Ark – Tales of the Executioners

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This is the second of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection, much like Vampire Morsels.

The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

ARK

This story takes place in April, 1972.

Rain streaked the windshield and Ark stared through it to the dark landscape beyond. The world was colored in night; shades of blue and purple. It had been so long since he’d seen the sun that he’d forgotten the other colors. Vague memories stirred, over bright and painted in green, blue, and yellow. They belonged to another place and another time. Just like she did.

A sign went past. “Welcome to California”. The painted letters filled his stomach with lead. Unwittingly, his eyes were drawn to the manila folder in the passenger seat. He knew the contents by heart. The neatly typed papers outlined the terrible crimes of a vampiress and passed sentence on her. He’d read hundreds like it in the last two hundred and sixty years since he’d joined the Executioners – the elite police force of the vampires. He’d seen hundreds of pictures and hundreds of sketches. He had learned to take them with the cold detachment of someone with a job to do. They had broken the law. They deserved to be punished. But this time, when he’d looked into the dark Xeroxed eyes of the photo, his insides had turned to ice.

It had been so long since he’d seen her, and in that time a thousand different emotions had come and gone, until he’d thought he was indifferent to her. He told himself for the thousandth time that he could do this. He could do his duty, keep his honor. Even if she begged he would not be swayed.

She isn’t who the woman you remember anymore.

It was three in the morning when he stopped for gas and directions. The man inside was courteous but wary, as he should be. Though Ark was careful not to show his fangs, or do anything that would send the cashier into a panic, the man could still sense the unnatural danger standing next to the candy bar display. Ark knew because he could smell the man’s fear and hear his thoughts. It was a trait he’d inherited when he’d been turned into a vampire and he’d spent the last three-hundred-plus years perfecting it.

The man’s directions were good, and Ark soon parked in front of a stucco house on the edge of town. Yucca plants swayed in the dark and palm trees rustled above his head. He checked the time and logged it in his book, then grabbed the dagger from the glove box. By habit he pulled it from the scabbard, just enough to see the cold gleam of the clean blade. He snapped it back with a clink of finality, and forced himself out of the car and up the stone walk.

This is just an assignment. Like any other. She broke the law.

He didn’t knock, only threw the door open and strode inside. A guard sat on the couch wearing the customary gray uniform of The Guild. He jumped to his feet, magazine in hand and surprise on his face. His fear melted into terror and he snapped a shaky salute. “S-Sir. You’re early.”

Ark shoved a folded piece of paper at him. “Take me to the prisoner.”

The guard quickly scanned the contents. Underneath the pronouncement was Malick’s signature, and seal; A knot of three interlocking rings. It was the same symbol Ark wore around his neck, the sign of the Executioners and their authority.

The guard gave a stiff nod and mumbled, “She’s, um, she’s this way. Downstairs.”

Ark followed through the house and down the cellar steps. The basement was a single windowless room with a dirt floor. A pair of coffins sat against one wall, the lids askew. Guards were scattered around. Three played cards, one fiddled with a transistor radio. Two more were lost in conversation. In the midst of them all sat Dovina, tied to a chair, arms behind her back. She wore a pair of faded jeans and a loose, patterned top. Her long golden hair fell around her shoulders, a casual braid intermingled amongst the strands. Her pale skin was as flawless as Ark remembered and her eyes…

Ark’s escort cleared his throat. The guards jerked to their feet, their pastimes forgotten, but Ark barely noticed them. All of his attention was riveted on Dovina. He sought desperately for the cold indifference that had settled over his memories of her but in her presence it was gone, replaced with crystal clear moments that played like movies behind his eyes. She stood in the courtyard, bathed in golden sunlight, a pail in one hand, and a rough dress draped over her frame. As if she sensed his attention she turned towards him, and when their eyes touched, fire erupted in his chest and left him breathless.

He tried to swallow away his emotions and find his usual calm. The tinkle of piano played in his head and in his mind he saw her as she was when she was his, dressed in silk, her fingers trailing languidly across the ivory keys, the same way that she touched him in the dark. The pretty smile was on her lips and, though the other men stared, the gleam in her eyes said she only saw him.

Just as he only saw her.

“Ark. I hoped it would be you.”

Her voice brought him back to the present, and he jerked the paper from the guard’s hands.  Two of them hurried forward to untie her and pull her to her feet. One stood at each arm, holding her up, waiting for Ark to announce the sentence and carry it out. He was an Executioner. He had other assignments. He didn’t have time to linger. He would want to do it quickly.

And I should, he thought. Before it’s too late.

But it was already too late.

The guards looked at Ark expectantly, and he motioned them to release her. “I can handle this myself. I suggest you get started on the paper work.”

“We’ve already-” the guard faltered and broke off at one look from Ark. “Yes, sir. Of course.” He snapped a quick salute and motioned the others to do the same. Though the pair that held Dovina’s arms exchanged quizzical looks, they relented and followed their fellows upstairs.

The cellar door closed and Dovina remained standing, her ocean colored eyes locked with his. Though he couldn’t feel it, he knew she was in his head, sorting through his thoughts. Just as he could read minds, so could she. The product of sharing the same master.

“You might as well read the sentence. I know what it says.”

He drew a deep breath and looked away. Masonry crumbled in the corner and it held his gaze, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. “I did what I could. I asked Malick for leniency.”

And Malick’s answer had been to give Ark the assignment instead of Phillip. “Since it so concerns you,” he’d said, wearing his cold, benevolent smile. Ark could see beneath the fake kindness to the darkness underneath, but there was nothing he could do. He had sworn an oath to uphold the laws and, as the head of the Executioners, those laws were at Malick’s whim.

He put as much authority into his voice as he could manage. “You killed an entire coven, Dovina. Why?” She stepped towards him and he looked to her, then back to the corner again.

“They killed Eric, Ark. What was I supposed to do?”

Eric. His name was like the dagger that Ark stuffed in his pocket. “And what did Eric do to them?”

“Nothing.”

She came to a stop before him. For a moment he could see their entire history written on her face, hear the echo of past laughter in her voice, the shadow of forgotten tears in her eyes. The world was old even then, but they were young. Constance was his aunt, or so she called herself, and he worked diligently at every task she set for him. When she offered immortality to her “pretty nephew”, he took it, and when she offered him a gift of anything he desired, he asked only for Dovina, the servant girl down the street. The one whose golden hair shone like a halo in the sunlight.

Constance acquired her, and Dovina came to him readily enough. Together they tasted the darkness and all it had to offer. It wasn’t the dark gift that changed her, rather time itself. A new century crept close and they left Constance for the New World. In the wilderness they spent nights lost among the trees, slipping into what passed for civilization and out again, like ghosts. They made love in the wilds with only the birds as witness, and danced naked under the cloak of moonlight. But eventually the siren call of humanity was too strong. It was harder and harder to leave behind the fire lit cities, harder to give up the taste of human blood for that of the beast. They rented a room above a shop, and paid their bills with coins taken from their victims. Dovina wore gay frocks and slippers, and he had a ridiculous wig that was the envy of half the township. They thought themselves dashing after the fashion, but privately laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

Then the vampire came. In a single night he slaughtered the inhabitants of one street and started on a second. When he reached their room Ark removed his head and with trembling hands cut out his still beating heart. The Executioners arrived the next night, surprised to see their work finished for them. There were only two of them then and they were recruiting. They could use the help, and it would be good for him to do something useful; something besides wear silly wigs and buy silk.

Dovina watched as he bowed before Malick and swore the oath. The job was easy enough at first; mostly rogue vampires who thought a new world meant they could slaughter at will with no regard for secrecy, but as time passed the assignments became bloodier and more frequent. The territories continued to expand, and his absences grew longer. He rode away one too many times in the middle of the night, his orders clutched in his hands, Dovina watching from the doorway. One evening he returned to find the eyes of a stranger looking back at him. Dovina’s words were soft, but the meaning behind them hurt. There was someone else, and though she hadn’t allowed him to openly court her, she was considering it. She loved Ark, but she needed time to think.

She left in the rain, wearing a long hooded cloak that dragged in the mud. Ark stood silent in the doorway and cursed under his breath as the carriage drove away. He wished he could drown himself in drink and forget the world, but even feeding on the blood of drunks only did so much. His vampire physiology metabolized it too quickly and left him sober through the decades that followed. When seventy years had passed and he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. He went looking and he found her.

The memory popped to the surface of his mind, sharp despite the eighty years since. Red roses climbed the side of the house, and laughter tinkled through the open windows. He couldn’t see them, but he could smell them: Dovina and her Eric-

She stiffened in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me you were there?”

“What was the point? You’d obviously made your choice.”

Her eyes moved up and down his lean frame before she brushed his cheek with her fingers. His breath stuck in his throat and for a moment he couldn’t move.  “You made the choice for me. You were always gone.”

He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Then why didn’t you ask me to quit? One word from you and I’d have left it behind.” He searched the depths of her sea colored eyes, pushing past them into the thoughts beneath, looking for an explanation, but there were only mismatched memories. “Dovina?”

“You swore an oath to them, Ark. You wouldn’t break it lightly.”

“I swore one to you first, or did our wedding vows mean nothing to you?”

“They were the promises of youth, Ark. A vow you gave before you had a chance to contemplate the long fall of the years. When you pledged yourself to me did you imagine what a hundred years would really mean? Two hundred? Three hundred? The changes they would bring?”

