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Drinking On The Job: Moments From The Magnusquerade

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“If you’d like,” Jon said, stroking the pulse point in Melanie’s wrist and feeling it leap beneath his fingers, “I can… send your mind somewhere else, while I feed.” Elias had described, with unfiltered delight, the expressions on his victims’ faces if and when he allowed them to wake up and remember where they actually were. “So that you don’t have to think about it.”

She responded with what he’d quickly learned to recognize as her “are you fucking kidding me?” expression. “You've done that with the others?” she asked aloud.

“I made the same offer, yes.” Martin had, unsurprisingly, been thrilled by the touch of Jon’s mind and an escape that was theirs alone, but Tim had only smirked and asked if Jon really wanted access to his fantasies.

“I don’t want to forget what’s happening to me,” Melanie said. I don’t want this to be easy for either of us, Jon heard, and couldn’t deny that he understood.

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“You’ve done such a splendid job with Martin,” Elias remarked. He had taken similar measures when feeding on his staff, whether they were enthralled to him or not: psychically flooding them with praise and appreciation and reassurance as his fangs pierced their necks.

“He shares his blood willingly.” Jon kept writing, trying to keep his tone expressionless, but he would never be able to close his thoughts completely. “The least I can do is to make it pleasant for him.”

“What a fine reward system you’ve implemented.” Elias could see his heir mentally formulate a response, trying to convince them both that he’d implemented nothing of the sort, and kept talking before Jon could give voice to any of those arguments. “I assume that the others have yet to earn it? Or do you prefer it when they struggle? That can certainly be appealing. On the other hand...” Jon’s fists clenched as the images sank into his consciousness: Melanie limp and serene in Elias’ arms; Tim desperately lapping blood from his master’s wrist. “So can the alternative.”

“I prefer not to rearrange Tim’s or Melanie’s minds any more than I have to,” Jon said, looking Elias directly in the eye. “To us, this isn’t a game.”

“But it is,” Elias contradicted him. “And I promise that you won’t last long unless you learn to play.”

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Elias watched through Jon’s eyes as their visitor gave her statement. He had assumed, incorrectly, that one of the Lukases had turned or killed Naomi Herne once she got too close. Perhaps her self-deluding fiancé would have given her that choice, eventually, if his own choice hadn’t been made for him.

Evan may well have believed that he was the first vampire to defy his clan’s wishes and his own nature, to live among mortals and obtain his food supply from hospitals, to mate with an introvert who thought that a bit of flirtation with the unknown made her special. Young people – not to mention young monsters – often thought that they’d invented whatever fancies took shape in their heads.

If Ms. Herne had come to the Institute in search of answers, or closure, she found neither of those things in the Archivist’s dismissive skepticism. She told him off in her best “can I speak to your manager?” voice, and left his office in a huff.

Perhaps she would submit her complaint in person, and she’d given them her details regardless. Would she prefer enthrallment to the Lonely clan, or a normal human existence with no memory of her vanished beloved? Elias was already planning to spin that question into a wager, the next time he and Peter went drinking together.

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Ronald Sinclair awoke with the taste of blood in his mouth. It lingered even after the other scraps of his dream had faded (long fingers stroking his hair, his guardian’s familiar voice praising and encouraging him), and he figured he must have bitten his tongue while he slept.

He could find his way to the corridor without turning on the light, without seeing the neighboring bed where his best friend used to sleep. After rinsing out his mouth in the washroom that he shared with the other boys, he was feeling his way back to his room when a girl’s voice asked, “Are you trying to run?”

Once his heart slowed down to a normal rate, Ronald could answer, “No, why would I?” He’d be out of there soon, when he turned eighteen.

“You wanted to,” Agnes insisted. Her hair was still in the same pigtails that she wore in the daytime, and her tiny frame - she was so much younger than any of her house-siblings - was draped in a too-big nightdress.

“It was a mistake.” She’d only arrived at the halfway house a few weeks ago; how did she know about the train that Ronald had tried to sneak onto last year? Did she know how ill he’d started to feel, how thirsty, the further they traveled from Hill Top Road? In the dim light of the corridor, did the urgency to run right now show on his face? “I belong here,” he told her. “We’re all safe here. Ray is giving us a chance to grow into our best selves.” He believed those words, every one of them, so why did it feel like he was listening to someone else say them?

“Is that what he tells you when he feeds?”

Ronald’s neck started to throb at those words, even if they didn’t make sense. Ray didn’t say much at mealtimes, after he’d led them all in the nightly grace. Their routine was comfortable. Everything was fine.

