The Black Book

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Chapter IX

Only Vanessa stood out, like a rebellious dandelion springing from a sidewalk crack. It wasn’t because she was different, or the same, or that it was at all intentional on her part. She was simply herself, and the rarest person I’d ever met because of it. There was no one in the whole world, I’d bet, that was quite like her. She was better than me in every way, and yet just as isolated and cynical as me in her own way. If a gray area existed, she alone would inhabit it. I think she might be the best person I knew.

I heard the news that my parents had been abducted from Ann Creedy’s bitch-face and had sat there in silence in the den while people murmured around me. Vanessa was the only one who turned to me. “Come on,” she said, and offered her hand. I took it and allowed her to pull me out of the living room. We walked upstairs and into my room, and I sat down on my black rug to have a quiet moment where my brain could empty out, and the endless narrative in my head could end.

She didn’t say anything, just sat at the window across from me and waited.

“Did you know you’re my fucking best friend?” I asked her.

Her eyes were wet, but she didn’t cry. “Did you know you’re a fucking dork?” she replied, and walked over to sit next to me just so she could squeeze my hand. “Seriously, who hangs heads over their bed? Only my best friend.”

“Don-don’t make it weird.” I was warm, but she was cold. It had always been that way; her hands and feet never seemed to warm up.

I wasn’t sure if it hadn’t sunk yet, or if I’d skipped past all the stages of grief and hopped on vengeance train to murder spree, with one stop in couldn’t-give-a-fuck-ville. My thoughts were pretty scattered. Maybe it was shock, but all I wanted to kill Antonio Martel for touching a hair on my mother’s head. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but by golly, I was gonna sure murder him. “It’s becoming very clear to me now that all the vampires that aren’t Scott need to die,” I decided, and stared at my tapestry. Sometimes, if I stared long enough, the starry demons would seem to swirl and move - but so did most things, when you looked at them for long enough. Life is full of those little tricks.

“Well, I guess it’s good that people like you don’t get to decide who lives or dies, because the police are probably going to be here soon with a news crew,” she pointed out.

I had to scratch my head, as something in my braids pinched when I shook my head sharply, to emphasize my complete distaste for Vanessa’s idea. “The news and police aren’t going to help me kill Tony Martel, Nessa. Don’t be ridiculous, he’s an immortal mafia don. If they haven’t been paid off yet, they will be soon. I’ve seen every Al Pacino movie ever made, I know how this ends. Keep in mind my father is the lawyer that got their leader killed.

Vanessa thought about this for a few seconds, and wiped at her eyes as a deeply exhausted expression crossed her face. “Yeah, okay, that’s . . . Well, it’s not a good point, but it’s like a point. I don’t like it, but you’re right. They’re gonna have questions, though. I don’t even know. We—man, I gotta call my mom. I don’t even know what to do in this situation.”

I realized she was right. “Fuck!” I cursed. “Shit! We can’t tell them about the attack, Vanessa. No one can. They’ll ask too many questions - and worse, try to separate Erik and I. That almost happened at Coldstone once, when I was a kid. Thankfully Vlad was there, so Erik doesn’t remember. I can’t let that happen. My parents will be so disappointed when they get back.”

Her expression became dubious as she scratched at her twin braids. “I don’t think they’ve paid off the cops that quickly. Also, what the fuck?”

I rolled my eyes. “Everyone knows my Dad is a warlock, Vanessa. They don’t even believe anyone is stupid enough to mess with him. He’s literally a walking weapon. He had to petition to qualify for an exemption from the Goo just for taking out the trash. But . . .” I hadn’t told her about Yasmin’s visit yet. I was going to wait for that when I could give her the autograph. “Look, the vampires know some stuff about my family that the cops are going to want to know about. And if we go to the cops first, it’ll completely ruin my life forever. Alright?”

She frowned. “What kind of stuff?”

I sighed, and explained everything.

All of it. The Book in the attic. The years of decryption and all the notes. I showed her everything, because I knew for certain she was my best friend and could never hurt me. She wasn’t happy. The first thing she did when I was finished was pinch me, for (her words) ‘never sharing the good stuff’ and then laughing at me when I asked her if she was sure she wasn’t mad, because I’d been genuinely afraid she would be.

“I’m not mad,” she assured me, “come on, the shit I’ve seen? I can’t wait until your parents find out, though. You are gonna be grounded so hard.”

“Well, if they never make it back from being kidnapped . . .” I trailed off, musing.

She slapped my arm, but laughed. “Hey, don’t joke about that, they’re gonna be fine.”

I shrugged. “Either way, Martel’s a dead man. Vampire. Guy. Dead vampire walking. D-dying . . . He’s a vampi—I’m going to dust him, okay? He’s gonna be dust on the ground.”

She snickered. “Okay. I believe you.”

I leveled her with the most even, humorless expression I could manage. “I’m for-seriously-serious-seriousoma. I might need you and your mom’s help. Scott’s, too. And definitely Lorcan’s, he’s gonna want in on this for sure.”

She snapped her fingers and her eyes widened. “Oh hey, that reminds me! Lorcan said he was possessed by a demon on the way here, and I really meant to ask you about that, but got distracted by the news once we did. A fucking lot has happened in the past week, it feels like. Uh, so, was he for seriously too?”

I groaned. Trust Lee to foist this duty upon me.

She was less thrilled by the story I gave her than she was about the book. Shadows grew under her eyes by the time I’d finished. I was normally bad at reading people, but I’d had plenty of years to observe Vanessa’s face and memorize all the emotions that passed across it. She was nervous. The only other time I’d seen her nervous was when we’d first been approached by Lorcan. “I knew something was up with him, but I never would’ve thought it was that. That’s . . .”

