AN: I am a horrible author. And yes, this chapter is shorter than it should be given that you all had to wait over a month [winces] for it, but it all needs to happen and I promise the next chapter will come in a more reasonable amount of time.

Men and Monsters

Chapter 14

Just because the psycho lady wanted to know everything didn't mean Kelsi had to tell her. She was a writer, after all, she could fudge the truth with the best of them.

"It would be easier," she said, "if you told me what you know so I can fill in the details. And a name would be nice," she added as an afterthought.

"Alvinia," she said with a smile that could freeze lava. "And I would much prefer to hear about your cousins -- as well as their friends -- from your perspective."

With a sigh and a silent hope that her cousins would forgive her, Kelsi said, "They're jerks. Vida's a bully who disagrees with anyone just for the fun of arguing and Madison's so wishy-washy she could make Gabby hate her."

"Gabby?"

Kelsi winced. "She's a girl from my school. She's nice to everyone."

"Ah," Alvinia said, her attention on a picture beside Kelsi's bed. It was of the whole gang at the Lava Springs end of summer party. "Even Ryan?" she asked slowly.

Kelsi's throat went momentarily dry. "Yes," she managed.

Alvinia looked at her sharply. "You don't like that, do you? You're jealous of her and the attention she gives my son."

Kelsi didn't answer. She didn't owe an explanation to this woman and she wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of knowing she was even the tiniest bit right.

"What powers do your cousins command?" Alvinia asked primly.

"Air and water."

"And what happened to their predecessors?"

"They died." At Alvinia's questioning look she explained, "In the Great Battle. Before the Master was sealed away."

"Sealed a-- ?" Alvinia echoed sharply, her face betraying the first hint of anger Kelsi had seen in her. She stood and began pacing the small room, her dark robes fanning out behind her. "That little moon witch," she hissed. She whirled, composed once more. "And he is still trapped."

It wasn't a question but Kelsi shook her head anyway.

"He must be," Alvinia insisted. "His presence is strong enough that I would feel it even through the barrier between the worlds."

"He was destroyed," Kelsi said, taking some small pleasure in the words.

"You lie!" Alvinia hissed. "He could not be. There was nothing that could defeat him." She trailed off, silently considering the possibilities. Angrily, she grabbed Kelsi's arm and pulled her off the bed.

"What are you doing?"

"We're not waiting until dawn," Alvinia said. "If Necrolai is hungry, she can have you."

#

Gabriella awoke with a start, her breath coming in small, heavy gasps. She held her arms up, making certain she still had hands and not the claws she'd been dreaming. She was sweating and her blankets were in a heap on the floor. She rolled over and buried her head in her pillow with a moan.

She'd always been a calm sleeper. She didn't toss or turn, like some people. Apparently that was just one of the many things about her life that would never be the same.

With a huff she threw herself out of bed and turned on her ceiling fan. She sighed as it began stirring the warm air in the room. She kicked her blankets into a corner on her way back to bed, but froze when a shadow fell across her floor. She followed the shadow to the balcony where a figure hesitated a moment before knocking gently on the doors. She let out a small, pitiful whine before crossing the room and throwing the doors open.

"Troy," she said, not at all surprised to see him standing in the moonlight. When he didn't say anything she added, "It's really late."

"Actually," he said, "it's early."

"Why are you here?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest and only then realizing that she was wearing a spaghetti top and dangerously short pajama bottoms.

"I was gonna talk to the guys about this, wait for tomorrow when I could make Kelsi talk, maybe call Ryan to see if you'd told Sharpay anything. But then I realized that none of them would know for sure and they're not the ones I really want to hear an answer from." He paused, catching her gaze and refusing to let go. "I want to know what's going on with you. Even if we're not going to be together, I want to be there for you."

Gabriella felt her knees go weak. Troy was giving her that look, that puppy-dog-basketball-star-can't-say-no-'cause-it'll-break-my-heart look that always made her heart melt.

"You can't," she said, trying not to choke on the words. She loved him. She knew she loved him. And that made hurting him hard, but all the more necessary.

"Why not?" he asked, running a hand down her arm. She stepped away, hugging herself now.

"I don't want you to get hurt," she said, willing him to understand that this was how it had to be. "Please, just go. Just --"

His mouth came crashing down on hers and if he hadn't taken hold of her shoulders she knew she would have fallen. Her arms wrapped around his neck of their own accord and the kiss deepened. This was good, this was right. Troy and Gabriella. Gabriella and Troy. They would make it work. There was nothing they couldn't conquer when they were together. She was only vaguely aware of the open door behind her, and the bed just a few feet beyond. She stepped back, pulling him with her.

The moonlight still reached here, into the room. It cut through the curtains and seeped into her skin, burning her hotter than the sun ever could. She held Troy tighter, pulling him against her and fighting to get his jacket off.