“You think you get to choose,” Agnes was saying. “I know I can’t. Which one of us is luckier?”

The memory of that conversation didn’t come back to Ronald until a month later, when he’d barely managed to flee. In the months that followed, every time he vomited and trembled from the cravings for something that he couldn’t even understand (the blessing of fangs in his neck or wrist, the bright sweetness flowing through every vein, the peaceful sensation of belonging), he knew somehow that he was very lucky indeed.

Years - and then decades - passed before he heard of an organization that investigated supernatural phenomena. He’d almost convinced himself that, while the memories of his childhood were troubling, the wrongness was completely mundane. But the more he suspected that he couldn’t trust his own memories, the more certain he was that he had to tell his story to the Magnus Institute.

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“I’m not dismissing any of the information you’ve given me,” Gertrude Robinson was saying. “I simply don’t understand why, after everything you’ve heard about the Magnus Institute, you wish to join us.”

“I could be a resource to you.” Gerry had been ready for this. “I’ve been studying magic since before I finished my growth spurt. I’ve met vampires from more than half the clans, and walked away with my head on straight and most of my own blood.” Ms. Robinson’s eyes sharpened in her lined face, and he wondered whether she could See into him - into the bookshops and goth clubs and offices and alleys where he’d encountered the monsters - or just wanted him to think she could. “Would you believe me if I said I just wanted to protect the world from them?”

“I don’t think so.” If he didn’t know better, he’d imagine that there was something like gentleness in her next words: “You’re haunted, aren’t you? Dear old Mum still won’t leave you alone, even well after her death, and you think that the way to your freedom is through us.”

“It won’t be freedom,” Gerry corrected her. “But it’ll do. You know what I want, and you know what I can give you. If you’re going to send me away...”

“I would be a fool to send you away,” Ms. Robinson said. “And I am many things, but a fool has never been one of them. Have a seat, Mr. Keay, and tell me more.”

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Elias closed the file on his desk. “What brings you here today, Tim?”

“It’s about Jon,” Tim said bluntly. “I don’t know what he thinks he’s looking for, or whether you gave him the go-ahead, but he’s crossed a line - a whole lot of them, actually.”

“I assume that you’re referring to his attempts to record conversations among the Archival staff without your knowledge,” Elias replied. It wasn’t a question. “Or, perhaps, to his after-hours surveillance of your house?”

“Yeah, both of…” Tim stopped abruptly. He hadn’t told anyone that he’d seen Jon following him home - not yet - so how had Elias known? “Are you going to do something about it?”

“You’re not the first to have called attention to his behavior,” Elias assured him. “I will remind him of what is acceptable and what is not.” His eyes were fixed on Tim’s face. “Now, why are you really here?”

Tim frowned. “I don’t understand.” Or did he?

“Isn’t there something else that you need?” A drawer opened and closed, and Elias withdrew a slim silver knife, which he turned back and forth in his hands as he rose from his desk. At the sight of it, Tim wasn’t sure whether he wanted to flinch or yell or whine with need, and then Elias was drawing closer, smiling widely and showing off impossibly sharp teeth.

Those definitely stirred something in Tim’s memory: the creatures that had converged on the old Theatre Royal the night his brother disappeared (he tried not to think about their songs, but he could still hear every note), and fainter echoes of meetings just like this one. He knew exactly how those teeth - those fangs - would feel, and knew that he had to back away while he still felt more horrified than tempted, while he could still curse every vampire in London, including the one right in front of him.

The blade flashed, a line of blood welled on Elias’ wrist, and Tim felt his tongue tingle and his legs wobble as his fear and grief and anger receded. “Is there any need for you to stay on your feet?” Elias asked calmly.

There wasn’t. Tim sank to his knees and shuddered as he touched his tongue to the small cut and let the rich sweetness flow into him. He felt like he could run from the Institute to his home and back, and also like he could stay here forever, his thoughts soft and hazy. Why would he leave unless his master told him to?

“Doesn’t this feel lovely?” Elias crooned. “You never stop wanting it, even if you don’t remember why. You’ll let me worry about Jon, won’t you?” His cool fingers moved through Tim’s hair. “Just focus on fulfilling your own duties, doing what you’re meant for… and perhaps I shall allow you to feel like this again.”

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The cold air and needles of rain didn’t bother Mike as he rose toward the clouds – would never bother him again, now that he belonged to them, and they to him.

It was only when he tried to fly toward the nearest flash of lightning that he faltered, tumbled to the ground, and landed in a heap at his sire’s feet.

