This was a bad idea.
I was leaning up against a tree in the most forested area in Queen Elizabeth Park. The sun was starting to rise, so I kept back so that its rays wouldn't hit me. Not that I was really sure I had to avoid it now.
I was unsure of so many things. Ever since I had been turned into a vampire, ten or so months ago, the world had changed. It was astonishing to think how much.
When I had been human I had studied the sciences. I loved its logic. If I wanted to find out the truth about something, I made notes, took samples, ran tests, all of which led me to irrefutable conclusions about the reality of our world. I liked certainty almost as much as I liked being alone.
That had changed when I was traveling along the Washington coast. I had been out there for weeks, studying marine wildlife. Jedd Taylor, my biology professor, had asked me to do the work.
"I know you'll be thorough, Fred," he'd said with a chuckle. "You won't let anything distract you from the facts."
He was right. Little else was important to me. Relationships certainly weren't; I hardly ever saw my mother or step-siblings, and my relationship with my father had always been … distant, I guess you could say. Although that was probably a good thing now.
I had never cared much for my looks. My blond hair was hanging in curls below my collar by the time I'd been on the coastline for a few weeks. I'd never worried about fashion either. Family, fashion, friends – all things I could do without.
So it had taken me by surprise when I was setting up camp one night and I realized I was being watched.
I was at a remote coastal site. No one around for miles, or so I thought. I hadn't heard him approach. I just looked up and there he was, leaning against a tree.
The thing that struck me most about him was his eyes. They were bright red. That was something I'd never seen before. I wondered if he simply had bizarre taste in contact lenses. His skin was so pale it seemed luminous in the moonlight. And the way he was looking at me … I understood that look all too well now. He had been trying his best not to kill me.
"Hello," he said eventually. "Do you often camp by yourself?"
"What's it to you?" I tried to turn my attention back to setting up the camp, hoping he would go away.
He didn't. He continued watching me from where he stood, standing so still I didn't think he was breathing. This was probably the case, at least some of the time. In spite of myself, I became curious. He seemed to be flaunting some of the hard facts I'd noted about the human race.
I shrugged. "I like being alone." Take the hint, mister. Move on.
But still those bright red eyes stayed fixed on me.
I grew nervous. Was he planning to mug me? If so, he wouldn't get much. I had a credit card and a few dollars. That was all, unless he wanted to take my laptop. I'd fight him for that; all my work was on it. I wrote longhand while I traveled, but kept my computer with me, updating it whenever I could find somewhere to plug it in; the battery didn't last long.
"Are you alone all the time?"
I didn't bother to answer, although I didn't turn my back on him.
"What do you do for fun?"
"This." I indicated the packs and notes around me. Now that I had finished setting up, I sat down in the middle of my camp, facing him, my tent behind me, and picked up my notebook.
"School work?" he scoffed. "Is that all?"
I glared at him. "I'm studying." I turned my eyes back to my book.
For the first time, he moved. He came closer, until he was right in front of me, a creepy smile on his face. He pushed the book away from my eyes. "Want some real excitement?"
"No." There was no hesitation in my answer. "I'm not an adrenaline kind of guy."
"I'm offering something like you've never experienced. Offers like this don't come every day, believe me. You come with me, life will never be the same."
I still wasn't buying. "Sorry. I'm not into jumping off cliffs or free falling or drugs or whatever you're trying to sell. Now go away."
After that, I only remembered seeing his frustrated expression. Then something hit me hard on the side of my head and everything went black.
When I'd woken I was in the worst pain imaginable. I thought I was being burnt to death from the inside out. That's what it felt like. At first, I couldn't tell where I was or who was with me, but after a while some things became clear.
I was in a house I had never been in before. The red-eyed man was also there (I soon discovered his name was Riley), as were a few others like him, with the pale skin and the red eyes. They paid no attention to me as I screamed and begged them to kill me, anything to end the pain. Most of them were busy arguing with Riley about whether or not they could go outside.
"It's daylight now," he told them. "Wait until nightfall."
There wasn't much else that happened by way of conversation, at least, not that I could understand. Some of the others fought savagely with each other. I was amazed to see one rip body parts off another, but only until Riley jumped on him, beating him. Then I was more amazed to see Riley stick the body parts back on, and they stayed there!
I thought I was hallucinating.
If only that had been the worst of it. But the worst came when the pain finally faded.
Once it had disappeared completely I leapt to my feet, moving much faster than I ever had before. I looked at my hands. I could see they were now as pale as everybody else's. "What have you done to me?" I was disturbed at how out of control I felt. I tried to think along rational lines, but it was next to impossible. Not only was everything – sights, smells, sounds – now bright and vivid, far beyond normal human capacity, but my throat was bone dry. I was thirsty.
Riley watched me cautiously. "It's okay, er … what's your name?"
