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Children of the Dark

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C h i l d r e n . o f . t h e . D a r k

I. The Carousel

Santa Carla, June 1983

Glimmering lights reflected in glossy black orbs, the dauntless gaze of the carousel horse eyes poured over the scene. The moon-bound mares regarded the boardwalk in all its vespertine wonder. Illuminated by the twinkling carnival lights, a myriad of shades and hues saturated the varnished flanks of the carousel horses. Pirouetting in an infinite loop, the mares of the boardwalk danced eternally. Mouths perpetually pried open by bit and bridle, soft lips twisted into nightmarish screams. Their delicate ears remained alert, attentive to the shrill cries of children, the jeers of the locals, and the fluttering heartbeats of the restless newcomers. They watched, ever-silent, as the populous of Santa Carla transcended upon the dusk drenched coast line.

Since the carousel’s incarnation in 1911, an innumerable amount of changes had come to pass. Humans came and went, as naturally as the ebb and flow of ocean tides. But, like the ghosted memories of sunken ships, the immortals remained.

The wooden mares, due to the stationary position they held in time, could deftly pick out the predators among the flock of sheep. But through the glistening eyes of passersby, the supernatural creatures of Santa Carla appeared to be nothing more than another pretty face. A toothy grin, a well-dressed figure, a devilish smile. The immortals swam flawlessly through the crowds of gawking humans, like sharks gliding along in the vast gloom of a moonlit sea. They had their pick of the prey; it was all theirs for the taking. The humans here were both infinite in number and variety. Mesmerized by the boardwalk lights, and transfixed by the allure of nightly escapades, most people were effortlessly seduced. The city was a tourist attraction, a revolving door of prey that served as bait for the supernatural.

Santa Carla was a haven of the occult.

There were a handful of faces that prevailed as constant facets of the dense crowds. Four eternally youthful boys, who loved the scarlet splash of fresh blood. A bespectacled patriarch who considered himself a true family man, followed closely by the ominous presence of a dog whose fur was an icy pallor. A pair of disarmingly demure sisters who were known to howl at the moon. And a society of witches, whose practical magic upheld the peace among the preternatural groups, and kept the territorial blood lust at bay.

Leaping ceaselessly in slow motion, the equid statues watched the world spin. Sticky fingers of unguarded children slapped at their saddles and tugged at their tails. The carousel horses were the silent sentinels of the city, they had predicted the past and awaited the inevitable.

Their painted eyes shined brightly in the bouquet of this night.

The spirits knew a storm was brewing on the horizon.

Chapter Text

II. Passing Like Ships in the Night

 

Think of all the unconscious habits you have, the subtle coping mechanisms that flow freely through your essence, ingrained from childhood memories. Conditioned behavior reinforced by stimuli. Nervous ticks, tell-tale signs like the way your lips tug up at the corners of your mouth when you’re lying. Or the way your brow furrows when you’re embarrassed. The way you impetuously bury your hands deep into your pockets when you don’t know what to do with your limbs. How many people notice the intricacies of addictive tendencies you possess, when you might never notice them yourself?

 

 Marko shifted with slight unease as he leaned against the rough brick wall of the townhouse. The night was hot and muggy, leaving anyone over-dressed feeling burdened by the warmth. His petite but graceful figure was tucked underneath a proverbial coat of many colors, a black denim jacket nearly covered entirely by embroidered patches, each one lovingly sewn on. It definitely added to the humid misery of the summer air, though. Totally worth it, he mused to himself as he tugged at the fraying edges of his collar.

 

His hair fell down in a tide of blonde ringlets, sticking to the back of his neck. He instinctively brought his fingers to his mouth, chewing the nails that had already been worn down by the habitual fixation. His bleach-bone fangs were sharp and ever-present, though not as prominent as when the blood lust caused a transformation. In his civilized state, they were more easily concealed from the public.

 

 Marko’s youthful countenance gave away the fact that he was the fledgling of the group, the last to be turned. And as such, he could occasionally be found caught up in initiation rites that routinely turned into what could only be considered errands, like getting food or lugging home gasoline cans for their bikes. It bothered him little though, the bond between brothers was such that menial tasks were only a minor inconvenience in the present and barely a blip in the grand scheme of their unnaturally long lives. Jealousy, however, was another matter altogether.

 

His coven, four strong, were usually found within close reach. Seldom separated but often caught just out of earshot of one another. Tonight, Marko was patiently waiting for his eldest brother, David, to finish visiting a dark haired vixen he’d recently taken an interest in. Nightly escapades were commonplace, trysts with a variety of boardwalk patrons or tourist girls that left them walking funny in the morning. He and his brothers were accustomed to fleeting affairs that burned out as quickly as they had caught fire. But this? This had a different scent to it, and Marko could feel the changing tides in the coven dynamic. This was the third visit in a week. David had plans for this girl.

 

Marko crouched down to rest his back against the masonry, poised like a cat on its haunches. He was getting antsy. Under more favorable circumstances, he would have gone inside with his elder. But since they split off from Paul and Dwayne at the boardwalk, they had been trailed by a pair of comic-book reading, garlic-wielding pre-teens who had somehow come upon the notion that there were vampires lurking in Santa Carla. Marko laughed softly to himself, his characteristic cheshire grin peeling its way across his delicate face. They weren’t any real threat, just a couple of unattended minors with too much time on their hands. But still, it was bad for business to have accusations following the group, lest a real hunter catch wind of it. David had toyed with the idea of killing the two boys, but that was also bad for business. The young Frog brothers were a facet of the boardwalk, someone was bound to notice their absence. Missing children meant a worse reputation for the city, less tourists satiating their wanderlust here. Less prey to pick from. For now, it was just a waiting game.

 

There was a raucous clatter from inside the tall, narrow house followed by sounds of mirthful exchange. Shadows fell briefly across the illuminated window sill, obscured by the thin veil of a curtain. Eyeing the glass panes above, Marco rocked back and forth, shifting his weight between legs. He drew in a deep breath before settling his gaze on the tar black street, driving his hands into the pocket of his garish patchwork jacket. He withdrew a cigarette and small lighter, rolling them ambivalently between fingers. It was almost too hot out to enjoy, but what else was there to relieve the boredom? He pressed it to his lips, thumb striking across the flint wheel of the metal lighter. Sparks, but no ignition.

 

“Shit,” he softly muttered through lips pursed tightly around the cigarette. He cupped his other hand around the sparks to shield them from the wind, focusing intently on the frustrations before him. Rolling his eyes, he complained to himself with an aggravated sigh. “Immortal? Yep. You bet. Rip a guys head off? Sure , no problem. Can I get fucking light? No way , that’s too much to ask for.”

 

“Need a light?” Her voice, jarringly coarse, was suddenly there. Like the way darkness rushes into a room when someone switches off the lamp. Marko scurried to his feet, nearly dropping the cigarette out of his mouth in the process.

 

“Damn, girl,” he warily glanced around the empty street, surveying the area hastily. “Where the hell did you come from?” It was rare for another being to surprise a vampire, as their senses were acutely enhanced like one would expect of a top-tier predator. A simpering smile spread from her dark, fleshy lips as she chuckled at his jarred demeanor. He was visibly flustered.

 

“Don’t feel too bad, I’m quieter than most.” She had a slight accent, consonants lingered on a trilling tongue. Her teeth glinted in the soft haze of the streetlights. His eyes were immediately drawn to the peculiarity of her smile. Elongated canines.  Her presence was imposing, sepia locks disheveled in a coily halo around her head. She loomed above, taller than Marko by at least a few inches. 

 

“Here.” She gestured to her outstretched arm, a gold lighter grasped loosely in the palm of her hand.  Her skin was a warm tan, like sunlight on smoky quartz. He debated accepting her offer for a moment. Something smelled different about her. Her humanity was less apparent. There were undertones of a savory musk, chalky sweetness over the saponic oils of skin. Like a feral dog. She could see his hesitation. 

 

“I won’t bite.” The corners of her lips turned upwards wryly. The sentiment held a duality, both unsettling yet comforting. Her tone was teasing, like a joke shared between old friends. Marko glanced up at the window before returning his gaze to this stranger. He shrugged decisively, leaning his head in towards the light as she ignited it. The flame illuminated the long, deep rosy scars that etched their way along her arm up to her shoulder. 

 

“Thanks,” his sage eyes met her murky ochre ones, plumes of silky smoke purling from his lips through the warm air between them. 

 

She nodded in reciprocation, mumbling “Ajá,” while lighting her own and inhaling deeply. 

 

“Hey, I know that jacket. I’ve seen you around.” She glanced over the colorful tapestry. Marko looked down instinctively and beamed for a minute. It was his pride and joy, after all. One of a kind. “At the boardwalk. Los muchachos pálidos. You walk with the pale ones. You’re one of Max’s boys right?” She tapped off the ashes onto the ground, scuffing her onyx boots along the pavement rhythmically. 

 

“You know Max?” The four boys made no large effort to conceal their affiliations, although the average resident wouldn’t be aware of the empiric network Max governed under the cover of darkness. Max, their father figure. Progenitor of their nocturnal lifestyle. 

 

“Only by reputation. But I know Maria, actually. An old flame.” Marko cocked his head to the side for a moment, until a knowing look spread across his face. 

 

“So, you’re-?”

 

“Not exclusively.” She smiled, sharp teeth pressing against russet-brown lips. He returned the smile sheepishly, a proper response refused to form in his mind. She took another drag from the cigarette, pushing away an unruly lock of hair from in front of her face, revealing a crescent shaped scar that ran the length of her cheek bone. Her skin was like a well-worn canvas, a portrait painted with old wounds. 

 

“Damn, it’s hot tonight,” she gazed pensively at the sky for a moment. “ Gracias a Dios , it’s going to rain soon.”

 

He smiled at her vernacular. “Nah, look, it’s clear. You can see all the stars.” He tilted his head back, chin towards the air. 

 

She laughed warmly at his endearing naivety. “Trust me. Animals know when it’s going to rain. It’s an instinct thing.” 

 

Marko opened his mouth to question her statement but the formative noises barely left his throat before a commotion from inside the house startled them both. The pair shared acutely more sensitive hearing than the ordinary human. They watched as the door swung open, the shrill laughter of a girl poured out, filling the air with a bounce. She was the first to exit, with her long dusky hair falling in whisps, draped down her curvaceous figure. Her ashen skirt was like a relic of the hippie era, white tassels dragging across the ground. Its pearly pleats in contrast to her light golden skin. She turned her smiling gaze on Marko and waved amiably.

 

“Hey, Star.” He managed an apathetic smile, as his fondness for his brother’s new thrall was not yet definite. She had yet to make a lasting impression. 

 

Following closely behind was Marko’s elder: tall with an imposing presence, ivory skin touched with a pale rose hue, clever teal eyes, figure clad in a cascading ebony jacket. David’s dispassionate smirk faded to a frigid look of malcontent as he inhaled the night air. He could smell the dogged stench that pervaded. 