“Let’s take it slow, there!” Simon hoisted Mike up with a cackle. “You’ve got the rest of eternity to dance with that lightning. Now, why don’t we find a bit of food to energize us for the next lesson?”

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Elias had an afternoon of budgetary spreadsheets ahead of him, but he couldn’t resist sliding behind his new thrall’s eyes one more time.

-

“I’m going to be hard to reach for a few days,” Daisy announced. “Finally got a lead on the Magnus Institute case, and… “ Her head came up like… well, as if she’d caught a scent. “Is someone else here?”

“It’s been just me all evening,” Basira said truthfully, even though she couldn’t help feeling like someone else had just stepped out of the room. The two of them weren’t the first or only Section 31 officers to develop an odd relationship with surveillance, real or imagined. Would it ever go away, now that she’d left the police? “You worry me when you start acting like this. Like the only thing that matters is…”

“The target,” Daisy finished. A familiar light flared in her eyes. “Right now, Sims is the one that should be worried.”

“You think he’s a…” The word that Basira wanted hovered on her tongue. “A monster like Rayner and the others, don’t you?” And maybe a little like you, she didn’t add. “What if…”

“I always take care of everything, don’t I? And I couldn’t do it without you.” Basira wasn’t quite reassured, but before she could say so, Daisy grabbed her shoulders and pulled her in for a quick, hard kiss. “Wish me luck.”

After the door slammed behind her, Basira was convinced that bruises had come up on her shoulders (would Daisy ever hurt her deliberately?), but she hesitated before pulling aside her sleeve and the edge of her hijab to check, even if she was (wasn’t she?) alone.

-

Elias withdrew from Basira’s mind and smiled. Most vampires of the Hunt didn’t play well with other clans, but then again, most of them didn’t care about humans the way that Detective Tonner cared about hers. He’d already given her everything that she needed to chase Jon, to test him, and to bring him home. And Basira would be her reason not to stray again.

It would be marvelous to see their faces, and their minds, when the trap closed.

For now, however, Elias had a more immediate goal: to finish his spreadsheets before his next one-on-one meeting.

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“Elias tampered with all of your memories,” Jon reminded his assistants (his to protect, to shape, to know). “Extensively, in some cases; less so in others.” He nodded at Melanie, who had folded her arms and silently dared him to comment on her tipped-back chair. She hadn’t been bound to Elias for nearly as long as the others, but unlike them, she hadn’t forgotten what it was like. “I can probably restore those memories, if you choose. I’ve managed something… similar, in the past.”

Jon wasn’t trying to look at Martin even in the most mundane sense, but their eyes met anyway, summoning a shared memory from the disastrous early days of their bond. “I trust you,” Martin said softly. “Enough to try.”

Melanie didn’t bother to hide her snort, while Tim deadpanned, “This is my surprised face.”

The blood rose in Martin’s cheeks. “I’ve been working here the longest, haven’t I? There’s probably a lot to untangle in here” - he tapped his head - “and if Jon can do it, wouldn’t that help us all understand his powers a little better?”

“Great. You two have fun with that.” Melanie jumped to her feet. “What about Basira?”

Not mine, something inside Jon whispered. He tried to ignore it. “We’d have to take a different approach, but if I can help her, I will.”

As Melanie started toward the exit, Martin asked, “Don’t you want to know more?”

“I’m not sure how much more mindfucking I can take.” She glanced back at Jon over her shoulder. “That all for now, boss?”

“It is,” Jon answered. “You’re welcome to take some time to think about what I’ve said.”

When the door closed behind her, he could still hear her heart beating rapidly on the other side, and then slowing, as if she’d needed to stop and calm herself down. He barely stopped himself from sending her on her way with a nudge of “you are cared for and safe with us,” but he hoped that she knew it, all the same.

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Sometimes, on his way home, Oliver preferred to lose himself in the relative quiet of the city before dawn. On other mornings, when his own thoughts wouldn’t leave him alone, he plugged in his earbuds and sought the company of one of his favorite podcasts.

“So, Melanie, what’s your favorite theory about life after death?”

“You mean, the one I personally believe, or the most interesting one I’ve heard?”

“Let’s start with the second one.”

As he listened to the guest’s answer, Oliver nearly collided with a dog walker and her overexcited pug. He mumbled something apologetic and avoided eye contact, as he usually did, not wanting to get a good look at a face that might later show up in his dreams.

He had never met Georgie Barker, but he’d listened to every available episode of What the Ghost? and some of the things that she said about death made him wonder if she’d had any contact with the End. If he cared just a little bit less about what the other vampires in his clan might think, he’d write in and ask.

