There are somethings about being in this coven that are obligatory.
General deceitfulness seems to be one of them. ((reposted.))
2. prologue II, chapter two.
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...Cain had killed his only
Brother, slain his father's son…
The days that I spent wandering the city’s streets faded to months and years. I was extremely lonely during that time. Though my parents had died months before me in the epidemic, I longed for what little family I had left behind. The clown, Wallace, his wife, Henrietta, and their little blue eyed daughter, Elizabeth. Lizzie had been so sick when I changed… I often caught myself wondering about her and her angel’s face. What had finally become of my little niece.
That all changed on the night of February twenty first, nineteen twenty eight.
That was the night I finally found out what had become of her. Of all of them. Lizzie, Henrietta, Wallace… and it was all by chance. I had been on my nightly prowl, my eyes blackened with thirst and deep purple circles encompassing them. My tongue flicked across my razor teeth, my expression down trodden. And then I heard his voice.
I didn’t believe it. It was Wallace. Only he had… changed.
He was like me, now. Tired and worn, marble white and beautiful. His eyes were crimson. Not thirsty. I watched him enviously at first, and then shuddered at what I had become. Was I really such a monster that finding my brother was less important than my thirst?
“Wallace!” I said, embracing him.
He was stony, distant. I wondered if he even remembered he had spoken to me. He was so far away. I stared up at him, and he stared past my shoulders into nothingness. I chanced a peek, just to see if there was something behind me I had missed. There was nothing. I stared back up at him.
“Oh, Nora…” he mumbled, crushing me to him with the strength only a Newborn possessed. My chest constricted with his grasp.
“What happened?” I asked warily. This wasn’t Wallace. Not the clown. Not anymore.
“They’re dead, Nor. Henrietta. Lizbit. Everyone.”
And then it was all perfectly clear. This was Wallace. He was just broken, now. A run down version of himself. A shell. Damaged. Wallace had changed.
He was just like me.
I checked in a Holiday Inn that night, my destination finally decided. I was headed for Wallace’s home, a monstrous log home in the Smokies. Wallace had always like mountain scenery, and his house, perched high atop a mountain where humans rarely trekked, was perfect for him. Currently, I was spending the night in a dumpy little hotel just inside the Kentucky state line. I would arrive tomorrow, hopefully by early afternoon. Noon if I pushed it.
The night was long and boring. I bought two or three movies on the hotel’s pay-per-view to keep myself entertained, but as always my own thoughts caught up with me. I began to doubt my decision to pay a visit to my brother. To loose my resolve. I bit my lip, watching my movie with blind eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to reconcile with him. Actually, I knew I wasn’t. Not after what he had done. But I knew it was necessary. For the coven. For our leader. For her plans. Stupid plans. They were cruel, heartless, even.
They were just too damn good to be true.
Sure, her motives were all wrong, but the fruit of the deeds… they were so appealing. Appetizing. Desirable. I licked my lips involuntarily. I had known I had to return eventually. Wallace and I, we had work to do. Work to finish. So I trudged through the night, watching sappy human romances and checked out before dawn and was on my way.
I drove recklessly, reaching top speeds. I didn’t stop for fuel, I didn’t stop for anything. There was no need for me to stop. I was beginning to become impatient, my fingers drumming on the wheel and my foot that was unoccupied by the gas was tap tap tapping out its own angry rhythm. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
Chewing on my lower lip, I swerved, roaring onto my exit with a vengeance. Places to be, people to see, things to do. I racked my brain, trying to recall my turns. Sharply, I turned right onto a narrow road, the Vanquish handling well with the climbing altitude. Impatience clawed at me as I wound up the lane tirelessly. My chest constricted. I refused to breathe.
There was a tiny little turn off that went up to a tiny little house with a garage. I followed the path, parking in the garage beside my brother’s Mercedes. My usual spot. I stepped out into the thin mountain air. It was hot, as July usually is. Pocketing my keys, I made sure that my shoes were on tight. It was a good run to Wallace’s real house. I went out back, away from the view of the road, away from prying eyes.
And I sprinted away.
Leaves rustled slightly beneath my feet. It had been so long since I ran. I had nearly forgotten how to move soundlessly. I was like a thunderstorm in the middle of the woods. It was embarrassing. They would all hear me coming. There went the element of surprise, whooshing behind me. My hair whipped out, billowing like a black cloud in my wake.
