Saturday, March 31, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 3

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 3

A lot of things happen in this scene, or are set up in this scene, that will be important in the bigger picture. Not the least of which is the tension between the various supernatural races. This is prevalent in most supernatural and paranormal stories, and it's something I've always hated. Essentially, it's racism, and I suppose we just accept it as normal because vampires and all the rest don't really exist anyway.

Part of this story, though, is Neasa's development. Not just her coming into her own power, but developing her as a person, which is be more and more important as the series progresses. She will need to decide who she is, what kind of person she is going to be, and then take a stand on some very significant issues. I started to get into some of that here.

Enjoy.
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The castle came complete with an armory. All four walls were lined floor to ceiling with racks holding every imaginable weapon, leaning heavily toward edged weapons. One wall was dedicated entirely to swords, another to knives. Long tables and work benches stretched through the middle of the room, some empty, some with equipment and supplies on them. There was a small assortment of guns, but that was by far the smallest component of this collection. I guessed guns didn’t work that well on supernatural creatures.

Ranulf, Marrok, Viktor, the Viking, and myself gathered around one of the center tables, joined by Rhain and Zeke, two more of the Viking’s men. They were vampires. I could tell because they could stand like statues, completely unmoving, and of course not breathing.

I’d slept only about three hours, but I felt rested and restored. The Viking thought that was the result of me drawing so much power into myself last night. Not only had it healed my physical injuries, it had rejuvenated my body as sleep would have.

I’d tried to ask him about where the power had come from, but his answers had been vague. I worried I’d taken the power from him, and perhaps others in the house. He assured me that wasn’t so, and he did seem fine. I knew he still had his own power this morning.

Viktor had doted over breakfast. By the time I made it to the kitchen, apologizing to Viktor for such a delay, Ranulf and Marrok were ready to eat again. We’d enjoyed a wonderful meal together, and Viktor had clucked at me until I’d eaten at least half of what he’d put on my plate.

“We’re looking for these three trackers,” the Viking said now, separating three of the six photos he’d laid on the table.

We each took turns looking at the photos. Most of them were from telephoto lenses or security cameras. None of them was a clear image, but this did answer the question about whether or not vampires could be photographed.

“These two are staying at the Palace.” He indicated two of them. The photos were labeled with names. Balo and Petsha.

“Any information on the last one?” I asked.

“Some. I have men working to confirm, and we should know more soon.”

“Are we really standing here discussing the search for and capture of Council trackers?” Rhain said. He had a faint accent, not British, but similar.

“Yes,” the Viking said. “If you’re uncomfortable, I will not hold it against you if you leave now. What we are doing is punishable by the true death.”

Rhain shook his head. “I’m in.” He glanced at me. “What they’re doing is wrong.”

“See?” Ranulf said, squeezing my shoulder. “Some of us think that.”

“Careful, dog,” Rhain snapped. “Don’t lump your kind in with mine.”

Ranulf growled in answer, and both of them puffed their chests and squared their shoulders, Marrok and Zeke joining in.

“Enough!” I said, hurrying between them, pushing Ranulf back. “This is nonsense! I call you all my friends, and in that give you my gratitude and my loyalty. In that, you are exactly the same. And with the problem we now face, that should be all that matters. Now, please, let’s focus on the real enemy here.”

Ranulf immediately backed down.

“Thank you.”

Rhain still glared.

“Please,” I said. “Too much damage has already been done. And the enemy is still coming. Let us be at peace with one another while we’re together.”

“Peace is not our way,” Zeke said, backing his friend.

“But it is mine,” I said.

Rhain pointed an accusatory finger at Ranulf and his brother. “But their kind—”

My irritation flared. I smacked a hand on the table. “Your prejudice is juvenile and short sighted! For someone who has seen so many lifetimes, your ignorance and narrow-mindedness is astonishing!”

“Do you know what they are?” Rhain yelled, the accent much more pronounced now.

