Nicole Grey (foenix) wrote,
Nicole Grey
foenix

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Black River: Day 20

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And another chapter done.


Chapter Seven - Hollow Inside

        The twins both dealt with the impending session of truth in their own ways.  Darien sat in calm silence, awaiting the questions and answers that they promised to give.  Alyson was pacing back and forth, moving from room to room.  They had not even had the chance to grow accustomed to their new home, and were already preparing to let someone who was little more than a stranger in.  In an odd way, he was less of a stranger to the home than they were.
        "I can't believe we're going to do this," Alyson cried out from the adjacent room before she passed through the sliding oaken doors that seperated it from the living room.
        Darien had been perched upon the couch for an hour, ever since finishing dinner.  He remained so motionless that he could have been mistaken for a grotesque carved atop a building.  All he needed was a pair of wings, and his trenchcoat may have sufficed for those under the right conditions.
        "Be calm, sister of mine," he said, the first words he had spoken since they had arrived home.
        Alyson spun about on her heel before she passed back into the other room, glimpses of yet unpacked boxes filling the space beyond.  Her arms thrust into the air, her animated, agitated state a sharp counterpoint to her brother.  "Calm?  How can I be calm?  I'm about to bare my deepest, darkest secrets to the star football player of my high school."
        "You are such a girl," her brother replied.  "You would think you were going to tell him you loved him, or somethig."  Darien's eyes went wide and he sat bolt upright on the couch.  "Oh my god, you don't, do you?"
        Alyson's jaw flapped in the air, the vampire flabergasted and struck dumb by the accusation.  "Of course I don't!  Don't be absurd.  It's all about the vampire stuff, really.  Besides, I am so not his type."
        "Uh huh, the lady doth prot -"
        "Don't you dare quote Shakespeare at me!"
        "Shutting up now."  Darien made a zipping motion across his lips.
        "He likes dumb blondes.  Typical jock.  He has zero interest in a smart redhead.  And even then, a vampire and a human dating would be just plain silly."
        Darien sat there in silence, just staring at his sister, and his hands folded in his lap.  Alyson stood, with her hands on her hips, staring at him.  "Fine, speak!"
        "You've given a lot of thought about something that you think is patently absurd, and not true."
        Alyson buried her face in her hands and sighed.  "I know, I know.  I'm only 16, I'm allowed to crush!"
        Her brother considered his words before speaking.  "You're 17, remember."
        "Only technically," she said with another heavy sigh.  "We don't know how long my brain is going to be stuck like this.  Oh god, what if I never mature?"
        Darien couldn't resist the obvious, and blurted out, "Were we ever in danger of that happening?"
        Just the slightest hint of pearlescent white fang was all that he needed to return to being quiet.
        The already lit room was made even brighter as it was bathed in the twin headlights from Brendan's truck pulling up the driveway.  The twins exchanged a wordless glance.  It was time.
        "Where's dad?" Darien inquired.
        His sister responded, "On the porch, waiting.  Mom?"
        "Kitchen, doing the dishes."
        Darien listened to shoes shuffling up the wodden stairs and porch, and the muffled voices of Brendan and his father.  He leaned back on the couch, returning to his calm center.  In some ways, bringing Brendan into their circle of trust would be a relief, but he was also aware of the danger he was placing his fellow student in.  Although he was just as aware of the danger they were all in just by the twins being in town.  Marcus was evidence enough of that.  Darien had no doubt that his death was because they were here, now.
        His sister led the football star into the living room, and they got down to business.  Darien could feel the weight lifting off their shoulders, as it was placed upon Brendan's.  The burden of their knowledge was now shared, and would be easier to carry, as well as giving them a much needed ally, and good in a fight.  Darien had been unconcious through most of it, but he had heard about what Brendan had done, and had begun to form suspcions about the young man.
        As the talk went on, Darien could sense his sister becoming more and more agitated, as the memories were drudged up.  It was inevitable that she would lose control and her true face would be revealed.  Not that Darien didn't agree with every sentiment she had about her murderer, but her anger had been tough to control ever since her change.  At least when she spoke of fiery revenge, it was justifiable.
        "What makes you think the vampire that did this to Alyson is here?" Brendan asked.