“Is an oath any less valid because it lasts longer than you first imagined? Are feelings any less…” He trailed off and looked away.

She pulled her hand free. “It doesn’t matter. You can see the truth in me, just as I can see your orders in you. Can’t we part as friends this time?” He didn’t answer, and she pressed on. “Read the sentence.”

He knew he should, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. She gently pried the paper from his fingers and read aloud, “Dovina, fledgling of Constance, on this day, the twenty-first of April, 1972, based on testimony and evidence submitted to The Guild, you are found guilty of coven slaughter without just cause, and are hereby sentenced to death, to be carried out by Executioner at earliest availability.”

She handed the paper back to him. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Do you want me to sit over there, or should I just stand here or-”

He grabbed her up suddenly and captured her lips with his. She stiffened and then flowed against him. Her lips parted and soft sigh escaped as her tongue darted into his mouth. Though he clutched her as hard as he could, the kiss finally ended, and she lay her head on his chest. “Do you remember the party Monsieur Pelotte threw? Before you joined the Executioners?”

He thought of her again, leaning over the piano, toying with the keys, but his voice wouldn’t work.

“He had that violinist, from Boston. What was the song he played?” She started to hum, swaying to the tune. “Dance with me Ark. One more time.”

She slipped her arms around his neck and he reflexively wrapped his arms around her as she continued to move to the music in her head. “It’s been a long time, Ark. But if you close your eyes, doesn’t it almost feel like nothing has changed? As if all the things in between never happened.”

He buried his face against her neck and inhaled deeply.  Beneath the scent of her shampoo she smelled the same as she had on that long ago night. Her body was as soft and yielding as it had been, and her hair as silky. But he knew better. Though she might appear the same on the outside, the blessing of immortality, on the inside she had changed. She was still the cold stranger he’d come in the night to find, and the sameness was an imitation, like a moment from his youth he was trying to recapture and live over and over. “Time won’t let me forget.”

“No, I suppose it won’t.” She released him reluctantly and stepped back.  Tears trailed silently down her cheeks, like the rain on the windshield. They both knew what had to happen; what was supposed to happen. He would jam the dagger through her heart, twist it once or twice for good measure, and then perhaps cut it out just to be sure she was dead. The guards would log the time of the execution, dispose of the body, and head back to the citadel in Iowa where they’d file the paperwork. Meanwhile he’d be somewhere else, killing someone else.

They broke the Laws.

The balm that usually soothed his conscience tasted like poison and he wanted to spit it out. His mind raced as he tried to find a solution, a way out, but there was none. Malick had passed judgment himself. There was no way to appeal. There was nothing to do except run until there was nowhere left to run to. And then – and then the other Executioners would come. They’d bring an army of guards and no matter how good Ark thought he was, he knew he would die. Maybe he’d get lucky and they’d strike him down first, or maybe he’d have to watch as they hacked Dovina to pieces.

“It’s not the ending I want.” She gave him a sad smile and he wiped away her tears. “This will be quick but that…they’ll make us both suffer, Ark.” She reached into his pocket and pulled out the dagger. “Just be done with it.”

He jerked the weapon from her hand and fell back.

“You don’t understand. You asked what Eric did to deserve death, and I told you nothing because it’s true. I’m to blame. I was the one who refused to leave. That other coven wanted our territory. First they asked, then they pushed, and finally Eric pushed back. He didn’t want to but I-I talked him into it. We were here first. We had a right to be here. They were the ones who should leave. So he went to their den and confronted them, and that’s when they killed him. Don’t you see, Ark? I as much killed him as they did. Had I left him alone we would have moved on and he’d still be alive but I had too much pride. This was our house. Our land. Our hunting ground. Our-” She broke off and gave a mirthless laugh. “They screamed, Ark. They screamed when I killed them. They were young and cocky, but when the moment came they were all cowards.” Her spine snapped straight and she met his eyes. “I’m not a coward. I accept the punishment, so do it and be done.”

The dagger was like a lead weight in his hand, too heavy to draw and lift. And yet…

“You can hear their thoughts, too,” she whispered. “Those guards. One is on the phone right now, reporting to The Guild that you’ve dismissed them, that they don’t think you’ll go through with it. You know they have orders to kill you if you don’t.”

“Let them try. I’ll-”

She laid a finger to his lips. “In the end you’ll die, too, like Eric, a second casualty to my pride. How many should lose their lives because I was here first? Think of it as just another assignment, like all the others.” She met his eyes.  “You swore an oath to uphold the laws. I broke them. I was found guilty. Keep your honor.”

Honor. It was a cruel word for her to use, and she knew it. He wanted to rage at her, demand to know where her belief in his honor had been when she left in the rain, but there was no point. They could talk in circles, still the end would be the same. Just as the past could not be unwritten, neither could he future they’d created.

He unsheathed the dagger and held it up like a macabre offering. Light glinted from the cold steel with a finality that cut through him. Somewhere deep inside a voice screamed that there had to be another way, that Malick would make an exception, even though he knew he wouldn’t.

Not for me.

He closed his eyes as the dagger stabbed into her. The force of the blow knocked her backwards and he looked to see her stumble and fall. She landed on the floor. Her golden hair fanned out around her head like a medieval halo. The dagger protruded from her chest, and crimson surged up and around it to soak the thin material of her blouse.

She choked a mouthful of blood, then met his eyes for a final time. “I…always loved…you, Ark.”

He dove to pull the dagger free, to stop it before it was too late, but she grabbed the hilt and rammed it the rest of the way. Her body seized and shuddered, then fell still. He landed on his knees and cradled her against him. Her blood gushed warm and wet against him and he buried his face against her neck. Even now she still smelled just the same; just the same as she always had.

His mind flashed back to that night. He climbed off his horse and strode to the house to find her holding a letter in her hand. “The messenger brought you orders,” she whispered. “But you’ve just come back.”

He took the paper from her hands and pushed back a weary sigh. “I swore an oath, Dovina. I must see it through.”

He turned to go, and she made a small noise in her throat. “Ark, there’s…There’s a man. A vampire. His name is Eric. He’s asked to court me.”

“But you’re already married!”

“Am I?” He stared at her incredulously and she spoke again, her voice trembling, “I need some time.”

Anger rose sharp and bitter. “It seems you’ve already had enough, haven’t you? Constance warned me time would change you, but I didn’t believe her.”

The memory faded and he stared into Dovina’s glassy ocean colored eyes and for the first time he realized that it wasn’t Dovina who had turned into a stranger and deserted him. He was the one who’d gone from a gentle lovesick fool to a pitiless killer with a job to do. He was the one that had abandoned her in everything but word. He was the one who had changed.

And there was no going back.

************

This version’s better than the one on my other blog, though it might still need a polish. I don’t know, maybe not.

Just a reminder, Legacy of Ghosts is still up for vote in the cover wars, so if you have a moment please stop in and cast your ballot. Thanks so much to everyone who’s done so already. you guys are awesome!

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Aine – Tales of the Executioners

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This is the first of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection, much like Vampire Morsels.

The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

AINE

This story takes place during Heart of the Raven.

The phone reception was good, though background noise  of the bus made it hard to hear. Aine nodded to the man talking on the other end and added, “Right. You two keep looking. I think I’m in the last known neighborhood, or I should be soon. If you see him call.”

The male on the other end agreed and Aine hung up. The two were more than capable of handling things on their end. They’d been trained, just as he had.

He tapped an app shortcut and flipped through the information on his cellphone screen.  He’d memorized the photo and the details. The GPS map showed that he was right, he was only about half an hour from the guy’s den. Hopefully he would stick to his usual routines and it could all get sorted out quickly.

He stashed his cellphone in his coat and turned to the widow. The bus pulled away from the curb with a load of new arrivals. Not that there was room for more. Despite the late hour, the bus was crammed with people jostling, arguing, laughing, talking, and, in the case of the man next to him, drinking. Aine scanned the crowd, seeking the newcomers. His brown eyes moved from person to person and then-

“Hey! Watch it!”

Aine jerked away but didn’t avoid the splash of hot coffee. It soaked into his coat and splattered across his black t-shirt. He was still better off than the coffee’s owner, who now wore it on his pants and his heavy sweater.

“Sorry,” the guy said and mopped at the mess with a flimsy paper napkin. His eyes moved to the large, dark skinned man who’d nearly bowled them over. “Lousy drunk.”

But it wasn’t just a lousy drunk, not if Aine’s nose and experience told him anything, and a hundred plus years couldn’t be wrong.  It was a vampire. Or rather the vampire Aine was looking for. It was almost as if he’d stepped off the cellphone screen.

“Excuse me,” Aine murmured to his seat mate and then casually stood and moved towards the front of the bus. This wasn’t the place for a confrontation. Alone, he wouldn’t be able to manage the guy and the crowd.

The bus ground to a stop and Aine followed his quarry out onto the sidewalk. The vehicle had barely pulled away when the vampire glanced over his shoulder at his pursuer. Their eyes met and then he seemed to vanish.

Aine groaned. “A wind walker, great.”

He gave the darkened street a quick glance and then hurried after him, though he knew he had no chance of catching up. They might both be vampires, but their skills varied, and he was no match for the other’s speed.

He swung down an alley that was thick with the other vampire’s smell, and skidded to a stop as a large, hulking object seemingly appeared from the shadows.