“No! I know who they are. And now is the moment where you show me who you are. Either open your mind to a new possibility or leave. But the prejudice stops now. The comments you all make back and forth stop now.”

I looked at Ranulf and Marrok. Both looked down in shame but nodded.

Rhain and Zeke looked from me to the Viking, who stood glaring at them with his arms crossed over his enormous chest.

He said, “I am also guilty. And it’s time to evolve.”

He offered his hand first to Ranulf and then to Marrok. Both men took it.

Rhain rolled his eyes. “Fucking rainbows and unicorns. What’s next, kumbaya?”

Zeke sighed and shrugged. “Peace doesn’t sound so bad, actually.”

I smiled. “Thank you.”

Rhain muttered in a language I didn’t recognize. Later I would learn it was Welsh, and these were the most colorful curses the language had to offer.

“Fine,” he said. “I’m in, too, luv.”

“Thank you. Now, back to the matter at hand.” I looked at the Viking. “Are these two in the hotel right now?”

He nodded. “One of my men is there. He mesmerized the desk clerk and reviewed the security footage. He says they entered their rooms and have not yet left.”

“Okay.” My mind worked. “Are they in for the day?”

The Viking shook his head. “If you’re asking about sunlight, these two are much too old to be very bothered by it.” He opened the laptop sitting on the end of the computer and turned the screen toward us. “They are in suites on the fifteenth floor, located on opposite sides of the building.” He scrolled through several still photos that had obviously been pulled from the hotel’s security footage.

“We’ll need to split up,” I said. “Attack simultaneously.” He knew I meant he and I needed to split up.

He began nodding before I finished speaking. “Yes. And the sooner, the better. We’ve no way of knowing how long either will remain where they are. We should leave now. Viktor, Ranulf, and Rhain can go with you. Zeke and Marrok with me.”

That wasn’t the way I would have broken us into teams, but I decided to trust the Viking had a plan.

I looked at the three assigned to me. “Gentlemen?”

“Sounds good,” Ranulf said.

“Yes, Madam Neasa,” Viktor said, bowing slightly.

Rhain flashed a smile. “Piece of cake, luv.”

“Gear up,” the Viking said. “We leave in five.”

The men went to various walls and drawers, pulling out daggers, knives, and other silver implements, tucking them into pockets, attaching them to belts. The Viking already wore his antique battle axe on his belt.

“You need a weapon,” he said, setting a sheathed knife on the table in front of me.

“I’m not really sure how to use this,” I said. “I’d probably only hurt myself.”

“Carry it anyway,” he said. “It’s silver. It may come in handy.”

I nodded and tucked the thing into my back pocket.

The Viking and I were the last to leave the armory. I looked that the photos one last time, then followed the Viking through the rambling mansion toward a side entrance connected by a paved walkway to the garage. The others had already gone out ahead of us.

I couldn’t yet see the doorway, but I did see the Viking stiffen. Then even I heard the commotion.

“Stay here,” he barked, and was gone.

“Yeah, right,” I said, and began running in the direction of the shouts.

“Fall back! Fall back!” I thought this might have been Marrok shouting.

Finally, I rounded a corner and saw the doorway ahead. I sprinted toward it and reached it as Zeke fell heavily against it and then collapsed to the ground. An arrow stuck out the back of his chest, dangerously close to his heart, though I knew the thing had missed. It appeared to be silver, because Zeke seemed unable to move and smoke curled up from both sides of the wound.

“Shit.”

I pushed the door open and looked around. The area between the house and the garage was clear. I saw no one else.

“Shit,” I said again.

I crouched beside Zeke and looked at the arrow. It was longer than I expected, though I had never seen one in person before. And it was made of silver, including the tip and the little feather things on the back. Except on this thing, they were more like blades.

“I think this is going to hurt,” I said.

I wanted to break the tip off the arrow and pull it out, but it was forged metal and I wasn’t nearly strong enough to break it. I thought the best solution would be to push the arrow through the rest of the way. Those blades would slice like knifes, but so long as they didn’t touch his heart, he would recover.

