The Black Book

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Chapter VIII

I woke up on the couch with a stiff back and momentary amnesia. I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there for a few minutes, so I simply sat up and blinked in the dark as my eyes adjusted. The events of the previous day fell into their proper place in my mind piece by piece, until I had settled back into a state of waking dread. It was starting to feel like normal.

An hour or so after I’d gotten up and started puttering around the kitchen for food, Scott startled the living shit out of me as payback for my earlier scare and laughed his dead ass off when I screamed louder than Erik. “You’re right, that never, ever gets old,” he managed out between his snickering. This morning, he was dressed all in black and was wearing a black beanie, black tennis shoes, and a dark hoodie, looking like he about to attend a grifter’s funeral.

“Shut up,” I grumbled, and yawned. “You look like a hobo. Isn’t it the ass-crack of dawn? You shouldn’t be up.”

“I’m supposed to drive you to your thing,” he informed me, plopping his butt onto one of the kitchen counters. “Marc and Miri are taking Erik to the school so they can pull him out of classes for a bit, then stopping by the firm, then heading back. They should be home by the time your butt-thing is done.”

I stared at him for a few seconds to express my displeasure at this announcement. “My butt thing?”

Scott shrugged and adjusted his beanie on his head. “Yeah, you know, the thing with the other blood bags where you all go and complain about society, and talk about how lame having a heartbeat is and what a chore it is to be alive, and how you wish the whole world would just die already, and wonder why nobody wants to fornicate with you, and line up in a line so you can sniff each other’s rumps?”

I stared at him some more. I had just barely woken up, and it was hard to follow his train of thought. It was at least as scattered as mine. “School? I have to go to school?”

“Sure. Whatever you call it these days. I may be twenty, but when I was born, Napoleon was still drinking hard cider from his mom’s tit. He hadn’t even graduated to defeat-wine yet. He was still a little shit kicking over Russian sand castles, is what I’m saying.”

“You’ve been to college more than three times, you know what school is,” I needlessly pointed out, and before he could retort, added, “and I refuse. You don’t even have a valid license.” Which made the idea of that Jaguar being ‘his’ hard to swallow.

“Driving is a piece of cake,” he assured me, in a way that was hard to connect with the concept of ‘trust.’

He seemed so confident, it was actually hard to argue. I reached for an excuse. “But I don’t want to,” I told him. “And I almost got killed!”

“Why do you think I’m in this dumb get-up?” Scott snorted, and pulled out some sunglasses and gloves. He was in a surprisingly reasonable tone when he went on to explain: “I mean it isn’t like, good protection, but if I have to go outside I won’t be totally roasted. Consider me your bodyguard for the day while you get homework for your classes for the next few weeks. Not on-campus, mind you, but I’ll be a shout away. At the nearest bar that serves the warmest blood. Besides, your boyfriend’s there, right? Just stick close to him. And if I’m not there to pick you up because of something horrible happening, or I forgot, just go home with Vanessa and stay with Sherece. Just keep your phone on, and you’ll be fine.” Those were all disgustingly good points. My parents may not know what was up with Lorcan any more than I did, but they’d accepted him into the fold after Sunday dinner. If they were letting me go to school still given the circumstances, they obviously trusted him to keep me safe. Plus it helped that he oozed charisma - he was hard not to like.

“It’s . . . But it’s daytime,” I protested. It was a weak excuse, and I knew it.

Scott rolled his eyes, and pulled out the coin on a chain around his neck that, for context, I’d given Dad that Lee had taken from the vampire he’d killed, the one that protected it from the sun. It cheerily glinted in the light as it dangled from my godfather’s hand, reflecting back embossed runes I’d never gotten the chance to examine. I didn’t have a response, so I just stuck my tongue out at him.

I had my doubts about Scott’s driving abilities, for good reason. All of my doubts were confirmed after he got me to school in the F-type red Jaguar with illegal-as-shit dark UV-blocking window tint in record time by disobeying every traffic law and running literally every stoplight and sign. We couldn’t have looked more suspicious when we pulled to a screeching halt in front of my high school a minute before the bell rang.

“Okeydokey, get the fuck out,” Scott sing-songed at me, like the child he really wasn’t. I sat there in the car and waited til I heard the ringing of the first bell, and slumped over in my seat. I took a few breaths while Scott waited patiently for me to get the hell out of his/my car. “You are the actual, literal, fucking worst,” I told him in the scathingest tone I could manage.

“Bye-bye, have fun, don’t talk to strange vampires, see you at three,” he said instead of replying. I stepped out into the quad and took my leisurely time getting to class, all the while regretting my entire life up until that current moment. The good thing, I thought, is if a vampire shows up, Lee will be around to kill it to second death. Bad news is that I’m still a lying piece of shit.

I was pretty zoned out from the roller-coaster I’d taken to school courtesy of Scott, so I didn’t remember much about first period. I could’ve been in the wrong class and never realized it. No one stopped me when I walked into the room and sat in an empty corner seat in the back. I realized that I forgot my notebook, pen, and my brain at home. I don’t think the teacher noticed because I didn’t hear anything, so I simply stared at the nano-plas desk top and picked at a scratch mark til I heard the next bell ring. I robotically commanded that she give me my homework for the next two units. She seemed almost relieved, even though she had to scramble about for it. I wasn’t sure what had happened, or where my friends were - I was pretty much on autopilot since I’d woken up. It was hard for me to concentrate on anything other than stifling the preachy voice in my head, telling my I should’ve listened to it and said something at dinner the previous night.

I aimed my body at the direction of second period after the bell rang and was unsurprised that I walked into Lorcan along the way. The expression on his face when I looked up did surprise me somewhat. “What?” I asked. “Is there something between my teeth?”

“You seem a little, maybe, actually quite a lot distracted, is all,” he noted, and his eyes narrowed in distaste? Or concern? Why were people and their faces always so confusing when they pointed them at me? He looked me up and down, and I self-consciously followed his gaze and discovered that I was in the same black (now rumpled) dress as yesterday, that I’d slept in. I would have wondered why Scott didn’t say anything, but then I remembered that I was mad at him and didn’t care.

“Slept on couch, forgot to change. Um. Are you alright?” It seemed like the thing to ask, and I didn’t want him to be overly concerned with my well-being.

Lorcan shrugged his broad shoulders up and down. “Well, I’m not the one with vampires slaking after me, so I’m fine. Where’re you headed? I’ll walk you.”

That wasn’t necessary, but it did occur to me that he was a good human/demon shield for the aforementioned vampires. I turned down the hall, and he followed me to French in room 202. I didn’t know what classes he had, but we only ever shared two together on the A-days; that day being a B-day. When we got to the door, I stopped because I was paralyzed by a sudden lack of interest in the entire French language.

“Something wrong?” Lee wondered.

I shook my head. “I just really wish France didn’t even exist, so I could go home and go back to sleep.”

He laughed and touched my shoulder, but pulled his hand away rather quickly. Had I shocked him with static? I hadn’t felt anything, and that made me frown. “Ah, well, I’ll see you at lunch. Stay safe.” He said this like it was an instruction. Didn’t he know I could take care of myself? Sometimes I forgot that he didn’t know me very well.