“Who are you?”

Aine fingered the dagger in his coat with one hand, and with the other he flashed the silver medallion that hung around his neck. Made of twisted silver bands, it was more than just jewelry; it was a badge that identified him as one of the vampire guild’s elite police force.

An Executioner.

A quick hiss of breath and a step back showed that the vampire knew what that meant and all the shades of dark subtleties it implied.  “What do you want?”

“The Guild sent me, Tom,” Aine said and let the medallion drop back to his chest.

The reaction was slow, thoughtful. “What for?”

“You know very well, after the mess you left. If you’d like to come with me, we can do this the easy way.”

Tom snorted. “I don’t take invitations handed out by Executioners.”

“Look, just come with me and-”

Tom was gone before Aine could finish his sentence. Of course this had to be difficult. That was why he’d been handed the assignment. The Executioners with seniority didn’t want it, and they couldn’t hand it to the two new recruits, not that Aine had been an Executioner for more than a month and a half himself. He wished that Verchiel was back from his trip to Germany. He seemed like the kind of guy who would enjoy an assignment like this.

With nothing else to do, Aine turned and headed back to the street. The light above the bus stop threw flickering light over the bench and its two new occupants. The pair of teenage girls looked on their surroundings with wide eyes and nervous, drunk giggles.

Aine checked his watch and the faded bus stop schedule. It claimed another bus would stop within the hour, though he wasn’t sure if he should bother. He’d lost Tom, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find him, if The Guild’s information was correct.

And that was always a big if.

He leaned against the light post and waited. The teenage girls checked him out and giggled, at first obviously finding his young face and long, copper colored hair attractive. But, as moments passed and he remained motionless, not quite human but not quite something else, their approval slipped into dislike, and they shied away, sliding to the far end of the bench with apprehensive looks.

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis. That was what one of his superiors had called it. That moment when you were too human, but still not human enough, and the mortals got scared.

He didn’t feel like messing with them, so he abandoned the wait and headed out on foot.  It would be easiest to go to Tom’s den and wait. There were only a handful of hours left until dawn, and no vampire would stay out after that. He tugged his cell phone from his coat pocket to check the map again, but the device was damp with coffee and when he pressed the button nothing happened.  It was just something else to make the night complete.

What have I done to deserve this?

He tried to remember the map, and came up with a vague, shadowy impression of it. The street names were a blur. He reminded himself that Executioners had survived without GPS for thousands of years. Surely he was as good as they were?

As he walked, he sniffed the air, seeking Tom’s scent. He picked up a variety of smells; sweat, paint, cinnamon, and something very much like old varnish. There was the scent of another vampire, one he didn’t know, and then, finally, there was Tom.

He wound down a dark street and an alley, until he came to a rusty door. Tom’s scent was strong; he’d been there recently, though whether it was his den or not was hard to say. There was only one way to find out.

The door wasn’t locked, so Aine opened it and peered inside. He sniffed again and came up with stale cigarettes, blood, and something else. It smelled vampirish and yet it didn’t. Another complication.

He couldn’t smell anyone else, so he pushed past the door and up a set of dark stairs. His vampire eyes could see in the gloom, but there was nothing to look at. The walls were bare and the hallway at the top of the stairs was empty except for another door at the end. The scent was stronger as he crept towards it, and he paused at the door and listened. He could hear something like soft scratching; perhaps someone moving around?

He gripped his dagger in his hand and threw the door open with a shout, “Executioners! Come out!”

No one replied to his call, and he stood tense and expectant as his eyes scanned the room.  It was dark and sparsely furnished; a folding a table, a chair, a broken couch and on the floor a well-worn book with no cover. A door on the far wall led to what he assumed would be a bedroom. Whoever had been moving had fallen silent now, but he could guess where they were.

He raised his voice and tried to sound scary and authoritative, like Senya did. The woman was a bitch, but she knew how to instill fear in others. “I said, Executioners. Come out, now!”

Nothing happened and Aine groaned silently. “This is your last chance!” He counted off the seconds and then charged the door. He kicked it open in a flurry of splinters and landed inside with a cry.

A low growl came from under the sagging bed and, slowly, a pair of glowing eyes emerged. Aine blinked in disbelief and lowered his weapon as a large, angry cat slinked into view; back arched and tail like a bottle brush.

Aine stepped towards it and the animal hissed and darted for the door. The Executioner was faster, and he caught the seething mass of fur behind the neck and hefted it in the air. It snarled and struck out as Aine sniffed it. This was what he’d been smelling. Had Tom…?

He could smell the immortality and knew it had to be true. A vampire cat. What in the hell was he supposed to do with that?

He heard the downstairs door open and close, and footsteps tromp up the stairs. He dropped the creature and hid just inside the bedroom, tensed and ready. Tom’s scent wafted to him as the vampire shuffled to a stop outside his door. Aine cursed silently; he’d left it open and now Tom knew-

“Executioner!” the vampire roared. “I can smell you. Come out!”

So much for surprise.

Aine debated for a moment and then decided he had had enough. He slid the dagger back into his coat and stepped into the doorway. He leveled his gaze with Tom’s. The vampire snarled and made to charge, but his body didn’t move.

“What in the hell?”

“We’ve already done the introductions,” Aine said coldly. “I am here to escort you to the citadel where you will stand trial for a long list of crimes, including turning an animal without due permission.”

Tom strained and snarled, but his limbs stayed stationary, held in place by Aine’s abilities. “You’re a puppet master, aren’t you?”

“Yes, actually. Do you have a phone?”

Tom looked puzzled. “No, why? Is that a crime, too?”

“No.” Aine pulled his cellphone out and pressed the buttons but it stayed dark. It would have been easier to call the guards and let them restrain the prisoner and haul him off, but it looked like he’d have to do it himself. “It doesn’t matter. Do you have an animal carrier for the cat?”

Tom adopted an attitude of fake innocence. “What cat?”

At that moment the animal strode out of the bedroom gave a loud “meow” and rubbed against his legs. Tom looked away and then muttered, “Oh, that cat.” His voice rose as he snapped, “It’s a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense, demanding that we ask their permission to turn something. They don’t care about making more vampires, but don’t turn your bloody cat immortal or the police come for you.”

Aine was inclined to agree, but he knew better than to say so. “I’m not here because of the cat. I’m here because you tore up a diner, killed two people, and left a score of witnesses to the fact.” Tom’s mouth opened and Aine quickly added, “Save it for the council.”

Tom fell into an unhappy silence, except for the occasional straining sound as he tried to force his limbs to move, while Aine searched the apartment for a box to cram the cat in. He wasn’t sure what would hold the creature; with immortality came increased strength, and he didn’t want it ripping its way out during transit and running loose in the city.

He found a metal safety deposit box under the bed that he thought would work. Like themselves, the cat wouldn’t need air. Tom gave another loud grunt and fought against his seeming paralysis. Aine’s head ached with the force required to keep the vampire immobile. He wasn’t sure how he was going to make him walk down the stairs and through the streets to the appointed meeting place. He’d have to deal with it when the time came.

He rubbed his forehead, then turned to the feline who was systematically shredding the book on the floor. “Here, kitty, kitty.”

The cat gave him a long, cold stare, and then in a single leap disappeared into the bedroom.

With a muttered, “God dammit, I’m ready for this night to be over!” Aine bounded after it. The thing tore around the small room, over the bed, halfway up the wall, down again, and around the floor. He finally managed to tackle the beast and force it into the box, howling, hissing, and slashing all the way.

“There,” he proclaimed to no one in particular and stormed back to the living room.  His head pounded and he was covered in long, angry scratches. To make his mood worse, he found that Tom had managed to raise his arms and spread his feet, though he still hadn’t actually moved from the spot. The prisoner stopped his struggles when he saw the metal box, and Aine had a sudden burst of inspiration. “You can cooperate or else I’ll incinerate this monster myself.”

Tom’s face went pale and his eyes burned with a mixture of fury and fear. “You wouldn’t. It’s not the cat’s fault.”

“You should have thought of that. If you think I’m in the mood to mess around, you’re mistaken. You will accompany me to the Guild, where you will stand before the council for your crimes and receive just punishment.”

“Sure I will. More likely you’ll cut off my head when I’m not looking and eat my heart for kicks. I know how you and your friends and your boss Malick operate.”

Aine began to slowly release his influence, watching for any signs of Tom’s fight or flight. “Malick isn’t in charge anymore. It’s Eileifr now, and the rules are a little different.”

Tom’s face twisted back and forth between surprise and bitter disbelief, and stopped on the latter. “If you say so. Just don’t hurt my damned cat or I’ll tear you apart myself.”

“You’re not in a position to call the shots,” Aine pointed out. “But if you cooperate I won’t hurt it.”

Tom growled low in his throat but, as Aine pulled away the last of his control, he continued to stand motionless. “So where the hell are we going?”

It was a long walk to the abandoned warehouse. Tom strode next to Aine like a thunder cloud, his glittering eyes mere slits that said he was going to grab that metal box and run for it at his first chance. Aine the unlikely prize in one hand, and his dagger in the other. He wished he had a more substantial weapon, but there hadn’t been any way to get something larger on the bus, and since The Guild’s intel said that Tom rode the bus every night…

The pair of guards was suddenly visible in a slice of streetlight. They stood like dark statues against the rusty, corrugated walls of the warehouse, barely disguised masks of irritation on their faces.