 

“I see we have company.” A soft smile spread across his thin lips but his eyes met Marko’s with a glare that sent a clear message. 

 

“Yeah, this is-” He paused, realizing he’d never gotten her name. 

 

“Verida.” The girl interjected for him. 

 

“Charmed.” David let the sardonic reply hang in the air. The tension was growing, dividing the two factions of supernatural beings. Imperceptive as she was, even Star noticed the uncomfortable silence. She gave David’s hand a squeeze, attempting to draw his attention for a parting kiss. He turned his eyes on her, pressing his lips gently to hers. He stepped down the patio stairs with sanguine ease, leaving her on the porch. 

 

“Marko. Time to go.” 

 

David was already resolutely walking away from the scene. The younger vampire scrambled to catch up. He glanced back. Verida was still leaning against the wall. She gave him a tepid wave of the hand as a farewell before he turned back to his elder. 

 

Verida exhaled a puff of smoke before turning to face the girl on the porch. She tipped her chin up at Star, attempting to convey solidarity. “Vampires, man . Am I right?”

 

 Star was visibly disturbed by her loitering. She clenched the door in one hand, before awkwardly stepping back inside. The deadbolt lock clicked with a resounding clunk. Verida’s composure remained nonchalant, as if she was used to people retreating. She let the cigarette butt fall to the ground, embers glowing red. She ground her heel into it, extinguishing the flame. 

 

“Tough crowd.” 

 

 


 

 

“Hey, man, cool your jets. What’s the rush?” Being on the small end of the male spectrum, Marko’s stride length was much shorter than David’s. He had to take several steps for every one his companion took.  

 

“I don’t enjoy being in the company of wolves. ” 

 

“What, like a werewolf? You’re saying she was-”

 

“Marko, don’t play stupid.” His pace slowed as he felt the threat growing more distant. “You can tell the difference.”

 

“Yeah I knew she smelled kinda off, but some people are just rank , you know?” He smiled jovially, laughing at his own joke. That was his demeanor, apt to lift the gloom even if not intentionally. 

 

His elder shot him a look that said he was not in the mood for jokes. He did not bother to ingratiate the young vampire with a reply. 

 

Marko was quick to fill the silence. “Well how was I s’posed to know? Nobody told me about wolves here. You don’t exactly talk about that kind of thing, bud.” He watched his companion closely, nearly walking sideways to face him as he spoke. 

 

“Santa Carla may be ours. But Pogonip has always been home to the wolves.”

 

Marko’s eyes flashed with recognition. Pogonip was part of a vast system of forest preserves north of town. Over 600 acres of wildlands and towering redwoods. Lots of trees, lots of trails, lots of lonely places to get lost in. The San Lorenzo river ran through it, straight down to the beach where it emptied out into the sea. The boys typically kept their distance but David, nor the others, had ever explicitly stated to avoid it. 

 

David saw the curiosity held in his companion’s eyes. He sighed and continued. “We mind our business, they mind theirs. They don’t normally come into town. Catching one this close to the boardwalk could only mean trouble.”

 

“Oh, I get it now.” 

 

“And what is there to get?” David seethed, he was less than appreciative of his brother’s weasel-like tone. 

 

“You. And a she-wolf.” 

 

He turned to see Marko’s coy grin and scoffed, directing his attention back to the path on which they were walking. “You’re not as clever as you think you are,” he said void of emotion, leaving no room for his coven-mate’s interpretation to gain any traction. “I knew one . Once. And from that I’ve learned all I will ever need to know about wolves.

 

Marko beamed at his elder, feeling quite clever regardless. But, did not push the matter further.

 

“It’s a sore spot. Leave it be.” David kept his eyes transfixed on the nearing jubilee of lights that bobbed along the horizon.  He paused, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his venerated obsidian jacket. “And let the hounds mind their own. Max also has his reasons for keeping them at arm’s length.” 

 

“I’ll let sleeping dogs lie,” Marko jeered, bumping shoulders affectionately with his coven leader. David’s hardened composure began to shift. He looked down at his younger companion, a candid smile forming, making creases amid the spackling of stubble. He slung his arm around Marko and the two continued walking, shoulder to shoulder. 

 

“Shall we go get Paul and Dwayne? They should be done helping Max close up.” David smirked. 

 

“Hell yes, I’m starving.”  

 

The night was growing late, but they were nearing the boardwalk. A mellifluous orchestra of carnival music and jubilant voices were rising up from the scene ahead. Santa Carla rarely slept. For a child of the dark, there wasn’t a better place to be. 

 

A soft rumble, easily mistaken for the roar of the rollercoaster, transcended from the distant sky. It began, as most storms do, with a single well-placed drop of rain. Then another. Continuing gently until there was a placid symphony of precipitation, falling down indiscriminately upon all the beings and beasts of Santa Carla. 

Chapter Text

 

 

The crowds swelled and buzzed like a flock of birds against the night sky. Half past eleven on a rainy Thursday night, yet the boardwalk was far from empty. Such was Summer here, there was never a shortage of life. Marko and David entered the thrall, garnering looks from the people that ranged from blatant lust to a general unease. Their witch friend, Ceryl, had once told them that it wasn’t just their looks that made humans stare, whilst playfully chiding them for being so vain. It was a sort of vampiric pheromone, like a venus fly trap making nectar to attract its prey. Nature was full of all sorts of wondrous creatures, and vampires fell under that umbrella. 

 

Marko embraced the attention, he felt like he had never been very noticeable before turning. He smiled and winked playfully at a group of teens that were huddled under the overhang of a surf shop. His trademark patchwork jacket was a telling sign of the ways he wished he stood out from the crowd, with its rich tones and color-saturated embroidery. David, on the other hand, was rather single-minded. If he wanted attention, he sought it out. Otherwise, he focused solely on whatever task was at hand. It made him seem aloof and broody (which may have been true anyways) but it was not his intent. 

 

A crack of lightning peeled across the sky, goldfoil sparks illuminating the coast. The two boys watched the sky as the crowds of people began to disperse, seeking shelter from the impending tempest. There was something mesmerizing about storms, powerful and ominous, unpredictable. Not unlike the creatures that hunted in Santa Carla. 

 

“Come on, let’s get going.” David quickened his pace, with Marko trotting along behind. The rain was really starting to come down, their shoes splashing into puddles as they ducked under the cover of buildings on their path. 

 

The neon lights were pulsating brightly on the storefront. Video Max. The name had always been the butt of jokes for the four boys, they found it oddly conceited and goofy that their progenitor would name it after himself. With a bad pun, no less. You want to make an impression, he would say, in his characteristic matter-of-fact tone. He was practically humorless compared to the boys. 

 

Max was inside, just behind the tall bank of glass, flipping over the sign from open to close. He glanced up and saw the two boys headed in his direction. His expression was of fatherly displeasure. He unlocked the door and pushed it open. The bells on the entrance rang gently, a familiar sound as David caught the door and held it open for Marko. Max towered over the two, his figure was imposing even if he did dress like a stuffy, middle-age dad. 

 

“Late, again.” Max directed the comment to David, upon whom he clearly placed the position of leadership amongst the four young vampires. David was the oldest after all, his first born “son.” 

 

“We were busy.” David left the statement intentionally vague, errantly brushing off the comment. 

 

“You’re supposed to be setting a good example for the others, David.”

 

Max looked at Marko, who was grinning unabashedly until he made eye contact with his sire. His smile faded quickly as he scrambled to excuse David’s lack of concern, like a younger sibling covering his brothers tracks. “It was those little shits from the pier, the Frogs. They trailed us for a while so we had to shake ‘em. No harm done.”

 

“Well. I’m glad you didn’t take matters into your own hands.” Max once again oriented his statements towards his eldest son. “The last thing we need is bad publicity.” He paused, sighing like a weary parent. “Children are… fickle. They’ll give up this obsession like an old toy soon enough.” 

 

“Children grow up, Max.” David replied coldly.

 

“Yes, they do. But, for now, it’s not our concern. You aren’t to lay a finger on them.”

 

David stared up at Max for a moment before relinquishing a placid “Sure.” He pushed past Max and made his way to the counter where Maria had the register open and was busy totalling the cash. He greeted her, leaning with his back against the counter. She pretended to have not heard the previous conversation, out of kind discretion. 

 

Max looked rather drained despite the brevity of the exchange, as Marko fidgeted by the front door. No one else enjoyed when these interactions became awkward, but that was family life. David and Max were two sides of the same coin, stubborn and unyielding, prone to butting heads. Sometimes it seemed like David intentionally made remarks or spoke with tones that pushed Max’s buttons. And Max could be heedlessly overbearing and pious. Functional dysfunction was the most apt description. 

 

“Marko, lock the door please?” Max gestured towards the storefront. 

 

“Yeah, sure.” He flipped the deadbolt and turned off the neon signs with a click. 

 

“I’m going to go finish up in the back.” Max turned away, his stony, broad shoulders stooped over slightly, like a sighing gargoyle. He disappeared into the darkness of the office doorway.

 

The thunder rumbled above, the discordant sound of drizzling rain hitting the metal roof above filled the dimly lit store. Paul and Dwayne emerged from the back office carrying heavy crates towards the alleyway exit. 

 

“Hey, look who’s back!” Paul called out enthusiastically. His flaxen-drab skin, wild blond hair and jovial mannerism was reminiscent of a golden retriever: loyal and exuberant though a bit unruly. It often made him appear less intelligent than he was, but truth be told he was quite perceptive. His energy balanced the group well.

 

“Yeah, after all the work is done,” Dwayne teased. He had raven black hair that fell in lustrous waves from his sepia skin to the middle of his back, clad in a dark leather jacket. He was typically quiet, but not in the way that David was. Dwayne was often soft spoken until there was a reason to speak. Thoughtful, introspective, empathetic. He only teased when he knew it would be received well. He was like a patient confidant to the others. Pouring out their thoughts and worries came easily with Dwayne. Any secret was safe with him, to the grave. 

 

Max often had them doing supply runs for their alternative sources of income, which involved activities that were less than legal: pawning the belongings of their deceased victims and harvesting valuable organs for the black market. A video store alone was no way to get rich, after all. It worked out for everyone’s benefit, the clan had a steady income and the local hospitals had a steady supply of transplant tissues. The demand for fresh organs was high, higher than the speed at which they came in naturally. So much so that many medical workers were willing to turn a blind eye when an organ broker made an offer they couldn’t refuse. Max supplied the merchandise, and the brokers did the rest. 

 

The young vampires’ presence also offered protection for the shop’s human manager Maria, when she was running the store alone on busy nights. They dealt with unruly boardwalk patrons that wandered in looking for trouble. Besides her, there was usually a revolving door of part time employees in the day time: some locals, some drifters, all with accompanying baggage that eventually drew them back in and away from their jobs there. But Maria stayed. She was a rock, steadfast and resilient, but upbeat nonetheless. Max, and by extension his boys, treasured Maria for her tenacity and discretion. Good help was hard to come by. 