“I will be,” I assured him, avoiding eye contact. I ducked into the room as he strolled away, finding that my eyes followed his form of their own accord. It was like I couldn’t help but study him, whenever we interacted. He hadn’t seemed demon-y, but then again, I hadn’t been paying attention to much else aside from my shoes that morning.

French, like first period, was nothing but a blur. I didn’t know if we’d been given any assignments or learned anything new; I assumed not, since we weren’t approaching the end of any terms. I was relieved to go to lunch, if only for the distraction of my friends’ conversation. Maybe I can ask Vanessa to back-hand me. That’ll snap me out of this godsawful mood.

I wouldn’t make it to lunch, though. This is how I’m certain there’s a few higher (or lower, I’m not judging) entities out to get my goat. As I was slumping all the way to the quad, my phone in the pocket of my anorak, which I hadn’t even been aware that I was wearing, started beeping the intro to Maggie M’Gill. I looked out at the quad feeling anxiously as I spotted Lorcan’s golden crown chatting at the far end with Vanessa’s dark head, and stared at my beeping phone. I answered it on the second ring, hoping it was another inconsiderate butt-dial, but I had a weird feeling in my gut about it due to the timing.

“Taco Hell, how may I take your order?” I drawled on the pickup.

Scott’s voice was layered with static. “Where are you?” He demanded.

“Are you standing in front of a fan?” I asked, instead of answering, and made my way out into the quad towards my two friends. They quieted down once they noticed me on the phone. “You sound a like you’ve got a wad of gauze in your mouth or—”

I’m out front, get in the car, code blue!

“So one one of the gnome traps went off? Does that qualify as an emergency?” I wondered, feeling confused.

Scott grumbled our, “Code green, then!

“That’s if Erik is off impaling small animals again,” I told him. I had just reached Vanessa and Lorcan, so they’d only received the tail end of this and Lee was giving her questioning looks. Forgot I hadn’t told him about that. I’d thought that it would be funnier later if he didn’t know.

Code-fucking-whatever-for-emergencies! Get in the god damn car!” I heard a loud, sustained honk that echoed from the other side of the school, and right in my eardrum through the speaker.

Apparently it really was an emergency. He hung up on me before I could subject him to more sarcasm. I looked at my now-dark phone screen and stared at it for a few seconds, before looking to my friends helplessly. “Scott said it’s an emergency and I have to go.”

Vanessa nodded. Lorcan looked worried, and something dark swirled in his eyes. Vanessa was utterly, unnervingly calm as she asked, “Want me to come with you?”

I thought about it for all of a second before I realized I never wanted to endanger her life with Scott’s driving. I shook my head. I promised to text them, and all but bolted to the entrance of the school. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that the teachers had even marked me as ‘present’ today, so I wasn’t worried about ditching. I was sure my parents would take care of it down the road and clear it up. The principal, like most people, was piss-terrified of my mother and father.

Scott continued honking periodically until I got there, probably trying to annoy everyone else around him. The cherry Jaguar drew a few stares from a few milling students, but not as many stares as I drew as I bolted from the entrance and slid into the front seat. “What happened?” I demanded.

“Hi Fry,” piped up my brother’s voice from behind me, startling me into yelping. I whirled around, facing Erik. He waved and smiled, apparently in a good mood.

“Weren’t you supposed to be with Mom and Dad, getting taken out of school?” I wondered.

“Seat belt!” Scott reminded me.

I deliberately took my time buckling my seatbelt, hoping it would frustrate him. “What’s going on?” He glared at me as I slowly buckled myself in, and immediately slammed on the gas pedal once I did, tearing off into the street causing a couple of honks from student drivers. “For fuck’s sake!”

“I told you it was code-fucking-whatever-emergency,” Scott tried to explain, and failed. “Marc had me pick him up and take him home from the firm, but then I got a follower! They’ve been tailing me all day!” He pulled into traffic without looking, causing Erik and I to hold onto the doors to keep from slamming into the sides of the vehicle. Erik cried out, hitting his head, and I cursed up a storm.

“Who?? Where are you taking us? Why would you pick me up if they’re chasing you?! You’ll lead them right to us! Slow down!!” I screamed, pointing at a pedestrian. Thank all the gods for the breaks on the car which could stop on a dime, or the world would have been down one very frightened looking old man in a Hawaiian shirt, and his little dog that was trying to choke itself on a leash and run away. As the old man hobbled his way across and gave us the bird, I turned to Scott again. “Could you not drive like a complete shit-brain, please, and tell me what’s going on?”

“My head,” Erik whined from the back seat.

I twisted in my seat to face him. “Suck it up, don’t be a baby,” I instructed, and twisted back to face my annoying godfather.

Scott rolled his eyes at me and adjusted the black beanie on his head. “Who do you think? Vampires, obviously. And we’re headed somewhere safe. Look, I’ll explain along the way, alright?”

“Or you could explain right-fuckin-n—” I didn’t get to finish my sentiment because the old man finished crossing in front of us, and Scott floored the gas pedal again, pinning my brother and I to our seats like the world’s worst amusement park ride.

We tore through side-streets and alleys, and I was surprised a cop didn’t end up tailing us. I’m sure a few people called the authorities - the old man wasn’t the only pedestrian Scott almost ran over. All he did was slam on the breaks and curse in Spanish. I didn’t understand half of it, something about cake? About five minutes into the unwanted ride, I was about to puke, only for Scott to pull into the parking lot of a Starbucks . . .

. . . And slowly enter the drive-thru. I stared out of the windshield in disbelief. Erik grumbled from the back seat. As we pulled up to the microphone and colorful back-lit menu, Scott looked between Erik in the back, and I. “So, do either of you guys want anything?”

As I was guffawing, Erik asked for a cinnamon cake and water like a good boy. “Fry, either finish your spluttering, or I’m taking that as a no,” Scott snapped. There were no words for my rage, only spluttering. “So that’s a no?” he drawled, and rolled down his window to address the attendant through the microphone. “Hey, yeah, I’ll take a large B-pos ice blend, and some of that cinnamon cake shit, oh - and some water, no ice.” He was given a price, instructions to pull forward, and the window rolled up just as I regained control of my faculties.

“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!” I finally roared after my brain was finished short-circuiting.

“Hey, there are innocent ears present,” Scott pointlessly lectured, “so you better watch your damn dirty mouth.”

My little brother started laughing. “I’m telling Mom both you guys swore in front of me,” Erik promised.

“I’ll skin you alive and roast your innards over the fireplace in the den if you repeat a word of this to Mom,” I half-heartedly threatened, “and seriously Scott, what the actual fuck?! We-we’re supposed to be-we’re running for our lives!”

He rolled his eyes. “They’re not chasing us right now, obviously. Damn, Cheese Fry, calm your tits.”

I was going to murder him. I was going to murder him so hard. “I’m going to kill you when we get home, later,” I vowed, crossing my arms and scowling. “I’ll knock you out, drag you to the shed, starve you nearly half to second-death, and wait for you to beg to die before I stake the miserable life out of you. You won’t ever see it coming.”