“I got him,” Aine called, just for something to say. “I would have called but my phone got coffee spilled on it.”

“Coffee?” one of the guards demanded. “Or did you just want all the credit?”

“Roger!” cried the other with alarm. “You can’t talk to Executioners like that.”

Roger rolled his eyes. “It’s not like it’s one of the real ones. It’s only Aine. For crying out loud, I’ve been a guard longer than he was.  Just because he’s got a title now doesn’t mean anything. Two months ago he’d have been in your place!”

“That was then,” said the other quickly. “Now he could kill you for talking back!”

Aine didn’t have time for this. He couldn’t believe Tom had cooperated as long as he had, and any moment he knew the vampire would decide to abandon the cat and take off. If he did they might not catch him. “Sorry to interrupt, but could you take the prisoner into custody?”

The nervous guard gave a high pitched “eep” sound, snapped a salute and muttered apologies as he ran to take one of Tom’s arms. Roger produced another eye roll, but did the same. They quickly bound Tom and hauled him towards a van that sat half concealed in shadows.

“We’ll take him in,” Roger said with no small amount of bitterness. “And I imagine we’ll do the paperwork.”

Normally Aine would have done it himself, but his head still hurt and Roger’s attitude annoyed him. “Sure, go ahead. You’ve had a lot more practice than I have, since you’ve been a guard longer.”

Roger scowled darkly. “The next time an Executioner spot opens-”

“You should put in for it,” Aine agreed. “You’re probably good at filling the application out by now.” He nodded to a black sports car that was parked near the van. “I’ll follow you in, unless they give me another assignment in the meantime.”

“Your phone would have to work for that.” Roger sniffed disdainfully.

Aine gave him a smile. “Then I guess I’ll get a vacation, huh?”

When Aine got back to the citadel he filed his report and turned his cell in for a new one. As he tested out the menu he asked causally, “So, the prisoner?”

“They, uh, took him to detention.  Looks like he’s likely to get ten years or more, if they go by the, uh, book.” He gave Aine’s paperwork a quick, nervous read through and stammered, “Uh, s-sir? You, uh, you mentioned a cat in your, uh, report.”

Aine wanted nothing more than a shower and a nice, big glass of blood. “And?”

“Well, beg your pardon, sir, but I, uh, you, you didn’t fill out an extermination request for the, uh, for the animal. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to fill one out and, uh, you’ll have to take the animal down to the basement to be destroyed.”

“Didn’t Roger do that already?”

“Roger? Uh, no, no sir, I don’t believe so. He did file some paperwork on the prisoner and such, but um, not, not anything on an animal.”

Aine rubbed his forehead with irritation. “He didn’t let the damn thing escape did he?” He suddenly narrowed his eyes and snapped, “That’s great. Now there’s a vampire cat running loose somewhere. Put him on report for negligence!”

The stammering guard gave a quick salute, and started to shuffle through papers. “Yes, yes, sir. Of course, sir. Right away, sir.”

“I’m tired of incompetence,” Aine added for good measure. “If there’s nothing further that Roger forgot to do then I’m going to my quarters.”

“Y-yes sir. Of course, sir. Have a nice day, sir.”

Aine took a shower, dressed in fresh clothes and fetched himself a large bag of blood. He dropped onto the sofa and poured some of the crimson liquid into a cup. It shimmered in the light and he reluctantly set it aside and turned to the metal security box at his feet.

“All right, monster. I’m going to open this, and if you try to take my head off I swear I’ll fill one of those forms out.” It was a lie. Evil or not, he couldn’t bring himself to have the thing destroyed.

He snapped the locks and waited for the cat to spring at him, but instead it sat hunched back in its box and meowed piteously.

Aine sighed and stuck his hand inside. “Come on, kitty, kitty. I won’t fill the form out. Come on.” He picked the cup up in the other hand and waved it towards the feline. “Come on and have some nice blood.”

The cat gave a long, low howl and leaped. He bounced off of Aine’s chest, pinponged off the arm of the couch, and pounced to a stop on the floor at his feet, expectant eyes peering upwards. Aine slowly set the cup in front of it, and drew back before the beast could tear him to shreds, but it only set on the blood like a kitten to milk, lapping happily.

Aine leaned back and sucked at his own dinner. He’d have to wait a week or two, but then he could put in a request for a cat. Everyone was so busy with construction and organizing new policies that he doubted anyone would oppose it. Though a cat was something he needed like a hole in the head, even if it was only for ten years.

Finished with its meal, the creature hopped up on the couch and settled itself in Aine’s lap, purring loudly. The vampire tensed for an attack, but when none came he relaxed and gave it a half-hearted pat on the head. Maybe having a pet wouldn’t be so bad, after all.  Even if it was immortal.

************

Aine had nothing to say, but I guess it’s a nice introduction to the group. Ark should be next if I ever get to it.

Have a good one and don’t forget about the Halloween sale. 😉

signature for white

Ashes of Deceit: Chapter Three

Katelina woke from a bad dream. She found Jorick beside her, still asleep. She brushed his hair back from his face and felt something tighten in her chest. Though last night was still on her mind, it was hidden behind the more recent, and vivid, nightmares. Sometimes she didn’t know which was worse; her dreams or her reality.

She slipped from the bed and shut herself in the bathroom with her last two cigarettes. Dressed in a sweatshirt and underwear, she perched on the edge of the bathtub and smoked one after the other. The smoke filled the room with an artificial fog. It did little to hide the bloody towel in the far corner of the bathtub, or her bloody memories.

The door opened as she stabbed the last cigarette out in the ashtray. Jorick leaned in and frowned. Though she expected a lecture, he only said, “You should get dressed. We’ll be leaving soon.” Then he disappeared.

When she joined him in the bedroom, he was in the middle of peeling off his bandages. As he’d predicted, the skin underneath was flawlessly smooth. She helped him with the ones on his back, then dressed. She was barely finished when the knock sounded.

Like Jorick, Oren and Kale were both healed. Kale’s blonde hair was combed behind his ears. Though he’d rolled up the sleeves on his borrowed shirt, the clothing was obviously too big. Oren looked as irritated as ever and carried a garbage bag. Before she could ask about it, he thrust the bag at Jorick. “Put the bullets and your ruined clothes in here. We’ll get rid of it later.”

Jorick cocked an amused eyebrow, though did as he was told. Finished, he tossed the bag to Oren. “What’s the plan?”

Kale answered, “I’d like to go back to my coven, assuming they’re alive.”

Jorick looked surprised. “You think otherwise?”

“I don’t remember anything that happened. For all I know, they could have been killed.” His lips tightened and Katelina recognized the fury in his eyes. It was the same look Jorick had when Verchiel practically kidnapped her and took her to The Guild.

Jorick nodded. “If I recall, your den is in Kentucky?”

Oren cut in, “Yes. We already discussed the driving directions. It should be a six hour trip, assuming we don’t have to stop frequently.” His disdainful gaze landed on Katelina.

She glared back, but Jorick let the comment slide with a simple, “All right, let’s go.”

Oren was right. The trip was just under six hours, even with two stops; one at a truck stop for Katelina and the other at a roadside park for the vampires. Katelina and Jorick sat in the back of the van, so she didn’t see the house until she climbed out into the snow. It was two stories of weathered Victorian farmhouse with broken gingerbread trim and peeling paint. It was exactly what she’d come to expect from vampire dens.

The only sign of life was a light in one of the downstairs windows. Katelina drew back apprehensively. Maybe Kale’s coven had been murdered.

“There’s someone here,” Jorick assured her softly, his stance cautious. “Several, actually.”

Oren moved to join them while Kale charged fearlessly forward, his expressions a mixture of apprehension and anger. He climbed the sagging porch and pounded on the back door.

As the echoes died away, the door jerked open. A red-haired woman leapt out and grabbed Kale in a suffocating hug. She kissed him passionately and Katelina looked away.

“Apparently someone is alive,” Oren remarked.

Jorick nodded and Katelina shifted uncomfortably. They watched as Kale released the woman and then caught her hands in his. Katelina could hear the low tones of a hurried conversation, but she couldn’t understand it. They broke apart and the woman headed back indoors. Kale motioned to them before he followed her inside.

Oren narrowed his eyes. “It looks as though everything is fine. I’d have almost rather they were dead. It would have seemed less like they’d betrayed him.”

“And less like they might betray us?” Jorick suggested.

Though Oren didn’t answer, Katelina could guess what he’d say: exactly.

“We don’t have to stay,” she said. “If we go now they can’t stop us.”

Jorick shook his head. “We have to find out what happened. If it’s one of Kateesha’s agents, we need to stop them before things get out of hand.”

“You’re not the vampire’s police chief, you know. You quit the Executioners a long time ago.”

Jorick cocked an irritated brow. “Yes, I know. Now, come, and keep your wits about you.”

“Good luck with that,” Oren muttered under his breath.

She shot back, “You’re one to talk.”

Jorick made a noise of impatience and tugged her towards the sagging porch. Oren followed silently. The steps creaked under their feet. Katelina was grateful to get indoors, if only because the floor was more solid.