        "We don't know for sure," Darien said.  "The body of Marcus might have had some clues, but it had been out there for too long in the elements.  No vampire would ever leave any trace a human detective could find, and Alyson didn't sense anything usable while she was out there.  Vampiric scents fade too quickly, most of the time."
        "So, you have enhanced senses?  I guess that doesn't surprise me.  Why do the scents fade so fast?"
        Alyson decided to answer that question, her face remaining in its vampiric state.  "It's mostly because we're dead.  We don't produce a lot of the things that create smell, just because we're not living enough to do so.  More often than not, I just get a sense of, 'Gee a vampire has been here,' but then you can usually tell that by the corpses.  Scents from clothes, or strong colognes, or drinks, are typical with vampires.  Anything they do to their own body that leaves a trace.  That's not unique to vampires though, so it makes things difficult."
        Brendan gave a nod, and he was about to ask more questions when they were interrupted by a woman taller than Alyson, but older.  The resemblence was just as clear as with the male members of the family, except she had brown hair, instead of Alyson's red.
        She was just as bright and vibrant as her daughter, as well.  Darien seemed like the odd man out of the four.  "Can I get you kids anything to drink?"  She smiled at Brendan and gave a polite bow of her head to the guest.  "I'm Barbara, Alyson and Darien's mom."
        "Brendan, nice to meet you Mrs. Montrose."  Brendan smiled back, showing genuine pleasure to meet the parents of his new friends.  "Do you have any coffee?"
        "Just finished brewing a pot.  Since the family is a bunch of night owls, we usually have one ready to go all the time.  Kids?"
        Darien shook his head, but Alyson said she wanted one.  Once their mother had left, she turned to Brendan, "A good cup of coffee does me almost as good as a pint of blood.  Caffeine is such a great invention."
        "Isn't it though?" he replied with a grin.  "So, you were attacked in Colorado, you're looking for the vamp who did it.  What brought you here, if you're not sure if he is?"
        "You're not going to like the answer," Darien grumbled.
        "It was actually kind of random.  Like we said, we're not the best trackers, and vampires don't leave the best trails.  Darien trained for six months until Conrad was murdered."
        Their mother came back in with two mugs, handing them to Alyson and Brendan, then ran back out to bring Brendan some cream and sugar.  Alyson's mug had been properly prepared from years of experience.  Brendan piled in the sugar and just a hint of cream, leaving his coffee just shy of still being black.  She made apologies for interupting their chat and ducked back out of the room.
        "So, Conrad was murdered by the vampire that attacked Alyson?"
        Darien shook his head, "It was a random act of violence.  They still happen.  Just because you now know what lurks in the darkness, doesn't mean those are the only things that pounce out of it."
        Brendan looked shocked, stopped just centimetres away from his first sip of steaming coffee.  He thought for sure such an act would be connected to everything else, but to have it be just random almost made no sense, by how normal it was.
        "I know," Darien sighed, seeing the look on Brendan's face.  "He goes against entire gangs of vamps, escaping with just a few scratches, but he gets killed by a mugger in need of a fix.  That's justice for you."
        "Are you sure it was random?"
        Alyson nodded.  "We visited Conrad in the hospital before he gave up the ghost.  He wasn't pleased to see me, let me tell you.  He told us what he could remember, but all we needed to see was the wound."
        "Vamps don't waste food," continued Darien.  "He was shot.  Vampires don't like guns, feel they don't need them.  Some might use them to wound a victim, slow them down, stop them from getting away.  But this was a kill shot, and there were no other wounds around."
        "A prize like Conrad, one of their greatest adversaries, a vamp would not have left him there to die by a gunshot wound.  In one way it's not an honourable death for the man, and in another way, whomever found him would have revelled in drinking Conrad's blood."
        Brendan nodded, savouring the smell of the coffee as it wafted up from the mug before drinking some more.  "I guess I can see your point.  Still, though, you gotta wonder."
        "I'm always thinking about it," said Darien.  "If I had any idea it was anything supernatural, I'd pursue it as vigorously as the thing that killed Alyson.  But for now, it's just a murder, and I keep my ears open."
        "Once we got there, and Conrad stopped freaking out at the sight of me, he grabbed Darien and pulled him close.  He whispered his last breath into Darien's ear, saying, 'White,' as he died."
