Welcome to my very first Vampward story!
I'd like to jump right in, but first, a mild warning.
**The opening is as bad as it's going to get, but there are a few darker sections throughout: some violence, a suggestion of sexual assault. However, I don't consider any of the descriptions to be overly graphic, and as always, feel free to PM me for more information. **
Chapter 1 - Chief Magistrate
Edward had never experienced a scene like this with such clarity. Pinging drops of water from a leaky faucet, the heavy oppressiveness of humid air, the acrid stench from a maggot-infested carcass—each detail was cataloged and savored as part of the whole. And of course there was, as always, the metallic tang of warm blood on his tongue.
The girl who lay before him was older than he preferred, but it couldn't be helped. It had been weeks since his last kill, and the hunger in him was far too strong. He had capitalized on the first opportunity that presented itself. Although the bloom of youth was fading from her body, she would suffice for his purposes.
At least, she would have, had she not somehow gotten one foot out of her binding. He hated when they struggled. Excess movement usually led to spatter, and blood stains on clothing were damned stubborn, especially if left to dry. He didn't have unlimited funds, and so, considering the amount of killing he did, cleanliness was crucial to maintaining a functional wardrobe.
But the girl had to be difficult, trying to escape and whatnot, and thus ruined everything. He had no desire to wrestle with her flailing leg, especially since she'd broken the skin on her ankle in several places when she'd worked it loose.
Letting out a sigh of frustration, he picked up the scalpel from the table and moved toward her arm. It wasn't in his nature to be wasteful, but this girl was no longer useful to him. The next one would be, he promised himself, drawing the blade over easily parted skin. He'd be more careful with the next one and make sure to do everything right—including tying the damn knots tight enough.
Next time, the hunger would be satisfied, if only for a little while.
"Five second countdown. Watch his left hand: he's going to wake up swinging."
A twitch of Jasper's eyebrow was the only sign of acknowledgement he gave. Alice put a gentle hand on Edward's shoulder and crouched down next to his ear.
"Hey, Edward, it's me—Alice," she said as he began to stir. "Jasper's here, too. We're going to hold you down, but it's only so you don't hurt yourself or anyone else, okay?"
Wild amber eyes swept their gaze around the room as they fluttered opened. Muscles bunched and gathered under Alice's touch, but Jasper was ready. He grabbed the rising fist and pushed it down against the dirt floor.
"Not too much pressure," Alice warned. "This one took a lot out of him."
Jasper could tell how true it was by the minimal force required to keep his friend restrained. Vogel must have had a hideously brutal mind. Speaking of whom…
"Kate, how's Vogel doing?"
"Fine, by the looks of it," she said, her disgust evident, even through the reinforced titanium alloy walls. "His dick is trying to jump out of his pants."
"Left leg," Alice murmured, more out of habit than need.
Edward's movements were hardly faster than a human's when he first awoke. Jasper's arm was in place to deflect the half-hearted kick before it began its arc. Even a lazy kick from a vampire could sting if one wasn't prepared for it.
At the sound of her name, she drew a hand across Edward's brow and then smoothed back his disheveled hair as best she could. "I'm here, honey. Everything's fine. You're in the Interrogation Room with Jasper and me…and you're not Ethan Vogel."
Edward stopped thrashing and focused on his friend's face. Confusion, worry, and pain swirled in his eyes as he fought to regain his identity.
"The girl…dark blond hair…tall, early twenties…I'm going to…oh no…"
"Her name was Amanda Fisher," Alice murmured. "She…she went quickly, Edward. She—"
"Stop!" he croaked out, his expression contorting in anguish. "I…I know. Fuck!" With a sharp twist of his body, he wrenched free from Jasper's grip and leapt to his feet. His tall form swayed unsteadily on trembling legs.
Jasper crouched in preparation to act, but a sad sigh from Alice kept him in place. He straightened up slowly, relaxing his muscles but not his constant vigilance.
"Are we good?" came Kate's quiet voice from the adjoining room.
"Yes, it's over."
"That's a relief. Garrett and I are going to make a stop at the Canteen before the meeting. See you in a half hour?"
