The one day I take off from training with Dad just had to be the day when I get ambushed
by a bunch of vampires. I had been so looking forward to spending the day lying in my bed
catching up on my reading, because this week’s training had resulted in more than a few
injuries that hurt even with my powerful half-vampire body. Even though Dad was twice
my age, he really knew how and where to hit hard when he wanted, apparently under the
assumption that I could handle it due to my body being technically stronger than his.
In any case, I had been looking forward to resting after church today and had even taken a
shortcut through the back alleyways of Greensboro, the town I lived in, in order to get back
to my apartment faster. Of course, I’d been sticking to back alleyways a lot recently, ever
since I became a half-vampire, because they were usually darker than the main streets,
which meant I didn’t have to risk exposing myself to the sun and burning my skin or
outright dying. I still didn’t know exactly how much direct sunlight I could take, being a
half-vampire and all, but I knew that direct sunlight hurt and I wanted to avoid it as much as
Prior to my transformation, I used to avoid back alleys and dark places because I didn’t
want to get mugged or worse by random street thugs. After my transformation, however, I
felt a lot safer traveling these places during the day. I’d been accosted a few times by idiots
who thought I was easy pickings because I was a thin young woman in her twenties, but
they usually learned their mistake when I would send them flying with a spell or leave them
lying on the ground with a well-placed kick. Often times I just needed to flash my fangs or
lift my sunglasses just high enough for them to see my red eyes and they would run away
screaming about demons. I guess criminals really are a cowardly, superstitious lot after all.
But all this scaring normal human criminals must have made me complacent, because I
should have noticed the pale-skinned, dark clothes-wearing men who followed me from
church that afternoon. Unfortunately, all I could think about at the time was Pastor Jones’—
who was the pastor at my church—sermon on repentance and how great my dark apartment
was going to be after I got home. I was also distracted by my blood thirst due to not having
drank any blood since breakfast, which was not as bad as it used to be but still crept up on
me every now and then. Kind of like my craving for chocolate.
So when I found myself trapped in an alleyway, with two vampires behind me and two
vampires before me, I cursed myself for not noticing. Dad had taught me the importance of
situational awareness and I had gotten better at it than when I was just a normal human, but
my life had been so quiet for the past month or so that I had let my skills lapse.
I didn’t know who these vampires worked for. Like all vampires, they were pale-skinned,
with blood red eyes and fangs which were as sharp as knives. These ones were skinnier than
some I’d seen, but I knew that physical appearance meant little when dealing with vampires,
because most vampires had unnatural physical strength that was not reflected by the size of
their muscles. They looked like Newborns to me, the lowest rank in the Hierarchy, but even
Newborns could be a threat if you weren’t careful.
I normally wouldn’t be so worried about killing them, but unfortunately I didn’t bring my
silver sword, Domination, with me today, because when Pastor Jones talks about wielding
the ‘sword of God,’ I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an invitation to bring your sword to church.
It was possible to kill vampires without silver, but I still wasn’t as good at magic as I was at
swordplay, which meant my chances of killing these goons and getting out of here alive
Nonetheless, I summoned two fireballs in my hands and looked up and down the alley.
The vampires had not moved an inch since they blocked off my path, but that meant little
because vampires could move very quickly when they wanted to.
“All right,” I said, speaking in an effort to loosen my nerves, “who do you guys work for?
Are you from the Vampire Council? Is the Lamb doctrine no longer in effect and am I fair
game now or something?”
It made sense if they were from the Council. It had been well over a month since Lucius—
a vampire I knew who was more handsome than any vampire had a right to be—had
invoked something called the ‘Lamb doctrine,’ which basically meant he had been arrested
by the Order of Vampires in my place. I still didn’t know what Lucius’ current status was,
but I had been told that I would be safe from the Vampire Council for at least a month while
Lucius was being tried for my crimes. That didn’t mean that these guys were from the
Council, of course, but it would make sense if they were.
One of the vampires stepped forward. He was basically identical to the other three, except
with curlier hair and jagged claws. “We do not work for the Council, half-vampire. We have
come from someone else, who is aware of your power and wishes to make you an offer.”
“An offer?” I said. “What kind of offer are we talking about here?”
“An offer to join our master,” said the vampire. “Our master is seeking to increase his own
power and he wishes to have the power of a half-vampire on his side in order to do that.
Being a half-vampire means you’re quite unique.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, “but I’m not particularly interested in working for your ‘master,’
especially without knowing who he is.”
“Our master gave us strict orders to keep his identity secret from you,” said the vampire,
“at least until you agree to meet him.”
“Sorry, but I’m not one for blind dates,” I said. “Go back and tell your master that I’m
waiting for the guy God has prepared for me, which probably isn’t a vampire.”
The vampire shrugged. “Our master did not say you would have any say in the matter. If
you refuse to come with us voluntarily, then we will have to force you to come with us.”
“Straight to the point,” I said. “Well, at least I don’t have to guess your intentions.”
The curly-haired vampire gestured at me. Its fellow vampires rushed toward me from
either side, but I immediately hurled my fireballs in both directions. Unfortunately, the
vampires dodged my fireballs easily, but I summoned more fireballs and kept shooting them
both ways. But aim was off, because I couldn’t aim in two directions at once, and so I ended
up hitting everything but the vampires.
So I cut off the fireballs and instead summoned an energy barrier around my body, just
like Dad taught me. The barrier blocked the slashing claws of the vampires, who looked
confused at the sudden appearance of this strange barrier I had summoned. But I then thrust
my arms out to my sides, causing the barrier to expand and smash against the vampires,
sending them flying everywhere.
I shut off the barrier and turned to run away, but then the vampires recovered from the
attack and flew back toward me on their wings. They landed around me and started to slash
and stab at me, forcing me to dodge their attacks as best as I could. I ducked and fired a
fireball into the face of the vampire directly in front of me, causing it to screech in pain and
stagger away from me, but then another vampire slammed its shoulder into me and I fell
onto the ground.
One of the vampires tried to stomp its boot on my face, but I rolled out of the way in the
nick of time and got to my feet a few feet away. I raised my hand to throw another fireball,
but then two cold hands wrapped around my wrists and jerked my arms backward. I looked
over my shoulder in surprise and saw the curly-haired vampire who had been speaking to
me standing there, his fingers tightly clinging to my wrists.
“You’re a quick one, half-vampire,” said the curly-haired vampire, “but our master
wouldn’t be happy if you escaped us.”
The curly-haired vampire slammed his head into the back of mine. It was a harsh blow,
much harsher than I expected, and I would have fallen onto the ground if the curly-haired
vampire hadn’t been holding me up. Then he twisted my arms behind my back and slammed
me onto the street, causing me to cry out in pain. The rest of his vampire friends soon
surrounded us, including the one I had thrown a fireball at, whose face was still smoking,
though it didn’t seem bothered by that.
“Now, we’re going to knock you out to make you easier to take back to the master,” said
the curly-haired vampire. “We’ll try to make sure it doesn’t hurt, but we can’t promise
I struggled against the curly-haired vampire, but he had me in a very awkward position. I
couldn’t use magic, because the pain in my twisted arms made me unable to concentrate. I
looked up to see one of the vampires pulling back its boot, probably to kick me in the face,
which would definitely knock me out and probably break my nose and some teeth at the
Right before the vampire could kick me, however, his head suddenly went flying off his
shoulders. The vampire’s body collapsed, and as it did so, I thought I saw a man wielding an
ax before he suddenly vanished, though that might have just been my imagination.
“What was that?” said the curly-haired vampire, fear entering his voice for the first time.
“Who did that?”
“I don’t know,” said another vampire, looking around uncertainly. “I think I saw a human,
A wooden stake suddenly burst through the vampire’s chest, sending black blood flying
everywhere. The vampire screeched in pain before its head also went flying off, its body
collapsing at the same time. This time, I was sure that I had seen a man wielding an ax
standing behind that vampire, though he disappeared too fast for me to make out any
But I was never one to question my look. I felt the curly-haired vampire’s grip on my
wrists loosen, so I summoned a fireball in my right hand, which burned the curly-haired
vampire hands. It hissed in pain and let go, but then I kicked it in the gut, sending the curlyhaired
staggering backwards. I rolled over onto my back and held up my hand to shoot
another fireball, but to my surprise, the vampires were not paying attention to me. They
were instead retreating, looking this way and that as if trying to find a ghost.
“Where are you, human?” said the curly-haired vampire, his head whipping around wildly.
A deep chuckle came from seemingly everywhere at once. “A vamp demanding that I
show myself? Please. You just don’t like the fact that I’m using your own ambush
techniques against you. Not so fun when the hunter becomes the hunted, now is it?”
Without warning, another vampire’s head flew off its shoulders. The remaining three
vampires all jumped when their friend lost his head, staring at his corpse as it fell onto the
street with a dull thunk.
“How are you doing this, human?” said the curly-haired vampire, panic now obvious in his
voice. “Stop it. It’s—”
“Scary?” came the voice again, masculine and amused. “Frightening? Anxiety-inducing?
Well, now you know how all your victims have ever felt. Savor it, because you won’t live
long enough to enjoy it.”
Another vampire’s head went flying off. The curly-haired vampire fired a strange dark
energy blast at the spot behind his friend, but it missed and only hit the street, leaving a
small crater where it landed.
A second later, the other surviving vampire’s hood was suddenly ripped off its head and
tossed to the ground. The vampire screamed in pain, clutching its now-burning face that was
exposed to the afternoon sun. But its scream was abruptly cut off when an ax appeared out
of nowhere and sliced cleanly through its neck. Unlike the other vampires, this one simply
collapsed to the street without further drama.
That left only the curly-haired vampire, who no longer looked as confident as he had even
a moment ago. He was whipping his head every which way, rotating on the spot, looking
desperately for the guy who was killing all of his friends. Me, I stayed where I was, because
I figured it probably wouldn’t be wise to be standing upright when there was a crazy guy
swinging an ax everywhere.
“Stop hiding,” said the curly-haired vampire, his voice stricken with panic. “Fight me, you
pathetic human, fight me!”
A dark laughter echoed through the alley. “’Fight me, fight me!’ You sound like my niece,
but my niece at least has the excuse of being a five-year-old girl. What’s your excuse? Did
your master steal your balls when he converted you? If not, I think I know what I’ll cut off
That must have been enough, because the curly-haired vampire turned and ran away. He
was making his way to the shadows behind a dumpster, probably intending to escape
through the Shadow Way, but then I heard a whistling sound and the curly-haired vampire
tripped and fell on his face. He tried to scramble back to his feet, but then he suddenly fell
back down as if someone was standing on him.
As it turned out, someone was standing on him. In the next instant, a man appeared on top
of the Newborn, pinning him to the ground with one of his boots. He wore long, red robes
and carried a large silver ax at his side. His hair was long and brown, but I couldn’t see his
face because his back was to me. His body was clearly muscular, though. I mean, it had to
be, otherwise how would he be able to carry around such a huge ax with one hand?
“A sorcerer?” said the curly-haired vampire in fear. “What are you doing here?”
“I prefer the term ‘vampire hunter,’” said the sorcerer, whose voice was exactly the same
as that voice which had been mocking the vampires during the entire fight. “And right now,
I have a vampire to hunt. Namely, you.”
The sorcerer raised his ax above his head, but suddenly the curly-haired vampire held up a
hand and a dark energy blast flew out of his palm. The sorcerer jumped backwards, but that
freed the curly-haired vampire, which immediately got up and rushed toward the dumpster’s
“He’s getting away!” I shouted.
The sorcerer, however, was already on it. He drew a knife from his belt and hurled it at the
curly-haired vampire. The silver knife nailed the curly-haired vampire directly between the
shoulder blades, causing it to scream in pain, but in the next moment it disappeared into the
Shadow Way and we saw it no more.
“Damn it,” said the sorcerer, lowering his hand and staring at the dumpster with a mixture
of annoyance and disappointment. “That was my favorite knife. Now I’ll never get it back.”
Personally, I thought that the fact that a dangerous vampire just got away was more
noteworthy than the fact that this guy lost one of his favorite weapons, but I didn’t say that
aloud. I just got to my feet, dusting off my jeans and jacket and checking myself to make
sure I was okay. Aside from a few scrapes and bumps, I seemed fine, though that made
sense, because I didn’t do a whole lot of actual fighting. At least, nothing on the same level
as this sorcerer guy anyway.
“Thanks for saving me,” I said, looking at the sorcerer. “I thought I was a goner there.”
The sorcerer turned around, and my jaw fell open despite myself. He was beautiful. I
didn’t know how else to put it. He had the face of a model, with high cheekbones,
penetrating black eyes, and a well-defined jawline. His long hair just added to his
handsomeness. That it was messy from all of the fighting he did just added to his
attractiveness, in my opinion. It helped that his chest was also pretty big. As I suspected, he
must have hit the gym a lot.
“You’re welcome,” said the sorcerer with a bow. “I despise vampires, especially vampires
that attack pretty young women like yourself. But don’t feel the need to thank me. I was just
doing my job.”
“Uh huh,” I said, nodding. My eyes couldn’t stop drifting to his silver ax. My vampire side
was sending my brain warning signs about it, while my human side told me to calm down
and not freak out.
Despite that, the sorcerer must have noticed what I was looking at, because he said, “Like
my ax? I’ll let you hold it if you want, though I think a girl as petite as you would probably
have difficulty holding it up.”
I shook my head and looked the sorcerer in the eyes. “Oh, no, it’s fine. I was just … I
don’t see people walking around with big silver axes like that all the time.”
The sorcerer shrugged. “Most vampire hunters prefer swords or knives due to their
lightweight nature, but I’ve always preferred my ax. Once you master the weapon, it is
actually even more effective at beheading vamps than a sword is. Combine it with magic
and you’ve got a terrifying killing technique that would make even a Vampire Lord
“So that was magic you did earlier?” I said. “The invisibility?”
“Correct,” said the sorcerer, nodding. “Invisibility is a difficult magic to master, but like
the ax, once you learn how to do it, it becomes indispensable for dealing with vamps.
Vamps tend to have better senses than humans, but they still rely on their sight more than
the others and never expect humans to use magic to hide ourselves like that. That’s why all
those vamps were so scared, because they weren’t used to dealing with a sorcerer who can
I didn’t tell him that I had been scared myself. Until I actually saw him, I thought he might
be some other vampire, maybe from the Order, who was taking out those other guys just to
get at me. Maybe that was paranoid, but given how I still didn’t know the full extent of
vampire magic, I felt it was a justifiable fear. I relaxed a bit now, though, knowing that he
was just a sorcerer and therefore a human who probably had nothing to do with the Vampire
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I can summon fireballs and energy barriers, but my magical
skills aren’t nearly as advanced as yours.”
“Comes with experience,” said the sorcerer. He snapped his fingers. “Oh, excuse me, I
haven’t introduced myself yet. Batholomew Reynolds, vampire hunter, at your service,
though you can just call me Bart for short.”
“Bart,” I said, nodding. “Well, I’m—”
“Tara Lee,” Bart interrupted. “Daughter of Richard Lee, the famous Hunter, correct?”
“How did you know?” I said in surprise. “Have you been stalking me?”
And then I thought, Would I be upset if a sorcerer as handsome as him was stalking me?
“Not exactly,” said Bart, shaking his head. “The Vampire Hunters Guild keeps up-to-date
information on all members, retired and active. I simply looked up the Hunter’s file and
found a picture of you, though I think it must have been from a few years ago because you
look slightly older than you did back then.”
I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that Bart hadn’t actually been stalking me, but
aloud I said, “Wait, what Vampire Hunters Guild? I’ve never heard of it.”
Bart frowned, as if wondering if I was joking or not. “The Vampire Hunters Guild is the
sole vampire hunting organization among the sorcerers. Every vampire hunter is a member
of it, though you don’t have to join it if you don’t want to. Still, there are a lot of benefits for
joining, which is why pretty much everyone is a member. Your dad was a well-known
member back in his youth. Did he never tell you?”
There were a lot of things Dad never told me about, at least in regards to the sorcerer
community and his time within it. But aloud, I said, “No, he never did. In fact, I didn’t know
magic even existed until about a month ago. Dad never saw any reason to tell me about it.”
“He didn’t?” said Bart. “Interesting. I heard that the Hunter had left the sorcerer
community, but I thought that was just a rumor. Perhaps there’s more truth to it than I
Although Bart didn’t seem like a bad guy, I realized that I didn’t actually know him or
know if he was even really a vampire hunter. He was definitely a sorcerer, but that didn’t
mean he was friendly or a good guy. I had to be careful with what I told him, especially
given my nature as a half-vampire. Dad made it clear that sorcerers didn’t like half-vampires
anymore than vampires did, so I needed to be careful that I didn’t reveal my nature to him
and make Bart decide to put that ax of his in my neck.
“So how long have you been following me?” I said. “And why did you save me?”
“I haven’t been following you very long,” said Bart. “I followed you to church and then I
followed you here. I intended to reveal myself in your apartment, where we would have
some privacy, but when those vamps attacked, I decided to do what I did best and kill the
bastards. I apologize if I frightened you. It wasn’t my intention.”
“No, it’s fine,” I said, waving my hands. “I appreciate that you save me, but, um, why were
you following me in the first place? What made you want to look for me?”
“I need to see your father,” said Bart. He rested his hand on the hilt of his ax, though it
seemed more like a habit than a sign that he was going to draw it again. “There’s been some
dangerous developments in the sorcerer community and I need his help.”
“What kind of developments are we talking about?” I said. “And why are they
Bart looked away for a moment, as if uncomfortable. “I don’t feel comfortable discussing
them out here, where someone might eavesdrop on us. Best to discuss this in private with
your dad, especially as it concerns him. He will have the context necessary to understand
I frowned. Bart seemed to be telling the truth, as far as I could tell. Something bad had
happened in the sorcerer community and he felt like he needed Dad’s help dealing with it. I
couldn’t help but wonder what this problem was, but I didn’t think I would be able to
convince Bart to tell me what it was ahead of time.
“I’m not sure,” I said, rubbing the spot on my neck where I had been bitten what seemed
like a lifetime ago now. “Dad doesn’t really have much to do with the sorcerer community
anymore, so he might not be interested in helping. And besides, while I’m thankful for your
help just now, I still don’t know you well enough to—”
“I know your secret.”
I froze. “What?”
“Your secret,” Bart said. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said with a gulp. “I have no secrets. I mean,
not any secrets that most people don’t have—”
“Don’t lie to me,” said Bart. He pointed at me. “You’re a half-vampire. I overheard those
vamps call you that and you didn’t deny it.”
My eyes widened. I considered running away, but after seeing Bart take out all those
vampires like they were nothing, I didn’t think I would be able to get very far before he
caught me. “All right. I’m a half-vampire, but please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to die.”
“Oh, I won’t tell anyone,” Bart said, “on the condition that you take me directly to the
Hunter so I can talk with him about what’s been happening in the sorcerer community.”
“Are you blackmailing me?”
“Of course,” said Bart. “Do you have a problem with that?”
I bit my lower lip. I was about to say yes, but then I realized that I was actually impressed
with Bart’s blunt honesty. That was a pretty rare thing to find in most people today and it
served only to make him even more attractive to me, maybe even outright sexy. There was
no way I could honestly say I was bothered by that.
So I slowly said, “No, I don’t. But I’m surprised you haven’t killed me already like you
did to those other guys.”
“I need you,” said Bart simply. “Besides, the daughter of the legendary Hunter couldn’t be
evil, even if she was turned into a half-vampire.”
I could tell that Bart, despite his bluntness, had other reasons for sparing me, but I chose
not to say that aloud. “Well, then I guess it’s time for us to leave.”
“Great,” said Bart with a winning smile. “We’re going to the Hunter’s house. Tell me
where it is and we can head there without delay.”
I offered to go to my apartment and get my car so we could drive to Dad’s house, but Bart
rejected the offer.
“We don’t need a car to get to the Hunter’s house,” said Bart, shaking his head. “Cars are
“Excuse me?” I said. “Cars are about the only way you can get around in Texas, especially
in the hill country. Do you sorcerers have a more efficient way to travel?”
“Yes,” said Bart, nodding. “Let me show it to you.”
“Is it the Shadow Way?” I said before Bart could do anything. I glanced at the shadows
behind the dumpster. “We’re not going through there, are we?”
“Of course not,” said Bart, shaking his head. “Sorcerers don’t use the Shadow Way. The
Shadow Way has a corrupting influence on humans who travel along it. Even sorcerers who
cast spells to protect them from the Shadow Way’s corruption rarely linger longer than they
have to. Besides, I don’t want to deal with the Strangers.”
“Then how are we going to get to Dad’s house quickly?” I said.
“Teleportation,” said Bart. “Hasn’t the Hunter taught you about that yet?”
I shook my head, slightly embarrassed. “No. Like I said, I’ve only known about magic for
about a month, so my understanding of it is still really basic.”
Bart looked at me in surprise. “Teleportation isn’t very advanced magic. It’s actually the
first spell you learn as a Journeyman. Are you telling me that you aren’t even a Journeyman
I knew what Bart was talking about. All sorcerers followed a path known as the Six Steps,
a traditional path designed to help sorcerers to advance in their magical skills. The first Step
was Apprentice, while the sixth and final Step was Master Sorcerer. From what I
understood, I was an Apprentice, though Dad thought I would probably reach the
Journeyman Step, the Second Step, by the end of the summer at the rate I was learning.
“I’m an Apprentice,” I said with a shrug. “Like I said, I just started. I’m not going to be a
Journeyman for a while. What Step are you on, by the way?”
“High Sorcerer,” said Bart. “That’s the Fourth Step, above Acolyte, which is above
Journeyman. Still, I don’t believe it. The adult daughter of the famous Hunter is still an
Normally, I would have been annoyed at someone talking to me like that, but Bart was so
good-looking that I was willing to let it slide for now. Besides, I couldn’t help but feel a bit
embarrassed about it myself. Dad told me that most sorcerers seriously started the Steps
when they turn sixteen, but I didn’t start until I was twenty-four. I would still learn and
grow, Dad always told me, but it would take a little bit longer than most because my
education had been so delayed. I had hoped that being half-vampire might accelerate my
learning a bit more, but if anything, it seemed to retard my growth, perhaps because my
vampire side wasn’t as magically adept as my human side.
“Can we get going already?” I said. “You wanted to see Dad, right? So let’s go and see
“Okay,” said Bart, “but first, let me prepare the teleportation ritual.”
Bart pulled a bag out of his pocket and, opening it, began rotating in a circle, pouring a
thin line of shiny blue dust around him in a vague circle.
“What’s that stuff?” I said, looking at the blue dust, some of which had been blown on my
clothing thanks to the soft breeze. “Glitter?”
“It’s not glitter,” said Bart as he finished pouring the dust. He closed the bag up and
stuffed it back into his pocket before turning to face me again, his arms folded in front of his
chest. “It’s teleportation dust.”
“Teleportation dust?” I said. “I don’t suppose that means it can teleport people, does it?”
Bart looked annoyed at my lame attempt at a joke, but he said, “Yes, it does teleport
people, though not by itself. First, you need to create a circle around yourself like I did and
then cast a teleportation spell on the dust itself. Then the dust will take you to wherever you
need to go. Simple as that.”
“If you can already cast a teleportation spell, then why don’t you just do that instead of
messing with this dust?” I said, gesturing at the circle around him.
“Because teleportation spells by themselves are incredibly dangerous,” said Bart. “Done
wrong, a teleportation spell can actually kill its user by teleporting their body parts all over
the place, or worse, teleporting them inside out. It is possible to teleport using a spell by
itself safely, but only Master Sorcerers can do that, and even then, it’s still dangerous. For
the rest of us, we need this dust to protect us from its negative effects.”
I couldn’t help but imagine what I would look like if I tried to cast a teleportation spell and
ended up teleporting each part of my body to a different place. It was a disgusting mental
image, one I was more than happy to put aside in order to focus on something else.
“All right,” I said, “what do we do now?”
“Just step into the circle with me and hold my hand,” said Bart. He stepped back to make
some room for me in the circle. “Both of us need to be inside the circle in order for the spell
to work. Otherwise, I’ll teleport all by myself and you’ll be left here.”
I hesitated about walking into the circle with a guy I barely knew, but then I remembered
that Bart knew my secret and was more than willing to tell everyone about it if I refused to
go along with him. Besides, Bart was kind of cute. Not as handsome as Lucius, but
definitely attractive. A part of me was hungry to bite his neck, but I ignored my blood thirst
and stepped into the circle beside him.
“All right,” said Bart. “We need to make sure that all of our limbs are in the circle,
otherwise we won’t teleport to the Hunter’s house whole.”
“Keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times, eh?” I said.
Bart looked at me with a blank expression. “What? Was that a reference?”
“Yeah,” I said. “To what people who work on roller coasters usually say to people using
Bart frowned. “Roller coasters … those are the big metal things that Powerless ride for
“You mean you’ve never been on a roller coaster before?”
“I’m a sorcerer,” said Bart, looking away from me. “I was born and raised by sorcerer
parents in the sorcerer community. Excuse me if I happen to be unfamiliar with the strange
death traps that Powerless use to amuse themselves.”
I had completely forgotten that sorcerers lived apart from the rest of humanity with their
own separate communities. Dad had explained that sorcerers remained separate from the
rest of humanity in order to fight vampires more effectively, but I’d had so little contact
with the wider sorcerer community since discovering my heritage and becoming a halfvampire
that I had forgotten that. It didn’t help that Dad was the only sorcerer I had any
regular contact with, and he was not an ordinary sorcerer due to the fact that he had chosen
to live among Powerless humans. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure I hadn’t met any
sorcerers since becoming a half-vampire, which didn’t help me understand the sorcerer
community any better.
Bart opened his hand. “Take my hand. We’ll be safer if we hold hands, less likely to be
separated during the teleportation process.”
“Is that common?”
“No, but teleportation spells can go wrong even if you’re careful,” said Bart. “Better to be
safe than sorry.”
I took Bart’s hand, which was a lot warmer than mine. His hand suddenly closed around
mine in an unexpectedly tight grip.
“All right,” said Bart. “It looks like we’re all set, so here we go.”