        Brendan sat up, a look of incredulity on his face.  He stammered for a few seconds, "Wait, what?  White?  What's white?  He was supposed to whisper Kraftsbury as his final words, your mentor's dying wish driving you here, to find your sister's killer!"
        "Told you that you wouldn't like it."
        "Your master had no sense of the dramatic.  What sort of quest is that?  That's not a clue, that's a colour!  White??  Grah!"
        "Not everything is wrapped up in neat little packages," consoled Alyson.
        "Do you have any idea what white means?  What it refers to?"
        "Not a single one.  It's on our to do list."
        Brendan took a large gulp of coffee, almost finishing off the first half of the mug and then some.  "So if your mentor's demise was not the trigger that sent you here, what was?"
        "After we left the hospital, I wanted to stop in the bookstore not far from where we were."  Brendan listened to Alyson, wanting to know what any of this had to do with anything.  "I wandered into the new age section, looking for some supernatural texts, anything we could use to learn more about me, vampires, and the whole underworld we'd stumbled into.  Anything that might give us a clue."
        Brendan sat there and made a circular motion with his hand, urging the redhead to get on with it already.
        "I'd just grabbed a book off the shelf, and another book caught my eye.  As I went to grab it off the shelf, some guy bumped into me and I dropped the book in my arms.  The guy apologised, picked up the book, and handed it back to me.  It had fallen with its pages open, and that was how the guy handed it back."
        "Please tell me this isn't going where I think it is," asked Brendan of Darien.  The brother only sat back and said nothing, not wanting to get involved.
        Alyson continued, "I was just about to close the book and tuck it back under my arm, when I glanced down at the book.  There at the top of the page was an artist's rendering of a creature with big red eyes, rather bear like, but with wet, slick fur.  It caught my eyes, and I read a little of the pages.  It described a creature that some native Vermont tribes believed in called wejuk.  It had been sighted a number of times in..."
        "Oh shit, wejuk." Brendan interupted her.  "I know the legends.  I live here.  You've got to be kidding me."
        "I read more, saw other entries on Kraftsbury, including deaths, mysterious occurances, unexplained sightings, ghosts, and all sorts of things.  Everything except alien abductions.  I showed it to Darien, and since we needed to move on, we thought this was as good a place to come as any.  Even if it wasn't connected to anything we had our hands in, it seemed like there was SOMETHING going on here that was worth looking into.  And maybe we'd get lucky."
        Brendan could not believe what he was hearing.  "So the only reason you're here, the only reason you travelled several thousand miles, was because of a random book falling open to a random page.  You're right, I don't like it.  That's the worst reason ever."
        "And yet," said Darien, "we have a body killed by a vampire."
        "The utter lack of logic should not be logical," sighed the sandy haired young man, and he finished his coffee.
        "Do you guys have a plan?  Is there anything I can do?"
        "The worst plan in the world," replied Darien.  "We're going to sit and wait, and watch.  Vampires tend to be arrogant -"
        "HEY!"
        Darien continued, ignoring his sister's interuption, "- and they always make a mistake eventually.  At least the ones that like to feed on humans.  So we wait, and watch the bodies drop, and see what we can learn."
        Brendan was stunned at what they were saying.  "Your plan is to sit and watch people die?  That's not very heroic, is it?"
        "Well, what would you suggest we do, hero?"  Alyson flashed a fangless smile, remembering how Brendan had saved her earlier.
        The boy stammered, "I don't know!  I'm new at this, newer than the two of you!  I shouldn't even be here, I should be consoling my girlfriend.  Can't you, I dunno, go out on patrol and hunt for vampires, or something?"
        "We don't exactly wear t-shirts declaring it.  And while we can sense each other, I'd have to actually find the vampire first.  Even in a small town like Kraftsbury, there's a lot of places to look for one."
        Alyson slid off the couch and came over to their guest, kneeling next to him and putting an hand on his arm.  She felt Brendan flinch when she did, but couldn't blame him.  They were asking him to process so much in a short period of time.  In truth, they were surprised at how well he was taking it.  Alyson had a bet going with herself that he would have melted into a gibbering mass of insanity, and Darien thought he would have gotten up and left an hour ago.  But he had been dragged into their world kicking and screaming, and had seen Alyson's true face.  A little flinch when being touched by a vampire, no matter how good she claimed to be, was more than acceptable.
