Katelina finally gets her beach vacation, but it’s not everything she dreamed. How could it be with the companions she’s got? Strap in for a collection of six short stories about surf, sun, and… um… I mean surf, moonlight and vampires.
Oren took a seat at the breakfast table and poured himself a glass of crimson liquid. The blood was warm and salty, but it wasn’t the same as drinking from a living creature. There was no link to the source, no connection to their memories or feelings. It was sanitized and impersonal, and he preferred it that way.
Etsuko sat primly next to him, wearing a pink flowered kimono. Her long black hair was pulled up into an ornate bun and her almond eyes were politely cast down, though he knew she was watching him. She was always watching. Since they’d come across her in Japan, Etsuko had haunted his steps and now she seemed to think she belonged to him.
He downed half the glass and set it back on the table. Etsuko snatched it up and refilled it. Her eyes met his for a moment and then dropped again. He was sure she meant well, but as far as he was concerned the human could just go back to Japan where she belonged.
A vampire with long black hair took a seat across from them and flashed Oren an abnormally cheerful smile. It was Jorick, his master, the one who’d made him into a vampire. “Good morning.”
Next to him, like a blonde shadow, was the ever present human annoyance Katelina. “Good evening,” she corrected as someone deposited a plate of food in front of her.
“It’s our morning, little one,” Jorick said and took a long drink from his glass. “You’ll get used to it one of these days.” Jorick turned to Oren with a wink. “What do you have planned for this lovely evening?” He motioned to the large glass windows where palm trees swayed against the backdrop of a tropical night.
“Nothing.” Oren took another drink and hesitated before he set the glass down. As he’d thought, Etsuko quickly refilled it and bobbed her head in a pseudo bow.
“You should eat your breakfast,” Katelina said and motioned to the woman’s plate of food. “Before it gets cold.”
Etsuko didn’t look up. “I can eat when Oren-sama has finished.”
Oren shifted uncomfortably and muttered, “It’s fine. Eat your breakfast.”
“If Oren-sama wishes it.” Etsuko bobbed her head again.
Katelina opened her mouth, and Jorick cut her off, “Leave it, little one.”
Though Katelina snapped her mouth shut and glared silently, Oren could see what she wanted to say in her mind, “Etsuko isn’t his servant.”
I never said she was.
They finished their breakfast and Jorick and Katelina left for the beach. Oren stared at the empty decanter and tried to think of something to do. The sand and surf didn’t interest him. He’d taken a walk the first night and then spent two hours getting the sand out of his boots and socks. He imagined Etsuko’s kimono had been an even bigger hassle, but he had no intention of asking. He was just grateful she hadn’t tried to share his room with him.
With nothing concrete in mind, he wandered towards the patio. Etsuko followed, three steps behind, and stopped only when he did. He made an aggravated noise and stared out at the night. The scene was straight from a postcard, but the tropical splendor was already wearisome. What good were lush surroundings when there was nothing to do except sit and think?
A thousand demons whispered to him from the shadows and he struggled with whether to embrace them or push them away. He could see the faces of his murdered wife, Jesslynn, and his children, calling to him for blood, vengeance, and remorse. It had only been months since the Executioners had killed them, one by one. It was too short a time for him to abandon his grief.
He took a chair and Etsuko mumbled something about needlework. He waved his reply and she hurried off while he stared into the dark distance. Jorick had advised him to move on and let the past go, but it was hard advice to take. When Jorick’s wife had been murdered he’d mourned. And mourned. And mourned. Until even Jesslynn had commented.
“She was such a useless creature. To think he’s still pining for her is ridiculous.”
“He loved her,” Oren had told her, though even he wasn’t sure that Jorick’s devotion had been that deep and passionate.
“Not that much. He blames himself for her death and so continues this forced regime of mourning from a sense of guilt and duty. He’d be better to let it go and come back to the world. Mourning for eternity is useless.”
Oren wondered if Jesslynn would feel the same way now that she was the murdered wife. Would she say that he should let it go? He found that one’s opinions changed when they were personally involved.
It wasn’t just Jesslynn he missed, but his children. Alexander had been trapped in the body of a five year old child, with a brain that was slowly maturing. Though still childlike until the end, Oren had often seen flashes of adult thoughts in the boy’s deep eyes. How much longer would it have been before things got complicated? Before those adult thoughts turned to adult feelings, trapped in the body of a child?
And Tristan. He was only a few months old when Jesslynn turned him. As had happened to so many of their children, Tristan had been sickly with only weeks left to live. Oren understood changing him to save him, but to trap him as a perpetual infant? He’d never learned to speak, or to walk, and there had been moments, when Oren gazed into his tiny face, that he wasn’t even sure there was a soul inside, rather just an empty doll that went through the motions.