"Fred. It's okay, Fred. You're fine. I've turned you into a god. Welcome to the new world!"
"A god?" I had never believed in any gods or philosophies or anything that couldn't be tested in a laboratory. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"Riley's right," another man said. His skin was slightly darker than Riley's. "You're a vampire now."
I didn't believe them until Riley took me hunting.
He waited until night had fallen and then took me out into the streets.
"Where are we?" I thought it looked like Seattle, but I couldn't be sure.
Riley confirmed it. "We need to stay in the shadows. Don't want our prey to know what hit them, do we?" He winked. I had no idea what he was talking about.
We kept to the back alleys for a while, then, to my amazement, Riley began to scale the walls of a building with his bare hands. He turned and looked back at me. "Come on."
Frowning, I put my hand on the wall, digging my fingers in to the mortar between the bricks. I had never been great at any kind of physical activity, but I found, to my astonishment, that not only could I cling on, it was easy to rest all my weight on my hand.
I began to pull myself up the wall, hand over hand, faster and faster. Once Riley realized I was following him, he continued, leading me to the top of the building.
We continued across the building until we came to the edge of it. Riley didn't hesitate, but leapt effortlessly from one building to the next. He looked back and jerked his head at me, indicating that I should join him.
Terrified I would fall, I took a bit of a run up, only to find that I launched myself across the entire building. I managed to catch my fingers on the edge of it before I fell. I pulled myself back up in desperation, only to launch myself in the air again. And when I landed, it was so hard that I nearly broke through the building's roof.
Riley was annoyed by that. "You'll have to be more careful. You are stronger and faster now than you've ever been. Stronger than any human ever could be."
"You aren't worried that I nearly fell to my death?" I growled.
Riley laughed. "That little fall wouldn't kill you, not now. In fact, no fall's ever going to kill you. The only thing that will kill you is another one of us or being out in the sunlight."
I tried to make sense of that as we continued to travel.
Eventually, Riley led me back down to ground level. We hadn't gone far when we came across a homeless man. He was sleeping under a pile of old newspapers.
Riley nodded at me. "Go on. Take a whiff."
For a split second I wasn't sure what he meant, then I drew breath and smelled the man. I was more astonished than anything at what happened next. I launched myself at the sleeping figure, grabbed him by the neck, and clamped down my teeth. I felt him jerk in my hands, but I paid no attention. I think it was then that I broke his neck. He certainly didn't move after that, and I drained him dry of all his blood. I gaped in disgust and horror as I had pushed his lifeless body away from me.
The worst part of it was that I wanted more.
But first things first. Riley showed me how to dispose of his body so that no one would find him. He took him to the sound, carrying his body effortlessly. Then he dived into the water.
Before he was completely submerged he stopped at looked back at me. "Come on, then."
I wasn't much of a swimmer, but I thought about what Riley had said. Nothing could kill me. Was I willing to test it by risking being drowned? It was clear I was a lot stronger than I had been. Perhaps I could swim.
I followed him in. When he saw I was moving, he nodded. "This way." Then he disappeared under the surface.
I followed him, finding that I could swim with ease. Not only that, but no matter how long I stayed under, I did not run out of oxygen. I kept swimming deeper and deeper, following Riley. How was this possible?
Riley swam to the bottom and dumped the body there, weighing him down with a huge rock. Then we swam back to the surface.
My mind was reeling as we returned to the back streets of the city. A vampire? It seemed that was true. I had killed a man by drinking his blood. But this strength and speed! And not needing to breathe. I would have to study this …
Riley grinned at me. "See? I told you that you were a god. Now, let's go find some more."
I didn't need to ask what we were looking for. My throat was still burning. We found another homeless man and two prostitutes. After I'd finished with them, we dumped their bodies in the sound as well.
"This is the way we live," he explained. "This is what your life will be from now on. All you need to remember is to stay out of the sunlight and expose of your kills."
I nodded. I didn't know which disturbed me more: the ease with which I'd ended the lives of four people or that it had satisfied me so much.
It was difficult to process. Most things were in those first few months. I could rarely think of anything other than my thirst. But that meant I would have to kill someone. Of course, whenever I was taken out on the streets to hunt, the morality of the situation paled into insignificance. I could hardly wait to find someone to ease the burn in my throat. I tried not to think of it too much afterwards. After all, it seemed I was now a different species, much like a predator in the wild. It just so happened that my prey were human beings. I tried to view it like that, and it did help.
Initially, we lived in a deserted house on the outskirts of Seattle. We had to change houses on a regular basis, as one by one, they were trashed by my out-of-control companions. We kept to the basements in the daytime to avoid the sunlight leaking through the windows upstairs, just as vampires were supposed to do. Avoid the sun at all costs.