“Great job warning me about your upcoming assassination attempt, then,” Scott criticized, and hit the gas to lurch forward in the line only slam on the breaks a second later, causing my posture to falter as I reached for a handle to brace myself.

I covered my mouth and started to feel nauseous again. “N-nope, don’t . . . Do that,” I warned, feeling my mouth water in preparation. I closed my eyes and breathed slow.

Scott’s voice was strident as he warned, “Don’t you dare throw up in this car!”

“I’ll aim for your lap,” I promised and glared at him as hard as I could. He glared right back, but didn’t lurch forward again, so that was a win for me. We were even.

I calmed down for a minute when I looked down at my phone, which had fallen on the floor in the stupidity of the last few minutes. I saw about five text messages, four from Nessa, one from Lorcan that was just a series of worried question marks. The idea of a demon-possessed boy worrying over me made erupt into a startled laugh that caused Scott and Erik to look at me askance. I told Vanessa to tell Lorcan I was fine, and that Scott was being a dick and she should tell him that, and then get her mother to curse his ashes, because I was going to kill him later. She sent a ‘k’ a second later, and then followed it up with, ‘Mama says it cost ur lil toe,’ which I thought was just her joking but the more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure. The more obnoxiously Scott drove, the less I was missing my pinkie toe.

Scott drove Erik and I up the back way into Blackwood on the private roads. I was about to question the decision, considering this wasn’t far from where I’d been attacked before, but at the speed he was going I was certain we’d all die on impact and I was struck by the notion that if I died right there, I’d never have to talk about my grandmother’s book with my parents. Sure, Scott would be fine, vampire durability and shit. Erik might be fine, considering Vlad and all his latent power. Fifty-fifty chance of survival for him. Me, though? I’d definitely kick it, probably by bleeding out on the pavement. Then again, that’d be a horribly underwhelming way to die . . . “You know this is where I got attacked before?” I drolled to Scott as he swerved up Briar Avenue.

“Nooo,” he retorted with utmost sarcasm.

I waited for him to clarify, but he didn’t, so I sat back in my seat confused and musing about death and bouncing my leg. It couldn’t be that bad. Could it? Would definitely solve just about all my problems for me.

I don’t know how we got home, or weren’t attacked, or why we weren’t. Maybe Lee scared them off? Maybe they were waiting. Or, that one had gone back to his big mafia boss man and told him that I could Command the Dead, like the necromancers of old . . . who were nearly exterminated before witch-hunting was outlawed in Europe by Charlemagne, save only the ones that lived on in my family line. Which I only knew about, because Sandra had a whole section in her book about our genealogy. Once that got out, everyone who was remotely connected to us would become a target. Everyone I cared about would be at risk. Which was at least four, maybe five people. ‘Once?’ It’s already gotten out, you jittery moron.

When Scott pulled into the side-garage, I forgot to be relieved because I was too depressed over how doomed I was. Scott gave me a funny look, made some noises at me that sounded like words but were garbled. I got out of the car and ignored him, and opened up Erik’s door so he could daintily step out. “That was fun!” Erik chirped, and followed Scott to the door outside.

“They say madness runs in our blood,” I drawled, trailing after my little brother. “Looks like you hit the nutso branch hard when you fell out of the family tree.”

“If any nuts fell out of the family tree, they’d definitely belong to you,” Erik shot back, and I had to snort back a laugh at his unintentional innuendo. He really took after our parents.

“Squirt’s got a point,” Scott immediately backed him up, like a traitor, “and don’t give me that look, I’m not the one that captured insects so I could force them to fight each other, and pin the victor in shadow boxes.”

“No I didn’t!” I uselessly lied. It was a reflex, like the doctor hitting your knee.

“You gave them names.”

“I didn’t completely understand what I was doing,” I uselessly explained. It too was a reflex.

“You held heavy-weight tournaments for them, and invented an entire mythology surrounding them,” he pointed out quietly. “I am haunted by the dying squeaks of your undefeated praying mantis, Queen Mantelabra.”

“It’s not like life has any scientific value anyway,” I continued defending myself, pointlessly, knowing I was digging the hole larger but unable to stop myself. Like a train with broken breaks, I kept going. “Ask any philosopher after you’ve gotten them drunk and they’ll say life is pointless and only bears meaning when you bestow meaning upon it. I treated the gladiators of my ludus well, and I had to work hard to trap those motherfu—”

“Just. GET. IN. The damn house,” Scott eventually sighed and held open the door for me, gesturing demandingly with his hand. I immediately dropped the subject, grateful for the offer and glad to be home intact.

I checked my phone as I walked in, noting that Vanessa had texted me with a question mark and nothing else. I sent, ‘no one dead yet, Scott will be soon’ to let her know what was up, and as an afterthought sent Lee a quick, ‘I am fine.’ I was the opposite of fine, but it’s not like he needed to know that.

We’d meandered to the kitchen somehow. Or Scott had led us there, I wasn’t sure. When I looked up from my phone, Erik was drinking his water and Scott was staring at his own phone looking consternated. “Where’s Mom?” Erik wondered.

Scott didn’t reply and seemed to be studying something on the device intently. “Fuck,” is all he said. “Shit. Fuck!”

I sighed. “What is it now?” I bemoaned.

“Don’t be bitchy at me,” Scott criticized, and threw his phone at the wall to my left, where it bounced off of a cabinet and fell into the sink in pieces. Erik was a little startled and jumped, but I was checked out. He’d broken so many phones by accident and on purpose at this point that I was surprised we didn’t just keep a stock of extra phones around. This was the fifth smart phone he had destroyed, the second one on purpose. One time he got so mad at an app that he broke it in half without even realizing it. The trials of being a vampire; the whole world is your fragile oyster. “God damn it,” he muttered under his breath, and rubbed his brow underneath his beanie. “Okay. So, okay. No more school for now.”

“Aw,” Erik whined. “But, I like school!”

“I can’t believe I’m related to this little nerd,” I commented, “and what do you mean, no school? You said it was fine this morning when I asked!”

Scott’s eyes flashed. “I said it was code-red!”

“You said code blue! And then green!” I raged right back.

“Fine! I said it was an emergency, already!”

That was it. I was so done. I took in a deep breath, and pulled the evocation from memory. “Tacete.” I regretted it the second that I did it, because Scott started freaking out about no sound coming out of his mouth. Erik was confused too, and I’d just outed myself in front of both of them . . . I couldn’t be assed to care, then. “I’ll let you talk,” I told Scott, “but you will explain what’s going on. I am at my fucking. Limit. I can’t be held responsible for what I do if I go over that limit any more than Erik can when he Vlads-out.”

All he did was glare at me from across the kitchen island. I released the Command, and he started cursing up the storm.

“What was that?” Erik wondered, looking up at me with his big eyes.

“A spell,” I told him flatly. “Duh. Scott? You done scarring Erik’s ears?”

Scott did stop in his cursing and ranting for a moment to glare at me again. “Don’t you ever do something like that to me again!” he barked with some vehemence. I’d never heard him sound so serious in my life.

I thought about this promise. “No,” I said. “I can’t trust you. I’ll try not to, but if you act like an asshole I’ll silence you. Where are our parents?”