 

“You want any help?” Marko asked the other two, from across the store space. 

 

“Nah, bud, we got it.” Paul nodded at him as they hefted the boxes out the back door and into the van that was sitting in the alley. There was a bit of shuffling and a muffled crash as they unloaded. Their familial squabbling was faint in the background. “Dude, you got blood on my pants.” 

 

“They look better that way.” 

 

“Rude.”

David, back still against the center counter, watched them with mild amusement. Maria, with cash held neatly in one hand, a calculator in the other, was keeping herself busy. She used to be afraid of the dark, scared to walk home alone at night. That was a long time ago. Somehow, knowing about the coven’s existence made her feel safer. Hypocritical , she mused, considering what they did for a living. But once you know monsters are real, you feel a lot better having them as friends rather than enemies. 

 

David tilted his head back towards her, eyes still glued to his brothers. “Do you need a ride home tonight?”

 

Maria glanced up from her work, brown curls bouncing against her forehead. “Nah, it’s alright. I don’t want to be a bother.” 

 

“Then be careful. We have some company in town tonight.” He paused, deciding not to elaborate further. Maria trusted his guidance anyways, rarely asking questions. “Stay close to downtown, okay?” 

 

“Cross my heart, I’ll stay under the streetlights.” She smiled sweetly, scribbling down numbers on her notepad. 

 

“And, Maria,” He turned to make eye contact with her. “It’s never a bother.” 

 

“Thanks, David.” She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently, a gesture which he returned by placing his hand over hers. Despite the passing of time, she never could quite get used to how they felt. Not freezing cold like ice, but brisk. Cool like an underground spring welling up to the surface. 

 

He gently pulled away from her, patting the counter and turning to meet Dwayne at the back of the shop. The other two had just finished with packing the van. Dwayne kicked out the wood block from under the alleyway door and pushed it shut. 

 

Paul was quick to greet Marko, rushing to warmly bump his shoulders against his brother’s. Though all the boys were quite fond of each other, the dynamic between Paul and Marko was something like two schoolboys who built forts together in their free time and pilfered cigarettes at age 12. As a pair, they could be described as either codependent or mutually destructive, apt be the life of the party, but just as likely to be the source of trouble brewing. Walking arm in arm, wrestling, competing over silly affairs, musing amongst one another about the unknowns of life. But, above all else, they were willing to die for one another. 

 

The pair were also quite fond of Maria, she was somewhat akin to an older sister that they enjoyed gossiping with, playfully teasing her, taking her advice seriously, flirting impishly. Paul leaned over onto the counter, putting his weight on his elbows, with Marko sidled up next to him. Marko was rummaging through the candy on the racks, picking out the box of gummy worms and tearing into them like a starving toddler. 

 

Maria shot him a scolding look. “You gonna pay for those, hun?”

 

He grinned, a red worm pinned beneath a fang. “Well, what do you expect?” He turned to direct his voice across the store to his elder. “When he keeps me out all night?” 

 

David turned slightly and threw Marko a look that said he was growing tired of his childish remarks. Paul elbowed his companion gently in jest. Marko smiled and pulled the candy into his mouth with a noisy slurp.  

 

“Oh, hey, you two are never gonna believe what I ran into tonight.”

 

“A wall?” Maria joked.

 

“Nice try.” Marko seemed to have taken no offense, still visibly excited about what he had to tell them. 

 

“Sigourney Weaver?” Paul offered.

 

“Uh, no- and, what the hell?”

 

“What? She’s a classy lady.” Paul nodded thoughtfully, with Maria letting loose unbridled laughter across from them. 

 

“I’ll tell you.” Marko’s expression drew serious. He leaned in close, building the suspense. The other two drew near to him until they were all sharing the same air space. “An au-then-tic werewolf .”

 

“Really dude? Rad. ” Paul had never seen one in person either, but stories got around that they were out there in the dark just like the vampires.

 

“A she-wolf, to be more specific. But you know, just in human form. So, a girl really.” 

 

“Did she go all hellhound on you?” Paul was genuinely interested.

 

“Nah, but David had us out of there quick. He wouldn’t tell me why. You know how touchy he gets.” 

 

Paul nodded, smirking. “Dwayne mentioned once that its old history, but they haven’t said much to me about it really. Think it was before we were with them, bud.” He shrugged. Paul and Marko were the youngest of the coven, and prior to their vampiric birth, Dwayne and David had half a decade together. 

 

Marko made intentional eye contact with Maria, as a sly smile formed on his face. A look that said: I know your secrets . “But she did tell me her name. Verida.” He feigned a sheepish expression and averted his eyes, “You know, I think she mentioned someone else’s name too. A lover. Mary? No… Mirriam? Not quite.” He paused for drama. “Oh, that’s right. Maria. ” 

 

Her skin flushed to a deep mauve, eyes dilating. She warily glanced around the store to be sure the others were preoccupied. Max was still out of sight in his office and David was conversing intently with Dwayne, who looked equally engaged in their discussion.

 

Paul “Woah, woah. Chill out, girl. We don’t care about any ‘uh that.” 

 

“Yeah, it’s fine by us. Life’s too short to care if you like chicks or dicks.” Marko added, with Paul grinning comically at his latter remark. 

 

“No, no. It’s uh. Not that . But I mean, thanks. You guys are great.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“Max doesn’t know. I don’t plan on telling him. And I don’t really get the feeling that  David,” she paused, looking in his direction, “would be understanding.” 

 

“Dwayne’s asking about his earlier rendezvous. Trust me, they’re not paying any attention.” Marko smirked coyly. 

 

She shifted uncomfortably and lowered her voice. “We had a fling.”

 

“A fling?”

 

“Well, maybe that’s the wrong word. It was short-lived anyways. Before I met Max, before he took me in.” Maria closed the register and pulled the dangling set of keys out, returning them to her pocket. “I was young, maybe sixteen. Just a fresh runaway, and new to the city. Really hopeful at the start, so glad to be rid of-” She cut off mid-sentence, stopping herself from digging up the past too much in one night. 

 

She continued. “I really thought I could make it on my own.” Her eyes held a trace of sorrow, something she typically concealed, held at bay by a veil of positivity and charm.

 

“Hey, we’ve been there. We’ve all had fucked up childhoods. Mommy issues, daddy issues. You name it.” Marko shrugged, his eyes watching her expressions carefully. 

 

“I think some of us still have daddy issues.” Paul offered, glancing over his shoulder.

 

She laughed softly, a faint smile playing on her silken, fawn lips. “Santa Carla was so bright and lively, all the people, all the noise. I was sure I’d made the right choice. But a week without food makes you a little less confident in your survival skills.”

 

“No shit.”

 

“I slept under the boardwalk for a while, with a group of other kids. But we got chased off by the cops. I suppose a gang of dirty, homeless teenagers isn’t helpful for tourism. I was walking by the shore one night, trying to find a place to settle in, when I met her. The wind was so awful I could barely hear what she was saying. She took me to an old hunting cabin on the edge of Pogonip where she and her sister, Rafaela, were holed up for the season. Fed me, let me use their bath. Kindness I could never repay.” Maria toyed with a rubber band on the counter, twirling it around her fingers while she reminisced. “Verida was… like a hurricane. Wild, shameless, chaotic. But also incredibly genuine, and brilliantly smart. Generous. Affectionate. Really… passionate.”

 

“Sounds like the whole package,” Marko teased, cramming more candy into his mouth before handing off the box to Paul.

 

Maria tilted her chin down towards the counter, laughing nervously. “Sorry, I’m rambling. Look at me, getting all nostalgic.”

 

“We don’t mind.” The two vampires looked at her with eyes full of childlike wonder, engaged in her tale like a pair of little boys listening to a bedtime story.

 

“I was with them for around two months. Verida burst through the door one night, covered in blood, half wolf. She was hurt. Her eyes were feral. I was completely terrified. Her sister ran out into the woods, transforming as she left. She came back with a deer carcass. She- Well, she ripped the heart out, with one hand, and fed it to Verida. I guess to heal her? I don’t know how that works. But I left and never looked back. I guess I was really naive at the time, because I had no idea they weren’t human before that night.”

 

“So what do werewolves look like, all wolfed out?” Marko inquired.

 

“Really hairy dude like Lon Chaney Jr style or two-legged wolf with rabies, like in The Howling?” Paul added, being the horror movie enthusiast of the group. 

 

“A mixture of the two? Neither? I mean, they were at different stages. Fae was full wolf, Verida was a hybrid. Again, I didn’t stick around to find out. But they were a lot more intense than any movie makeup could be.”

 

“Wicked.” Paul nodded.

 

“Pretty soon after that I met Max. Gave me a job and he helped me get my first apartment here. Verida came around for a few weeks trying to talk to me, waiting by the apartment after my shift ended. But I was pretty single-minded at the time, I wanted nothing to do with her. She tried to apologize for it all, for scaring me. Begged me to let her in for a talk. I… I uh slammed the door in her face a few times. Started working different hours to avoid her. Eventually, she gave up. And they moved on, out of Santa Carla. That was five, maybe six years ago. I’ve grown up a lot since then.”

 

Maria twisted a lock of her hair around her index finger. “I feel like such a hypocrite now, surrounded by more…”

 

“Monsters?” Marko suggested.

 

“Oh, hush, you. I wasn’t going to say anything like that.”

 

“No, no I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been called worse when I was human.” He and Paul shared a laugh.

 

“Rascals, maybe. But never monsters.” She looked at both of them with an endearing grin. “Either way, I don’t think I could face her now after the way I left things. I had no idea she was even in town again, she told me they were the nomadic type of wolves. Migratatory, like birds.”

 

There was a soft bellow from the back office, a canine vocalization, as a tall white german shepherd appeared from the darkness, with Max following, shutting the door behind them. 

 

“Hey, Thorn!” Dipping down on his knees, Marko beckoned the massive dog over to him, lavishing him in affection. He had a soft spot for all animals, a strange connection with beasts which was unlike most vampires, who seemed to inadvertently repel animals. Thorn, however, adored the four boys. He was a hellhound, after all. Not entirely mortal. 

 

Paul turned to rejoin the group but looked back and winked at Maria as a gesture of assurance. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with us.” 

 

The coven began to congregate near the back door. It was getting late, and there was no use wasting precious moonlight. Maria grabbed her slick black rain jacket from beneath the counter and retrieved a maroon umbrella from the floor. Max held the door open as the others slipped out the back and into the alley.

 

“Why don’t you join us tonight, Max?” David asked nonchalantly, the way a child suggests something to their parent. 

 

“Oh. No, you know me.” He smiled plainly. “I prefer to dine in the comfort of my own home.” He nodded, satisfied with his own response. David watched him silently. Max was distancing himself even further from them lately. 

