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And this too! In which I spend too much time recapping, but I do get to some mystery of what's to come at least. It probably feels so long to me because I was itching to get to the meat.
Black River: Book 2 - Dead of Winter
Prologue - The Feast
A vampire and a hunter walk into a high school. It may sound like nothing more than a joke, and something no one would ever believe, but that is exactly what happened several months ago.
The small Vermont town of Kraftsbury had only ever been known for the mountain that towered over everything else, dominating the western view from anywhere a person stood. More people around the country knew the name of that mountain than knew the actual name of the town it stood in. More than once had a resident been asked where the town of Polar Mountain in error.
In the past few months though, the town had become a lightning rod of strange activity. Vampires, hunters, magic, and ghosts had all risen up and crashed the pastoral fields and made this place their home.
One student at the local high school was the sole voice to wish they had taken an interest in some other ski resort town. Kelly Scott used to be just another cheerleader for her school. Just another face in the crowd. The only thing that made her stand out of the crowd was her brown hair. Almost every one of her teammates was blonde, which made her and the few other exceptions stand out all the more.
Kelly used to be normal, used to be just the bubbly cheerleader. She was well accustommed to her role, and had settled into it. There was no reason to be anything more, and she didn't want to be. She didn't want to stand out from the crowd, because that meant she was different, and to her, being different was bad.
When the Montrose twins came to town though, everything changed. Kelly knew it from the moment she saw them. As much as she wanted to just be one of the girls, there was something different about her. Everyone had their gifts, and Kelly's were more than the fact that she was a good flier and could do a mean backflip.
Kelly thought she had the ability to see auras. She kept this gift to herself, with the sole exception of her best friend, Rachel Matthews. A few others had caught wind of it as well, although everyone ignored it as the fantasies of a teenager, someone trying to stand out of the shadow of her friends and teammates. The irony was not lost on Kelly.
Even the girl herself had doubts about her abilities. Kelly had begun seeing things after a blow to the head, and there was always the question of whether or not she had scrambled her brains instead of opening up new mental pathways and ways of seeing. But she saw what she saw, whether they were real or not, and what she saw around Darien Montrose the instant he walked into her life terrified her.
Little did she know that the darkness she saw around the tall, dark stranger was the tiniest tip of the iceberg. The black shround around Darien led Kelly and others down a path that grew darker and darker with every passing day, and soon the light had been left behind.
Even with the chill that ran through her in that first glance, Kelly still found she was being drawn to Darien, but she was a moth being drawn towards a flame that ate light instead of gave it off. And still she feared she would be burned if she got too close.
She was soon pulled into the Montrose's world, a world of darkness, and vampires. Kelly's ability to see auras began to sound like the normal side of things the more time she spent near Darien and his twin sister.
If Darien's aura gave Kelly pause, what she saw around his sister Alyson made her want to run in the other direction; nothingness. Kelly had gotten used to seeing the sparkling colours around everyone she knew, and tuned them out most of the time, seeing the world like almost everyone else. But Darien's aura was a raven hued scar upon the world, and Alyson's was an open wound.
Never before had Kelly seen nothing around someone. To everyone else in the world, that would be their idea of normal, but to the cheerleader it was the most wrong thing she could have seen. It was not long before Kelly learned that the reason Alyson had no aura was because she was dead, a vampire, and her future was done. Part of her subconcious knew that just from her lack of an aura, knew that the only other things she had seen without them were corpses, so when she saw someone dead yet walking, it made her brain want to scream and hide.
The Montrose twins entrusted the girl with their secret, as well as one other; a football player and Rachel's boyfriend, Brendan Franks. Brendan had stumbled into their world by accident, but it seemed the fates had always planned for the trio to meet, as Brendan began developing skills beyond those of even the best football player from the instant they met.
The four kept all of this secret from Rachel to protect her, and because they all thought it would be too over her empty, blonde head. Brendan in particular, wanted to keep his girlfriend as far away as possible from the world of bloodsuckers.