As I settled into my new state of being I began to study those around me, cataloging every detail about vampires. Yes, we had to avoid the sun, but I noted quickly that we did not follow all the traditional vampire myths.
For a start, none of us slept in coffins, or at all, actually. Also, I didn't remember any legends of red eyed vampires, so that was something new. And I had never known that we could be pulled apart and put back together again and suffer no ill effects, as long as you could find all the pieces.
The only thing that destroyed us completely, apart from sunlight, was fire, and I had ample opportunity to study exactly how that happened in my first few months of this life.
The beings around me were less controlled than I was, and whenever someone new was added into the mix, which happened about every week, they would make it worse. One particular guy, Raoul, frequently destroyed people, especially if they challenged him for supremacy in the group.
Fortunately, my quiet tendencies meant that people didn't pay attention to me … most of the time.
One day, Raoul decided to take exception. It was then that I discovered something useful.
"Hey you, over there!"
I was sitting quietly in the corner observing Raoul lord it over the others, and turned my eyes to him warily. "What?"
"What? What?" he snarled. "You don't talk to me like that!"
He came over to me and looked up from where he stood. I could tell that the fact he was a few inches shorter than me annoyed him. "Who do you think you are? You think if you sit over here quietly all the time you don't have to show your allegiance to me?"
I felt the anger build in me. If Raoul wanted my allegiance, he would be waiting a long time.
I knew words wouldn't be any good. So I merely thought at him. Leave me alone.
Then the strangest thing happened. His face turned green and he looked like he was gagging. So did two other vampires who were standing close to me. They all immediately moved away and left me alone.
That was fascinating.
I didn't know what it meant at first, so I began experimenting with it. Was it just thinking the words? It didn't seem to work with just that. It took the emotion behind the words; the desire to be left in peace. Once I had established that, I practiced using it on the people around me in different degrees, mentally noting the effects it had on each person.
It appeared that, along with the ability to kill people and put myself back together, and the super strength and speed, I had another ability. I could make people feel sick if they looked at me. The odd thing was, I was the only one who could do this. I was sure some of the other vampires would have used it if they could have, especially when they were being torn apart. So it was unique to me. I had numerous theories about why that was so, but it was difficult to prove any of them.
Whatever the reason, it was a handy talent to have. If anyone bothered me, I simply turned my ability on them and they left me alone. It not only gave me the solitude I craved, but it kept me alive while others around me were dying in pitched battles every other day. In fact, I kept it switched on all of our group pretty much all the time.
There was only one vampire in this crowd I didn't use my talent on.
I noticed Bree as soon as she arrived. Riley had come in one night, dumping her tiny body in a corner before leaving again. She lay there for days writhing and screaming. I had seen it enough by then to realize it was part of the process of being changed into a vampire.
I had studied it in some of the others. Gradually, Bree's skin was bleached white. With my strong vampire eyes, I could see the skin as it hardened to a consistency more like rock. Her eyes lost their normal colour and turned red, like the rest of us.
"Man, this one is noisy!" Kevin remarked. He was one of Raoul's goons.
Fortunately, by the time she'd finished transforming Riley was back. He took her out to hunt himself, but left a few minutes after they returned.
It didn't take long before a battle broke out between Raoul and one of the other new vampires. That one was larger than him and it was clear he wasn't used to playing second fiddle to anyone.
Raoul gathered around him with his gang. "Hey, boys. This guy thinks he's the boss."
The new vampire curled back his lip and snarled. "Yeah, and you'd better take note of it, my friend."
"Why? You think you can take me on?" spat Raoul.
The new vampire had even less control than Raoul. He screamed his hatred at the vampire and launched himself on him, but Raoul had friends. Kevin and one of the others grabbed one arm each and twisted them off the new vampire, as Raoul reached in and tore off his head. Laughing, he pulled out a lighter and sparked a fire on the couch, before throwing the head onto it. The rest of the newbie's body followed quickly.
Bree's eyes widened in terror, and she dived behind the other couch, where I was sitting. I resented her presence at first, and I could hear her retching as I turned my gift on her. But then Raoul, excited by the show of his strength, turned his eyes towards the noise.
"What is that? A little baby crying? Aw, boo hoo!"
He came in my direction, but I snarled. I didn't want him near me. He opened his mouth to snarl at me when I hit him with a blast of my ability. Soon Bree's groans were drowned out by his own. He and the others backed away.
I sighed and stopped targeting the little one. She immediately fell silent. I shrugged. As long as she stayed that way, she could hide behind my couch.
Bree regularly cowered behind my couch or anywhere else she could find to hide as she tried to beat the odds and stay alive. I began to extend my gift towards her. At first, I was just experimenting to see if I could include someone other than myself under its protection. It seemed that I could. In spite of her size and relative vulnerability, Bree stayed alive.