        "We want to do more," she said, in a consoling, soft voice.  "It's just as bad to watch people die, as it would be if I was doing the killing myself.  That doesn't change the fact that right now, there is very little we can do.  We're listening, we're trying to make contacts.  As soon as we can, we will stop this thing.  We promise."
        Her face shifted back into its vampiric state.  There was a feeling inside her that she was unable to quanitfy about having someone else know what she was, someone she could talk to and be herself with.  The feeling was somewhere between happiness and pleasure.  When he didn't pull away at the mere sight of her, the feeling insider her grew.
        "I will not let whatever killed Marcus get away with it.  It will pay, it will pay with blood, and it will burn."
        "You're really enthusiastic about the blood and the burning, you know that?" Brendan stared at the monstrouc face of his friend, taking in all the details, how underneath all the changes, he could still see traces of his friend, if he looked hard enough.  Still, he did not want to run into her in a dark alley somewhere.  Well lit alleys weren't too high on the list either.
        "It's the vampire in me.  We tend towards a bit of the old ultraviolence.  I'm good at controlling it, but most just don't want to.  And if I get the chance to vent on the bastard that ended Marcus?  I don't think anyone will try and say I don't have the moral high ground to tear it's throat out.  Would you?"
        "Oh, not at all."  Brendan wasn't going to tell that face it couldn't do anything.  Where does a 110 pound vampire girl sleep?  Anywhere it wants to.
        The girl stood, and her hair was obscured by her hair for a moment.  When she tossed it back, the face had changed back to normal.
        "As for you, you should keep your ears open as well.  Maybe someone at the school saw someone suspicious, or saw Marcus talking to someone.  Or they took candy from strangers.  The most important thing you can do this is stay safe, and protect Rachel and your family."
        Darien stood up and came beside his sister.  "We know you want in on this, but you're just a human, and not trained like me."
        "This untrained human save both your asses today, D."
        "I know, and it's appreciated, but Brian is just some guy.  He's nothing compared to what we're going to face.  He got lucky, and your help was appreciated.  We don't want to see anyone else get hurt because of our hangups, though."
        "Look, you can't just shut me out...!" he started.
        Darien held up his hands to stop Brendan's protests.  "We're not going to shut you out.  You're just not equipped to deal with this stuff like we are.  Not yet, anyways.  Your football games are a good start actually, but that's all they are.  We'll help you get ready, but you're still better off staying on the sidelines.  Ok?"
        The boy grumbled, but he knew they were right.  He had no idea how to fight something with above normal strength, speed, and reflexes.  If the best he could do was to be their eyes and ears, that would have to be better than nothing.
        Brendan stood up in front of the twins, the three of them forming a triangle.  "Fine.  That will have to do for now.  I appreciate your trust, and candor, guys."
        The twins both nodded.  Darien spoke, "It's nice to have someone we can trust.  We thought we might be able to bring you into the circle eventually, and we're glad to know we thought right.  It's good to have friends we don't have to hide this from."
        "But I shouldn't tell anyone, should I?  Not that they'd believe me."
        Alyson gave a nod.  "Just like we don't think Brian will tell anyone, we don't need people thinking you're crazy either."
        He nodded, then looked towards the clock.  "Wow, it's gotten really late, and we still have school tomorrow.  I'm going to go home, give Rach a call, and then stare at the ceiling as every noise outside my window will now keep me up."
        Darien clapped Brendan on the shoulder.  "Don't worry, that'll pass."
        "Really?"
        "No, not really."
        "Great."
        Brendan waved to his new friends and allies in a war he didn't even comprehend yet, and said goodbye to their mother and father as he left their home.
        The Montrose family stood in the doorway and watched the truck pull off.
        "I hated lying to him," sighed Alyson.
        Her brother placed a gentle, calming hand on her shoulder.  "We didn't really lie to him.  We just didn't tell him everything.  He doesn't need to know why we're really here."
        "But did we have to tell him all that stuff about the book?"