I began to drive the arrow farther into his chest. He groaned in pain but made no move to stop me.

“I know,” I said. “I’m very sorry. Here, we need you on your other side.”

He groaned in answer.

“I know, but we need all the margin we can get, so we need your heart to fall away from these blades before I push them through. Come on.”

He was heavy, and he could help very little. I grunted and cursed and was grateful I’d spent so much time hauling around cases of beer and liquor. Finally, I got him on his left side. The arrow was so close to his spine, the blades would likely damage it on the way by, but I knew he could regenerate from that.

“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. I considered using the knife, but knew I couldn’t get it between his ribs. I could use it to widen the hole, though. I pulled it from my pocket and yanked it free of the sheath. “You’re not going to like this part.”

He groaned again and simply closed his eyes.

“That’s probably best,” I said.

I held is right shoulder with one hand and the knife with the other. It felt very brutal, but I used the knife to open his body away from the arrow. Smoke curled up from his flesh, the scent of sulfur coming with it. He shrieked in pain.

As quickly as I could, I made the opening, jerked up on the arrow to pull it away from his heart, then yanked it out through is back.

“Zeke?” I said urgently, my hand trembling now as I shook his shoulder. “Zeke?”

I dropped the arrow to the pavement and rolled him onto his back. Obviously, he wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a heart beat.

“Fuck! How do you check a vampire for signs of life?” This was really becoming a problem.

Well, he hadn’t immediately turned to dust, as I’d seen Slade do, so I guessed that meant he was alive.

I pulled open the torn pieces of his shirt and felt relief when I saw the skin had begun to close.

“Oh, good,” I said, letting go the breath I’d been holding. I returned the knife to my pocket and stood. “You just stay here and rest a moment.”

I went to the corner of the house and paused, listening. I had no idea where anyone else was and most of the shouting seemed farther away now. I dropped to a knee and carefully peered around the house. From here, I could see the circular driveway, some of the long road up from the street, and the sweeping grounds to the tree line.

Viktor suddenly appeared in front of me. Very gently, but very firmly, he lifted me up and carried me back several steps.

“Forgive me, Madam Neasa,” he said urgently. “But I’m afraid it’s not safe. Please, stay back.”

“Who’s here?” I demanded, grabbing his lapel. “Where’re the others?”

“Please, madam, I’m supposed to wait here with you. Please.”

“I understand. Okay, I understand.”

He was obviously grateful and let go of my arms.

“Is anyone else hurt?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Where are they?”


“I’m uncertain.”

But he had a good idea, given his heightened senses.

“Who shot that arrow?”

He hesitated a beat too long. “I’m uncertain.”

“Damn it, Viktor! Don’t lie to me! Who!”

The answer pained him as he said, “A Council assassin.”

Around the front of the house, I heard a couple of shouts and a terrible growl.

I moved around Viktor and saw an enormous wolf streak across the lawn toward the trees. Wide-eyed and staring, I moved around enough to see Marrok, crouched near the fountain, grumble in irritation as he ripped off his shirt. And instant later, an enormous wolf shook off the last of his clothes and ran after the first.

I blinked and realized my mouth hung open.

Well, that answered the question about Ranulf and Marrok.

Without much thought, I started to run after them. Then I stood in the garage, Viktor in front of me.

“Please, Madam Neasa. Stay here.”

“I know you’re caught in the middle, and I don’t envy you. But I am going after them. Either help me or stand aside. Please, don’t force me to make you stand aside.”

He squeezed his eyes shut and looked very grim.

I grabbed his arm. “Viktor, let’s compromise. Come with me and watch my back. That assassin is here for me. I will not sit idly by while anyone else is in danger. Help me.”

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “Yes, okay.”

“Thank you.”

I sprinted from the garage in the direction the wolves had gone. I did not have vampire speed, of course, so Viktor trotted along beside me looking quite out of place in his suit and tie.