 

“Besides, I have a delivery to make.” He paused, contemplating something while turning his keys over in the palm of his hand. “You boys keep a low profile, alright?”

 

David shifted his weight. Eyes wide, smiling grimly. “Sure.” 

 

He nodded at Maria as she made her exit, ducking under overhangs until she could get her umbrella opened. The rain was still coming down in a steady drizzle. Max motioned for Thorn to hop into the van before sliding into the driver’s seat himself. 

 

David turned back to his brothers. He could see the anticipation in their eyes, the steady hunger that pulsed just beneath the surface. It had been a long night, only a handful of hours left before sunrise. They had all been patiently waiting for their chance to hunt. 

 

 “Let’s go boys.”

Chapter Text




    Blood dribbled from their supple lips, pouring down in sanguine ribbons that followed the contours of their necks, their collar bones, the rivulets of their chest. Pools of ruby red began to seep into their clothing, but it was no matter. Their clothes knew the familiar impression of gore, fresh and hot from the kill. Three of the coven wore black, and black hides blood quite nicely. As for the fourth, Marko’s jacket was such a kaleidoscope of hues that it hid the stains just as seamlessly. 

 

    There was a sort of ritual to the hunt that naturally fell into place. Different victims, different places, but the process remained habitual, comfortingly familiar. Savor the pursuit of prey. Isolate them one by one, or take down the whole group, but leave no disgruntled witness. Revel in the feeling of blood boiling down the back of your throat. Make it as humane or as abhorrently savage as you like. Whichever best soothes your conscience. And take what you need, be it trinkets, attire, cash, car keys, body parts that have market value. But do it quickly, lest you linger too long on what’s been lost to the night. And last, burn the bodies, or carry them out to sea. Leave no trails that lead back to your clan. Every good vampire knows you don’t dare pollute your own den. 

 

    Though far be it from vampires to take the moral high ground, the boys did sometimes make an effort to select subjects who were less than innocent. Enemies and exes of their friends or coven were a prime choice for all. Marko and Paul were ravenous for the blood of animal abusers, while Dwayne enjoyed the occasional pedophile or deadbeat parent. Some of their favorite prey, though certainly not a delicacy, was the local gang of surf nazis. A nasty bunch, and rather abundant. The surf nazis were territorial of “their” parts of the beach, and sucked the energy from the shores of Santa Carla like an elitist, xenophobic, sunburnt parasite. They felt entitled to the waves, to the boardwalk during the day, and often to whatever else they so desired. The bastards had picked a few too many fights and had earned a permanent spot on the coven’s shit list. A bad position to be in, if you’re a human.

 

There were, however, several petty killings spackled throughout the coven’s history, relatively unprovoked, motivated by nothing more than trivial annoyance. A cop that got too nosy. A careless teen that scratched one of their bikes. An older man who had called them hooligans. A clumsy concert patron who spilled beer on their shoes. The list goes on. There weren’t any hard and fast rules to their selections, no documented code of ethics to reference. But in general, they did avoid children. Partly because they saw a piece of themselves looking back at them in all the faces of the local kids. A sort of boyish innocence from eyes that had already known too much hardship. The four boys were still caught in the disarray of youth themselves, finding their way in a world that was less than kind to adolescents. 

 

The dark silhouettes of the four vampires were dancing on the sand, flickering about behind the light of the burning pyre before them. The heavy, earthy scent of burning driftwood intermingled with the pungent aroma of searing flesh. They sat beside one another, perched upon the peak of a sand dune, a slope that was tucked away on a secluded inlet through which a creek trickled down onto the shoreline. Their breathing came heavily, like the guttural panting of stray dogs after a good fight. The stars were out in their full glory tonight, the heavens shining down onto the scene like pin holes poked into the atmosphere. David reclined facing the stars, stretched out on his back, weight resting on his elbows, legs crossed. Dwayne was on the edge to his left, one leg bent up into a v-shape, his arm slung across it. Marko sat to the right of David, in the middle, laying on his back with his arms behind his head. Paul was on the outer edge, hunched over with his head on his knees, looking up at the faint outline of the milky way amongst the stars.

 

They relished the peace tied up in these moments. It was like the wake after a tragedy. Storms may be loud and messy. But once the chaos is over, the dust settles. And amid the fallout is a humbling quietude, a sense of tranquility. 

 

Tonight they had been lucky enough to stumble upon a group of six. Teens, or college-aged kids, presumably, who had been hanging out in this little alcove indulging in the local selection of pot. It had been quick, as the humans were already intoxicated to the point of awkward incapacitation. With more than enough blood to go around, the vampires had entirely gorged themselves. And they were beginning to feel the after effects of the cannabinoid-laced blood. Like secondhand intoxication. 

 

Killing wasn’t a necessity, no. But it was much more exhilarating and an altogether easier process. It wasn’t that the coven strictly sought to end lives, the same way an omnivore doesn’t slaughter cattle for the sake of slaughtering. They did enjoy it, though, just as a deer or waterfowl hunter has passion for his “hobby.” 

 

Killing was simple, so black and white. No need to seduce or persuade. No need to explain away what you were. No hiding your true nature. No worrying about reputation or the way others saw you. You just fed and that was that. It was the most honest act, you could be yourself in front of the dying in a way that you never could with the living. It was an experiment in human interactions, but with no strings attached. 

 

Taking blood from a willing donor, that was another matter. The opposite of simplicity. It involved maintaining long term relationships with humans, outing yourself to them and praying that either their fear or their naivety would keep your secret, and keep them coming back for more. The other option was anonymity. To stalk and attack without being identified. Taking only enough blood to satisfy before returning into the darkness. Much more risky, much more effort. Better suited to the nomadic lone hunter, not a full coven with a permanent residence. The threat of publicity was always looming in this scenario. A mysterious string of neck bitings and partial exsanguination? The press would have a field day with that one. It was like advertising your secret to the world. 

 

“You think if there are aliens out there on other planets, that some of them are vampires too?” Paul wiped a bit of crusted blood from his lips, staring up into the night sky.

 

“Maybe there’s a planet where they’re all vampires.” Marko quipped, which elicited a smile from Paul and an exasperated sigh from David.   

 

“Then they would starve.” Dwayne added, shifting positions so that his legs were curled to the side. 

 

“Oh. True.“ Marko said, a little dejected.

 

“Well maybe they just exchange blood, like a big mutual buffet.” Paul chortled into the night air, his cheek bones illuminated by the crackling fire. 

 

David interjected before the conversation could devolve further. “Don’t we have enough to worry about on our own planet?” 

 

“Yeah, like what’s up with movies about vamps? We don’t have any good representation.” Marko huffed, lost in thought.

 

“Not what I meant.” David closed his eyes and laid back against the sand with a soft thud. 

 

“Nosferatu and all the friggin Dracula movies. Bride of Dracula, son of Dracula, mother of Dracula…” Marko continued. 

 

“Don’t forget Dog of Dracula.” Dwayne noted. There was a collective eye roll and groan from the group.

 

“Hey, Dark Shadows wasn’t too bad for a soap opera.” Paul stretched and crossed his legs.

 

“You mean ‘boom-mic shadows’? Dude, a tree on set almost fell over in one of the episodes. And they still aired it. A tree .” Marko practically spat out the last word, for emphasis. 

 

“Ha, yeah…” Paul smiled goofily as if reminiscing. “I guess it could’a been better.”

 

“And-and, also , why do they always show vampires dying in stupid ways because they’re so driven by this mad hunger? People think we’re just overtaken by it. Like animals. Which frankly is an insult to animals as well. I mean sure its bad at first, when you turn, but that’s because you’re friggin starving. I mean come on, do you go out and steal five pizzas every time you’ve got the munchies?”

Paul laughed and patted Marko’s arm. “I dunno bud, I’ve had some pretty bad cravings.”

 

“Oh, now you’ve done it, Paul. You’ve got him monologuing.” David jeered, tucking his hands into the coat of his jacket. 

 

“I am not monologuing, its a serious-” He stopped abruptly and the night air was silent except for the gentle lashing of the bonfire flames. 

 

“Oh, thank God. A moment of peace.” David exhaled, eyes still closed, enjoying the cool night air. He was expecting a sardonic reply from his clan mate, but the world remained silent. 

 

Dwayne sat up suddenly and nudged David. “Something’s wrong.” His tone was solemn. Dwayne had a knack for sensing when something was off with one of the clan.

 

David opened his eyes and sat up quickly, turning to face his coven mates. “Marko?”

   

    Paul scrambled to sit upright as well, kneeling in the sand. “Oh shit, bud, what’s wrong?” He placed a hand on the youngest’s shoulder, shaking him gently.

 

    Marko’s face was contorted into an agonized grimace, his slender body hunched over, spine curved. His knuckles were a contrasting ghostly white as he clenched handfuls of sand in his fists. His gaze had no focus except the blurry fire before him. Fire. That’s what it was like. Fire in his belly, tearing all through him from throat to stomach. Excruciating pain lapped at his insides like the flames of an inferno. His vision was fading, silver auras clouding the corners of his view like looking through a tunnel. A trickle of thick, dark blood began to drip from his nose. He could feel the warm, sticky fluid coating his throat, partially coagulated. He lurched forward and coughed hard, a spray of red mist coating the sand in front of him. It took so much energy out of him just to perform basic functions like coughing, breathing. He felt himself losing strength in his limbs, beginning to falling over.

 

    Paul reached out to brace him. “I got you, bud.” Marko collapsed in a heap in Paul’s arms, head lolling to one side, eyelids drooping. Paul brought his hand up to Marko’s face and gingerly wiped the blood from beneath his nose. 

 

    “Fuck. This can’t be good.” David ran a hand through his hair, trying to maintain an appearance of calm despite the situation. “Did any of you share with Marko?”

 

    “We shared, we both fed on that guy with the bellbottoms.” Dwayne gestured to a charred corpse at the bottom of the pyre. “It’s not bad blood, I feel fine still.”

 

David paced around the group for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Alright. We need to get him to Ceryl. Paul, you’ll take him on your bike. We’ll leave his at the docks until we can sort this out. Dwayne, help Paul carry him. I’ll meet you there in a minute, I’m going to make sure the fire will burn the bodies down.” The others nodded in agreement and got to work, while David began tending the massive pyre. 

 

Ceryl was a friend to the four vampires. A witch, part of the powerful Hazeur coven that sat on the border between the bright lights of the city and the Pogonip wilderness. He was studious, loved research and collecting knowledge. As such, he knew a great deal about different maladies that afflicted vampires, and often knew how to fix them. He was there go-to for emergencies and could always be counted on in times of need. Their concern now was whether or not they could make it in time. The Hazeur chateau was at the edge of town, and daylight was descending upon them quickly, with three, maybe two, hours to spare. 

 

Paul grabbed Marko’s arm and slung it around his shoulder. “Just hold on, we’re gonna get you some help, ok?” 