He pressed the bridge of his nose with his fingers and breathed, which I felt was unnecessary for someone who was undead. “They’re fine. Far as I know. I saw them at lunch when I picked up Erik. They’ll be home shortly. They should be home shortly,” he amended, and there was a tone of worry in his voice that I hadn’t heard before. It set the hairs on the back of my neck on end.

“Should?” I repeated numbly. Erik made a distressed noise. “They’re fine. Dad can take care of himself,” I told Erik confidently.

“And you apparently, and hey, mind telling me what the hell that was earlier, when you took my voice?” Scott added, gesturing wildly. “Since when do you know magic?”

I didn’t know what to tell him, or Erik. They both stared at me, and I looked down at my shoes, trying to decide what was best to say. Nothing good came to mind. “Only black magic,” I blurted. “From a grimoire of Sandra’s that I found when I was eleven, in the attic.”

They both stared, and blinked at me. Erik stopped sipping at his water and seemed to be lost in thought. Scott was spluttering. “Fucking, what now?”

I sat down at the island and propped my chin up on my arm, and felt defeated. Great. No going back now. “You heard me. Why did you pick us up from school?”

I tried to flip it back on him, but he was stuck on the black magic thing. Big baby. “What do you mean, ’black magic?’” Scott hissed.

“What do you think?” I snapped, folding my arms and sitting back upright. “What’s the emergency, Scott! I know plenty of spells!”

“We’re gonna have a long talk later, you and I,” Scott vowed, but to his credit, he did move on from the subject. “I got, well, it’s, uh, it’s a long story.”

“Summarize it,” I suggested lightly.

Scott sighed, even though he didn’t need to breathe. It must have been a reflex leftover from his human years. “They’ve threatened the whole family. Erik, too. And me.”

Erik piped up, “who’s ‘they?’” Bless him for paying attention, for once, and not turning into Vlad due to all the stress. I always forget how smart that little turd is. And how tall that little turd is growing. He’d be my height in four years.

“Vampires,” I explained, “specifically, a mafia ruled by a guy named Tony Martel. Am I right?”

Scott shrugged. “Mostly, yeah. I got a . . . Note.”

Thinking back on the last aparent note, I couldn’t suppress the eye roll that burst out of me. “What is with you and notes lately? Are you dating the Phantom of the Opera? Where is this note? How do they even know who you are? It’s not like you’re in the phone book, or talk to anyone. Who is sending all these notes to you?”

Scott held it up in his hands, a tightly folded piece of half-paper made of what looked like expensive parchment. I tried to swipe it from him, but he held it above my head. “Hey! That’s my private business!” He snapped.

“What’s in the note?” I demanded. “If I’m being threatened in it, I deserve to see it.”

“It’s not important you—” Scott was about to come up with some other lame, bullshit excuse, I just knew it. I reached for the note to snatch it out of his fingers, and was surprised when I was able to jump up to where he was holding it and take it from his limp hand. At the same moment I did, a knock on the main doors echoed to us from the main hall. Someone had used the big knockers. All three of us turned, looked at each other, and then towards the entrance. Our parents had keys. There was no one else that was supposed to drop by. The thought that it could be Lorcan or Vanessa crossed my mind, but I wasn’t expecting them and they knew better than to drop by unexpectedly. They’d call or text first. They had manners.

“Who is it?” I asked out loud to no one, but specifically to Scott. Strangely, all Scott did was close his eyes and sigh again.

“I’ll be right back,” he promised in a raw, tired voice, and stalked off to the front door. Erik and I gave each other an askance look before hiding in the alcove of the dining room to watch the show. Scott waited a second, his hand hesitating over the door handle, before opening it a crack and addressing someone on the other side with squinted eyes. As he did, I looked down at the note and was pleasantly surprised to see neat and tight calligraphy in a gentle, cursive hand. It was hand-writing stuck out of time, nothing like my scrawling, careless chicken scratches. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in a language I recognized, so I folded it back up and put it in my coat pocket.

“Do you think it’s the mafia?” Erik hissed under his breath.

“Sssh!” I hissed back. “If it is, don’t worry, they’ll kill us but you’ll probably be fine.”

“But what about you?” He whispered.

I hushed him again. “No, they’ll definitely kill me first.”

“Why would they kill you first?”

I sighed wearily. “Because the universe hates me. Erik, just . . . Stop talking. I’m trying to listen.”

“Is it because you know black ma—”

Shut up!

“Yeah, I know, I can hear them breathing,” Scott was saying to someone on the other side of the door.

“Is that the children?” a soft, feminine voice mused.

“No, they’re just some rats I fed one day that keep coming back,” he explained. “One of em sets fires, and the other’s a maniac. Trust me, they don’t want to meet you. I doubt you’ll have anything in common.”

“Scott has rats?” Erik wondered aloud.

I hushed him again. “No, he called you a rat. Shut up, turd! I missed half the conversation!”

“Well, you’re the one talking now,” Erik defended himself, pouting.

I was about to snap back, but the turd had a point.

“ . . . Reminds me of someone,” the female voice was saying. She was faint, so I could only catch the tail end of what she was saying.

Scott sighed. “Yeah, that’s the trouble when you raise rats. They end up just like you, giving you all the shit you used to give them, taking most of the fun out of it, and then you wondered where you went wrong.” Was he talking about me? Because I was so going to spell his ass later if he was.

“Won’t you let me in?” The voice asked.

Scott pretended to mull this over. “How about I don’t, and say I did?”

“Who do you think it is?” Erik whispered next to me.

“Okay, no more spying,” I decided and stomped out into the open. If it was the mafia, this was the saddest attack I’d ever seen. I had a right to know who was at my house, soliciting my undead homebody of a godfather. Scott rolled his eyes and stepped away from the door as I approached, and allowed me to yank the door open so I could see who was there.

It was a woman, maybe the most beautiful one I’d ever seen in my life. She was petite with bone structure that cut glass, dressed to the nines in a black designer suit. Her lips were as red as her eyes, and hair kept back in a long pony tail at the nape of her head. I recognized her instantly as Morgana, from that Arthur movie I’d hated so much that Vanessa had loved. This could be none other than Jasmin Efimov. Or Yasmin. Whatever. The woman Scott had apparently dated, according to Mom. I didn’t want her to get the upper hand so quickly, though, so instead I stared her right in the nose and demanded, “Who are you and what do you want? You’ve arrived at an awful time, so make it quick.”

She blinked those wine-red eyes at me and held out a long-fingered, unadorned, manicured hand. “My name is Yasmina Efimova,” she introduced. I didn’t shake her hand; I just stared at it like the limp, dead fish it was and waited for her to take it back. Eventually she did, and her brow twitched in irritation, and I was a little proud of myself. “I’m here to see your . . . Uncle? Is it? Something? I’m afraid I don’t know your relation to . . . Scott.” She uttered his name with such distaste that I wasn’t sure if it was on purpose, or just because she was slightly Russian. Probably a combination of both.

“He’s a rat bastard,” I told her, “so I doubt you came here on a social visit. You’re his girlfriend, right?”