Rounding the corner, I slowed the pace to a walk, entering the far corner of Wallace’s yard. The house was as beautiful as I remembered. All wood, tall and imposing. Very rustic. Very natural. I could see the sun room, with its east wall of glass. Wallace loved sunrise, I recalled guiltily. Guilty for forgetting so much.
The door banged open, a small girl with bubblegum pink hair whisking out to greet me. She was slender, her bloody red eyes set at a slant. Her name was Ariel. I remembered clearly when she had joined us as a newborn, freshly escaped from a Japanese concentration camp during the Second World War. Ariel loved to color her hair. The last time I had seen her, months, maybe years ago, it had been a neon shade of blue.
“Nora!” squealed Ariel, hugging me tightly. “I knew you would come here!”
I smiled, but detangled myself from her, “I’ll bet you did. Are the others here?”
Ariel nodded, her pink hair bouncing with the motion. “Wallace is around back, I think, Leinna and Asher are in the sitting room, and I have absolutely no idea where Harold has gotten off to.”
“Harold is here?” I asked in disbelief.
Ariel nodded slowly, a sly smile playing at her lips. I frowned. She shrugged. I glared. She smiled. Ariel was so impossible.
“Have it your way,” I muttered, rounding the house to find Wallace.
She cackled behind me. I rolled my eyes, black with thirst. My brother was out back, just as Ariel had suggested. He was gardening. Gardening! I shook my head, as if my thirst-clouded eyes were deceitful. I had never known Wallace to be much of a green thumb. As a strict rule I regarded him as quite destructive. I stepped across the riverbed stone cobbles of his deck, lowering my head shyly.
I cringed at his tone. He was angry about something. What that was, I wasn’t sure, but I sincerely hoped it wasn’t me. It must be me though, I chastised myself. He called me Eleanora. He never did that, unless I had done something awful. I racked my brain. Avoiding him for three decades and avoiding his calls did seem pretty horrid in retrospect. But he had started that, and surely he was a big enough boy to handle that on his own time.
So I was silent, waiting for the explosion. Wallace was very… self mutilating. When he got upset… or worse yet, when he failed… he would spend, weeks, months, even years at a time beating himself up over it. I stared at his back. He was shaking. Fury was my first guess. Then the sound hit me. Stifled laughter. He was laughing at me!
I smiled; Wallace never changed.
“You clown,” I accused, but my own laughter was already building in my throat.
Before I knew it, he had me tight in his brotherly embrace. I felt the chilled air being knocked out of me as he hit. My eyes stung. Tears, I realized a moment too late, as the ruby colored drops leaked around the edges of my eyes. Wallace wiped them away, smiling at me insanely.
“I thought we would never see you again, Nor! Where’ve you been?”
I stared up at him, jaw slacked, “I’m not the one who exiled myself, Wallace. Don’t forget that.”
Wallace held up his hands in a ‘don’t shoot me’ gesture, “I won’t. Promise.”
I rolled my eyes, “I’ve been up north, hiding out in the Dakotas. It was pretty nice up there, Wall. We should visit some time.”
Wallace returned to his pruning, “Sure, sure. We will. But right now we have other things to attend to.”
“Let me guess,” I said, “obligatory coven-centric crime and other assorted favors?”
He laughed, “Yes, and no.”
I sat down in a wicker chair, “What else is there?”
“There’s Collins,” he said simply.
I blinked. Who was Collins?
“She’s my mate,” Wallace said automatically.
I realized, far too late, I was thinking aloud. “Mate?”
Weeds were flying from Wallace’s hands in all directions, “Well, yes. That’s our term for it, at least.”
More confused then ever, I sat back and watched him move through the jungle of his garden. Apparently he wasn’t as green a thumb as I had thought. He appeared to need a machete to get though this undergrowth. He stopped after a moment, apparently giving up. Wallace joined me in the wicker chairs.
“She’s my wife, Nora,” said Wallace with an impish grin.
I stared at him numbly, “You mean you finally settled, at least a little?”
He roared with laughter, “More than a little. Our plans are actually on hold just for her.”
“She has to give birth one of these days,” he shrugged.