 

There was no reply except for a soft whimper. Dwayne took his other arm and helped Paul walk their brother to the docks where they had parked their motorcycles earlier in the night. 

 

They started their bikes, and the purr of the motors filled in the stillness of the air. Paul climbed on his, situating himself so that there was enough room for a second rider. 

 

Dwayne supported Marko and helped him climb on the back. “Can you hold on?”

 

Nauseated but conscious, he shook his head up and down. His voice was weak but he seemed to have found it once again. “...yeah.” He looked back at his beloved motorcycle, sitting by itself beneath the docks. “My bike-”

 

“We’ll come back for it. Don’t worry.” Dwayne reassured him, and gave him a shove to secure him better on the seat, before mounting his own bike. 

 

Paul looked over his shoulder at his companion. Vampires were naturally paler than before they had transformed, but Marko’s face was like a white sheet. Positively drained, he was rather pathetic looking. Paul hated seeing him like this. “Here, reach forwards a little more.”

 

Marko stretched his arms as much as he could so that they were snugly around Paul’s waist. He pressed his chest against his coven mate’s back, head turned to the side and resting on Paul’s shoulders. Miserable as he was, there was a sort of comfort in being cared for. It was an unspoken bond, the fact that the two would do anything for one another. Knowing that was one thing. But it felt so much better to have actual proof, to be reminded of that bond. Marko let his body relax a little; the pain had made all of his muscles go tense. He tried to focus on Paul’s rhythmic breathing, the rise and fall of his chest, the sound of his heart. Slow and steady, ever-constant. Reliable, he thought. Paul gave Marko’s wrist a reassuring squeeze, gripping his forearm to help keep him from falling.

 

“H-hey,” Marko’s voice came weakly. 

 

“Yeah, bud?”

 

“If I die-”

 

Paul was quick to banish that line of thinking. “You’re not gonna die, bud. I won’t let that happen.”

 

“Yeah… But if… I want you to have my comic collection.” 

 

“Marko-”

 

“Ser… Seriously. Don’t let David get h-... get his hands on them. He doesn’t appreciate them… like you do.”

 

Paul let out a short laugh and smiled, patting Marko’s arm. “Thanks.”

 

In the distance, they could see David making his way towards them, quickening his pace when neared the boardwalk. He mounted his bike and rode up along the side of the others until he headed the pack. He glanced back at his coven. Paul gave him a nod, assuring that they were ready when he was. 

 

David turned back, eyes on the road. His bike roared off, with the two others following closely behind. They headed out into the darkness.

 

As eldest, the others looked to David for guidance. He did his best to put their fears at ease, to guide them properly. But if he was being honest, this shit scared him just as much as any of them. Half the time he was second guessing himself, there was a lot of weight resting on his shoulders. Though he kept his emotions outwardly in check, he loved his brothers dearly. Disappointing them was his greatest fear.


David couldn’t help but thinking: It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Oh and here's something I threw together about my original characters, it explains the family relationships and such. Click for full size.
click for full size



The gentle cries of the wind echoed through the myriad of trees, as the damp post-rain fog settled along the ground of the densely-wooded Pogonip wilderness. The tendrils of fog curled around tree stumps, slithering along the dirt until it met the smooth surface of a well-worn stone path. The path snaked around the thick trees, meandering so haphazardly that a traveler might never quite be able to tell what was around the next bend. Until, step by step, the moss-laden pebbles that covered the trail suddenly thinned out to reveal a clearing. A break in the trees, the meadow was carpeted in a mottled layer of ground ivy, creeping thyme, and evergreen moss.

In the heart of the glen was a tall, formidable stone structure half-obscured by climbing plants and various vines. A tall chimney rose up out of the stone chateau like a hand reaching for God, warm light and soft smoke emanating from the stack. The weary wood of the porch steps creaked beneath the weight of the two witches. They sat, side by side, eyes closed, barefoot and balancing on the edge of the veranda.

The pair of youthful women were sisters. Half-sisters. Though they shared a father, the two were far from mirror images of each other. Charlene, the older of the siblings, was tall with strong, broad shoulders. Her skin was rich and dark, like the wet soil after the rain. The warm porchlight cast a glow on her earrings and nose piercing. Her gaze was steady, every glance made with intent. She wore her hair loose and uninhibited, let the dense black curls dance in a halo around her head. Her eyes like a mahogany void, she held at bay an ardent blaze of magical potential. She had a knack for incendiary spells and elemental charms.

Vervain was several years younger, the daughter of their father’s second marriage. Her rich sepia skin and distinctively sharp features spoke to her mother’s Nepalese and Tibetan heritage. Her figure was softer than Charlene’s, though by no means dainty. She tied up her long wavy hair in a turquoise scarf but a few unruly locks clung to her forehead, making her blow them out of her eyes every so often with an exasperated laugh. Vervain found her magical niche with nature: phytomancy. She could bring sickly plants back from the brink of death, or craft vines into complex structures of her own design.

To the observer, the siblings might have seemed restful, sharing a moment of relaxation at the end of a hot summer day. Vervain leaning against Charlene’s shoulder, eyes closed, both their hands clasped together, intertwining fingers. But there was more to this gesture than affection. By connecting their meridians, they could amplify their abilities, complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses to create a spiritual pathway to the future. The Hazeur coven called it “reading the wind.” A blurry way of predicting the events that were to come.

The Hazeur coven of witches were like the interlopers betwixt Santa Carla’s intersecting worlds of mortals, immortals, and creatures caught in the middle. They served as mediators, upholding the peace not only through symbiotic relations and insightful negotiation, but with their own brand of enchantment to help the process along. They were by no means bureaucrats, not concerned with checking every box. It was more a common sense sort of give and take. Live and let live, but intervene when necessary.

They simply believed that as members drawing upon the resources of the ecosystem, they should do their part to keep the balance. After all, magic of any sort had to come from somewhere. Equivalent exchange, nothing is for free. Witches got their magic from the forces of life and energy around them. The more harmonious and connected the environment was, the stronger the source from which the magic flowed. It was in their best interest to maintain the status quo.

Members of the coven did their best to be impartial towards all the supernatural groups living in Santa Carla. But it would be a lie to say they didn’t have a favorite.

“Mama!” The shrill cry came after the padding footsteps of a small, skinny child with short hair nearly shaved to the scalp. He wore only ragged khaki shorts and a braided green bracelet around his right wrist.

The ricochet of the screen door swinging shut broke the stillness of the evening. “Mama, I-”

“Hush, mon chéri.” Vervain interrupted gently, peeking at her young son with one eye open.

“But-” He protested.

“Fe silans tanpri. Your mother and I are trying to focus.” Charlene kept her eyes closed tightly, sighing in frustration. She was fond of her nephew, but was not one to entertain the shenanigans of children.

The boy shifted his weight between his feet impatiently, causing the wood of the porch to creak and groan loudly in protest. He was a gangly kid, around the age of 9, still growing into his long legs. He looked more like his grandfather than his mother, with his glossy deep brown skin and a spattering of dark freckles on his face and shoulders.

“But it's important.” He insisted. The child whined restlessly.

“Bah, forget it.” Charlene thrust her eyes open and threw her hands up. “I’m not getting a clear reading anyways.” She turned around and stood, grabbing her wriggling nephew in her arms and scolding him affectionately. “What is so important, you?” She tickled him until he was laughing too much to talk. “Hmm, petit coquin?”

“Ah, stop!” He managed to get out between fits of laughter and breathy giggles.

“What do we say?” Charlene paused briefly before resuming the attack.

“Ha! P-Please Auntie!”

A wide grin spread its way across Charlene’s normally stoic face as she let go of the child and turned him to his mother.

Vervain stood and placed her hands on her son’s shoulders, rubbing tenderly. “What is it, Pierre?” She kissed his forehead as he caught his breath. “What did you have to tell us?”

“Hah- I was-” He huffed, still out of breath. “I was coming to tell you, I was getting ready for bed. Oh, I brushed my teeth like you told me, Mama. And Mémé Nima was making me tea for bedtime, the one I really like with the lavender. It was really hot though so I was blowing on it for a while. And she told me to be careful, but I already was…”

He was rambling, as children often do when telling a story.

“Yes, Pierre?” Vervain pressed, trying to get to the heart of the matter.

“So! The tea leaves- Mémé always said I was born to read them. But I didn’t believe her because I’ve never seen anything from them except-”

Charlene rolled her eyes with a smile. “Out with it, child!”

“The leaves! I read them tonight. They said: we’re going to have company.” He finished his statement curtly.

“Company?” Charlene recoiled, that could mean anything. She hated surprises, any time there was room for ambiguity meant there could be trouble.

Vervain beamed at Pierre, proud of her son’s newfound abilities. “Ah, very good, pitit mwen! You’re coming into your powers.” She said, patting him on the head. “Did you tell Mémé Nima?”

“Of course! She said it means the vampires are coming.”

A knowing look spread over both of the sisters’ faces.

“Vampires?” Charlene smiled wryly, making eye contact with Vervain.

“Pierre, go and tell your uncle Ceryl.” Vervain nudged her boy back towards the front door. “He should be in the basement. Tanpri souple.”

“Yes, mama!” The old screen door swung shut and bounced back a few times before coming to rest.

Ceryl was kin to both sisters, a cousin by blood. The coven’s matriarch had two children: the dutiful, cautious, soft-spoken Adecyn. And the loyal, sociable, mischievous Ceryl. In total, the coven’s unassuming cottage was a multi-generational home to as many as ten family members at a time. This meant often working around each other, and all their belongings. But they wouldn’t prefer it any other way.

“Well, fine of Nima to tell us first herself.” Charlene groaned, stretching her back as she slowly rose to her feet.

“Ah, quit your lamenting. She knew it would get to us soon enough.” Vervain retorted, rising and giving her sister’s shoulder a pat.

“Ceryl will be pleased.” Charlene held open the screen door for her sister.

Vervain laughed at the remark. “He’s always pleased to see David. Ah, mon amour!” She mocked, falling into Charlene’s arms dramatically. The two laughed raucously as they passed through the threshold.

As they rounded the corner, they were suddenly greeted by an imposing figure. Nima stood in front of the kitchen entry, the soft glow of light emanating from behind her. She was their coven’s matriarch and aunt to the two sisters. Though her height was average, the shadow she cast seemed to extend much further than it should have, dancing eagerly in the lamp light. Nima was a woman of paradoxes: She was kind-hearted, a doting and gentle mother-figure, loved dearly by her children, grandchildren, and nieces. But she was also a force to be reckoned with. Feared and respected both outside the coven and within. As leader, her word was final in the coven. One did not cross her. But, they rarely had reason to. At nearly three centuries old, she was a wise elder. She made her decisions with all the forethought of a game of chess, calculating the outcomes of the next three moves before they had even occurred.