“He’s completely insane, I know,” I assured her. If he weren’t so adorable, he’d be hopeless. And don’t tell anyone I told you that or I’ll murder you.

Her eyes scrolled up slowly to the ceiling as she processed her words. “Well, obviously, but not in, like a bad way. But demons are supposed to be bad. I don’t know though, I’ve never really met one I guess, so how would I know? He’s a pretty chill dude. Thinking about him killing a vampire like that, though, that’s kinda scary. But, he saved your life in a badass way - wait, are there good demons? . . . Maybe Mama would know. I bet his parents are freaked their kid is a demon. Imagine their family dinners for a second. Just, stop and try and picture that. Heh. Hehehe.”

I was impressed that she and I had followed almost the exact same line of thinking. “See, this is why you’re my best friend - I thought the same fucking thing. He’s never been anything but a chill Irish guy.”

So chill!” She agreed. “Yeah, I mean, I know what you mean - he hasn’t done anything bad so far. I think we should definitely keep an eye on him, though.”

I wasn’t quite comfortable talking about my eyes on Lorcan, so I changed the subject. Luckily, my ears picked up a siren down the hill outside. “Or we could keep an eye out for the police, who will be here in about ten seconds.”

She looked at me askance, her brows knitted in disbelief, until the sirens - seven seconds later - grew louder. Then, she let out a guttural sigh and gave me a frustrated glare. “Fucking bat ears. Also, what the fuck happened to you at a Coldstone?!”

“We don’t have time for me to tell you my whole life story!” I snapped.

“How about we’ve known each other for years, and you’ve somehow never told me about your traumatic time at the fucking Coldstone Creamery?”

The back of my throat let out an involuntary scoff. “It wasn’t traumatic, it just happened. Place got busted up after I got poisoned, and we got asked not to come back even though it wasn’t our fault. We need to get the police out of here, and then figure out what the fuck to do.”

She let out another sigh and stood up from the ground to stretch. “Alright, well, let’s go downstairs and sic your brother on ’em. That’ll fix it, right?”

In spite of my composure, she managed to get a laugh out of me. Once we made our way to the balcony, I was disturbed by the immediate silence coming from downstairs, where Scott, Lorcan, and Erik were gathered. Everyone’s eyes latched onto me once I hit the bottom, and the invisible pressure of it sunk my resolve into the floor. “What’s happening?” Erik asked. I felt sorry for him, that he only had me to look up to right now. I wasn’t a good role model. If it weren’t for the black magic, which was more of a liability than an advantage in this situation, I would be a complete waste of human space.

“Police,” I told him with a shrug, “and as long as everyone keeps their mouths shut about everything, and Scott hides upstairs with Aunt Lil, it’ll be fine.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Scott began with a grimace that scrunched his nose, “either of these things, actually - but I trust you to handle this, and I’d rather dust than hang out with that ectoplasmic harpy.”

“Well, go hide somewhere,” I insisted, “or you’ll get us killed with your face.”

Scott mumbled under his breath about it the whole way out, but I saw hide nor hair of him til after the police had left. They were at the door just thirty or so seconds after Scott took off, leaving me no time to answer any of Lorcan or Vanessa’s (likely endless) questions.

I never felt safe around civilian police. Might have been the grudge I had against them, but to be honest, the sight of a person with a stunner has never put me at ease. Maybe that was because I’d been shot at, and the police had never done anything about it. Or maybe I regarded them as useless when I had my dad to look up to. Thankfully, they didn’t show up with guns - it was just a lady detective, a security detail covered in windbreakers to fend off the downpour, and a lawyer who implied that she was going to try and take my little brother away from me within the space of five minutes. I stared at her, silently until she went away, and informed the detective that - as a legal adult in possession of papers of guardianship (that I’d signed with my father’s help when I turned eighteen, with the implicit understanding that Scott was overall responsible for our care) - I was Erik’s guardian in the absence of my parents, and I had no desire to speak to any lawyers, law enforcement, or authority on a subject I was already the authority on. I don’t think she liked hearing that out of a rich eighteen year old’s mouth, but it was the best truth that I could give her without being intentionally bitchy. Far be it from me to criticize someone just trying to do their job, but I had run out of fucks to give.

People kept trying to offer Erik and I blankets, and it annoyed me so much I started throwing them back and forth between myself and Lorcan, first out of frustration, then out of boredom. Every answer I gave to their questions was soulless and noncommittal. I couldn’t have told you the sergeant’s name even if I cared enough to, and really - at the end of the day - who even gives a shit?

The detective woman had left her card with me in a pointed manner that implied I was an idiot if I didn’t take it. “Incendi,” I whispered down to the card in my hand, and smiled at the tingle the short bursting flame sent through my hand as I walked outside to stare at them as they all drove away. A scuffle from up above caused me to instinctively crane my neck up, and lo and behold was Scott, scrabbling along the roofing for a grip. He fell rather spectacularly into the bushes, and I was lucky to have been blessed with good poker skills because I didn’t bat an single eyelash while he cursed and flailed and generally made an ass’ ass out of himself, all while he griped about ‘dick trees’ and nature being an angry bitch. I was wiping the ash off of my hands by the time he stood up and tried to act like nothing at all had happened.

“I think you’re getting old,” I suggested. He responded with a prompt middle finger.

“Did you hear what that detective said?” He asked, in a way that made me wonder if he even knew me.

“No,” I said, like it was obvious, because yes. “Should I have paid attention? All I remember is being annoyed and then they went away.”