Brendan kept his own secrets from the others though, as his growing powers were also causing him to have visions in his sleep; visions that were urging him to seek out answers and find out who or what he was.
All of this began when Darien and Alyson arrived in town, and that very day one of their fellow students was killed. It looked like an animal attack, but the twins knew it for what it truly was; a vampire attack.
The death of Marcus Boyd struck Alyson hard, despite having just met him on the day he died. Her and her brother had come to town looking to find a vampire, but it found them first, and took the first friend they had made.
But Marcus's tale was far from over. On Halloween, his spirit broke through the Veil, the boundary between this world and the next, to visit Alyson. When the time came for him to move on, the pair were met by Charon, the Ferryman of souls, and the guardian of the Waterways. The Ferryman tried to take Marcus across the river to the other side where he belonged, but something held Marcus to this world, tying him to the river instead of letting him cross over. Even the Ferryman was taken aback by this turn of events.
So now Marcus walks the shores of the Black River, never able to travel far from them, and always watching over his friends as they visit the circle of stones left behind by ancient druids.
Marcus Boyd was the first to die, but he would not be the last.
A string of bodies was left in the wake of a former man that the quartet would come to know as Mr. Beadle. He was the vampire responsible for killing Alyson and many others, all in the service of his master, Sarah Whitehair. He was the reason the twins had come to Kraftsbury in the first place.
In a moment of weakness, Alyson was captured by her creator and held captive, sending her brother into a rage that frightened Kelly more than even the aura had. Seeing what he was capable of, what he would do to anyone who would hurt his sister or even take her from him a second time made him a force to be reckoned with.
After a dream led Kelly to get doughnuts to fuel their quest for the redheaded vampire, she found herself face to face with the the servant of the Whitehaired demon that had taken Alyson. They had no idea he wanted to be found, to lead them all to their destruction, and take away everything Alyson had known in life. Only then would Alyson embrace the darkness and her true heritage.
Mr. Beadle underestimated the strength of Alyson and her friends, as she renounced the vampire and all his ways. His plans to kill everyone Alsyon had known were also dashed to pieces when Alyson herself escaped his custody and turned the vampire that had taken her life into dust, nevermore to trouble anyone else.
No one knew quite how Alyson had escaped, since it had seemed like Beadle had taken every consideration into his plan. At least as far as Alyson's restraints were concerned. The chains were too strong for a vampire to break, and had been anchored to a solid concrete floor. It would have been a one in a million chance for Alyson to pull the plate securing her to the warehouse floor, and yet she did it.
Everyone was more than willing to just count it as a fortunate accident, that one in a million shot actually coming up. Or maybe Alyson just had a rush of adrenaline that peaked her strength higher than anyone could have predicted.
But none of that is what had happened. None of them suspected the truth. Only one of them knew what had happened. Only Kelly knew it was her that had set Alyson free.
It was more than seeing auras that she was capable of. During the fight with Mr. Beadle, Kelly was knocked to the ground, and she could feel a surging energy within her. She thought it was just her anger, or her blood rushing from panic, but when she touched the ground, she could feel it; lines of power running through the Earth beneath them all. She could feel the energy from where she lay running straight to where Alyson was chained to the ground.
Kelly ran only on instinct and reached out to that power, and it tickled her palm like static electricity. The energy crackled unseen to all but her, and a crack ran through the concrete floor, arcing from where her palm rested and grew out from there like someone snapping a cracker in half.
When the crack reached the metal plate secured to the thick slab they all walked upon, it weakened the stone around the bolts, and Alyson's struggles did the rest of the work until it gave way and everyone believed Alyson had freed herself.
But it was Kelly that had done all the work, even if she was not sure what she had done, or how she had done it.
All Kelly knew is that she wished she had done nothing.
Darien and Alyson had grown into friends of hers, yet she still saw the darkness they carried with them. Even without an aura, Kelly could see that around the vampire. Death walked beside them like an unseen triplet, and Kelly knew things were only getting started.