Bart pointed a finger at the dust. A thin stream of blue light shot out of his finger and
struck the dust, immediately making the dust start to glow the same shade of blue as the
light. I had to cover my eyes with my other hand to keep my vision from being damaged,
while Bart just stood relaxed like he did this every day, which was very possible, given who
A bright flash of blue light erupted around us. I hissed in surprise and closed my eyes
tightly, but Bart didn’t make any sound at all. The bright light was almost enough to make
me let go of him, but I felt Bart’s grip tighten even more on my hand and he even pulled me
slightly closer to him as if trying to make sure I didn’t fall away.
But the bright flash lasted less than a second. In the next instant, the light faded away,
allowing me to open my eyes and see where we were.
We stood in front of the parsonage, Dad’s house. There was no mistaking the small
bungalow for anything other than the house of my dad. His red truck was even parked in the
driveway. All my worries about Bart teleporting me somewhere else immediately vanished,
though I let go of his hand anyway and stepped away from him to get out of his personal
“So this is the Hunter’s house,” said Bart, looking at Dad’s bungalow with a slightly
puzzled look. “I thought it would be bigger.”
“The church Dad pastors isn’t very big,” I said with a shrug. “The parsonage is about all
“Church?” Bart whipped his head toward me, a puzzled and alarmed look on his face.
“Did you just say church?”
“I … did,” I said, eying Bart carefully. “Why?”
“The Hunter goes to a church,” said Bart. “Is that what you said?”
“I said Dad pastors the church,” I said, “and he has ever since he retired from vampire
Bart looked at the parsonage again, an ill expression on his face. “The Hunter not merely
attends a Christian church, but is also its pastor? I thought all the rumors about the Hunter
having converted to the Powerless religion were false, but if you are correct, then they’re
not merely true, but actually understating the horror of what has happened to the Hunter.”
“What are you so worried about?” I said. “Dad’s okay. He can still use magic and still
hates vampires. I don’t see what the problem—”
“I need to see him myself,” said Bart, lowering his hand. He didn’t seem to be paying
attention to me. “Hopefully this is all some kind of mistake or there’s some reasonable
explanation for all of this. Teacher always said that everything has a reason, though
admittedly she didn’t say that everything had a good reason, but—”
“Slow down, buddy,” I said. “I can’t understand a thing you’re saying. You’re talking too
But again, Bart didn’t seem to notice me. He suddenly took off up the driveway, walking
directly toward the front door of the house. Taken by surprise, I nonetheless walked after
him, quickly catching up to him despite his longer legs giving him longer strides.
“What are you so worried about?” I said, matching his pace as best as I could. “You act
like Dad was turned into a vampire or something.”
Bart huffed. “The Hunter becoming a vampire would be far less shocking to me than the
Hunter becoming a Christian pastor. In many ways, it is far worse.”
“Worse?” I said as we stopped at the front door. “What do you mean? What are you
“I don’t have time to explain it to you,” said Bart. “I need to see the Hunter and find out
just what is going on here myself.”
Bart grabbed the brass knocker on the door and slammed it against the door three times.
“Legendary Hunter! I, Bartholomew Reynolds, son of Arthur Reynolds and student of
Marissa Keen, have come seeking your assistance!”
I grabbed Bart’s wrist and jerked his hand down, causing him to look at me in surprise.
“Would you keep it down? I don’t want all of Dad’s neighbors to hear us and see you.
We’re lucky they didn’t see us just magically appear on Dad’s front lawn earlier.”
“But how else will he know we’re here unless we knock on the door?” said Bart.
I almost found Bart’s genuine confusion about how we were supposed to let Dad know we
were here cute, but then shook my head and said, “Look, I’ve got a key, so I can just let us
in. Don’t worry about what Dad will think. He’s okay with me just walking in and he’ll be
okay with you once I explain who you are.”
Bart frowned, but then he stepped aside, allowing me to step in front of the door and stick
my key into its lock. But when I turned the key, I discovered that the door was already
“I didn’t hear a click,” said Bart. “Did your key work?”
“No, but only because the door is already unlocked,” I said, removing my key and twisting
the doorknob, which moved as smoothly as ever. “Odd. Dad usually locks the door
whenever he leaves the house.”
“Leaves the house?” Bart repeated. “Don’t tell me we came all this way for nothing.”
I shook my head. “No, Dad must be here, even though he should actually probably be at
church right now or on his way back home. Maybe he got sick and had to stay home or
something. Only one way to find out.”
I opened the door and walked inside … only to step on something soft and squishy that
immediately pulled me up toward the ceiling as I screamed.
In the next moment, I found myself hanging upside down from the ceiling like a cocoon, a
strange, purple webbing wrapped firmly around my ankles.
“Tara!” said Bart, stepping inside and looking up at me. “Tara, are you okay? What
“I don’t know,” I said, looking in bewilderment at the strange purple webbing which was
slowly but surely moving down my ankles to my knees. “I just stepped on something and
then I somehow got pulled up here. Like someone set a t—”
I was interrupted by a screeching sound below, following by a long stream of webbing
shooting out of the darkness of the house toward Bart. The webbing struck Bart in the chest
and yanked him forward, but he grabbed the door jamb at the last second and held his
ground. But he had to hold the door jam with both hands, clutching it so tightly that the
jamb was starting to crack. The webbing was taut as whatever was on the other end tried to
pull Bart into its grasp, but Bart managed to stand his ground against the obvious effort of
“What … is … this … stuff?” said Bart, his voiced straining under the effort of clutching
the jamb. “Webbing?”
I looked toward the dark interior of the house. Thanks to my night vision, however, I could
see as well as I could in the daytime, if not better, but part of me wished I couldn’t, because
the thing I saw was creepy enough to give me at least six months’ worth of nightmares.
It looked like a giant spider, standing in the hallway with its legs braced against the walls
on either side for support. It was hairy and brown, with two thick pincers on its mouth. The
purple webbing it had shot at Bart was coming from its mouth, which it was pulling back
with obvious effort. The spider had to be at least as tall as me, but three times as wide. It
looked like something straight out of a fantasy novel, but it was very real and it was very
really trying to kill both of us.
“What is that thing?” I said, staring at the spider creature in pure horror. “Where did it
“It doesn’t matter what it is,” said Bart, his voice still strained. “Just kill it!”
Bart’s voice snapped me out of my horror. I popped my claws out of my fingers and
slashed at the webbing holding my feet up, sending me falling to the floor. I landed on my
feet and immediately cut the webbing that was attached to Bart. As soon as I did, the web
shot backwards and slapped the spider in the face, sending it staggering backward a few feet
as it growled in pain.
Standing upright, I held my claws before me carefully, keeping a close eye on the spider,
which was rubbing its face from where it had been hit by its own webbing. Its movements
were bizarre and abrupt, almost like a puppet, but as far as I could tell, that thing was a real,
living creature that would probably eat us both alive if it got the chance.
Bart walked up beside me, rubbing his chest where the spider had been pulling on it. He
was also looking at the spider, his mouth turned into a deeply disturbed frown.
“Uh oh,” said Bart. “I know what that thing is, now that I’ve gotten a better look at it.”
“Then tell me,” I said, without looking at Bart, because I didn’t want to take my eyes off
that beast. “And you’d better tell me how to kill it, too, because we’ll die if you don’t.”
“It’s a marionette spider,” said Bart. “They usually live in the Shadow Way where they
hunt anyone who is unlucky enough to get lost in there. Vampires sometimes tame them,
but most of the time they’re too wild and dangerous to tame because they’ll kill vampires
just as quickly as humans.”
“But if this spider is here, then where’s Dad?” I said, glancing at Bart. “And more
importantly, how do I kill it?”
“A silver weapon usually does the trick,” said Bart. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a silver
“Would vampire claws work?” I said, flashing my claws at him.
“Possibly,” said Bart. “If you can get in close enough and cut its throat, you could kill it.
It’s dangerous, though.”
“All right,” I said, looking at the marionette spider again. “You cover me with your spells
while I go in for the kill.”
I rushed toward the marionette spider, which had not moved an inch since I cut its
webbing. It reared back like it was about to shoot more webbing at me, but then a bright
light flew over me and struck the marionette spider in the face. The spider screeched in rage
and covered its face, which left it completely open to my claws. I raised my claws and
brought them down toward its face.
But at the last second, the marionette spider sank into the shadows on the floor. My claws
slashed empty air and I staggered forward slightly from the momentum, almost losing my
balance before I regained it.
“What the hell?” I said, looking over my shoulder at the spot where the spider had been
standing mere moments before. “Where did it go?”
“Oh, I forgot to mention that marionette spiders can enter and exit the Shadow Way at
will,” said Bart with a slightly sheepish grin. “It’s a common tactic they use whenever
they’re on the hunt. They’ll disappear into the Shadow Way to confuse their prey, only to
pop out of the shadows when their prey least expects it.”
I looked at him. “What do you mean, when I least expect—”
I heard movement above me and looked up at the ceiling to see the marionette spider
clinging to the ceiling. It fired webbing at me, but I jumped backwards and avoided the
webbing before it hit me.
Skidding to a stop beside Bart, I said, “Damn it. It’s too fast. How do we catch it?”
“I have a spell that could help,” said Bart. “But it will take a minute or two to get going.
Can you distract it for me while I set up the spell?”
“Distract it?” I said. “How?”
Bart opened his mouth, perhaps to give me a suggestion, but then some of the spider’s
webbing came out of nowhere and struck my abdomen. Without warning, I was yanked off
my feet and across the floor toward the spider, which was still hanging from the ceiling with
its eyes glaring at me as it drew me closer and closer to its gaping maw.
I slashed at the webbing, cutting it off instantly. I scrambled to my feet, but then the
marionette spider rushed toward me and knocked me down. It pinned me to the floor with
one of its legs and tried to bite my face off with its pincers. But I caught the pincers with my
hands and held them back as hard as I could, but it was difficult even with the extra strength
that being a half-vampire gave me. The marionette spider was incredibly strong and it was
only through sheer effort that I was able to hold it at bay at all.
“Come on, Bart,” I said, my voice straining now as I held back the spider’s pincers as best
as I could. “I can’t hold this thing off forever!”
“It’s almost finished,” said Bart somewhere behind me. “Just a couple more seconds and it
should be all set.”
But I didn’t know if I even had a couple more seconds. My arms were starting to get sore
from holding back the pincers, to the point where I just wanted to let go, but I didn’t,
because if I did, then I would end up spider food. So I forced myself to hold the monstrous
spider back as hard as I could, but even with all of my strength put into doing this, its
pincers drew gradually closer and closer to my face. I could smell its awful breath, which
was like mud mixed with oil, but I didn’t let it distract me.
Then, all of a sudden, Bart shouted, “Tara, push its head up! Now!”
Without hesitation, I kicked my right leg up. My leg slammed into the underside of the
spider’s head, jerking its head up, its pincers flying out of my grasp. The marionette spider
let out a grunt, but it was the last sound it made before a thunderbolt lanced out of nowhere
and struck the spider directly in the face.
The marionette spider’s head exploded, sending its blood and brains flying everywhere.
That included onto me, getting onto my clothes and hair despite the fact that I covered my
face with my hands. The marionette spider’s body collapsed on the floor in front of me. Its
legs twitched once or twice and then became very still.
“Tara, are you okay?” said Bart, running up to me and stopping next to me. “Are you
I sat up and felt the blood in my hair. “No, but now I’ve got spider blood in my hair and
it’s going to take ages to clean out. And my clothes are ruined, too.”
Bart tilted his head to the side. “Can’t you just drink the blood? Or do half-vampires not
drink spider blood?”
I licked some of the spider blood on my finger and shuddered. “Nope. Not drinking that.
Tastes like muddy water. Not all blood is made equal.”
“Well, it’s good to know that you’re unharmed, at least,” said Bart. He looked at the
marionette spider. “I wonder how this spider got here. Marionette spiders rarely leave the
Shadow Way, even to hunt. They usually prefer to hunt their prey in the Shadow Way,
because that’s their natural habitat.”
I looked down at my jacket, which was now covered in spider brains and blood, and
grimaced. “I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t want to know, but—”
A loud moan almost made me jump. It sounded like it was coming from the living room,
but I didn’t see anyone in there.
“What was that?” I said, looking up at Bart. “Did you hear someone moaning or am I just
Bart shook his head. “No, I heard it, too. Stay here while I check the living room, just to
make sure that the marionette spider didn’t bring any friends.”
Before I could object to the notion that I couldn’t defend myself, Bart walked into the
living room and vanished from sight. But he was gone for only a second before he shouted,
“Tara! You need to see this and you need to see this now.”
Rising to my feet, I shouted, “What is it? Did you find the source of the moaning?”
“I did, but you’re not going to like it,” said Bart. “You’re not going to like it at all.”
The fear in his voice made me wonder what, exactly, Bart had found. I was almost afraid
to go look myself, but my curiosity—and my concern for Dad, who I didn’t see even though
this was his house—overrode my fear and I walked into the living room.
I wish I didn’t, because as soon as I entered the room, I saw Dad hanging from the ceiling,
looking quite dead.
Dad hung from the ceiling in the same way I did when I walked into that spider’s trap
earlier, only he was covered up in more webbing than I had. The webbing went all the way
up to his neck, forming a strange sort of purple cocoon over his body that made me feel ill
just looking at it. The rest of the living room wasn’t in very good shape, either. The TV had
been smashed and lay on the floor, pieces of its shattered screen everywhere; the coffee
table had been stepped on and destroyed right in the middle; and all of Dad’s Bible studies,
commentaries, and other theological books had been knocked off their shelves. The couch
was torn in two, which made it look like a big fight had happened here, but I still feared for
“Dad?” I said, running up to him and shaking him. “Dad, can you hear me? Dad!”
But Dad didn’t even stir. His glasses were missing and his eyes were closed. I wasn’t sure
if he was dead or just unconscious. He looked dead, but I didn’t see any blood or anything
to indicate that the spider had bitten him or anything like that.
I looked at Bart. “Bart, can you tell if he’s dead or not?”
“Hard to say,” said Bart, who wore an expression of disgust on his features. “Usually,
marionette spiders like to web up their food and let it sit for a while before they eat it,
because the webbing absorbs the moisture from their prey’s body and makes its body brittle
and crunchy. Given how the Hunter doesn’t look like a mummy, my guess is that he’s still
alive and still has most of his body fluids, but we should free him quickly just to make
I nodded and jumped up toward the ceiling. When I reached the ceiling, I slashed at the
webbing with my claws and Dad fell. But Bart caught him in his arms and gently lowered
him onto the floor. Pulling out a silver knife from nowhere, Bart began cutting a line down
the webbing as I fell back down and landed beside him.
“Hey, didn’t you say you lost your knife to those vampires earlier?” I said, looking at the
knife he was smoothly running down the cocoon’s surface.
“That was my favorite knife,” said Bart without looking at me. “I carry at least three silver
knives with me wherever I go. Knives are useful for more than just killing vamps, you
know. Ah, here we go.”
Bart finished cutting the webbing and dropped his knife on the floor. He ripped open the
webbing with both hands, revealing Dad’s body to us. Dad was in his Sunday clothes, a neat
white button down shirt and brown slacks to go with it. But if my clothing was disgusting
thanks to all of the spider’s bodily fluids sprayed on it, his were even worse, soaked straight
through like he had just been swimming in the ocean.
“It looks like the webbing was in the process of draining him dry,” said Bart with a sigh.
“Luckily, he didn’t lose much moisture, as far as I can tell.”
“You mean he’s going to be okay?” I said hopefully.
“I don’t know,” said Bart. “Even just minor draining of bodily fluids can cause irreparable
damage to the human body. Also, often the sensation having your fluids drained directly
from your body alone will kill a victim, so a marionette spider’s prey is usually dead long
before their corpse is drained of its fluids.”
“Meaning Dad might be dead after all?” I said, my voice growing high with fear.
“Let me check his pulse,” said Bart. “Only way to be sure.”
Bart grabbed Dad’s wrist and checked his pulse. “Yes, I can feel his pulse. He’s still alive,
still breathing, but it’s weak. I don’t know when he’ll wake—”
Dad suddenly gasped, making Bart and I nearly jump. At the same time, Dad’s eyes
fluttered open and he looked around in confusion, panting and breathing hard as he did so.
“Where … where am I?” said Dad, his voice ragged and dangerously low. “What
happened? Am I … am I dead? Is this heaven?”
“Dad!” I bent down over him and hugged him as tightly as I could. “You’re alive! I can’t
believe it. For a moment there I thought you were dead.”
“Tara?” said Dad, his voice tight. “Can you please let go of me? Having a hard time
I let go of Dad and said, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to almost choke you out.”
Dad coughed and gasped so badly that I thought he was just going to die here and now.
“It’s fine, Tara. I’m just very weak right now and can’t handle bear hugs very well right
“Right,” I said. “You nearly had all of the fluids drained from your body, so you’ll
probably need to spend a lot of time sleeping to recover.”
“Fluids drained from my body?” said Dad in confusion. He looked down at his body and
frowned. “Where did all this webbing come from and why is my clothing so wet? And why
am I lying on the floor?”
“You mean you don’t remember being attacked by the marionette spider?” I said in
“Marionette spider …” Dad’s eyes suddenly widened with realization. “Yes, I remember
now. I just got back home from church and came in here to put my Bible away when the
spider attacked me. I tried to fight it off, but it took me by surprise and overwhelmed me.
The last thing I remember is getting hit in the head by one of its legs, but I don’t remember
anything else. Was it really a marionette spider?”
“It was,” I said, nodding. “Ask Bart. He’s the expert here, not me.”
“Who?” said Dad with a frown.
“Bart,” I said. I looked over at Bart. “Bart, why don’t you introduce yourself to—”
I stopped speaking when I saw that Bart was sitting a few feet away from us. It looked like
he had jumped away when Dad woke up, but he didn’t look like he wanted to come any
closer to us. He watched Dad with the same eyes that a scientist had when studying a newly
discovered species of animal.
Dad looked at Bart, a frown on his face. “And who are you, young man? You’re clearly a
sorcerer of some kind, but—”
“Bartholomew Reynolds,” Bart said quickly. “Son of Arthur Reynolds and student of
Marissa Keen. It’s an honor to meet you, great Hunter.”
“Arthur Reynolds?” Dad repeated. He struggled to sit up and failed due to how weak he
was, so he just lay in the webbing instead. “I recognize that name. Wasn’t he the head of the
Vampire Hunters Guild?”
“Yes, he was,” said Bart, nodding. “He’s my father. He told me many stories about you
and I’ve admired you my whole life, basing my vampire hunting career on yours, though
I’ve never had a sword like the one you used to wield. Still, I am just as ruthless in
exterminating evil as you are and seek to cleanse the world of all vampires, no matter where
Bart spoke quickly, as if he was trying to get it all out before a timer was going off
somewhere. It certainly convinced me that Bart looked up to my dad, or rather, the stories
he used to hear about Dad, at any rate.
Dad blinked a couple of times, as if trying to take in everything Bart said at once. “That’s,
uh, nice to hear, Bart. But you can go back to the Vampire Hunters Guild. I’m not sure if
anyone told you, but I don’t do that sort of thing anymore and am not interested in taking on
“Oh, I’m not interested in becoming your apprentice,” said Bart. He scratched the back of
his neck. “Of course, I wouldn’t mind becoming your apprentice, because I’m sure you
would have a lot to teach me, but I really came looking for you because I need your help.
Not just me, by the way, but the entire sorcerer community, and the vampire community, as
“That sounds like a very serious problem,” said Dad. He propped himself up on his
elbows, which seemed to be all he could do at the moment. “What problem could be big
enough to threaten sorcerers and vampires alike?”
Bart looked Dad in the eyes. “Someone is trying to provoke a war between the Sorcerer
Parliament and the Vampire Council. And unless we stop them fast, I fear that they will
Before I could ask Bart to elaborate on his statement, Dad insisted on getting something to
drink and eat first, because he was very tired from having a lot of his bodily fluids sucked
from his body and needed to regain his energy before he could listen to Bart’s story. I got
him a glass of water and a ham sandwich from the kitchen, while Bart used a healing spell
to alleviate some of Dad’s pain. Bart also used his magic to do away with the marionette
spider’s corpse and its extra webbing, casting a spell that banished the remains of the
marionette spider to the Shadow Way where it would probably be found and eaten by
another marionette spider at some point (according to Bart, marionette spiders had a
tendency to eat their dead, which added another level of creepiness to them that made me
more determined than ever to not step foot in the Shadow Way ever again).
Thus, it was a few minutes later that Dad sat in his recliner in the living room, a thick
blanket covering his legs to keep him warm, while Bart and I sat on the remains of the
couch. I sat on the right end, closer to Dad, while Bart sat the left end, but despite that I
couldn’t help but feel a little excited to be near Bart. I still found him ridiculously
handsome, even if not as handsome as Lucius, and was glad to have a chance to look at him
as he told us his story.
“All right,” said Dad, reclining in his chair, with his ham sandwich sitting on a plate on his
lap. “You said that there is a threat to the sorcerer and vampire communities, that someone
is trying to provoke a war between the Sorcerer Parliament and the Vampire Council. What
did you mean by that?”
“Let me start from the beginning,” said Bart. He tugged at the sleeves of his robes, which
seemed to be an unconscious habit of his from what I could tell. “Ever since your
retirement, tensions between sorcerers and vampires have been going down. Not entirely,
mind you, and we’re definitely nowhere near close to making any sort of peace with those
vamps, but there’s been less violence between us than at any other point in history. Part of
this is due to how small the vampire population is nowadays.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “Has the vampire population shrunk?”
“Considerably,” said Bart, “particularly within the last twenty years. No one knows for
sure, but official estimates from the Parliament indicate that the world vampire population
has fallen by as much as twenty percent over the last couple of decades, with another ten to
twenty percent drop over the next decade.”
“That’s amazing,” said Dad. “When I was a vampire hunter, the vampire population was
actually growing. What’s the cause for this sudden decline?”
“There are a variety of reasons for that,” said Bart. “One is that vampire hunters have
simply gotten better at killing vamps. You were more influential over the Guild than you
might realize, Hunter. A lot of your techniques have been copied and mastered by the new
generation of hunters, who have used these techniques and abilities to kill vampires more
efficiently than ever. The number of kills recorded in the Guild’s record book has gone up
steadily since your retirement, particularly within the last couple of years or so.”
Dad smiled. “Good to hear. I’m surprised that they’ve been copying me, though, because
when I left the Guild, it was on not exactly good terms with the Guildmaster.”
“Well, everyone in the Guild I’ve spoken to has nothing but good things to say about you,”
said Bart with a shrug. “Even my father, Arthur Reynolds, has only ever told me good
stories about you. You’re seen as a hero by most vampire hunters, a standard by which other
vampire hunters judge themselves.”
“Are there other reasons for why the vampire population has been declining?” I said,
before Dad could respond. “Surely it can’t just be because the vampire hunters are getting
better at killing.”
“You’re right,” said Bart. “Another reason is the lack of Vampire Lords. Many have been
killed over the last couple of decades, and those few that have survived generally stay out of
sight. Because they are not going out creating new Hordes or sending out existing
Hordelings in their stead, there haven’t been enough new vampires created to replace the
ones being killed off.”
“It’s kind of a cycle,” I said. “You guys have gotten better at killing vampires, which leads
to Vampire Lords and their Hordes to hide instead of going out and making more
Newborns, which makes it easier for you guys to kill vampires because there aren’t as many
and those few that still exist are too afraid to come out and be killed, and so on.”
“Exactly,” said Bart, nodding. “I’ve even heard some people say that we might actually be
able to wipe out the vampires entirely by the end of the century. Hard to know if that’s true
or not, but the fact that people are even saying that should show you just how effective
we’ve gotten at killing vamps.”
“Well, if everything is going so well, then why do you need me?” said Dad. He took a bite
out of his sandwich and swallowed. “Sounds to me like you guys have this under control.”
“I’m not finished yet,” said Bart, holding up a hand. “Anyway, because of the declining
vampire population, the Vampire Council has issued orders to the vampire community to
avoid fighting sorcerers. They haven’t tried to send any peace envoys or anything like that,
but right now the Vampire Council has been advising all vampires under its jurisdiction to
keep to themselves and find other food sources to quench their thirst. There are even rumors
that the Vampire Council is considering trying to form some kind of peace treaty with the
Parliament in order to spare their people, though so far I haven’t seen any real evidence to
back that up.”
“I still fail to see where I’m supposed to come into this,” said Dad. “Or when you’re going
to get into this war you mentioned.”
Bart folded his arms in front of his chest. “The problem happened two weeks ago, shortly
after this month’s parliamentary meeting. When the members of the Sorcerer Parliament
were leaving the meeting room, they were attacked by several vampires claiming to be
members of the Order of Vampires.”
“You mean the Vampire Council’s secret intelligence organization?” I said.
“Yes,” said Bart, nodding. “I’m surprised you’ve heard of them, given your general
ignorance of other parts of magical life.”
“I have some experience with them,” I said with a shrug.
“Right,” said Bart. “Well, the attack was unsuccessful, because the members of Parliament
were protected by their bodyguards and were able to kill or drive off the Order members
who participated in the attack. They managed to capture one vampire, however, who
claimed to have attacked the Parliament on orders from the Vampire Council itself.”
Dad visibly stiffened when Bart said that. “You don’t believe him, do you?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” I said, tilting my head to the side. “Aren’t vampires and sorcerers
always trying to kill each other anyway? Why is it so surprising that the Vampire Council
would send some of their assassins to try to take out the leaders of the sorcerers?”
“Because that’s never happened before,” Dad said patiently. “For as long as the Sorcerer
Parliament and Vampire Council have existed, the two ruling bodies have never directly
fought each other before. There was a general unspoken agreement between them that they
would never directly attack each other, though there have been several close calls
“The Hunter is correct,” said Bart. “As a result, the Sorcerer Parliament has put together a
team of vampire hunters whose job is to hunt down and kill the members of the Vampire
Council in retaliation, a team I am a member of, though I managed to get away from
everyone else in order to find you.”
“Why?” said Dad.
“Because I don’t think the Vampire Council actually sent any Order members to kill the
members of Parliament,” said Bart. “I don’t trust or like vamps in the slightest, but this just
doesn’t make sense to me. Why would the Vampire Council risk escalating hostilities with
the sorcerer community when their people are in such a precarious position?”