A tall, broad shouldered vampire with ebony skin appeared in the doorway. Katelina’s heart caught in her chest. It was Saeed, one of Kateesha’s ex guards. When they’d run into him and Kale at the Citadel, Jorick told her that allegiances could change and she should let the past go. How could she? She remembered Saeed and his twin brother holding Jorick down while Kateesha tried to kill him.

Jorick squeezed her hand too tight. The look on his face said he’d read her thoughts. “Hello, Saeed.”

The dark vampire nodded and led them deeper into the house. The electric lamps cheered Katelina a bit; electricity wasn’t guaranteed in vampire dens. But, the modern convenience couldn’t chase away her thoughts of bloody vengeance.

Kale was seated at a large dining table. The red-haired woman fussed over him, touching his face, his shirt, his hair. Her head snapped up as Saeed led the guests into the room, and she stepped back to stand by Kale’s chair, her hand lying protectively on his shoulder. She was of medium height and build, and her copper colored hair hung in a long braid. Freckles were scattered over her pale face, and her features were uninteresting at best and at worst, plain. If it hadn’t been for the immortal attraction that vampirism gave its children, Katelina doubted she’d have noticed her.

At Kale’s gesture, Jorick and Katelina each took a chair. Oren hesitated, then unhappily took the one next to her.

Kale sent Saeed to find the others and Katelina sought reassurance in Jorick’s eyes. He offered her a smile that didn’t seem genuine.

The members of Kale’s coven  filtered in and soon the six of them were in the dining room, their voices a babble of thankfulness.

If they’re so happy to see him, why didn’t they rescue him?

Kale interrupted the reunion. “Introductions are in order.” He pointed to each in turn, starting with the redheaded woman. “This is Rachel.” He next gestured to a dark haired male with a scar across his right cheek, who looked like he might be part Native American. “This is Joseff. This is Jorick and his human and Oren.” He indicated a pair of twenty-something brunette twins that looked identical except that one wore glasses. “Alex and Yaul.” Alex, the one with glasses, nodded. “And Saeed.”

Joseff studied their visitors with dark, narrowed eyes. “What are they doing here?”

Though Jorick leaned back casually in his chair, his eyes met the challenge. “We brought your coven master back to you, since you were too busy to go yourself.”

“We turned it over to The Guild,” Joseff bit back.

Yaul stepped forward, though his twin tried to stop him. “And they didn’t do anything, just like I said they wouldn’t.” His eyes went to Rachel, who looked away, her cheeks pink.

Jorick met Joseff’s angry stare. “When did you go to them?”

Rachel answered for him. Her voice was nasal, but softened by a southern accent. “The night Kale disappeared. The decision was mine, not Joseff’s. I know it’s best not to involve them, but none of us are Hunters.” Her eyes dropped to Kale. “We didn’t know where you’d gone or what had happened!”

Kale patted her hand. “You did what you thought was best.”

Jorick’s eyes smoldered with interest. “How many days was Kale missing?”

Rachel answered without hesitation, “Ten.”

Jorick seemed to count the days in his head. “We found out that he was missing a week after the fact – in a tabloid, no less – yet the Executioners arrived after us.”

Without thinking, Katelina said, “Verchiel was busy with the murder. He probably had to do that before he could go get Kale.”

At her words the hostility in the room increased, especially from Jorick.

“Verchiel?” Yaul demanded.

“The Wind Walker,” Kale explained. “He’s one of the Executioners.”

Joseff snarled. “The Wind Walker has never helped anyone. He breezes in, jokes and leaves again. Trust Jorick to have a friend among them still, especially one like him.”

Jorick all but roared, “He’s no friend of mine! And murder or no murder, he might have done something sooner!”

Alex cleared his throat loudly. “Not to interrupt, but we’re getting sidetracked. Where have you been Kale, what tabloid are you talking about and what murder?”

Jorick took the last question. “The murder has nothing to do with this.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Joseff snapped.

Jorick rolled his eyes. “It was a few days ago, roughly an hour and a half from my den. Three vampires were killed during the day. Their two coven mates woke, found them and panicked. Luckily, I suppose, they ran into a member of the lesser guard, who reported it to The Guild. The redheaded idiot was sent to investigate.”

“And where are the survivors?” Joseff asked suspiciously.

With exaggerated patience Jorick answered, “They joined Traven’s coven.”

Yaul interrupted, “Who’s Traven?”

“He has an alliance with Oren,” Kale said.

Jorick brushed their interruptions aside impatiently. “As I said, it has nothing to do with this. And as for the tabloid-” he pulled the wrinkled article from his pocket and tossed it on the table, “- you can read it for yourself.”

They took turns handing the article around, then Kale launched into his story. He’d gone out to feed alone, then everything had gone black. He woke up in the detainment cell, where he’d been informed that he was going to be tested.

From that point on, he said, things were a blur. At first they fed him and drew blood, rendering him helpless with a gas. Then they starved him for the last four days, only feeding him his own blood, which didn’t nourish him.

As he spoke, Rachel’s hand tightened on his shoulder and her jaw clenched. The others made appropriate noises of outrage, except Jorick who looked even more interested.

“What gas?” he asked.

Joseff glared. “Does it matter?”

“It might. If they already have a gas that can stop a vampire…”

“You think they’ve studied vampires before?” Oren asked.

Katelina shifted in her squeaky chair. She’d read crazy things before that said people had captured everything from aliens to Bigfoot. What if they really had experimented on a vampire before?

Alex looked thoughtful. “If they have a knock-out gas, for lack of a better word, that explains how they were able to subdue Kale and abduct him. But, how did they find him?”

“That’s the question,” Oren agreed. “Who else knows the location of your den?”

“The Guild must, if they summoned Kale to the Citadel,” Jorick said. “If they know, it wouldn’t be too hard for someone who wanted the information to get it.”

Kale looked concerned. “There was that messenger, while I was at The Guild.” He caught Joseff’s eyes. “The one who left an address in Florida and wanted to know where Kateesha’s possessions were.”

“A ruse, maybe? Sent to make sure of your whereabouts?” Jorick suggested.

Kale shrugged. “But who? If it was someone with a personal vendetta, why didn’t they just kill me? Why hand me over to humans?”

Rachel interrupted, “Whoever is responsible didn’t want you dead.  They wanted you to suffer, and we both know who that is!”

“No,” Kale said softly. “It wouldn’t be.”

When no more information seemed forthcoming, Jorick asked patiently, “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell the rest of us who you have in mind?”

Without meeting Kale’s eyes, Rachel answered, “Thomas.”

The name was familiar and Katelina whispered to Jorick, “She doesn’t mean Anya’s brother, the one who spied on us for Kateesha’s coven and then tried to blame you for it?”

“Yes,” Rachel cut in. “The one who betrayed you and the one who made me.”

Kale growled low in his throat and the air palpably thickened with unease. “It wasn’t him.”

“How do you know?” she asked. “You remember the things he used to do, Kale. You know what he’s like!”

Katelina thought suddenly of the makeshift trial, when she’d been exonerated of willful sabotage by murdering Kateesha. Afterwards, Thomas had said something about Kale… Something like, “You might be surprised what I have the balls to do. Why don’t you ask Kale about that sometime?” With that memory came a new curiosity.

Jorick cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “Why does Thomas have a grudge against Kale?”

“Yeah, I’d like to know that,” Yaul said, looking from one to the other.

Kale sighed and Rachel visibly steeled herself. “Thomas and his sister had a lot of money once. They lived in a large plantation house. My family was poor, so when they took me on as a servant my parents was elated. I worked there for a short time before I discovered what they were,” she glanced to Saeed, but he didn’t meet her eyes. “That happened a lot back then,” she explained, looking at Katelina. “Vampires weren’t as careful because no one listened to what slaves or servants said. Anyhow, Thomas took a liking to me and he turned me.” She faltered. “He wasn’t the kindest of masters. I met Kale at a ball. He was in attendance with Claudius, and we…” Though she trailed off, the pink tint to her cheeks told the rest of the story.

“After that he tried to convince Thomas to free me, but he refused and turned even crueler. When Kale had had enough of it, he came for me.”

Yaul poked Joseff in the ribs, “Did you know that?”

“Yes,” he answered testily. “I helped rescue her.”

Rachel met Jorick’s eyes. “That night, Thomas swore he’d get revenge, that he’d make them suffer. He joined your fight against Claudius readily enough, and now he’s looking to make Kale suffer.”

“Except he didn’t,” Oren said. “Neither he nor his sister were interested in the war with Claudius. They didn’t join me until afterwards. It was Kateesha and The Guild they wanted to fight.”

“Or so they said,” Rachel insisted. “It had to be him. There’s no one else.”

Joseff nodded, his angry eyes burning. “Thomas is the only one who’d do such a cowardly thing.”

“Works for me!” Yaul slapped the table. “So when do we wipe them out?”

Kale sighed heavily. “I’m not sure it was Thomas.”

“There’s no one else.” Rachel took Kale’s hands. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was true, you know that. I don’t believe in vengeance for vengeance’s sake. But Kale, if he’s trying to hurt you…” her voice cracked. “If he’s hurting you, then I want him hurt.”

“I know.” Kale’s hand strayed up to her cheek, and he wiped away an errant tear. “All right, Thomas it is.” He turned to Oren. “The deal we discussed earlier?”

“Deal?” Katelina whispered, and Jorick just shrugged.

Oren nodded. “I keep my word.”