I sputtered, “Birth? You got her pregnant? I didn’t know that was possible for us to breed!”
Wallace cleaned some dirt from under his nails, “Apparently human vampire hybrids are possible.”
A gagging noise escaped my lips. This… Collins… was human? Well, that was a shock. I marveled at the way Wallace had chosen to reveal this information. He never had been the type to beat around the bush, I recalled. I swallowed hard, biting my lip. What do you say when your brother has married out of species? My hand flew to my temple, massaging the spot softly. Beside me, Wallace chuckled.
“You handled this a lot better than Leinna. She threw a fit.”
“I wonder why?” I asked sarcastically.
Another chuckle. “Go inside, Nora. The others will flip when they see you.”
I frowned, cutting my eyes at him, “I don’t know. What if your human is in there? I’m rather thirsty at the moment.”
“She’s in town. Now get, Nor, before I make you. I have to fix up this flower thing before Collins gets back or she’s going to murder me, or at least try really hard.”
I laughed this time, standing up, “I guess I’ll see you when your master says you’re done.”
Wallace scowled and I scampered away, feeling lighter than I had in ages. So much weight was lifted with the unspoken reconciliation with Wallace. New weight, however, had been added. Now I had to worry about Collins atop of everything else. I entered the living room, and beamed. The faces that greeted me were such a relief. My friends. My family.
Leinna was sitting serenely in a wing backed chair, facing away from the window. She was garbed, as usual, in a business like suit with an ornate brooch pinned to the collar. Our symbol, a circle twisted on itself and a diamond… Her skin was papery thin, stretched tightly across her ancient bones. I didn’t know exactly how old she was, only that she was older than Asher, and Asher’s birthday was closely entwined with the Roman Empire. He was sitting beside Leinna in his own wing backed chair, but he was facing the window.
I could always recognize Asher by his vibrantly red hair. It was to his shoulders and quite possibly redder than blood. He was a Jew, and I imagine he used to look like one. He looked Irish now, what with the pale skin and red hair. I had asked him about that once, and he had explained it had to do when how he had been changed, and who had done it. He was physically the oldest of us all, having been changed in his early sixties. That didn’t stop Asher, though. He was just as involved as the rest of us.
Neither Leinna nor Asher looked up as I entered. I paced the room, my disobedient thoughts drifting back to Collins and that hybrid thing she and my brother had created. It was unnatural. I shook my head.
“What’s wrong, Nora?”
I wheeled around, and found myself face to face with Harold. I smiled. Harold had been my best friend since Wallace had ostracized himself thirty years ago. That had been when Harold joined us. To replace the void Wallace had left behind. Harold had taken care of me then, when I needed it the most, and somewhere in the midst of confusion and pain, we had fallen in love.
Harold was staring at me intensely through his shabby, sandy blonde hair, his hallowed eyes a peculiar shade of pink. I frowned. So we both needed to hunt. Wonderful. He sat on the couch, beckoning me to join him. I sat down beside him soundlessly.
“I was thinking about Wallace’s eternal stupidity,” I said honestly, earning a low, rumbling laugh from Harold.
It was the laugh I expected from him, even though I hadn’t seen him in months. From his seat by the window, Asher laughed, too, a bell like noise. Leinna sighed regally.
“He may be stupid,” she said tiredly, “but he’s the best damn tracker on this continent.”
We all nodded glumly in agreement. Harold groaned, throwing himself back against the cushions and taking me with him. He fancied himself the best tracker, possibly in the universe. And it was true; Wallace had little more than experience on Harold in that department. I smiled as Harold snaked an arm around my waist, pulling me to him. His icy breath tickled my marble skin as he held me there, pinned to his side.
He was so shameless.
From his chair, Asher made a sound of disapproval and turned away. I grinned, and could almost feel Harold’s smile radiating off of him. I peered up. I could hear Collins rustling about in the foyer. Or at least I assumed it to be her; no vampire would ever make that much noise. I made an attempt to remove myself from Harold’s side, but he held me, pinned. I felt his chest rumble with internal laughter that was approaching uproarious. I crossed my arms over my chest. He grinned. Collins made more noise. She must be nervous, my compassionate side put in. Maybe she was used to Wallace, but not a houseful of vampires. She entered the room, looking quite disoriented.
I felt her gasp before I heard it.