He came up for air and she didn't give him time to come back -- or time to question what they were doing. She began kissing along his jaw line and he made a noise deep in his throat that had her stomach clenching in a way she never wanted to stop. She nipped at a spot under his ear and he did it again, causing her to answer with a growl. She knew where this was going: her and her mate, bound together. Forever. And after they were done here they would go out -- they would be hungry by then, after all -- prowl for some unsuspecting human to devour.

Gabriella shoved Troy away with a start, panting and sounding all too much like the animal she truly was, deep inside.

"Go," she said, ashamed by how breathless she was.

He opened his mouth -- maybe to argue, maybe to apologize -- but she cut him off.

"Get out!" she snapped, not loud enough for her mother to hear, but loud enough that he got the message.

He stepped out onto the balcony, grabbing his fallen jacket on the way. When he reached the railing he whirled. "I'm not asking you this because of what we almost did," he said and the way his eyes cut away at those last words made her breathe a sigh of relief. "I'm asking because of us. Do you love me?"

Her heart clenched. "No."

She never thought he could look at her and not make her heart feel warm, but when she said that one, final word he blinked and when his eyes opened again he wasn't her Troy Bolton anymore.

He turned and caught hold of a sturdy tree branch, ready to pull himself up and climb down. "I meant what I said before," he said over his shoulder. "I'll always be here for you, no matter what." And then he was gone.

#

Nikki Pimvare -- formerly Necrolai Pimvare, Queen of the Vampires, scourge of the living, devourer of innocents, and servant of the Master -- stumbled down the stairs in her condo. She ran a hand through her hair, thankful that no one was around this early to see the disarray it was in after hours of sleep. Leelee -- her daughter and current Queen of the Vampires -- was busy clearing up some dispute between the vampires and werewolves upstate and would most likely arrive home that afternoon smelling of wet dog, poor thing.

As for Nikki, she had woken up in the wee hours of the morning with a craving for that last piece of chocolate cake sitting in the fridge downstairs. She had sat there, unable to sleep, for more than an hour, telling herself that a former Vampire Queen was stronger than her hunger and knowing it was a lie. If she had been stronger than her hunger before, she never would have eaten that goat in the 1650s. She had shuddered at the very thought and thrown herself out of bed, intent on eating her cake.

When she reached the bottom of the stairs she froze, her senses on alert. There was someone in the house. She no longer had the benefit of her full vampire senses, but she could still see in the dark and there was definitely someone sitting at her dining room table. Nikki crept into the kitchen, her barefoot steps light on the tile as she pulled her largest knife from its block. She also gave the sash on her robe a firm tug, not wanting the material to go flying during a fight. Weapon in hand she strode into the dining room, holding her head high as if finding strange people in her house in the dead of night didn't concern her at all.

"Good morning," Nikki said pleasantly and leaned back against the table beside the intruder. Now that she could see who it was she felt her heart go still in her chest. "Kelsi?" she breathed.

The girl's back was ramrod straight against the chair, her hands sat, neatly folded, in her lap, and her eyes stared straight ahead.

"Kelsi!" Nikki demanded, dropping the knife on the table and giving Kelsi's shoulders a firm shake.

"She can't move."

Nikki's blood ran cold at the sweet voice. She hadn't heard it in over twenty years and had sincerely hoped she never would again. She released Kelsi and faced Alvinia, not bothering with the knife on the table: it would do her no good against the sorceress.

"Please," Alvinia said slowly, circling the table to get a closer look at her, "tell me that this is some ruse to make a pitiful human's death more poetic."

Nikki tilted her chin a notch higher and stepped between Alvinia and Kelsi, intent on protecting the girl from further harm. "I used up my powers bringing two warriors back to life. A similar act would have killed a human, but apparently since I was already dead …" She shrugged the event off carelessly.

"You were brought back to life as well," Alvinia said, touching a lock of Nikki's hair in awe. She let her hand drop and asked, "Who did you bring back?" a dangerous light glinting in her eye.

"Leanbow and Daggeron."

Alvinia's eyes went wide and for a moment Nikki wondered if those would be the last words she would ever say. Alvinia turned away and spat onto the carpet. "You betrayed the Master," she said angrily.

"He was going to kill Leelee," Nikki said simply. "I do not know what became of your children after the Gate was opened but --"

"Sharpay freed me," Alvinia said, regaining her composure.

She disappeared and Nikki whirled to see her standing over Kelsi, stroking the girl's hair gently. The look in her eye as she watched the frozen girl was one Nikki knew she reserved for her favorite toys.

"She and Ryan attend school with this one," Alvinia continued. "But you already know her, don't you? My children, friends with a Mystic's relative. I couldn't have planned it any better myself."

"What are you going to do?" Nikki asked.

"The Master is dead, he must be or you would have been killed long ago for such treason. He must be avenged." She glanced up and Nikki tensed, feeling the gathering power in the air. "The Mystics will die, as will all who help them."

There was a flash of deep pink light and a crack like thunder.

Hours later, when Toby brought his girlfriend a surprise box of doughnuts he found her on the floor and the house empty.


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