        "Why not?  It actually happened.  We just didn't tell him everything else we knew about Kraftsbury."
        "Like I said, I hated to lie to him."
        Their mother interupted the discussion, "Ok kids, time to get to bed."
        Darien shot a glare at his mother, "You're not the boss of me."
        Despite his words, he turned and walked back into the house and upstairs to his room, with his sister not far behind.

***
        The next few weeks were uneventful.  Everyone went to class, had lunch, went home, did their homework, slept, and repeat.  The tedium was broken up with cheerleading practice, or football games, or too many hours spent in the dark room.
        The murder of Marcus Boyd faded into memory, but was not forgotten.  The first week after his passing was solemn, and the school was more quiet than it would have been under normal circumstances.  After the funeral, things returned to a sembelence of normalcy, a state that increased by inches with each passing day.
        Marcus's death had been declared an animal attack, which wasn't far from the truth in Brendan's opinion, but nowhere near it at the same time.  The police had nothing else to go on, and rather than leave it an open ended case, and wanting to quell fears of a murderer, they went with the animal attack story.  There was still a public danger, but it calmed most people.
        Life continued onward, and so did their routines.  Brendan began a new routine a week after his nighttime discussion with the Montroses.  They had met a few times over the course of that time in between, setting up for that day.
        One week after they had last been there, when they had all come across Marcus not far from the site, the trio returned to Stonehenge.  The only one out of the three that had even gone out there over the intervening week had been Darien.  The other two couldn't bear to go out there any earlier.  Darien, however, needed to go out there, and continue the search.  His looking turned up nothing, which was no surprise.  Still, it gave him a way to take his mind off everything else, or at least focus his thoughts on them to the point where he didn't feel useless.  The last few days, he'd taken to not searching at all, and just sitting out by the Black River, watching the water and fish flow by.
        Part of him hoped the creature would return to the scene of the crime, but the only thing Darien saw was deer passing by, and the sunlight glowing off the water downstream as it began to set.
        The relative quietness, plus the seclusion yet still being nearby, were main factors in Darien deciding to bring them back to Stonehenge.  They had a hidden spot in the woods, yet it was open and spacious.
        When he broached the subject with the others, they seemed reluctant to ever return to the place, but they understood the sense of it.  They still fought the idea just long enough so their objections were noted, and they agreed anyways.
        So a week had passed and the three of them stood atop the ridge and looked down at the stones, calling to them.  Brendan and Alyson were more than happy to stand there and stare, so Darien took the first steps down the hill.  He had done the same thing when he first came back out this way, and knew the other two would follow if he led them.
        The first thing Alyson did was take a look around.  As she had noticed before, the place was back looking exactly as it had before.  The only sign that any time had passed over the last week was more fallen leaves upon the ground, and the ones that had been there were in further states of decay.  The stick she had moved was right back where it had been before her intervention.
        "Son of a bitch," she muttered.
        The cursing got the attention of both the men she was with, despite how quiet she had been.  She explained what had confounded her, and logic, as quick as she could.
        "That's nonsense," said Brendan.
        "Vampires are real," pointed out Darien.
        Brendan sighed, "Fair enough."
        "Are you sure, Alyson?"
        "Yeah.  If there's one thing I'm good at, it's remembering things.  Not quite photographic, but ever since I got turned, I have a knack for details.  It's probably some hunting thing we're gifted with."
        Brendan seemed dubious, just by the look on his face.  "You were wearing a Nirvana t-shirt underneath your varsity jacket the day I came to Kraftsbury, and your right shoe was untied."  Brendan remembered tripping over the untied laces as he left Rachel that day, and blushed.
        "Not the best evidence, but I'll accept it for now."
        Darien circled the stones, like a tiger prowling around its prey.  Brendan had noticed at times that Darien seemed more like a hunting animal than his sister ever did.
        "Yeah, this is a good spot."
        "You think so?"
        Darien nodded.  "Your training begins today."
        They started out slow.  Darien was no Conrad, or even close, but he could at least give Brendan a few pointers, and basic training.
        As he had suspected, Brendan was indeed a natural, helped along by his time on the football field.  He was naturally athletic, and picked up the basic blocks faster than even Darien had.