He gave me the flattest of all the glares in his arsenal. “I don’t even know why I’m upset with you right now, but I am for some reason. I feel like a hormonal teenager. I-I’m like two hundred years old, and I hate this. I hate you.” Spitting words, with a deadpan delivery. He wasn’t mad.

“Did you hear anything the detective said?”

He paused, tried to say something, then laughed and vamp-sped away back inside. I smiled and followed at sedate, human pace. It was never worth it to try to keep up with him. It gave me headaches. When I got back inside, he was already busy annoying Vanessa, so it seemed like nothing bad had happened, except my parents still being kidnapped and the police trying to strap me with a useless security detail. (I wasn’t sure if they could actually give me protective custody if I didn’t want it; I was interested in becoming a lawyer someday, but the laws around these matters were too murky for me to decipher, and I was normally good at that shit.)

Back inside, Erik was sitting quietly next to Vanessa while she talked to him in a low voice. Scott was pacing a groove in the floor angrily in front of the den, while Lorcan was boredly playing with the strings on his raincoat. It was so bright, and yellow, and stupid and I don’t know why but when he pulled on the strings til it covered his face, it made me laugh in spite of the situation. I started laughing so hard that I had to sit down on the stairs. I contained myself before I started crying, because I knew the danger if I started. I wouldn’t be able to stop, or think, and I needed to think.

After I composed myself, I asked to the room, “Can someone check to see if the police are still at the gates?”

Lorcan volunteered, and was back in a few seconds. “They scampered off. What now?”

I was about to offer an answer, but was distracted by a shiver that ran across my skin from one side of my body to the other. It visibly irritated me and set the short hairs standing on the back of my neck on end, prompting Lee to offer his concern. I couldn’t explain the feeling to anyone, it was so bizarre. It wasn’t like the kind of shiver you’d get when you were cold, and I found myself searching Scott or Erik or Vanessa, or someone to offer concern. Then, I heard a faint cry from up the stairs, like a depressed whine.

Explaining would have taken too much time. Besides, I knew Scott had heard Aunt Lil’s warning - he would know what to do; “ONE SEC,” I shouted behind me. I bolted into my dad’s office to look for the knife, and started ransacking drawers.

Suddenly Lee was by my side, eyes black. I blinked. “Whatcha lookin’ for?” he asked, getting straight to the point.

“I need the knife, it’s in here somewhere.” Within a few seconds he found it, after breaking the lock on my dad’s desk to the bottom drawer. I was surprised when he just went for it instead of asking for the key, but that probably wouldn’t have been as fast or fun for him - he just yanked it off and plucked it out to give to me, hilt-first. I thanked him and we ran to the den, where Scott was peering behind the curtains outside at the rainy gates, and Vanessa was pacing.

Erik was still sitting, now alone and looking very tired. I sat down beside him. “I’ll protect you,” I told him. “And even if I don’t, Vlad will. And Lorcan, and Vanessa.” Scott ’ahem’d. “And Scott too if he feels like it.”

“I know,” he said. “But what about Mom and Dad?”

“They’re fine. Trust me.” I wasn’t sure how I knew that, but I did. I was certain of it. I had to be. Not for my sake, but his, and also Scott’s. Somewhere deep in me, I was aware of reality, I just couldn’t afford to face it. I approached Scott who didn’t so much as glance at me and kept focus on the foggy treeline. “What is it?” I asked him.

It took him a second to come up with an answer. “I’m not sure, but—”

THUNK. Something shook from the roof down above us, sending dust scattering in the light over our heads. I brushed it off of my shoulders, annoyed. Every one of us stared at the ceiling, anticipating the worst. I looked back to Scott when nothing happened for a few seconds.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I said I’m not sure—”

KA-THUNK.

It was closer, followed by a clatter that sounded like glass breaking. Most likely from the attic. “Fucking poltergeist,” I muttered. Aunt Lilith’s low whine became a strident shriek, not loud enough to be painful to most of us downstairs, but it made Scott and I wince.

“What? Is it vampires?! What is it!” I demanded.

The clatter continued, followed by the sounds of multiple footsteps and some shouting.

“I mean, probably, yeah,” Scott offered, looking annoyed with me. “I was saying that I wasn’t sure but I think they’re already inside, only you kept interrupting me.”

“One day, I’m going to beat you like the red-headed stepchild of a stagecoach driver,” I informed him matter-of-factly.

THUNK!

“Okay,” he shrugged, “are you gonna bring it before or after we get killed by the small army of vampires storming the manor?”

“Wha-”

“Get in the greenhouse, du—god damn it!” Scott started nagging and cut himself off as I heard wood splitting from the balcony just as he simultaneously took off. Part of me was more worried about the repairs than him.

“Holy shit,” Nessa breathed. I turned to Lorcan whose expression hadn’t changed, but his eyes had blackened. He grinned. I felt, more than heard, the murmur of Sol in my head. It was like a gentle whisper now, rather than the distinct noise before. It must be good to have a demon on your side, right?

I looked down at my little brother, feeling progressively more annoyed with everything in the world. “Did Dad teach you how to activate the house wards?”

Erik paled (he was already pasty, so I was surprised by his skin becoming somehow more translucent). “Um. Yes. But I wasn’t paying attention when he told me how.”

I blinked. A part of me wanted to reach down and slap the kid. Dad had taught me, years ago, when I was nine. However, my blood hadn’t ever activated them, for reasons that I blamed on magic always acting retarded around me. I had the knife, my little brother, and no guarantees of anything except that I was sure my friends had my back. And according to Scott, vampires were attacking.