Yasmin rolled her eyes and Scott groaned. “We’re not together, but we are still friends/what part of ’ex’ is so hard to understand?” they spoke over each other simultaneously, with the same head-toss and groan. I didn’t understand a lot about relationships, but it was pretty obvious even to my dumb ass that there was unfinished business here.

“’kaaaaay,” I said, “but we’re kind of dealing with a serious mafia infestation at the moment.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” she chirped, her attitude doing a complete one-eighty. “I know he got my letter.”

“Which one?” I wondered. I held up the second note in my hands with the loopy, feminine scrawls that I’d bet a lot of money was her doing. “This one?”

Her eyes were glued to the folded paper, and then she looked at Scott over my shoulder. “That’s one of them. Tell me, Friday,” and the way she said my name with a strange accent I couldn’t immediately identify because it was so faint, “are you aware of who his maker is?”

“Some dead bitch from Catania,” I drawled. “I really don’t care who bit his neck, to be honest with you. Sounds like a personal detail that maybe he should save for his memoir, which he’ll probably write in prison right before he commits hara-kiri to prove his honor to the daimyo.”

Thank you!” Scott crowed from behind me. I wasn’t aware of what I’d done to deserve the thanks, or if it was sarcastic, so I just snorted. “I mean, it’s just, can’t we just drop it? It’s been centuries. I’m done with that shit.”

“You swore a blood oath, it’s not something you can just drop one day when you get bored!” Yasmin hissed, her long fingers clenching into fists. She was seething on the doorstep in place, and it was kind of funny to watch, so it was hard for me to suppress laughter. She wasn’t exactly intimidating, after all. Maybe to other people, she would have been, but I was over it. Vampires weren’t all that scary. Her eyes left Scott’s to focus on me with their rage, but something in her stilled and her fists unclenched. “Perhaps you’ll listen, where he won’t. This a matter of life and death concerning you.”

“Perhaps I won’t, unless you have a point,” I said.

“My point,” she spat, “is that I’m trying to help you!”

“No you’re not,” Scott dismissed, taking over the conversation and pushing me out of the door frame. I protested with a weak whine but didn’t object otherwise. “You’re never here to help, you’re just bored and—”

“For the love of—this isn’t about us!” She said, her voice rising an octave. This was starting to give me a headache. “This is about you, Antonio is after you, you maladjusted, socio—you—Пиздобол! He knows everything, I don’t know how, but—”

TACETE!” I shrieked the Command, fed-up for what must have been the hundredth time today. Yasmin’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. She clutched at her throat with a panicked, angry expression. Scott just stood there and glared at me in fury. “Now that everyone’s busy shutting up,” I continued, drawing the two vampires’ attentions, “Yasmin, won’t you please come inside?” I opened the door for her, feigning politeness and smirked as she stormed through the entrance. Her ankle-boots clicked on the wood as she stalked past, and whipped around, turning to face Scott and I with a glare.

“You can talk, you know,” I told Scott, who perked up at that. “Just don’t abuse the privilege.”

“How about you don’t fucking use black magic on me or anyone I know, instead?” He snarked.

I pretended to think about this one for all of a second. “No.” I turned to Yasmin. “By the way, if you tell anyone that I know about black magic, I’ll turn you into dust with a word. I don’t know if it’ll be painless, but I can promise it’ll be quick.” There was a spell that might do such a thing, but I had never tried it on a person. Vampires were theoretically people, and theoretically, the spell would work, but I couldn’t be certain. Her expression didn’t waver, but lines around Yasmin’s perfectly kohled eyes seemed to tighten, so she bought my bluff. “I’m going to release the spell now. If the next words out of either of your mouths aren’t an explanation, I’m going to burn something.”

Yasmin breathed once I uttered the release and hummed under her breath. “Yes. Hm. That was . . . Startling. Well. As I said, your . . . Pest has become a target.”

“What else is new,” Scott grumbled.

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that all you came here to say? To tell him he’s being targeted?”

“Him, and by extension everyone he knows and cares for,” she went on. Then her eyes fixed on me. “And you. I see now you’re the one Tony was speaking of. This is a dangerous gift that you have. I urge you to use it sparingly.”

“What?” Scott interjected. “Hey, Fry doesn’t have anything to do with this,” he insisted. He placed himself between Yasmin and I, a gesture that wasn’t lost on either of us judging by our mutual eye-rollage.

“She can command the dead, you moron.” Yasmin told him like it was so obvious, which it should have been, at this point. “You lived through the Great War, as did I. You know very well what this could mean. When I spoke to Tony last, he would not stop talking about the necromancers hiding here. He is convinced that this family is an enemy to all vampires.” She looked pointedly at me.

Ah. So the one crony had gotten back to his boss, and talked.

Erik popped out of his hiding place to join the party at that key moment, and tugged on my sleeve to get my attention. “What’s necromancers?” He asked politely.

“It’s people who practice nercomancy, which is to summon and control the dead,” I explained tiredly. “It’s a lost magic, outlawed by the Union because it’s considered amoral and—”

“Oh fuck!” Scott’s eyebrows flew up into the ceiling as a realization struck him. He stared at me, and then Yasmin, and the connections fell into place. Then, his brow furrowed in confusion. A lot of thoughts seemed to be happening in his head at once. It was kind of entertaining. “It was the attack, wasn’t it?” He guessed, looking to me. “Someone must’ve seen you!”

I shrugged. “One of them . . . Might have seen something?” I didn’t know of a good way to say that.

He shook his head then. “No, I mean, this is bad - this is really bad - but that means that they saw your boyfriend too.”

“He’s not my— Oh. Damn.” I hadn’t thought about that. Why hadn’t I thought about that? I was so preoccupied with my own fate that I completely skipped over the fact that a vampire mafia now knew that Ni-Lo’s heir was . . . “Oh . . . FUCK!” Had they mentioned Lorcan? His secret could be endangered too. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want her to get any information that she didn’t deserve, especially since she had just admitted that she was on speaking terms with the mafia don after my family. Her relation to Scott was the only proof I had of her integrity, so it didn’t account for a whole lot.

Yasmin looked to Scott impatiently, and raised an eyebrow. She crossed her arms. “Dare I even ask?” She said, more than actually asked.

Scott looked a little unsure of himself, in that moment. “I actually don’t know everything about it myself, but it’s definitely not of the good.”

“’Of the good,’” she scoffed. “You’ve become so Nationalized. What has happened to you?”

“I play a lot of WoW,” he admitted. “That’s not important, though. What’s important is we get you to your parents.” He turned to Erik and I with serious-face. I started giggling uncontrollably. “What’s wrong with you?” He demanded of me. I couldn’t help it, I was lost in hysterical giggles.

“I-I-ah-I think I-I think I should sit somewhere.” Yes. Sitting. That was a good idea.

Somehow, the whole conference got redirected to the den, and Erik was sitting next to me, swinging his short legs on the plush love seat. I didn’t have any clear memory of leaving the entry way, so I was a little confused when I suddenly became aware of myself sitting there. Yasmin and Scott were on the other side of the room, bickering softly back and forth, but no one was shouting, so it must have been fine.

“Are you okay?” Erik asked me. I couldn’t decipher his expression.

“I’m fine,” I insisted. “What about you, brat?”

He shrugged. “I miss Mom.”

