ABOUT    CAST    ARCHIVE    FORUM    BONUS          
   Previous    Next 
Kingfisher fan fiction
by DJ Morden

Harlan, Dragomir Estate, 60 years ago...

     The uproar caused by the attack on Annette was, to say the least, apocalyptic. And Fran wasn’t one for dramatics. Well not during serious situations at least, and even then it was only confided to Demetri. When Imala left suddenly with Carlos it was somewhat of a shock, the two had literally stopped what they were doing and in the blink of an eye they disappeared through an open window.
     At first Francesca thought it was something to do with Imala’s search, but then she realized the pair could have been called by Annette, which meant she was in trouble. Her concerns were unfortunately proved correct when Carlos returned with the girl covered in blood and clinging to him like a raft in a storm. Imala was a mix of tears and anger. Fran herself was shocked to see Annette like this; one of her arms practically torn to pieces and dark spots marking on her white dress marking deeper injuries.

     When Carlos had seen to his sister and mother (securing the latter in a more sturdy part of the mansion, with Tomasz’s help), he told them of the culprits.
     "The Crowboys?!" Fran hissed. "It’s bad enough knowing they exist but... to go this far..."
     Tomasz had remained fairly impassive during the whole scene, but now even his eyebrows twitched at the mention of the Crows. "Ugh... I had hoped they’d gotten the message by now. It seems we must make a more... visceral example."
     "How long has this lineage been in Harlan? And why are there so many of them?," Carlos asked as he casually took off his blood stained jacket.
     Demetri was rubbing his forehead. "Long enough to become a nuisance. As for their high numbers, only their progenitor can answer that and we have no idea who or where he is. The kids seem to be without direct leadership, aside from following the oldest."
     Tomasz cracked his knuckles and hopped slightly from one foot to the other. Fran felt a coldness run straight through her. I know what he’s thinking she thought staring at the old man He’s want to go out for a hunt.
     It wasn’t long before the rest of the Circle was roused. Angela was the more difficult to get involved as she wouldn’t stop lamenting about the ‘poor dove’ who was brutally attacked so close to her home. Fran couldn’t tell if Angela was actually bothered by the attack or by the idea that Crowboys were near her home.
     After a long debate it was decided that the next night the Circle would respond in force. Tomasz made a big show of unity but Fran could tell he was just excited to go out and slaughter things. She was fairly certain he was so happy about it because he wouldn’t have to restrain himself as he sometimes did with humans; vampires not being as breakable.
     Fran and Sarah were tasked with watching over Annette whilst the Circle scoured Harlan for the Crows’ nests. Normally she would have been annoyed at being left out of the action but this could work to her favor. It seemed unlikely Imala would allow the girl out of her sight for more than a few minutes now. The only reason she left the mansion was to go and kill the things responsible for this. All Francesca had to do was to imply she knew something about Worshipper Lucia, the flaw of this plan was Sarah.
     "Honestly... I don’t see why I have to be here," the ginger tyranny groaned in a chair near the fire place. "I can’t stand the porcelain doll. You get on with her better than I do, so you should be doing this yourself."
     Fran rolled her eyes. "Don’t act like such a martyr. You don’t have to go into the room or even speak to her. I don’t mind doing those parts. Just sit here like a good daddy’s girl and no one will be the wiser."
     Sarah sat up straight and glared at Francesca. "Wonderful a night of sitting by the fire watching you scurry about like an old maid. I could be out in the city right now at one of the symposiums... How will the critics judge new talent without me there to set the standards?"
     Fran sensed an opportunity, and took it. "Oh yes because your social life is going to be irrevocably damaged by this one night of staying in. I’m sure the Harlan elite will collapse in on itself."
     Sarah narrowed her eyes. "That was really pathetic."
     Fran batted her eyelids innocently. "Why dear sister what do you mean? You think I don’t want to spend another night with you? B-but how could I oversee and injured young woman by myself?!"
     "Oh stop it!"
     "What if Annette wants to *gasp* talk? Or she needs to drink something? How could I cope without your un-waverable strength to sustain me?" Fran now placed her hands across her chest and made a puppy face.
     "Ugh! To hell with you!," Sarah snapped and stormed off.
     Fran smirked to herself. Ah Sarah, sometimes you are so easy to piss off it’s almost not fun. Almost... right, that should give me at least half an hour, maybe an hour if I really got to her. She stood and moved quietly to the big oak doors opposite to the fireplace. Gently she pushed against the heavy door and leaned in.
     Annette was propped up by several pillows and if it was possible she looked even paler than usual. Ellen had come over with Greyburn and offered to examine Annette, while Fran hated to admit it her knowledge in that area was greater than most of the Circle’s. There had been some internal damage from when the car crashed into the tree. A few punctures here and there from bits of metal and wood. The arm, whilst seeming a tattered piece of meat, would recover if Annette had enough blood.
     Sure enough the girl had taken the large pitcher left by the bed side table in both her hands. It looked like she should not have been able to life the thing but the pitcher was held high as Annette desperately gulped down the contents. Fran waited for her to finish before moving properly into the darkened room. It was not as large as some of the other bedrooms but the bed itself was fairly big, in fact taking most of the space. Several candles were scattered about giving an eerie feel to the room.

     "Annette?" Fran called softly.
     Annette had been keeping her eyes closed, probably focusing on healing, but they snapped opened instantly. She smiled weakly as she saw Francesca.
     "Fran! So good of you to come and see me." She moved forward in the bed slightly, then surveyed her surroundings. "Hmmm... I’m guessing the candles were mother’s idea."
     "She was disturbingly insistent," Fran had to pick her steps careful around the burning wicks the closer she got.
     "So... the, the people that attacked me. They are all dead, right?," Annette asked, her face becoming serious for the first time Fran had seen.
     She nodded. "Yes. Imala and Carlos butchered the ones in the forest."
     Annette leaned back into the pillows, her face unreadable. "Good. I hope it hurt..." she suddenly said.
     Fran was slightly taken back by the hostility in the girl’s voice, but pushed it aside. They attacked her for no good reason and almost killed her, she has every right to be hostile. Fran reasoned. She took a few more steps before kneeling by the bed, taking Annette’s hand in her own.
     "Where is mother? And Carlos?," Annette asked.
     "Out in Harlan, with some of the Circle. They’re going to... find more of the Crowboys," Fran said.
     "How many of them are there?"
     "A lot more than us," Fran said. "But the weakest of us are stronger than most of them."
     Annette went silent again, thinking something over. "You know of them, so Tomasz must know of them."
     Fran frowned. "Yes. They’ve been around a while now."
     "Then why weren’t we warned?"
     Fran opened her mouth, and then closed it. She’s right. Why didn’t I think of that? What did that old bastard have to gain? The answer came as soon as she questioned it. A trump card.... If Imala proved to have more sinister motives, he arranges for her to be ambushed, then finishes the job. Except she doesn’t, and the Crowboys got suspicious.
     "I... I guess it’s because we didn’t think of them as much of a threat," Fran hung her head in shame. "We’re so used to them scurrying around in ditches we don’t think of them as vampires. I’m so sorry."
     "It... it doesn’t matter," Annette said, her voice full of sympathy. "I’m fine now. Really, and if my attackers are dead, all the better. But I may be house bound for the rest of our stay."
     "I’ll do my best to alleviate boredom," Fran said with a smile, and then a serious look came over her face.
     Annette said with tiny grin. "Yes, something a bit more calming and casual."
     Now’s your chance Fran thought. "How about something cultural? The Harlan museum has some interesting exhibits."
     Fran nodded, and girded herself for the words she needed to use. "Yes, why a few years ago they had pieces from the Holy Times, going as far back as Worshipper Matthias’ time."
     Annette frowned. "Worshipper Matthias?"
     "Oh, he was more to do with Glenland. I forget what exactly, something about a large snake," Fran said dismissively. "Not all of the pieces are on show right now though. A few were sold to private collectors."
     "Did you ever go?"
     "No, I never had the time and Tomasz is not a big fan of anything to do with the Godchurch." She suppressed the urge to wince.
     "But he dresses like a priest..."
     "Don’t get me started on that one," Fran smiled, and then looked thoughtful. "Didn’t you see the Cathedral of Devota Lucia?"
     "Yes. It was quite large. Imala visited it at least once a day during our stay in Penoli, she loved the statues and the paintings. Have you ever been to Penoli?," Annette asked.
     Francesca felt herself tense up at the memories of rioting and blood spattered corridors. "Yes... just the once, a long time ago. It was not a, pleasant trip."
     "Oh I’m sorry. Well perhaps one day I could show you around... starting with the Cathedral of course. It is said to be one of things everyone should see before they die," Annette gestured. "Seeing as that is kind of hard for us we don’t have to worry."
     "I’m having a hard time imagining Imala returning regularly to a place she’s already seen," Francesca said folding her arms. "Given her attitude when we went bar-hopping."
     "Mother is not always predictable, but she was really taken with the Cathedral," Annette said. "If she could have, I’m sure she would have hauled everything in there back to her villa - if it wasn’t for the security."
     Fran chuckled at that, but felt bad for Annette. She was either very good at covering things up, or she had no idea what Imala had done. Which left Carlos as the only other approachable person if Fran wanted to learn more. However she had done what she needed to do, and that was to make sure Imala would hear about the museum.
     "Errm, Frannie I don’t want to be a bother... but could I get some more blood?," Annette asked with puppy eyes.
     "There’s more outside, I’ll just be a moment." Fran patted the girl’s hand before leaving the bedside. Outside the bedroom there was still no sign of Sarah, and with a happy sigh Fran returned to keep Annette company.