Alice closed her eyes and concentrated, faint creases marring her alabaster brow. "I think he's going to need a little more time than that. Let's make it a full hour."
"It won't be that long," Edward said through gritted teeth. "I'll be fine in a few minutes."
"No, you won't." Her firm tone left no room for argument. "One doesn't have to see the future to know that. You're weak and need to rest."
If anyone else had talked to him in that manner, he would have argued, or possibly even made a futile attempt to attack. But Edward couldn't push back at Alice—not after what he had done to her. The span of his immortal life wasn't long enough to forgive himself for that.
Jasper grunted as waves of guilt rolled over him. Edward, in turn, felt the effort his friend had to make to keep the emotion at bay. Then he witnessed his own future apology in Alice's visions a split-second before he opened his mouth to issue it.
Edward pressed a hand to his pounding forehead. His mind felt if it were being pummeled from all sides by colliding echoes of himself. During recovery periods, it was particularly difficult for him to be in the presence of vampires with abilities such as theirs, but the situation couldn't be helped. He was one of the highest ranking individuals in the Vampire Populace—subordinate only to Carlisle—and his value as a political target compelled a constant security detail. Jasper, Alice, and Kate were obvious choices; Garrett had a position on the team because of his bond with Kate.
"Are you ready to go?"
At his curt nod, Alice took Edward's elbow and helped him to the elevator door located on the back wall. As much as he hating using the thing, it was preferable to being carried up the stairs. Everyone who resided at the Cullen Compound knew about his special condition, but he had no desire to put his disability on display.
How about mountain lion today? I'll use the male.
As the elevator doors closed, a faint smile touched Edward's lips at Jasper's offer. He'd feel much better after having a feed. Granted, it would be preferable to tap the source directly, but if Edward could not go to the mountain lion, the mountain lion must come to Edward…in a blood collection bag.
A growl escaped his throat before he could muffle it. Alice glanced up, and Edward saw her asking him what was wrong.
"Nothing much," he muttered. "Just enjoying another day in the life of the world's weakest vampire."
"You asked, I answered truthfully."
Keep in mind that you're also one of the strongest. Your ability makes the one Jane had look like a parlor trick.
"Are we honestly having this conversation again? I can recall with perfect clarity the 16 other times you've made that comparison."
Have you made peace with the past yet? Let go of your guilt and accepted that what happened wasn't your fault? I'll keep talking about it until my words get through that abnormally thick skull of yours.
Edward gnashed his teeth together to keep from replying. There was no point in it: Alice was just as stubborn as she proclaimed him to be.
The faint ding signaling their arrival was a welcome interruption. The elevator doors opened to a small vestibule featuring a large painting of a flowering meadow and two heavy wooden doors. Edward staggered to the one on the left.
A sense of peace pervaded his being as he passed the threshold to his room. The space was his like no other had been. Before the Great War, his family had moved every few years, disallowing the feeling of stability and permanence that now brought him such comfort. This room was his sanctuary: a haven where he could relax, recharge, and—most importantly—rediscover himself after the grueling ordeal of violating someone's thoughts and memories.
As much as he hated to admit it, Edward needed a period of rest after an interrogation session. It was the only thing keeping him sane, especially when the minds he entered were so…vile.
Alice stretched out a hand to help him onto the bed, but he shook her off, instead falling onto the mattress with a groan of relief. It was embarrassing that he found his pillowy bedding so damned satisfying, but it wasn't like he could have kept his reaction secret to Alice, anyway.
His eyelids felt heavy as he wrapped himself in the down comforter. Alice picked up a remote and powered on his sound system. Soft swells of Monteverdi's Ecco mormorar l'onde soon washed over him and soothed his soul; he did indeed hear with murmuring of the waves within the flowing musical lines.
But as he eased into sleep, as his fragile mental barriers tumbled, more than just music made its way inside his head.
...was the worst one yet. It's just too much. Maybe I have no choice but to play dirty and take advantage of his guilt…
...time to rotate the bears. This one's not even bothering to struggle. Talk about boring...