“But didn’t you just say that the captured Order member claimed to have been sent by the
Council itself?” I said. “That seems like conclusive enough evidence to me.”
“I don’t consider it conclusive because the Order member killed himself while he was in
custody,” said Bart. “Everyone else think it’s because he didn’t want to be forced to tell
more of the Council’s secrets, but personally I think he just wanted his lie to avoid being
uncovered. The Vampire Council has expressly denied sending any assassins after the
members of Parliament, though no one besides me believes them.”
“I agree that it doesn’t make sense for the Vampire Council to provoke Parliament like
this, but vamps aren’t always logical,” said Dad. “At their core, vamps are evil, soulless
creatures who want to cause as much death and destruction as they possibly can. That means
they won’t always act in rational ways.”
I winced slightly at Dad’s denunciation of vampires. I knew he didn’t include me in that
characterization, what with me being a half-vampire and all, but I still couldn’t help but feel
a little offended when he said that. It was probably because I was thinking of Lucius, whose
status I still didn’t know. He didn’t seem to fit Dad’s description of vampires, but then, I
guess there always are exceptions to the rule.
“True, but the members of the Vampire Council are all Vampire Lords, and Vampire
Lords are known for being more intelligent than their Hordelings,” said Bart. “Besides, I’ve
uncovered evidence that someone is attempting to provoke an all-out war between the
sorcerers and vampires. Let me show you.”
Bart pulled a piece of paper from his robes and held it out for us to see. It was a letter of
some sort, written in very beautiful cursive that made me jealous, because my own
handwriting wasn’t anywhere near that pretty.
“What is that?” said Dad. “A letter?”
“Yes,” said Bart, nodding. “I found it shortly after the initial attack on the Parliament. It
appears to have been dropped by one of the Order vampires.”
“Who wrote it?” I said.
Bart pulled the letter back to himself and looked down at it. “I think it is from whoever is
actually behind the attack. It describes what time the vampires should attack Parliament, as
well as the possible protections keeping the Parliament members safe.”
“That doesn’t seem like evidence to me,” I said. “Unless you have reason to believe that it
was not written by one of the Council members, that is.”
Bart looked up at us, a serious look on his face. “The reason I believe it was not written by
a Council member is because it was signed by someone calling himself ‘the Cyclops.’”
“Cyclops?” I said. “Like the mythical creature from Greek mythology?”
Bart nodded. “Yes, which, by the way, are not real, of course.”
“Then it’s a pseudonym,” said Dad. “Maybe one that a member of the Vampire Council is
Bart shook his head. “Nope. None of the Vampire Council members write under
pseudonyms, and I know this because I checked the Guild’s detailed files on them and
didn’t find this pseudonym in any of them. It’s someone else, though I still don’t know who
at this point.”
“Have you showed this letter to anyone in the Parliament or Guild?” said Dad.
“I did, but everyone thinks it’s either a member of the Vampire Council, like you, or
maybe the Chief of the Order, a vampire named Xanner,” said Bart. “No one believes me
when I say that it is someone else entirely.”
“Is that why you came to me?” said Dad. “Did you think I might be more willing to
“Yes,” said Bart. “All my life, I’ve heard stories about the legendary Hunter, whose
knowledge of vampire magic and lore was second only to the Vampire Council. It was a
risk, I’ll admit, but it was also the only choice I saw that I had.”
Dad tapped his chin in thought. “Interesting. I wonder if that marionette spider that
attacked me had anything to do with this Cyclops character.”
“Or those vampires who attacked me in Greensboro,” I added. “They said their ‘master’
wanted me to join them, but they didn’t say who he was.”
“I think it’s entirely possible that all three of these events are connected,” said Bart. “We
just need to figure out how, that’s all.”
Dad sighed. “I retired from vampire hunting precisely because I didn’t want to get
involved in this kind of nonsense. Oh, well. Sometimes God tells you your work isn’t done,
and it’s pretty obvious that he’s telling me that I still have some work to do in the sorcerer
community. Very well. I’ll help you.”
“Actually,” said Bart slowly, as if he was afraid of offending Dad, “I’m not so sure I want
your help anymore.”
“What?” I said. “You came all this way and told us about a possible war between sorcerers
and vampires erupting and now you’re telling us that you don’t want Dad’s help?”
“Yes,” said Bart. “I know what I just said, but having seen what the Hunter is like, I am
not sure I want his help anymore.”
“What do you mean?” said Dad. “If you mean how weak I look, that’s because of the
marionette spider’s webbing. Give me a day or two and I’ll be back in shape in no—”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Bart. “I mean what you’re doing with your life now. Your
profession.” He took a deep breath and then said, “You’re a Christian. And I can’t work
“Wait, really?” I said, looking at Bart in disbelief. “You don’t want to work with Dad
because he’s a Christian? That seems like an awfully petty reason to not want his help
Bart glared at me. “Petty? How is it petty to not want to work with members of the
religion which has spent so long silencing and oppressing my people? Do you even know
what Christians have historically done to sorcerers?”
“What are you talking about?” I said. I looked at Dad. “Dad, do you know what Bart is
talking about? What does he mean that Christians have oppressed sorcerers? Is he just
making things up now or what?”
Dad readjusted his seat in his recliner, a slightly uncomfortable look on his face. “He’s not
exactly lying, but he also doesn’t really understand the full context of the historical
relationship between Christians and sorcerers. Sorcerers haven’t exactly been nice to
“Only because Christians have been outright cruel to us,” said Bart. His fist closed tightly
around the letter in his hand, nearly ripping it. “When I first heard the rumors that the
legendary Hunter Richard Lee had converted to the Powerless religion, I assumed that they
were wrong. Even if they were right, I thought it might not be so bad, because you might
only be a normal convert, but when Tara told me that you were the pastor of a church, that
confirmed all my worst fears.”
“I converted to Christianity well before I quit my vampire hunting career,” Dad pointed
out. “Ask anyone who was active in the Guild at that time, such as your father, who could
tell you that I was a Christian for several years before I stopped hunting vampires. Or did
Arthur keep that a secret from you because he didn’t think you could handle the truth?”
I held up both of my hands before Bart could respond. “Wait, wait, hold on. Can someone
fill me in on the history between Christians and sorcerers? I know that Christianity has been
against magic for pretty much it’s entire existence, but I’m thinking there’s something
deeper going on here than that.”
“It began when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in
the third century AD,” said Bart. “The Church began to persecute sorcerers, even though
some sorcerers had been working for the Roman Empire from its founding until Constantine
was made emperor. That was just the beginning of a long history of Christians persecuting
and attacking sorcerers wherever they found them. Part of the reason we sorcerers have
remained separate from Powerless society is that we don’t want to be persecuted by the
“It can’t have been that bad, could it?” I said hesitantly.
“It was even worse,” said Bart with a shudder. “In every time and place where Christianity
has held power, sorcerers have had to take extra precautions to remain secret. It’s true that
sorcerers have always, to some extent, had to hide our true nature from the rest of society
even prior to the rise of Christianity, but it grew much worse under Christian persecution,
though admittedly Muslims and Jews haven’t treated us much better.”
“But the Church doesn’t persecute sorcerers anymore nowadays, right?” I said.
“Only because no one in the Powerless world really believes in magic anymore,” said
Bart. “But I guarantee you that if most people found out about us, we’d find ourselves
persecuted and hounded just like our ancestors. Christians would do everything in their
power to kill us and it would be like the old days again. That’s why most sorcerers aren’t
Christians and never, ever will be.”
“Are you atheists, then?” I said. “Because you said the Muslims and Jews aren’t much
“No,” said Bart, shaking his head. “Most sorcerers do believe in God, but not a personal
one. We simply believe that God created the universe and then left it to run on its own. We
don’t believe that he is paying much attention to it, much less than he’s actively engaged
inside it. And the idea that God would become man and die on a cross for our ‘sins’ … well,
we find that simply ridiculous.”
Then Bart looked at Dad, his eyes full of disappointment. “So you can imagine how I feel
when I find out that one of the sorcerer community’s greatest heroes is now serving the very
same religion which has oppressed our people since its inception. I had hoped that the
rumors were false, but if anything, they just downplayed the seriousness of the Hunter’s
I bit my lower lip and looked at Dad. Dad, to his credit, didn’t look very angry. He simply
sipped his cup, though whether he was thinking of how to respond to Bart’s accusations or
if he was thinking about something else, I couldn’t say.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Hunter?” said Bart. “Why did you convert to the
religion of our enemy? Did you lose your mind after spending so many years fighting
Dad took another sip from his cup and lowered it onto the plate he held. “I think that I
don’t need to explain myself to an uppity young kid like yourself. Maybe you need to
understand that you’ve been taught just one perspective of history and not the entirety of it.”
“I don’t need to know the entirety of history to know that you’re basically a traitor to our
people,” said Bart. “I don’t understand why the Parliament has allowed you to live. Or did
you really retire from the Guild at all? Or were you kicked out because you converted to
“I retired on my own,” Dad replied. “It was never a problem in the Guild even when I was
working there, aside from a handful of idiots who were saying the same things as you.
Luckily, I was so great at killing vamps that the Guildmaster at the time didn’t care what
those idiots said.”
Bart suddenly stood up. “Idiot? It’s not idiotic to hate the religion that has oppressed your
people ever since its inception. But I guess you’ve got to project your own flaws somehow,
“Whoa, Bart, calm down,” I said, reaching out to touch his wrist, “there’s no need to get so
Bart yanked his hand away from me before I could touch him and took a step back. He
glared at me and said, “And why are you a Christian? You’re a half-vampire, for God’s
sake. I didn’t know it was even possible for a half-vampire to be a Christian.”
I hesitated when he said that. Ever since I became a half-vampire, I had been worrying
about my salvation and whether I was still saved or not. Dad thought I was, and I did, too,
but I couldn’t deny that I still had my doubts from time to time. They weren’t as serious as
they used to be, but hearing Bart say that was almost exactly the same as him reopening an
old wound I thought had closed long ago. It hurt, and it hurt a lot.
“Anything is possible through the power of Christ, Bart,” said Dad. “You would know that
if you weren’t blinded by your own bigotry.”
Bart’s hands shook. “Better to be blinded by light than by darkness, Hunter.”
With that, Bart turned and left the room. He left so quickly that I didn’t even realize it until
I heard the front door open and close with a slam.
“Bart?” I called out, rising from my seat on the couch. “Bart, are you there?”
“He’s gone, Tara,” said Dad without a hint of sadness in his voice. “And don’t bother
going after him. He clearly doesn’t want anything to do with you or me anymore, which is
fine, because I don’t want anything to do with him, either.”
I sank back onto the couch, but unlike Dad, I couldn’t feel satisfied about this. “But Bart
seems like a good guy. And his theory about a war developing between vampires and
sorcerers seems like something worth investigating.”
Dad shrugged. “It’s entirely possible that he’s wrong. Given how he reacted so violently to
the fact that I’m a pastor, he probably isn’t a very rational man in the first place. Good
I bit my lower lip. “But everything he said about Christianity and sorcerers … was it
Dad sighed. “Yes, but like I said, he doesn’t have the full context. He only knows what
he’s been taught by his parents and community. He doesn’t understand why Christians and
sorcerers have clashed so often throughout history. Yes, sometimes Christians were in the
wrong, but just as often, sorcerers were the instigators and it was the Christians who stopped
“Really?” I said. “How so?”
“While sorcerers are generally better than vampires, that is not always the case,” said Dad.
“Throughout history, there have been a few sorcerers who have been even worse than the
vampires they claimed to fight. Some of these sorcerers either went on to become dictators
themselves or else use their magical abilities to influence Powerless leaders for their own
purposes. This was especially common in Medieval Europe; for example, the Black Plague
was created by a mad sorcerer who wanted to cleanse Europe of all Christians and make the
continent into a homeland for sorcerers.”
I gulped. “That’s definitely crazy.”
“And that guy wasn’t even the worst sorcerer ever,” said Dad. “There’s a reason witchcraft
has been outlawed in Christian countries, and it isn’t because Christians are a bunch of
killjoys or bigots. Truth is that the sorcerer community hasn’t always been very wise with
its powers or always able to rein in its more destructive or evil members. Like many things
in history, the conflict between Christians and sorcerers is a lot more complicated than what
most people believe.”
I folded my hands over my lap. “So can a sorcerer be a Christian, then?”
“Certainly,” said Dad. “Technically, sorcerers can be members of any religion, but
historically sorcerers have never been involved in most major religions due to our status as a
separate race, plus, of course, the fact that many religions throughout the world—not just
Christianity—have persecuted sorcerers in the past. Even today, in many Third World
countries, it is dangerous to let Powerless people know you’re a sorcerer.”
“Do sorcerers have a religion, then?” I said.
“Sort of,” said Dad. “Like Bart said, most sorcerers do believe in a God of some kind, but
they believe that he doesn’t interact with the world much, if at all, and definitely not to the
same extent that Christians believe. Most sorcerers tend to believe in the Origin, the original
source of our powers, and it tends to take the place of God for most sorcerers.”
I rubbed my arm. “Why did you become a Christian, if I might ask? Did you hate
Christianity when you were younger, too, or what?”
“When I was growing up, I did,” said Dad, nodding. “Mostly because that’s what my own
father taught me and what everyone else in the sorcerer community believed. I was raised
by two sorcerer parents, so I never had a real chance to study Christianity on my own. It
wasn’t until I turned seventeen that I began actively studying the various world religions
and became a Christian as a result.”
“What made you become interested in religion in the first place?” I said.
“Lots of things, but mostly because I wanted an explanation for evil in the world that made
sense,” said Dad. “Whether you realize it or not, Christianity provides an excellent
explanation for the presence of evil in the world and, by extension, the existence of
vampires. But most sorcerers didn’t—and clearly still don’t, if Bart is representative of his
fellow sorcerers—believe that.”
“Was it hard being a Christian as a vampire hunter?” I said. “Did you ever have any
“Not as many as you’d think, given the rampant hostility toward Christians that exists in
the sorcerer community,” said Dad. He sipped his water again. “I think I was tolerated
mostly because I was such an efficient vampire hunter. I killed more vampires than anyone
else in the Guild at the time, so I imagine that the Guildmaster didn’t want to get rid of his
best vampire hunter just because I happen to belong to a religion he didn’t like. Guildmaster
Thomas was always a stern but fair leader and even mentored me for a while there. I guess
he must have retired himself at some point, though, if Bart is correct.”
“What about Bart’s dad?” I said. “You said you remembered him from your time in the
Guild. What did he think about your religion?”
Dad sighed. “Arthur was tolerant, I guess, and a little curious, because he always had more
interest in spirituality and religion than most sorcerers. But he never converted himself, and
it looks like his tolerant and curious attitude didn’t get passed down to his son. A shame,
because Arthur and I were good friends during my time in the Guild and the two of us made
an excellent team despite our differences in opinion. I’m not surprised to hear he became the
Guildmaster, though. He was usually second only to me in terms of vampire hunting, so it
makes sense that he got the job after Thomas retired.”
“Is that also why you left the sorcerer community?” I said. “Because of your religion?”
“That was part of it, but not the main part,” said Dad. “Truthfully, I just wanted to raise
you in a quiet, safe environment. That that quiet, safe environment would also be one where
you didn’t grow up mindlessly hating Christianity is a bonus, though an important one, of
I looked at the hallway again and frowned. “I wonder if we’ll ever see Bart again.”
“Doubt it,” said Dad. “If he reacts that violently to the mere idea of Christianity, then he’s
probably going to avoid us like the plague. A shame, really, because I’d been hoping that I
might get to see his father again, because it’s been years since I last saw Arthur and I don’t
know how he’s doing.”
I looked at Dad again. “And you’re absolutely sure that I shouldn’t go after him? The war
“Probably nothing,” said Dad, shaking his head. “And even if it is, what do I care? I’m not
involved in either side anymore. Besides, even if a war breaks out, I think the sorcerers will
be able to deal with the vamps, assuming Bart was telling the truth about the declining
vampire population numbers. You should just go back to your apartment and not worry
I bit my lower lip, but nodded and said, “Okay, Dad. I guess it doesn’t really involve me
anyway. Still, I wonder who sent that marionette spider after you.”
“I don’t know,” said Dad, “but don’t worry about me. I’ll just be a little more careful for a
while until I’m better.”
I stood up. “Well, then I guess I’ll leave, unless you want me to help with the clean up,
Dad shook his head again. “No, that won’t be necessary. I know a spell or two that should
clean up this mess nicely.”
“All right, then,” I said. “See you later, and stay safe.”
I turned and left the living room. I opened the front door and stepped out, closing it behind
me silently. I half-expected to see Bart standing on the front lawn, but a quick look up and
down the street showed me that he had indeed teleported, though to where, I didn’t know.
A part of me felt like I should try to find him and help him stop this war, but on the other
hand, I didn’t know Bart all that well and for all I knew he might want nothing to do with
me, given that I was both a half-vampire and a Christian. And like Dad said, this really
didn’t have anything to do with us.
So I walked down the driveway, intending to get back home and get something to eat,
because I was hungry.
“Frederick!” I called out as I entered my apartment and closed the door behind me.
“Frederick, I’m home!”
A slight mrow sound came the kitchen, causing me to poke my head in and see Frederick
lying in his bed beside the fridge. Frederick was my pet cat, a colorful calico who I had
owned for a couple of years now. I’d gotten him when he was a kitten, but he had grown
into a big cat very quickly, to the point where I used to have a hard time lifting him up due
to how heavy he was (not fat, though. He was just a very big cat). Nowadays, of course, I
didn’t have trouble lifting him due to the increased strength I received when I was turned
into a half-vampire, but that didn’t change the fact that he was quite big.
Freddy looked up at me from his bed, a lazy look on his face. Based on the size of his
belly, I figured he must have gotten a mouse at some point while I was away. That was
another reason I kept him around. He was a good mouser, though you’d never know that
given how lazy he appeared. I rarely saw him actually catch mice. Most of the time, I just
noticed that his belly was bigger than it should be, which was all the evidence I needed that
he was catching mice.
But for the moment, I didn’t care about Freddy, because my blood thirst was becoming
unbearable, given how I hadn’t had any blood since breakfast. So I walked into the kitchen
and, opening the door, pulled out a bottle of monkey blood from the top shelf. Popping open
the lid, I drank about a quarter of the bottle before closing the lid and sighing with relief as
my blood lust died down. It had been bothering me ever since I left Dad’s house an hour or
two ago, to the point where I’d had to use a lot of my willpower just to avoid attacking
random people on the bus I took back to Greensboro. It had been hard, though, especially
when a young woman about my age sat next to me on the bus.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, I looked down at the monkey blood. I still had a lot of
monkey blood leftover from what Lucius had given me on our first day of training together,
even though that had been a month ago. This was because I’d discovered that I didn’t need
to drink the whole bottle to sate my thirst, that I could get away with drinking less than a
quarter of the bottle itself. And I didn’t even have to drink it every day, either. I could go
two or three, sometimes even as much as four, whole days without needing to sate my thirst,
which made it even easier to conserve the monkey blood I had.
Another reason I conserved my supply was because I didn’t know where to buy monkey
blood. Lucius had mentioned something about introducing me to his ‘merchant’ last month,
but because Lucius had been arrested before he could do that, I didn’t know where Lucius
got his monkey blood from or where I could get some for myself. It didn’t bother me at first,
but now I had about a week or two of monkey blood left and I wasn’t sure what I was going
to do to replace it.
I had considered hunting animals at night, but I had never gone hunting before, much less
at night as a vampire blinded by my blood lust. Another option I’d considered was raiding
the local hospital’s blood donor supply, but that was even less realistic, because I might get
caught, and even if I wasn’t caught, I didn’t want to drink human blood and become more of
a monster than I already was.
What I needed, more than anything, was Lucius. He would be able to introduce me to the
merchant who could sell me more monkey blood. That way, I would never need to worry
about losing control of my blood lust and accidentally harming someone.
I felt something brush against my legs and looked down. Freddy was rubbing against my
legs, a clear sign he wanted attention, so I put the bottle on the counter and bent over to
scratch the back of his ears. But I wasn’t really paying attention to Freddy. I was thinking
about Lucius and how, unless a miracle happened, I would run out of monkey blood and fall
victim to my own vampiric nature.
The problem was that Lucius was still in the custody of the Order of Vampires. And I had
no idea where the Order was, so I couldn’t stage a rescue, assuming Lucius was even still
alive at all. For all I knew, Lucius might have been executed a while ago and I was all on
my own. That would be terrible luck for me if it turned out that Lucius had been beheaded
already, so I told myself that Lucius was probably still alive and that all I needed to do was
just find him and everything would be okay.
But that was far easier said than done. As I said, I didn’t know where the Order was. I
knew they were based in a place called Castle Wings, but that was about as helpful as telling
me that they lived in Hogwarts. I could use the Shadow Way to go there, but I was still
terribly afraid of the Shadow Way after my close encounter with the Stranger known as
Timmy. Besides, Lucius had said that you shouldn’t travel the Shadow Way alone, even if
you are an experienced vampire, thanks to the aforementioned Strangers.
And, despite what Dad said, I still worried about Bart. I felt like he was telling the truth
about an all-out war brewing between the sorcerers and the vampires. Someone probably
was trying to provoke an open conflict between the two sides, but I had no idea who it could
possibly be. Whoever it was, they wanted me. I still remembered those vampires who
cornered me in that alley earlier today, who had talked about their ‘master’ wanting my
power. They were involved somehow, I knew it.
Again, though, I was at a loss for what to do. I wanted to find out if Lucius was okay, but I
also wanted to help Bart. It didn’t help that the two of them were both fairly attractive,
which was true of Bart even despite how much he hated Christianity. I felt like they were
both ultimately good men who needed my help.
The question, though, was how to help either of them, if at all. Maybe Dad was right. This
didn’t really have anything to do with us. Maybe the only thing I needed to worry about was
keeping my monkey blood supply in stock, but that just tied back to Lucius again. I
wondered, though, if Dad might be able to help me in that area. He wasn’t a vampire
himself, no, but he was very knowledgeable about vampires and might be able to help me
figure out where to buy more blood for myself.
My thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the front door. The sudden knock startled
Freddy, who immediately ran behind the fridge.
“Oh, Freddy,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s just the door. There’s no need to be such a
Shaking my head and thinking about how silly cats could be, I walked over to the front
door and opened it. “Hello?”
But there was no one standing on the other side. I poked my head out of my apartment and
looked up and down the main hallway, but didn’t see anyone out. It was completely empty,
which would not have been that alarming normally, but given how the knock had literally
just been a couple of seconds ago, there was no way that whoever had knocked on the door
could have had enough time to run away before I opened it. Maybe I had heard someone
knocking on one of the other apartment doors. Due to how close the apartments were to
each other, it was common to think someone was knocking on your door when they were
actually knocking on someone else’s door that was close to yours.
I pulled my head back into my apartment and was just about to close the door when I
noticed a small package on the ground in front of my door. Bending over, I picked up the
package and looked it over. It was small—about the size of my cell phone—and unmarked,
save for two words written in black marker: ‘TARA LEE.’
I frowned. That was my name, all right, but I didn’t know who could possibly have sent
me this package. I hadn’t ordered anything online recently and I wasn’t expecting a package
from any of my friends or family. That the package had no other identifying information on
it—not even a return address—told me that this had been hand-delivered to me, though by
who and why, I didn’t know.
Closing the door to my apartment, I walked back into the kitchen and sat down at the
kitchen table. Freddy jumped onto the table and began trying to take my attention away
from the package, but I pushed him away in order to focus on the box. Freddy made an
annoyed mrow, but then hopped off onto the chair next to me and curled up, though he
didn’t look happy about the fact that I was paying more attention to the package than him.
He would just have to deal with it.
I felt the package. There seemed to be some kind of bottle in it, or at least something made
of glass. My first thought was that it had to be a shot glass of some sort due to how small it
was, but it seemed absurd to me that someone would mail me a shot glass, of all things.
Besides, I didn’t drink alcohol, and not just because I was a vampire, which made a shot
glass a really useless gift, if that’s what it was.
I cut open the package with one of my claws and pulled out the object. My eyes widened
with amazement at the small, glass object I held in my hand.
It wasn’t a shot glass at all. It was a very small bottle of monkey blood, tightly sealed with
a cork. Like the package, it had no identifying information on it other than ‘MONKEY
BLOOD,’ but I didn’t care. I was so thirsty that I ripped open the cork and chugged the
entire bottle down in one gulp. The monkey blood flowed down my throat easily, making
my mouth and throat feel refreshed. It had been a long time since I drank that well and for a
moment I just sat there at the table, savoring the taste of monkey blood in my mouth and the
sensation of the blood going down my throat into my body.
“Man, that was good,” I said, putting the now-empty bottle down on the table. “I wonder
who could have sent me this, though, Freddy. Do you think it was Lucius?”
Freddy didn’t say anything. His tail swished back and forth, as if trying to find out if I
would let him sit on my lap or not.
That was when I noticed a small piece of paper poking out of the packaging. In my haste
to drink the blood, I had not noticed the letter which had fallen out with it. Picking up the
paper, I discovered that it was a short letter, which read:
Hope you enjoy the monkey blood. Thought you might be running out, so I sent you this
bottle just to be safe.
Also, meet me in the Greensboro City Park tonight at midnight. I have more monkey blood
where this came from, but can’t give it to you just yet for reasons you’ll understand soon. I
also can’t say much here in case this letter is intercepted by the Order. Just be there at the
time I mentioned. See you soon.
Normally, it wasn’t the smartest move in the world for a young woman in her twenties to
be out in the park after dark. While the Greensboro City Park was well-known for its safety
and security, the fact was that city parks at night were prime locations for creepers looking
to kidnap or rape young women without being caught themselves. There had even been a
well-publicized story last year about a man who raped a woman in Greensboro City Park at
midnight, though like I said, that was an aberration and had done nothing to scare people
away from the Park (though I heard from Jane, who works for the city, that fewer people
came to the Park at night since that incident).
But I was a half-vampire, so I felt perfectly safe. I could see better at night than I could
during the day, for one, so if any creeper tried to sneak up on me, he’d have a hard time
doing it. Even if someone tried to get me, they’d have to contend with my enhanced strength
and magical abilities, as well as Domination, which I’d brought along with me for safety.