He shivered at the thought and pushed it away. Despite that he had loved him; he’d loved them both. Alexander with his quick smile, cheerful nature, and accepting personality and Tristen with… with…
Etsuko returned, yards of dark blue cloth in her hands. She bowed quickly. “I hope I have not disturbed Oren-sama.”
“No,” he murmured, and looked back to the sea. He listened as her chair scraped across the patio and then the silence fell as she bent to her work. He had no idea what she was making. A blanket of some kind? He wasn’t sure he cared, but his guilty thoughts hurt, and so he turned back to her. “What is that?”
“This?” she asked and lifted the cloth. “When I am finished I thought to make a kimono for Oren-sama, if it would please him?”
Oren blinked in surprise, lost for words, and tugged on his button up shirt. He couldn’t imagine wearing what looked like a blue bathrobe, especially not in front of anyone. But there was a hopefulness in her eyes that made him think of Alexander and his horrible homemade Christmas presents. Year after year the child had presented him with things glued together, usually with homemade paste. One would think after several decades he’d have improved.
“That would be… nice,” Oren said finally.
She smiled and bobbed her head. “Thank you, Oren-sama. I am glad you approve.” Then she turned back to her work.
Oren watched her for a moment. The needle and thread slipped easily in and out of the cloth, leaving behind perfect, practiced stitches. Though he found her old fashioned behavior bizarre in many instances, he had to admit it was refreshing to see a woman who could still do needlework.
If only she preferred to make shirts instead.
Jesslynn had quit making his shirts long go, and he missed that. He’d mentioned it once or twice and she’d told him he could purchase them now. “They have mail order,” she’d said and shoved a catalog at him.
But mail order wasn’t the same.
Oren’s attention drifted to the distant sea again. Even his vampire eyes could only see so far before the world faded into night. He knew his vision was better than a mortal’s, though he didn’t know how much better. He’d been human so long ago that he’d forgotten.
Though he tried to ignore her, he was conscious of Etsuko sitting behind him and to his left. He could hear the slow steady pace of her heartbeat and, if he concentrated, the soft patter of her thoughts rattling along in Japanese. It was just as well he couldn’t understand the musical words. He doubted he wanted to know what she was thinking.
The breeze blew past them and he smelled her mortal blood. It wasn’t an unappetizing odor, but neither did it drive him into a frenzy of bloodlust. The smell of blood had only done that in the beginning, and then only when he was hungry. Living with human servants had soon cured him of that. Jesslynn had frowned on killing them.
“They’re hard to train!”
He fidgeted as her memory pressed close without the required rush of sorrow. Jorick might think a vacation was a good idea, but he didn’t. It was nothing more than a trap.
He made an unconscious noise of irritation and Etsuko asked, “Please forgive my asking, Oren-sama, but is something wrong?”
“No,” he said tersely. Her heartbeats sounded in the background: one. Two. Three. Then he said, “I don’t see the point of this excursion.”
“To the island? Jorick-sama said that Katelina-san needed a rest.”
“Yes, I know! But, a rest from what? From running around the world? From sticking her nose into places it doesn’t belong; into fights she is ill equipped to handle? Jorick could affect the cure easily enough by taking her home and leaving her there.”
“You must pardon my asking, but Oren-sama does not care for Katelina-san?”
“No!” He cleared his throat uncomfortably as the impact of the statement crystalized. “I don’t hate her, of course. She has been useful now and then. She did manage to kill the Executioner, Senya.” He disappeared into an angry memory of the Executioners painted by flickering firelight as she helped to murder his family. He’d been able to kill one of them later, and Jorick another, but Katelina had killed the last of them. Finally, his family was avenged, though he wasn’t sure whether to be grateful to her, or annoyed that she’d done it instead of him.
A soft noise from Etsuko brought him back, and he tried to pick up the abandoned thread of conversation. “She’s also been a hindrance, though. Jorick is always forced to take considerations for her. Like this.”
Though Etsuko didn’t speak, he felt the need to defend himself. “That’s not to say I don’t understand, to a point. A man must make concessions for his wife. Only, she isn’t his wife, is she? She isn’t even his equal. Do you know, I believe he enjoys keeping her human? I think he gets a – a thrill from her weakness and need for protection, and what could be weaker than a human? If he plans to keep her around then it’s time he turned her, whether she likes it or not. That’s his excuse – that he saw in her mind how terrified she is of becoming one of us, and so he won’t do it until she’s ‘ready’. Ready? How many vampires were ready? How many had a choice in the matter? It wasn’t my idea, I can assure you, rather Jesslynn’s.” The name conjured guilt, so he backtracked. “As I was saying, it’s been long enough dragging her around as a human. Jorick needs to do it and be done.”
“Jorick-sama and Katelina-san have been together a long time?”