After that, I would frequently use my ability to shield her from the others. I had never liked bullies; although my human memories had faded, I could remember being picked on when I was as small as Bree. So if she couldn't make herself invisible, I would do it for her.
It wasn't attraction or anything else that made me do it. At least, I didn't think so. I liked her, but nothing more than that. As time went on, I could see her getting attached to a guy named Diego. He had been the first vampire I'd noticed after Riley. He had been a little crazy at first, but so had all of us. As our first full year of vampire life drew closer, he settled down, but he could take care of himself better than Bree, so I hadn't paid him much attention. But at least he and Bree provided some individuals that weren't hell bent on destroying everything in sight, unlike everybody else.
In spite of their presence, I had no desire to hang around. I didn't trust Riley. He sometimes spoke of the vampire who had created us – we didn't know her name and never saw her – and I had come to the conclusion that she must have created us for a reason. He seemed to be steeling us for something, what with all his instructions and insistence that we follow his specific set of rules.
But if we were gods, why did we have rules at all? If we were so powerful, why did Riley insist that we had to keep our existence secret from humans? I was sure we weren't the only vampires around, so I wondered why such godlike creatures stayed out of sight of humans. What did we care about them? What could they do to us?
I had no answers and I didn't trust the weak, evasive replies Riley gave to these questions, so I followed the rules, certain that there was a good reason for them. All this subterfuge did not endear me to Riley, but nothing did that. He was the reason I was forced to put up with this crowd night after night. I had considered taking off a number of times. Some of the vampires in our group had just disappeared. Riley claimed that they'd been caught out in the sun, but I wondered if they'd just decided to leave. I didn't blame them, but I wanted as much information as possible about us before I left.
It all came to a head one evening after I had been a vampire for about ten months. Riley had been out as usual, leaving us alone in our latest home – a basement in yet another deserted house – with losers like Jen and Kristie. They were almost as bad as Raoul. Of course someone died. Bree had gone out with Diego so she missed the tearing and burning as they killed the newbie, but she noticed the ashes as soon as she came in.
I was surprised when she returned without Diego. Only twenty-four hours before, they had stayed out all day in each other's company. Riley had worried that they had been destroyed by the sun, but they had hidden together in an underground cave, she said. So it was unusual for her to come back without him, and the look in her eyes made me wonder if something had happened. But I allowed her access to my quiet corner as usual, and did not question her. If she wanted to talk to me, I assumed she would, even though she never had before.
Riley returned not long after. His expression, even when he walked in, was severe.
Then he saw the pile of ashes and he flipped.
It wasn't like usual, either. I'd grown used the sight of him ranting and raving when one of us killed another, but this was something else. His eyes were wide with an almost insane gleam about them and his lips were pulled back from his teeth in a perpetual snarl. He ripped a speaker off the wall and hurled it across the room. Then he leaped straight over to where Raoul stood – it wasn't surprising that he'd blame him for the smoking remains – and grabbed him by the throat.
"I wasn't even here!" Raoul told him, looking scared. That was new. And for once, he was telling the truth.
Then Raoul journeyed across the room in the same way the speaker had gone. Riley didn't stop there. He ripped Kevin's hand off – not that he didn't have it coming – and beat him with it.
"What's wrong with you?" he screamed. "Why are you all so stupid?"
He made a grab for another kid, but that brought him too close to me for my liking. He quickly backed away as I let him know that I didn't want him there.
But it didn't stop his rage. "Do any of you have a brain?"
He continued to tear his way through a few more vampires. He didn't do anything that couldn't be repaired, but he made his presence felt. I could see everyone watching him warily. Bree was cowering in the corner, her eyes wide.
Finally, he took a deep breath and calmed himself.
"Listen to me!" he spat. "All our lives depend on you listening to what I'm saying now and thinking! We are all going to die. Every one of us, you and me, too, if you can't act like you have brains for a few short days!"
That caught my interest. Were we getting to the point now? The reason why I had been turned into a vampire and kept in one house after another, with an ever changing group?
"It's time for you to grow up and take responsibility for yourselves. Do you think you get to live like this for free? That all the blood in Seattle doesn't have a price?"
This made sense. What was the price, I wondered?
Unfortunately, then Riley started trying to get us to feel like a team by appointing leaders. And who did he pick? Raoul and Kristie. Sure, like that would work. I rolled my eyes and waited for more information.
Finally, he got to the point. "We have an enemy." He paused for dramatic effect. I snorted under my breath. "A few of you might be smart enough to have realized that if we exist, so do other vampires. Other vampires who are older, smarter … more talented. Other vampires who want our blood!"
That got everyone's attention. Raoul made a show of being furious, like he was claiming Seattle as his turf. His groupies echoed his hiss.