“How many are there?” I asked.

“One.”

“Any idea where he is?”

“Still in the trees. Half a mile ahead, slightly to the west.”

“And the others?”

“The same general direction.”

I pushed myself faster, grateful I made running a regular part of my fitness routine. On a good day, I could do a six-minute mile. But the next three minutes seemed to take three years.

Finally, as we got closer, I could hear growling and furious activity. We rounded an enormous pine tree and the trees were thinner. On the forest floor, one of the wolves lay on his side, bloody and badly mangled. He was breathing too fast and whimpered a few times. The second wolf circled him, keeping between him and the two vampires fighting near by.

Mostly the vampires moved too quickly for me to see them. But when they paused long enough, I could see one of them was the Viking, enormous axe in hand. The other was unfamiliar, and I guessed him to be the assassin. Finally, I spotted Rhain nearby, watching the fight, bow raised, arrow knocked. He seemed to be waiting for a clear shot. The arrows were silver.

“Do what you can for him,” I told Viktor, pointing to the wolf.

He seemed to want to argue, but chose not to. As I ran by, he knelt beside the downed figure.

The fight slowed enough I saw the assassin held two knifes. Both men were bloody. I could not determine which had the upper hand.

“Hey!” I slid to a stop twenty feet away. “Hey! Stop! I’m right here!”

The vampires broke apart and both of them turned to stare at me. The assassin looked surprised. The Viking looked irritated.

“It’s me you came for,” I said. “You’ve nearly killed two of my friends. So it’s time you dealt directly with me.”

The assassin chuckled. He was just under six feet tall, and had dark, archaic features, likely of Middle Eastern heritage. His dark hair was long and bound into a tail with leather straps. He wore dark green fatigues and black boots. He appeared to be about forty.

“You’re kind don’t make friends with vampires or werewolves,” he said, his accent thick. “I know this from the many books written about your kind.”

“Wherever these books are, I’m going to need to burn them. They’re bullshit.”

He stalked forward a couple of steps as he pulled another knife from his belt. “Okay, Ancient One. You have my attention. Shall we finish this?”

“Let’s.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rhain flinch. Then I heard the sound of the bow. But I had already reacted.

I raised my hand as I tapped into the well of light inside me. As I intended, the light encircled the assassin, and the arrow fell to the ground. I wasn’t sure if it would be able to penetrate the light or not. Turned out not.

I lowered my hand. The assassin gaped at the arrow then blinked at me.

“Told you those books you read were bullshit. Now drop your weapons.”

“Does he still have his powers?” Rhain asked.

I blinked and the assassin faced Rhain, arm outstretched. Rhain stood three feet to the side. A silver knife now stuck out of the tree trunk where he’d been standing.

I sent a bolt of white light into the assassin. He was blown back into a tree and fell hard to the ground.

“Not anymore,” I said.

I immediately turned back to the wolves. Ranulf had changed forms and know knelt near his brother. He and Viktor tried in vain to stem the bleeding with Viktor’s suit jacket.

“Let me see,” I said, kneeling with them.

“Hurry, please, Neasa,” Ranufl said. “He’s breathing too fast.”

“And his heart rate is slowing,” Viktor said.

They removed the jacket and I forced myself not to flinch at the damage.

His heart had slowed because he’d bled too much. Way too much.

“Okay, Marrok. Not to worry. You’ll be good as new in a jiffy.”

Mindful of the blood, I held my hand above the wound, closed my eyes, and took a breath. I smiled as I thought of the Viking, the peace and joy I felt with him, how safe I felt in his presence.

“How is he?” the Viking asked.

He must have knelt beside me and put a hand on my back.

The moment I felt his touch, the reservoir overflowed, and the light came. The damage was extensive, and it took almost a full minute to heal Marrok. For one terrifying moment, I feared I couldn’t do it, either because the damage was too extensive or because I wasn’t strong enough.