While I was still an Apprentice level sorcerer, I was good enough with magic that I wasn’t
afraid of any Powerless humans who might try to harm me.
But even if I had been just a perfectly ordinary Powerless girl, without a hint of magical or
fighting prowess, I would still have gone to the Park tonight, because I wanted to see Lucius
again more than anything else in the world and this was my best, maybe only, chance to do
I crouched among the trees near one of the Park’s ponds, where I was unlikely to be seen
by any late night Park attendees unless they were actively looking for me. I didn’t want to
draw unnecessary attention to myself, so I kept still and made no noise. Granted, I hadn’t
seen anyone else tonight other than a Park worker who had been pulling midnight duty back
at the entry booth (he’d been easy to sneak by because he had been reading something on
his tablet rather than actually doing his job), but I still wanted to make sure that no one other
than Lucius saw me.
Of course, the letter hadn’t told me where, exactly, I was supposed to meet Lucius.
Greensboro City Park was big. Not quite as big as some parks, perhaps, but it was big
enough that it was a popular spot for joggers. There were a lot of places in the Park that
Lucius might go to, but again, the letter hadn’t specified. Maybe that was the point, given
how Lucius seemed concerned about his letter somehow being intercepted by the Order.
Luckily, I used logic to figure that Lucius would likely appear somewhere in the heart of
the Park, which was the wildest and least visited part of the Park. The trees were thickest
here and the trails weren’t nearly as well defined or clean as the ones around the periphery. I
suspected that Lucius, not wanting to break the Secrecy Pact which separated the magical
world from the nonmagical, would come here because he would be less likely to be seen
here than elsewhere.
Yet even if my theory was wrong and Lucius was instead going to be somewhere else, I
would know. I couldn’t explain how, but somehow I would know exactly where he was
when he appeared. It was something like instinct, but not quite. I just knew that I knew it, if
that made any sense.
What made all this waiting hard, though, was my blood lust. The small bottle of monkey
blood I’d had earlier helped quench my thirst a little, but not for long. I wasn’t in danger of
attacking random people—yet—but I feared that if Lucius didn’t show up soon, I would be
forced to go back to my apartment to avoid losing control of my vampire instincts. I did not
want to spend the rest of the night stalking the poor Park workers who were stuck with the
Then I heard movement nearby. It sounded like footsteps, moving softly through the trees.
At first, I thought it was just one of the Park workers or maybe one of those rare night time
visitors, but my enhanced hearing allowed me to hear the sound of feet walking across the
leaves. That meant that whoever was here was walking barefoot, and because only a
vampire would walk barefoot at night like this, I concluded that it had to be Lucius.
Rising from my spot among the trees, I walked out of the trees and stood on the shore of
the pond. The pond was as dark and quiet as the rest of the Park, but I could still hear
movements in the trees around me. I looked between the trees, trying desperately to catch a
glimpse of Lucius, who I knew had to be close. I couldn’t quite feel him, not yet, but I knew
that he had to be close by and that I would see him soon.
Then I saw movement among the trees. It was quick, brief, easy to miss if you weren’t
paying attention like me. But the general shape of the figure moving among the trees looked
just like Lucius. I didn’t know why Lucius wasn’t just walking out and showing himself, but
I didn’t care. I just stepped forward and said, in a low voice which barely contained my own
excitement, “Lucius, is that you? It’s me, Tara.”
The only response I received was silence. I didn’t even see the figure moving among the
trees anymore. Had Lucius stopped? If so, why? Surely he would recognize my voice,
wouldn’t he? Maybe the fact that I was speaking had taken him by surprise and he was
trying to make sure that it was actually me.
Taking another step forward, I said, “Lucius, it’s okay. I don’t know what you’ve been
through or where you’ve been, but you don’t have to be afraid. It’s just me, Tara.”
I heard movement among the trees again, but this time, it wasn’t just one person. It
sounded like multiple people were converging on the pond from multiple angles. I whipped
my head this way and that, but it was impossible to focus on one thing for too long. I could
only see shapes and shadows moving among the trees, but one thing was obvious: They
were all coming toward me.
Then, without warning, multiple vampires burst out of the trees on every side. They
appeared silently, without making a noise, but it was impossible to miss them. They were all
tall and lanky, their mindless red eyes standing out against the darkness of the night like
candles. I didn’t know where these vampires fit on the Hierarchy, but given how mindless
they looked, I guessed they were Bloodseekers, maybe Draculs. In any case, there were
about six of them, which meant I was outnumbered, though that didn’t mean I was going to
give up yet.
“Who are you people?” I said, looking this way and that in a vain attempt to look at all of
them at once. “Where’s Lucius? What did you do with him?”
“Lucius isn’t here right now,” said a voice from the shadows of the trees suddenly. “You’ll
have to look for your knight in shining armor elsewhere.”
From within the shadows of the tree, another vampire stepped out, only he looked different
from the Bloodseekers which surrounded me in a loose circle. His red eyes displayed an
intelligence that was fairly human, while his physique, though not as bulky as Lucius, was
definitely athletic. He had long leather wings poking out of his back, while his head was
bald and he wore a goatee which made him look especially evil. He was definitely not a
Bloodseeker, though who he was, I didn’t know.
But I knew a threat when I saw one.
“You’re not Lucius!” I cried out.
I rushed toward the vampire and swung Domination at him. But the vampire dodged
Domination easily and then kicked me in the stomach. The blow knocked me backwards,
almost causing me to fall into the pond, but I caught myself at the last second and threw a
fireball at the vampire. The vampire, however, raised his hands and spread them apart,
creating a glowing energy barrier. The fireball struck the barrier and exploded, but when the
smoke cleared, the barrier still stood and the vampire on the other side stood completely
“You’re quicker than Hojak said,” said the vampire. “I wonder if those are the natural
reflexes of a half-vampire or if you were taught to move that fast when faced with an
obvious threat like me.”
Panting, I held Domination before me defensively. “I don’t know who you are or what you
did with Lucius, but I will take that stupid head of yours off your neck if you take even one
step closer to me. And I’ll kill every last one of your friends, too, if they try anything.”
“We didn’t do anything with Lucius,” said the vampire in annoyance. “He’s still in Castle
Wings, being held prisoner for crimes he didn’t commit. We just forged his handwriting in
order to trick you into coming here.”
“You mean Lucius was never going to be here at all?” I said, lowering Domination
slightly. “It was all a lie?”
“Of course,” said the vampire. “But a useful one, seeing as it brought you out here, right
where we want you.”
I grit my teeth. “You’re acting like you’ve got me, but I’m still standing and I still have
Domination, which I know you vamps are afraid of. I don’t think you thought through your
grand master plan terribly well.”
“Planning has never been my forte,” said the vampire with a shrug. “But you’ve got to
admit, my plan worked well this time. If you hadn’t been so desperate to see that selfrighteous
Pure, you would never have come out here in the first place.”
He had a point, but I would never admit it to him. “I take it you don’t think very highly of
“I think little of Pures in general,” said the vampire. He licked his lips. “They give up
human blood for no reason other than to feel superior to the rest of us. Quite frankly, I think
the Council should outlaw Purity and set up bounties for all Pures. They make the vampire
race weak with their unwillingness to feast upon our natural prey. Lucius is no different.”
“Lucius is way better than you,” I said. “Even if he wasn’t a Pure, he’s still better than the
rest of you vamps.”
The vampire shook his head. “Look, I’m not interested in debating the merits of Purity.
I’m interested in bringing you to our leader, and I know just the way to do it.”
“Your leader?” I said. “Are you with those creeps who attacked me in the alley earlier? Or
are you with another Vampire Lord who wants to use me for his own purposes?”
“Hojak and the others are my allies, yes,” said the vampire, nodding. “Or were my allies, I
should say, given how they all got themselves pointlessly slaughtered by that vampire
hunter. We work for the same leader, the same master.”
I sighed deeply. “Okay, can you tell your ‘master’ that I’m not interested in whatever he
has to offer? Because I’ve already had to deal with one Vampire Lord who wanted to use
my powers to further his agenda and I have zero interest in going through that experience
The vampire smiled. “I never said that my master is a Vampire Lord, did I? But even if he
was, you still wouldn’t be able to resist the offer I am going to make to you.”
“And what ‘offer’ would that be?” I said. I gestured at my ears sarcastically. “I’m all ears.”
“Simple,” said the vampire. He pointed at me. “If you kill one of the members of the
Sorcerer Parliament for us, then we will free Lucius from his captivity and you will never
have to worry about him ever again.”
“You want me to kill a member of the Sorcerer Parliament itself?” I said.
“You catch on quickly,” said the vampire. “So? What do you say?”
“You’re acting like I would even consider doing that,” I said. “I don’t know how this
works in the vampire world, but among humans, we sometimes repeat what we heard
because we thought we misheard it because of how crazy and unbelievable it sounded.”
“Oh, I have no doubt you’ll agree to it,” said the vampire simply. “After all, you care
about Lucius more than anyone in the world, maybe even more than your own father.
You’ve been pining for him for the past month, worrying ceaselessly about his wellbeing, so
it is only logical that you would agree to work for someone who claims they can help him.”
“How did you know I’ve been missing Lucius?” I said. I put a hand on my head. “You’re
not a telepath, are you?”
“Our master has his ways of knowing things,” said the vampire. “As his humble servant,
I’m expected only to deliver the messages he wants me to deliver, not question how he
knows things. But I’m telling the truth that we could free him. Castle Wings is a wellfortified
castle, but it’s not nearly as impregnable as the Order thinks it is.”
I hesitated, and then asked, “How is Lucius? Is he okay? Can you tell me that, at least?”
“I can tell you that he’s still alive,” said the vampire, “though in rather bad condition,
because the Order doesn’t treat its prisoners very well. Still, he’s very much alive and
misses you almost as much as you miss him.”
That sounded almost too good to be true, but at the same time, I wanted to believe it,
because it made me feel better. “And you say you will free him if I kill a member of the
“Exactly,” said the vampire. “My master always keeps his word, should you accept and
complete this mission. Lucius will be freed and you and he will be together again, perhaps
In my mind’s eye, I saw myself in a wedding dress walking down the aisle of a church
with Dad. Lucius stood on the stage in a black tuxedo which made him look more handsome
than he had any right to be. He smiled when he saw me and I smiled back, filling me with so
much warm feelings that I just wanted to run up and kiss him there and then.
But then I shook my head and brought myself back to reality and said, “Why does your
master want me to kill a member of Parliament?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said the vampire. He spread his hands. “War between sorcerers and
vampires. Plain and simple.”
My eyes widened. “So someone is trying to start a war between the sorcerers and vampires
after all. Bart was right.”
“It’s not much of a secret,” said the vampire with another shrug. “Obviously, we don’t go
around telling people about this, but any sufficiently intelligent person would be able to
figure it out if they paid attention, which most people don’t.”
My eyes narrowed. “Who is your master and why does he want to start a war between the
sorcerers and vampires? What does he hope to gain from that?”
“Now that’s a secret,” said the vampire with a smirk. “What he hopes to attain from all of
this is ‘top secret,’ as humans might say. It will become obvious in time, however, to
vampire and sorcerer alike. In the meantime, there is much work to do, including the work
of actually starting the war in question.”
“And you think that me killing that member of Parliament will start the war?” I said.
“How does that work, exactly? Am I supposed to leave a calling card that says something
like ‘I, a vampire, killed this sorcerer. Now go to war.’”
“You’ll know the details soon enough,” said the vampire. “For now, I just need your
acceptance or denial. Are you going to do what my master wants or are you going to
“What will your master do if I refuse?” I said. “Kill me?”
The vampire folded his arms in front of his chest. “Eh, probably not. But we will kill
“If we can rescue him, then we can also kill him,” said the vampire. “It wouldn’t be that
hard. Simply send in an assassin armed with a silver blade and take off his head. Even I
could do it, and I’m no master assassin.”
My hands balled into fists. I could tell that this vampire and his master—whoever he was
—were serious about killing Lucius if I refused. I couldn’t stand the thought of Lucius
dying, but on the other hand, I also didn’t want to be part of a plan to kick off a war between
sorcerers and vampires. I didn’t see how anyone could benefit from a war of that size and
scale, but that didn’t mean much, given how little I knew of the magical world in general.
To buy a little more time to think, I said, “What about the marionette spider that attacked
my dad in his home? Was that your doing as well?”
“Yes,” said the vampire, nodding. “My master sent that spider to kill the Hunter. Sadly, it
didn’t work, but it came very close.”
“Why?” I said. “Why did your master want to kill my dad?”
“Because my master considers him a threat and wanted him out of the way,” said the
vampire. “But we’ll leave him alone if you will agree to do what my master wants you to
The vampire spoke like he was offering me a great deal. Either his sense of morality was
skewed or he was being sarcastic. I couldn’t tell which.
“So?” said the vampire. “What is your decision? You better answer quickly, because our
master is an impatient man and he doesn’t take well to those who dither.”
“What if I decide to fight you instead?” I said. “You and your allies? And kill every last
one of you?”
“You can try, I suppose,” said the vampire. “But consider our brief skirmish earlier and
how I came out on top. For being such a unique and powerful creature, you don’t seem to
have much in the way of fighting skills or magical ability.”
He was right and I knew it. I didn’t have a very good track record taking on so many
enemies at once. The Bloodseekers were probably easy enough on their own, but given how
this guy was clearly far above them in the Hierarchy, my chances of beating him were pretty
low. I found myself wishing, for the hundredth time, that I had received more training and
that I had had an ally like Lucius or even Bart. As it was, however, I was on my own, which
meant that I wasn’t in a very good place to negotiate.
My eyes darted back and forth as I considered my options. On all sides, I was surrounded.
And even if I somehow managed to beat all of them, I would still be unable to save Lucius,
who they would probably kill as soon as they found out what I did. I saw no way out of this
except to agree to their deal, but I couldn’t do that, because I wasn’t an assassin and had no
interest in becoming one anytime soon.
“Well?” said the vampire. “The clock is ticking, half-vampire. Our master expects us to
return with a response as soon as possible. Otherwise, he will get angry, and you don’t want
to see him when he gets angry. Trust me.”
I bit my lower lip, but slowly and reluctantly lowered Domination. “All right. I accept
“You do?” said the vampire, who sounded genuinely surprised. “You aren’t going to try to
I sheathed Domination, even though that left me feeling incredibly vulnerable. “No, I’m
not. There’s no point. I wouldn’t be able to beat all of you by myself.”
I hated to admit it, but it was true. I was in no position to beat these guys. All I could do
was accept their offer and hopefully find some way to turn it around back on them, though
that was starting to seem increasingly less likely the more I thought about it.
“That is very good to hear,” said the vampire. “Our master will be more than pleased to
hear that you’ve made the right choice. Now, come with us. We have much work to do and
it will take a little while to set you up.”
A few minutes later, the vampire—who told me that his name was Jajaras—and I stepped
out of the Shadow Way into the hallway of an unfamiliar building. It was a fairly wide
hallway, with old red carpeting along the stone floor. Portions of the walls were slightly
darker than others, which seemed to be where old paintings had once hung. It reminded me
of stereotypical European castle interiors, except there were no lights or torches by which to
see. Not that I needed them, of course, being a half-vampire and all, but it still felt kind of
“Here we are,” said Jajaras, gesturing at the hallway. “This is our master’s base, Castle
Rook. It is located in Central Europe.”
“Europe?” I said. “You mean we’re not in America anymore?”
“Why does that surprise you?” said Jajaras. “The Shadow Way can allow a person to
travel anywhere on the planet from any other part of the planet. It’s why we vampires love
to use it.”
“Well, it’s just that I’ve never been outside of the United States before,” I said. “So I’m
curious about this place.”
“Take your curiosity and throw it away,” said Jajaras, turning away from me, “because
we’re not going on a tour of Central Europe. We came here only to get you the necessary
information to assassinate the member of Parliament we’ve picked out for you. We will be
in and out in less than an hour, maybe less than half an hour, depending on how quickly you
grasp what needs to be done.”
“Will I get to meet your master?” I said.
Jajaras shook his head. “Not today, no. Our master is out of the castle at the moment, but I
will be sure to let him know that you were here. And anyway, everyone will see our master
eventually, once his plan bears fruit. For now, follow me.”
Jajaras took off to the right, moving quickly and forcing me to move just as quickly in
order to keep up. As we walked, I could not help but look around the barren, empty hall and
its grimy stone walls, floor, and ceiling.
“This place doesn’t look like anyone lives here,” I said, looking at Jajaras’ back as I
followed him. “I take it your master isn’t much of an interior decorator?”
“He doesn’t care much for elaborate decoration, yes” said Jajaras without looking over his
shoulder at me. “So long as the ceiling holds and the walls don’t have any holes in them, our
master doesn’t care what it looks like, and neither do we. The human fascination with
making your living quarters look ‘nice’ is strange and one which makes humans look even
weaker than they already are.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to make your home look nice?” I said. “If you’re going to be
spending most of your time at your house, then I think it makes sense that you would want
to make sure it looked good.”
Jajaras looked over his shoulder at me like I had just said something really stupid.
“Despite being a half-vampire, you talk an awful lot like a human. That is to say, far too
I felt a little embarrassed when Jajaras said that, but, being as curious as I was, I said, “So
where, exactly, in Central Europe is Castle Rook? Like, which country? Because there are
several countries in Central Europe and—”
“That’s not for you to know,” Jajaras interrupted me. “I probably shouldn’t have even told
you that much, to be frank. Still, it won’t matter in the end, because once the war starts,
neither the sorcerers nor the vampires will have the time or energy to come after our
I would have asked Jajaras more about what he meant by that, but there was something in
his tone of voice which made it clear that he didn’t really want to talk to me anymore. So I
kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible a mistake I had just
made. I should have rejected his offer earlier and just accepted the consequences. That
would have been better than agreeing to assassinate an innocent man in order to start a
But if I’d done that, then Lucius would probably be dead already. And besides, I had
already decided that I was going to figure out a way to turn this around back on Jajaras and
his master. How, I didn’t know, but I was sure that something would occur to me at some
point. I prayed to God that he would give me the guidance and knowledge necessary to turn
this into something good, though for some reason I had a feeling that things were about to
get much worse.
We went down a short staircase and then stopped in front of a large wooden door. It
looked too heavy for one person to open by themselves, but Jajaras pushed it open with one
hand and entered. I stepped inside and looked around at our surroundings as Jajaras closed
the door behind me.
The room which we had entered was medium-sized, with a large wooden table in the
center that was covered with a black tablecloth. On top of the cloth were papers, pictures,
and books scattered about in what seemed to be a very disorganized fashion, though Jajaras
immediately began rifling through the papers and pictures as if they were perfectly
organized in a very logical way.
“What’s all that?” I said, watching as Jajaras pushed aside various papers and pictures here
“Information on the Parliament and Council which our spies within both groups have
gathered over the years,” said Jajaras, again without looking at me. “Much of it isn’t
relevant to our current mission, however, or to yours. There’s just one document I’m
looking for … ah, here.”
Jajaras pulled a single piece of paper out of the various scattered papers and handed it to
me. “Here is your target.”
I took the document and looked down at the picture clipped to it. It showed an elderlylooking
sorcerer who was completely bald, staring at the camera with the most piercing eyes
I’d ever seen on another human being. It was like he was staring up at me directly through
the photo itself, which made it hard for me to continue to meet his gaze.
Underneath the photo was a caption which read ‘PARLIAMENTARIAN LUKE
“In case you can’t read, that is Luke Michaels, the oldest and most respected member of
the Sorcerer Parliament,” said Jajaras, folding his arms in front of his chest. “Michaels has
been a member of the Parliament for over fifty years, longer than any other Parliament
member, past or present. Most Parliament members tend to last ten or fifteen, sometimes
twenty, years, but Michaels has been reelected several times.”
“Is he that good?” I said, looking up at Jajaras.
“I don’t know,” said Jajaras. “I don’t pay especially close attention to sorcerer politics. All
I know is that he is deeply respected among the general sorcerer population. His death at the
hands of a vampire assassin would undoubtedly stir up enough outrage from the sorcerer
community to encourage the rest of the Parliament to declare war on the vampire
community, which would in turn force the Vampire Council to declare war on them.”
I lowered the document to my waist. “But I’m not a vampire. I’m a half-vampire.”
“To your average sorcerer, there’s no difference,” said Jajaras. “In the eyes of the
sorcerers, we are all abominations who must be cleansed from the earth. Frankly, I am
looking forward to the war, because it will mean we vampires can finally go all out against
“Are you going to fight in it?” I said.
Jajaras shook his head. “Of course not. And neither will anyone else in my master’s
employ. We shall remain outside of the conflict and wait for the perfect opportunity to
strike, when both sides are too weak to fight.”
“Is that part of your master’s plans or is he just afraid of getting killed?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” said Jajaras. “Now, let’s discuss exactly how you are going
to kill Michaels. We already have a plan figured out, one that incorporates your unique
skills and abilities. All you need to do is follow it.”
“You mean you aren’t going to ask me for my opinion on it?” I said. “At all?”
“There’s no need,” said Jajaras. “My master is very knowledgeable about half-vampires
and is aware of their legendary powers and abilities. Plus, we’ve been watching you, Tara
Lee, ever since you killed Lord Taranas and prevented him from getting the Vampire
Sword. We know far more about you than you can even guess.”
Given how they had known about my connection to Lucius—as well as how desperately I
wanted to see him again—I did not doubt that Jajaras and his master knew even more than
they let on. They might even know who my mother was. It would not be wise to test their
claim, because I had a feeling they were going to pass with flying colors.
Instead, I said, “All right, tell me what I need to do. I’m all ears.”
Jajaras leaned against the table, his arms still folded in front of his chest. “It’s simple. You
will break into Michaels’ home on his ranch in Texas and kill him in his sleep.”
I frowned. “Really? It’s that simple?”
“It sounds simple, but as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot more to it than just that,” said
Jajaras. “Michaels didn’t reach his level of power and influence in the sorcerer community
by being stupid, after all. His ranch is well-protected, both with normal human defenses
such as gates and fences, and magical, such as spells designed to detect intruders or
magically-locked doors. His bedroom is especially well-protected, with a wide variety of
different spells that could turn any would-be assassin or thief into mushy paste if they’re not
I gulped. “Maybe we should abandon this plan, then, because I’m not good enough to
break into anywhere just yet.”
“Oh, you won’t be alone,” said Jajaras. “You’ll be escorted into the ranch by a spy on the
inside, who Michaels believes is a trusted subordinate. This spy will disable some of the
magical defenses protecting Michaels, though only temporarily in order to give you the
chance to enter and kill Michaels. You won’t have the luxury of time. You will have to get
in and out without delay.”
“A spy?” I said. “How did you get a vampire into the ranch like that? And one that’s won
“When did I say that the spy was a vampire?” said Jajaras with a smirk. “He’s a sorcerer,
just like your father.”
“A sorcerer?” I said. “Why would a sorcerer work for your master? I thought sorcerers and
vampires didn’t work together for any reason.”
“Our master has a way of bringing together the most unlikely of allies,” said Jajaras.
“Once you meet him yourself, you will understand. Until then, however, you must kill
Michaels. If you do so, we will free Lucius, per our agreement.”
“What if I fail?” I said. “Suppose something goes wrong and I fail to kill Michaels. What
will you do then?”
Jajaras chuckled. “What will I do? Wrong question. Ask what my master will do, because
one thing I can guarantee you, Tara Lee, is that my master rewards failure one way only:
Death to the one who failed. It’s quite motivating.”
The plan to assassinate Michaels had to wait until tomorrow night, because Michaels
would not be at his ranch until then and the spy within Michaels’ ranch needed time to
disable the defensive spells and prepare everything for me. So Jajaras took me back to my
apartment, where he left several documents about the ranch with me which his spies had
gathered over the last couple of years. He gave me strict orders to keep them to myself and
not share them with other people. He warned me that sharing the documents—as well as the
plan to assassinate Michaels itself—would be treated exactly the same as if I had gone
ahead and told someone else about the plan, which meant that Lucius would be killed and I
would be as well.
I normally wouldn’t mind having to go back to my apartment, but there was no way I
could relax under the current circumstances. I couldn’t even read the documents, because I
was so worried about someone finding out what I was doing that I found it hard to focus
long enough to read them.
Nonetheless, I sat at the kitchen table, picking up random documents and staring at them
blankly before putting them back down. I only got the most basic information from them.
The ranch was called the Four Spell Ranch, it had been founded in 1885 by Michaels’
father, it was known to the Powerless world but people just thought that Michaels was an
eccentric billionaire of some sort rather than the sorcerer he actually was, and so on. Under
other circumstances this would have made for interesting reading material, but now all it did
was make me anxious. Even Freddy sitting in my lap wasn’t enough to make me feel better.
Why had I agreed to do this? It was the dumbest thing I’d done yet. I should have just said
no to Jajaras and tried to take him and his fellow vamps down back in the Park. But if I’d
refused, then that would have put Lucius’ life at risk.
And there was the problem. Lucius. I cared too much about him. I didn’t want to put his
life in danger. I didn’t want him to die. I wanted to see him again, to be with him again,
despite knowing how impossible that really was. Jajaras had exploited my feelings for
Lucius and now I was about to pay the price for letting him do that.
I couldn’t even call Dad and talk to him about it, because if I did, then I was sure that
Jajaras would know and kill Lucius. Nor was there anyone else in the world I could talk to
about this, either, for the same reason. And I would have to wait an entire day with this
knowledge weighing on my heart. I was glad that tomorrow was my day off from work, but
then I realized that would mean spending all day tomorrow by myself, rather than having
my secretary work to distract me.
“Freddy, you’re the only one I can talk to about this,” I said, stroking Freddy’s ears softly.
“But you can’t help me, because you’re just a cat and you don’t know anything.”
Freddy purred contentedly in my lap, seemingly not noticing my depressed tone. Either
that or he noticed and just didn’t care, which I wouldn’t put past him, given how he was a
cat and all.
There was a sudden knock at the door, loud and insistent. As usual, Freddy immediately
sprang from my lap and hid behind the fridge, his claws cutting my skin. Frowning in
annoyance, I nonetheless stood up and said, “Hold on, I’m coming!”