“Very well.” Kale stood. He leaned on the table and let his blue eyes sweep over the assembled vampires. “Last night, Oren promised the help of his coven to fight whoever was responsible for my imprisonment, if we assist in his battle with The Guild. I accept his offer.” He straightened up and looked to Oren and Jorick. “When can they be here?”

Katelina groaned silently.

<<<PROLOGUE

 <<CHAPTER 1

  <CHAPTER 2

    CHAPTER 3

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Ashes of Deceit: Chapter One

WARNING: Graphic Violence

Katelina walked out of the truck stop and eyed the dented, ugly carpet van. It stared back, like a dragon that wanted to swallow her whole. A blast of winter wind rattled her and she brushed her blonde hair from her face. She’d been volunteered to drive to Michigan and the Institute of Supernatural and Unexplained Sciences to help rescue a vampire, while Jorick and his fledgling, Oren, were going to sleep in wooden boxes in the back.

She wondered if it was legal to transport vampires over a state border. There should be a law about that, she mused silently. Maybe there was. The Guild, the vampires’ government, had laws for everything else, and they used the Executioners to enforce them. As the name implied, there seemed to be only one penalty for misconduct.

Oren walked out of the truck stop, his tawny hair streaming in the wind. His amber eyes flicked over her and he bit off the careful words, “Jorick thinks you can handle it.” He shoved the keys into her hand, then he climbed into the back of the van and pulled the doors closed.

Jorick was waiting patiently by the passenger’s door. Katelina’s gaze flicked over him; his flawlessly smooth skin, broad shoulders, and long, black hair. As she met his eyes, her apprehension disappeared in the warm, silky depths. She knew he produced the artificial calm, just one of many in his bag of vampire tricks, but she shoved it away. Though he meant well, she didn’t like the manipulation.

He shrugged and swung into the passenger seat. Though the sun would rise soon, he sat next to her as she fumbled the vehicle onto the road.

“I’ve never driven anything this big.”

“You’ll be fine, little one. You have the directions and there’s money in the glove box for gas and anything you need. As soon as it gets dark, Oren will take over.”

She nodded along as if his words were a song with a good beat. “What do I do if I get pulled over? I don’t have any ID on me.”

He offered her a fanged smile that left her irritated. “Don’t.”

Shortly afterwards, he slipped behind a curtain to the back of the van, and sealed himself in a box. Once she was sure both vampires were settled, she pulled into the next gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes. She’d quit, but today seemed like a good time to start again. They were probably going to get killed, so lung cancer wouldn’t matter.

As the miles passed, the radio was her only companion. She took a sick comfort in the noise and fell to talking to it.

“We’re only rescuing Kale because Oren wants to recruit him for his stupid war with the Guild. We don’t really know him, and if Kale’s dumb enough to get caught by humans, then he can get himself out.”

The last statement jarred her. There was an implication behind it that humans were somehow lower. The tiny shift in attitude scared her. She was still human. Obviously she’d spent too much time with those who weren’t.

She pushed it away. “It’s just as well that I’m here. It’s only some crack pot doctor with a pseudo facility but, since I met Oren, he’s had dead bodies piling up behind him. I suppose I should feel sorry for him. His wife and kids got killed by the Executioners a couple months ago, but it’s hard when he always acts like I’m beneath him. That’s how all of Jorick’s stupid vampire friends act. Except Loren and Verchiel.

“Though Verchiel’s hardly Jorick’s friend, more like someone he’d like to see hung by his own entrails.” She pictured Verchiel for a moment. Like his motives, his appearance was an enigma. His longish hair was so ridiculously red it looked fake, while his features were Asian. “I don’t know why Jorick hates him so much. Sure, he’s an Executioner, and most of them are pure evil, but he’s not too bad. Okay, he’s a pain in the ass, and I haven’t forgotten that crap of locking me in that little room when he hauled me to the Citadel a few weeks ago, but he’s better than a lot of the others. You can almost talk to him.” She heaved a sigh. “Maybe I’m just desperate for a friend. I am talking to a radio.”

The answer was a commercial about whiter teeth for Christmas. Disgusted, she fell silent. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Jorick’s company, but she needed to talk to about how abnormal the vampires’ world was, and Jorick just didn’t understand.

The day passed. Though the sun hung high in the sky, the weather stayed cold as she drove from one state to another. Pennsylvania seemed the coldest. Maybe because it was nearly sundown by the time she crossed the border.

She turned off the highway and into a broad parking lot. Signs on the dilapidated buildings promised an amazing antique experience. Apparently the shops hadn’t lived up to the hype because they stood vacant, occupied  only by shadows.

A shiver ran down her spine and her mind turned to macabre thoughts. Though she’d come to accept vampires and their world, childish fears still found their way through the veneer of her confidence.

She parked and leaned back in the seat. Outside, the last of the sun disappeared in a pool of purple and red. It was barely gone when one of the boxes banged open and Jorick came through the curtain, his eyes glinting with good humor. “Are we still in one piece?”

“Very funny. Of course we are.”

He kissed her, then dropped into the passenger seat and caught her hand in his cool fingers. “I knew you’d be fine.”

She shook out a cigarette and lit it, ignoring his arched eyebrows. “It was horrible. I spent eight hours terrified I’d get pulled over and they’d search the van. What would happen if they found you?”

“We’d have handled it.”

“How? You’d have been burned to cinders in the sunlight!”

“It isn’t instant vaporization.”

“No?” she asked, only semi-interested at the moment. “How long does it take?”

As if sensing her mood he answered, “Long enough.”

She puffed the cigarette and let the subject drop. “So what are we going to do with Kale? There are only two boxes, and Oren’s in a hurry to get back to his stupid war coven. He’ll probably want me to drive again.” As she said it, she prayed she didn’t have to. She couldn’t take the stress.

“I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge once we get there.”

Oren’s box opened noisily. He stuck his head between the seats and picked up the conversation. “Until the sun rises, I imagine he’ll be in the back, with you.” His eyes landed pointedly on Katelina.

“No.” Jorick’s tone was hard. “I won’t have her alone with a vampire in need of blood. You know what that can be like.”

Oren sniffed and Katelina got the impression that he didn’t. “Of course. As you said, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“Speaking of blood, I’m hungry.” Jorick smirked at Katelina’s horrified expression. “We’d better feed while we have the chance.”

The two vampires climbed out of the van. Katelina finished her cigarette and patted the dashboard fondly. “Good luck with Oren.”

She was seated in the back when the vampires returned. Jorick dropped next to her on the wooden box and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him and yawned. She hadn’t really slept the night before, thanks to Alistair, a vampire who’d attacked them.

“Go to sleep,” Jorick said softly. “You can lay down in one of the boxes if you want.”

She jerked awake. “No thanks! You know I don’t like that.”

He chuckled. “It’s just a suggestion.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” She relaxed again. Sleeping in a box was a little too much like being a vampire. She spent time with them, but she didn’t want to join their ranks. At least not yet.

Not yet.

That was another disturbing idea. Like so many others, she let it drift away. Someday, she’d have to deal with all those ideas, but now wasn’t the time.

“Get some rest,” Jorick said softly.

With a final yawn, she did.

Jorick woke her several hours later. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and asked what time it was.

“Nearly one, which should be plenty of time.” As an afterthought Jorick added, “We’re here.”

The back door of the van opened and Oren leaned in, scowling. “Hectia isn’t here.”

Hectia. The name was only semi-familiar to Katelina, and conjured an image of a dark haired vampiress with a childish temperament. Like so many of Jorick and Oren’s relationships in the vampire world, the one with Hectia was tenuous and crisscrossed with lies and carefully balanced politics. A former enemy of Oren’s, Hectia believed she owed him now that her master was dead. She didn’t really, but Katelina wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Maybe she’s late?” Jorick climbed out into the snow. “She did agree to help?”

“After a fashion. She was supposed to bring someone who could disable the security system.”

The two vampires moved away and Katelina followed uncertainly. They stopped a few feet away and frowned at an old brick building. Antique cornices and stone work accentuated the four floors. Dark, blank windows stared like empty eyes. The building sat back from the street in the center of a little square of snowy lawn, surrounded by skeletal trees and orange tinted streetlights. The neighboring buildings were just as old: large, dark houses and a sleepy church. The air hung heavy with eerie winter silence.

It wasn’t what Katelina had imagined. “You’re sure this is it?”

Jorick pointed to a wooden sign that proclaimed, “Michigan Institute of Supernatural and Unexplained Sciences”.

“Apparently.”

“I thought it would be more high-tech. You know, white walls, lots of glass, an eye scanner.”

Oren checked his watch impatiently. “Hectia obviously isn’t going to show up. I suggest we cut the power. That should get rid of any alarm system.”

Katelina rolled her eyes. “Great idea, except alarms have a battery backup.”

“And how do you know about building security?” Oren asked coldly

“The newspaper office where I worked had an alarm system! Most businesses do, you know!” Before she could berate Oren further, an idea struck her. “But not upstairs… my boss said it was a waste of money because people can’t get through a third story window – but you two could!” She pointed to the upper stories. “I bet they don’t have any alarms up there, either.”

Jorick smiled and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You’re probably right. From the looks of it, this institute doesn’t have much funding. I’m sure they cut corners where they can.”

“And what if they haven’t? This is an institute for the paranormal. Surely they’d know our abilities?” Oren met Jorick’s eyes and held them.