     The next few days passed in an odd manner. Sometimes it felt as if the clocks were being slow on purpose, to drag out the boredom that little bit longer. Then they went so quick that Fran felt she had no time to spare at all. Tomasz was constantly in high spirits and kept returning with blood and gore spattered over him, humming some strange tune now and again. Demetri and Carlos were eerily similar in how only their gloves and shoes were covered in blood. Imala had been satisfied on the third night out and relieved Fran of babysitting Annette.
     In her spare time Francesca had been chasing up anything and everything to do with Devota Lucia. She had found that several of the sold museum pieces were still in Harlan, namely wealthy partners of trading companies. As for clues as to the supernatural nature of the sapphire that Imala stole and what it could be connected to, there were dozens of options.
     Thankfully the business with the Crowboys had drawn most of the Circle’s attention leaving Francesca completely free in her research (that is unless Tomasz needed someone to gloat to). It turned out that outlandish conspiracy theories apply to everything; she came across one that said the sapphire was Lucia’s actual eye and was used by the Church to brainwash most of its followers. The only recurring themes about the sapphire having any mystical properties were to do with visions.
     Francesca had called in several favors from people she knew to be scholars, but her real breakthrough came through Greyburn. There was only so much Fran could do by herself now that Demy was relegated to search and destroy duties, so it was up to her to deal with the eccentric lord.
     Thankfully Ellen was out for the evening so the situation would not be completely unbearable. Helen was alright but too... perky for Francesca to hang out with regularly, and she practically jumped at the opportunity not to be alone with Greyburn for another night.
     "I have to say I never thought you would want to be around ours, what with that thing between you and Ellen," Helen’s eyes widened. "Not that I have an opinion on it, or know anything about it!"
     "Well I needed to get out of the house, Tomasz’s new pass-time is starting to grate on the nerves," Fran said with a slight smile.
     The Greyburn estate always struck Francesca as an odd choice, and not just because of her family’s aversion to churches. It was said the church was deconsecrated by a priest who went mad and sacrificed people to Dorein. Although that could have been inspired by the move of Greyburn, and knowing his interests Fran supposed it wasn’t that surprising he would pick a creepy abandoned abbey.
     "So... how’s that um, bar you bought?," Francesca asked.
     "Oh it’s wonderful," Helen practically bounced. "I mean there’s a bit of work needed here and there but it has been an amazing time. I’ve already got some regulars as well! This one guy is so lovely, keeps saying I’m a ‘bonnie wench’ and stuff."
     Fran nodded and smiled enough to show a vague support of the girl’s choice. Once they came up to a side entrance to the abbey Helen paused for a moment after she opened the door, turning back to Francesca and grimacing.
     "I’m sorry but... I would give you a proper invitation but... you know Dad he can... he is... well you know," Helen mumbled.
     "It’s fine Helen, won’t be the first time I’ve felt uncomfortable in a church," Fran said. With a deep breath she took a step past the thresh-hold. Immediately she felt her body sag, as if she had been working hard all day.
     Ugh how much I hate this feeling... come on now Fran you’ve got a job to do she pushed herself onwards to follow Helen. They barely made it to a sitting room when another door opened to reveal Lord Greyburn, who appeared to be wearing a stitched together outfit of clothes, carpet and possibly parchment.
     "Darling Francesca... so good of you to grace my home," Greyburn made a low bow, his hair just touching the stone floor of the abbey. "This affair with those horrible peasants has upset me terribly, I’ve barely touched the crafts."