I heard a loud yell coming from the foyer, and scuffling, with tiles breaking. Was Scott breaking my house? “Don’t break my house!” I shouted. “Assholes!”

“Fry!” Vanessa hissed. She, Lorcan, and Erik were already making their way to the kitchen towards the greenhouse, most likely to take advantage of the artificial sunlight like the brilliant people they are. I bolted after them, knowing that I’d be useless in an actual fight unless I wanted to give Tony even more reasons to want me dead.

In the kitchen, a flying mass collided with Lee into the double-door fridge, nearly knocking it over. Vanessa stopped to stare for a second before she kept pushing a reluctant Erik into the greenhouse’ door, but Erik’s hand slipped out of hers and I heard something that made my stomach almost sink into my shoes.

AHA!” Vlad cried victoriously, seeping out of Erik and taking over. “A real battle, AT LAST!

Just like that, I lost complete control of the situation. Erik, now a pint-sized terror, lobbed himself bodily at the vampire attacking Lorcan and managed to pick up and throw him over the backsplash, breaking it and the kitchen window. The vampire tumbled, with a surprised expression, into the rain.

The battle that ensued was, in a word, ridiculous. Sol, or Lee, let out a hearty laugh of glee while a few other dark forms dropped from the upper floors outside to see the commotion. Some of them let out guttural snarls. Sol jumped out the window after Erik, who clambered outside and started making a whole lot of Transylvanian promises about what he was going to do with sticks and his enemies’ insidey parts. I hadn’t even seen the face of the perpetrators before the were being double-teamed by a demon and a medieval conqueror. Vanessa didn’t hesitate to grab my hand and pull me into the greenhouse with her, shutting the doors behind her and checking all the exits.

It was quieter, in my mother’s sanctuary, but dark. The sun . . .

“What are the wards, and how do we activate them?” Vanessa called from the mudroom.

I didn’t know how to answer her properly. I had the knife, and my brains, and both were useless at that moment in time. I did something that my parents had taught me to do and sat myself down on the ground, and breathed, burying my face in my hands. I looked up at Nessa’s shoes when I opened my eyes and addressed them. “Erik’s the only one who can activate them, besides Dad. And now he’s Vlad.”

“Then let’s go get him,” she suggested lightly.

“Sure, let’s go out there and get him,” I agreed. I didn’t move, and neither did she.

“Um.”

Scott picked that opportune moment to join in on our little pity party and appeared at full-speed, knocking over the hemlock in the process. “Shitballs! They’re everywhere,” he summarized.

“We noticed,” Nessa told him, “also, Vlad and Lee are out there smashing vampires, and the house along with it.” What sounded like more glass shattering punctuated the end of her sentence.

“Shit,” Scott cursed. Then he cursed some more. “I gotta go get him. Lock the doors behind me.”

I nodded vaguely as my godfather took off. Nessa and I locked the door just as we heard a knocking on it that coincided with an abrupt cessation of sounds of battle from the outside. “What’s the password?” Nessa asked the door.

“Oi, I ran out of minions to dust, lemme in already,” Lee complained. I unlocked the door immediately.

Scott sped in shortly after before I could even get the door shut, and slammed it behind him. “Out there is definitely a no-go,” he said. “Not sure where Vlad is anymore. It’s a damn mess.”

“Fuck,” Vanessa cursed. “FUCK!” Worst-case scenarios flooded through my mind. I tried to convince myself that Vlad could take care of himself, and found myself issuing prayers. Hey, Loki, if you’re real, do me a solid just this once. I know we’ve never made it official, but I’ve always felt a connection to fire gods and pranksters . . .

Scott sighed and looked at the three of us all in various states of distress. Except for Lorcan, in his dust-covered yellow raincoat, I suppose. He was as chipper as ever. “So, I hate to be ‘that’ guy, but things are pretty messed up right now, and it looks like we all might die, so whoever survives needs to delete my browser history.”

Vanessa laughed bitterly. “Don’t be so negative Scottie, it’s not like there’s a mob tryna kill us or anything.”

I snorted. “No, we just wanted to gather in here to make it easier for the mob.”

Lee hummed dubiously. “I think I could take ’em.”

Scott’s red eyes flashed as he sized up the demon-boy. “Without getting everyone else killed?”

Lee-Sol tipped his head from side to side, considering this. “Aiiii-maybe half of ’em.” Scott grunted. The Irish kid spoke about killing vampires like it was making eggs for breakfast. “Give or take maybe ten of ’em. Surely you could handle the rest?”

I was about to bitch about how we had to find my little brother or there might be literal Hell to pay, but lo and behold, Vlad appeared at the door looking a little worse for wear. Erik came up to my shoulder still, but with Vlad bleeding out of his eyes, covered in dust and black blood and wielding a fire poker in his left hand as one might wield a sword, he seemed very proud of himself in the moment. I swelled with relief. “Oh thank Loki. Get the hell in here.” I hurried him in and slammed the door, leaning on it with all my body weight and clinging to the knife for security.

I have slain many vampires today! This is a good day to be alive!” Vlad crowed victoriously, lifting his arms in the air. Everyone kept a healthy distance from him.

“Good job, Vlad, I’m proud of you,” I told him tiredly. “I promise I won’t tell mom you killed a bunch of guys if you promise not to tell her about me letting you kill a bunch of guys.”

Vlad snorted while the others milled about in various states of distress (again, except Lorcan, who was the king of cool). “What do I care for the wailings of the women? I desire bloodshed! It has been too long since I’ve had a good battle. There are never any good battles anymore—

“No, Vladislacks, we need a plan,” I criticized while Nessa chuckled, presumably because I used the word ‘slacks.’