She had her fears confirmed the next day they were at school, a normal day, blessedly so after everything she had been through. But the masque of normality was shattered when an event sent ripples across the world, only felt by those sensitive to such things.
Unfortunate for Kelly was that she was becoming just such a person, and she was right next door to the epicenter of the event. When it hit, it struck her the hardest out of anyone else in the world. There were people more sensative to events of this magnitude, but none of them were sitting atop the psychic nuke when it went off. Kelly was at ground zero.
Her mind was flooded with images of things to come, none of which made sense to her at the time. The one thing she did know was that every sight was bad, and Darien Montrose was at the center of it all. And if Darien was the center, then his little sister was within the nearest orbit, she was sure of it.
It was over a month later when she next thought of that vision in any detail. It was better to let it go, as every time she thought about it, all it did was make Kelly's head throb and pound like she was trapped down in the band room and she was being used for drum practice.
But some time deep into December, long after the snows had come and buried Vermont under their white blanket, Kelly's memories resurfaced.
She remembered that day after defeating Beadle, still high on the rush of helping her newfound friends, still acclimating to the idea that one of them was a vampire. That vampires were real! That her spectral visions were real!
Kelly had found great relief and comfort in knowing that she was not crazy, or if she was, then she wasn't wrong about seeing things.
But when reality caught up with her visions, she remembered the downside of that day, of the tragic underpinnings to their triumph. A moment of clarity swept over her, a moment like she had never felt before. It was a moment not unlike deja vu, but so much clearer.
When one experiences deja vu, there is a vagueness to it that accompanies the certainty that this has all happened before. Just enough uncertainty mixed in to make a person question if what they're feeling is real.
But when Christmas was right around the corner, Kelly at last knew the feeling she felt that day was far more than mere deja vu. There was no uncertainty to it, not even an ounce. The reality confronting her was overlapped in her mind's eye with a fragment of her visions. It was no more than a few seconds in the milieu of images that had assaulted her that day, but those moments were plucked out of the mass in her head and crystalised beyond clarity.
The memories of the vision and that moment in reality played out at the same time, but just askew of one another. Kelly felt as if she was looking at a 3-D movie without the glasses, but this was more than double vision, and she knew it in her gut.
It was like Kelly was experiencing the reality and the memory of the event all at once. For a split second, she thought she might go mad from the gut wrenching experience of reality doubling up upon itself, but she focused past the experience to the danger she found herself in.
Kelly's thoughts pushed the remembered visions away, and they began to fade as if she had truly commanded them to do so. But the fact of the matter was, that was all of this moment she had stored away in whatever vault inside her skull carried that vision. Whatever had happened to her, whatever had entered her thoughts on the day when Sarah Whitehair touched the world once more, was no longer accessible to her, at least for now.
There were more important things for the cheerleader to deal with than memories of times gone by, and things yet to come. For Kelly had found herself trapped inside her own home, surrounded on all sides by even more undead creatures. She had discovered that there was even more to the darkness than the vampires she had already met.
Even after having accepted the existence of such things, Kelly had never dreamt that she would find herself locked behind the attic door to her home, all alone, with creatures she had only seen in the movies scratching at the door she had slammed shut into the floor mere seconds before.
It was that slam that had jarred loose her memories, like someone had hit her head and cured her of amnesia, making the world swim around her all at the same time. The slamming door, and the hungry, red eyes that she saw staring up through the square portal before the door shut, removing them from sight.
Not everyday was a person confronted by the existence of zombies, and cornered by them in their own home. Kelly guessed that such a thing had not happened on any day before this one, but there was no way she could be sure of that.
All Kelly could be sure of, was that this was all Darien's fault. As her memories of the visions faded back into their haze, leaving this one piece placed firm in its place and shining bright in her mind, that was one thing she knew above all others.
She hoped with all of her soul, with the pieces locked away in her mind at last coming to light, that she would live long enough to figure out the rest of the puzzle.