     "Aubrey," Fran curtseyed slightly. "It has been an unpleasant business but Tomasz assures me that his work is almost done."
     The tall thin noble seemed to glide across the floor and drape himself over Fran. "Oh I hope so sweet Francesca... an artist needs peace of mind to draw Godly inspiration! I fear my current pieces are too neglected and will refuse to be molded!"
     "I’m sure it will be fine Dad," Helen said, trying to pull Greyburn off of Fran. "It’s like those times with the charcoal painting remember? You said it was being unruly but in the end you still finished."
     "Hmm perhaps... although the frogs don’t seem to be in the spirit of things either," Greyburn sullenly dropped into an old dusty chair. "Enough of sad artists and indignant art! Helen tells me you have an enquiry? I shall do my best to fill your needs."
     Fran was currently chiding herself for not bringing Demetri, if she had to suffer through this then someone should be there to keep her company. Nonetheless Fran was all smiles as she sat down in the opposite chair, an antique coffee table in between her and Greyburn.
     "Yes, I’ve recently started this little project and part of it involves the Holy Times," the gangly Lord visibly perked up. "And from what I understand you are well versed of the history and the literature."
     Helen shook her head vigorously but Greyburn was already out of his seat. "Why absolutely my dear sweet child! I’m always at the ready to enlighten those who seek the truth of God’s message and his disciples! What is it you seek to follow into the light? The holy prophets who were wickedly persecuted? The tale of Jonathan and the eagle? The cruel temptress Acadia and her abuse of the sacred stones?"
     This is going to be long, painful, and ultimately scarring Fran thought miserably to herself. "Do you know anything about the Eye of Devota Lucia?"
     "Ahhh... yes, a gem as blue as the oceans and twice as mysterious," Greyburn fell back to his chair and Helen had resignedly taken the seat next to him. "Given to her by the Keepers themselves after she prayed for a safe haven for her people."
     Helen leaned in. "A cast of angels, watchers of ancient treasures and secrets of the universe."
     Greyburn flailed his arms dramatically. "So moved by her compassion and purity the Keepers descended and bequeathed the sapphire. As Lucia gazed into his facets, her soul touched the wonderful light of God and was shown a vision."
     Fran, although feeling slightly woozy at all the God talk, managed to focus in on that part. "The sapphire grants visions then?"
     "If the follower is pure of heart and mind, they are shown what is needed to be seen," Greyburn bowed his head "For Lucia it was the sanctuary her people needed to escape the raiders from the north. Her follower, Bartholomew, took the gem after her death and was shown the wicked Depths of Hell and Dorein’s black throne!"
     Fran nodded, rolling the information around in her head. "So if someone looks into the gem they get a vision, and it can be of anything. Does the sapphire have any other significance?"
     "Some say it is a shard of a greater whole... that Dorein tried to steal God’s sacred treasures and one was shattered as the Hated Beast fled, pieces scattering over the world," Greyburn made large sweeping motions, as if he was showing the spray of shards from the sky. "The sapphire supposedly one of the few God’s forces kept, the others lost either in time or to shadow... ahhh such a sad day that must have been."
     "Other gems...," Fran muttered to herself.
     Greyburn sniffed and waved a hand dismissively. "Enough of such sad tales. I shall recount the selfless sacrifice of Worshipper Nathaniel. Helen my sweet, be so kind and fetch refreshments? I would hate to leave Francesca without giving the full knowledge of God’s work."
     "Of course, I’ll get a couple of barrels..." Helen stood up and solemnly walked off.
     Greyburn leaned over the table and took Francesca’s hand. "Nathaniel was much like Lucia in fact, growing up in the country. You see dear Francesca, God picks his best from those who are humble and chaste! Now one day Nathaniel was going to town and..."
     Greyburn rambled on as Francesca felt a rush of blood to her head. I can’t even take the... thing’s name in vain without getting a stinging sensation... argh fuck! Why did I do this again?


     The Crow Hunt had died down a little the following week, as Demetri knew it would. After all using the same brutal tactics every time they found a group even the dumbest opponent should be able to adapt. It was just aggravating to be dismissed for having a valid point, which was why he was on his own tonight trying to ferret out the scum.
     Honestly... it takes a man to own to his mistakes as the saying goes. You would think after half a millennium stomping around the old bastard could take constructive criticism Demetri thought bitterly as he stood on an industrial roof top. He had reasoned that the Crowboys would hide in places difficult to be sniffed out as it were, so he decided to scout Harlan’s industrial quarter for more basic signs of vampire life.
     Occasionally he risked using his heightened senses to try and pick up a tiny trace, and the assaults on his nostrils in some areas were appalling to say the least. It was getting to the point of being utterly ridiculous, how could filth just vanish into thin air? Even Inka and Thierry were having problems getting their ‘outside help’ to track the Crows. Although Florence had said most spirits don’t like talking to Thierry after he tried making them steal all the women’s clothes in Harlan.
     Demetri huffed as he jumped from the edge of the building and floated down quietly. Perhaps a display of power would lure a few out.... Risky but we’ve been hitting blocks for days now. Better to try every option he thought as he touched the ground. He calmly walked over to several large metal barrels. He placed a gloved hand on one of them and with ease lifted it up over his head, then hurled back at the building. The crash was quite audible although this section had been shut down for the night. Demy stood there patiently, turning his head around to see if anything had changed.
     "Nothing... ugh," he huffed and began to walk away from the scene.
     He made it to the gates of the factory grounds when a small bird swooped close to his head. It landed gracefully on one of the lamps attached to the red brick wall. It was a small thing with reddish feathers along the wing but the edges were black. The little bird stared at him expectantly.
     "Now, you’re not a native one are you?," Demy said, curiosity getting the better of him.
     The bird leapt from its perch and, in blurred motion, swooped down and transformed into a more familiar figure.
     Demetri blinked in surprise. "Carlos?"
     The stocky man nodded. "Demetri. How goes the hunt?"
     Demy shrugged. "About as well as the last few nights. They may be the dregs of society but they know how to hide their tracks I’ll say that much."
     "Perhaps I may be of help," Carlos said, and with that he marched back into the factory grounds.
     Again, curiosity pulled Demy to follow. It would be interesting to see what powers an Imala had at their disposal, Demy had investigated to the area where Annette was attacked and some of the remains he found were... in an interesting fashion. The two suited figures quietly walked into the middle of the grounds. The factory area was responsible for metal-works and the like, frames for cars and other vehicles were left in the middle of the grounds in padlocked crates.
     "How is Annette faring?," Demetri asked as they came to a stop.
     "She’s recovered, although Mother is not letting her outside the mansion until she is convinced there is no threat," Carlos said in a monotone way.
     "I don’t mean to be rude good fellow but why are you here?," Demetri said folding his arms. "Not that I don’t appreciate the offer of help but you’ve hardly shown up the other times we went to find these fiends."
     "I don’t like working with crowds," Carlos said, shrugging his shoulders. "Now if you please, remain quiet."
     Still slightly baffled, Demetri kept his mouth closed and his eyes and ears alert. Nothing seemed to happen for the first minute or so, aside from Carlos staring into space. Then Demy noticed something. It was subtle, at the edge of his senses yet tugging for his full attention, something like a buzzing sound.
     Is he doing this? Demetri locked eyes on Carlos who stayed staring into space. Analysing the man, looking for some hint, Demy noticed the dust and dirt on the ground being pushed by a slight breeze. The direction was going out from Carlos.
     All of a sudden the buzzing stopped, and Carlos turned to face Demetri. He pointed over to the main part of the metal works. "There’s around ten of them in there."
     Demy raised an eyebrow. "Impressive little trick. How does it work? Vibrations in the air or something like that?"
     If Carlos was surprised at Demy’s guess, he didn’t show it. "Something like that. Think of it as a supernatural echo-location."
     The two men started to walk over to the main factory. Usually Demetri would feel somewhat angered at being upstaged, but as there was no one here and in a way he was proved correct, it didn’t bother him that much. Besides in about five minutes he would be venting his aggression in the most violent manner possible.
     The large heavy doors creaked open, the factory floor was messy as machines, loaders and others things had been left strewn about. Demetri guessed this was where the metal was shaped into whatever the buyers wanted before being moved on. He was glad they weren’t near the smelter, a fight in there would have been cliché and Demetri didn’t to lose his new gloves to molten lead.
     It was quiet though. More quiet than it should have been for a vampire’s senses. Cautiously the two walked several paces inside, fanning out to either side of the entrance. If they had any sense they would have run when they saw us approach Demetri thought.
     "Gut the bastards!" A voice shouted from above. Demetri sighed. Then again... I forgot who we were dealing with.
     There was a flurry of movement from above and in front of them. Five Crowboys descended from the roof while the others were making a direct charge. Carlos seemed to have claimed the first lot, as he effortlessly jumped into the air catching the closest one by the throat. Pulling the entire man over his head, Carlos slammed him head first back into the ground with a sickening crack. He left bits of skull and blood seeping over the floor before jumping back into the air.
     Demetri focused on the ones he was left with, all of them bald, raggedy and ugly. The first Crow who made it to him snarled through rat like teeth slashing furiously through the air. It was easy to avoid his attack, in a fluid motion Demetri had caught the attacker’s wrist and snapped it. He then threw the Crow back into his fellows.
     Suddenly there was a presence to his side. There was a woosh of air as the new attacker came at Demetri with an axe. Despite the shock he managed to dodge, barely, his jacket was sliced down the right arm and felt a small trickle of blood seep through his skin.
     "That, was designer!," Demetri snarled at the smirking man who was wielding the axe above his head like a baton.
     There were several crashing sounds as Carlos returned to the earth, crushing the head of one Crowboy underneath his foot. A few of the others impaled on the metal implements. Not wanting to be upstaged, Demetri felt his wolfish traits appear as his attacker lunged in again. He caught the axe this time, breaking the wooden handle, and then he slammed his fist against the Crow’s chest hearing bones snap.
     Demetri caught the blade of the axe before the man slumped to his knees, coughing up blood. Demy turned around to see the others had finally made sense of the situation and ran away. He sighed, not really wanting to spend the night chasing down stragglers.
     "Two of mine got away," Carlos said, also sounding annoyed.
     "C’est la vie," Demy said as he turned to see the last remaining Crowboy.
     He was an older man, lines on his face and greyish hair. He was hunched over coughing up blood as Demy approached. The man looked up, and spat at Demetri’s feet.
     "Poncy fucks!," he snarled. "What gives you the right?"
     "This isn’t about rights, it’s about order. You Crowboys are pathetic, destructive vermin and have been allowed to get too big," Demetri said as he raised the axe.
     "So *cough* you kill us like animals... take us as prisoners... do God knows what...," he mumbled, becoming delirious.
     "Prisoners?," Demetri repeated.
     "Took Fred... took Petey... took Jen," the man seemed to be losing more blood as he slumped further down.
     "He’s losing his mind. Just finish it," Carlos said.