        They started off slow, with a few blocks and punches, but Brendan was soon the one teaching Darien how to block.  They ramped up the speed, and soon were beyond practice, and up to outright sparring.
        When Darien was tired, and his arms were sore, he traded places with Alyson and sat down to drink down a bottle of water.  He sat and instructed the two to continue sparring as he had been, but with Alyson's increased abilities, they were able to take things to a whole other level.
        Brendan found himself on his back before he could even realise it.  If he had not grown used to it over the past week, fighting against Alyson in her full vampiric mode would have been too disconcerting to continue, but he was starting to accept it as her true face, and she seemed more comfortable when she didn't have to fight against her new nature.
        To everyone's surprise, Brendan continued to keep up, and learn quickly.  After his first few falls and practices, he was soon blocking and punching Alyson with as much ease as he had been a human opponent.
        Darien expected things to change once he had them shift into freestyle, and stopped practicing the motions.  The first bout went to Alyson, no question, but Brendan continued his rapid progression and was holding his own by the end of the night.
        Alyson wiped her face off with a towel.  The three of them felt colder than normal, as the sweat that was almost pouring off their bodies was interacting with the cool night air.  They could all see their breath with each exhausted pant.
        "What the hell are you?" she asked, with genuine surprise.
        Brendan had no good answer for them.  He didn't even know how to begin to answer such a question.  He was just as surprised as the twins were that he was able to do so well, so fast.  Darien knew they had a strong base to work with, but he was not expecting what they got.
        "And um, here endeth the lesson, I guess?"  Darien stared at Brendan, wondering just what they had gotten into.  They had expectations, and Brendan had exceeded every one of them.
        "How'd I do, coach?" asked Brendan, as Alyson handed him the soft towel.  Brendan hadn't felt so pumped, so full of energy in a long time.  He was hopping from one foot to the next, like he was ready to run a spring.  Much to his surprise, he felt like he could run one at that moment.
        Darien and Alyson passed a look between them.  "The phrase, 'much better than expected,' certainly comes to mind," he said.  "You do realise what you did just now, right?"
        "Oh come on, you guys were going easy on me, right?  You'll make it tougher next time, I hope."  Brendan tossed the towel back to Darien, and it was returned to his bags.
        Another shocked look was shared between the twins.
        "What??  Stop doing that and talk to me," demanded Brendan.
        "We weren't going easy on you."
        "Well," corrected Alyson, "we were, at first.  At least, I was.  But I soon saw you're good.  You're surprisingly good.  I kept ramping up, and you kept pace.  Not even Darien can do that, in some cases.  You were starting to push the edges of my own limits, towards the end there."
        "Seriously?  You're not just trying to pump my ego?"
        "I'm serious.  You were born for this.  No human should be able to do what you can do."
        "Are you saying I'm not human?"  Brendan sounded concerned.
        Alyson leaned in close and sniffed the air near Brendan, and made a face from the stink of their workout.  "No, you're human, as far as I can tell.  Which doesn't really answer a bloody thing."
        "No, it doesn't!  What am I?"  He was starting to panic.
        Darien leaned up against a tree, watching, his arms crossed over his chest.
        "Like I said, you're human.  A special human, true.  I'm pretty sure I could smell or sense demon in you, or some other darkkin.  I get nothing though, you reek of normalcy."
        "Thank the gods for that," he said with a relieved sigh.  "Did you guys know about this before we started sparring?"
        Once more, the twins spoke between themselves in silence.  Alyson gave a nod, cuing Darien to speak.  "Not so much.  Alyson could tell there was something different about you.  You're almost too human, and yet..."  He gestured to their sparring ring.
        His sister continued, "We knew there was something about you, something we wanted to explore.  We thought maybe you were what we came here looking to find, and maybe you are.  Just not what we expected.  You don't seem to be connected to our own quest.  And yet, now you probably are."
        "What do you mean?"  Brendan was almost afraid to find out.
        "It seems like we were meant to find you.  You were meant to find out about us.  Meant to help us.  There's power in threes, and we now have a trinity.  A vampire, a hunter, and...whatever you are.  That is, if you'll help us.  You said you wanted to."
        Brendan nodded.  "And now it appears I'm supposed to, and have the ability to do so.  Look, I'm a little freaked out by the past week still, and this isn't helping.  I'm on board to find whatever killed Marcus, but after that, I don't know."