…South American forces are spread too thin. I must speak with Carlisle again about raising our numbers. Surely he will understand that it's the soundest strategy…
...will be nice to see Sydney again. She's quite a lovely lady. I'll have Angela select a nice cabernet from the cellar…
...I wonder if they'll give me one last meal…too bad that dark-haired girl's a vamp…oh yeah, she would've been perfect…those big eyes full of fear as I shove my dick inside her…the tiny ones are always so tight, so fragile…the better to break…to fuck…to torture...and kill and fuck again…
"No!" Edward shouted, lurching up from his prone position. He would have fallen out of bed if Jasper's hand hadn't steadied him in place. "Alice…where is she? I have to…I mean, he wants to…argh!"
His hands scrubbed over his face and then traveled up to his unruly bronze hair.
"Alice is fine—went to check the news feed before the meeting," Jasper said, puzzled. "What's going on?"
Edward took in long, useless breaths of air that somehow made him feel more calm. "Sorry, it was…nothing. Just a bad dream."
His friend nodded wryly, knowing that Edward couldn't dream and, if anything, whatever he had experienced was more akin to a nightmare.
"Well, here, have a pick-me-up. Straight from the very angry cat. I might have to pick that one for myself next time. He smelled good."
Edward didn't comment, instead reaching for the blood-filled bag to drain it in seconds. Jasper had brought a heated tote with him, so the temperature was a perfect 101 degrees. Edward also appreciated the subtle aftertaste of adrenaline. If he couldn't drink directly from the animal, then surely, this was the next best thing.
Of course, his throat still burned. The ache was less intense after the small feeding, but the hunger remained. He shook his head and tried to ignore it. Thinking about the pain only made it worse.
"You know, there's nothing wrong with having a few pints of the good stuff every so often," Jasper said, correctly interpreting Edward's dissatisfied expression. "Not that you'd even need a reason, but human blood would help you recover much faster. In fact, if you fed right before a session, I'd wager you wouldn't be affected as badly."
"Really, Jasper?" Edward gave him an incredulous look. "Can you imagine the shitstorm that would rain down on us if I was seen with red eyes? Things are tense enough as it is."
"I think you'd be surprised. It's a slow process, but overall public opinion of us is improving. Do you know how much mail you get from fangirls—and boys—offering up their own blood? Hell, we've even had actual deliveries of it."
"That may be, but my job isn't to keep them happy. I can't sit at the World Peace Summit and have the other leaders questioning whether I snacked on one of their constituents during the coffee break."
"Fine, fine," Jasper said, raising a hand in acquiescence. "You know it was just a suggestion. I'd be lax in my duties as Security Director if I didn't consider all possibilities."
Edward hummed in agreement. Jasper never shied away from exploring every option, even those that were not politically correct. It was one of the reasons he excelled in his position. But Edward always had to keep the larger picture in mind. That was his duty, and despite his need for rest, the responsibility never went away.
Jasper watched but didn't intervene as Edward carefully stood from the bed and then walked to his desk. With all the dignity he could muster, Edward lowered himself in the chair and turned on his computer.
"I'm almost fully recovered now," he said stiffly. "You may leave."
Though the formal tone of his words didn't reflect the brotherly bond they shared, Jasper took no offense. If he were in Edward's place, he could not be half so pleasant. With a slight yet respectful bow at the waist, the Security Director took his leave and disappeared from the room.
Thirty seconds—half a minute—was all Edward allowed for himself to buckle under the weight of his anguished suffering. Silent, heaving sobs wracked his body as he grieved for 27 young women whose lives were ended in the worst way by the sadistic hands of a serial killer.
When the allotted time was up, he gathered those memories, threw them in a cage, and hid them in a dark corner of his mind. He knew he would have to dredge them up soon when he presented his report to the Judicial Committee. For now, however, he must suppress and move forward.
There was always more work to be done. The inbox of his official account had amassed a large number of new messages during the interrogation session, and a few required immediate attention. Straining his vampire abilities of speed and concentration to the maximum, Edward composed replies, assigned tasks to his small staff, and made a mental list of issues that required further consideration.