     While it was against his wishes, Carlos was right. It was not as if Demetri could keep the man alive. Even if he did, what guarantee was there that he wouldn’t just try to kill him again? In a sweeping motion Demetri landed the axe against the Crowboy’s neck, the blade went through easily enough. The old man’s head rolled away into the shadows.
     Demetri scratched at his arm in an absent mind fashion. Focusing he healed the minor wound almost instantly. He turned to face Carlos, who as ever, wore the same expression. Except now he was stained with bits of blood.
     "Odd that a Crowboy would claim we were taking prisoners don’t you think?," Demetri asked.
     Carlos shrugged. "Maybe it’s a rumour going around for Crowboys who are still missing."
     "Could be," Demetri said, although his tone showed how unconvinced he was.
     The two men stared at each for a moment. Carlos was the first to break away. "I’ll take care of the bodies. You should see if you can catch up the run aways, you should still have time."
     Demetri thought it best to go along with what Carlos said, and left the man to do the clean-up. As he left the building the Crowboys’ scent was more distinguishable against the other smells this time. In their haste they got sloppy, which suited Demy just fine. However he couldn’t shake what the old Crow had said and if Demy was the suspicious type he would say Carlos knew more about it than he let on. He sighed as he started to run, shifting into his wolf form to better track the Crows. Things are always more complicated than they seem, aren’t they?