I walked over to the door and opened it. I didn’t know who I expected to see, but I
definitely did not expect to see Bartholomew Reynolds standing in the doorway, a serious
expression on his face.
“Bart?” I said. “What are you doing here? And how did you find my apartment?”
“The Internet is a useful tool, even though it’s mostly something the Powerless use to
make up for their lack of magical ability,” said Bart. “As for why I’m here, I need … help.”
Bart sounded very reluctant when he said that, almost as if he was ashamed to admit it.
Then I remembered how angry he had been earlier, about how he refused to work with
Christians and how he saw me and Dad as traitors to the sorcerer community, and I realized
that he was probably just reluctant to come to a Christian for help.
“Help with what?” I said.
“The war,” said Bart. “Remember? The one I told you about?”
“Ah,” I said, nodding, trying not to look guilty. “Right, the war between the sorcerers and
vampires that you think someone is trying to start up.”
“I don’t just think someone is trying to start it,” said Bart. “I know someone is. And I think
I’ve finally figured out who it is.”
“Oh, really?” I said. “That’s interesting. What do you need my help with?”
Bart looked up and down the hallway outside my apartment quickly, as if to make sure we
weren’t being eavesdropped, before leaning forward and saying, in a low voice, “Because if
it is who I think it is, then I can’t defeat him on my own. I need help … and you’re the only
one who I think can help.”
“Hold on,” I said, holding up a hand. “This is all so fast. I don’t even know who you’re
Bart pulled back. “Forgive me. It’s just that time is of the essence and I have a hard time
being patient, especially once I learn the truth. We should sit down in your apartment and I
can tell you all about it.”
I almost nodded, but then remembered all the papers on the kitchen table and said, “Uh,
can you wait just a minute? My apartment is really messy and I need to clean it up a bit
before you can come in. It’s a literal garbage dump.”
Bart frowned and looked over my shoulder. “It doesn’t look that bad to—”
I slammed the door in his face and rushed to the kitchen. Scooping up all the documents in
my arms, I rushed to my bedroom, kicked open the door, and dumped all of the documents
on the floor near the foot of my bed. Then I grabbed my coat off my bed and tossed it over
the documents, which hid them sort of well, but would have to do for now.
Rushing out of my room, I opened the apartment door again and found Bart still standing
where I’d left him. “Okay, it’s all clean now. Come in and make yourself comfortable.”
Bart eyed me suspiciously, but then shrugged, maybe deciding I was just weird or
something, and entered. I closed the door behind him and the two of us walked into the
kitchen, where Bart took a seat on one of the chairs and I leaned against the kitchen sink.
“So,” I said, wrapping my fingers around the handle of the false drawer of the kitchen
sink, “this seems kind of late.”
“I know,” said Bart. I noticed he had bags under his eyes, which he immediately rubbed as
if he was sleepy. “And normally, I wouldn’t bother calling up anyone this late, but when I
get engrossed in research, I have a tendency to forget what time it is. Back when I was an
Apprentice, I would pick up a book before I went to bed thinking I would read a page or
two, only to spend all night reading it. And these were long books, too, with plenty of
difficult language to decipher.”
“Well, the late hour doesn’t really bother me, given that I’m half-vampire and all,” I said.
“But I take it that your research was fruitful.”
“I think it is,” said Bart, leaning back in my chair and yawning. “After I left you and your
Dad, I figured that I was all on my own in regards to stopping the war. I was lost at first,
because aside from that letter I showed you, I didn’t have much else to go on in regards to
finding out who was trying to manipulate both sides into going to war against each other.”
“Then how did you end up finding out who did it?” I said.
“The letter itself,” Bart replied. He pulled the letter out of his pocket again and laid it on
the table. “You see, there are certain spells which can scan a letter and the materials it is
made out of and tell you exactly what kind of ink and paper was used to make the letter. It’s
a spell mostly used by the Sorcerer Parliament’s Law Enforcers, because it is helpful for
solving crimes, but otherwise it is seen as a useless spell by most sorcerers. Even I
downplayed its importance until I realized that it could help me figure out who had made
the letter and where it came from.”
“Interesting,” I said. “What did the spell reveal?”
“Firstly, the letter is made of very fine paper,” said Bart. “A very expensive kind that you
can’t just find in your average office supply store. Same with the ink, which is even more
expensive and fine. You would need to be a fairly wealthy individual in order to have access
to the materials used to create this letter, which was my first clue that the person trying to
start the war is wealthy.”
Thinking about Castle Rook and how big and ancient it was, I nodded. “Yeah, that makes
sense. Still doesn’t tell us who it is, though.”
“Actually, it tells us more than you’d think,” said Bart. “There aren’t many figures in the
sorcerer or vampire world with this kind of money, so I eventually narrowed it down to a
handful of wealthy people on either side. Once I had the wealthy narrowed down, I started
looking for examples of their handwriting so I could compare it to the handwriting on the
Cyclops’ letter. I found several examples in the Sorcerer Parliament’s Library of
Knowledge, which was how I eventually figured out who had written that letter in the first
“And?” I said. “Who wrote it?”
Bart once again looked around, as if afraid someone might eavesdrop on us. Of course, the
only ‘person’ who might eavesdrop on us was Freddy, and he was currently too busy hiding
behind the fridge to eavesdrop on anyone at the moment.
Finally, Bart looked at me and said, “Luke Michaels, the oldest and most respected
member of the Sorcerer Parliament.”
My eyes widened in shock and my jaw fell open. “You can’t be serious.”
“You mean you know who Luke Michaels is?” said Bart. “I thought you were ignorant of
the sorcerer world.”
I gulped. “Uh, Dad told me about the Sorcerer Parliament once, including who Luke
Michaels is. I’m still not very familiar with him, of course, but I know that he’s the oldest
and longest serving member of the Sorcerer Parliament.”
“Well, you’re right about that,” said Bart, nodding. “He’s also a powerful sorcerer in his
own right. Some people think he could be the next Supreme Sorcerer, though he’s never
shown any interest in that title as far as I know.”
“Supreme Sorcerer?” I said. “What’s that?”
“You mean you’ve never heard of the Supreme Sorcerer?” said Bart. “Odd. I thought the
Hunter taught you about the Six Steps.”
“He did,” I said. “But none of the Steps are called Supreme Sorcerer.”
“That’s because the title of Supreme Sorcerer isn’t something everyone can attain,” said
Bart. “It’s a once in a generation—maybe even less than that—title granted only to sorcerers
of the most powerful abilities. There is only ever one Supreme Sorcerer at any one time,
because the title is bestowed upon the Supreme Sorcerer by the Origin itself. And anyone
arrogant enough to take the title for themselves will usually end up getting killed in horrible
I grimaced. “Well, who is the current Supreme Sorcerer, then?”
“There isn’t one,” said Bart, shaking his head. “The last Supreme Sorcerer died thirty
years ago, killed by a Vampire Lord. The Origin has yet to see fit to grant that title to a
“How long does it normally take for the Origin to choose a new Supreme Sorcerer?” I
“No one knows,” said Bart with a shrug. “The Origin moves on its own schedule. In some
points of history, the next Supreme Sorcerer has been chosen almost immediately after the
death of the previous one. At other times, a full century passed before the Origin chose the
next one. It is pretty much impossible to predict, but thankfully the Sorcerer Parliament
doesn’t need the Supreme Sorcerer to function.”
“Then what’s the point of having a Supreme Sorcerer in the first place?” I said, tilting my
head to the side.
“The Supreme Sorcerer is supposed to delve into the secrets of the Origin and pass its
knowledge on to the new generations of sorcerers in order to make sure that the Origin’s
knowledge is not lost,” said Bart. “The Supreme Sorcerer has also, throughout history,
defended the sorcerer community and Earth in general from supernatural threats which even
Master Sorcerers have been unable to defeat.”
“What kind of threat is so powerful that it needs a Supreme Sorcerer to deal with?”
“You don’t want to know,” said Bart with a shudder. “Anyway, that’s irrelevant to what
I’m trying to tell you. The point is that Luke Michaels appears to be the one trying to
engineer a war between the sorcerers and the vampires.”
“But why would he do that?” I said. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but if Luke Michaels is
a member of the Sorcerer Parliament, then doesn’t he have a vested interest in making sure
that there isn’t some kind of war?”
“I don’t know why he would do something like that,” said Bart, shaking his head. “I don’t
even want to believe it, because all my life I’ve grown up thinking that Michaels is a hero.
He’s been one of my biggest magical inspirations, right next to the Hunter himself. If
Michaels is trying to engineer such a stupid, pointless, and destructive conflict, then either
he’s completely lost his mind or he’s not as good as everyone was led to believe. Either
explanation is troubling, I’m sure you understand.”
“I do,” I said, nodding. “So what are you going to do about it?”
Bart rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. If I went and accused Michaels of doing this
without any proof, I could get in serious trouble with the Parliament. I might even get my
vampire hunting license revoked and get kicked out of the Vampire Hunters Guild itself. At
the very least, people just won’t believe me and my credibility would take a serious hit and I
might embarrass my father. But I also can’t just sit here and do nothing about it.”
“Why did you come to me about it?” I said. I folded my arms in front of my chest. “I
thought you didn’t trust me, or my dad for that matter, because we’re ‘traitors’ to the
Bart hung his head on his chest. “I’m sorry for saying that earlier. I just got so upset that
all of the worst rumors I heard about the Hunter were true that I stomped out without really
thinking. It’s a bad habit of mine that I’ve tried to curb in the past, but it still gets me when I
least expect it.”
“I’ll say,” I said. “I thought you were going to report me to the Parliament because I was a
Christian rather than because I’m a half-vampire.”
“Sorry about that,” said Bart, again without looking at me. “The reason I came to you is
because I figured you were the only person who would listen to me. No one else in the
Guild would believe my theory, and there’s no one in Parliament who would, either.”
I bit my lower lip, but said nothing. I was thinking about how this tied into the plan that
Jajaras roped me into. It seemed strange to me that Michaels would be trying to engineer the
war but at the same time also want me to assassinate him. Either Bart was wrong and
Michaels was not Jajaras’ master or something crazy was going on here that none of us
quite understood. I wasn’t a betting woman, but given all of the twists and turns that had
happened so far, I was willing to bet on the latter.
But I couldn’t share my thoughts with Bart, because if I did, Jajaras would kill Lucius. I
would have to be careful about what I said, because if I was too loose with my words, I
could easily make this situation infinitely worse than it had to be.
“I see,” I said slowly. “Maybe you should investigate this matter more fully first before
you do anything. It’s not like you have ironclad proof, after all. Right now, you just have
evidence that seems to point in that direction, but maybe you need some more evidence first
before you make any conclusions.”
“You’re probably right,” said Bart with a sigh. He raised his head to look at me. “But let
me tell you, Tara, that I don’t have confidence that any evidence I find will change this
conclusion. It’s just a feeling at the moment, but in the past, my instincts about such matters
have consistently turned out right. It’s why my father always used to tell me that I would
make a great detective for the Parliament, because I was capable of solving puzzles that
most people can’t with very little evidence.”
“I know, but I think it would still be best if you did a bit more investigation before
jumping to any conclusions,” I said. “Maybe you should go back to the Sorcerer Parliament
and try searching for clues there. You never know. You might find the proof you need to
convince everyone about your conclusion.”
“You’ve got a good point,” said Bart, nodding. “The Sorcerer Parliament headquarters
would likely be the best place to search for more evidence. Even so, I’ll have to be careful,
because if Michaels really is behind this plot, then he will probably try to destroy me if he
finds out what I’m doing.”
I felt relieved that Bart was going to do that, because it meant he would have to leave my
apartment and wouldn’t find out what I was going to do. “Great. So why don’t you leave
now and get a head start on the investigation? Time’s a-wasting and you have a war to
prevent, after all.”
“Right,” said Bart. “But I was wondering if you would like to come with me and help.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You want me to help you? Why?”
Bart leaned forward, resting his arms on the table as he did so. “Because I need as many
allies as I can get and you would be helpful. Plus, I’m worried that those vampires might try
to get you again and I want to make sure that you’re where I can see you.”
“Oh, thanks for worrying about me and all, Bart, but you really shouldn’t,” I said, waving
at him in a casual way. “I’ll be fine on my own. I think that, after you threw the knife into
the back of that vampire, they’ll leave me alone for a while. You should just focus on
confirming the identity of Cyclops. I can take care of myself.”
I wish I could have told him the truth, but unfortunately I didn’t want to put his life or
Lucius’ life into danger by letting him in on the fact that those vampires had essentially
already gotten me. I wanted Bart to be as far away from me as possible so that he wouldn’t
get involved in this assassination plot. While Bart could be kind of an asshole, I could tell
that he was a genuinely decent guy underneath and that he just wanted to do the right thing.
Bart frowned. “Well, all right. It would probably not be wise to bring a half-vampire to the
Sorcerer Parliament anyway, even if you are the daughter of the legendary Hunter. I doubt
they would be happy to see you.”
He rose from his chair. “Thanks for letting me into your apartment for this chat. I feel like
I now have a proper direction for my investigation. With luck, I’ll have the proof I need to
present to the rest of the Sorcerer Parliament in a few days, hopefully before that war starts.
And if I find anything important, I’ll let you know.”
With that, Bart turned and left my apartment. I waited until he closed the door behind him
and heard his footsteps walking away down the hallway before I sighed and sat down on a
Nothing really made sense to me anymore. If Bart was right, then Michaels was both
engineering the war and yet at the same time trying to make me kill him. Furthermore, that
would mean that Michaels, a sorcerer, somehow got a bunch of vampires under his control,
which was a bizarre thought by itself, regardless of what Jajaras said about the
persuasiveness of his master. Clearly, there was a lot more going on than either Bart or I
understood, but unfortunately I had no way of finding out the truth.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Tomorrow night, when I went to assassinate Michaels on
his ranch, I would probably find out what was really going on here. One way or another, I
would discover the truth … and, despite how curious I was, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for
Tomorrow night found me crouching in the bushes just outside of the Four Wand Ranch,
which was Luke Michaels’ private ranch. More specifically, I was on its northeastern side,
outside of the tall, barb wire fence which ran the entire length of the Ranch. It was an
impressively tall fence, without any holes big enough for me to slip through. That normally
wouldn’t be a problem, because I could jump high enough to clear the top of the fence
easily, but the problem was that the fence was magically enchanted to block people who
tried to jump over it. The documents Jajaras gave me weren’t very clear on what would
happen to me if I tried to jump the fence, but they did make it clear that it would be painful
and that even if I survived, the Ranch guards would be alerted to my presence and capture
me before I could even think of escaping.
That was why I was sitting out here, a few minutes before midnight, waiting for the spy on
the inside of the Ranch to turn off the spell long enough for me to jump the fence.
According to Jajaras, the spy was supposed to show up at midnight exactly and disable the
security spell around this portion of the fence long enough for me to jump over it and land
on the other side. Then I would sneak into Michaels’ mansion, where I would then find
Michaels’ room, break in, and do the deed I had been dreading to do all day.
So far, I had not seen anyone in this corner of the Ranch, though that was to be expected,
partly because it wasn’t midnight yet, partly because I had already been informed that this
particular corner of the Ranch was rarely visited even by the ranch hands, which would
make it easier for me to sneak up to the mansion. I did, however, see the large, ornate
mansion located not too far from the fence itself. Most of the lights were on in the windows,
though my eyes were drawn to the upper right window on the highest floor, because that
was supposedly where Michaels’ room was. The light was off in there, which was how I
knew that Michaels was already in bed, or was getting ready to go to bed if he wasn’t
My hands were sweaty and my nerves were close to being shot. My blood lust was also
acting up the way it always did whenever I got nervous. I had taken a couple of sips of
monkey blood before going out precisely to avoid this, but it must not have been enough
because my mouth still thirsted for blood. I cursed myself for not bringing along a bottle for
precisely this kind of situation.
A part of me said that there was still time to leave, that I could get up and run away. I
didn’t even need to use the Shadow Way if I didn’t want to. I could just run all the way back
home, which would take several hours, but given my improved speed and stamina as a halfvampire,
that wasn’t nearly as daunting as it might have appeared at first glance. It wasn’t
midnight yet, after all.
But then I heard footsteps in the darkness on the other side of the fence and realized that
my time was up. A person-shaped silhouette appeared under the half moon’s rays making its
way slowly but surely over to the fence. The silhouette didn’t stop or hesitate, which meant
that it had to be the spy within the Ranch. He must have been confident that no one was
following him, otherwise he would not be moving so quickly and confidently.
The figure stopped in front of the fence, allowing me to see that it was a fairly lanky man
wearing a hood over his face. He raised a hand and waved it in front of the fence once. The
air around the fence shimmered and then faded, which was how I knew that he had disabled
the security spell.
Rising from the bushes, I jumped into the air as high as I could. I soared over the top of the
fence and landed on the ground next to the spy, who took a step away from me, perhaps
surprised by my sudden landing.
Standing up, I dusted off my pants and looked at the spy. “Hi, I’m Tara, the—”
“The half-vampire Jajaras told me about,” said the spy. His voice was creaky, like a pipe.
“You can jump rather high.”
“Comes with the territory,” I said with a shrug. “And you are the spy, right?”
The man nodded, though he didn’t remove his hood. “Yes. I’m Ethan Jester, the assistant
to Luke Michaels. Pleasure to meet you.”
I nodded. “Same here, though I guess you aren’t exactly a ‘loyal’ assistant to him, eh?”
Ethan looked away. “Michaels and the rest of the Parliament are fools. My true master,
however, is a visionary. Once you kill Michaels, you won’t see me crying at his funeral, I’ll
tell you that much.”
I tilted my head to the side. “Your ‘true’ master, eh? You mean the guy Jajaras works for,
the guy whose identity I still don’t know.”
“And whose identity you won’t know until it is needed,” Ethan said. He pointed toward
the mansion in the distance. “Now, enough talking. To reach the mansion, simply head
straight from here until you reach the back door. I left it unlocked and have also disabled all
of the mansion’s security spells. You won’t have to worry about being detected before you
“What about other guards?” I said. “Is there anyone else in the mansion I should be aware
“Nope,” said Ethan, shaking his head. “The other ranch hands stay in a bunkhouse on the
other side of the ranch. The mansion itself is reserved solely for Michaels, as well as any
guests he has over, but tonight Michaels is alone.”
“Is he asleep?” I said.
“He should be,” said Ethan. “Michaels may be a powerful sorcerer, but he’s still an old
man who needs his rest just like every other old person on the planet. He probably went to
sleep at least an hour ago, if not longer. By the time you get up there, he should be out cold
and will never hear you coming up behind him.”
I nodded, but in truth, I didn’t like how efficiently Ethan had managed to take out every
possible threat to the operation. I had hoped that something might go wrong, forcing us to
put off the assassination attempt for another night and therefore give me more time to figure
out how to get out of this, but it was obvious to me that the Cyclops (who I was sure was the
man who employed both Ethan and Jajaras) had been very smart about recruiting intelligent
people. That meant that I would have to hope for a miracle from God, but somehow I didn’t
think that the Lord of hosts was in the mood to bail me out of this situation.
“All right, then,” I said. “Time for me to go. See you later.”
“First, however, I need to make sure you know the backup plan,” said Ethan. “Jajaras went
over it with you, didn’t he?”
I nodded again. “Yeah. If the plan fails, I retreat into the Shadow Way and then send a
signal to let Jajaras know that I failed so he can fish me out of there. We went over it before
I came here.”
“Good,” said Ethan. “I just wanted to make sure that he hadn’t neglected to go over that
part of the plan with you, given Jajaras’ tendency to forget important details. Just typical
vamp behavior, you understand.”
Frankly, I didn’t, but given how little contact I had with vampires, perhaps I was just
inexperienced. “Okay. If you don’t have anything else to talk with me about, then I’m going
“Good luck,” said Ethan. “As for me, I’m going back to the bunkhouse. I left a fake replica
of myself in my bed there to make sure no one noticed I was missing, so I will have the
perfect alibi in the event you fail to kill Michaels.”
I frowned. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Some people need to model long term thinking to those who are less than capable of it,”
Ethan replied. “Vamps are notorious for their inability to think longer than their next meal.
Given how you are half-vampire, I wonder how that has affected your long term thinking
skills. Likely negatively, though I can’t say for sure.”
I scowled. “My ‘long term thinking skills’ are just fine. Now, are you just going to keep
passive aggressively insulting me like that or are you going to leave?”
Ethan shook his head. “I forget how sensitive vamps can be at times, but very well. The
next time we see each other, the war will have hopefully begun and the master’s plan will be
in full swing.”
Ethan turned around and walked away, this time moving quicker than before. I didn’t wait
to watch him go, however. Instead, I immediately walked in the direction he had told me
about, cutting across the wide property and doing my best to keep low to the ground to
avoid being spotted. I know Ethan said that there was no one in the mansion except
Michaels and that he had disabled all of the security spells, but it was still wise to be as
stealthy as possible anyway.
Despite the absolute immensity of the area around the mansion, I reached the mansion
itself quickly. I stopped behind an old-fashioned well that didn’t seem to be in use anymore
and looked around again. I had reached the back of the mansion which, as Ethan had said,
was completely undefended. I didn’t see any guards standing nearby or even a dog lying on
the porch. The back door light was on, but it wasn’t very bright, though it did make my eyes
squint slightly and my skin itch when it touched me.
It looked safe to cross, but then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to go through the back
door to reach Michaels’ room. The window to his room above me looked wide enough for
me to enter, and if Ethan was correct, then Michaels was probably sleeping like a rock right
now, which meant he wouldn’t be able to hear me enter, assuming I was quiet. Plus, I could
jump or climb up the house fairly easily.
So I ran out from behind the well and began climbing the back of the house. In seconds, I
reached the roof and carefully made my way over to the window to Michaels’ room.
Stopping on the window sill, I peered through the window carefully, just to make sure that
Michaels was actually asleep.
The room was completely dark, with not a single light turned on, not even a night light.
But my night vision allowed me to see Luke Michaels sleeping on his bed in the center of
the room. His back was to me, but there was no mistaking that long gray hair for the hair of
anyone else. I didn’t see anyone else in the room with him, either, which meant that I was
free to enter and kill him.
It took me a second to break the locks and open the window from the outside. Before I
pushed the windows open, however, I hesitated. Though I was in deep now, there was still a
chance—however remote—that I could turn and leave now. I could run away and leave
Michaels to sleep soundly in his bed. I didn’t need to kill him. I didn’t need to start a war
that would destroy both the sorcerer and vampire communities.
But then I thought about Lucius and how I didn’t want him to die. So I pushed open the
window and slipped inside as silently as I could, my feet lightly landing on the solid wood
And as soon as the soles of my shoes touched the floor, every light in the room turned on
The pain from being hit by so much light at once was what I imagined having a pot of
boiling water thrown in your face must have felt like. I screamed and slammed my hands
over my face and fell onto the floor, pulling my head down, trying to do my best to create as
dark a space as possible. But the lights were so bright that even the darkest place I could
make was still too bright. The light overhead burned every inch of my exposed skin, making
me feel like I was sitting in an oven.
“There you are,” said an old, deep voice above me. “I thought a vamp might try to get me,
but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
I slowly raised my head to see who had spoken, though it was hard to see because the light
was so bright. I put my hands over my eyes to protect my vision, though even that didn’t
offer as much protection as I would have liked.
Standing before me was Luke Michaels himself. He looked pretty much exactly the same
as he did in the pictures I had seen of him, except wearing blue pajamas rather than fancy
sorcerer robes. He was leaning on his cane for support, but I didn’t think he looked even
remotely weak, because his eyes were harsh and piercing. Even if the room had been
completely dark, I wasn’t sure I would have been able to meet his stern gaze without
looking away or begging for forgiveness for something bad I did.
“A pretty one, you are,” said Michaels, “but I know from experience that females are often
more dangerous than males. Luckily, females burn just as easily under bright light as
“How … how did you know I was going to attack you like this?” I said. I found it hard to
speak due to all of the pain I was in.
Michaels leaned on his cane and stroked his beard. “It’s something that the other members
of the Parliament and I discussed after that initial attack on us. We suspected that whoever
had sent those vamps to kill us would try to take one of us out when we were apart from the
others. So before I went to bed, I cast a light spell that would activate as soon as a vampire
set foot in my room. It’s one of the simplest and oldest security spells created by sorcerers,
but also one of the more reliable ones.”
I had to look down at the floor, rather than at Michaels himself, because looking up at him
meant looking at the light on the ceiling, which would have meant going blind, and I didn’t
want to go blind. “Do you know who sent me, then?”
“I can guess,” said Michaels. “The same person who sent those vampires to attack me and
the other Parliament members, presumably. I don’t quite know how you managed to break
into my Ranch, but I assume you must have had help on the inside, which means that after
I’m done with you, I will have to go through and find out who betrayed me.”
I looked up at Michaels urgently. “Hey, wait! I don’t know what you mean by ‘done with
you,’ but I’m not like those vampires who attacked you. I’m on your side and—”
Michaels slammed his cane in my face, knocking me to the floor. Then he jabbed the tip of
the cane into my neck, which burned like fire and made me gasp in pain.
“’I’m on your side,’” Michaels repeated mockingly. “Please. You just admitted that you
came here to kill me. That is not what someone on ‘my’ side would do. You’re a liar, and a
bad one at that, like most vamps.”
“Why does your cane hurt …?” I said, barely able to think through the pain against my
“Silver tip,” said Michaels with a smirk. “By itself, it can’t really kill you, but it’s useful
for pinning vamps to the floor like this.” He pulled a silver knife out from behind his back.
“This knife, on the other hand, can kill you. The question, then, is whether I should behead
you or stab you in the heart. Which would you rather experience? The beheading is quicker
and generally painless, while the knife takes a little longer to do the job and is quite a bit
I would have said that I didn’t want to do either, but between the bright light and the
silver-tipped cane being forced against my throat, I couldn’t speak at all.
“Beheading it is, then,” said Michaels. “A good choice, if I do say so myself.”
