Chapter 1


Another Day at the Office

Painting, drawing, sculpting, whittling, just about anything requiring high attention to detail and use of my hands was calming for me. These were the things I did when I found precious time to spare. Depending on the project, it could transport me to an entirely different place and time. I could look back at sketches and find things only my senses had registered that my mind had seemingly failed to see at the time.

I was currently looking at a drawing of Croatia, not present day, but an aerial view of the Croatia as it looked over a century ago. It was a night view, of course, and the world beneath was blurred in dozens of shades of blue and black. The owl I startled on my flight over the trees was in midflight. I didn't remember where I was had been nor where I was going. The scene was a mass of tall trees and the seaside in the distance. I had no idea if my work was any good. It didn't matter. No one had, nor ever would, see it. It was my secret, personal thing I did for my own sanity.

I flipped through my countless depictions of the night life. The paper changed from raw unprocessed parchment with coal, and then with ink on modern paper. This is what most vampires are; an unremitting pathway into the past as if going from cradle to grave, and then back again in one blink. These were my thoughts as I continued looking at all the images I had captured.

No matter how much television I watched or pictures I saw, the color of the world bathed in sun eluded me. I didn't miss the sun or the sky; not being able to capture it on paper if I wished irritated me. It was my personality. Not being able to have what I wanted only made me want it more; more often than not, once I had it, I had no clue why I had even wanted it.

It was much like the couple whom I had left not too long ago. I couldn't remember their names, nor if I had ever known them. Their blood was in my body. Their smell remained on my skin. The woman had surely been bold, but not desperate. I hated desperation. It had a sour, pungent odor that I bathed in enough at work. The woman was dark and beautiful, strong, but it was her husband who enticed me to join them at their home. He wasn't her opposite exactly. Along with her, he made her seem perfect as if special, though she wasn't.

Trying to capture all of that in art was impossible. I had already forgotten the specifics that made portraits, the feel of his hair, the texture of hers, and the sound of her voice. I am not racist; humans have begun to look alike to me after a millennium. After staring at a blank page for a half an hour, I gave up. I had better things to be doing, for instance, making money. After a shower to wash away the scents of sex and blood, I jumped into my car and headed to work.

Cruising through the streets these days was vastly different than anything I could have imagined when I arrived in this country several decades ago. Then it was a day-to-day struggle to remain hidden in a world that wasn't ready to face creatures they thought of as mythical. We were out now and, for better or worse, there was no going back. The news of our existence was divided into three categories: humans who feared and hated us, those who were curious or wanted to be us, and those who wanted us destroyed.

For financial reasons I was only concerned with the curious and the enamored. Above all, if there was one thing time and experience had taught me, it was that if you watched long enough and paid enough attention, people always showed their hands. For the remaining criteria of humans, I used a definitive preemptive method. It was never pretty but like most things I did, it was necessary.

Being in the open for me was a bit trickier. In addition to operating a bar, I was a vampire Sheriff to a powerful and demanding Queen. Being a sheriff was akin to being a referee. I had to be able to see everything and be able to make the right call. At somewhere over a thousand-years-old, it was no longer as difficult as it sounded. Amongst the supernatural, my reputation was enough of a deterrent that I was given the respect I deserved and I always returned it. Don't tell the 'Fang haters' but there was one unknown fact about vampires; most of us had impeccable manners. It was a combination of the times during which we were born and the fact that we could exist indefinitely. The only way to maintain civility was to attend to our decorum. My human days as a Viking didn't leave me much practice in the field but I tried, even with mortals.

I looked up as Pam entered the long hallway. I knew it was her by the footfalls. They were light and inaudible like those of all vampires but there was something in me that was utterly attuned to her. Pam wasn't only my favorite and youngest child; she was my second in command. Anything the vampires in my Area needed to say to me, they could say to her. Since the Great Revelation occurred, I was letting her take a more forward progression. As her Maker I did what a good Maker should. I taught her all she knew. I backed her play and watched her back from the political angle.

Pam spent four decades after her turning learning at my heel. After a hundred years, she was more than formidable and grew more so every day. She had established her name in the vampire world. In time, it was my hope she wouldn't need me. There was no doubt that she could rise to the role of Sheriff or even Queen. It was yet to be seen if she wanted to reach that high. All I knew was I wanted no part in ruling an entire Kingdom.

"Thalia has found the hideout of the drainers," She said without preamble. "I told her to stay put."

Thalia was a loose canon on her best day and a homicidal maniac on her worst. It wasn't that I frowned on her killing humans. The issue was her lack of restraint. I was already up and heading for the door because we both knew she wouldn't hold for long. My age came with several abilities; flight was just one of them. It would get me nearer to Thalia's location more quickly than driving.

For the record, no one asked me before they started tossing my undead ass out of this coffin, or that closet, or whatever. The Great Revelation…not the best idea anyone ever had but not the worst either. I was one of a few who shared this point of view and we were an insignificant minority. The reason many of the vampires went along with this was because they felt it would alleviate many of the problems that came with living in secret. It solved those but created an entirely new set of others. The most difficult of these to deal with were 'V' addicts.

