Gratias tibi ago, findthewill




And in every imaginable way; there was no escape in sight.

In the thicket, about a mile away from the inn where Thomas now lived, a small semicircle of stunned humans looked back and forth, between Edward and me.

They each held still, hardly making a sound as their racing hearts slowly regained their usual thrum. Quiet and fearful, none dared to step out of their formation lest they provoke a less than pleasant reaction from either or both of us. So, we all stood still and waited in pensive strain, regarding one another with great suspicion.

My son stood at my side with an outward calm, looking almost nonchalant. His face gave nothing of his thoughts about the situation away, but I could see his anger still blaze wildly in the golden depths of his eyes.

Occasionally, when his gaze strayed to his uncle on the far side of the darkening coppice in which we stood, his expression changed. He did not bother to hide his disdain for Benjamin as his eyes narrowing dangerously every time they came upon his kin.

Once, I almost flinched at the depth of sheer abhorrence he harbored for the mere human man. His smoldering gaze seemed to burn holes into the unsuspecting man's mind. Sometimes he frowned and turned to look back at me, as if calculating any chances he might have of finishing this ordeal off without my opposition or interference.

Truthfully, even I was enraged by it all! Benjamin Masen had endangered our secret several times already, stalking and plotting his evil deeds while innocent men lost their lives. His own sons now lay at the bottom of their graves, dead from his wicked machinations.

Any pity I had previously felt for the man quickly faded now. In its place, I felt an overwhelming annoyance at the need to fabricate a plausible story to save his life. After all, his continual greed had brought us into this confrontation. Had he not shot me, we would not have found ourselves in this suffocating dilemma.

Quickly glancing around, I wondered if it was the right decision to stay and try to salvage our image once again. Considering how sorely I had underestimated the human's intelligence, I thought through all the options I had fleetingly entertained at the beginning of our crisis.

We could run from it all.

Physically, there was enough space available through which we could both run and disappear from this dilemma. With our speed and strength, there was hardly a barrier that could hold us captive in any given setting. It was not necessary to stay at all. Yet, it was only prudent to try to salvage our claim to humanity, saving our secret, the survival of our family and the humans' lives. I sighed silently and quit searching the grounds for an easy exit.

Though, I feared, there was also a large likelihood this encounter would end in bloodshed as Edward had predicted. Knowing it was not an alternative I wanted to resort to, I desperately sought a way to convince Benjamin and save my fledgling vampire son from witnessing the coming gore. Unless he was safely away from the scene, I assumed killing his kin in his sight would weigh greatly on my conscience for a long time to come.

The young man turned to look at me sharply, disbelieving of my thoughts and seemingly questioning my sanity. However, he settled into his previously misleading and aloof calm with the same alacrity, outwardly looking unperturbed by the gruesome possibility that had played in my mind a few moments ago.

With his head up, eyes looking away into nothingness and a slight but cynic smile ghosting lightly around his lips, he seemed determined to defy me if I ever requested he leave me to attend to ensuring the survival of our secret.

As I could not argue the matter immediately, I merely sighed and rigidly, but very reluctantly turned my gaze to the mortal who unwittingly measured us with his own contempt. His lips trembled with fear, but pride held his head up when he parted them to speak, glancing first into the feral fire in Edward's eyes and then slowly to mine. His face had turned a deathly pale as he obviously searched for answers to his disbelief.

I held still and waited, willing the human not to voice his confusion. My loud sigh went unnoticed when he confidently whispered his inquiry out, "What manner of evil are you?"

I nearly dipped my head in frustration, pursing my lips to keep from frightening the shaking man with a loud scream of impatience. His staunch position, persistently insisting that we were not what we claimed to be, was not helping either party in any way. In fact, it simply kept drawing him closer to his untimely grave and to crippling guilt on our side.

Even though unknown to him, I was incessantly concerned for his life, his family and the lives of those he had drawn into seeking a treasure still unknown to either of us. Even more exasperating was the possibility that his brother and nephew had already lost their lives while we stayed here and wrangled.