I watched Riley carefully as he continued. "That's right. Seattle was once theirs, but they moved on a long time ago. Now they know about us and they are jealous of the easy blood they used to have here. They know it belongs to us now, but they want to take it back. They are coming after what they want. One by one, they'll hunt us down! We'll burn while they feast!"
A rumble of fear ran throughout his audience. He went on, telling us about our need to work together as a team in order to fight the vampires who were coming to kill us and take Seattle for their own.
The more he spoke, the less I believed him. Were we expected to think that Riley had only found about this danger overnight? How did he discover this information? Who could have told him? Someone who knew this other group? If so, then why did they warn him? And if he knew that this had originally been someone else's territory, why hadn't he told us about it before?
Riley continued to rant until he had worked everyone up into a frenzy. I didn't credit anything else he said until he started talking about our enemies. Then I listened harder.
"They are a much older coven than we are. They've been around for hundreds of years, and they've survived that long for a reason. They are crafty and they are skilled and they are coming to retake Seattle with confidence – because they've heard the only ones they'll have to fight for it are a bunch of disorganized children who will do half their work for them!"
And how exactly did Riley know all this? Did he have a direct line to their thoughts?
"This is how they see us," Riley continued, "but that's because they can't see us together. Together, we can crush them. If they could see all of us, side by side, fighting together, they would be terrified. And that's how they're going to see us. Because we're not going to wait for them to show up here and start picking us off. We're going to ambush them. In four days."
We were going to ambush them in a place that was unfamiliar to all of us, rather than wait for them to arrive on familiar territory? We were going to take the fight to them? And why was that, exactly?
And only four days? If Riley though that this group was going to work together in four days, he was crazy!
"It's the last thing they'll expect." That was Riley's best explanation for us taking such a risk. "All of us – together – waiting for them. And I've saved the best part for last. There are only seven of them."
Everyone was incredulous at that. Why would only seven vampires be such a danger? There were about twenty of us. We would outnumber them almost three to one. But I didn't have enough data to understand vampires fully at this stage. Perhaps, if those seven were well trained, or even worked as a team, which we certainly did not, then they would have the edge. Experience and instinct could be a dangerous combination.
We had plenty of instinct, but when it came to experience, we had next to none.
Riley looked at the skeptical faces around him. "Hey, I wasn't joking when I said this coven is dangerous. They are wise and … devious. Underhanded. We will have power on our side; they will have deception. If we play it their way, they will win. But if we take it to them on our terms …"
But would it be on our terms when we were on their turf?
As usual, Raoul was all for action without the need for thought. "Let's go now. Let's get 'em out of the picture fast."
"Slow down, moron. Rushing into things blindly isn't going to help us win."
It was the first thing Riley had said that I agreed with.
Kristie was a little more circumspect, although I wondered how long that would last. "Tell us everything we need to know about them."
Riley hesitated. I wondered if he was preparing to lie outright or just compose a usual half-truth. "All right, where to begin? I guess the first thing you need to know is … that you don't know everything there is to know about vampires yet."
I knew that all too well, but I didn't think Riley was going to tell us very much. Only what would benefit his cause.
"I didn't want to overwhelm you in the beginning," he said by way of explanation. I was sure he couldn't see me rolling my eyes. "You have a little bit of experience with what we call 'talents'. We have Fred."
I didn't appreciate all the heads that turned in my direction. They were trying to, at any rate.
I wouldn't let them look. Bree was my usual exception, but everyone else I shut out. Sure enough, they turned away as quickly as possible. Riley's expression looked particularly pained. That would teach him to single me out.
"Yes, well, there are some vampires who have gifts beyond the usual super strength and super senses. You've seen one aspect in … our coven. Gifts are rare – one in fifty, maybe – but every one is different. There's a huge range of gifts out there, and some of them are more powerful than others."
Now I sat forward again, although I was pretty sure no one but Bree was able to see it. Was what Riley was saying true? It was clear I could do something that no one else here could do. As that was an undeniable fact, then it was plausible that Riley was telling the truth. There were other vampires who could also do things. Things I could not do.
"This enemy coven," Kristie asked. "They're talented, right?"
Riley's lip curled. "This coven is dangerously talented. They have a mind reader."
My joke about Riley being able to read this coven's mind came back to me. Was that kind of gift even possible? I wouldn't have thought so, but I couldn't draw on much more than my human experiences. I knew it wasn't possible for a human, but vampires were obviously beyond that.
Could some vampires have the ability to read minds? Possibly. But it didn't follow that I believed what Riley was telling me. He was still speaking too carefully, like he was reciting a well learned script.
Riley continued to work everyone up over the mind reader. "This is why we've been so careful – me, and the one who created you."
I wasn't sure that any careful behaviour on their part would have been for our benefit.