        He lied.  Brendan knew.  These people had become fast friends, and he would follow them to the ends of the Earth to help them, especially if it helped him find out just what was wrong with himself.
        "That's fair enough," said Darien.  "We'll meet here a few times a week, and continue you're training.  You learn fast, but you're still stiff, and telegraph your moves.  Which doesn't matter much since you're so fast, but there was still a few times when we got inside your defenses.  And we'll see where things go from there."
        They agreed to meet again over the weekend, and the same time next week.  That became their regular schedule, as days turned into weeks.  Brendan's training continued, and he just kept getting better.  They did soon find his limits were just about equal to Alyson, who began fighting back harder once she knew how hard she could push.  The vampire almost revelled in not having to hold back with someone, and she came to look forward to their next meeting, as it gave her a much needed release she never got otherwise.
        Once she stopped holding back, Alyson gained the upper hand more often, and presented an increasing challenge to Brendan.  She was discovering her own limits as they discovered his.
        After a month of their sporadic meetings, the two were almost tossing each other around Stonehenge like rag dolls.  Darien had long since excused himself from the sessions, unless he wanted to teach Brendan a specific move, and that only took a few demonstrations.  Otherwise, he stayed on the sidelines and coached the two of them, unless he wanted to try and take on Brendan as a challenge to himself.  He was outclassed by the newcomer in almost every way.  Brendan's inexperience still made it possible for Darien to get lucky and beat him, but they all knew he was getting better with each session.
        Alyson was more than willing to be thrown around, and enjoyed the thrill of it.  Her new physiology was quite resilient, and harder to break than normal.  They were all hesitant to do anything to Brendan, fearing that he would snap like a twig if Alyson slammed him against a tree, or one of the buried boulders.
        One day, she was too into the fighting, and by accident threw Brendan down upon one of the rocks before Darien could stop them.  Before he had even see it appen, almost.  He ran over to the fighters, and Alyson stopped and stared.  Brendan was laying there and laughing inbetween grunts of pain, but he otherwise seemed ok.  Darien gave him a quick once over, and aside from some small bruises, he seemed in one piece.
        They decided to call it a night after that.  However, the incident just made them go at it with renewed vigor the following week.
        By the end of October, Darien had started to bring his practice weapons from his time with Conrad to the sessions.  Hand to hand combat was one thing, but keeping a vamp at more than arm's length was always better.  Anything that put a long piece of metal between his flesh and a fang was an improvement, in Darien's book.  Conrad had taught him to never touch a vampire unless he had to, since that was like dangling a piece of steak in front of a rabid dog.  A piece of steak wrapped with razor wire, was a whole other thing, though.
        They had decided to start with weapons the weekend before Halloween.  Brendan was ready for them, and it would be easier to get them there withouth having to keep them in school all day long, or carry them around with people watching them.  That would have really gotten the attention of the teacher in the classroom they kept passing by every time they came that way.
        Darien wasn't surprised by what happened.  Brendan was just as proficient with weapons as he was with hands.  They were more unwieldy, and not as comfortable in his hands, and it took more practice, but Darien could see the basic talent there the first time he clumsily swung a sword around and nearly took off Darien's ear.  Or he would have if it was anything more than a wooden practice sword.
        At least Brendan's inexperience with actual weapons meant Darien could get back into the ring with him.  It also meant that they each had new chances to knock Brendan flat on his ass, which the twins took too much pleasure in.  Brendan hated it, but he sucked it up and let them get their licks in, since he saw how it made them feel.
        After Brendan's ass had thoroughly been kicked, without ever having landed a solid blow on either of the twins, they stopped for the day and discussed meeting the following Saturday, Halloween.  All three of them had been invited to a party at Rachel's house, but they  didn't see why that should stop them from trying to kill each other the afternoon before.
        Halloween came and Brendan was the first to arrive, waiting for the twins.  He gathered the practice swords from their hiding spot.  Darien had found a tree with a crack in it large enough to fit some of them in, and with some extra carving, they managed to hide the other weapons in there as well.  It meant they could still use them after school, and didn't have to keep carting them back and forth.