Lee clucked his tongue, eyes no longer black but still calm and collected. “I’m a fan of throwing the door open with your suddenly-named-Vlad brother here, and might I request a wee explanation on that front? Feel like I must’ve missed something during the introduction phase, and, uh,” he glanced around suddenly a bit nervous, “no on else seems to be reacting to him being just. Covered in vampire guts and dust.”

Lee made a good point. I looked down at my little brother and wrinkled my nose in disgust. “Ugh, Vlad, you need a bath, you’re gross. He’s gross, guys, don’t touch him, okay?” I instructed, “not until he’s had a bath.”

Bah, throw open the doors! Let them in!!” Vlad insisted, waving his poker about. Scott took it out of his hands almost gingerly.

“Oh, did someone forget to tell your boyfriend about Erik’s Vlad problem?” Scott asked no one in particular.

plan.

I was at my wits end but wasn’t about to let him have the last word, because fuck Scott. “I told you to watch out for his alter ego -” I addressed Lorcan, and then raged to the ceiling, “see this is what happens whenever we let Scott drive!”

Silence, vilo!” Vlad roared. “Let them in at once!

“Aye, we can probably take ’em,” Lee agreed.

Scott stared at him like he was mentally ill (which was probably true), which was an expression I’d never seen on his face before. It was halfway between fear and pity. “There’s at least thirty of them out there. Maybe fifty, I’m not, like a mathematics guy. I’m better at lying than numbers.”

Vanessa slapped her forehead. “. . . So there’s between thirty and fifty vampires trying to kill us, and you might be lying about it?”

Over her, I shouted at Scott, “you’re an idiot and you count like an idiot!”

Scott snapped back at me, “said the idiot to the vampire who saved her ungrateful ass out there!”

“I didn’t ask for saving—”

Lorcan was rambling to himself, “granted a few of us might die, which would put a, er, damper on things,” just as Vlad agreed with him that, “Those who die will die well in battle against a mighty foe! The survivors will tell tales of our victory!

I roared over everyone, losing my patience just as Vanessa was on her ninetieth eyeroll. “I don’t know why this is hard for all of you to understand, but I am NOT fucking opening this door until we have plan that doesn’t involve letting them in to kill all of us!”

Everyone was quiet for a few seconds. Even the vampires outside, I swear. Gods, what they must be thinking. Probably debating which ways to eat us, or in what order . . .

Finally, Vlad broke the silence. “Let me out at them at least! One of them tried to make a joke about Erik’s size and I wish to have his head for his insolence. I have heard every short joke there is from the pet vampires, and they were never funny.

We all had a moment where we just had to process the reality of the situation alongside what Vlad (inside my nine-year-old-brother’s body) had just said. Nessa, my best fucking friend, commented: “Sometimes I forget that your little brother has a body count higher than we were watching Super Troopers at four-twenty on the last twentieth of April, but then he says something like that and it all sinks back in.”

I smiled at her. “Vlad’s never gone long enough for you to miss him.”

She sighed. “. . . they burn this place down, I’m really going to miss your mom’s indica . . .”

“It’s weird they haven’t attacked while we’ve been arguing,” Scott noted. “Maybe they got bored, or they were listening.”

I closed my eyes and sighed. “Vlad, I need Erik back to activate the wards.” Vlad seethed at me. Didn’t seem like he was going to cooperate. “Alright, well, I’m sorry in advance for this.” I slapped my little brother right across the face. Vlad was so shocked that Erik slipped back in, and started crying.

“Ow!” He whined. “Fry, you hurt me! Wait, what’s on my shirt?”

“Fry!” Nessa objected. Even Scott made a move toward me, but didn’t stop me from back-handing Erik again.

“I’m not sorry,” I said sternly. “Vlad was being a pain and I needed you. I have an idea, but I need you to activate the wards. That means, I need to cut your hand. Are you ready?”

Erik was teary-eyed, but he nodded without fear and held up his hand to me. “Can you do it? I don’t wanna.”

I grabbed his hand and held the knife, poised. “This will hurt,” I told him. “Close your eyes, count to three. Concentrate on the words. Do you remember the incantation?” Erik shook his head, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from cursing. I looked to Scott, and nodded at the door to indicate he should stand guard while I coached Erik.

Our family motto is scientia potentia est. Not all knowledge is useful, mind you, but power really depends on the context that it’s in. It follows that it’d take a bit of research to figure out the keywords to our family’s blood wards. My father installed them and keyed them to his bloodline, with my mother’s help. It also follows that my father, having spent most of his adult life living in England, is a massive nerd for Monty Python. “Erik, repeat these words after me on the count of three. Concentrate on the words, and putting all of your pain into them. All the pain from your hand, okay? One, two,” I cut his hand without warning and he hissed, dutifully keeping his eyes closed. I repeated the words slowly. “Three. Aeroglisorul meu e plin de țipari.” My hovercraft is full of eels, in butchered Romanian . . . Oh Dad. I pushed the thought away, but part of me wanted to laugh so bad when only Scott started chuckling.

“Fucking nerd,” he muttered under his breath.

It took Erik to get a few seconds to get the pronunciation right. Once he did, I slapped his bloody hand on the wall and the house lit up with magic for a few seconds, sending iridescent spirals up the walls as the wards activated. Once again, the hair on my neck stood on end.

“That did what, exactly? Besides making them hungry,” Lee wondered, staring at Erik’s bloody hand print on the wall. The fact that we hadn’t heard any of the vampires stirring outside made me worry, though.