I sighed. “I miss Dad. They’ll be home soon. Don’t . . . Hey, don’t tell them about the spells I said earlier, okay?”

“You mean when you made everyone quiet?”

I nodded. “I’ll tell Mom and Dad about that. They don’t know about it yet. I should’ve told them sooner, but it . . . I could have, but I got scared, and then it just didn’t come up. It just never seemed like a good time.”

“I didn’t know you could do magic. I won’t tell if you don’t want. I think it’s really cool,” he confessed with a smile. I couldn’t help but smile back, because Erik’s mood was always infectious. “Can you levitate stuff too? Like Dad and me?” I shook my head. “Lame. So what else do you know how to do?”

Oh, Erik. If only you knew. But then, I never wanted to show my little brother anything in that book. I was afraid that it would change the way he smiled forever. He didn’t remember Laszlo, or my failed experiment with the poor gerbil and the squirrels. He never remembered anything that Vlad did or said. It was better that way. “I’m not sure I should say,” I told my little brother honestly. “A lot of it isn’t cool. I can command undead, and the dead, which means I can control vampires,” I told him, “in theory. I’m not sure how far that control extends, to be honest. I’ve never had the chance to test any of it out.”

He gasped. “Do any of them work on Aunt Lilith?” I nodded. “Is that why she doesn’t like you?”

I shook my head. “I actually don’t know. I only ever used one on her, and it was the one I showed you earlier. She was being really mouthy. Threatened her with it, though. That one isn’t just for the dead either - I think some of them would work on people, but I’ve never tried it out. I was spooked about getting caught too much.” Weirdly, it felt really good to talk to my little brother about this. His curiosity and innocence were genuine.

“She is loud,” Erik agreed, and turned away to stare at the wall in thought. “If you can command the dead, can you make Scott dance crazy?”

I was about to answer that when Scott popped up to my side and said, “She better not. If she knows what’s good for her.”

“Yes, trust me, you do not want to see him dancing,” Yasmin drawled, appearing next to him. “Funny how coordinated he is in a battle, as compared to a dance floor.”

“You shut the hell up when you talk to me,” Scott threatened her, not even glancing in her direction as he turned his gaze to me. “And you are only allowed to use black magic on vampires that aren’t me. Are we clear?”

“And me,” Yasmin threw in, frowning.

Scott glared at her. “Feel free use all the black magic on her,” he practically begged. “Just to shut her up for a little while longer. I’ve never known such peace.” Gods, he looked so serious, I was almost tempted to say yes. The enraged look on Yasmin’s face was the only thing that gave me pause.

“Ну все, тебе пизда!” Yasmin shrieked at him. Scott had to dodge a punch to the head that Yasmin threw, sending her pony tail whipping around her head. He stuck his tongue out at her, earning a vicious glare from the movie star. “Пидарас,” she spat.

“Seriously. Ето мные до хуыа. When are you going to get that through your skull?” He bit back.

Erik and I watched them insult each other in Russian back and forth for a little while, before I noticed that Erik was starting to look a little lost and worried. He had finished his water, and was looking a little Vlad-y around the eyes. That was reason enough for me to lay down the law (and boy did it finally feel good to be able to openly do so). “Well, thanks for that tour through your toxic breakup,” I added, feeling both irritated at amused at their bickering, “but I really think we should all talk about the goddamn mafia trying to kill us before I lose my patience and start casting the less-than-nice spells I picked up from my grandmother’s Book of Evil.” Erik looked up at me curiously with that comment, but I ignored him. He was not going to see any of that shit if I could help it.

Scott looked a little alarmed, but Yasmin immediately backed off. “Yeah, about that,” he began uneasily.

I shook my head. “Nope. Moving on. No more bickering. I will do something you’ll regret, and then Vlad will do something we’ll all regret. Erik and I are owed an explanation.”

Scott stared at Yasmina expectantly and folded his arms. “Well? You heard the lady.”

The ex-human-ballerina pursed her lips. “This is not . . . How I imagined this reunion going,” she began slowly. “At the least, I assumed the story was overblown for attention. That the story was true changes things quite a bit. The vampire who was assigned to take her,” at this she nodded at me, “returned with an unbelievable tale. Antonio didn’t like the story, so he locked him in a tanning booth.” Scott and I winced. Erik sniffed boredly, not understanding the implied threat. “Then—”

I interrupted her, sensing a plot hole in this scheme. “Wait a fuck. How does she even know the mafia?”

“I dated him for years,” Yasmin threw in with an eye roll, “I should know his business very well.”

“Yes, I dated the mafia don’s girlfriend,” Scott also felt the need to throw in. “Before, though. Anyway, try not faint.”

“What??”

“Keep up Fry, shit,” Scott scoffed.

Strolling right past that bombshell, Yasmin continued her promised explanation. “Then, he sent out an order that I knew I must warn you about. You didn’t respond to my previous warning, so I came here in person. I was concerned.” Yasmin did look concerned, but that might have also been constipated. Did vampires get constipated? I didn’t know. That thought consumed me while I processed what she said next: “by now, they have surely taken Marcus and Miranda Colville hostage while we were standing her bickering.”

Scott clucked his teeth with his tongue. “While you were bickering.” Yasmin didn’t deign to continue cursing at him, but she did give him a fierce glare.

It dawned on me that she’d just said that our parents had been kidnapped once I heard Erik gasp and he tugged at my dress hem to get my attention. His eyes grew wide and seemed paler, in the faint light.

I stared laughing. The thought of someone managing to kidnap my parents was so funny, I couldn’t help it. “Don’t worry,” I assured Erik. I looked back to Yasmin. “Is that all you came here to say?”

She seemed perturbed. “I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this situation, young lady.”

“Young lady?! You’re only like eight hundred years older than me,” I shot back snidely.

“I was turned in eighteen-eighty-seven!” Yasmin hissed in a manner eerily reminiscent of Morgana in that Arthur movie. “I’ve seen the necromancer breed die out at the hands of Scipio, and others even older than he! I watched it happen! Do you have any idea what Martel will do to you, or your parents, now that he knows you can control the dead? Do you have any idea what Hell he has prepared for your parents?”

That stopped my laughter. “Do you have any idea what I’ll do to your boyfriend if he tries to hurt a hair on my family’s heads’?” I asked her with wide eyes. I felt a warmth curl at the base of my spine. “You’ve never met me. You don’t know what I’m capable of.” To be fair, I didn’t even know what I was capable of. I hadn’t cast of those spells successfully, but she didn’t need to know that.

The question caught her off guard and she leaned back in affront. Scott laughed. “Man. This is . . . We’re . . . I don’t even know what I’m saying. I don’t know. I don’t know. Kid, simmer down, she’s trying to help in her fucked up way,” he told me. “Okay? Just calm the hell down. It’s like I can see your thought bubble right now, and I know you’re itching for a match. I swear I will smack you down if you make me.”

I trusted him about as far as I could Command him to throw something, which was a fair amount. Yasmin was a big movie star who just showed up on my doorstep, after all, and that was cool in a weird way. Also, Mom and Dad hadn’t mentioned anything bad about Yasmin, and normally they told Erik and I about which people were bad and which ones could be trusted. Yasmin wasn’t in that bracket yet, but that gave her some credibility. I nodded. “Hey, could I get you to autograph something for me?” I asked her, changing my tune to something friendly. “My best friend is a fan of your film career over the decades and it would make a neat gift.”