"You don't know her name, and you don't know what she looks like. This protects us all. If they'd stumbled across one of you alone, they wouldn't realize that you were connected to her, and they might have let you live. If they knew you were part of her coven, there would be no delay in your execution."
That didn't even make sense. If this coven was as devious as Riley was suggesting, and as desperate to reclaim Seattle for themselves, they would kill any vampire as a matter of course. The only person who was protected by all this secrecy was our creator herself.
"Of course, it doesn't matter now that they've decided to move on Seattle. We will surprise them on their way in, and we will annihilate them. Done. And then not only is the city all ours, other covens will know not to mess with us. We won't have to be so careful to cover our tracks anymore. As much blood as you want, for everyone. Hunting every night. We'll move right into the city and we will rule it."
If this was the case, why wasn't this other, dangerous, underhanded coven doing that where they were? Why weren't there other covens worldwide doing that? If destroying one coven meant we could rule Seattle, why didn't humans know vampires existed?
Everyone else was enthusiastic at Riley's pronouncement. Except Bree. I could see her sitting quietly in the corner, processing all this. I wondered what she made of it.
I would do my best to stop her becoming involved. I was sure it wouldn't end well.
Riley continued to rant and rave about the need for unity and threatened us with violent death from our creator if we dared disobey. I believed him less with every word.
"Now, get some teams figured out so that we can work in groups. Kristie, Raoul, get your kids together and then divvy up the rest evenly. No fighting! Show me you can do this rationally. Prove yourselves."
Kristie and Raoul immediately began fighting over numbers. Unity? Hah! I blocked myself from them to make sure they wouldn't try to draft me. They moved around me as though I wasn't there, which suited me just fine.
But something else concerned me more than them.
Riley was approaching Bree. I could tell she was nervous about it. I was pretty sure she also noticed that it was difficult for him to approach her because of me. I tried to stretch my gift out to her a bit more, to make her just as invisible as me, but it didn't work as much as I wanted it to.
"Bree? I promised Diego I'd give you a message. He said to tell you it was a ninja thing. Does that make any sense to you?"
It didn't make any sense to me, but it caught Bree's interest. "Diego?"
I frowned. Bree had gone out with Diego and returned alone, and now Riley was claiming to have a message from him. Where was he? I was suddenly interested in what Riley was saying.
I could tell that Riley was still feeling the effects of my gift, because he was having trouble looking at Bree. I knew it didn't mean he was lying; he was too skilled a liar to dodge her eyes because of that.
"Can we talk?" Riley smiled and jerked his head at the door. "I double-checked all the windows. The first floor is totally dark and safe."
Safe for whom? Not for Bree. Was he planning to lead her up there and let her get burned by the sun streaming in the windows? But she seemed willing to go with Riley. I was worried that mentioning Diego was just to give Riley some leverage with her, although I didn't see why he would want to harm her when he was intent in turning us into a fighting force. Sure, she wasn't that big, but she was another number. I was pretty sure that's all we were to Riley.
Unable to help myself, once they had passed through the door I wandered over to it, opened it and followed them. I kept my gift around me to keep them from seeing me. If Riley tried to do something to her, hopefully I could block him, although I hadn't tested whether or not my skill worked through structures like walls.
When they had reached the first floor, Riley led her through to the garage. It was only then that he began speaking. His voice was low, but I could still hear it.
"You're brave," he said. "Or really trusting. I thought it would be more work to get you upstairs with the sun up."
I guessed it was the former. Bree didn't trust too many people in this group, and she had never seemed to trust Riley. I couldn't hear her moving at all. Perhaps she was frozen with fear. I had noticed that it was a common response when a vampire was nervous.
"So you and Diego are pretty tight, right?"
"He saved my life," Bree responded.
"He's the best. The smartest kid I've got."
Yes, Riley did treat Diego as a kind of second in command. That had never endeared the kid to me. But maybe, if Bree thought he was okay …
"We had a little meeting about the situation," Riley continued. "We agreed that we need some surveillance. Going in blind is too dangerous. He's the only one I trust to scout ahead."
I scowled. While I knew that going in blind was too dangerous, going in at all, on their territory, was madness. If Riley had really let Diego go off on his own to scout ahead he couldn't think too much of him.
Unless he was lying.
"Wish I had two of him! Raoul's got too short a fuse and Kristie is too self-absorbed to get the big picture, but they're the best I've got, and I'll have to make do. Diego said you were smart, too."
Bree didn't comment on anything Riley said, so he continued.
"I need your help with Fred. Wow, that kid is strong! I couldn't even look at him tonight."
"Imagine if our enemies can't even look at us. It will be so easy!"
So that's what this was about. Riley knew that I protected Bree to some degree, and was hoping she could persuade me to join the fight. He clearly knew I wasn't going to do it for him. He had never done me any favors. And he seemed to think winning or losing could come down to my involvement.