     The city of Harlan was buzzing with news as the Penoli incident had reached every corner of its society. Outraged Goddites, people angry about the cover, curiosity about what was stolen and bitter hatred for the murderer of those poor guards. Fran lost count how many times she had heard commuters talk about the theft, or more particularly the thief. She had intended merely to follow up on the Worshipper Exhibit at the Harlan museum to see if she could find any mention of a rare gem, possibly linked to Lucia like the sapphire. Her night with Greyburn, whilst painful on so many levels was still helpful. However the closer she got to the museum the more Fran began to worry about Imala’s presence.
     Of course nothing can ever go our way just for once... barely a month in the papers and everyone is on edge. What is Tomasz going to do? Fran thought as she walked down the street through the crowds. If her father knew about the incident, which by now he probably did, then he most likely knew of Imala’s involvement and the dangers of allowing her to stay. Would he risk a confrontation now we’re officially ‘at war’ with the Crowboys? The enemy of my enemy is my friend as the saying goes... what if Imala switches sides? Francesca shook her head. Worry about it when it happens. Focus on what you know.
     The Harlan museum had been going strong for close to two hundred years, give or take the renovations undertaken by city councils and patrons. Most of it of course contained historical pieces of Glenland; relics from the old monarchies, ancient tribal artefacts, poetry, novels and so on. However there several sections set aside for pieces from the continent and another area reserved for the religions of the world. Demetri had warned her off going for the last week or so given the Crow situation, but she felt it would have to be now or never. Besides not even a Crowboy would be stupid enough to attack a Circle member in front of humans.
     The museum itself was a large building dominating the line between Old Harlan and the more modern extension of the city. The central part was still made from old red bricks and contrasted against the clean(ish) grey steel of the other sections. It gave Francesca the strong impression of those building blocks children play except on a larger and less elegant scale. Still it was a source of pride for the people of Harlan. Dotted at the sides were several cafes where intellectuals would gather which Francesca took to mean talk utter nonsense about things long dead and gone.
     She was walking past one of the little terraced gardens outside a café when an arm suddenly shot out and pulled her towards the railings.
     "How dare you-" she started, but felt the words die in her throat as she saw the figure.
     "Francesca my dear," Imala flashed her wolf smile, hand still gripping Fran’s arm. "What a lovely surprise to see you here. Of all places."
     "My Lady," Fran bowed slightly and smiled, quickly regaining her composure. "I am just as surprised. I thought you would still be at Annette’s side?"
     The dark skinned woman waved her hand dismissively. "Oh no, she’s quite recovered and that nice Vitus boy is keeping her company for tonight. Please my girl don’t stand about, sit sit!"
     It was not so much as an invitation as a forceful command, but Fran did not have much of an opportunity to physically resist as Imala practically heaved her into the opposite chair. As ever the lady was dressed in red although this outfit was the more modest of any she donned so far in her stay. For a moment the two just sat there, Fran smiling pleasantly while Imala’s eyes were disturbingly wide and searching.
     "So... how was the hunt for the Crows when you joined?," Fran ventured.
     Imala stiffened slightly at the name but still smiled. "Oh, it took me back to my young days. Although the key difference being vengeance for the here and now. Back then it was more about the... pleasure."
     Fran nodded. "I understand you and Carlos were instrumental in finding several of their hide-aways. A very impressive feat."
     Imala shook her head in false modesty. "Oh just little trick I learned and passed to my dear children. Trust me my dear; it is the least impressive feat I can perform."
     She’s threatening you, she knows! Fran was screaming inside her head. And yet if that were the case, why do it in such public area? Why confront her on the way to the museum?
     "But enough of such dark business dear," Imala placed her hands over Francesca’s and leaned in. "What have you been doing with all this spare time? Annette mentioned something about the museum?" Her eyes darted over to the red and grey building.
     Fran nodded. "Yes... it is a hobby I have taken up recently. Something before you arrived in fact, and despite the tragedy of what’s occurred I do have free time so I thought I could return to it."
     "Oh wonderful, it is important to keep hobbies especially if they feed the mind," another flash of the wolf smile. "What is it exactly that has taken your fancy child? I may be of assistance given my extensive travels."
     It was times like these that Fran was grateful she didn’t need to take deep breaths to steady her heart. "I’ve been looking into the worshippers of the Godchurch" she said, feeling a twinge in her eye.
     Imala tilted her head to the side and furrowed her brow. "Really? The Godchurch?"
     Fran nodded again. "Yes. It is quite fascinating how much myth surrounds some of the worshippers, even those born only a couple hundred years ago."
     "Back when you still felt blood rushing to your cheeks no doubt," Imala chuckled and leaned back, letting go of Francesca’s hands. "Well my girl I can be of great help. Let us go inside and you can show me your latest trail."
     In one swift motion Imala up from the table and standing by the little gate leading back to the pavement, expectantly looking at Francesca. She smiled once more and stood up, following the lady’s lead. Imala had a certain strut to the way she walked, almost as if she was taking command of the path before and everyone else had to get out of the way. All the while Fran kept her eyes and ears open towards passers-by.
     She must know news has reached Glenland! Why would she risk suspicion?.... although what better way to avoid it than to act like you have nothing to hide Fran thought as she followed behind Imala. She is also on to you; worst case scenario she beats you down, best case scenario she lets you help her find whatever it is she is searching for... I’m not sure how that is better but I’m working on it.
     They were soon up the stone steps and through the double doors into the museum’s lobby. It was a large rectangular room with a statue at its centre of a man in armour holding up a sword. Scattered around were sealed cabinets with several smaller items on display as well as maps of the building. Imala did not even break her stride or pause to inspect the maps, instead walking straight to the left side of the museum leaving Fran to pick up the pace. People were looking but more out of surprise at Imala’s presence than possible suspicion. For a time it seemed doubtful that the lady actually knew where she was going, making random turns here and there or stopping to admire an artistic piece.
     Then she came to a halt all of a sudden and beckoned Francesca to her side. They were standing in front of a stone archway with a banner hanging above it labelled ‘Relics of Religion’. Looking into the room as Imala wove her arm around Francesca’s, she felt another twinge at the thought about what was going to endure. It should be fine.... I mean they’re centuries old and crumbling, there shouldn’t be much of an affect right? She reasoned to herself.
     Imala smiled then heaved the pair of them into the exhibit. Francesca felt slightly woozy as they entered; a large ancient sceptre was to their immediate left and straight ahead of them was a tapestry displaying the symbol of Aldea. Other than that Fran was confident she could manoeuvre the area without bloods pouring from her eyes or falling flat on her face.
     "Oh now this is a fascinating piece," Imala wheeled the both of them in front of a large marble obelisk. "Do you know what this is?"
     Fran shook her head slightly to avoid worsening her growing headache. "I’m afraid not my lady."
     Imala chuckled softly. "Well there aren’t many of these left for the public eye. It is commonly known as an Iconac, a kind of recorded history if you will. See this glyph here," she placed a finger on the carved stone. The glyph seemed to resemble a bird. "It means freedom. And the ones above it indicate a family problem. I’m guessing a girl being forced into marriage and running away. But that’s not what we’re interested in."
     The moved further on occasionally stopping here and there as Imala rambled on about some random history and story. All the while Fran was thinking radically about what could happen and how she could deal with it. Surely Imala would not do anything too drastic but then again predicting the actions of progenitor were difficult. All the time she felt she was being sized up, like a predator judging a rival... or prey.
     "Ah... now here is something," they came to a stop in front of a large display cabinet. Inside was a large stone mural. It was of an ancient sprawling city, the closest part they were at showed a man with fire coming from his eyes standing atop a temple holding chains attached to cowering people.
     Fran glanced down to the plaque placed on the glass. "Michael’s rendition of the Mad King of Aipoli... the capital of Kallas?"
     Imala nodded. "Yes... the last King of the city, Macelo. Of course this being the work of a Goddite, funded by other Goddites, there has been some... artistic license with his mural, and the legends. They say he sacrificed virgins daily to dark spirits and had his wife bathe in their blood to restore her beauty. Hehe... there were no mass sacrifices though yet Macelo was still a man to be feared. This scene depicts his use of slaves to build the famous Black Temple, surely you’ve heard of that?"
     Francesca nodded, and Imala did not wait for her to give a worded reply. "It was destroyed during an invasion from the north, but for several decades it was Macelo’s masterpiece. Now he may not have been a kind man... or indeed a merciful one. But he was very pragmatic; he was only cruel enough so the people would fear him, not despise him. For every atrocity there was an act of seeming compassion; building hospitals, houses, roads and so on."
     They moved further along to the next scene, depicting Macelo standing in a garden underneath a black cloud. As they drew closer Francesca realised it wasn’t a cloud but some kind of spirit as a skull was etched at the centre with two skeletal hands reaching down.
     Imala paused to continue the story. "Macelo did however dabble in the dark arts. Like all powerful men he became fearful of his death, and sought any and every means possible to avoid it. For years he had no response until one day, when in a fit of rage at another failed spell, he set fire to the grand tree of his garden. As the ancient wood simmered down to ash a spectre rose from the remains. The Dark Spirit offered the King everything he ever wanted; true sorcery and the means to life eternal. Macelo accepted blindly, fear and arrogance spurring his actions."
     They took another few steps. Macelo was shown back in his Black Temple holding a young boy over an altar. On the left side was the spirit who seemed to be goading the King, and on the other side was a tall dark skinned woman, dressed in gold and red.
     "In order for him to gain immortality, the Dark Spirit told Macelo he must sacrifice a legacy of flesh and blood. Starting, of course, with his own son. Born only six years before this tragedy to a queen who had remained loyal despite everything," Imala was no longer looking at the mural, her eyes fixed on some distant point. "She was no innocent, she had destroyed many lives to gain her position for she knew the value of power. But she also knew the importance of family and that a parent should always protect their child. The King stole the boy away and locked the queen in the palace. That night he... he sacrificed the boy."

     Fran looked back to the mural. Underneath the altar was a dozen or so other boys weeping as a river of red ran either side. It seemed the price was not just the legacy of a king, but rather that of the city’s.
     Imala pulled Francesca along. "The Queen escaped and vowed revenge on all who helped the King. She raised an army from rival cities through favours, manipulation and murder. Aipoli was under siege for several weeks. Twice the gates had been stormed, each time Macelo at the front lines. Twice he was cut down, and both times he stood up again. His flesh knitting back, limbs reattaching... the dark promise of the spirit fulfilled."
     "Eventually the Queen’s army broke against Macelo’s dark magic and fled. The Queen was dragged through Aipoli, beaten and humiliated. She was taken to the Black Temple, placed on the stone altar, and Macelo drove the same stone dagger he used on their son through her heart," Imala placed her free hand to her chest. "He revelled in the victory. So long he had feared this woman who knew his secrets and now she lay dead... but fate is a cruel bitch as they say."
     They had come to the end of the mural. Francesca looked at the last image and saw Macelo being torn into pieces by a red and black griffin. His head was held in the jaws of the beast, each limb in a claw, and his torso held within the coils of the beast.
     "They say... they say the Dark Spirit returned to the Queen at her dying breath. Offered her vengeance. Offered her power. She accepted and was reborn into the griffin, who soared against the light of the moon. Macelo had worked so hard to control the living that his power had little effect on the dead. And so the griffin tore the Mad King into pieces, throwing his head into the river, leaving his limbs to be ripped apart in the desert, and dropping his heart into a volcano," Imala said with a slight smile. "Funny don’t you think? In the end death itself had played the greatest trick on the King who fought so desperately to avoid it."
     "There is an irony to it yes," Francesca muttered. She suddenly felt an enormous pressure on her arm. She looked at Imala wide eyed, but the lady was still gazing at the stone slab.
     "I tell you this story, in the hopes that you learn something my dear," Imala faced Francesca. The lady’s eyes were now almost completely green, save for a ring of black around the edge. "I hope you learn that a mother will do anything to protect her children and from anything as well. For example say-"
     Francesca felt her arm snap instantly, like a tooth-pick. "Mmph!," she stifled a cry.
     "-a manipulative bitch who thinks she can use Annette to place me exactly where she wants," Imala’s fingers closed around Francesca’s and squeezed hard. "Really girl, you think I couldn’t figure what you were doing? I know news has reached Glenland. I know the delightful conversation you had with Lord Greyburn. I have been around for a very long time... I will always be a step ahead of you."
     "Gah!" Fran couldn’t help it as Imala’s fingers dug into her own, breaking more bone and tearing skin. "I-I thought I could help you! Matters could get out of hand, you need someone who knows the city! Someone who could-"
     "Stab me in the back like her vicious self-serving pervert of a father?" Imala pulled her upper lip back, almost snarling. "Oh I know Tomasz and his tastes... do you really think I’m stupid enough to trust you?"
     And instantly the lady let go, Fran practically jumped back cradling her arm and focusing on healing. Imala was back to being her usually bouncy self and was already walking past.
     "I would drop this little hobby of yours dear, it’s not polite to steal from other people’s interests," Imala flashed her wolf smile again.
     "You... You’re completely insane," Francesca muttered back pulling her arm closer.
     Imala took no notice and continued walking. "Oh and Annette will no longer be receiving your visits. She has far better things to do than prance around with a faded whore."
     Francesca was left standing there nursing her injury. She could only stare after Imala who walked confidently past all the oblivious visitors. Mad... absolutely mad... Fran echoed in her mind.