Uh oh. There was still a lot I didn’t know about my half-vampire powers, but one thing I
did know was that I would die just as easily as anyone if I got beheaded. The knowledge
that I was only a few seconds away from the end of my life sent adrenaline running through
I grabbed Michaels’ cane and shoved him backward. Michaels staggered backwards, a
look of surprise on his face, while I jumped to my feet and turned to run away through the
window. But before I could get very far, I heard something thrown at me and felt Michaels’
knife stab into my arm, making me stagger forward and grab a nearby chair for balance.
Looking at my arm, I saw Michaels’ knife embedded firmly in my flesh. I felt it, too, like a
branding iron being applied firmly to my skin.
“Now, now,” said Michaels, wagging a finger at me. “You aren’t going to get away that
easily, vamp. You aren’t going anywhere, in fact, until I say you can.”
I gritted my teeth. Bart hadn’t been lying about Michaels being a powerful sorcerer, and he
hadn’t even used any magic yet. I ripped the knife out of my arm and howled in pain as
black blood flowed out of the wound, but the immediate burning sensation was gone and the
pain was already starting to go away.
But Michaels waved his cane like a wand and thick steel chains descended from the ceiling
and wrapped around my arms. With a yelp, I was yanked up toward the ceiling, much closer
to the light, which burned my skin even hotter than before now that I was closer to it. I
couldn’t even look at the light anymore, forcing myself to look down at Michaels below,
who was grinning up at me like a madman.
“You’re a surprisingly tough one, given how you managed to pull that knife out of your
arm like that,” said Michaels. “Most vamps would have been paralyzed by shock if they
were stabbed like that, but perhaps you’re tougher than most. Never mind that. No vampire
can handle intense exposure to so much light at once like this. I can already see your skin
starting to smoke.”
What the hell? He was right. Slight wisps of smoke were already starting to rise from the
exposed parts of my skin. If I didn’t act soon, my whole body would catch flame, and once
it did, I would be dead for sure. Breaking the chains holding me up wouldn’t be that hard,
but there was no point in freeing myself if the light was going to continue to shine on me.
I exerted my strength and yanked as hard as I could on the chains. The chains snapped and
I fell to the floor, landing in a three point landing, but Michaels waved his cane again and
made the floor shake underneath me. The sudden tremor caused me to stagger and nearly
fall over, but I managed to regain my balance just as Michaels rushed toward me with
surprising speed, holding his cane before him like a sword.
I drew Domination from my side and held it up just as Michaels’ cane came flying at me.
Michaels’ cane struck my sword and almost knocked me off my feet, but I kept my balance,
holding Domination before me as Michaels forced me down with his cane. Despite being
such an old man, he was surprisingly strong, though it didn’t help that my arm was still
bleeding from where his knife had lodged itself earlier.
“A silver sword?” said Michaels, his voice slightly strained as he pushed against me.
“Interesting. I have never known a vampire to use any sort of silver weapon. Just what are
I gritted my teeth. “Not your ordinary vampire.”
With a grunt, I shoved Michaels back. Surprised, Michaels staggered backwards and I
lashed out with Domination, knocking his cane out of his hands. He grabbed his hand where
I’d cut it and cursed under his breath, but then I kicked him in the chest. He staggered and
stumbled backwards again, falling at the foot of his bed, and before he could get up, I stood
before him and placed the tip of Domination’s sword against his throat. Michaels froze, but
when he looked up into my eyes, I only saw hatred and anger, but not fear.
“You are … strong,” said Michaels, who was panting and still grasping his wrist. “I
thought you were rookie at first, but you seem a fair bit smarter than your average Newborn.
I suppose you’re going to kill me, now that you have me at your mercy.”
I still didn’t want to, because killing Michaels would just help the guy who was trying to
provoke a war between the sorcerers and the vampires. It would be the morally wrong thing
to do, and I knew it.
But my vampire half didn’t care. Michaels had burned my skin with his light, stabbed me
in the arm, and tried to kill me more than once. There was no way I was going to let
someone who had just tried their damnedest to kill me survive, especially someone as
powerful and influential as Michaels, who could easily make my life a living hell if he
survived even if he didn’t know my name. He needed to die.
So I raised Domination and slashed Michaels’ throat.
Domination cut cleanly through Michaels’ throat. Michaels’ eyes widened in surprise one
last time before his eyeballs rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed onto the floor,
blood leaking out of his throat and staining his pajamas. The stench of human blood made
my mouth water, but instead of bending over to start drinking, I dropped Domination on the
floor and stared at Michaels’ corpse in horror.
What had I done? I’d killed a man—an innocent man—in cold blood. I let my vampire
side get the best of me. I hadn’t even been thinking when I killed him. I was just so upset
from my fight with him that I didn’t even think twice about killing Michaels. The motion
came to me as naturally as if I did this every day.
I didn’t scream, mostly because my vocal chords seemed to freeze in my throat. I couldn’t
take my eyes off Michaels’ corpse. Even when the magical light went off—with Michaels
dead, there was no one to sustain its energy—all I could do was stare, with unbelieving
eyes, at the slowly widening pool of blood forming around his neck.
I looked at Domination, which lay on the floor nearby. Its tip was stained with Michaels’
blood, making it look less like a sword for justice and more like a murder tool. But wasn’t
that what it was now? It was a weapon used to kill an innocent man in cold blood. It was a
weapon I used to kill an innocent man in cold blood. And even worse, war between the
vampires and sorcerers was all but assured now, and it was my fault.
Once again, I found myself questioning my own salvation. If this wasn’t proof that the
Holy Spirit had left my body when I became a half-vampire, then I didn’t know what was.
For the last month, I’d thought that maybe I was overreacting before, that perhaps God
hadn’t abandoned me after all when I became a half-vampire, that my salvation was just as
assured as it ever was, maybe even more so because I would need God’s holiness to keep
my vampire side in check.
Now, however, I was far less sure of that than before and, instead, far more sure that God
was no longer with me. Maybe murder wasn’t the unforgivable sin, but surely this was a
sign that my salvation was essentially lost. It was even worse when I thought about all of the
people who were going to die in the upcoming war, the people whose lives I put in danger,
even if I didn’t mean to.
The door to Michaels’ room burst open and two men rushed into the room armed with
wands. I realized that they were sorcerers, perhaps some of Michaels’ own bodyguards, who
had either heard the fighting or perhaps had been made aware of the fight thanks to some
kind of alarm. They stopped as soon as they crossed the threshold and held their wands
before them like swords.
“Parliamentarian Michaels!” one of the guards cried out. “We heard fighting in your room
“He’s dead!” the other guard said. “And that woman killed him!”
Without waiting to see what either guard would do, I picked up Domination and ran
toward the window. I heard them shouting at me to stop and come back, but I didn’t listen to
a word they said. I jumped through the open window and landed on the roof, crouching just
in time to avoid getting blasted in the back of the head by a fireball that came out after me. I
jumped off the roof and landed on the back porch before taking off across the Ranch, hoping
against hope that Ethan’s disabling of the security spell protecting the Ranch was still in
effect and that I would be able to escape before Michaels’ guards caught me.
But I didn’t get very far before a bright blue light exploded in front of me, forcing me to
come to a stop and cover my eyes with my arm to avoid being blinded. When the light went
away, I lowered my arm and found myself face to face with another Ranch guard, a big,
burly man in jeans and wearing a cowboy hat. I would have mistaken him for just another
average ranch hand if he wasn’t also carrying a silver short sword in his hands.
“Gotcha, vamp!” the guard said. “You’re not going to get away that easily!”
The guard slashed at me with his sword, forcing me to parry the blow with Domination. I
tried to stab him back, but the guard dodged it easily and then immediately rushed in toward
me, his sword slashing across my chest. I raised Domination just in time to block the blow,
but the guard kept striking me again and again with incredibly rapid strokes, forcing me to
block each and every blow. This would have been hard even on a good day, but with my
arm still bleeding from where Michaels’ knife had struck it, I had to use all my wits and
speed just to keep up with the guard’s incredibly fast attacks. If I let even just one blow get
through, I doubted I would stand again.
But then the guard hit Domination too hard and his sword bounced off mine, briefly
leaving his chest open. I immediately slashed at his chest with Domination, cutting cleanly
through his shirt and making him cry out in pain as blood leaked from his chest. Rather than
collapse, however, he lunged toward me one last time, but his aim was off and I dodged him
easily before slamming the flat of Domination in his face. He fell flat on his back and didn’t
I didn’t stop to make sure he was down, however. I rushed through the darkness of the
night toward the fence as fast as possible. Though my strides were rather short due to my
height, I nonetheless made excellent progress, but I could also still hear the guards behind
me and felt the exterior lights of the mansion starting to turn on. I increased my speed,
hoping against hope that I would be able to escape before the Ranch guards caught up with
An earsplitting howl struck my ears like a punch. In the next instant, something large and
hairy bowled into me, knocking me flat off my feet. I hit the ground and gasped in pain,
because I’d fallen on my wounded arm, which made pain explode through me like crazy. I
heard large feet come to a stop nearby and raised my head to see what might be the very last
sight I ever saw.
The thing which had knocked me over was a dog. But not just any dog. It was massive,
probably twice as tall as me, and three times as thick. Its fur was thick and black, an almost
perfect match for the darkness of the night. Its eyes, on the other hand, shone more like
twinkling stars, which would have been beautiful if it wasn’t growling at me like a wolf,
flashing its dagger-like teeth, disgusting saliva dripping out of its mouth onto the ground
upon which it stood.
I recognized the creature from the documents Jajaras gave me earlier. It was a demon dog,
a type of dog that was magically enhanced by a sorcerer. More specifically, it was Michaels’
demon dog, an unnamed creature which the documents said patrolled the ranch at night. I
had completely forgotten about the dog until now, but I didn’t have time to feel ashamed
I rose to my feet, but then the creature rushed toward me. It snapped its teeth again, but I
managed to jump out of the way at the last second, hitting the ground with a roll and rolling
back to my feet several feet away. Again, the pain in my wounded arm exploded, but I
ignored it as I turned around to face the dog again, which had also stopped and turned to
face me, perhaps trying to make sure I wouldn’t dodge it again.
“Nice doggy,” I said, panting hard and trying to make myself look as nonthreatening as
possible. “I don’t know where your owner is, but you clearly aren’t supposed to be out so
late at night. Why don’t you go back to your doggy house and get some rest? I’m sure you
dogs need your sleep, too.”
The demon dog growled, so loud that it sounded like it was right next to my ear, but then
suddenly vanished before my eyes.
“What?” I said, looking around. “Where did it—”
A howling sound behind me was the only warning I got before the dog leaped out of the
shadows and slammed into me from behind. The blow sent me flying and I crashed into the
dirt, rolling along the ground until I came to a stop, dazed by the impact of the crash. I
shook my head, however, and raised my head just in time to see the demon dog rushing
toward me, its teeth bared like knives.
It took me a second to realize that the dog had probably just traveled through the Shadow
Way to sneak up on me, but that thought passed through my mind in a second. In the next, I
raised Domination and slashed at the demon dog when it got close enough. But then the dog
slammed its teeth on Domination and pulled hard, nearly yanking my sword out of my
hands, but I redoubled my grip at the last second and held on to Domination as tightly as I
could. This led to the most dangerous tug-of-war I had ever participated in, with me
struggling to keep Domination and the dog struggling to tear it out of my grasp.
“Let go, you stupid dog,” I growled through gritted teeth. “Let go, before I—”
“The demon dog has found her!” a voice that sounded dangerously too close for comfort
shouted. “I hear him growling! Sounds like he’s struggling with something!”
I looked over my shoulder and saw about three guards running toward us in the darkness.
One of the guards, the one in the lead, had a light at the end of his wand, which was
probably how they were getting around in the darkness, but it didn’t matter. Once they got
here, I was toast, which meant I needed to deal with this dumb dog as soon as possible.
Turning my attention back to the dog, I took one hand off Domination. Sensing victory,
the demon dog started pulling harder than ever, but then I raised a hand and fired a fireball
directly at the dog’s face.
The fireball exploded in the dog’s eyes, causing it to howl in pain and let go of
Domination. I pulled my sword back toward me and scrambled to my feet while the dog
stumbled backwards, whimpering and growling as it shook its head back and forth and
pawed at its own face. I threw another fireball at it for good measure, striking it in the face
again and causing the dog to run away crying like the overgrown puppy it was.
But I didn’t have time to enjoy the fact that I beat the dog. The guards were nearly upon
me, which meant I needed to run, but I was too exhausted from my fight with the other
guard and the demon dog to run. I took a few steps toward the fence, but my strength was
beginning to fail me. In seconds, the guards would reach me, and once they did, I doubted
they would be willing to hear my side of the story.
So I did the only thing I could: I stepped into the darkness and into the Shadow Way itself.
As soon as I passed through the Shadow Way, I dropped Domination again and collapsed
onto the stone floor. I kicked the door closed behind me, but that was all that I had strength
to do. I panted hard, my body practically dripping with sweat, but already I was starting to
calm down, because now that I was in the Shadow Way, I couldn’t hear the Ranch guards
anymore. I also didn’t think that the dog—the creature which the guards called ‘the
Hound’—would be coming after me, either, because getting two fireballs tossed in your face
was rather distracting. For now, at least, that meant I was safe.
I may have been safe, but I was definitely not sound. I rolled over onto my back and
groaned, because my arm was still bleeding. I clutched the knife wound, which felt deep,
but not irreparable. It was times like these that I wished I had healing spells at my
command, because they would have been really helpful right about now. Unfortunately, Dad
had said that healing spells were hard to learn and that he would teach them to me later after
I advanced further in the Steps. It seemed like a reasonable thing to say at the time, but now
I wish I had insisted on Dad teaching me healing spells anyway, because God almighty it
But the physical pain didn’t hurt quite as much as the knowledge that I had killed a human
being. And not just any human being, either, but an important politician, whose death would
likely result in a war that no one would survive. Getting a knife thrown into my arm was
probably the least I deserved for killing him.
Yeah, I know I only killed him because I’d been blackmailed into doing so, but that still
didn’t take away the fact that I’d murdered a man. I’d killed vampires before, but killing a
human being was different. Maybe it was because I didn’t care as much for vampires as I
did for humans, but murdering a human was very much a different experience from killing a
vampire. And not in a good way, either.
But I would worry about my existential crisis later. For now, I needed to get to Dad. He
knew healing spells. He would be able to heal my wound. It would mean having to tell him
exactly how I got this wound, which was a conversation I was not looking forward to
having, but the only other alternative was to lie here and bleed out. And unlike human
blood, vampire blood smelled awful, like crap.
I tried to sit up, but I was still too tired and the pain in my arm made me lie down again
anyway. Maybe I would just rest for a couple more minutes before I went anywhere. Lucius
had told me that vampires could handle wounds much better than humans, that I wouldn’t
have to worry about infection the same way I would if I were purely human, but that was for
full-blooded vampires like him. For a half-vampire like myself, I had no guarantee that
would apply to me. I might just bleed out like a normal human or I might survive like a
vampire. This was the part about being a half-vampire that I really didn’t like: Not knowing
whether I would have vampire or human responses to things—especially potentially lethal
things—I hadn’t experienced before.
But then I heard footsteps nearby. I looked around rapidly, but didn’t see anyone else in
the Shadow Way save for myself. Yet I still heard the footsteps drawing closer and closer,
though it was hard to tell from what direction they were coming exactly.
But if someone else was in the Shadow Way with me, then there was a good chance that a
Stranger was nearby, a member of that mysterious group of beings who stalked the hallways
of the Shadow Way. I’d had only one experience with a Stranger before, but I was in no
mood to deal with them again, especially in such a weak state.
I tried to sit up again, but I was still in too much pain to move. So I just lay there on the
floor, clutching Domination with one hand, ready to attack any Stranger who tried to get
me. The footsteps were getting closer … closer … right upon me …
A familiar vampiric face appeared over me. It was Jajaras, whose blood red eyes looked
down upon me with a mixture of interest and annoyance.
“There you are, girl,” said Jajaras. “You look hurt.”
Sighing in relief, I said, “Yeah, I am. My arm—”
“I don’t care about your arm,” Jajaras interrupted. “I was merely making an observation
about your health, not expressing concern for it.”
I bit my lower lip. “You’re a real charmer, you know that?”
“My master didn’t hire me for my ‘charm,’” said Jajaras. “Anyway, how did the mission
go? Was it successful?”
I nodded, but without any happiness. “Yeah. I killed … Michaels is dead.”
For some reason, I couldn’t say the words ‘I killed Michaels.’ I wasn’t sure why. Maybe
because saying it out loud would be tantamount to confessing my sin, and, even though
Jajaras was about the farthest thing from a Catholic priest, I wasn’t ready to confess
anything to anyone yet.
Jajaras’ face broke into a creepy smile. “Really? Impressive. I thought you would chicken
out at the last second and run away, but I see you are far more bloodthirsty, even brutal,
than I first imagined. I will have to apologize to my master for doubting his wisdom in
choosing you to do this important job, rather than someone more loyal such as me.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said. “By the way, how did you find me? I just entered the
Shadow Way less than a minute ago.”
“My master ordered me to wait for you in the Shadow Way,” Jajaras said. “Evidently, he
suspected that you might not make it out of this mission entirely unscathed. As usual, my
master was correct, something he will be happy to hear once I return to Castle Rook and
inform him of what has happened.”
“You’re going back to Castle Rook?” I said with a slight groan. “Is your master back?”
Jajaras nodded. “He is. And he would like to meet you now.”
“Me?” I said. I winced at the pain in my arm. “Really?”
“Really,” said Jajaras with another nod. “My master believes it’s been long enough. He’s
been interested in you for a long time, Tara, and he gave me orders to fetch you and bring
you back to Castle Rook once your mission was complete.”
“What about Lucius?” I said. “Are you going to uphold your end of the deal and save
Jajaras’ expression was strangely blank. “That will be up to my master to decide. For now,
let me heal your arm, because you are going to need to be in tiptop shape to meet my
Jajaras pulled a bottle of green liquid out of his coat and, popping the lid, dumped the
green liquid on my arm. As soon as the green liquid—which smelled of seaweed for some
reason—touched my wound, my wound burned. I groaned loudly, almost screamed in pain,
but I bit my tongue at the last minute. I felt the liquid sink into my wound, causing the
burning sensation to worsen with each passing second, until the burning sensation vanished.
I looked at my arm and was surprised by what I saw. My arm was whole again. It didn’t
even look like it had been wounded in the first place. Nor did it hurt. It felt like my other
arm, that is to say, uninjured and in perfect working order.
“What was that?” I said, looking up at Jajaras.
“A healing potion concocted by yours truly,” said Jajaras, waving the bottle at me before
putting it back in the interior pocket of his coat. “Most vampires can’t use magic, so in order
to heal from our wounds and injuries, we’ve had to rely on our own methods. Potions are a
very popular method for vampires to fix their problems and I happen to have a gift for
“Is that why your master hired you?” I said, sitting up and feeling my newly-repaired arm.
“Because you’re a good potion maker?”
“That is one of the many reasons he chose me,” said Jajaras. “But enough talking. My
master will be pleased to hear that the mission was successful. And, of course, he will be
more than happy to see you. Come with me. We have no time to lose.”
Jajaras turned and started making his way down the Shadow Way. I scrambled to my feet
and followed after him, still holding Domination by my side. I really didn’t want to go with
Jajaras—I wanted to go back home and sleep—but I knew that if I refused to go with him
that Jajaras would just force me to follow him, and anyway, I was interested in seeing his
master for the first time, as well as finding out if he would save Lucius.
But even if Jajaras’ master agreed to save Lucius, that would not change the fact that I had
killed an innocent man and condemned the sorcerer and vampire communities to war, a war
I wasn’t sure either side would win.
It took us about ten minutes of walking through the Shadow Way before we reached
Castle Rook. We didn’t see any Strangers along the way, thankfully, but as usual whenever
I was in the Shadow Way, I felt like I was being watched by someone I couldn’t see.
Jajaras, of course, didn’t seem even remotely disturbed, but one thing I’d learned about
vampires was that, despite being just as much at risk of being kidnapped by the Strangers as
sorcerers, they didn’t worry nearly as easily as sorcerers did. I wondered if it was because
vampires were so naturally strong that they feared very little or if they were so soulless that
it never occurred to them to be afraid of anything. Both seemed likely to me, though it
didn’t matter much given how I had apparently missed out on vampiric fearlessness, given
my own timidity.
When we emerged from the Shadow Way into Castle Rook, we were back in the same
hallway that we had appeared in earlier. Not much had changed since I had last been here,
though a couple of sorcerers passed us when we emerged from the Shadow Way. The
sorcerers did not run away, but they did look at us with a mixture of surprise and suspicion,
though they didn’t say a word and soon disappeared around the corner of the hallway
“Who were those two?” I said, looking in the direction into which those two sorcerers had
“Other servants of my master, of course,” said Jajaras. “I already told you that my master
employs both vampires and sorcerers alike, yes? Likely those two are back from a mission
of their own. Not sure what it could be, but given how they’re both sorcerers, I imagine they
must have something to do with the Sorcerer Parliament. In any case, it isn’t my place to
question what my fellow servants are doing. Come with me.”
Jajaras started walking down the hallway at a fairly quick pace. I followed, but it took a lot
of energy for me to do so, because I was still very tired from all of the fighting and
excitement of the night. I sure could go for a hot cup of coffee right now, but somehow I
didn’t think that Jajaras would be kind enough to get me one. He’d probably just glare at me
and mutter under his breath about how dumb I was.
We didn’t go into the same room from the last time I was here. We even passed the door to
it, with Jajaras not even glancing at it as we walked. He took me down another hallway, this
one narrower than the first, and lined with ancient suits of knight armor. They looked like
genuine suits of armor to me, like the kind worn by the knights of the Middle Ages, but we
didn’t stop or slow down to look at any of them in great detail. We just walked down the
hallway to a large stone door at the other end, a door with a heavy metal knocker on it.
“Here we are,” said Jajaras, stopping in front of the door. “The throne room, where my
master should be at this very moment.”
“A throne room?” I said, looking at Jajaras skeptically. “Does your ‘master’ fancy himself
a king or something?”
Jajaras looked at me with a completely serious expression. “He’s no king. He’s a
Before I could ask Jajaras to elaborate on that, Jajaras put both hands on the doors and
pushed them open. It clearly took a lot of effort on his part, but eventually the doors swung
inwards and we both entered.
The first thing I noticed about the throne room was the fancy dinner for two set in the
middle. No, I’m serious. In the center of this ancient and imposing-looking throne room was
a small table with a fancy white tablecloth covering it. On the table itself were two plates
with raw meat on them and two glasses of what might have been very red wine or blood.
There wasn’t a candle to top it off, but there was a bouquet of flowers, each flower a
different design and color. Two fancy-looking chairs stood on either end of the table, while
another vampire stood next to the table wearing a fancy tuxedo and carrying a covered dish,
like he was some kind of butler or something.
Behind the table was a large throne made of iron and stone. And seated on the throne was
a man I had never before seen in my life, yet who seemed oddly familiar just the same.
Unlike Jajaras or any of the other vampires I’d seen since coming here, the man sitting on
the throne looked almost human. He wore a simple but sexy black tuxedo, which
accentuated, rather than hid, his powerful muscles. His black hair was sleek and shiny,
making him look like he had just stepped off the set of a movie. Indeed, I would have
thought he actually was human, if I didn’t see his red eyes and the fangs sticking out of his
The man looked up from the book he was reading when we entered, but then closed the
book without looking and rose from his throne.
“Ah, you must be Tara Lee,” said the man as Jajaras and I approached. “The half-vampire
I’ve heard so much about.”
There was something strange about his voice. It was the accent. It sounded either
Hungarian or Polish, though I wasn’t up to date on my Central European accents. Either
way, it was strangely charming, almost enough to make me relax. But I didn’t, at least not
entirely … well, not mostly, anyway. Okay, I relaxed, but you try not relaxing when such a
handsome guy starts speaking to you in that sexy accent.
“Master Ambrus,” said Jajaras, stopping before the table and bowing low. “I have brought
the other half-vampire, Tara Lee, just as you requested.”
“Excellent work, Jajaras,” said the man, who I guessed must have been Master Ambrus.
He stepped off his throne and walked up to me. “You are even more beautiful in person than
in the pictures and videos I have seen. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Legend says that halfvampires
are beautiful, even more so than normal vampires.”
“Um, thank you,” I said somewhat awkwardly. “Are you Jajaras’ master? The one I’ve
heard so much about?”
Ambrus nodded. “Indeed. I am the leader of Future Dream, which is the name of this little
group of mine. I founded it years ago here in Hungary, when I wasn’t much older than
yourself, and have been steadily working toward the organization’s ultimate goal. Speaking
of ultimate goal, how did the assassination of Michaels go?”
“Perfectly, master,” said Jajaras. He gestured at me. “The girl Tara killed Michaels in his
room and his body was discovered by his bodyguards.”
“Wonderful,” said Ambrus. His face broke into a wide smile. “It is only a matter of time
before this news reaches the rest of the Parliament, who will deduce that a vampire, likely
sent by the Vampire Council, killed him. There will be pressure from within and without
Parliament to declare war, which will inevitably happen, because sorcerers have always
been looking for an excuse to wipe out the vampires and this gives them the perfect reason
to begin the process.”
“But why?” I said. “What do you hope to attain from this war? Everything I’ve heard
makes it sound like it will weaken both sides, maybe even destroy both communities
entirely. It sounds terrible.”
“It sounds wonderful,” said Ambrus with a sigh. “But that’s the reason I called you here in
the first place. Aside from my desire to see you for myself, I also wanted to tell you why
I’ve been working toward this goal for so many years. Hence why I had my servants set up
this fine dinner for us, because I believe that the best conversations are always had over
Ambrus gestured at the table before his throne. “Please, sit down. It will be easier and
more pleasant to talk that way.”
Ambrus spoke and acted like a true gentleman, but I sensed a hint of a threat behind his
gentlemanly demeanor, as if he would not take no for an answer. Given how I was
interested in learning what he was trying to do anyway, I didn’t see any point in his
threatening me, but maybe he just wanted to make sure I didn’t get any ideas.
So I sat down at the table, while Ambrus took a seat on the other end. He immediately
sipped the wineglass and sighed. “Ah, the fresh blood of a young Chinese woman. In my
opinion, young Chinese women have the best tasting blood among all the women of the
world, especially when freshly bled.”