Could she, or his supposed “family,” have told him what to do with his visions? As far as he knew, he was the only creature of the End to ever have them. Could they have told him whether he’d done the right thing after he saw his lover’s death and replacement by one of the Strangers? (Maybe he just didn’t want to ask, and find out that there was a better way to save Graham, one that he hadn’t been able or willing to take.)

Every time he walked past the Magnus Institute, he considered whether the Eye clan, with their capacity to see far too much, would understand. Every time, he wondered if seeking their help would be worth whatever cost Elias Bouchard decided to set, for Oliver himself or for anyone else.

How much longer, how far into the infinite future, before he stopped caring about anyone else’s fate?

He hunched his shoulders, turned up the volume on his phone, and kept moving.

“…think I understand what you’re saying. Some ghosts want to cling to the world of the living, but it sounds like this one was just looking for peace.”

“Yeah, Georgie. Exactly.”

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“Actually, I’m convinced that the Obsidian Mirror was more than just haunted,” Sasha said as she walked their visitor back to the lobby. Melanie King had been fuming on her way out of the Archives, but when their conversation turned to the number of pubs and inns that came up in both her show and the Institute’s research, it seemed to take the edge off her anger. “That one was supposed to be a meeting place for all sorts of supernatural everything. Witches, vampires, and, yeah, maybe a few ghosts.”

“So they served – what – glasses of blood?” Melanie asked, sounding far more skeptical than most people who brought their stories here.

“That’s one rumor,” Sasha agreed.

Melanie’s face settled back into a scowl. “Whose?”

The thought that anyone would be happy to give it, it would be their purpose and their pleasure, flashed through Sasha’s mind and was gone before she could make sense of it. “I think we have a statement or two from humans who tried to get in. I can’t show you those, obviously, but I can share articles and blog posts and the like, if you’re…”

“Sasha?” Rosie called from her desk. “Elias wants to talk to you.”

“That’s my exit cue,” Melanie announced. “Hope you’re not in too much trouble.” She sounded like she actually meant it.

“He didn’t sound angry,” Rosie assured them quickly.

“I think I know what it’s about,” Sasha admitted. If he’d listened to her statement about her encounter with an odd character who seemed to know a little too much about the Institute, it made sense that Elias would need something more from her. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime soon, Melanie.”

“Yeah.” Melanie offered a little wave. “See you.”

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A finger of chilly night air slipped into Eric’s collar, and he adjusted his scarf with the hand that wasn’t clamped around the stake in his pocket.

“Remember,” Adelard instructed as Eric tried to keep pace beside him, “we’re only to strike in self-defense. Gertrude wants us to escort him to her in one piece. And don’t let him…”

“…Touch our skin. I know.” One of the first statements that Eric had seen had come from a woman whose sister was paralyzed by the touch of a Buried vampire. Her words had run through his head as he wrapped up as best he could for this evening’s assignment, after taking one last look at his sleeping son. Gerry's mother hadn’t asked where her husband was going. Eric wasn’t sure that she needed to.

“Here.” Adelard stopped walking and pointed to a lichen-spotted headstone bearing the name Hezekiah Wakely, and a pair of dates, from over a century ago. “We’re early.”

“So, what now?”

“We shall wait for Mr. Wakely to join us,” Adelard replied, “and trust in God to keep us and our loved ones safe.”

Eric nodded. He could still tell himself – most of the time – that he was risking his life to protect Gerry from the monsters.

Even if some of those monsters were closer to home than Eric knew how to explain.

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Basira paused on her way out of the Archives, and turned back to meet Jon’s gaze. “If you want to know something, just ask,” she said irritably. “I don’t want you in my head.”

“Even if I could, I wasn’t trying to…” Jon protested. Unsure of whether those words were actually true, he chose his next ones carefully. “I was wondering… if Daisy offered to turn you, so that you could leave here together… would you say yes?”

Basira frowned. “Did she say she was-"

Jon shook his head. “I’m not exactly high on her list of confidants.” He could guess that said list consisted of exactly one person, who was currently standing right in front of him. “It’s an entirely hypothetical question.” At this stage, that was certainly true.

“She hasn’t offered, and I haven’t asked. If she did…” Basira sighed. “You, of all people, know what the Hunt’s bloodlust can do to her. I saw it too, even before I knew where it came from.”

“But you did nothing to stop her.”

“As he likes to remind me,” Basira said sharply. “He thinks it’s funny, that I’m looking for a way out. But I guess it’s a good sign, that I still want one, and I suppose there are worst options than becoming a vampire myself.” She waited for him to remark upon that, but he didn’t. “I still won’t like it. Unless maybe,” she added, “I start to, over time. And we’d have a lot of that.”