        Brendan was spinning a sword in one hand, just feeling the weight of it, and wandering around the stone circle as he waited.  The sun was already beginning to set, the nights becoming shorter.  The red sky reflected in the waters of the river, giving it an ethereal, burning quality to it.
        The sun was going away faster with each passing day, and the days were getting colder.  It wouldn't be long before they'd have to find a new place much warmer than this, or suspend their sessions until the spring.
        Brendan stopped and listened, hearing the crunch of leaves underfoot. And he saw the twins heads appear over the top of the hill.  Well, Darien's head, and chest, then finally Alyson herself.
        Alyson was almost unrecognisable.  And for someone who could turn into a vampire, that was saying something.  Her clothes were all black, much unlike her usual wardrobe.  She wore a black lacy shirt with long sleeves that draped over her hands, and hung loosely from her wrists, underneath a satin corset cinched tight around her waist.  A leather skirt came down to her mid thigh, and her legs were covered in torn fishnets.  On her feet were a pair of black, high heeled boots that zipped up to her knees.  Her nails were painted a matching black.  She wore more makeup than Brendan had ever seen her wear.  Her lips were covered in dark red lipstick, her lashes made long, and her eyelids were drawn out with a green eyeshadow.
        Brendan stared at her, slackjawed.  His brain couldn't find the words, and he could only blurt out, "Wow."
        The young woman couldn't stop herself, and the mask was broken by her telltale giggle.  No matter how sultry she may have tried to look, that dark, mysterious outer shell did nothing to hide the vibrant goofball within.
        "Exploring the other definition of the word vamp?" asked Brendan.
        "Something like that.  Figured it would take too long to get together after kicking your ass, so figured I'd get ready and hit the party from here."
        "Well," said Brendan, "you look amazing.  The costume is sure to be a hit.  But are you sure you can fight in those things?"  He pointed to the boots with the tip of the oaken blade.
        "I tried to talk her out of those," said Brendan with a wide grin that still seemed alien on his stoic face.
        Brendan laughed, and placed the sword back against his shoulder.  "Well, at least this way, I'll have even more of an advantage against her."
        While they were bantering, Alyson swooped over the ground, kicking up leaves in her wake.  She took the sword from Brendan's hand and had it up against his neck.  In the intervening seconds, her face changed into its other visage as well, which looked even stranger as it held the makeup Alyson had applied.
        She grinned, her fangs glistening in the fading daylight.  "I've got more than enough advantage."
        Brendan looked at the sword with nervous brown eyes.  Even though he had come to know her well enough, there was still something undeniably unsettling about a vampire with a sword to one's throat.  "Point, quite literally, taken."
        She released Brendan, and the blade, and returned the latter to the former.  With pleasentries aside, the combat began.
        Brendan somehow did worse than his usual that session.  He was still learning to use the blades, and even though it was true, he would never admit to being distracted by Alyson's costume.  It was a whole other side to the girl, and one he couldn't deny that he liked seeing.
        With the sun almost gone, they decided to call it a night, and make way for Rachel's place.  Darien had decided he'd go as a hitman, which entailed adding a toy gun to his normal ensemble, and Brendan had to head home to get changed.
        "You guys go ahead, I'm going to check out something, and meet you guys at the party."
        Darien gave his sister a concerned look.  "Everything ok, Alyson?"
        She forced a smile that looked all too real.  "I've just got a few things rattling around my head I want to clear up before having to deal with a large group of people.  I'll be fine."
        The men reluctantly left Alyson in the stone circle, and they passed out of the woods.  Once they were well out of earshot, Alyson turned back to the standing stone at the focal point of the clearing.
        Like she had done that first night upon arrival, she placed her hand on the cold stone.  She stared at her long black nails, and the lacey cuffs dangling in the air, blowing in the light breeze.
        "I miss you, Marcus," she whispered to the stone, which was more a symbol of him than any other stone could be.
        "I miss you too, Alyson."
        She spun around and almost lost her balance in the boots, but leaned back against the large monolith for balance.  Standing in the center of the circle of stones was Marcus himself, looking exactly the way he had that one day they had together.
        He looked over Alyson's strange outfit, and shook his head.  "A sexy vampire costume?  A little on the nose for you, isn't it?"
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