I looked at my own wineglass, which was full of the same blood as Ambrus’. “’Fresh’?
What, exactly, do you mean by that?”
Ambrus smiled in a chilling way. “What does a restaurant that boasts freshly made
pancakes mean when it uses that word?”
A chill went down my spine as the implication of Ambrus’ question sank in, but I didn’t
say it aloud because I was now starting to realize that Ambrus was every bit as bloodthirsty
as any other vampire, his gentlemanly demeanor notwithstanding. “Thanks, but I don’t
drink human blood. I prefer animal blood, monkey blood to be specific.”
I expected Ambrus to mock me for it, because all vampires seemed to do that whenever I
told them my preferences, but instead he nodded and said, “Ah, yes, of course. Excuse my
forgetfulness. I don’t known very many Pures. Reginald, please switch out her wineglass for
what she really wants.”
The vampire waiter who stood at attention took the wineglass of Chinese blood off the
table and swapped it out with an identical wineglass that looked pretty much the same as the
first one. I sniffed it and discovered that it actually was monkey blood, so I sipped it,
savoring the flavor on my tongue.
“Do you like it?” said Ambrus. “That blood is also quite fresh, because I’ve learned about
your blood preferences through research and made sure to have some on hand in case you
asked for it.”
I licked my lips. “Yeah, it does taste good, but it’s kind of creepy how you’ve been
keeping an eye on me, to be honest. I don’t even know you.”
“My apologies,” said Ambrus, putting his hands together like he was praying. “It has
simply been so long since I last met someone like me that I didn’t quite know how to
approach you at first. I am normally quite smooth with the ladies, but you’ve tripped me up
a little bit because of our shared nature.”
I frowned. “Shared nature? Ambrus, I’m a half-vampire, not a full one. I know that means
I have some vampire blood flowing through me, but just because we happen to both have
vampire genetics doesn’t mean—”
“I’m not a vampire, either,” said Ambrus, shaking his head.
I tilted my head to the side. “Then you’re a sorcerer who likes to drink human blood? Like
some kind of psycho?”
“Oh, I’m not a psycho, either,” said Ambrus. His smile grew even more chilling. “I’m a
half-vampire. Just like you.”
Ambrus did not seem to be joking. He simply sat in his chair, his smile never leaving his
slightly bloody lips, looking at me as if to see what my response would be. He didn’t even
touch his napkin. Neither Jajaras, who stood nearby, or Reginald reacted, either, though they
could have just as easily been in on the joke with him.
I smiled uncertainly. “That’s funny, Ambrus, but you don’t expect me to really believe
that, do you? I’m the first half-vampire to exist in three centuries. Everyone’s told me that.”
“Everyone is wrong,” said Ambrus swiftly. He brushed back a single hair that was out of
place on his head. “And that is just the way I like it.”
I had no idea if Ambrus was being genuinely serious here or if he was playing with me. He
looked fairly serious, but he had also just claimed to be a half-vampire, despite there only
being one (which was me, obviously). I looked at Jajaras and Reginald for any hints, but the
two of them looked every bit as serious as Ambrus. Either Ambrus was actually telling the
truth here or they were both in on the joke, too. If so, then maybe I wasn’t dealing with a
bunch of crazy bad guys at all, but just a couple of guys who like playing pranks on
innocent young girls like me.
I looked at Ambrus again. “This isn’t funny anymore, Ambrus.”
“It was never meant to be,” said Ambrus. He leaned back in his chair, steepling the tips of
his fingers together. “I am being one hundred percent serious about my nature as a halfvampire.
You’re simply skeptical.”
“Skeptical?” I said. “More like outright disbelief. I’m the only half-vampire in the world at
the moment. There have been others before me, but I know for a fact that I’m the only halfvampire
currently active. You’re lying.”
“Could a vampire do this?” said Ambrus.
He held up a hand and a fireball—which looked exactly like the kind I made—appeared in
the palm of his hand. He tossed the fireball from hand to hand briefly before crushing it in
his left hand, making the light go out and turning the table dark again.
“You saw that, didn’t you?” said Ambrus. “The fireball spell, though simple for sorcerers
to learn, is beyond the ability of all but the most powerful Vampire Lords to learn. Even
many Vampire Lords refuse to learn it, because heat and light are harmful to vampires even
when they used it. And, true, being a half-vampire means I don’t take well to light myself,
but it also means that I have a much higher pain tolerance for it than most vampires.”
“It still doesn’t mean anything,” I said. “Maybe that was just a trick.”
“And maybe you’re just in denial,” said Ambrus. “But if you need more proof, consider
your sword, Domination. I have not asked you to take it off or get rid of it, even though
silver is incredibly dangerous to vampires. That’s because I don’t fear it as much as actual
vampires do. Right, Jajaras, Reginald?”
The two vampire servants, I realized, were keeping their distance from the table. They
were looking at Domination, which was sheathed by my side, with uncertain eyes. Ambrus,
by contrast, didn’t seem even remotely alarmed by it, even though he was less than five feet
away from me. He simply sipped his blood glass and rested it on the table as if he was on a
“I see,” I said. “And I guess you are right. An actual vampire would never have let me
come this far with Domination, even if I kept it sheathed at my side.”
“Then you believe me?” said Ambrus. “That I am a half-vampire?”
I bit my lower lip, but slowly nodded. “That’s what the evidence seems to suggest so far,
so yes, I do.”
“Excellent,” said Ambrus. “I knew you would accept it eventually. Half-vampires have a
unique connection to each other. We are able to sense whenever one of us is around, even if
we can’t see each other. Don’t you feel that connection, Tara? Because I feel it toward you.”
I was about to say that no, I didn’t, but then I felt a hard sensation running along my back.
It felt like it was pointing me toward Ambrus, trying to make me be with him, but I stayed
in my seat because however attractive Ambrus was (and I had to admit that he was very
handsome), I knew better than to get close to him. Like Lucius, Ambrus was handsome but
dangerous. Unlike Lucius, however, Ambrus didn’t seem to have any sense of deeper
morality or principle. I had a feeling he’d sell his own mother if he thought it would get him
what he wanted. That meant I had to be careful around him, half-vampire or no.
“If you really are a half-vampire, how is that possible?” I said slowly. “Half-vampires are
incredibly rare. There is supposed to be only one half-vampire active at any one time, and
even then, they usually don’t live long because both sorcerers and vampires have ancient
laws requiring their deaths. The last half-vampire before me lived three centuries ago, well
before you or I were born.”
Ambrus wiped his mouth with his napkin before resting it on the table before him. The
bloodstain on his white napkin stood out like a red sore on a clear face. “True, half-vampires
have traditionally been extremely rare to the point where many vampires and sorcerers
consider us more myth than material, but no one knows everything. A clever enough
individual can stay underneath the radar of sorcerer and vampire alike, keeping his true
nature a secret until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it. Such is how I have lived
my life for the past seventy years or so—”
“Seventy years?” I repeated in surprise. “You look like you’re in your thirties.”
Ambrus smiled. “Has no one told you that half-vampires stop aging? We are stuck with
whatever appearance we had when we transformed. I was bitten on my thirtieth birthday, so
I am over a century old now. In fact, I’m the same age my grandfather was just before the
Second World War. I had always hoped to live to be one hundred, but I had never thought I
would look like I was thirty. I thought I would look old and decrepit, just like my
grandfather, but I’m not complaining, of course.”
I would have found his long-lived age impossible to believe if I hadn’t already known that
vampires could live to be extremely old, like Lucius, who was three hundred years old
himself. It also made me wonder if, one hundred years from now, I would look the same
way I did today. Would I always look like a young woman in her mid-twenties? Would I
never get gray hair or wrinkles or suffer back issues? I had to admit that all sounded
absolutely wonderful, but at the same time, I had gotten all of that by potentially losing my
salvation. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.
“Much like you, Tara, I grew up in a family of sorcerers,” said Ambrus. “Unlike you, my
family was open about our heritage, at least to me. My father was a famous Hungarian
vampire hunter, similar in many ways to your own father, except that he never retired. My
mother, on the other hand, was a stay-at-home housewife who raised me and my brothers
while our father was away. She was a wonderful woman, the epitome of femininity, though
she was never very good at magic herself despite being a sorceress by blood.”
“It sounds to me like you had a good life,” I said.
“It was,” said Ambrus. “Especially for a poor Hungarian boy growing up in rural Hungary.
But my father eventually retired after he became too old to keep fighting vampires, while
my brothers and I grew up and moved out of the house to go live our own lives and start our
own families. We still came back home to visit as often as we could, however, particularly
around Christmas and other important holidays like that. We made sure to support our
parents in their old age, like the good sons we were.”
Then Ambrus frowned. “But just because my father retired from vampire hunting, that did
not mean that vampire hunting had retired from him. Having been a vampire hunter for
thirty years, my father had inevitably earned many enemies, most vampires. Even after
retiring, the vampires never forgot how he killed so many of their kind. They eventually
tracked him down to his house and waited for the perfect opportunity to strike.”
I gulped. “Did they?”
“They did,” said Ambrus. “It was early Christmas morning, when my brothers and I and
our wives had come back home to spend the holiday with our parents. The vampire Horde
descended on the house before the sun rose and killed everyone, including my brother
Viktor’s pregnant wife. The only one who survived was me, and that was mostly because of
“How … how did you survive?” I said with a slight tremble to my voice.
Ambrus smiled sheepishly. “I had to get up to use the restroom and, because my parents’
house didn’t have indoor plumbing, I had to go outside. By the time I got back, the house
was a mess and everyone in my family was dead. A few vampires had also been killed
during the attack, however, but it didn’t make me feel any better, because I knew that the
actual Horde must have been much bigger than the few dead vamps I found.”
“What did you do after that?” I said.
“I was attacked,” said Ambrus. He rubbed his neck in the same spot where I had been
bitten. “As it turned out, not all of the vampires were equally dead. I was inspecting the
‘corpse’ of one of them when its eyes opened and it pounced on me. It bit my neck right
here and filled my veins with its poison. I managed to kill the vampire by stabbing it with
my father’s trusty silver knife, which he had dropped on the floor when he died, but because
the vampire managed to bite me anyway before its death, I ended up transforming into the
half-vampire you see today.”
I put a hand over my mouth. “How awful. Your whole family being killed and you being
transformed against your will … that’s one of the worst stories I’ve ever heard.”
“Then you haven’t heard many stories,” said Ambrus. “At first, I was distraught over this
transformation, especially knowing that the ancient laws of the sorcerers meant I was
supposed to be killed. I was so afraid of being killed that I ran away, even leaving Hungary
for several decades to avoid running afoul of the Hungarian sorcerers who would no doubt
kill me if they found out what I was. I later read a newspaper report about the death of my
family, which described the incident as tragic, but the police who investigated my family’s
death did not know who had done it and didn’t know where I was, either. I didn’t come
forward to help the police, because I knew there was no way they could handle the
vampires, nor did I want to break the Secrecy Pact and become the target of every sorcerer
in the world.”
“Where did you go after that?” I said.
“Everywhere,” said Ambrus. “I traveled around the world, first through Europe, then Asia,
and eventually South America. I avoided places where sorcerers might live and spent most
of my life among the homeless, who I fed on because I needed blood. I also avoided
vampires, because I knew they were not going to be any kinder toward me than the
sorcerers. All the while, my power grew, though it took me twenty years to become fully
comfortable in my new skin and accept what I was.”
“And then what did you do?”
“Returned to Hungary.” Ambrus’ eyes darkened. “I tracked down the Vampire Lord who
had sent his Horde to kill my family and slaughtered him and his Horde in return. By then, I
had learned how to use both my vampire and sorcerer halves equally well, balancing their
unique abilities and using their strengths to outweigh their respective negatives. I still hadn’t
told anyone what I actually was, but it was a relief to avenge my family. I feel like my
parents approved of my actions, even though they were not alive to see me do it.”
“Wow,” I said. “You slaughtered a Vampire Lord and his Horde all by yourself?”
“Yes,” said Ambrus, nodding. “They didn’t know what they were up against. Like you,
they thought I was just an ordinary vampire, a Nosfer who didn’t know his place in the
Hierarchy. By the time they realized what I was, they were all dead. The Vampire Lord, in
particular, suffered horribly before I finished him off. I gouged out his eyes with my father’s
silver sword and fed them to him before I cut his head off and burned his body with fire.”
That made me feel sick to my stomach. I wasn’t upset about the death of a Vampired Lord
from fifty years ago, really. I was more disturbed by how Ambrus seemed to relish in it,
even now fifty years later. He certainly seemed every bit the vampire he claimed he wasn’t.
“After that, I founded Future Dream, the organization which still exists today,” said
Ambrus. “It has been a long time in coming, Future Dream has, but its ultimate goal is about
to be fulfilled, and once it is, I will bring it out of the shadows and into the light.”
“But what is Future Dream trying to do?” I said. “Or maybe I should ask, what are you
trying to do?”
“You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?” said Ambrus. “Very well, let me put it plainly:
The complete and utter destruction of the sorcerer and vampire communities, with the only
survivors serving under we half-vampires, who will rule the planet as gods.”
I pushed back in my chair slightly, causing its feet to scrape against the stone floor. But I
didn’t get up, because I knew that if I did, Jajaras and Reginald would ensure I never
escaped. But I desperately wanted to stay as far away from Ambrus as possible now,
because it was becoming increasingly clear to me that he had lost his mind.
“You look scared,” said Ambrus. “There’s no need to be. I have zero intention of harming
you. In fact, I want you to rule alongside me as my queen. We can rule the world together as
half-vampires. How does that sound?”
“Horrible,” I said. “Why would you want to do such a terrible thing?”
Ambrus sighed. “I thought you might react this way, but very well, let me explain my
vision to you. I don’t mind having to explain it, because I love talking about my vision for
the future because it is infinitely preferable to the drabness of the present.”
Ambrus sipped his blood again and then said, “During my twenty years traveling the
world, avoiding sorcerer and vampire alike while trying to master my powers and
understand my new nature, I had a lot of time in which to think. I thought about a lot of
things: my dead family, my shattered faith, my new powers, and the new post-war world
which was being built all around me. Mostly, however, I started to think about the nature of
the vampire and sorcerer conflict. What started it, why it existed, and why both sides hated
half-vampires so much that they had laws requiring us to be killed on sight.”
“That’s easy,” I said. “The conflict between vampires and sorcerers started ages ago, when
the Darkness corrupted some humans and the Origin empowered others to fight them. The
sorcerers have been fighting the vampires ever since, protecting humanity from their
Ambrus laughed. He laughed long and hard, like I’d just told the funniest joke in the
world. I didn’t see what was so funny about what I said, though. I was perfectly earnest in
my explanation of the vampire/sorcerer conflict, at least as I understood it. Then again,
some people thought that earnestness was laughable anyway, which made me think that
Ambrus must be a little cynical.
“Do you really believe that sorcerers are any better than the vampires they hunt?” said
Ambrus after he finished laughing, though he was still smiling. “Come now, Tara, you of all
people should know that this isn’t a battle of black versus white, but gray versus gray.”
“Why would I think that?” I said. “I’m a sorcerer myself. Or was a sorcerer, anyway.”
“Think about it,” said Ambrus, tapping the side of his head. “Your father left the sorcerer
community because it hated him and his religion. You yourself are liable to be killed at any
moment, should a sorcerer stumble upon your true nature, all for something you had no
hand in doing yourself. You didn’t choose to be a half-vampire, after all, and yet the
sorcerers view you as just as big a threat as a Vampire Lord, if not more so. Sorcerer loyalty
only goes so far, it seems.”
“That may be true, but there’s a reason they hate half-vampires,” I said. I put a hand on my
chest. “It’s horrible. I don’t fit in either world very well. I have to constantly keep my
vampire side at bay so I don’t hurt anyone and I’m always afraid I’ve either lost or will lose
my personal salvation. I don’t want to be killed, but I can understand why the sorcerers—
and even the vampires—would want to kill me.”
Ambrus snorted. “There’s nothing wrong with being a half-vampire, Tara. The sorcerers
don’t want to kill us because we are a threat to humanity or goodness or whatever. They
want to kill us because we’re a threat to their power.”
“Their power?” I repeated. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” said Ambrus. “Sorcerers and vampires alike see us as a
threat to their very existence, not because we are abominations, but because we are
“Superior,” I said. “In what ways?”
“In every way,” said Ambrus. “We represent the perfect synthesis of sorcerer and vampire.
Like vampires, we are long-lived, super strong, quick, and can travel through the Shadow
Way. Like sorcerers, we can use magic and wield silver. We are the next step in the
development of the sorcerer and vampire, a hybrid who are both and neither at the same
“But what about the Darkness and the Origin?” I said. “Don’t they play a role in all of
“Mythology is all that they are,” said Ambrus. “One thing I’ve learned over the years is
that there is no good, there is no evil, no Darkness or Origin or God or Satan. There is only
brute power and the eternal struggle between the superior and the inferior. The ancient laws
were created not to protect humanity or limit the spread of evil, but to prevent the inferior
from being replaced by their natural superiors.”
“The entire conflict between vampires and sorcerers is a joke,” Ambrus continued,
apparently without noticing that I was trying to speak. He raised his blood glass, which,
despite my aversion to human blood, looked quite delicious. “They don’t really disagree on
anything fundamentally, don’t really believe in the whole ‘good versus evil’ motif they have
going on. They are simply two inferior species keeping each other around because they have
no purpose beyond this petty conflict. Otherwise, one or the other would have come out on
top long ago.”
“You mean that the Vampire Council and the Sorcerer Parliament are actually working
together?” I said.
Ambrus lowered his glass, a grim look on his face. “Of course not. They hate each other as
much as anyone. But to take the vampire/sorcerer conflict seriously is to buy into a myth
every bit as real as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. It is nothing more than a distraction
from the knowledge that they are inferior creatures who deserve to be replaced by their
natural superiors. That is to say, you and I.”
Okay, now I was sure that Ambrus was insane. I mean, I’d already suspected it before, but
all this talk about ‘inferiors’ and ‘superiors’ convinced me that, while his body may not
have aged much since he became a half-vampire, his mind had decayed to the point of
insanity. I wondered if I would end up the same way when I became as old as him or if there
was another reason he’d lost his mind.
Ambrus drank the rest of his glass in one gulp and tossed it away. The glass shattered
against the floor, sending pieces of glass flying everywhere. I winced when the glass
shattered against the floor, but I didn’t move from my chair. Ambrus may have been insane,
but that didn’t mean he was weak or pathetic.
“The point of Future Dream is to ensure the destruction of sorcerers and vampires,” said
Ambrus. “For the past fifty years, I have been steadily recruiting vampires and sorcerers
alike, moving them into key positions in both communities in order to ensure that the war I
planned would happen. Our numbers are few in contrast to the wider vampire and sorcerer
communities, but each and every one of us believes in the dream.”
“The dream of seeing your people wiped out and any that remain becoming subservient to
a power-hungry mad man?” I said.
Ambrus smirked. “You don’t mince any words, do you? But no, that’s not what they
signed up for. I have promised to make each and every one of them a half-vampire, so that
they may also become superior. A species needs multiple individuals in order to exist, after
all. I intend for half-vampires to fill the whole world, which is easier to do if I have a fairly
large group of such beings to start with.”
I looked at Jajaras and Reginald. Neither vampire looked even remotely surprised by this
revelation, which meant they must have been in on it the entire time. Of course they were.
Jajaras had shown to me just how fanatical the members of Future Dream were. And I could
see why. Given how Ambrus described being a half-vampire as such as an amazing thing, I
could see why so many members of Future Dream were working hard to make the dream a
Still, I couldn’t say I was convinced myself. I looked at Ambrus again and said, “Why do
you want me, then? And why did you wait so long to approach me?”
“Because I didn’t know you even existed at first,” said Ambrus. “Like you, I was
convinced that I was the only living half-vampire in the world, but when my own vampire
servants began to relay rumors of another half-vampire in America to me, I knew I had to
investigate them. The entire Vampire Sword episode nearly turned me off, however,
because I was sure that Lord Taranas would turn you into the ultimate living weapon.
Luckily, however, you broke his hold on you and killed him. That was good, because I
would have had to deal with him myself at some point and you saved me a lot of time and
energy having to do so.”
“I didn’t kill him myself,” I said. “God gave me the strength to do that.”
Ambrus chuckled darkly. “Ah, God. In my childhood, I went to church with my family
regularly, because my mother was a believer, even though my father, like most sorcerers,
distrusted and even outright hatred Christianity. I used to think it was a good religion,
myself, but seeing my family slaughtered so mercilessly like that, with nary a sign of God, I
abandoned it and no longer believe in a god of any sort. At least, not one that actually cares
about the world or its woes, at any rate.”
“You don’t understand God, then,” I said. “I’m sorry to hear about your family, but—”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Ambrus, waving at me as if to brush aside the topic. “I’m not
interested in discussing the existence of God. I’m interested in bringing you over to my side,
to stand by me as my partner. We could be the Adam and Eve of half-vampires, turning our
race into a mighty nation that no one on Earth will be able stand against.”
“Sorry, but I’m not particularly interested in bearing your children,” I said. “I don’t even
know if half-vampires can even have children.”
“Want to find out?” said Ambrus in a suggestive tone.
I bit my lower lip. “No, I really don’t.”
“When did I say you would have any choice in the matter?” said Ambrus.
I heard movement behind me and looked over my shoulder. Jajaras and Reginald stood in
front of the doors, which were closed and locked. There weren’t any windows in this room,
either, which meant that I was effectively trapped.
I looked at Ambrus again. “If you lay even one hand on me, I’ll rip it off and beat you to
death with it.”
“I never said I was going to lay even one finger on your pretty little head, my dear Tara,”
said Ambrus. “Instead, I am going to make you join me voluntarily. Jajaras, tell the servants
to bring him in.”
“Yes, master,” said Jajaras with a bow.
Jajaras melted into the shadows. A couple of seconds later, Jajaras returned, but he was not
alone. Two other Future Dream members—one a vampire, the other a sorcerer—followed
him out of the shadows, but they seemed to be carrying something large and heavy between
them, which I didn’t understand until they had completely emerged from the Shadow Way
and showed exactly what they were carrying:
It was Lucius.
Lucius looked unconscious. His head hung on his chest, while his legs scraped along the
floor behind him uselessly. He was shirtless, which I would have appreciated under other
circumstances, because it let me see his big, muscular body. But now, I wished I couldn’t
see him at all, because his body was marred with scars and barely healed wounds
everywhere, but especially on his chest. It looked like he had been tortured. He looked so
bad that I wasn’t even sure he was still alive or not.
“Lucius!” I said, rising to my feet.
Ambrus raised a hand. “Ah, ah, Tara, I didn’t say you could leave the dinner table. It’s
rude to leave your date for the first handsome man you see.”
Ambrus snapped his hands and I felt an invisible force shove me back down into my seat.
Still, I looked over at Lucius, who was so limp in the hands of his captors that he looked
almost like a doll.
“What did you do to him?” I said, looking at Ambrus again. “Did you torture him?”
Ambrus shook his head. “Of course not. You can thank the Order of Vampires for those
scars. They tortured him as the punishment you would have received if he hadn’t invoked
the Lamb doctrine and would have executed him at some point, had not my minions saved
“Saved him,” I said, “just so you can use him against me, right?”
Ambrus shrugged. “You can look at it that way if you want, but personally I think that’s
an unhelpful—and, more to the point, ungrateful—perspective to have on the situation.
Think of it this way. There’s at least a chance that Lucius will live now, however slim it
“A chance?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“It’s simple,” said Ambrus. “Join me and my organization and I will let Lucius live. Reject
my offer, however, and, well, I think you know what I will do to Lucius if you say no.”
I couldn’t deny that. Right now, Ambrus had leverage in our negotiations. So long as he
had Lucius, I didn’t have as much power as I wanted. I could say no, but even if I did, I
knew that Ambrus’ servants would kill Lucius. Lucius was in no position to defend or free
himself, which meant that his life and safety rested entirely in my hands.
I clinched my fists. I didn’t want anything to do with Ambrus, especially after he mocked
God, but at the same time, I didn’t want Lucius to die, either. If Lucius died because of me,
there was no way I could live with myself, even if Ambrus’ plan worked and he made halfvampires
the dominant species on the planet. Ambrus may have had a hard life (assuming
his story was true, which was doubtful given how deceitful he obviously was), but that
didn’t mean he was right in his plans to destroy the vampire and sorcerer communities by
engineering a false war, a false war I had helped to start.
But again, I was in no position to save Lucius without risking his life. If I tried to get up
and save Lucius, Ambrus’ minions would probably kill him before I could get there. Or
Ambrus himself would step in and stop me. I didn’t know the exact range of Ambrus’
power, but given how he had been a half-vampire for seventy years, that meant he had seven
decades of experience in magical and vampiric powers on his side. He could probably
destroy me with a flick of his finger or at least inflict a lot of pain on me. In a straight fight
to the death, Ambrus would probably curb-stomp me, and he wouldn’t even need to try.
The only advantage I had over him was Domination, which had more reach than his knife.
Even so, Dad had taught me that the person with the bigger weapon didn’t necessarily
always win the fight. Skill and strategy mattered just as much as the weapons used, if not
more so, and right now Ambrus had skill, strategy, and weapons on his side, versus me, who
just had weapons (or weapon, in my case).
Ambrus leaned forward in his chair, an expectant look on his face. “Well, Tara? What is
your answer? I’m listening, you know. There’s no need to delay.”
I tried my best to think of a way—any way—out of this situation, but it seemed no use. If I
refused to help Ambrus, then Lucius would die, and it would be my fault. But I had zero
intention of helping a guy as crazy as him. I was saving myself for an actual Christian man,
not a nihilistic atheist like this guy. Ambrus was rather handsome, but he had already shown
what he really was to me: A monster who didn’t care about anyone else other than himself.
That was when an idea occurred to me, a possible way to get out of this situation with both
me and Lucius in one piece. It depended on how much Ambrus needed me for his plan, but
if I was correct, then he needed me far more than I needed Lucius.
I stood up. Ambrus raised a hand, no doubt to sit me back down, but I quickly drew
Domination from its sheath and held its blade against my neck. Ambrus’ hand froze, his red
eyes fixed firmly on my blade.