This took her aback more than the threat. “Ah - yes - I suppose,” she offered slowly, “but we really should speak about your parents—”

“They’ll be alright,” I insisted as I ran out of the room to find a pen and paper, or some shit that she could sign. “Don’t worry about it!” ‘Is she all—’ was all I heard as I left the room. I ran into my Dad’s office and came back with a piece of blank paper and a fountain pen with my father’s firm printed on it. She seemed bewildered as she signed a generic message and scrawling signature for my best friend. “Thanks for this,” I said to Yasmin. “Vanessa’s going to be jealous.”

“Fry,” Scott intoned tiredly. “Sit the fuck down.”

“Okay.” I sat down with the autograph in my lap. Erik scuttled over to sit next to me, and we both watched as Scott paced back and forth.

“Look,” began the man who was more like my older brother than god-father, these days. “I-I’m not sure where to begin. It, well, okay, so. It’s mostly my fault that Martel’s after your parents.” That didn’t add up for a whole lotta reasons I don’t care to list. I waited for Scott to continue, knowing he would just chew me out if I interrupted with any snide commentary. “He’s, well, he’s my brother.”

“Gross,” I threw in, picturing him as a baby with actual siblings. “I didn’t know your parents reproduced.”

“Fuck you,” he shot back half-heartedly, “he’s my blood brother. We had the same maker. Scipio was our maker.”

Oh. Oh. “Oh shit,” I summarized.

“Am I supposed to be hearing all of you curse so much?” Erik wondered, focusing on the wrong thing, as usual with the chief turd. “I can always just plug my ears and pretend.”

“Is that what Mom makes you do?” I asked him, not really wanting him to answer. Erik shrugged, and I sighed. “Curses happen, Erik, get over it. And Scott’s saying that the vampire that Dad got killed was the vampire that turned him, and also turned the vampire that Yasmin boned.”

“You mean the one that sent the guy to attack Dad the other day?” He was slowly but surely putting the story together in his nine-year-old brain.

I nodded. “Yeah. The same guy that sent them to attack me, and now is tryna kidnap our parents. He’s got a lot of minions to do his bidding for him, sort of like a supervillain who’s into human trafficking rather than petting cats and building elaborate lairs designed to screw with spies.”

Erik wrinkled his nose. “He sounds dumb. You can’t kidnap Dad. He’d just electrocute anyone who tried with lightning.”

I gestured, frustratingly, at Yasmin because this was the exact point that I had been trying illustrate before she got all bitchy on me.

“There’s more,” she said in a low voice. “What I mean to say is, he has more means than you realize at his disposal. He knows about your magic, and he knows how to counter it. As do most vampires of his lineage. Why do you think your father went after Scipio in the first place? Necromancers have long been the enemies of my kind.”

“Did we invite you in for a history lesson?” Scott snapped. “They already go to school for that, don’t bore them with more shit.” He seemed like he was in a hurry to shut her up, but I was starting to get a little curious.

“So. Necromancy?” I said in a questioning tone.

Yasmin sat her perky butt in the lounge chair across from me and settled in for a tale. “There was—”

“Let me stop you,” Scott interjected impatiently, “because this one’s attention span fits inside of a thimble.” I scoffed, but didn’t argue further. “And Erik is, let’s, well, he’s a special kid.” He had circled around to pat Erik’s head affectionately. My brother swatted at Scott’s hand, irritated.

“Oh, I didn’t realize,” Yasmin commented blithely, accidentally choosing to take Scott seriously. How long had they been separated, if she hadn’t learned to never take a thing he said seriously?

“That’s why we put Erik in the dumb class,” I explained further.

“I’m not in the dumb class!” Erik objected. “I want to hear about necromancy!”

Yasmin looked to me. “The shortened version is that as immortal predators, we don’t like being controlled. Necromancers pose a danger to my kind, and your family has a long history of the practice. It’s really very simple to Antonio - he believes that in order our kind to live, you all have to die.”

That much, I knew about. The Global Occultist’s Union was established in Sandra’s time after the end of the Great War, in which magic was at least half to blame for causing (the other half was pure human stupidity). Once formed, the first thing they did to protect ‘white’ or ‘green’ magic was outlaw any magic that trafficked in the realm of the dead. They also outlawed summoning or binding of any kind, whether from after death another plane. Anything that involved sacrifice or crossed lines into another dimensional world was considered too dangerous, no matter how long they’d been doing it, and so everyone was told to hang up their wands and death-whistles and sign, or be shunned and killed (as was with the case of the Russian wizard, Rasputin, but to be fair, he was a total asshole). The line was harder to draw within localized traditions like the kinds Sherece practiced. Native traditions were considered exempt as they were more a religion than magic, even though some of their rites explored communication with the dead. The GOU’s laws were further blurred when legal possessions began to happen - victims of the past were recalled to name their attackers, and guilt became more clearly defined. In cases where victims were too far gone, or unintelligible, outer entities (such as ‘demons’ who fell under the legal term ‘extra-planar sentients’) were summoned in protected, Hermetical rituals to produce evidence and provide certifiably truthful testimonials. That used to be completely illegal, until an apparent lobbying campaign within the GOU headed by a union of companies, such as Ni-Lo (of all things) pushed for new legislation. Meanwhile, my family had to give up their practices because was being big babies about touching dead stuff. Sure, demons are cool, but god forbid anyone animate the dead - even though vampires have been a thing since the sixties and were (supposedly) created by a necromantic curse.

Basically, history was very stupid and full of morons, just like today was. Nothing ever changed. So, what she said wasn’t news. I hadn’t known that vampires had a hand in the GOU forming, though - which is what Yasmin had implied - so that was news, to me. The ‘priests of the dead’ were mentioned only in footnotes in my history books in school, and were said to have been priests that escaped tyranny in Egypt when it went through a phase of abandoning all its religions for new ones and chopping off the heads of everyone who disagreed. From Sandra’s black book, I know for a fact that the escaped clergy spread all over the world, but found no acceptance until they met with pagans in Gaul who were cool about that sort of thing. ‘Hey you like dead people? That’s cool, we like to dance around fires naked and have sex,’ is how I imagine that conversation went. They interbred over centuries and most of the traditions died out, like the mummification and shit, and their religion ended up blending with local ones into their own unique practices that died out. Except for the ones carried by my family, who were the descendants of an architect and high priest of the current sun god that modern-day Egypt chiefly worships in their biggest temples. (More irony: they even stole his name and adopted it for their god of wisdom and medicine. Fucking people.)

So basically . . . Yasmin couldn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.

I was about to tell her that she was useless and to get the fuck out of my house, but my phone pinged, distracting me. It was on the coffee table, and I perked up until I realized that my parents never texted - they would call. I was disappointed to see Lorcan’s name pop up. “Who is it?” Erik asked, looking eager.