Vampire blood could bring a human back from the cusp of death even as they stared the Reaper in his eyes. Aside from its life saving properties, it also had cosmetic effects. When abused, it became an addictive substance just like any other except it magnified physical attributes in not just humans, but mortals, in general.

When vampires shared their blood with their human, we did so responsibly. We knew when and how to administer blood so our humans didn't become addicts. These days I was dealing with one junkie after another. It was like chasing a lunatic with super powers who had the advantage of the sun and human law on their side. Their movements were erratic, their speed was magnified, and just as all prey, they knew how to hide. From the five senses to flexibility, endurance, reflexes, and speed, vampire blood enhanced all.

However, the pair that Thalia had been following had left a long trail of ash and blood that could be traced as far north as Tennessee. Unlike the usual idiots with crossbows and holy water in glass bottles, they were smart. They knew who to hit, where, and how to make a clean break. They had been proving almost impossible to track. That too set them apart. Usually when a human attacked a vampire, they cleaned up the scene in order to hide it from vampire trackers. Often it was the small things that gave them away such as a speck of dirt or ash. All anyone had to go on with these two were their clean tracks and the missing vampires.

Human law says charges of homicide cannot be filed if the person is already dead. At the very most, a human who ended a vampire was looking at charges for desecration of a corpse and littering. In short, vampires were told to go fuck themselves. Such callous and flagrant disregard was taken with a grain of silver. It was just as well. Supernatural creatures very much preferred to be left to their own form of justice. Vampires were no different.

Those of us who had heard of the Geneva Convention or cruel and unusual punishment used our own very loose interpretation. Anytime I caught drainers or any kind of mortal vermin threatening vampires in my Area there was never a body left behind. When I got my hands on these newest ones, there wouldn't be enough of them left for the worms to feast on.

While I had yet to meet a vampire who trusted another that wasn't of their blood, with Thalia I made an exception. Thalia was only years older than me and in all that time, she had formed no ties with anyone other than the Sheriff of the Area in which she lived. It meant she was safe. I could count on her goals of self-preservation and she didn't come with an ounce of ambition for anything more than what she had.

I arrived promptly as usual. Thalia was just moving from her position and inching toward the house in question. It was a mobile home attached to a truck. I landed beside her and moved us back several paces. The mobile home explained how traces of their victims' blood were located in several places but their pile of ashes never surfaced until a week later.

Blood granted immortality and it was binding until the true death. That was why keeping a vampire prisoner was so risky. It was where most novice drainers made fatal errors. More often there was a blood relative out there. For instance, if Pam was attacked her blood would call out to me and in turn, I could use it to locate her. The only thing that would keep me away was the sun. I couldn't fight that; no vampire could. I didn't even want to know what they had done to a vampire to gain such personal information. It didn't really matter though because they were never again going to see the light of day.

"How many?" I asked Thalia.

She held up four fingers. Then after a heavy pause she added lifted the last finger.

"They have a vampire," I wondered. I didn't feel anything of the sort it meant they whomever their victim was almost bled dry.

She nodded.

"Are the humans using?"

She shook her head back and forth four times.

That too explained their minimal errors. All of them were operating on clear heads. At least that would make them easy to apprehend. I had more questions for her but we paused to see the car turning onto their came. The windows were down and even before made the "Smelly Two Natured" face I knew what they were.

The two males exited their truck, looking cagey. One had a cooler in hand. Obliviously they were here to buy. That was uncommon because the two natured regarded vampires with as much warmth as we did them. It made them stronger so they've been known to dabble. There was a soft breeze sweeping through the moonless night. Thalia and I needed to get back or our scent might give us away but if we moved the noise definitely would.

A fight with Weres would take longer no matter how clouded the moon was. I didn't have the time or the numbers. Rescuing the vampire they held captive was a priority. The drainers were right up there with him. Once I had them, I could get every single buyer they had ever sold to. Luck was on our side tonight. The pair entered the trailer without catching our scent.

"We need the humans alive." I told her.

She gave a stiff nod I took as agreement though I knew the thought wasn't appealing.

"You can take the Mutts after we secure them." I whispered leaning forward. "On my mark, unleash hell."

She grinned like she always did when I gave her permission to do what she loved, hurt people. As far as I know no one else has ever seen her without her signature scowl in full effect. It was etched so deep into her dainty features that the humans had started several websites devoted to speculating why. That was part of her attraction at the bar. She was dark, dangerous, and made no effort to hide it. It was good for business. That was why when she slapped a patron every now and again I turned a blind eye. They liked it and she liked hurting people.

With the seconds that ticked past I felt Thalia lose herself to predator that lurked in all vampires. The temptation was there for me but I refrained. There was a difference between me as a vampire and "my vampire" that lay beneath all the layers of sophistry and pragmatics. It was one of the many aspects of vampire nature that wasn't public knowledge. It was because it wasn't something we could explain even if we wanted to.

When you are first turned from human to vampire you are nothing but a raw mass of predatory instinct. Your maker was able to leash the most feral aspects of until you learned to hide it on your own. No matter how much time passed that part of us never waned. It was something you couldn't hide forever. It was a wild animal that was too powerful to remain caged for long. That was why vampires loved a good fight. It was an appropriate time to unleash that part of us that wasn't conducive to our day to day survival. I let Thalia have hers knowing I would be able to rein her in.