     "Gone? What do you mean gone?!," Francesca snapped at Demetri.
     "Departed, left, done a runner, no longer present," Demetri said in a tired voice. He had been trying to explain the same thing for the last five minutes.
     "Imala just up and left? Just like that?," Fran said throwing her hands in the air as if doing a magic trick. "After everything she just leaves the manor?"
     "Perhaps she thought her... lesson may have incurred Tomasz’s anger," Demetri reasoned.
     Fran had arrived about two hours after Imala had mysteriously decided to leave the Circle’s hospitality. Demy's poor sister was a mixture of anger, fear and confusion right now, which was not helped after hearing about their now former guests.
     "There is no way she has left the city," Fran said tapping her foot. "I suppose this is for the best in the long run, now I can search properly without at that Kallan cow threatening to go to psycho."
     "Frannie dear, why bother with all this gem nonsense now?," Demy said stepping forward and placing a hand on his sister’s shoulder. "If it is another gem you have no idea what it is capable of let alone any hint of a location. Imala seems very set on getting it and being the first one to do so. Just let her."
     Fran whipped around, her eyes burning with new-found rage. "Let her? Just let that-that over indulgent snobbish bitch get her way? We’ve been letting her walk all over Harlan for the last couple of months! Where has it gotten us? A war with another lineage!"
     "They attacked Annette, Imala may be a lot of things but she does value her family." Be it in a sick twisted fashion he added to himself. However Francesca seemed to be too far gone to listen to reason.
     "I will not have it! We’re already stuck with Tomasz and the others, but if I can put one over on a progenitor... it will give me something back," Fran said stepping away. "At the very least, if investigators do turn up I could point them in the right direction."
     Demetri frowned. It would be the smart thing to do in one regard but, I have a nasty feeling it would only piss off an already pissed off powerful vampire he thought. Then he remembered something.
     "Annette was supposed to be at Pheron’s Charm," he muttered.
     "The bar you had to drag her royal highness from," Demetri said folding his arms. "The night the girl was attacked Carlos had informed Tomasz that he and Imala would be leaving for Pheron’s Charm."
     "I don’t get-" Fran’s eyes widened. "Could that be where they would set up shop?"
     "Or perhaps a clue Imala found," Demy said with a smile.
     Fran smiled back, then crossed her arms and frowned. "Why are you now being helpful with all this?"
     He shrugged. "If you’re going to do something crazy might as well do it right. Besides if you end up getting beaten to a pulp it may teach you to let things go."
     Fran snorted. "I’m sorry but what about that incident last year with the Harlan Gala?"
     Demy felt his spine curl. "That was hardly an incident."
     Fran smiled and started to do a bad impersonation of her brother "Oh it’s outrageous! Stealing the art of Jorgen so blatantly! I will not be silent while masterpieces are defiled for the sake of preening fops!"
     He rolled his eyes. "Oh very funny."
     "Well not as funny as your stalking of the artist for several weeks," Fran began to walk away. "Too bad the police didn’t agree that ‘intent to steal art-craft’ was enough to seal a man in a prison cell. Ah well, top marks for getting him in there in the first place."
     Demy walked after her "Those cretins couldn’t recognize real crime if it was right in front of them," he mumbled.
     Fran giggled. "Well technically it was."
     Ellen sighed as she sat patiently outside Greyburn’s study, waiting for him to demand help in removing the various kinds of dirt that had accumulated during one of his ‘passions’. What made this even more unbearable was that she was doing it alone for the third week in a row.
     Helen’s been sneak moving out for the last few years now Ellen thought bitterly. I knew it the minute she told me about the pub she bought. She would admit though that her sister had been rather clever in her bid for more freedom. Instead of up and leaving, this would have reduced Aubrey to a sobbing wreck and make him trail her like a lost puppy; she opted for a slow, almost glacier pace crawl away.
     She hasn’t been in the abbey for a whole day for the last month; come to think of it Helen hasn’t actually been in here the last week. The last excuse she could remember was that Demetri required help in wiping a few memories of people who witnessed his dealing with the Crowboys.
     That also made her sigh; Ellen had hoped to use the fight as a way to get out more but Greyburn insisted that his girls remain inside where it was safe. Ellen knew she wasn’t so much a fighter as a thinker but it felt wrong to be on the side-lines like this. And it may have been possible to make some advancement on her research into their condition, what with many of her fellow Circle vampires becoming bored of being guinea pigs.
     There was a loud ringing sound echoing down the halls. Ellen was shocked out of her slumping stance and stood upright, merely holding towels in her arms and staring in the direction of the noise.
     The door to Greyburn’s study swung open and the gangly noble leaned out his head, his hair seemingly dripping with oil. "A visitor? But it is too soon! My works cannot be seen yet... they still lack the vital spark!"
     "Stay here Dad, I’ll go see who it is," Ellen said handing him the towels.
     He gripped them and held them close to his chest. "If it is that uncouth brat again beat him with the brooms!" With that the study door slammed shut again.
     Ellen tried not to roll her eyes as she walked through the stone corridors. Aubrey had never really warmed to Thierry especially when he had been so open with his interest in Ellen and Helen during the early days. A small smile crept at her lips Although being a little uncouth is certainly thrilling... once in a while that is.
     She dismissed the thought of it being Thierry, the lad was incorrigible but not entirely stupid. He would have at least let Ellen know if he was going to make a visit. There was another loud ringing noise coming from the front of the abbey so Ellen quickened her pace. In a few minutes she was at the wooden doors. She paused and ran her hands to smooth down her dress, then she heaved the heavy frame open.
     Standing in front of her were two well-dressed men. One seemed in his thirties with red hair and a moustache, the other mid-twenties and dark haired.
     The older man smiled. "Miss Helen Fitzpatrick I presume?"