“Gah! Nima- I didn’t see you there.” Charlene exclaimed, hand clutched to her chest.

“I am sure you have heard the news,” Nima spoke softly, her full face and plump cheeks resting in a contented look. Her ancestral accent was distinctly apparent in her voice. She and her brother, Odissan were born in Haiti, long before the coven came to Santa Carla. The entire family was multilingual, fluent in Haitian Creole and French, though in the past century the most common way the coven spoke was an amalgamation of English grammar with a variety of familiar Creole vocabulary. Nima was still firm in the belief that language traditions should be passed on to the new generations, so even the youngest members of the coven were taught the basics of their mother tongue.

“Yes, we were just saying that it will be good to see the boys again.” Vervain chimed in, dodging a pointed look from her sister.

“Unfortunately, this is not a social visit.” Nima smiled graciously, adjusting her hair. She wore her silvered mane in long, thin dreadlocks, pulled back in a cloth head wrap that was dyed with vibrant hues resembling a peacock’s colors.

“Trouble with Max?”

“No, nothing like that, cheri mwen.” She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, the assortment of metal bracelets on her wrists jingling as she did so.

“Come, we should prepare to receive them.” Nima grabbed a tincture from the kitchen shelf before heading towards the study. The study was a narrow, congested little room in which Ceryl kept his vampiric research in the form of thick, dusty tomes of lore shelved neatly along the walls with his assorted personal notebooks wedged in between them, sticky notes and bookmarks abounding. The family, and Ceryl in particular, were collectors of knowledge, enthusiastic about cataloguing as much as they could in their personal library.

Vervain and Charlene followed shortly behind Nima, exchanging confused looks.

“Something is wrong, then, Tati Nima?”

“Very.”

Chapter Text

Chimes made of driftwood, sea shells, and old brittle bones swayed in the breeze, suspended by braids of fraying rope dropping down from the eaves of the stone cottage. The delicate ringing soon became intermingled with the low roar of engines, the bitter scent of gasoline dancing in the damp night air.

 

The clan of vampires came to an abrupt halt. Dwayne and David leapt to the ground, nearly tossing their motorcycles aside, their bikes coming to rest upon the mossy glen. Paul stopped more cautiously, trying to keep his brother from worsening, or falling off. By this point, Marko’s small body was growing even more pale than their typical vampiric sheen, a ghostly shade of white. Pupils dilated, eyes staring blankly into the distance. His forehead covered in a thin layer of sweat. 

 

Paul killed the engine and turned his head over his shoulders to “Hey, we made it. We made it, bud.” 

 

He could feel Marko’s grip loosening around his waist. His brother's fragile body was hot, nearly burning. Vampires blood ran colder than humans, so feeling the heat emanating off his small frame was more than unnerving. “Marko?” 

 

The youngest vampire’s eyes began to roll back as his body went limp. He teetered at first, leaning slightly off the bike, then slumped to the ground with a thud. 

 

“Ah! Shit. ” David exclaimed, rushing to them, Dwayne at his side. 

 

Paul got off his bike and stared down at the scene. He ran his fingers through his tangled hair, clutching strands with such strength that it nearly ripped them from his scalp. He was an inch away from full blown panic. 

 

“Grab his feet.” David directed Dwayne, who obliged quickly.

 

“Paul.” David saw the dread building in his eyes. 

 

Paul. ” No response still. “Paul! Get your head out of your ass and help out. Grab his shoulders and carry him.”

 

“Fuck. Right! I-” Paul hefted the top half of his brother’s body and Dwayne carried the rest of the weight. They hurried up the porch steps where Charlene and Vervain were holding open the screen door for them. No time for warm welcomes or the typical greetings. Nima was just inside the landing, ready to mediate the chaos.

 

“Quick, get him downstairs.” Nima ushered the group in from the porch. The four boys poured into the small cottage. Their hearts racing, the conscious trio breathlessly trying to explain the situation, all talking over each other.

 

“Nima, I-” David began frantically but was interrupted.

 

“No need to explain, cheri .” She took David’s face in her hands delicately. “We were prepared.”

 

David watched as Charlene and Vervain assisted the boys in getting the group down to the basement where Ceryl and Adecyn were ready for them. The group disappeared down into the narrow stairwell. The main floor of the house was suddenly so still, so quiet. 

 

From deep within the cellar, Marko cried out in pain, a blood curdling sound of anguish that set David’s nerves on edge.

 

“Look at me. David. Look at me.” Nima grabbed his face firmly, forcefully turning his head towards her and away from the basement stairs. “ Tout bagay byen. All is well.” She knew his heart was breaking for his family.

 

She took her thumb and wiped away a tear from his cheek. “It is alright. No crying yet. Put on a brave face for your boys.” She patted his cheek gently before letting go.

 

He inhaled sharply. David rarely broke his composure. He made it his mission to maintain the facade, in front of everyone, in every situation, even the worst. But Nima… She was the closest thing to a mother he had ever known. If the curtain was to fall for anyone, it would be for her.

 

“Go. Be with them.” She gestured to the basement. He nodded solemnly and vanished into the stairwell. 

 

Nima stood alone in the usually full living room, hands on her chest, taking in the moment. A tall figure, with coily gray hair, emerged from the kitchen, supporting his weight with a wooden cane. Odissan, her elder brother, placed a slender, boney hand on her shoulder. A gesture of comfort. Without turning around, she placed her hand over his. 

 

“God and ancestors be with them.” She breathed deeply. 

 

“Let’s get them something to drink.”

Chapter Text


The stone walls of the basement felt oddly comforting to David. The air was still and musty, similar to the coolness inside the vampire’s cavernous lair. A warm orange glow flickered along the contours of the narrow space. Sconces lined the hall, carrying thick white pillar candles that seemed to burn without melting. Some sort of enchantment must have kept them from withering away.

He ducked beneath tapestries and drying herbs, stepping over baskets of dried flowers, carefully making his way down the winding corridor. It seemed to go on much farther than it should have, much bigger than the house above it could ever be. This was no basement, at least not by human standards. The echoes that found their way through the catacombs seemed like ghostly wailings from another realm.

He held one arm out in front of himself to clear the way of any loose cobwebs. His other arm seeking closeness to the wall. He let his fingers slide along the walls, partly for the sensation, partly out of security and fear of the unknown.

The hall suddenly widened into a well-lit gathering space, the floor lined with intricately woven rugs and vividly colored pillows. A chandelier of torches hung from the ceiling, acting as a hearth in the circular stone room. The air was filled with the assuasive scent of burning sage.

The pair of Hazeur sisters were sitting cross-legged on the floor in this space, knees touching, hands held together, eyes closed, voices low. Their chant was a steady hum in a foreign tongue. French, maybe? David could pick up a few common phrases here and there, from spending time with the coven but most of it was still lost to him.

The path ahead forked off in several directions around the room, dark tunnels that seemed to go on indefinitely. Even with his vampiric senses, it was hard to see where they led.

“Where-” David began, addressing the sisters.

“He’s in the back, second door on the right.” Charlene said softly, without lifting her head. She snapped her fingers and a line of candles along the nearest tunnel came to life sequentially, marking a clear path.

“We’re doing all we can for him.” Vervain chimed in, trying to provide more comfort than her sister’s curtness did. “Focusing our energy into his healing. It’ll help.” She explained.

“It’s good to see you David.” She added, opening her eyes and reaching out a hand towards him. She gave his wrist a gentle squeeze. “Sorry it’s not under better circumstances. You all should come around more often.”

He returned the gesture, taking her hand. “We’ll get together soon.”

Vervain smiled, letting his hand go and tilting her head back down. She closed her eyes and regained focus on the ritual.

 

- - -

 

The room in which Marko found himself lying was a sort of makeshift clinic. His body was propped up on a wooden table so that Ceryl could do what he needed to. On the walls were shelves full of medical equipment, jars of herbs, bottles of various powders. The collection included some items that were a complete mystery to him. An apothecary of sorts. Much more friendly than a doctor’s office. No unsettling scents of chemical cleaners, no tired eyes of overworked nursing stuff.

Ceryl had the same pretty russet skin tone that Nima had, spackled with a few dark freckles. Average height, shorter than David but not as petite as Marko. Soft curves and thin features, not quite to the point of being gangly. Both ears pierced, each bearing a turquoise gemstone stud. Around his delicate neck, he wore an irregularly shaped crystal tied up in a leather cord. His dark hair was bleached and dyed, so that his natural chestnut curls faded into a shock of cerulean blue, the vivacity of which may or may not have been aided by magic…

“Uncle Ceryl, can I help?” Pierre tugged at Ceryl’s long white sleeves. The kid was practically bouncing with energy.

“Not tonight, monchè. But you can watch, ok? Watch closely, one day you’ll be the one healing people.”

Dwayne put a hand on Pierre’s shoulder. He leaned down and spoke softly. “I bet you’ll even be better than your uncle one day.”

The young boy beamed. “You really think so?”

The dark haired vampire picked up the boy with ease and hoisted him up onto his shoulders. “Of course I do, kid.” Dwayne rested his hands onto the boy's knees to keep him from falling. “Now, let’s watch.”

Pierre rested his chin atop Dwayne’s head, arms around the vampire’s neck, and settled down. Dwayne had a way with children. Marko had once jokingly called him the baby-whisperer after soothing a nearly inconsolable toddler that had gotten separated from his parents at the boardwalk. The raven-haired vampire may have been quiet, reserved, perhaps even shy, when around most people. But Dwayne really came out of his shell with kids.

Adecyn was standing near the door, back against the wall, arms held laxly behind her back. Her deep sepia hair was buzzed short and smooth, no loose strands to fuss with. She was older than Ceryl by a few years, next in line to head the coven as the eldest child of the matriarch. She may not have been as charismatic as her brother, or as motherly as Nima. Not as fierce a warrior as her cousin Charlene, nor as gifted with herbal remedies as Vervain. But she was incredibly intelligent and she took her duties seriously. What was more important, was that she did her best to minimize her own glory, her own desires, her own notoriety, in order to put others first. It made her seem a bit of a wallflower: soft spoken, fading into the fray. But anyone who knew her well understood that she was keenly taking in everything around her, stowing away important information for later. Her mind was a veritable repository of knowledge.

David finally found his way into the crowded room, ducking in quietly and watching Ceryl work. He greeted Adecyn before joining the others.

“What did I miss?”

Adecyn leaned in towards David, her voice barely a whisper. “Just the formalities, a precursory healing spell to stop the pain.”

Ceryl smiled faintly as he made eye contact with the eldest vampire. “I was just explaining to everyone. It’s not blood poisoning, there was nothing wrong with the blood itself. The problem is with his body. He’s allergic to the proteins in this specific blood type. AB negative.”

“Blood allergies…? Caused all that?”

“Similar to human food allergies, vampires can go into shock. Though the body deals with it differently. No anaphylaxis or hives, but internal reactions can be extreme.”