“Did you guys kill them all?” I wondered, looking between him, Scott, and Erik. Erik was clutching his hand looking sad while Nessa was trying to find something to wrap it. I was more of the ‘tough it out’ mentality when it came to small wounds (wasn’t even a deep cut), but she had a tendency to coddle my brother because he looked adorable when he pouted. It made me mad. I never got special treatment when I pouted.

Scott and Lee looked at each other and shook their heads. “Probably not,” Scott summarized for them both, “I mean, there were between thirty and fifty of them. Or twenty. I’m not sure. I got three before I got overwhelmed. You?”

Lee shrugged. “I wasn’t counting. Erik, er, I mean Vlad got a few more.”

I sighed. “So are you gonna tell us what this idea you have is, or are we just going to wait til the police arrive? Again?” Nessa asked as she was binding Erik’s hand with a part of her sleeve that she’d ripped, and tying it tight. “Because it sounded like you had a plan for a second there.”

I was either past the point of caring about the situation or didn’t have the ability to do so. Maybe I’d spent all my worry in the minutes bickering before, when we’d locked ourselves in the sun room, but now . . . At least we’d be safe in the greenhouse from any intruders, until we had to leave. “I had part of a plan. Maybe. The bare bones of a plan, at least. Right now, we’re safe in this room with the wards. They’re room-by-room, otherwise they’d all be locked in the house with us. Even if they break the glass or whatever, they’re not getting in.”

“They could just burn the house down,” she reminded me.

Scott and I hushed her. “Don’t give them any ideas!” I hissed.

“We have super good hearing, you know,” he needlessly reminded her. Nessa stared at him.

“Bare bones of a plan,” I went on. It wasn’t pretty, but I was pretty sure . . . I was at least reasonably sure that I could summon the ancestral wards. That didn’t take any ley magic, like the kind that Erik had used. The ancestral wards were written about in Sandra’s book, and had been part of the section I’d recently decoded. It would, at least, confuse the vampires so much that they might leave and not set my home on fire . . . But in order to do that, I’d need to go outside. So, I needed something to buy me time. I sized up Lee, who was tugging at the strings on his dirty raincoat. Scott was a no-go, since the vampires wanted him even more than me. Nessa, I would never risk like that. “I think we should turn on the sun,” I suggested.

My godfather started spluttering. “Fuck no! I’ll fry! Are you a crazy woman?” His tone went up a whole octave.

“Ohh, right,” I pretended to care. “Guys, let’s do it anyway and not tell Scott.”

“I’m right fucking here!” He shouted. If he shouted loud enough, maybe the vampires would back off - at least, that was my theory. They couldn’t know what our artificial sun would do to them. I doubt they’d ever seen one before.

“Did I say that out loud?” I demurred.

Vanessa went on like I hadn’t said anything at all, but I think she picked up on my idea: “We have to figure out something soon, and the mini-sun would be great for everyone but Scott.”

“You are Not. Turning on the sunlight. In THIS ROOM,” Scott insisted.

I turned to him and worried the hilt of the knife with my fingers. “Your plan was to open the doors, which would let down the wards, and then let them in to kill most of us whereas my plan ensures most of us will survive.”

Scott’s nose wrinkled. “Okay, sure, good point,” he conceded snidely, “but on the other hand fuck you we aren’t turning me into dust!

“Is that your only counterpoint?” I criticized. I was glad he was making this so easy. Yasmin was right about him.

“Hey, I like him,” Lee objected, coming to Scott’s defense for some reason. “Let’s not kill him yet, he might be useful later.” For some reason, that made me laugh.

My eternally young godfather turned to glare at him, but then realized it had been a compliment he’d heard. “Th-thank you. Why did I thank him? Why in the f—we’re not killing me, you tiny jackasses! I’ll kill all of you first.”

I scoffed loudly. “No he won’t, guys, my dad would kill him.”

There was a low discussion over what to do, but Vanessa was the only one who emerged with an actual, intact idea: “We could give you a hat,” she suggested slowly.

I started laughing even louder. “Oh man, that’s a good one. Thanks, I-I needed that.”

“A hat?!” Scott spluttered. “A fucking HAT?!”

Nessa seemed to be offended by Scott’s offense. “What?”

“That is NOT sufficient protection against sunshine! Vanessa!” He emphasized, waving his arms.

“Plus, who wears hats anymore?” I wondered.

“Farmers have been wearing them forever for that exact reason,” she informed everyone, which was actually a strangely solid point.

“Fuck you, I’m not wearing a hat,” Scott told her, despite the fact that he was literally wearing a baseball cap at that exact moment. Lee motioned to his head and then looked to me, and I chuckled, gesturing helplessly.

“We’re not a ‘hat’ family,” I said lightly.

Vlad popped out again after Erik had a sit-down on a nearby bench for a few moments, mooning over his cut hand like a baby. “This conversation has become increasingly annoying. Open the doors, vampire!” He commanded. “Let us die in battle as men!

“You’re barely fucking ten,” I told him, getting annoyed with Vlad’s shtick finally, “you’re not a dictator, and for the last time - we are not opening those doors without an action plan!”

“Hey, I’m trying to help!” Vanessa defended needlessly, because she wasn’t even the one I was criticizing, and I gestured at her helplessly.

Lee zipped up his raincoat and pulled the strings, tightening them over his face. His next words came out brilliantly, but muffled: “I don’t have a hat, but I do have this raincoat, and if you pull the stringies like this it’ll cover your whole face! Maybe we can turn on the sun then, yeah?”