“I doubt the idiots running this place have any concept of us, or our abilities. If they did, they’d have a better facility.”

Oren’s only reply was, “They have Kale.”

Jorick brushed the comment aside and turned to Katelina. “Do you remember anything else about the alarm system?”

“It had a keypad just inside the door, but I didn’t know the code. Once, Mr. Fordrent didn’t show up for work, so the secretary had to let us in. After the door opened, she couldn’t remember the code and the system called the security company. The cops and a guard showed up.”

Jorick nodded. “It sounds like we either chance the window or wait for Hectia and her friend.”

Oren growled low in his throat. His eyes snapped to the building “All right, we’ll try it, but I don’t like it.”

Jorick turned to Katelina. “You should stay in the van. I don’t know what we’ll find in there, or what condition Kale is in. It might be best to keep temptation away.”

She didn’t like the implication in his words, but she liked waiting alone even less. “Anyone could show up! What then?”

Jorick shifted from one foot to the other and Oren gave a disgusted grunt. “Oh, take her. But if she gets in the way, I won’t hesitate to leave her.”

Jorick’s dark head snapped up. “No, you won’t.”

They walked to the building. The two vampires examined it and then nodded in unison, as if they’d agreed on an unspoken conclusion. “I’ll go first.” Oren glanced at Katelina. “Since I’m not… encumbered.”

He crouched low, so that his fingertips brushed the sidewalk, then sprung upwards and caught one of the windows on the second story. Jorick had once helped Katelina break into her old apartment by jumping up the building.  Though she’d thought it was terrifying at the time, it was even worse when she could see it in the third person.

At the fourth floor, Oren easily swung onto one of the wide windowsills. Katelina watched with trepidation as he straightened and worked on the window. Like the feline he resembled, he seemed perfectly at home, despite the dizzying height.

The lock clicked. The sound echoed in the heavy air and Katelina tensed. She saw Jorick’s eyes shoot around the perimeter, as if seeking observers, but there were none.

Oren looked to them with an expression that said “this is it”. Then, he raised the window. They caught their breath, waiting. They didn’t hear an alarm, only the winter wind whistling through the naked trees. With a satisfied nod to his accomplices, Oren dropped inside.

Jorick offered Katelina a smile. “It’s our turn now, little one.” He swept her to him with one arm. “Hold on.” Then he leapt. She smashed her eyes shut and swallowed back a scream as the ground fell away. She didn’t want to see this.

Though she didn’t look, she could feel him spring from floor to floor. Each hop made her stomach tighten. She clutched him tightly and imagined slipping from his grasp and plummeting to the sidewalk below.

Then they stopped. She opened her eyes just as Jorick dropped her into the window. Oren clutched a handful of her coat, which kept her from falling to the floor, but did little else. She used the wall to pull herself upright and sent him a dark look.

He hissed at Jorick, “Are you coming?”

The raven haired vampire held up a finger, his body tense and his eyes on the ground.

“What is it?” Oren asked with alarm. Instead of answering, Jorick disappeared, no doubt dropping down to investigate.

Oren swore under his breath and pulled Katelina to the floor. She jerked loose and he held a finger to his lips. Something in his eyes dared her to make a sound.

Her ears strained in the silence. All she could hear was her heart hammering and, from her position on the floor, all she could see through the window was the tree tops and a shivering moon.

Moments ticked by. Unvoiced horrors screamed through her mind. Were the police there? Was it a security guard? Had The Guild sent a squad of Executioners? Had a blood crazed Kale escaped his prison?

Suddenly a face appeared at the window. She choked the scream into a squeal and flung herself backwards into a pile of boxes. Oren jumped, but caught himself at the last moment. It was only Jorick.

The dark haired vampire swung inside, an amused smile on his lips. He offered Katelina a hand up. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. So what was it?”

“Hectia, and she brought her friend. Jordan, I believe. I told them to work on the alarm and that we’ll meet them outside once we have Kale.”

“Good,” Oren said. “Let’s go.”

Jorick squeezed Katelina’s hand. Though she refused to voice her anxiety, it was there, hiding under her fake calm. No doubt he could see it in her mind. Another of his vampire abilities.

Oren led them into a dark echoing hallway lined with doors. Boxes peered at them from storage rooms, some labeled in tidy black letters. Katelina wished there was time to peek inside them. She didn’t believe in aliens, Bigfoot or the other monsters, but if vampires were real, what else was? The institute had captured Kale. What other creatures had they collected? What information was stored away, laughed at by all but those who’d experienced it?

Their secrets remained their own. She and Jorick followed Oren down a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor. It was set up the same, though the doors that lined the hallway were locked. Signs said things like “References”, “Resources” and “Interview Room”. Though the last one made Katelina pause, Jorick tugged her along before she could examine it.

The second floor held offices, each one neatly labeled. They stopped before a door with a familiar name: Dr. Noah C. Miley.

“This is the man in the article?” Oren asked.

As if to prove how badly organized they were, Jorick tugged a piece of newsprint from his pocket; an article taken from a tabloid. Katelina remembered the contents. There was a photo of Kale, his fangs bared, and Dr. Miley’s comments that he planned to do research on the captured vampire that could “change the course of human history.” The idea still made her shiver.

Oren peered at the door. “Kale will be in a basement, but the doctor’s research may be in here.”

Jorick nodded. “You check it out and we’ll find Kale. They have my fingerprints, not yours.”

As they moved away, Katelina whispered, “There is no ‘they’ who have your fingerprints. They’re just in a database.”

“Yes, a police database. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be arrested – again.” The look he shot her implied it might have been her fault that it happened the first time. It had been her idea to visit her mother, but she wasn’t the one who’d called the cops. That had been Verchiel. Maybe that had something to do with why Jorick hated him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think they’d arrest you without evidence.”

“If I recall, they thought they had evidence. A dead body, a kidnapped woman.”

“But you didn’t kill Patrick, and I wasn’t kidnapped.”

“I know that, and you know that, but they didn’t.” He softened. “It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”

With nothing else to say, they found the first floor lobby in silence. Light shone through a set of glass doors and splashed shadows across the floor. Jorick glanced through them and nodded to someone who stood outside in the darkness.

“The alarms have been disabled. I knew that Hectia and her flare for turning everyone she meets would come in handy.”

At the back of the lobby was a locked wooden door. Without a hint of remorse, Jorick kicked it in. He led Katelina to the room beyond where they found another door. Despite her objections, he kicked it, too. They moved from room to room, leaving a path of destruction behind, until they came to a door that didn’t give immediately. Jorick knocked on it and considered the sound. “Interesting.” Before she could ask what was interesting, he kicked a hole into it and peeled away the wood to reveal a heavy metal door underneath.

“You’re not planning to just kick that one?”

“Actually…” He winked at her and gave it a solid kick in the center. The door bent. A second kick made it buckle so that he could swing it open with some effort.

Super vampire strength.

They followed a set of stairs to a cement room rimmed in metal doors and security lights. Yellow caution stripes were painted on the walls and block letters announced “Authorized Personnel Only,” and “Warning: Dangerous Specimens”.

Jorick surveyed the words. “Either they had high hopes or Kale isn’t their first brush with a nonhuman entity.”

“You don’t really think so? Not in Michigan?”

He shrugged and sniffed for Kale’s scent. Katelina still wasn’t used to the idea that vampires could smell one another, or that they had a sort of sixth sense that told them when someone was nearby. But then there were a lot of things she wasn’t used to.

“Ah.”

Katelina followed Jorick’s gaze. The door at the back of the room was covered in diamond shaped warning labels. If not for the seriousness of the situation, they would have been comical. One had an injured hand with blood dripping from it crossed out, while a second showed a pair of swirly eyes and warned against “vampire hypnosis”. A third showed the black silhouette of a human head with large white fangs where the mouth belonged. “Warning: Vampires may be more dangerous than they appear. Exercise caution at all times”.

“My God, Jorick, where would they get a sticker like that?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps they made it.” He ran his hand around the door and then, with a shrug, tried the handle. It swung open on silent hinges. “Someone forgot to lock up.” Though he joked, his eyes held guarded caution.

There was a switch just inside the door. Jorick pressed it and fluorescent tube lights snapped to life, illuminating another cement room with yellow and red warnings. The middle of the back wall was thick plexiglass, like a window in a zoo cage. Inside, she could see Kale. He stood with his palms pressed against the glass. If she hadn’t known who it was, she might not have recognized him. His blonde hair hung limp around his haggard face and his skin cleaved to his bones. She knew the cause: lack of blood. She’d seen the effects before, though they had been worse.

Kale regarded them with a mixture of curiosity and animosity. His eyes glittered dangerously in his shrunken face, and Katelina thought of Jorick’s warnings. Maybe she should have stayed in the van.

Jorick approached the trapped vampire and rapped on the plexiglass with his knuckles. Kale tapped back, but they couldn’t hear the sound.

A red button was on the wall to the right, below what looked like a speaker. Jorick pressed it. “Kale?”

The vampire inside nodded vigorously and tapped the glass again. Apparently it wasn’t a speaker, but a microphone.

“We’re going to get you out,” Jorick said simply.

Kale nodded again and the animosity in his eyes turned to hope.

Oren walked through the door and looked from one to the other. “The alarms?”

“Disabled.”

Oren nodded towards Kale. “He’s been here since the twelfth, or that’s what the doctor wrote on his applications for research grants.”