     "I’m Ellen actually, her older sister. And you are?"
     "Detective Samuel Morris," he opened his coat to reveal the badge on the inside. "And this-" he gestured to the young man. "Is Sergeant Robert Headley. May we come in?"
     Ellen instinctively moved forward, blocking the small gap of the open door. "I am very sorry Detective but my father is of a delicate nature right now. Having unannounced and unknown guests would only serve to worsen his condition today."
     The Sergeant looked completely unconvinced however the Detective nodded. "I see, so sorry about that. Then would you mind stepping outside to answer a few questions."
     Ellen was trying to think if Greyburn had done anything too extreme lately as she stepped outside, carefully keeping herself as a block whilst closing the door. Detective Morris began shifting through his pockets.
     "A few nights ago this young woman here was seen visiting your home," he pulled out a picture of Francesca. The photo seemed to have been taken while she was walking through the streets. "Earlier tonight we had a report of the same woman being seen with a person of interest at the Harlan Museum. Can you tell us anything?"
     Ellen simply stared at the photo. "Not much. She’s a family friend, sort of. Our parents go back a long way but she doesn’t socialize much. Or very well for that matter."
     "And her name is?"
     "Amelia. Amelia Garret," Ellen said. God I hope that’s the one she is using for her fencing school.
     "Thank you for that, but do you recognize this woman, the one Amelia was seen with?" He pulled out another photo. It was of Imala sitting casually outside of a café; Ellen felt a slight twinge of anger that she had been so blasé about strolling around in public.
     "Can’t say that I do... maybe another old friend of Amelia’s father? He travelled a lot in his youth," Ellen said.
     "Out of interest, what was the nature of Amelia’s visit?," Sergeant Headley spoke up, eyeing Ellen with suspicion.
     She shrugged. "I don’t know I wasn’t there. Maybe Helen had something of her’s. Or she wanted to talk to father about work, but as I’ve said he is not up for visitors."
     "Very well Miss, thank you for your time," the Detective turned to leave and Ellen moved to head back into the abbey.
     Sergeant Headley grabbed her arm. "One last thing Miss Fitzpatrick."
     She was about to snap at the man but when she faced him she was met with another picture. This was one hand-drawn, perhaps a small portrait of some kind. It was of a family sitting in a living room. A mother and father with their three children; two boys, and one girl who had a striking familiar doll like appearance.
     "The girl in this drawing, does it remind you of anyone?," there was an annoyed sigh from the Detective. It seemed Ellen was not the first the Sergeant had asked about this.
     Ellen shook her head. "Nope. Nothing at all, why do you ask?"
     "She is also a person of interest, been missing for some time," Sergeant Headley pocketed the drawing but kept his eyes on Ellen. "There’s reason to believe this girl is also with our person of interest."
     "Well I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help," Ellen said smiling.
     "Sorry but one last thing Miss, how long have you and your family lived in this abbey?" Headley looked up and down the stone building.
     "Five years, give or take. Father bought it after the Church decided to stop renovations, he felt this place needed to be preserved," Ellen said.
     "Your father, Abel Reygurn correct? The fashion guru?"
     "Yes that’s right. I hate to be rude but I really must be going to tend to him now," this time Ellen did not wait for a response. She quickly threw herself through the heavy door and slammed it behind her, her heart racing (if it could that is).
     She ran back down the corridors much faster than before, she came to a grinding halt just in front of Greyburn’s study. Ellen knocked loudly "Dad, I’m going to have to leave for a couple of hours. Francesca needs my help with something; promise not to leave the abbey?"
     There were sounds of items being thrown around but the door remained closed. "Yes, yes yes! Go! The muses are here and require solitude for this master-piece!" Greyburn shouted. Ellen could have sworn she heard several cats hiss as she moved away.
     No time for worrying about him now, got to get over to the manor as fast as I can Ellen shook her head and took a deep breath. It had been a while since she had done this trick, hopefully she could remember how everything works. Her dress and arms began to shrink and white, brown speckled feathers started to sprout. In an instant she was hovering above the ground, flapping her wings frantically.
     Good Lord it really has been too long! Focus damn it! Get a regular rhythm going with the wings... yes! Right now... just motion forward and-OH-WAIT-STO-. She slammed into the stone archway that line the windows of the corridor. Swaying in the air slightly, Ellen tried again, this time slowly. Ow... ow... ok, reflex control at high speeds needs some work. Should be able to work that out on the trip... hopefully not in as painful a manner. She hooted with annoyance as she took to the moonlit night sky.


     Pheron’s Charm was as busy as ever although Francesca was grateful that it was still early in the night so the dance floor was quite empty. It meant she had less people to shove out of the way to the bar. Demetri tailed behind making apologetic looks to recently pushed and disgruntled patrons as Fran made a bee-line for the closest bar-tender. The man looked to be no older than twenty or so and was absent-mindedly cleaning a glass in his hand.
     "Hello there, I was wondering if you could help me?," Fran said in the sweetest voice she could come up with.
     The man blinked in surprise at her presence. "Uh... yeah?"
     "There was a woman who visited this bar a while ago, tall, dark skin, wearing a lot of red and in her thirties at least. She got into a bit of an incident that night," Fran said, looking for any sign of recognition in the waiter.
     "Uh yeah?"
     "Well has someone like that been back here recently?," Fran asked, dropping the sweetness as the vacant expression of the man was irritating her.
     "Ummm I don’t know," he mumbled.
     "Well... thanks for the all help," Fran said and turned back to Demetri.