“Lee,” I murmured, and clicked on the message. ‘Ness said to tell you we’re on the way, no objections, her words’ was all it said. School was out, judging by the time. I stared down at my phone, feeling annoyed and relieved with my friends all at once. I hadn’t even met this boy’s parents yet, even though he’d met mine, and here he was rushing over to help me with my vampire problems. He must like me quite a lot.

Then I realized I’d have to have the whole ‘I’m a black witch’ conversation with Vanessa later, all over again, and I slapped myself. “What’s your problem?” Scott asked.

“I forgot to tell Vanessa that Lorcan is possessed by a demon, and that I know black magic,” I said in a tone that was dryer than sandpaper. “That’s going to be a fun conversation.”

“The kind of fun that isn’t! She can’t come over, I’m already keeping track of two idiots,” Scott blurted, sounding oddly panicked as he gestured out his displeasure with his arms. “This isn’t the time to hang out, Cheese Fry!”

“Lorcan’s coming over too,” I offered.

“Oh. Well, that’s alright then.”

Yasmin spoke up, “hello? I’m confused. What’s going on now?”

Scott started pushing her towards the door. “What’s going on is you’re getting out of here and telling Tony a bunch of believable lies about me, and I’m kicking you out because I’m tired of your voice.”

She cursed in Russian at him the entire time and managed to throw him off of her. Even I have to admit that wasn’t cool of Scott, and it was funny watching her toss him like a doll. He landed on his feet on the banister, which let out a sturdy groan, so maybe it was more like tossing a cat. He adjusted his hat irritably and leapt off, well out of her arm’s reach. “I’ll be back,” she vowed, opening the door dramatically. “For better or for worse - and I might kill you next time, just for old time’s sake.”

“Bye!” Scott waved. “Til next time! Ciao! Visit never!”

“Thanks for signing my paper!” I threw in.

“I really liked Age of Camelot!” Erik added. I ruffled his hair, to his annoyance.

As Yasmina Efimova stormed out of the manor, I thought about her movie and decided it wasn’t so bad. I couldn’t blame her for being a bitch, either. Scott was a lot to deal with on his good days; I couldn’t imagine dating someone like him. He drove me insane on a daily basis. I looked to Scott once I was sure she was gone and out of ear shot. “So Tony is mad you stole his girl?” I teased.

If Scott had hackles, they would’ve risen like daisies out of a grave. “Nobody said anything about stealing!” He insisted. “No one stole anyone! I left, okay? I was sick of their shit, and she hooked up with him later on. And yes, it’s part of the reason we don’t speak! She knows how I feel about the Famile. I want nothing to do with those pricks. They prey on helpless people trying to better their lives, lure them in with the promise of a job, and literally auction them off to the highest bidder! It’s fucked! I’m glad Scipio is dead. That’s the whole reason I agreed to testify in the first place.”

I held up my hand in an appeasing gesture. Then it hit me - Scott had testified. He was the final witness, in the last trial - he was one of the ones that caused his maker to meet his final death. He’d betrayed the clan of vampires that he’d joined, and he’d been in hiding ever since. He was an obnoxious prick using my family’s basement for witness protection . . . And he’d been my father’s best friend all along. I’d grown up with him there, but he hadn’t been around as much until the Trials. After that, a day never went by that I didn’t see him. It had never occurred to me why Scott only had one name, why he never went out, why he never spoke about his past except in jokes. Listening to him blurt it all out in such a strident tone, it was clear it was still a sensitive subject. More importantly, the mafia had as many reasons to want him dead as they did the rest of us.

So, “Oh,” was all I said instead. “Okay.” There wasn’t much else I could say. It made so much sense. It also added an entirely new element to all the unfolding drama, and I wasn’t sure what it meant. Nothing good, I was certain. “Can we trust her?” I asked him, changing the subject.

“Who? Oh, Yasmin,” he scoffed. “Yeah, probably. I mean. She’s not evil, she’s just bitchy. She doesn’t really want me dead, she just says it all the time.”

“Right,” I said in a tone that implied I didn’t believe him.

“It’ll be fine,” he told me. “And your parents will be fine. I’m not going to let anything happen to you guys, okay?” I was sure that Erik and I could handle ourselves. He would just flip into Vlad at the first sign of danger; and even if he didn’t, he was still a ley witch capable of doing some damage. He could at least break a door with his mind, that I was certain of. I knew though, that if worse came to worse, it was my job to protect Erik at all costs. That’s the way my parents would have wanted it.

I had to believe that they’d be okay. Nothing would make sense if they weren’t. My dad was a complete badass, and my mother wasn’t a slouch. I was sure they were fine, but Yasmin’s words still rang around in my head, insistently nagging me. What would I do if they weren’t? What would become of us? I was eighteen, I could legally inherit the estate . . . Sherece was our legal guardian in our parents’ absences . . . It hurt my heart to think about that, so I turned off that thought and stared down at the note that I had clenched into a ball in my hands. “Did you want your letter back?” I asked Scott.

He looked at my hands distastefully. “Toss it.”

“I’m cold,” Erik sniffled. “And hungry.”

I sighed. “So grab a blanket and some cheerios. I’m not the maid.”

Erik continued whining until I helped him, which was actually a good distraction for me. Scott hovered around worriedly like a pissed-off hen, annoying the crap out of me. I considered silencing him again, but I didn’t want to put him in an even fouler mood. I kept an eye on my phone as I waited for my friends to arrive.

The sun was beginning to set (given it was getting closer to winter) when Ness and Lee showed up at the door. Lee was in a bright yellow raincoat, keeping the drizzle outside off of him while Nessa was roughing it in a damp sweater and kicks, and had a big backpack slung over her shoulder. “Have you seen the news?” Was the first thing that came out of her mouth when I opened the door, instead of anything normal.

“Nice to see you too,” I said, “and no, I only watch news on Tuesdays.”

“How does that make sense?” Lee wondered, walking in as I opened the door wider. I poked my head outside to see if there were any hornets or vampires, but there weren’t any that I could see.

FRIDAY!” Scott’s voice echoed to me all the way from the den. “GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!!

“For fuck’s sake,” I grumbled, and started to stomp over. “Hang on.” I poked my head inside and started to demand explanations, but I found my gaze locked on the bright screen as Ann Creedy’s stupid, high-definition haircut reported out of her nightmarish mouth that Marcus and Miranda Colville had been abducted on CCTV cameras while downtown, by a group of unknown individuals in a black van with no plates. Police were on the lookout. It had happened only moments ago, and had already broken national news - which is what happens, when you’re infamous. Ann had a panel of other newscasters talking about it already. One of them had even met my father at a gala a decade ago, he'd said. 'Fine gentleman. Bit odd, very nice.' It was the most pleasant thing anyone had to say about it so far. Stuck in my head. 'Bit odd, very nice' about summed up my dad.

My dad. My mom. It didn't add up. Impossible. How? It couldn't. They were wrong. Somehow.

“Shiiiiiiit,” I heard Vanessa say from somewhere behind me.

“I fucking hate that woman so fucking much right now,” I heard Scott say from my right.

I sat down. Lorcan’s hand found its way to my shoulder. I held Erik’s hand as it clenched mine painfully tight. His hand was sweaty.

Then, I blinked.

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