Katelina did mental calculations. That was only nine days ago. They’d just seen him at The Guild’s citadel a day or two before that. He’d been kidnapped almost the minute he got home!

“I imagine all of the actual research is down here,” Oren continued as his eyes made a circle of the room. “It seems uncannily well prepared.”

Jorick sounded tense, “I’ve been thinking the same thing. Either they’ve had a vampire in captivity before or-”

“Or someone who knows too much helped them,” Oren finished.

Jorick nodded and moved back to the plexiglass wall. To the left was a door covered in warnings and red letters. Beside it was a keypad and slot to swipe a keycard. He studied both and commented, “It’s odd that there’s no guard on duty.”

“Yes. It’s too quiet and everything has been too easy.”

“Unless they aren’t expecting a rescue. They could be under the impression that vampires are just wild animals.” Jorick’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “It wouldn’t be a new idea.” He rapped on the glass again. “The question is, how to get to Kale. Obviously the wall is strong enough to hold him in and us out.”

Oren cocked his head. ”Maybe. Kale isn’t much older than I am, but you’re older and stronger than both of us.”

While they discussed the next move, Katelina examined their surroundings. One side of the room was occupied by a bank of cupboards and counters. She opened them to find rubber gloves, masks, and heavy white over gowns. There were also several glass containers and pointy silver instruments that seemed better suited to a surgery center. Then, on the back of one of the doors she noticed a keycard on a silver ring. She snagged it from the hook and held it up. “Maybe this would help?”

Oren snatched it from her and strode towards the door. Kale nodded enthusiastically and mouthed something they couldn’t hear. Oren swiped the card and a tiny beep sounded. He reached for the door handle. Kale suddenly shook his head emphatically. Before anyone noticed his reaction, the door was open and a high pitched alarm screamed.

“The code!” Kale shouted as he burst through the door and gestured to the keypad. “You have to swipe the card and type a code in!”

Oren swore loudly and Jorick shouted back, “What’s the code?”

“I don’t know!” Kale’s wide eyes shot around the room. “Forget it! Let’s get out of here!”

Jorick hesitated and then agreed. He hurried to Katelina and flung her over his shoulder. She shouted that she had feet, but he ignored her and raced through the door, Kale on his heels. Oren stayed behind. As they ran for the stairs, she could hear the sound of smashing glass.

They dashed through the empty building and burst through the front doors and into the night. Jorick ran much faster than Katelina could have gone on her own, Kale keeping pace. They’d almost reached the van when wailing sirens and flashing lights came into view.

Hectia suddenly stepped into the light. She was wearing the same swishy coat Katelina had last seen her in, though the dark woman at her side was new. “It’s the police! I didn’t agree to this!”

“Then go!” Jorick jerked the van’s driver door open and shoved Katelina inside like a sack of contraband. “The last thing we need is a fledgling, anyway!”

“That fledgling just helped you!” Hectia shrieked, but she swallowed further argument and grabbed the young woman’s arm. “Come on Jordan, they’re on their own now.”

Jorick’s attention was drawn to the cop car that squealed to a stop. The doors popped open and, like pastry from a toaster, two cops followed, their guns out, the doors in front of them like shields.

“Step away from the vehicle and put your hands up!” One of them leveled his weapon at Jorick and Kale.

Katelina whimpered, but Jorick only forced her deeper into the cab. “Be quiet and stay down!”

The officer shouted his instructions again and Jorick raised his hands. He met Kale’s eyes, as if to impart some secret plan. Instead of doing as instructed, Kale bound towards the policeman, snarling. The cop yelled again, his voice high with fear and his gun shaking in his terrified hands.

The emaciated vampire crashed into the passenger door of the cop car. Gun shots echoed over the screaming alarm and the sirens. Kale’s body jerked at the impact of bullets, and he stumbled backwards. The cop stepped forward, confidence in his eyes, but Kale pulled himself straight and let loose a howl of inhuman rage. He grabbed the car door and ripped it away as though it weighed nothing. The cop screamed and more shots followed. They did nothing to stop Kale. In a single, swift motion he pinned the cop against the car and tore into his throat with his fangs.

Katelina covered her face with her hands. She could hear the second policeman screaming and shouting for back up, his words a tumbled confusion of fear and disbelief. His babble melted into a shriek and she looked to see that Oren was suddenly there. He slammed the policeman’s head into the car. His lips curled back from his fangs as he snapped his neck.

Oren dropped the body to the snow and turned towards the van as a second car came screeching to a halt some distance away. The doors opened and three more policemen leapt out, their weapons drawn. Without warning, they fired wildly. Few of the bullets hit their mark, and those that did were little more than annoyances.

Katelina stared with wide, horrified eyes. How had it all gone wrong? How had the cops gotten there that fast? She sought Jorick in the bedlam, and wished she hadn’t. He’d come up behind the new arrivals and she watched as he silently pounced. He crushed the first cop’s throat while a second policeman bombarded him with a terrified spattering of bullets. Jorick shouted in anger and grabbed him. He wrenched the gun from his hand and threw it away. Then he slammed the man to the ground. Though Katelina hid her eyes, the policeman’s screams burned in her ears.

The last shrieks died away and she heard Jorick shout, “Get to the van!”

She looked and again wished she hadn’t. Jorick stood in the bloody snow, holding the limp body of the third cop. Oren and Kale ran towards her. Blood dripped down Kale’s chin and soaked the front of his shirt.

The sound of a third approaching car roared louder with each second. Katelina threw herself out of the way as Kale leapt inside. He bounded off the passenger seat and then rolled through the curtain into the relative safety of the back. Oren was right behind him, leaping into the driver’s seat and slamming the keys into the ignition.

A canary yellow sports car tore around the corner and only missed taking off the van’s door by inches as it slid to a stop next to them. Katelina immediately recognized the car, and the redheaded vampire who bounded out of it. It was Verchiel, the Executioner that Jorick hated.

As if to demonstrate his own vampire skills, one minute Verchiel was next to the van and the next he was practically in it, leaning over Oren with a broad, fanged grin on his face. “Making a mess are we?”

Oren’s eyes bulged. “What in the hell are you doing here?”

“Let’s call it a race, and I won. Look! There’s little Kately! How are you? Not injured, I hope?”

“That’s not my name!” He insisted on calling her that since he’d overheard her mother do it.

Jorick was suddenly there. He grabbed Verchiel and spun him away, slamming him into the van. “You!”

“Well hello! Nice to see you again!” Verchiel let his eyes focus on the carnage behind Jorick. “I see now why they call you The Hand of Death, but really, isn’t this a little sloppy?”

Jorick roared and Verchiel laughed. “I suppose you’ve got him already?” He leveled his gaze with Jorick’s. “I suggest you get out of here as fast as that thing can go. There are more cops on the way and you might be interested to know that Senya and a few of her closest acquaintances should be here any minute to bust your friend out of ‘captivity’.”

Senya. The cruelest of the Executioners, just the thought of her filled Katelina with terror.

Jorick’s face twitched. He wordlessly tossed Verchiel aside and climbed into the van. The motor roared and Oren slammed the vehicle into gear. Katelina had a final glimpse of the redheaded Executioner waving cheerfully before they rounded the corner and he disappeared from sight.

<PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2 >>

CHAPTER 3 >>>

Lucky 7

I stole thi image from Alannah’s blog 😉

I was  tagged by Juli on this, go check out her seven lines as they are quite fun – or perhaps sinister… hmmmm....

Okay, so, here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 in your current manuscript.
2. Go to line 7.
3. Copy down the next seven lines as they are – no cheating.
4. Tag 7 other authors

I am skipping number 4 insomuch as if you are reading this and have a book you should consider yourself tagged.

I am not completely sure if we are supposed to do seven sentences or seven lines as per your current formatting. I chose the latter.

Set up: Loren and Katelina are standing by a tree. Senya, the Executioner b**** we all love to hate is there with a couple of other Executioners. Fun ensues. She has just asked a question and Loren answered. Here is her reply….

Senya’s eyes glowed with interest. “Really? How disappointing. I guess that’s one less thing I need to do.” She gestured to her underlings. “Grab them.”

Katelina tried to move around the tree. Her mind shrieked at her to run, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good. They’d only chase her and they were faster.

Loren flung himself towards them, his fists up. His first punch connected with Zuri’s stomach, but his second was blocked. The Executioner lunged for him and Loren dodged. The second vampire kicked his legs out from under him. Loren hit the ground like a sack of bricks and the Executioner grabbed him by the front of his hoodie and slammed his fist into his face.


And that’s it.  If the 7 test is supposed to be a measure of the books “excitement level” then I guess mine did pretty good as they are getting ready for Executioner style fun.

BONUS: I was tagged by Dawn Colclasure on Facebook and through a weird formatting twist it happens to be the NEXT seven paragraphs, so go check it for the rest of the scene. (I think you have to be logged into FB but you DON’T have to be my friend)

  • Tales of the Executioners

    Short stories from the world of Amaranthine; a universe of blood and darkness where vampires don't sparkle and night is eternal. Each is about a member of the Executioners squad; the special vampire "police" force. Members both past and present share stories of assignments, origins, and more.

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  • Joleene Naylor

    Joleene Naylor

    An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at http://JoleeneNaylor.com or drop me a line at Joleene@JoleeneNaylor.com

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