     "Ok. I guess we now just look around and see if there’s anything suspicious or new or... something," Fran said.
     "Brilliant planning as always," Demetri said with a smirk. Francesca shot him a glare and moved past him.
     She decided to take the second floor as it was the area she and Imala had seen the least of during their visit. It made sense that Imala made a secret second trip to the floor and maybe found something, or she just liked the layout of the place. Fran climbed the stairs to see dozens of circular tables slightly walled off from one another. Tables placed at the windows looked like large boxes had been placed over them with a square cut out to act as a door. About halfway along the floor turned into a sort of balcony looking of the tiled ground below.
     Fran past the tables darting her eyes over everything; assessing paintings, inspecting the faces of people, checking for an unusual crack in the floor or ceiling. Something to suggest there was more going on in this place. She moved around the whole line of tables at least twice, the second time customers assumed she was a waitress and gave her their order. Huffing she moved over to lean on the balcony.
     The floor below was as unchanged as ever, Fran caught sight of Demetri coming away from one of the secluded sitting areas attached to the wall. He shrugged up at his sister indicating he too had no luck in finding any trace. Fran tried smelling the Imalas out but with all the constant change of humans, spilled drinks and smells from the kitchen it was difficult. She stood there a moment and began tapping her finger on the metal rail.
     "Excuse me miss but are you alright?" It was another waiter, dressed in a smart dinner jacket.
     "Oh yes. I just appear to have lost sight of some friends I was supposed to meet here," Fran said. "Have you seen them? A dark skinned woman named Jocasta, a thin pale girl called Annette and a burly man in a suit, Carlos?"
     The waiter paused and looked around the tables covering the floor. "I am sorry miss but I don’t know where your friends might be. I could check the booking ledger if you would like?"
     Fran placed her hand on his arm. "That would be so helpful, thank you!"
     The man smiled and moved away. Demetri had ascended the stairs and took a similarly disappointed stand by his sister.
     "All I managed to find were some scuffed chairs, random bits of broken jewellery and a rather shameless couple in the toilets," he groaned. "And I haven’t sensed anything strange anywhere in this whole place... if they were here then it was some time ago, the scent would be completely drowned out."
     "Perhaps," Francesca mumbled to herself. Then her eyes brightened "You said Carlos was able to manipulate the air, when he found the Crowboys?"
     "Yes, some kind of locator power," Demetri said furrowing his brow.
     "What if they could do the reverse? To hide their tracks from pursuers!" Fran almost bounced, so sure of herself.
     "It’s possible but we would have no way to confirm it," Demetri said. "Even it was true, how would we counter it?"
     Francesca slumped again, running a hand through her hair. But there is something here... I can just feel it. Think girl, think carefully. What is the best way to hide something from a person you want to lose? Fran stared back into the small crowd below them, most of the people gathering at the bar. The young bar-tender was still at his place Fran noticed, in fact the exact same place. Cleaning the same glass. You hide it in plain sight! She realised. She now gave the same kind of attention to the other waiters scattered around the ground floor.
     "Something fascinating about alcohol covered tiles?" Demetri said as Fran gripped the rail between her hands.
     She grabbed him by the arm, pulling him closer and pointed to a waitress sitting at a table. "Look at her and tell me what you see."
     He sighed, not really seeing the point. "A young girl, maybe about twenty, is wearing the same clothes as other employers. Kind of pale, bit of a blank look and... and she was sitting exactly like that as we walked in. In fact I walked past her a couple of times and she barely realised I was there."
     Fran nodded. "And over there?"
     "Man, also twenty, pale, and... and trying to touch up a plant perhaps? I can’t see what his hands are doing," Understanding dawned on Demetri. "They’ve been altered, like the servants at the manor."
     "Exactly! This must be Imala’s feeding ground or something!," Fran said.
     "But to condition a human, that takes time and planning," Demetri said frowning. "Imala has barely been gone for five or so hours... Unless she’s also been hiding incredible psychic powers, Imala must have been coming back here each night for at least three weeks."
     Fran straightened at the implications of that reasoning. It means Imala has been planning this all out; she wasn’t just flinging herself into every den for mindless fun... that was a bonus. She was scoping out possible feeding grounds for when she would leave our estate. Is this just her favourite spot then?
     "I don’t like this," Demetri said. "If Imala isn’t here then she will be alerted as soon as we leave, but if she is present then one of her thralls has most definitely told her about us... Fran?"
     "A man came over and said he would check the booking ledger for our missing friends," she said.
     "So the ledger is by the stairs barely a few feet away, and he’s not there," Fran could see out of the corner of her eye. The small stand with the black leather book was closed, and appeared to have been like that for most of the evening.
     "We leave. Now," Demetri said, protectively putting an arm around his sister as they moved back to the stairs.
     More questions were raised then answered; how many places had Imala prepared? Where is her actual safe-house? And, still the most prominent in Francesca’s mind, where was the gem the progenitor was so desperate for?


     "That girl... clearly I did not push hard enough. Maybe I should have broken the other arm," Imala said through gritted teeth, watching the Dragomirs depart from the bar. She waved her hand "Complete idiots nonetheless, I mean if they had done a thorough search they would have discovered this little room up here."
     "Mmph! Mmph!," the bound figure in the corner seemed to be trying to spit at the lady.
     "I know! It’s not like this is a specialty or anything, ah well," Imala swept back over to a table in the middle of the room which had a cloth draped over it.
     Technically it was supposed to be an old utility room although Imala couldn’t bear to stay in any place for more than an hour if it wasn’t properly furnished. She had Carlos bring in a few rugs, some plush chairs and of course a few vases, flowers had a way of lighting up any room. Instead of lamps though Imala insisted on candles everywhere, it had been a while since she had done this and wanted a proper atmosphere.
     "I guess we will we have to move you again my dear, can’t have that mannish upstart discovering you now can we," Imala leaned against the desk, grinning at her captive. "Honestly... like that could be a rival of mine! The sheer nerve! But we don’t want to spend all night on my problems."
     The lady seized the cloth and pulled it away, the bound figure stopped all sounds and movement. On the table were several sharp implements, some still covered with blood. Imala traced a finger along a serrated blade, picking up the small droplets left from her last questioning. She delicately placed her finger on to her tongue then closed her mouth. She stood there for a moment, as if assessing a fine wine, and then she spat it out.
     "Ugh, so filthy. Even down to the blood," without even looking Imala picked up one of the objects and sauntered over to her captive. "Now, you’re probably wondering why not kill you? Well that is going happen my dear, no need to worry about that. The only thing you can affect is the nature of your death; I can make it very quick and painless, and I can also make it last years."
     Saying that, she grabbed one of the smaller candles from the floor and jabbed it straight into her captive’s leg. "MMMMMM!!," the person screamed through the gag.
     "We have an understanding yes?" Imala reached over pulling off the gag.
     The bald woman spat in her face "You sick fucking bitch!"
     SMACK! Imala’s hand moved so fast Jen did not have time to even see the fist approach her face. The Crow skidded across the floor, a thin trail of blood following.
     "You are the luckiest of all... I should be decorating several places with your insides and leave you to rot in the sun!," Imala screamed, then composed herself again. "Now... Jennifer, I will only ask one more time. You saw what I did to your brothers when they wouldn’t answer me a second time."
     The woman began to sob, turning her face into the ground as if trying to blot out everything around her. Imala smiled It does not matter how tough a person acts, everyone has a breaking point.
     She calmly walked over and curled her fingers through last stringy hair the Crow had, making that awful ponytail at the back of the head. Imala yanked the whole of the woman from the ground with one hand.
     "Oh now that is nasty," Imala gently brushed the scar on Jen’s right cheek with the blade. "Happened before your birth correct? There aren’t many things that can scar a vampire... they exist but not in Glenland from what I’ve seen."
     "None of your business!," Jen snarled, struggling with the bonds on her hands and feet.
     Imala laughed. "Come now dear! I was just making conversation, a little way to lead into the questions that actually matter." She took a firmer grip of the Crow’s head and pulled her closer, pressing the blade against her throat.
     "Now, your filthy family inhabit most of the old, decrepit and positively vile places of the city" Imala’s eyes suddenly had sheen to them as the candle lights flickered, almost cat like. "What I’m looking for is very old and the city built over it. Inside that place, is something very valuable to me... it would look like a ruby. Now the building itself would look like a chapel."
     Jen cast her eyes down, the blade was pressed close enough to her throat that if she tried to break away she would be cut. Jen sniffed "Yeah... yeah I think I might know the place..."
     Imala dropped the Crow to the floor. She felt a fluttering feeling in her stomach, something she hadn’t felt in at least a century. "Good... good. It has been so long... she breathed and hunched down to the floor. "Tell me everything sweet girl."


To be continued...

   Previous    Next   
     April 4th, 2013
     By:  Christopher
      DJ actually finished this part months ago, but that's the most hectic part of the year for us, and things just didn't come together on our end. Or mine, I should say, because this sort of thing is my job. Really, that's not much of an excuse for a delay of half a year. Damn, has it really been that long? I'm gettin' old, yo.

     So to anyone who read the first part of his story and found yourself keen on seeing the rest, I aplogize for the protracted suspense.

     Now it's DJ's turn to leave you in suspense! When he gets the conclusion to me, I'll do my best to get it on the site before 2014...

Comic Rank