“What are you doing, Tara?” said Ambrus in a calm voice, though I could tell he was
surprised by my sudden action. “You’re holding your sword a little too close to your neck, I
“I know what I’m doing, Ambrus,” I said. “I’m offering you a new deal, just like what you
offered me, only my deal is even better.”
Ambrus raised an eyebrow. “A deal? You aren’t in any position to offer me a new deal,
young girl. I am the one with the leverage here, not you. Or did you forget that my minions
are currently threatening Lucius’ life?”
“I’m well aware of what your minions are doing,” I said. “But I also know that you want
me, but you can’t have me if I slit my own throat and die on the spot, right?”
Ambrus’ eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I would,” I said, speaking as confidently as possible in order to make sure he didn’t
suspect anything was up. “You’ve made it pretty clear to me that you have a grand vision of
turning me into your queen. You can’t do that if I’m dead, so if I slit my own throat, then
your whole plan will fall apart. At the very least, you’ll be pretty disappointed and maybe
have to work harder to make your plan a reality.”
For the first time since I had seen Ambrus, his smirk faltered. “You are not a suicidal girl.
I know that for a fact, because suicide is considered a sin in Christianity.”
“This wouldn’t be suicide,” I said. “It would be sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice?” said Ambrus. “That implies you are going to get something out of it, but I fail
to see how you benefit from killing yourself.”
“True, killing myself wouldn’t benefit myself exactly, especially because I still don’t
know if I’m going to heaven or not,” I said. “But it would mess up your plans and frustrate
you a lot, which would be all worth it in the end.”
“What about Lucius?” said Ambrus. “I thought you cared about him. Are you willing to
leave him in my hands just so I don’t get you?”
“That’s where the deal comes in, Ambrus,” I said. “In exchange for Lucius’ freedom, I
will not kill myself. In fact, I’ll even work with you willingly, just as long as you let Lucius
go, free and unharmed.”
I knew how crazy I must have looked to Ambrus, but it was the only real plan I had. I was
betting on the fact that Ambrus wanted me more than he wanted to kill Lucius. And
anyway, I could potentially kill Ambrus later on if I had to, perhaps when he let his guard
down. Of course, Ambrus did not seem like the type of guy who would ever let his guard
down, even around people he trusted, but this was still my best chance at stopping Ambrus
and Future Dream.
And yes, I was willing to kill myself, if absolutely necessary. I really didn’t want to,
because again I didn’t know where I would end up when I died, but if I had to, I would. It
was better to die than help Ambrus take over the world. I just hoped that Ambrus would
accept my deal, because I was not looking forward to cutting my own throat and bleeding
out on the floor of a castle in Hungary far away from home.
Ambrus’ eyes darted between me and Lucius, as if he was trying to find a loophole he
could take advantage of. I didn’t lower Domination from my throat, even though my
vampiric instincts were going crazy due to holding a sharp, silver blade so close to my neck.
It was one of the benefits of being a half-vampire, that I could use silver without being
overwhelmed by vampiric fear over it, though it was a bit distracting, I had to admit.
After a couple of tense seconds—in which I was sure that Ambrus was going to reject my
offer and kill both me and Lucius—he relaxed. “You drive a hard bargain, Tara, much
harder than I expected from a girl like you. Very well. I’ll spare Lucius’ life and let him go
free in exchange for your service by my side.”
A wave of relief washed over me just then, making me lower Domination to my side.
“Thanks. I didn’t expect you to actually give.”
Ambrus shrugged. “I’m a much more reasonable person than I may appear. I didn’t
survive for over a century by being stupid.”
“Great,” I said. I nodded at Lucius. “Tell your goons to let Lucius go. Do it now.”
Ambrus nodded. He looked over at them. “Drop the Pure.”
The vampire and the sorcerer dropped Lucius on the floor unceremoniously. Without even
thinking about it, I ran over to Lucius and knelt by his side, putting Domination on the floor
as I grabbed his shoulders.
“Lucius, can you hear me?” I said. “Hello, Lucius?”
A deep groaning sound came from Lucius. His eyes opened, but when he looked up at me,
his expression was strangely blank.
“Tara?” said Lucius in an incredibly weak voice. “Is that you?”
“It is,” I said, nodding. “Are you okay? Can you still walk?”
“Not sure,” said Lucius. “I might, but I feel tired. Where am I?”
“Safe now,” I said.
A shadow suddenly fell over me and I looked over my shoulder to see Ambrus standing
above me and Lucius. From where I knelt, Ambrus looked even taller than before, his arms
folded in front of his large chest, looking quite intimidating in his fancy suit.
“Ambrus,” I said, unable to hide the dislike in my voice. “I know I agreed to work with
you, but I want to make sure Lucius can get home first.”
“Why?” said Ambrus. “He is merely another vampire, one who will likely die in the
coming war. There is no point in worrying about him, not when we have so much work to
“He’s still my … friend,” I said, clutching Lucius’s shoulders with my hands. “And I
always make sure that my friends are safe.”
Ambrus looked unimpressed with what I said, but I didn’t care. Maybe I was going to
work with Ambrus for the rest of my life or maybe I wasn’t. All I cared about was making
sure that Lucius was okay.
I turned back to focus on Lucius and said, “Lucius, let’s try walking, see if your legs can
move or not.”
But Lucius wasn’t looking at me. He was looking up at Ambrus, his eyes puzzled.
“Who is this?” said Lucius. “And what ‘war’ was he talking about?”
“Lucius,” I said, grabbing his face and forcing him to look at me, “in order to save you, I
had to make a deal with this guy. A deal you probably won’t like, but—”
“What deal, Tara?” said Lucius. He propped himself up on his hands and elbows, though it
seemed to take a lot of effort from him. “What deal?”
“One that is none of your business, vampire,” said Ambrus. “Now why don’t you run
along and go back to whatever shadow you crawled out from? Your presence is no longer
“Ambrus, there’s no need for that tone,” I said, looking up at Ambrus somewhat weakly.
“Lucius isn’t even a threat. He’s—”
“A threat? Threat to what?” said Lucius. “What is going on here?”
Ambrus looked at the two servants who had been holding Lucius. “Grab the vampire and
drag him out of here. His presence is no longer needed.”
The vampire and the sorcerer nodded in understanding and moved to grab Lucius, but
Lucius immediately jumped to his feet and punched them both in the face. The sorcerer fell
down instantly, while the vampire staggered to the side, clutching its face where Lucius had
Turning around, Lucius pointed at Ambrus and said, “I don’t know who you are or what
you’re planning to do, but all this talk of war and planning makes me suspicious. I’m going
to take you to the Vampire Council and see what they think.”
Before I could stop him, Lucius lunged at Ambrus, but Ambrus dodged Lucius easily. As
Lucius passed him, Ambrus reached out and grabbed Lucius’s shoulders and slammed him
face first into the floor. He twisted Lucius’ arms behinds his back and then drew a silver
knife out of his pocket, which he held above his head with clear intent to bring it down on
“Ambrus, no!” I shouted. “Our deal!”
“He attacked me,” said Ambrus calmly. “And two of my servants. I am at perfect liberty to
protect my life—and my plan—if anyone threatens it, including uppity vampires like
With that, Ambrus brought his knife down on Lucius’ neck faster than I could stop him.
Even though I knelt less than a foot away from Ambrus and Lucius, I felt so helpless. I just
watched as Ambrus’ knife came down toward Lucius’ neck, which would undoubtedly kill
Lucius even if it didn’t take his head off. I reached out one hand toward him, but I could not
reach far enough to actually stop him.
All of a sudden, the doors burst open and a small lightning bolt came out of nowhere and
struck Ambrus’ knife hand. The knife flew out of Ambrus’ hand while he cursed and held
his hand against his chest, his eyes widening in shock at his smoking fingers.
“What was that?” said Ambrus, his voice slightly tinged with pain. He looked toward the
doors. “Who shot that lightning bolt at me? A traitor?”
“That would assume I even worked for you in the first place,” said a familiar voice on the
other side of the doors. “Which I never have, and never will.”
A sorcerer with long, brown hair and a silver ax at his side stepped into the room. I could
not help but gasp when I saw him, because I recognized him, yet I couldn’t understand how
he could be here.
“Who are you?” said Ambrus, glaring at the sorcerer with anger and confusion.
“Bartholomew Reynolds,” said Bart, raising his silver ax. “Vampire hunter and son of
Arthur Reynolds, the head of the Vampire Hunters Guild. And I’m also here to kick your
“Bart?” I said, staring at Bart in disbelief. “Is that really you? What are you doing here?
How did you even get here in the first place?”
“Nice to see you again, too, Tara,” said Bart, nodding at me. His eyes darted to the dinner
table and frowned. “Don’t tell me you’re dating this guy.”
“I’m—” I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. How did you find me? I didn’t tell you or
anyone else where I was.”
Bart chuckled. “Did you think I was just going to forget about you after I told you
everything I figured out? Truth is, when I left your apartment, I cast a tracking spell that
would allow me to find out where you were. That’s because I originally assumed that you
might be the person trying to cause the war and wanted to make sure I always knew where
you were in case I needed to stop you.”
“You mean you thought I was the bad guy?” I said. I scowled. “I don’t look like a villain,
Bart shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry about that. It’s just that you were the only suspect I had
who made sense, given your nature as a half-vampire and all. Even then, I didn’t really
believe you were evil, per se, because you didn’t come across as intelligent enough to
orchestrate a plan like the one I just uncovered. But I wasn’t totally wrong about the identity
of the perpetrator. It was a half-vampire, but just not you.”
I was about to ask Bart if he just called me dumb, when Ambrus said, “How long have you
been here and how come my servants didn’t tell me about you?”
Bart smiled. “You mean the vamps I ran into? I killed them. They didn’t see it coming. I
thought about barging in, but I decided to wait a little while and overhear your plan first.
Looks like I made the right choice, because I now know everything you just told Tara. I’m
not sure if I believe even half of it, but I’m sure that the Parliament will be very interested in
hearing your story once I capture you and bring you back to them in chains.”
“You won’t get anything, hunter,” said Ambrus. “Jajaras, Reginald, kill him! Don’t let him
Jajaras and Reginald—who had been knocked aside by the doors when they opened earlier
—rushed toward Bart with blinding speed, but Bart raised his silver ax and slashed it several
times. Jajaras managed to avoid getting his head cut off, but Reginald ran headlong into the
path of the ax, sending his head flying off his shoulders and his body collapsed onto the
floor. Jajaras backed away, but Bart ran toward him and slashed with his ax, taking Jajaras’
head off in an instant.
Lowering his bloody ax, Bart looked over at Ambrus and said, “Is that all you’ve got?
Because I could do this all day and still have energy left to kill you.”
Ambrus growled, but then Lucius suddenly jerked upward, knocking Ambrus off him.
Lucius tried to get on top of Ambrus and pin him down, but Ambrus rolled away and got to
his feet. He looked at all three of us with pure hatred on his face, his hands clinched into
tight fists as he looked at us.
Lucius rose to his own feet and helped me up as well. It felt good to hold Lucius’ hand
again and I didn’t want to let go, but I did anyway so I could hold Domination in both
hands. Bart ran over and stood beside us, holding his ax in a battle stance as the three of us
“Face it, Ambrus,” I said. “Not only do we have you outnumbered, but we also have you
outmatched. There’s no way you can beat all three of us in a fight.”
Ambrus’ hands shook, but when he spoke, it was in a very calm voice. “I will admit to
being impressed that you managed to turn this situation on me so quickly. And, indeed, all
three of you seem to be quite powerful, but your power still doesn’t come even close to
dwarfing my own. Indeed, it barely equals it.”
Ambrus put his hands together and pulled them apart. As he did so, a strange, shadow-like
webbing appeared between his hands, growing wider and wider as he spread his hands
apart, until soon he had a long black web in front of his body. The webbing moved and
undulated like water, but I had no idea what it was until Bart’s eyes widened and he
Before I could ask Bart why, Ambrus threw the webbing at us. Lucius grabbed me and
pulled me down to the floor with him, while Bart dropped beside us. The webbing flew
overhead, just barely missing us, and landed on the floor behind us, where it hissed and
immediately began eating into the stone floor as soon as it landed.
“Holy cow,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the black webbing eating away at the
stone floor. “What was that?”
“Acid webbing,” said Bart. “Very deadly spell. If it wraps around you, it will sear your
skin straight off your body. Even vampires can’t survive direct contact with that thing.”
“Explain later,” said Lucius. He pointed. “Look, Ambrus is trying to get away.”
Lucius was right. While we had been distracted by the acid webbing, Ambrus had taken
advantage of our distraction to make a run for the exit. Lucius leaped back to his feet,
however, and flew across the room. He flew over Ambrus and landed squarely in the open
doorway, causing Ambrus to screech to a halt before he ran into Lucius, who immediately
jumped at him and started slashing at him with his claws. But Ambrus grabbed Lucius’
wrists and started struggling against him, doing his best to keep Lucius’ claws from gouging
out his eyes.
“Lucius has Ambrus distracted,” I said. I looked at Bart. “What should we do?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Bart. He rose to his feet and dusted off his robes. “Take him down
before he manages to overpower Lucius. Watch.”
Bart summoned a fireball in his hand and threw it at Ambrus’ back. Right before his
fireball hit Ambrus, however, Ambrus whirled around and put Lucius in his way. The
fireball struck Lucius’ back, causing Lucius to cry out in pain, though he didn’t get far
before Ambrus shoved him backward onto the floor.
“Thank you for the help, Bartholomew,” said Ambrus with a chuckle. “I was worried that
Lucius might overwhelm me for a moment there.”
I looked at Bart in annoyance. “Watch where your aim. You nearly killed Lucius.”
“Sorry,” said Bart, scratching the back of his head. “I didn’t realize he would do that.”
I groaned, but had no time to continue to get onto Bart for this, because Ambrus was
stalking toward Lucius with his hands held above his head, clearly planning to kill Lucius. I
couldn’t let him do that, so I ran toward Ambrus and, when I was about halfway to him,
jumped and landed between him and Lucius.
As soon as I landed, I slashed Domination at Ambrus, but Ambrus dodged the sword and
slashed at me with his claws. But I managed to parry his claws with Domination and slashed
at him again, this time actually forcing him to jump backward to avoid getting cut.
“I see that sword is for more than just show,” said Ambrus, holding his claws before him
defensively. “Clearly, it can be used for killing, too.”
I didn’t say anything. I just slashed at Ambrus again, but he held his hands out and formed
a protective blue energy barrier around his body. Domination clanked uselessly against the
barrier, even bouncing off it. I staggered backwards, while Ambrus dropped the barrier and
lashed out at me with a slash from his claws, which cut through my chest and scratched my
chest and the upper part of my breasts.
I cried out in pain, dropping Domination and falling to the floor. I clutched my wounds,
which were bleeding, though not very badly at the moment. Still, the pain had been
surprisingly hot, like Ambrus had slashed me with a burning piece of metal.
I reached out to try to pick up Domination again, only for Ambrus’ foot to slam down on
my wrist. I looked up at Ambrus, who held his claws before him like knives.
“Like my claws?” said Ambrus, flexing his fingers. “They’re covered in silver, just in case
I ever need to use them against vampires. Or other half-vampires, as the case may—”
Ambrus was interrupted by a yell from Bart, who had somehow gotten behind Ambrus and
was now swinging his ax at Ambrus’ neck. Ambrus, however, dodged, easily dodging
Bart’s ax, and then lashed out with a kick, but Bart jumped out of the way at the last second
and easily dodged the kick. He swung his ax at Ambrus again, this time forcing Ambrus to
back away to avoid the ax’s sharp blade.
While Bart forced Ambrus to retreat, I rolled over onto my side to look at Lucius. He was
still lying on the floor, in a half-fetal position, his back smoking slightly from where Bart’s
fireball had hit him.
“Lucius, are you all right?” I said.
Lucius groaned. “I’ll be fine, Tara. Don’t worry about me. Just help your sorcerer friend.
Take down Ambrus.”
I frowned, because I didn’t think Lucius sounded well, but I decided that taking down
Ambrus was more important at the moment than making sure Lucius was okay. Doing my
best to ignore the pain in my own wounds, I reached over and grabbed Domination, pulling
it close to me and clutching its handle with both hands.
Rising to my feet, I looked over at the fight between Bart and Ambrus. Bart was swinging
his ax in what seemed like wild, yet calculated, strokes, while Ambrus dodged each slash as
best as he could. But even I could tell that it was only a matter of time before one of Bart’s
blows landed, and once it did, Ambrus would definitely go down.
But then Bart accidentally slashed too wide, leaving an opening, and Ambrus struck.
Ambrus slashed both his claws at Bart’s exposed chest, cutting across Bart’s robes and
causing Bart to cry out in pain. Ambrus followed this up with a swift kick to the abdomen,
making Bart drop his ax onto the floor before Bart himself fell down as well. Ambrus
caught Bart’s collar, however, and pulled back his claw, no doubt to stab into Bart’s face.
I didn’t even hesitate. I ran toward Ambrus and Bart, Domination held tightly in my hands,
and slashed it downward at the same time Ambrus’ claw flew toward Bart’s face.
Domination blocked Ambrus’ claw, causing Ambrus to look at me in surprise. But I didn’t
hesitate. I slashed at his face, intending to cut the top of his head clean off, but instead
Ambrus moved his head with the trajectory of my sword. Domination cut through his skin,
making Ambrus scream in pain. He let go of Bart and staggered away, clutching his nowbleeding
face with both hands.
“It’s over, Ambrus,” I said, pointing Domination at his face. “You’re coming with us. You
I expected Ambrus to start screaming and ranting at me, to start losing his mind and acting
incoherently, but instead, Ambrus slowly lowered his hands from his face and looked at me.
His face was horrible now. His handsome features were covered in blood, courtesy of the
long, ugly cut running from his crown across his nose and down to his chin. It looked kind
of like Lucius’ scar, except far worse.
“I will admit that my plan has undoubtedly failed,” said Ambrus. He didn’t sound like he
was in pain at all, despite the wound on his face. “But you would be deeply mistaken to
assume that means that I am going to come with you or your friends peacefully. Or at all,
for that matter.”
Ambrus stepped backwards and, before my startled eyes, vanished into the shadows out of
I ran over to the spot where Ambrus had been standing mere moments before and looked
around hurriedly, but I didn’t see Ambrus anywhere. He seemed to have vanished entirely,
though I suspected that he had probably just stepped into the Shadow Way. I was just about
to follow him myself when I heard groaning behind me and looked over my shoulder to see
Bart sitting up, rubbing his stomach where Ambrus had punched him not more than a
minute or two ago.
“Ow,” said Bart. “First time I’ve ever been punched by a half-vampire. Not too different
from being punched by an actual vampire, though it still hurts a lot.”
“He got away,” I said, looking back into the shadows. “And I’m going after—”
I turned around again to see Lucius walking toward us. His back was no longer smoking,
but he walked slowly and deliberately, perhaps perhaps due to the pain in his back. He
stopped several feet away from Bart, who had gotten back to his feet by now and was
dusting off his robes.
“I won’t?” I said. “Won’t what?”
“Go after him,” said Lucius. “Ambrus clearly knows the Shadow Way better than you,
otherwise he would not have escaped through it. Given the size of the Shadow Way, you
will probably never capture him, even if you left right now. You don’t want to end up being
nearly tricked by a Stranger again, do you?”
I blushed, but said, “But if he gets away—”
“He has gotten away, you mean,” said Lucius. “Even I wouldn’t chase him now, and I
know the Shadow Way better than you. Besides, I suspect Ambrus is going to lay low for a
while, now that his plan has been ruined.”
“Has it?” I said. I lowered Domination to my side. “Michaels is still dead. The war is still
going to happen. Maybe Ambrus will have to rebuild Future Dream or something, but his
overall goal is still going to happen, even if he can’t take advantage of it the way he wanted
“Not unless we go to the Sorcerer Parliament and tell them the truth,” said Bart. He picked
up his ax, looked it over once, and hooked it in his belt loop. “If they know about Ambrus,
then they won’t feel the need to declare war on the vampires.”
“And I will go back to the Vampire Council and inform them about Ambrus,” said Lucius.
“They will be just as interested in hearing about him as the Parliament is, if not more so,
given how he attempted to frame them by manipulating you into killing Michaels.”
“But we don’t have proof of his existence,” I said. “Why would either the Parliament or
the Council believe you without proof?”
“Good point,” said Bart, folding his arms across his chest. He looked around the nowempty
throne room with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Maybe Ambrus has some
papers lying around this castle which might help us prove that he’s responsible for this.
Could take a while to find, though, because this castle seems pretty big.”
The mention of papers stirred a memory in my mind, causing me to say, “Wait a minute.
When I agreed to kill Michaels, Jajaras, one of Ambrus’ servants, gave me a bunch of
documents about Michaels, information that Future Dream had collected on him. I could
give you guys the documents so you can show them to your respective leaders in order to
convince them that they were nearly set up.”
“Really?” said Bart in surprise. “That’s convenient. Where are the documents?”
“Back at my apartment,” I said. “When we go back there, I can give them to you guys.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Bart. “But I’d still like to investigate Castle Rook more fully.
There are probably still some Future Dream agents hanging around here and if we can
capture even just one of them and make him confess, that would be even better than
showing the Parliament some documents.”
“It would not be wise to explore this castle alone,” said Lucius. “If there are any Future
Dream agents hiding, they may attack anyone they deem a threat. It would probably be best
to come back here with backup later on, just to be safe.”
Bart suddenly looked at Lucius as if he had forgotten Lucius was here. “You’re Lucius
Red, right? I don’t think we were ever introduced.”
Lucius nodded. “Yes, that’s me, though I’m curious how you know my name.”
“Because you’re a Pure,” said Bart. “The Vampire Hunters Guild keeps a list of all known
Pures and your name is on it.”
“Why does the Vampire Hunters Guild keep a list of all known Pures?” I said. “What’s the
point of it?”
Bart shrugged. “Oh, you know, we just want to keep an eye on these supposedly ‘good’
vampires, just in case any of them go rogue or are lying about their nature. It’s happened
more than a few times over the years.”
That reminded me of what Dad said, about how Pures were still distrusted by sorcerers
because you could never be sure if a given Pure was actually good or if they were just
faking it. I didn’t think that Lucius was faking it, because from what I’d seen of him, he was
a genuinely good guy, even if he was a vampire.
“I see,” said Lucius. “Well, I hope I’m not too high up on the list. I’ve been on my best
behavior ever since I became a Pure.”
“I hope you have,” said Bart in a somewhat sour tone. He rested his hand on the handle of
his ax. “Otherwise … well, you know what I’d do, I’m sure.”
Lucius smiled, showing his long, sharp fangs. “And I trust that you’d know what I would
do if you ever came after me?”
Bart nodded curtly. “Yep, though I doubt you would survive very long if I ever decided
that you are a threat to humanity.”
“I’m over three hundred years old,” said Lucius. “It would be interesting to see a young
pup like you try to kill me.”
“Maybe I should try it now,” said Bart. “I still have enough energy for another fight,
though I’m not sure I can say the same about you, old man.”
“Hold on, guys,” I said, holding up my hands. “There’s no point in fighting each other,
okay? We have more important things to do than figure out who is the biggest kid in the
Lucius and Bart continued to glare at each other, but then Bart looked away first and
shrugged. “You’re right, Tara. I need to go back to the Parliament as soon as possible and
inform them of Ambrus’ existence. I think they will have a hard time believing me if I tell
them that he’s a half-vampire, though.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, myself,” I said. “Once you show them the documents I will
give you, I’m sure they’ll be perfectly willing to believe that Ambrus is a half-vampire.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Bart. “It’s just that no one has ever heard of a half-vampire
hiding like that. Most half-vampires are discovered and eliminated fairly early on, because
their unique natures make them stand out.”
I nodded, but then something occurred to me and I said, “What about me? Are you going
to tell the Sorcerer Parliament about me?”
Bart shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. You’re different from Ambrus, Tara. Unlike
him, you’ve made a real effort to stop the war, even if Ambrus forced you to kill Michaels.
I’ll just tell them that I found Ambrus on my own and not mention you.”
I sighed in relief. “Thanks, Bart. I really appreciate it.”
Bart looked at Lucius. “What about you, Lucius? I know the vampires have similar laws
regarding half-vampires. What are you going to do?”
“The Vampire Council is already aware of Tara,” said Lucius. “And the only reason they
haven’t killed her yet is because of the Lamb doctrine, though it expired a while ago,
meaning that any vampire is free to kill Tara now.”
I gulped. “Does that mean the Council is going to send its agents after me?”
Lucius shook his head. “No, I doubt it.”
“Why?” I said. “Aren’t there supposed to be, like, ancient laws that say they’re supposed
to kill all half-vampires they find or something?”
“There are, but your case is a little different,” said Lucius. “Your dad is the Hunter, and
they’re afraid of pissing him off, to put it bluntly.”
I tilted my head to the side. “They’re scared of Dad?”
“Yes,” said Lucius. “And I think you know why, of course.”
“Because Dad used to be the best vampire hunter ever,” I said, nodding. “Still, Dad’s been
retired for twenty-four years. How much of a threat could he possibly pose to the Council?”
“A massive one,” said Lucius. “Remember, Tara, I knew your father when he was
younger, and I also have experience with so-called ‘retired’ vampire hunters. They may no
longer be actively going around the world hunting down my people, but they still have the
necessary skills to kill any vampire who comes after them. And the name of the Hunter still
evokes fear in a lot of vampires, even in many members of the Vampire Council.”
“So I’m safe?” I said.
“For now,” said Lucius. “Whether or not you’ll always be safe … I can’t say. All I can say
is that I suggest you stay close to Richard and continue to learn how to defend yourself. It’s
the only way to ensure your safety in the long term.”
I could not help but feel a little relieved when Lucius said that. I had been worrying quite a
bit over whether the Vampire Council would send agents to kill me, so hearing that they
were too afraid of my father to even touch me left me feeling happier than before. At the
same time, though, I didn’t like Lucius’ ‘for now,’ because there was no telling if that ‘for
now’ would last ten years or ten seconds.
But that was why I needed to keep training and become stronger. And hopefully someday,
I would find a way to become a normal human girl again.