Barely a dent had been made in his workload when a quietly-directed thought requested his attendance at the daily staff meeting. After firing off one last email, he grabbed his laptop from the table and whisked a suit jacket out of the closet. He hadn't thought to change his wrinkled clothes, but at least the jacket would hide the worst of it.
Waiting outside Edward's door, Brady Coleman gave a perfunctory smile before launching into a mental rundown of pertinent current events. The brown-haired man who was now Edward's secretary and personal assistant had been a 35-year-old accountant prior to his change during the Great War. He was one of the few surviving newborns who chose to enter public service instead of exploring the extent of his vampire potential. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Brady enjoyed creating order out of chaos, as long he didn't have to be in the spotlight to do so.
Edward hadn't met the man until after peace had been declared, but he'd appreciated the structured restraint of his thoughts. Brady viewed the world in a very logical and literal way, and Edward found this perspective to have a calming influence on his own frequently overwhelmed mind.
The two vampires walked through the palatial manor house in silence. Both wore neutral expressions on their faces, despite the fact the one was receiving a great download of information from the other. Brady concluded his brief just as they arrived outside the ornate wooden doors to the library.
Jasper was there to greet them. After lowering his head in respect, he murmured into a tiny mouthpiece and pulled open the door to admit them. Edward returned the nod, secure in the knowledge that Cullen Compound was under his diligent protection.
The occupants in the room were already standing when Edward entered. He gestured for them to sit and took his own chair at one end of the table. Though he considered them all family, the staff insisted on maintaining deferential decorum, especially during events pertaining to matters of state.
It had been over four years since the Vampire Populace had voted on the formation of a Cullen-led oligarchy…four years since he'd been given the titles of Chief Magistrate and Vice Chancellor, first in the line of succession to Chancellor Carlisle Cullen. Edward was still trying to acclimate to the consequence and prestige of his role. To make the undertaking more difficult, the global media had quickly dubbed him "Prince Edward" as an easier way to explain to the masses his position within the vampire government hierarchy. The unofficial honorific became popular and often supplanted his true designations. Much to his chagrin, it had even been printed on his placard at the last World Peace Summit.
He tried to downplay his superior rank with his family and friends as much as he could, though he knew beyond doubt that they did not begrudge his selection. They considered it his birthright as the eldest "son" of Carlisle. And other than Emmett, who liked to make a big production out of bowing and scraping as often as he could, no one treated Edward much differently than they had before the Great War changed everything.
He's on his way.
Edward straightened automatically in his chair at Angela's mental notification. The others took their cue from him and listened for approaching footsteps. In true vampire fashion, they froze in place—no one moving, not even to breathe.
Despite the figurative and literal lack of life in the room, Edward felt revived. Every mind was calm and focused on the upcoming meeting, each individual was ready to fulfill his or her duties. All were confident in the coherency of the group and had utmost faith in its leader, who was now approaching Jasper at the library entrance.
In nearly perfect synchrony, the staff rose out of their chairs and turned toward the doors. The slabs of wood parted rather slowly, in ceremonial fashion, and Carlisle Cullen, the leader of the Vampire Populace, entered the room.
As had become custom, Edward opened his mouth, ready to issue a greeting on behalf of the assembled group. Before he could speak, however—before the air began moving out of his lungs, the briefest glimpse of an impossible scene flashed through his mind. He hesitated, but then recovered so quickly that only one person noticed his pause, and that was because her eyes had darted to his face in horror.
"Good afternoon, sir. Everyone is present and ready to begin at your convenience."
Edward barely registered Carlisle's invitation to be seated. He stared across the mahogany table and held Alice's gaze, probing her thoughts to see if she could make more sense of the vision than he could. It was a fruitless endeavor: although her shock had worn off, it had been replaced by worry and fear.
He struggled and failed not to let the same emotions take hold of him, but not without justifiable cause.
If Alice's premonition was correct, he would soon find himself writhing on the ground, helpless and in unimaginable pain.
And standing over him, laughing cruelly at his agony, would be the small form of young human woman.