Yet, he continuously refused to believe the story I had hastily but carefully concocted to explain the seeming impossibility he had just witnessed. He shook his head vigorously and pressed his lips in momentary thought after I repeated my side of the event for the third time in half an hour. Sighing, he quickly voiced his conviction that I was wrong again.

"It cannot be, Sir. I fired twice, and none of my load from last night remains in the gun. Besides, had I drawn an empty firearm at you, it would merely have made a click to indicate I lacked a shot."

"Sir," I tried again, "I assure you that your piece has a faulty aim. You could not have killed me with it."

He seemed to consider my explanation while I prayed fervently that he did not counter my sorry lies with remarks from his astute scrutiny. But then, he turned to me with more gathered confidence and a reply that left me thoroughly regretful.

"Yet, you fell and remained motionless for minutes. Had your son not come to the scene, I believe you would have been quite content to continue lying face down in the dirt, pretending to be wounded."

"Mayhap you are not even human," he continued slowly, daring to pace forward a little as he made his declaration. "Like your son, you have pale skin and strange eyes. You could be evil creatures preying on human lives with magic. Perhaps, you are… vampires?"

While I fought to conceal my surprise at the feeble man's audacity, Edward suddenly chuckled as if in mocking contrast to his uncle's accurate assertion. I could not understand what had caused him to view this chaotic encounter as amusing, but I held my curiosity in. There were much better times for inquiries into his behavior when this incident was over and we were on our way out of Ashland.

As it turned out now, there truly appeared no other way out of our plight, or to save the man I had eagerly awoken from the dead to protect. Benjamin Masen was much too perceptive for his own good, or had grown up believing in fables that had placed him on the brink of death. Had no one thought to save him by relaying that there were no such creatures in actuality?

How possible it was for me to calmly consider solutions for the difficulties that had arisen from this situation distressed me deeply. However, the prime unsuspecting victim in this predicament looked calmly on as if he had no fear, arrogantly trying to hide his racing heart and sweaty body beneath his polite façade and false aura of confidence.

However, it was for his sake that I had compromised our secret in the first place, bringing us all to this end.

Lying on the dirt ground as I fully assessed the situation that had thrown me into unconsciousness, it had been hard for me to ignore the subtle leap my son made from a tree a few meters away in the dense forest.

In a blur of activity, I had quickly risen from the ground and raced towards the unknowing mortal to protect him from the intent I had seen in Edward's eyes.

The younger vampire had growled as he approached the scene, his eyes wild and face scrunched in annoyance. Utterly confused and slightly fearful that he would attack me for his 'kill', I was quite prepared, though not convinced I would win, to employ my more experienced knowledge in warfare to dissuade him in whatever way seemed necessary.

"Father, you frighten Mr. Masen," he said after a moment and nodded at the mortal in front of whom I stood, protecting him from the displeased vampire's wrath.

Edward's scornful laughter rang through my mind as I turned to take in the disbelieving faces behind me. Their pallor ran closely in shade to our skin. Benjamin had let the pistol fall from his hand to the ground, and all had wide eyes and dropped jaws.

Have I worsened the situation?

It was clear I had, indeed, further complicated our tentative status. However, I was also unable to turn away from the frightened louts, to ask my son's direction on this issue. Assessing the health of my victims in their shock was my greatest priority now. After all, I had caused their woes.

"Sir, you should be dead," Benjamin had murmured, recovering from his dazed stupor.

Of course, I should be dead, I knew this well. I had pretended the state long enough to convince them all that I had expired from Mr. Masen's shots.

Though unexpected, I had not been overly surprised when the shots rung and I woke from my momentary oblivion with my face to the ground. I had felt the stunning effect of the first bullet when it hit, but only noted the second piercing of my skin torpidly.

In the middle of nowhere, parked many miles from the inn, safely far from where Thomas was lodging, and knowing Edward had been left to watch him, I was convinced no one had heard the commotion. I thought to lay there for a few more minutes, rising and leaving after I had heard the excited heartbeats of the men eventually fade away.