There was a morbid, heavy pause as all of us (including Vlad) processed this idea. Vampires outside the wards were banging uselessly on the glass and I could hear their muffled, accented threats. When did a mob not even become a thing, in my life?

“. . . Why are you wearing a raincoat, Lorcan?” I had to ask him.

“It was rainy out today,” he explained.

“It’s always raining here, it’s cursed that way,” I went on.

He seemed intrigued and pulled the hood away from his face. “Oh, is that really why? I always wondered. Thought it was a currents thing, to do with the weather.”

“An actual curse,” I confirmed as I considered this new raincoat idea.

“That’s actual not a terrible idea,” Vanessa said in her version of a compliment. “Yeah, man, give him the raincoat, fuck it. That’ll have to work.”

Scott seemed to have some more than average difficulty processing what was going on, but finally pulled his shit together. “No, nope. I am not wearing a fucking raincoat. Turn on the sun and kill me first if you have to, but I am not wearing that fucking yellow raincoat.”

“I vote yes,” I said emphatically, holding up my hand. “Who else says ‘yea?’”

“I vote you go fuck yourself,” Scott voted.

Nessa held up her hand. “I also vote yes.”

Vlad shouted something that was either a complaint or some kind of war cry in Romanian. It sounded very frustrated and I just didn’t have the time for him at the moment, so I tuned him out. He was probably being a baby about his hand. “Vlad also votes yes,” I translated.

Lee started taking off the coat while Scott backed away slowly from him, looking almost frightened by it. “Look, I’m a bigger bloke than you and we both know it,” he said calmly, even cheerily. “I’m sure it’ll fit with a lil room to spare, and we can shield your eyes from the sun until we get outside and get help. That’s the plan, right?” He looked to me, like I was the one in charge. Like he trusted me. I discovered in that moment that I liked that look, and the feeling that came with it.

I nodded, because yes, and it felt good to have someone back me up without question. “Yes, but I need to get to the graveyard.”

There were objections from every corner on this except Lee’s. “Is this the bare bones of a plan?” Vanessa said, more than asked sarcastically. “Can someone explain why outside is the place to go? Isn’t that the place that’s, um, full of enemies?”

Why do my friends have so many good, well-meaning concerns in the face of danger? “We’ll be safe,” I assured her. “I just need you to trust me on this. They’ll overhear anything I bother to explain.”

“Really feeling that trust straining right now, Fry, but okay. Fine. Okay.” Nessa took a few deep breaths. I patted her on the back and kept an eye on the petulant, pouting Vlad while Scott grumbled and donned the dreaded yellow coat. He looked ridiculous in it. We were right. I did my best not to laugh, so I ended up making a choke-snort that sounded like ill-concealed laughter. Lee patted me on the back, maybe mistaking it for a cough.

“When I go to hell, you’re going to be all the people I’m gonna meet there,” Scott told us with utmost confidence, “because this is how I die my second death - hey!” He pointed a finger at me. “Hey, hey, what’s that look for? I don’t like it! Stop that.”

I was looking at him like he was the biggest idiot ever. “How have you made it past two-hundred?”
An excellent question,” Vlad agreed.

Scott grumbled some more. “Everyone can fuck off forever, because this is a terrible idea and I’m going to die and you’ll all be sorry!”

I clucked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. “So we’ll all get to live, you might die, and all I have to do is be visibly sorry? I find the risk acceptable.”

Scott made even more grumbly noises and started cursing unintelligibly. “The man is standing right there!” Lee criticized half-heartedly.

“I’m right fucking here!” Scott agreed, pulling the strings around his head causing the coat’s hood to completely engulf his face but for one pale nose. Frustrated for a second, he undid the ties and took his hat off and put the hat on top of the hood. It seemed an unnecessary gesture.

“What was that, Kenny?” Nessa chuckled. “Couldn’t hear you.”

Scott tried to tell her to fuck off but ended up laughing instead. I started the count down on the sun and ran to the switch in the mudroom, placing my hand on the dial. It was a bit like a dimmer switch, except it was made of diagonal slate and all it did was rotate back and forth on a screw. I said I’d count to three, but I only waited to two, per my idiom.

As the artificial sun turned on over our heads, we all squinted in the new light and Scott started cursing and dived for cover under our huddled bodies. It flickered for a few moments before igniting inside it’s overhead globe, and we all had to shield our eyes and heads from the sudden brightness. Only Vlad stood to the side, shaking his head disappointedly. “He is such a baby,” he criticized. I nodded sadly in agreement, blinking in the light as spots swimmed in my vision.

Outside of the greenhouse, the banging stopped and became cries, followed by scrambles. I guess they had either not believed us, or were simply unprepared for the reality of an actual miniature sun that could dust and burn them if they got caught in the light. Hence, why we only kept it on during the day - after all, it rained in Blackwood every day.

While the sun went to max, we exited quietly out of the mudroom and bolted to the graveyard. I had to drag Vlad behind me to make sure he followed, which he did with some amount of protest. The scramble to the graveyard might have been the most intense minute of my short life. We were huddled in a group trying our best to keep the light from touching any part of Scott, trying to make the least amount of sound as possible while he was cursing as loudly as possible the entire time. It kind of caused me to regret saving his life.

My plan, in its entirety, was to summon my ancestors bones and corpses as zombie guards to defend our house. I was at least eighty percent certain that I knew how to do it, even without the book right in front of me. I knew Sandra had done it at one point or another, and if she could do it thirty years ago, so I could I today. Probably. I was having some trouble figuring out how to explain my plan to everyone without sounding like a lunatic, though, so I decided that it was best for everyone if the undead were a surprise.