“I… know the feeling,” Jon admitted.

“But even if I could give you a clear answer,” Basira continued, “I’d only be speaking for myself. Not for Martin.”

Jon couldn’t even manage to be surprised that she’d guessed. He held onto the politeness that this situation required. “No, I don’t suppose that you could. Thank you for talking to me, all the same. If you ever need anything…” If Elias crosses too many lines. If he decides to exploit your closeness with Daisy more than he already has. “You know where to find me.”

“Do you spend time anywhere else?” Basira retorted. “You have your own…” Jon didn’t need to look into her mind to know which words occurred to her, unbidden: Thralls pets life sources yours yours yours. “Your own people to look after,” she finished. “Daisy and I can take care of each other.”

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Sebastian had fled into the stacks when he first heard the noises: ordinary footsteps, at first, that had grown heavier as they advanced, and – unless he was mistaken – seemed to be coming from more than one pair of feet. He was sure that it was more than just his own panic that distorted his pursuer’s voice.

“Why are you hiding, Sebastian? I want to give you a gift.” The voice grew deeper and wetter and more garbled with every word. “Since we used to be such good mates, and all.”

The sounds were close enough to jolt Sebastian into motion. He’d spent enough time in the Chiswick Library, as a child and later as part of the staff, that he could find his way around, although this was the first time he had to navigate it in the dark.

“You can be more than just a weak, useless bag of meat. You can be anything you want.”

He ended up in the book repair room, testing the size and weight of each volume, running his fingers over broken furniture and what he could have sworn was a typewriter… as if he thought he could use any of it as a weapon.

He knew what constituted “weakness” according to Jared: backing away from fights instead of throwing punches, seeking shelter in words instead of looking for trouble. Even now, Sebastian couldn’t resist thinking back to every book about vampires and other monsters that could change their shape, hoping that he’d miraculously recall how the characters could destroy them, wondering if he’d even be able to strike if he had the chance…

“I’m gonna find you either way.” The voice was far too close.

Knowing how true that probably was, Sebastian reached for one of the broken chairs, pulled and pulled at one of the remaining wooden legs until it snapped. The noise had probably alerted the monster, but whether his “gift” was transformation or a messy death, Sebastian refused to simply sit there this time and wait for Jared Hopworth to have his way.

He clutched the chair leg tightly in one hand and reached for the door.

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“Do come in, Sasha.” Elias beckoned his visitor into his office. “Close the door, won’t you?”

She did. “You wanted to speak to me about something?”

“I wanted to find out about your clan’s designs on my Institute, and what you hoped to gain by impersonating one of my employees.” He stood. “I will give you a chance to answer of your own free will, before I extract that information more… directly.”

The Stranger’s eyes flashed red. “You’ve known from the beginning, then,” she stated.

“But of course.” The racing of Sasha’s blood had always betrayed her fear, every time she realized the purpose of their one-on-one meetings, but her voice and the set of her jaw had been steady, and for all that Elias had been careful to edit her memories after he fed on her, it did mean that he had to see the angry determination on her face over and over. He couldn’t say that he would miss that, or her, but another vampire had infiltrated his territory and done away with one of his thralls, which was unacceptable.

The Stranger’s barely contained fury made Sasha’s defiant glare seem downright placid by comparison. “And I suppose you’ll kill me after you get what you want?”

“Your decision to come here was not wise,” Elias informed her, “but I would almost be tempted to call it brave.” He offered his most patronizing smile. “I don’t think I’ll kill you today. I would, however, advise against feeding upon any more of my staff. Do I need to show you what will happen if you do?”

“As if I haven't heard what you’re capable of, Jonah,” the Stranger sneered.

“It’s always so gratifying to be known and respected in one’s field,” Elias mused. “Now, you still haven’t answered my question.”

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Manuela stayed wrapped in shadows as she followed the hunter across the campus. She materialized outside the physics laboratory, pinning Julia Montauk against the wall. “Didn’t your parents teach you that it’s dangerous to walk alone at night?”

Julia let out an angry hiss. “This the part where I remind you of what your clan did to them?”

“If you understood anything about the glorious darkness that we serve, you’d thank us for making them a part of it,” Manuela insisted. Perhaps, after he was reborn and his wife was killed, Robert had foolishly tried to give their daughter the illusion of a “normal” childhood in the sunlight that he could never share.

Julia’s heart still beat rapidly, but Manuela didn’t think that it beat from fear. “If I convince you that I’m not here to kill anyone,” she said, “will you help me understand?”