Finally, I felt the last of the wound close. Marrok jumped to his feet with a bark, licked my face, then bound into the trees.

Ranulf scoffed. “That’s not very dignified.” I thought he meant licking my face.

Viktor had gotten to his feet. “Believe me, when you come that close to death, dignity doesn’t enter into it.”

Ranulf sighed and looked at me. “Thank you.”

“You will never need to thank me. You or Marrok.”

He caught my eye and looked at me seriously. “Thank you.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“We’ll meet you guys back at the house.”

He turned, ran two steps, and bounded away as an enormous wolf.

I blinked as his fury body disappeared into the trees.

“Not something you see every day, is it?” the Viking said, offering me a hand up.

“No, it isn’t.”

And they weren’t what I had expected, either. But, then, what had I expected? Like everyone else, I’d gotten my werewolf education from fiction. As it turns out, a two hundred and fifty pound man cannot turn into a one hundred pound wolf. He must turn into a two hundred and fifty pound wolf. And a wolf that size with huge teeth and preternatural speed, strength, and agility is absolutely terrifying.

“Why are we keeping this guy alive?” Rhain asked, dumping the assassin at my feet. “That arrow would have struck home, luv.”

“I know. But this guy is going to be more useful alive.”

“Just kill me now,” he said, unable to fully hide his fear. “I won’t help you.”

I pulled the knife from my pocket and out of the sheath. The assassin watched the knife closely as I knelt and touched the blade to his skin.

“See that? This blade’s silver. And you’re skin isn’t melting. Have you put that together yet? I zapped your power, asshole. So whatever tough guy routine you were going to play is going to look a little different now, since you’re as vulnerable as any human.”

He gaped at the knife against his skin, as if I must have been lying or playing some trick. And then his mind, which I guessed to be much better versed in torture methods than my own, ran away with him. He tried to maintain a brave face and cool exterior, but he didn’t quite pull it off.

“I won’t help you,” he said again.

I smiled. “We’ll see about that.”

I stood and nodded to Rhain.

“Put him with the others,” the Viking said.

Rhain scooped up the assassin and threw him over his shoulder like a feather-light sack of potatoes. Then he was gone.

The Viking turned to Viktor. “I thought I gave you clear instructions.”

Viktor looked at the ground in shame.

Before he could answer, I stepped between them. “It wasn’t his fault.”

“No?”

“It was ours, yours and mine. You put him in an impossible situation. There was no way he could have forced me to stay at the house.”

“I knew you wouldn’t have neutralized his powers.”

“Then you put him and me both in an impossible situation. Because you had to also know I wouldn’t sit around while your lives were at stake.”

The Viking sighed. “My orders were clear—”

“He should never have had to choose. And you know it.”

“In battle, I cannot question the loyalty of my men.”

“Odin, he almost died for you yesterday.”

“And for you.”

“Yes, and for me. After that, how can you have any doubt about his loyalty? I don’t.”

“I—” He sighed. After a beat, he turned to Viktor. “Viktor, forgive me. I’m afraid I did make a short-sighted mistake in the heat of battle.”

“I understand, sire. I’m very sorry.”

“Let us speak no more of it. Will you see that we’re ready to go in about twenty minutes?”

“Yes, sire.” He bowed, then he glanced at me. I thought I read gratitude in his eyes, but he said nothing else.

I blinked, and he was gone.

The Viking sighed again. “Woman, what am I going to do with you? My emotions continue to blind me, and I can’t think straight!”

“Please stop worrying about me. My power is growing. I’m able to defend myself.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed. I felt your power from a hundred feet.”

That stunned me. “Really?”

“Yes. I don’t think my aura reaches that far.”

“Well, great. That just telegraphs my presence. Those trackers at the hotel will know we’re coming.”

He got to his knees and pulled me close, wrapping his arms around my waist as his head settled against my abdomen. I held him close.

“I don’t think I can ever stop worrying about you, Neasa.”


I sighed and kissed the top of his head. “I know.”

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