I wondered if that was true. Certainly, it would help if the enemy couldn't see us, but could I keep this up under the pressure of a fight? It would be interesting to see.
But I didn't want to test it. After all, it didn't follow that Riley's enemies were also my enemies, no matter what he'd told me about them.
I wondered if Bree would agree to help him. I didn't think so. I hoped not. It would be terrible if it turned out she was nothing better than Riley's gofer.
"You spend a lot of time with him," Riley went on when it was clear there would be no response from her. Her silence reassured me. She certainly didn't seem keen to help him.
"Nobody bothers me there," Bree said. "It's not easy."
So my skill still affected her to some degree? Or perhaps she was talking about at first, when I used it on her just as much as everyone else. It was only her persistence in entering my quiet corner, and the fact that she kept it quiet, that had made me let her in at all. If we both got out of this alive, it would be interesting to run some more tests on it with her help.
"Smart, like Diego said."
"Where is Diego?"
"We don't have time to waste. I sent him south the second I find out what was coming. If our enemies decide to attack early, we need the advance warning. Diego will meet up with us when we move against them."
Bree didn't answer him. I didn't think she believed him any more than I did.
Riley's voice was the one to break the silence. "Diego wanted me to tell you something. Sounded like nonsense to me. He said, 'Tell Bree I've got the handshake figured out. I'll show her in four days, when we meet up.' I have no idea what that means. Do you?"
Riley's delivery sounded too scripted to me. I wondered if Bree picked up on it. I was pretty sure that what he said would mean something to her, and I wondered if Diego was really her friend if he had given that information up so easily.
"Maybe," Bree replied. "He did say something about needing a secret handshake. For the underwater cave. Some kind of password. He was just kidding around, though. I'm not sure what he means now."
Riley chuckled. "Poor Diego."
"I think that kid likes you a lot more than you like him."
"Don't write him off yet, Bree. He's the best, like I said. Give him a chance."
I was certain there was only one reason for all this friendly advice, and Riley returned to it quickly. "See if you can talk to Fred. Make sure he's on board."
"I'll do what I can."
I didn't think there was much commitment in Bree's voice, but Riley didn't seem to notice, or maybe he just figured it was the best he was going to get. "Great. I'll pull you aside before we leave, and you can tell me how it went. I'll keep it casual, not like tonight. I don't want him to feel like I'm spying on him."
As soon as I heard them move in my direction I slipped quietly back to the basement. By the time they returned I was in my usual spot. I removed my gift from influencing Bree, and with a shy smile, she sat in the corner near me. But she didn't say a word about what Riley had said.
Riley then set about making the rest of out coven work in teams; an uphill battle, to be sure. None of them paid any attention to either Bree or myself, thanks to my gift. If I could have picked any talent for myself it would have been the power to make myself invisible.
And it wasn't that bad, including someone else. Bree seemed like a nice kid. I wondered if she'd be open to the idea of disappearing with me.
I felt it was unlikely Bree would come without Diego, and Diego hadn't returned yet. That concerned me. If he was really doing surveillance, as Riley had said, I didn't know if he'd get out alive. Only once did Riley mention him, when Kevin asked where he was.
"Diego's with her," Riley said. "Surveillance."
I didn't necessarily believe Riley, but I didn't think being with our creator would make him much safer.
For three days and two nights we did nothing but train. The daylight hours were the hardest, as we all had to stay in the basement. Now Riley was around so much there were no deaths. I was amused to see how he made sure any removed limbs were returned to their owners. He was certainly making sure we all stayed together, in the literal sense.
He'd also returned to an even temper, with no more blustering and threats. Perhaps this was because everyone was now focussed on exactly what he wanted them to focus on. I still wondered why, but I wasn't sure I was ever going to find that out.
His training did work, to some extent, anyway. Work together, watch your back, don't go at him head-on was his most common mantra. We must have heard it a thousand times a day. The "working together" part was the hardest one for everyone to manage. But I still didn't know if this group would ever be a threat to a more experienced group of vampires, even if there were only seven of them.
Eventually, the repetition got to me and I brought out a pack of cards I always had with me and started to play solitaire. Bree watched me. Apparently she was equally bored. Once I realized I had her interest, we played rummy for a while. I was surprised how nice it was to engage someone like that. But Bree was easy to like. She was quiet and unobtrusive and seemed reasonably intelligent.
As time wore on, I could see Riley's obsession with the fight beginning to wear on some, especially the younger in our group. Bree kept swallowing. She was getting thirsty. I'd noticed that I could manage my thirst for longer periods at a time the older I got, so it wasn't so bad for me, but some of the others were growing restless.
Riley must have seen it too and realized he would lose control if he kept going too much longer without hunting, so he finally let them stop.
"You've done well," he said. "Tonight, you get a reward. Drink up, because tomorrow you're going to want all your strength."
