated Heather’s question more calmly.
“I’m a Hounsi,” she explained to them before gesturing to Rocio and Esther. “The three of us are. Novitiates. Devotees to three of the eight members of the Coterie. We can help him.”
“You’re voodoo witches?” Midas questioned, his lip curling up in disgust.
“No,” Rocio retorted, offended. “We are servants of the Loa; we can heal him.”
Heather and Midas were reluctant, but once Evander began heaving, struggling to breathe, they looked to Jonathan for the final decision. Jonathan looked at me and asked if I was a novitiate, too.
“No,” I answered honestly. “But my mama is a priestess—Madam Dumont.” I shared a look at Kizzy, who nodded encouragingly. “I know she’d be able to help him.”
All six of them were familiar with that name. The title was convincing enough for Jonathan to agree. But he did have terms.
“You have to tell us why you were wandering out here,” he said. I almost protested against his ridiculous demand, but Kizzy cut me off and quickly agreed—not before offering up terms of her own.
“You have to answer the same question for us,” she began. “And you have to help my family and I.”
Jonathan didn’t convene with his followers. He agreed to the terms and ordered his faction to take defense around us while we rushed through the rest of the forest, Evander carried by our side. Serj—the biggest one—travelled beside me. My head came up to his elbow. Literally. He did not utter a word, only grunted with the bodies on his shoulders—bodies I realized were the four Leeches that fled the scene right before Eric and the Elders attacked each other.
Jonathan led us through to the road. Rocio, Kizzy, Esther and I didn’t even look at each other. I was unsure whether it was because we were still in shock at the night we endured or if it was because we didn’t want the others to think we were conspiring. But the curiosity was killing me; I had to ask.
“Why did you agree to help them, Kizzy?” I whispered, wondering where her mind was. “We have no idea who these people are!”
“Don’t you see, Lisa?” she asked patronizingly. “Put the pieces together—they’re vampire hunters. The ones that visited Sajida and offered her Aubade in exchange for those invisibility potions. Aubade looks almost identical to Heather’s sword and works the same.”
Fuck. How could I have not realized? Maybe I was too focused on not dying to come to the consensus that the six of them were legitimate vampire hunters. I couldn’t force anymore words in my mouth as the picture cleared in my head. Kizzy smirked when she saw that I was smartening up.
“They’re after the Elders like we are. We help them patch up Evander, they help us hunt the Elders down. Most importantly—Hezekiah. Shit, maybe even Abraham.”
“There’s no way the Coterie would agree to that,” Rocio chimed in, making sure to keep her eyes ahead. “Madam Dumont is going to be furious when she finds out what happened.”
“We just don’t tell her,” I suggested. “We say…we say that they came to us.”
“And you think she’ll believe that?” Rocio countered.
The only one not speaking was Esther. Her eyes were somewhere else, her body moving like a robot, programmed to walk and do nothing else. She was traumatized, and I felt like it was my fault.
Even more reason to end Abraham and his clan’s reign.
“We ask for their help once we tend to Evander.”
“And what if they refuse?” I asked Kizzy.
“They won’t. Common interests, Alisande.”
I had so many questions; Kizzy knew this. But Kizzy still didn’t know about what happened to Aubade. I wondered when the right time to tell her was.
Right when she opened her mouth to speak again, Jonathan turned around and looked at us. We shut our mouths and kept our gazes forward, even though he continuously stared. But I was the only one that met his eyes—his dark, mysterious eyes. He was smart—he knew something was up with us. With me. He knew that the Leeches were after us for a reason and wondered why the Elders hadn’t killed us when they had a chance. Jonathan had questions, but so did I. But like Kizzy said:
We have common interests.