When I glimpsed the sliver of dull gold in Edward's bronze hair under the fading sunlight, I merely reacted to the grim possibility that he intended to kill Benjamin Masen and his cohorts. Convinced that a simple explanation to Mr. Masen would suffice, I had not carefully thought through the events leading to my supposed demise when I had spoken my explanation for my continued existence.

I had no wounds to show that I had been hit by his firearm, and thought to explain how faulty his aim had been. Obviously, Benjamin did not appreciate his intellect being undermined. He held fast and argued every point out as it arose. Now, his quick mentality and astute observation were rapidly leading him to death.

To complicate matters, Benjamin looked first from Edward to me and grinned. Like Edward, I very nearly laughed out loud at his following suggestion.

"Of course, we can reach an agreement of sorts if you are willing to comply." At my raised brow, his voice dipped into a conspiratorial murmur, "We'll swear to keep your secret from the town's parochial priest if you can reveal Thomas's location."

Edward's chest shook again with unconcealed laughter. "The parochial priest, indeed!" he laughed.

"Y…yes, the parochial priest," Benjamin insisted, faltering a moment.

I bit back a smile with great difficulty as I looked over the poor man with fresh pity. Might the Parochial priest of Ashland be the Reverend St. James, I wondered, one not even capable of reciting a simple Latin prayer?

Obviously, Uncle Benjamin had no definite idea what to make of us. His only argument was that we practiced dark arts – magic, and brought sorrow to the inhabitants of the town. Maybe, realizing himself incapable, he thought he could better eliminate us through the spirits. Again, I almost laughed at how similar, though also very diverse, he was to his brother.

Thomas had also confided his belief that we were a manifestation of spiritual beings. He, on the other hand had expressed an opposing idea to our strangeness. Swearing God had sent Edward's spirit in heaven back with God's favorite Archangel to resolve the matter on earth had been the most absurd notion I had heard so far. Yet, the wonder-filled man had been utterly convinced, refuting any other explanation for his discovery.

"Please, I tried to dissuade my brother from killing young Scott," he had confessed that night. "I was afraid and could only save Harry by hiding him in the woods. I could not keep him with me because I was weak, and if Benjamin had found us together he would have killed us both," he had rushed on, trying to explain the events that had led him to the brook the day I had found him – apparently, seeking forgiveness of his sins as well.

Edward had been utterly amazed by Thomas's conviction – maybe, even more than I had. His sighs, after we had settled Thomas into his new home and stood watch on the fringes of darkness behind the inn, had seemed an indication that he had begun to think through his own entrenched ideas about our kind.

He had dismissed my thoughts quickly, stating his conviction that only the devil could claim bloodthirsty souls. My hope that he would consider the truth of his goodness after Thomas's equation of him to an angel from heaven, come to avenge the grave misdeeds in his family, seemed to evaporate as he left me on my own and sped back to our own home.

From then on, we had taken turns to watch both Harry and Thomas. While he hunted, usually during the day, I watched Thomas. My assurance of Harry's safety was that Benjamin had never struck until the night hours in the past. In turn, Edward watched over Thomas while I hunted or reported for work at the hospital.

It had been that way for nearly a fortnight until Benjamin shot me twice in the back as I hurried to work.

I sighed again, pulling myself out of my momentary reverie to rejoin the current discussion. Ah yes, Benjamin was determined to set the Parochial priest's power against our "dark" forces.

"The Reverend would gladly exorcise this good town of such evil as you," he threatened in an even louder voice, but I hardly listened. A few seconds ago, I had turned towards the direction of Thomas's growing scent and wondered what had brought him so close to this dangerous rendezvous. Even more regretful would be including the good-hearted man in any eventuality that might befall the mortal men here.

I narrowed my eyes as his trembling frame drew near, watching in awe as the older and more frightened of the Masen brothers stepped into the grove to defend us.

"The only evil here is you, Benjamin. These men are angels."


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Mercy Refused - Alvin Slaughter

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