Once we reached my Uncle Grayson’s statue, everyone looked at me very expectantly while Scott quickly pulled off the raincoat and tossed it at Lorcan. I turned to him, having pegged him as the most level-headed in this crisis next to Vanessa. “Lee, I need you to find salt and bring it to me. Check the kitchen you destroyed. Nessa, you’re in charge of Erik. Scott, if there are still vampires about, keep them off me while I, uh do what I gotta do.” Scott spared me a long, suspicious look before nodding, but everyone else was quick to agree. I turned around the graveyard a few times to get my bearings and plopped myself near the center on top of a raised tomb, with the added bonus that I was far away from that creepy statue that I hated so much.

Lee was back in a matter of seconds with a large wooden salt-dispenser that looked cracked down the middle - he must have been moving at least as fast as Scott, because I caught a gust of air when he appeared next to me again. He had to break the top off for me so I could make a circle around myself with it on the concrete. I closed my eyes and pretended that everything was fine, that this was just another experiment, that my parents were safe and fine . . .

I repeated the incantation under my breath first, to make sure I got it right. I ignored Scott’s insistent questioning, Vanessa’s concerned looks, and my brother’s whining. I could do this - no, I had to do this. I had no choice. I knew I could do it. My blood was Colville blood, after all - and if Sandra used her blood to bind these souls, then I could call upon them too. All it took was a small amount of pain tolerance and right incantation, which she had written down and encoded in the book. Years and years it took to finally get to where I was; it was about time all that studying finally paid off. I drew the knife across the palm of my non-dominant hand once I was sure I had the phrase right, and let the blood drip outside of my circle onto the tombstone. It would have to be enough; I didn’t have any people or animals I was willing to sacrifice, although I was sure one or two might convince the dead to hurry up a bit.

Excitare ad dormienti. Honora jusjurandum. Tenetur sanguis te, et sanguis te liberat. Surge et pugnabit. Excitare ad . . .

After what felt like forever of my blood painfully dripping from my clenched hand and muttering feverishly in Latin, I felt something change in the air. It was sort of like a stale smell combined with a temperature drop, and a spine-tingling thrumming that started at the base of my spine. I opened my hand finally once it suddenly stopped hurting, and was surprsied to see that the wound had healed.

“Did anyone else feel that?” Nessa wondered, and then screamed “OH, FUCK!” at the top of her lungs as a skeletal hand sprung out of the dirt next to her feet. She literally leapt into the air and shoved my brother away from her, scrambling up the tomb I was perched on. I couldn’t help myself and started laughing as the first of my undead ancestors rose out of their graves and began knocking on tomb doors and breaking out of coffins in the ground, seeking purchase on the grass and shambling onto the ground with groans and hisses. I was surprised any of them could make any nose at all; half of them were little more than renanimated bones, but some of them actually seemed quite limber despite all the rot. Scott became instantly grossed out and started almost shyfully cringing from them while Erik and Lee looked on in curiosity.

The first one that had popped out of the tomb I was sitting on was the first to stop in front of me and hiss something that sounded like an acknowledgment. The others in the graveyard that had made their way out of their tombs all turned toward me. I jumped down to examine my handiwork up-close.

“Not bad,” I said admiringly and pulled a little at some long-decayed flesh hanging off of my first summons’ collarbone. It looked down at my hand - without eyes - and rolled its jaw around. I tried to read the undead creation’s name off of its tomb, but it was too dark and dirty. “No name . . . And I can’t even tell if you were male or female, so I’m going to call you Shambles. You’re in charge, Shambles. Everyone! May I have your attention! Shambles is now the captain! Now, first order of business for my zombie army! You must defend the house and kill all the vampires! Except that vampire,” I pointed at Scott very specifically. “Do not try to kill that one. He will get very angry with you. But destroy the rest as best you can and try not to destroy more of the manor in the process. If you have any questions, please direct them to your new Captain.” I patted Shambles on the shoulder. A piece of cloth (or possibly flesh) fell off of its body and disintegrated into dust in the dirt. “Huh. Gross.”

It took my undead ancestors a few moments to realize what was going on, I think, but Shambles seemed to get a clear picture (how was unclear, but I was rolling with it) and it let out a sort of . . . Gnarling gnashing noise that would have been guttural, if it had a working throat or gut. It must have translated to the others because they all started running (or walking, depending on how many limbs they were able to recover and their states of decay) toward the house.

“Whoa. How many do you think there are?” Lee wondered, wide-eyed. “Must be at least fifty.”

I shrugged. “However many were buried here. Oh, hey, I think I see my grand-dad over there.” I pointed at a particular limber undead that had leapt into the manor head-first through the broken kitchen, and was apparently already causing quite a ruckus judging from the sound.

“Get ’em, grandpa,” he cheered.

There followed an awkward silence as the army shuffled out of the graveyard, taking the mist and the smell of must and rot with them. “’Shambles?’ Really?” Scott criticized.

I glared at him. “That’s ‘Captain’ Shambles to you.”

“I’mma get a closer look,” Lee gushed eagerly, running up the hill.

“That kid has problems,” Scott assured all of us.

“How often do you see a zombie army?!” Lee shouted back in answer.

“I really, really, really hope the vampires didn’t destroy your mom’s indica,” Nessa threw in, sounding a little desperate.

A long, loud scream came from the manor. She and Erik winced. I tried to picture which of my minions was at work, and hoped deep down that it was my grandpa. “We can check in a minute. Make it three.”

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