“So this could happen again?”

“It could. But he’s got the scent now, you all should. You just need to be aware of it in the future. Make sure you recognize it so this doesn’t happen again. Luckily, it’s a pretty rare blood type. Only one in every hundred people or so. He could have gone his whole life without knowing, if fate had been kinder.”

“Good. What a pain it would have been to ask every human their blood type before killing them.” David scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“I know, what an inconvenience for you all-” Ceryl mocked back. He slid around and grabbed a small vial from the countertop and returned to Marko’s side.

“What is that?” David peered at the viscous brown solution clinging to the sides of the glass bottle.

“A tincture, courtesy of Nima. Blood Root, Lobelia, Blessed Thistle, Asarabacca... A few other things.”

“Will this cure him?”

Ceryl nodded enthusiastically. “It’s not a terribly common ailment for vampires. But, from everything I’ve read- Yes.”

“That sounds reassuring.” David replied, voice laden with sarcasm.

Ceryl shot him a scolding look. “It should do the trick. But-” he warned, “it really won’t seem like it at first.” He placed a hand beneath Marko’s neck to elevate it, before pressing the vial to his ashen lips. “Take this,” he said gently.

Marko had just enough strength to get the liquid down. He made a grotesque face at the bitter taste, but had not the energy to complain about it. It burned his throat all the way down. He propped himself up on his elbows, feeling sick to his stomach. “What… the hell… was in that…” He muttered, more to himself than to anyone else.

Ceryl turned his attention back to the group. “You all might want to take a step back.”

“Wait, why?” Paul protested.

“Just… Trust me. He’s got to purge the bad blood out of his sys-”

Before Ceryl could finish his statement, an ungodly sight unveiled itself before them. Marko leaned over the edge of the table and let loose a raging stream of semi-gelatinous blood from his mouth, with such force that it looked altogether impossible. A sea of scarlet liquid spilled forth across the floor, coating the stone in a red wash.

A collective groan of surprise, and later disgust, came from everyone else in the room, as they dodged splattering blood. The group was in a frenzied state. Marko’s violent heaving was so loud that they nearly had to scream to hear each other.

“Holy shit! It’s the friggin exorcist!!” Paul exclaimed, hands on either side of his face, standing still in utter morbid fixation on the red tide surging from Marko’s lips.

“Damn.” Dwayne cringed, covering Pierre’s eyes with his hands and turning the child away from the onslaught of bloody vomit.

“Shit, Ceryl. What the hell….” David stood in disbelief. “It just. Keeps. Coming.”

The group stood and watched. The situation had all the absurdity of a campy horror film.

The flow was beginning to have periods of relief. Marko was now sitting upright on the edge of the table, gripping the sides for support. He wiped his chin on his sleeve, coughing up a bit of congealed blood and spitting it out onto the floor. His breaths came ragged and harsh, but he could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

He was panting between dry heaves. “Guys….guys- I’m AB…” He paused to cough. “-intolerant!” He exclaimed jovially. Despite the trouble, he was always incredibly grateful to have some semblance of uniqueness. And right now, covered in blood, sweat, and saliva, he was feeling quite special.

His ridiculous attitude about the whole affair had everyone else in stitches. Laughter filled the room, gently at first, and then with full vigor as the fear that had gripped them all was gradually lifting.

Nima and Odissan joined them, bearing a tray of glasses and offering the drinks to their vampire guests. The dainty, round glasses were each filled to the brim with a thick glossy liquid the color of rubies. Blood. They could smell it instantly. The metallic, visceral scent. They accepted it graciously, enthusiastically thanking their hosts. It was a kind gesture, more accommodating than anyone else normally was to them.

Marko reached out his arm to grab a cup but his palm was swiftly swatted away by Ceryl.

“What gives? I’m really running on empty now.” Strings of foamy red saliva still clung to his lips.

“Can’t risk it. You need to give your body some time away from anything foreign.” Ceryl stated. “Hey, David, do you still have a stockpile of Max’s blood?”

“A few bottles back at the cave. Why?”

“That’s all he should be having for the next few days.”

“Days?!” Marko looked like a rag wrung out to dry.

Dwayne and Paul chortled at their compatriot’s despair.

“Don’t worry, bud, you’re… uh... not missing much.” Paul laughed and clinked glasses with Dwayne. Something about the blood they’d been served tasted off, though none of them could quite figure out what it was. They drank it slowly, trying desperately to put a name to the unique flavor, letting it coat their tongues for a moment before swallowing.

“Hey, Nima. Uh, whose blood?” Paul asked, trying to not sound like an ungrateful guest.

“Oh, monchè, not really a who.” She brushed a loose silver strand of hair from her face. “More of a what.”

“Ah, Mémé, don’t leave them guessing like that.” Charlene chimed in, entering the room with Vervain at her side. “We don’t exactly have a blood bank here. So we made do with what was available.”

“What-” David began, but paused, not sure he wanted to know the answer. “What is it?”

“Just ‘possum.” Nima grinned, shrugging. “Opossum blood.”

Dwayne choked down the last gulp, looking queasy. David nearly spat his back out but managed to make it look like he was only stifling a cough. Marko was laughing so hard that he was beginning to double over in pain, his abdomen muscles horribly sore from the purge.

Paul looked content, nodding in understanding. He flicked his tongue out to catch a drip of blood that was trailing down the rim of the glass. “Now I’ve tried everything.”

Chapter Text


VIII. Cold Comfort

 


The rain was holding off just enough to only feel a cold mist saturating the air. The ominous roar of thunder still present in the distance. The night sky remained shrouded in darkness, but dawn was waiting just below the horizon. Huddled underneath the cottage porch, the group was preparing to part ways. Exchanging hugs and well wishes.

 

Paul and Dwayne helped Marko stumble down the porch, with one of them on either side of their sickly brother, arms supporting his weight. David was silently fretting over the condition the bikes were in, hoisting them out of the mud and brushing off debris. He struggled with a broken branch that had gotten wedged in the tire spokes. They’d have to clean them properly tomorrow night.

 

Ceryl tagged along behind the four vampires, with Nima kissing his cheek on the way down the stairs. She pulled him close as he passed, whispering in his ear. “Don’t get into trouble.” 

 

He nodded at his mother, clasping her hand for a moment with a cheerful grin. “I’ll be back by morning.”

 

David turned to his brothers. “Take Marko back and get him started on some of Max’s blood.” He paused, watching Ceryl closely as the witch prepared to climb on the back of the David’s motorcycle. “We’ll get Marko’s bike from the pier and meet you there.”

 

- - -



Entering their home meant dodging the sharp coils of rusted chain-link fence that had been clipped free in the middle. Narrowly evading the crumbling cliffs. Shimmying between wooden planks that had been placed there as a barrier to entry by city officials, years before the boys laid claim to Hudson’s Bluff. 

 

But the clan had moved with ease, like a deer on a well-worn path, knowing where every foot should fall, every hand-hold gripped with natural routine. It was home for them. Navigating it was like muscle memory. Ceryl struggled more than he let show, but he still managed.

 

They climbed down the craggy outcropping, reaching the ground of the main cavern with a short jump. The entry corridor snaked down past rows of candelabras, vast ruins of the old hotel, and emptied out into a large hollow space. In the center was a makeshift bonfire pit, bearing the blackened crust of frequent use. 

 

 A lighter was pulled out of a pocket and the thick, melting candles sprung to life, providing a source of light. Though the vampires could see quite well despite the darkness. The gesture was more for Ceryl’s sake, and a habit borne out of a lingering nostalgia for humanity’s frailties. 


Around the center space of the cavern were a few tattered couches and arm chairs, salvaged from the wreckage. Dwayne sat on a tall leather chair, his boots propped up on a wooden crate. Across from him, Paul was lounging on the end of an ornately decorated victorian-era sofa, his legs crossed. Marko took up the rest of the couch, his body extended along it with his head resting on Paul’s leg. David and Ceryl had arrived shortly after them, mingling into the space.

 

“And how’s the patient doing?” Ceryl’s tone was mockingly serious. 

 

“Better. Thanks. Still feel like shit though.” 

 

“It’ll pass.” He let his fingers catch in the loose, sweat-soaked blonde curls, pressed the back of his hand against the smooth skin of Marko’s forehead. “His temperature is getting back to normal. Not as warm as before.” He ruffled the curls with a sweet smile, the way a caregiver looks down towards a child. He tilted his head upwards and directed his attention towards the others. “He’ll pull through. Give him a few days rest though, ok? No extra feeding except for his sire’s blood.” 

 

He paused, giving some thought to their normal activities around town. “And nothing too wild.” He winked, with a coquettish smirk, triggering a round of impish laughter from the group.

“Hey, David. Can I have a minute?” Ceryl’s countenance grew solemn. 

 

He nodded in response, with a curt but sincere “Sure.” He placed a hand on Ceryl’s back and guided him away from the group, towards the mouth of the cave. They could still glance over to see the other three talking jovially in the background.

 

“You heard the boss. You’re gonna be on bed rest this week.”

 

“I’ll be bored out of my mind.”

 

Their voices faded into the distance as Ceryl and David came to rest, leaning side by side against the far cavern wall. If the pair spoke discreetly, they were just barely out of earshot of the others. 

 

“This isn’t about Marko, is it?” David’s apprehension was nearly palpable, fearing the private conversation was to convey bad news.

 

“Oh, no. No. I really do think he’s going to be fine.” Ceryl waved his hand in dismissal of the idea. “This is…” He hesitated. “More big picture. Its-”

 

“Don’t tell me. The council again.” David rolled his eyes, pushing up off from the wall and pacing in front of the witch. 

 

The council. A commonly used moniker for the Southern California Council of Magic. A self-appointed group of powerful witches that had sprung up in the last century, dictating the rules for every supernatural group in their territory. And their territory was growing with each passing year. Encroaching up the coast further and further. Santa Carla had just recently been absorbed by them. It was a huge adjustment for every supernatural entity in the area. And an unwelcome one, at the least. 

 

If it wasn’t for the council’s strength and size, the vampires wouldn’t have put up with their oppressive bureaucracy. They were anarchists at heart. But a small clan, the four boys and Max, stood no chance against a group of this enormity. So far, the clan had tried to do as little as possible to appease them from a distance, barely tolerating their new leadership. Patience was wearing thin on both sides. It was a source of growing tension between Max and his boys. And their already strained relationship was in no shape to handle this new challenge.

 

Ceryl ran a hand through his curly locks, exhaling deeply. “Yeah.”

 

“What is it this time?” David groaned, still pacing. “We’ve kept to ourselves. Cleaned up after ourselves. We’ve checked all their little boxes.” 

 

“Not well enough, apparently. They’ve got eyes everywhere now, you know. Watching you, watching us. They’re bearing down on our coven too. You know Nima, she’s a tough old broad but we can all tell it's starting to get to her.” He tried to meet David’s eyes but the vampire was too caught up in his own anger. “Nima’s trying her best to vouch for you all, she fights to keep you out of this as much as she can. But she can’t keep defending you forever.” He paused.