Oren did a quick calculation that took some of the wind from his sails. “Five months.” He broke off and then rallied. “But Jorick has apparently convinced himself that they will be partners for eternity, so in this case months might as well be years.”
Etsuko nodded, but Oren imagined there was something judgmental in it; something that said he was being unreasonable. As if she didn’t deem five months a long enough time to base such a commitment on. “In the past people got married after shorter periods of time and lived respectable lives together for many years.”
But not for eternity.
He floundered and Etsuko said, “I know it is a painful subject, but if Oren-sama does not mind my asking, was your own engagement long?”
“What? Jesslynn? Well, I wouldn’t call it long but… I knew her for some time before I courted her.” The conversation approached uncomfortable territory and he steered it back. “Unlike Jorick. He decided he was in love with the human before he’d even spoken to her! Of all the ridiculous… He only did it because he knew it would complicate things.”
Etsuko gave another blank nod, and he rushed to explain, “She was dating a human that was helping us. When the enemy coven targeted her, Jorick volunteered to guard her. Or something like that. He was never supposed to make himself known to her, only keep an eye on things until the humans were no longer useful.” As the words left his mouth he realized how they sounded. “Until the war was over, I mean, because at that point what use would the humans have for us, or us for them? We’d have gone our separate ways and been glad of it. But Jorick had to become involved and it failed spectacularly, just like everything else.”
He fell into a disgruntled silence and tried for the thousandth time not to blame Jorick and Katelina for the Executioners’ appearance at his house. There was no proof that they’d been followed, in fact there was evidence to the contrary. But the suspicion was still there like a dark seed wanting only a little food to grow. They’d arrived at his house, seeking sanctuary, and only days later the Executioners had come. Jesslynn had trusted the children to her – to that human – and look what protection she had offered them! Katelina couldn’t save herself, how had Jesslynn expected her to save Alexander and Tristan?
”I am sorry that Oren-sama has faced so many difficulties. It must be hard to have suffered so many setbacks and unjust punishments.”
Oren jolted and turned in his chair to stare at her. In the months since everything had collapsed, no one had bothered to say that. “Well, yes.” He cleared his throat. “It has been… er… difficult, of course. There are… erm… difficulties…”
“I think Oren-sama is very brave,” Etsuko said admiringly. “To have faced such darkness and conquered it takes great strength.”
Conquered? “Um, well, yes…” He couldn’t find any intelligent words. If one asked Jorick or the others, conquered would be the last word they’d use. Even he wouldn’t say he’d conquered the darkness. Perhaps something more like “been overwhelmed by”.
Etsuko continued, “Add to that the running of Oren-sama’s coven, and leading two battles, one against The Guild of the United States. That must have been very challenging.”
He tried to hide his surprise at her comments. No one had noticed how hard it had been. “Well, yes, it was challenging, actually. There was a lot of fighting among themselves. Trying to force everyone to cooperate, even for the briefest of moments, was more of a struggle than a one man war would have been.”
“I am sure that Oren-sama met the challenge bravely. A vampire of his many years will have learned great wisdom.”
Wisdom? He gave a strange little cough and for lack of a better reply managed to say, “Yes, quite.”
Concern crossed her face at his strange reaction. “I hope Oren-sama does not mind my saying so? I do not wish to be impolite or rudely familiar.”
“No, no, of course not. It’s… fine.” He gave another odd cough, as if trying to force intelligent words through the shock. It didn’t help.
“I am glad. I do not wish to be offensive. I know that Maeko-sama would also be upset if she thought that I was being rude.”
Oren seized the change of topic. “Yes. Maeko. Speaking of her, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have stayed in Japan with her?”
“I appreciate Oren-sama’s concern, though I believe that this is where I am fated to be.”
He couldn’t argue with fate, or even imagined fate, so he turned back to the seascape and tried to pretend that she wasn’t still back there. He waited a moment, and then pressed lightly until the pittering-pattering rise and fall of her thoughts echoed in his ears. They trundled along, still in Japanese, and he let them go.
It’s just as well, he reminded himself. Did he really want to know what strange things she thought about?
She was right about one thing, though. Managing all of that – the covens, the alliances, the battles – had been difficult, especially considering the lack of help. After Jesslynn’s death, he’d counted on Jorick to take her place as the real commander and let him remain as the puppet, but Jorick had been too busy with Katelina to be of any real assistance, and then his sister… Just thinking about Torina and her never ending demands was enough to twist a sour expression across his face. She was his sibling, and he would always care for her, but that didn’t mean he should continue to tolerate her princess attitudes. She’d been spoiled for over two hundred years, and though he’d ignored Jesslynn’s demands that he “make Torina behave”, he suddenly felt that someone should at least try. It was time she remembered who had turned her into a vampire, and who led the coven.
“Yes,” he thought. “It’s time she learned to appreciate her position.”
And as soon as things got back to normal, she was going to.