Everyone seemed relieved, although no one asked the question that was on my mind. After all the secrecy he'd drummed into us when it came to hunting, was he going to unleash us all on the city at the same time? If he did, it might lend weight to his statement about us ruling the city, but it didn't seem likely.
"I say want and not need for a reason," Riley continued. "I think you guys have got this. You've stayed smart and worked hard. Our enemies aren't going to know what's hit them!"
Everybody growled enthusiastically in response, but I thought Riley was overplaying it. Certainly they were working better than they had been, but was that going to last when they were fighting the enemy for real?
To my surprise, Raoul picked up on something. "Um, you mean tomorrow night, right, boss?"
"Right," Riley said, a strange smile on his face. I raised an eyebrow. What was he hiding? Bree looked at me. She'd noticed it, too.
"You ready for your reward?" Riley asked.
Everyone roared their approval, and this was one moment when I did intend to be involved. No matter that my thirst wasn't as bad as it used to be, no matter that I didn't intend to fight tomorrow, I still wanted to see what Riley was up to.
"Tonight you get a taste of what our world will be like when our competition is out of the picture. Follow me!" With that, Riley headed off into the night. Instantly, any unity fell to pieces, as both Raoul and Kristie's groups fought each other in their desperation to follow Riley.
He noticed. "Don't make me change my mind! You can all go thirsty. I don't care!"
At his threat, Kristie's group fell in behind Raoul's.
I looked back at Bree, who was waiting with me, and gestured that she should go first. She started a little at my courtesy, but headed off after the others. We stayed back quite a distance from them, following only their scent. I was still trying to work out how Riley intended to feed us all in one go. Was he really going to let us overrun Seattle?
Sure enough, we stayed in quiet, deserted places. Nowhere near any of the population; not yet, anyway. I was sure that was deliberate. Riley was still being careful. We couldn't kill just anyone.
When we reached the strait Riley paused. "Don't hold back. I want you well fed and strong – at your peak. Now … let's go have some fun."
We all swam underwater, with Bree and I keeping where we could see the others now that we couldn't follow their scent. I wasn't happy with them in such close proximity. Was this some kind of trap? I kept a close eye out for trouble and kept my gift trained on the two of us.
When we surfaced things made a little more sense. We were in the ferry channels. I could see one chugging in the direction of the shore.
"There she is," Riley told us, gesturing towards it with a wave of his hand. "Give me a minute. When the power goes out, she's all yours."
An enthusiastic murmur ran throughout the coven. I narrowed my eyes. The power didn't need to be out for us to attack; it wasn't like it would give us an edge over the humans – they wouldn't be able to fight us no matter how light it was. The only reason I could think of for Riley to switch off the power was so that no one on the ferry could alert the mainland. So much for no more secrecy. That was why he'd picked a ferry. I was sure we'd sink it when we were done, and the humans on the mainland would be none the wiser about what had happened. Although I wondered what they'd make of the condition of the bodies …
As soon as the lights were out on the ferry everyone was moving. Bree and I kept to the back, although I still wanted to feed, so I didn't want to wait until there was no one left. I could see Bree was also getting restless.
I ignored the screams erupting around me as we boarded the vessel. I'd come to terms with the fact that I had to kill people to survive. People were just another link in the food chain, and I was above them.
I killed until I was full, then I watched the others. All of them were feeding ravenously; even Bree. Like I'd said – she was young. I made sure I kept myself hidden so that no one would view me as a danger to their kills. Surprisingly, none of our kind died. There were so many humans to share around that no one felt they had to protect their kill.
Some of the humans tried to escape in the water. Riley narrowed his eyes as he noticed them swimming away.
These two vampires were the closest to him, and they didn't seem inclined to come at his call, but he nodded his head at the figures in the channel. "They're all yours. Make sure no one makes it back."
"Sure thing, boss," Kevin said. Jen was already over the side.
Yes, no one could survive this night. They might tell other humans what they had seen.
When every human on board was dead, we were all jubilant. Kristie yelled, "That was amazing. Three cheers for Riley!"
The others echoed her call, just as Jen and Kevin returned from their hunt. "Got 'em all, boss." Jen called to Riley. He nodded, satisfied. I bet he was. He'd fed us all well, and the general population would be none the wiser.
Bree started looking around. I thought she might be looking for me, but I kept my skill trained on her to see how she would respond. As I had expected, she stopped and frowned when she found she couldn't focus on my corner, and started walking towards me. I smiled. Once she was close, I withdrew my gift from her and she smiled at me. I smiled back, but then returned to watching Riley.
Now we were fed, I was sure we would get down to the business end of proceedings. What would happen? I couldn't be sure. But I would stay, for now, to see if I could figure out what Riley was up to. Hopefully, I wouldn't stay too long.