 

“Our world is changing, David.”

 

Not mine .” He propelled the words from his mouth with all the intensity of a petulant child. 

 

“Look, you can deny it all you want but sooner or later reality is going to show up on your doorstep.” 

 

“And we’ll be ready to fight it.” 

 

“You know that’s not true. We both know you’d never risk their lives.” Ceryl gestured to the three boys crowded around the center space who were smiling and laughing with each other. 

 

David watched them, his sunless blue eyes studying their movements, their expressions. Three lives he felt entirely responsible for. Max was their sire, sure, but a good father figure? Far from it. Distant, harsh, self-involved. The boys had hardly any human blood relatives to speak of, and none that stood as a positive influence in their lives. David was more than willing to give up his own life to fight for his personal values, but he knew the others would be left in a cold and unforgiving world without him. There was a weight on his shoulders like no other, he had to take the path to maturity, the high road, as best he could. 

 

Most days he still felt like a lost child himself. But he didn’t have the luxury to dwell on his own lost youth.

 

Suddenly, his demeanor changed, turning to face Ceryl again. “So? What message do our supreme overlords have for us this time?”

 

Ceryl smiled cautiously. “Rules still apply. Keep a low profile, killings to a minimum. For now, it’s respect they seem to be after. They were berating Nima about your...attitude.  But, mostly, they want you to formally acknowledge them as your higher authority .”

 

Seriously ? Oh, piss off.” He brought a hand to his forehead. This was starting to get ridiculous. 

 

“I think that’s exactly the attitude they’re talking about.” Ceryl smiled at his companion, the intensity of the conversation finally lifting. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

 

“Wouldn’t know, never had one.”

 

“Which, a mother or a mouth?”

 

“A mother, idiot .” David let himself fall back against the cave wall beside Ceryl, hands in his jacket pockets, a slight smile forming on his lips.

 

“Good, because you definitely have a mouth on you.” Ceryl laughed to himself, gently nudging David’s shoulder with one arm. 

 

Eyebrows raised, David turned his body towards the witch boy, pressing his shoulder into Ceryl’s. “I know how to use it, too.” 

 

“Oh, don’t tease me.” Ceryl grinned and pushed him away.

 

In an instant, the vampire was pinning the smaller male’s body against the cave wall. David’s muscles were tense, his body in a predatory stance, threateningly dragging his teeth against the witch’s exposed collarbone.

 

Ceryl instinctively placed a hand on David’s hip, bare fingers captivated by the texture of the slippery black leather jacket. With their bodies this close, the air between them was pervaded with their mingling scents. In every breath, Ceryl took in the comforting medley: David smelled like warm bonfires and nicotine, like cigarettes and gasoline. Crisp notes of tanned leather, wrapped up in a sweet, heavy musk. It was the kind of scent that left you feeling intoxicated, seeking it out again and again and again, until it flooded your senses. 

 

David let his lips brush against the delicate skin of Ceryl’s neck, elongating fangs pressing gently on hot flesh, feeling the rush, rush, rush of the surging blood just beneath the pulsating veins.

 

A scintillating peal of lightning branched out across the deep violet sky and down into the ocean, like a match struck aflame in the darkness. In the mouth of the cavern, the flash nudged its way through the crevices, illuminating their faces for an instance, giving Ceryl the light he needed to see the intensity in David’s milky red eyes peering back at him. 

 

They’d all but forgotten about the storm raging outside. 

 

“Wait for it-” Paul’s voice echoed in the distance, apparently having seen the lightning as well.

“Boom.” Marko nearly whispered, under heavy eyelids. 

 

The crack of thunder nearly shook the rocks beneath their feet, eliciting a howling cheer from Paul, with Marko and Dwayne laughing in response. 

 

The whole thing seemed to reel David back into reality, his emotions sobering up quicker than he had expected. He pulled his body away from Ceryl’s, almost immediately missing the warmth. He scolded himself internally. This was too strong an alliance to risk because of something as unimportant as…as... whatever this is...

 

“I think it’s past your bedtime, anyways, creature of the night .” Ceryl’s soft laugh snapped David out of his thoughts.

 

The monstrous contortions of his face gradually smoothed back out to reveal the soft features underneath, forever entrapped in the innocence of youth. Another flash of lightning found the pair locking eyes under the bright white light. 

 

“You are a tease.” Ceryl grinned and loosened his stance, trying to sound less disappointed than he actually was. 

 

“And you’re never satisfied…” David quipped back, eyes trailing down to the cavern floor. “Come on, let me take you home.”

 

“No thanks. I’ll walk. I’m quite fond of walking into the breaking dawn.” A playful jab on the surface, but truth be told Ceryl knew that was a sore spot for David. The vampire had confided in him once that he still had an enduring attachment to sunrises. One of the few things he’d admit to missing about humanity. 

 

“It’s still raining. Won’t witches melt in the rain?” David grimaced, suddenly growing weary of this banter. 

 

Ceryl let out a hearty laugh. “I think you need to update your taste in film, darling. The Wizard of Oz didn’t get it right forty years ago, and it’s not true now either.”  

 

David turned away stiffly, looking a bit taken aback after having thought his reference was clever. It was true that he hadn’t really kept current on pop culture, or most movies for that matter. Theatres had once enthralled him as a child, but he felt as though they were a waste of time and money nowadays. Filled mostly with crying children in the front rows, chatty adults in the middle talking and eating so loudly that the film was barely audible. Teens in the back sucking face relentlessly. And all those rapid heartbeats were deafening. 

 

Dwayne was ambivalent about it, seeming to prefer open air and concerts. Marko and Paul on the other hand were the definition of movie buffs. Pop culture enthusiasts. They had once begged David to let them get a TV set and bring it down into the cave. But he had denied them, citing practicality as the reason. It would have been too difficult to run electricity down into the cavern, he told them. Which was indeed true. They had a battery powered boombox and that would have to suffice. 

 

Ceryl took a few steps deeper into the cave to say his goodbyes to the rest of the clan. “Feel better, Marko!” He hollered, directing his voice into the main gathering space so the others could hear him better. “ ‘Night, boys!” 

 

“See ya, Ceryl.” “Later, bud.” “Thanks for everything.” The trio answered him all at once, their voices melding together as they wished him well on his way back home. 

 

“Let me walk you out at least.” David placed a hand loosely on Ceryl’s shoulder as they climbed up and out the mouth of the cave to say their farewells.

 

- - -

 

A few minutes later, David returned alone, black jacket damp and slick from the rain.

 

 He walked back in, just in time to find three pairs of eyes watching him intently, coy grins laid bare on his three brothers’ faces. 

 

“And just what are you all so smug about?” His voice was steady, aloof. He knew what they were thinking. 

 

Their answer came in the form of rowdy laughter, and a few lewd gestures. Ear to ear grins all around.

 

David maintained his cool composure as he leaned down to blow out the candles they had lit for Ceryl.

 

“Fuck you all, very much.” He said with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, continuing his solitary march towards their inner den, deeper within the cavern where no light could find them. “I’m going to bed.”

 

He paused for a moment. “Marko…? You still alive?” 

 

“I’m good.” He called back, with a shaky thumbs up gesture to emphasize his point. 

 

 “Goodnight.” And with that, David slipped away into the darkness. 

 

Dwayne stood up to join his elder brother, but first turned back towards the others, lowering his voice so that only they could hear. “I give it a year. Until they’re boning.“

 

“Less, at this rate.” Marko grinned.

 

“Don’t let David hear you say so.” Paul snorted and glanced off towards the entrance to their den as Dwayne ambled on in that direction. 

 

Paul stretched, let out a yawn. He turned his attention towards Marko, who was still resting his head in Paul’s lap, eyes mostly closed, body sprawled out across the couch. 

 

“Come on, bud, you ready to get some sleep?” Paul patted him on the shoulder.

 

“Yeah, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. But I don’t think I can hang up in the den tonight. My body feels like… like I got hit by a truck. Completely useless.” He shrugged weakly. “I’d probably fall down on my ass halfway through the night.”

 

“Uhh… Okay, I got an idea. One sec.” Paul slid off the couch, placing Marko’s head down on a pile of blankets as he did so.  He grabbed one end of the tattered couch and began dragging it noisily as it scuffed across the rocky floor, with Marko laying listlessly atop it. He pulled it deeper into the cavern until it was just at the door of their den, far enough from the mouth of the cave to ensure no sunlight would disturb their slumber. 

 

“Aw, you’re the best, dude.” 

 

Paul smiled modestly, and patted the arm of the couch. “Night, bud.”

 

Marko opened his mouth to speak, but lost his nerve, feeling rather childish. He flipped over onto his side, feeling how cold, and how empty the grandiose antique couch seemed without his best friend there beside him. His nimble fingers found a threadbare patch on the upholstery and he silently toyed with the fabric.

 

“Hey, uh, Paul…?”

 

“What’s up, bud?” Paul turned back to face him. 

 

Marko hesitated, avoiding his gaze. His eyes were keenly fixated on the thread caught between his nails. “I really don’t want to be alone tonight.”

 

He wished desperately he could be unapologetic about it, confident and stoic like David always seemed to be, instead of awash with anxiety. He wanted to take it back. As soon as the words left his mouth he wanted to pull them back in. 

 

It’s stupid. What a lame thing to say. He kept his eyes down, focusing on the intricately woven threads. They’re always going to treat me like the baby and who could blame them. 

 

Then he felt the shadow of the other vampire fall upon his figure. Felt the shifting weight settling onto the couch, cushions sinking and springs creaking. He felt Paul slide in beside him.  He tugged Marko’s limp body up so that his head was resting on Paul’s chest.

 

In a voice soft as a whisper, the tender trills of a lullaby formed in the cool cavern air. Paul’s lips moved fluidly, lingering on every note. Marko had always thought Paul had a gift for singing. 

 

“Dites-moi, pourquoi, la vie est belle.

Dites-moi, pourquoi, la vie est gaie.

Dites-moi, pourquoi, Chere Mlle-

Est-ce que, parce que, vous m’aimez?”

 

“What does it mean?” Marko asked in a low voice, laden with drowsiness.

 

“I dunno, actually. It’s French, I think. Nima would know.” He shuffled his weight around trying to settle in for sleep. “My great grandma always sang it to me when I was a kid. She would sing it when I was sick. When she was taking care of me. Guess it just stuck with me.”

 

“It's nice…” Marko was barely holding onto consciousness. His breathing slowed to a steady rhythm, aching muscles instantly loosening. 

 

Paul closed his eyes, one arm folded behind his head. He listened to the low, rumbling snore that had started coming from Marko. 

 

Paul could have easily recited the translated lyrics, he knew them just as well in English from his childhood. 

 

But , he thought, that’s for another time.