Nicole Grey (foenix) wrote,
Nicole Grey
foenix

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Black River: The Dead of Winter - Day 14

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I feel much better about this chapter.  Things Happen.  There be plot.  There be fun.  There be blood.


Chapter 4 - Blood and Water

        Christopher and Joseph turned and saw someone no older than Christopher, no older than he truly was, standing up from a desk covered in books.  Neither of them said a word, but implored the young man to continue with only their looks.
        "All the signs point to Vermont.  I've double checked them, and I'm pretty certain that if..."
        Joseph made a face and waved his hand.  His calming voice was not so calm itself.  "Yes yes, we all know how to read the signs.  Just give us the results."
        "Well, like I said, they point to Vermont.  It's been a long time since we've seen an awakening like this.  It's like someone lit a bonfire in all of New England, centered around one town..."
        "Ugh, Vermont?"  Christopher grimaced.  "Why would someone appear in that backwater?"
        "The land is still strong there, Christopher.  We are fewer and fewer these days.  And no one is going to appear in Chicago anymore, not the way it is.  Plus, they have strong ties to our people there, both spiritual and physical.  It makes an odd kind of sense."
        "If you say so.  If you're going to go on another diatribe about how it was a mistake to move us to the city and away from our roots, I'm going to need my coffee first."  With that, Christopher turned away from his advisor and friend, and found the coffee machine kept nearby, as much for the others as for himself.  But it was not coincidental that the machine was mere feet from his quarters.
        Not much else was known abouth the incident that had caused such a stir amongst their order, and Christopher decided to get hands on and investigate himself.  As much as he hated his responsibilities, he hated not knowing things all the more.  The rest of the order were against him going in personally, but they had no authority to stop him.  It's good to be the king, thought Christopher.
        Being their most skilled tracker helped as well, he supposed.  It was rare when Christopher pulled rank upon the order, but they had no idea what could be found in the back woods of Vermont.
***
        "Oh, like hell I'm going anywhere with you."
        This was not what Christopher hoped to find.  It had been a long time since anyone short of Joseph had spoke to him in such a manner.  It took him aback and he could do nothing but stare at the young girl.
        She stared right back at him, peeking into his aura from time to time.  Part of Christopher relished the challenge she could present, but the rest of him could do nothing but stammer.
        "Ex...excuse me?" were the words that at last tumbled from his tongue.
        "I," Kelly pointed at her chest, and spoke very slowly, as if speaking to a child.  "Am not going anywhere.  With you."
        Christopher jumped as the slender finger she had used to point at herself jabbed him square in the middle of the chest.  Christopher was shocked by such impertinence, and yet he also found it refreshing.
        He still had trouble finding the words to say, though.  "But...but you have to!"
        "Says you," replied the defiant young girl, crossing her arms underneath the hooded sweatshirt.
        "Yes, says me exactly!  This is just the way of things."  Christopher straightened up, stood tall and tried to show his authority to the girl.  Which was the precise wrong tactic to use on a teenager.
        "Then the way of things are going to change."  She reminded him so much of Joseph.  Everyone else in the order had been either defferential to him, or afraid of him.  Joseph was like a father though, and since he had taught Christopher all he knew, he was the rare exception that knew the man when he was but a boy.  Had Christopher been this much of a pain in the ass when he was a student.  Probably, he figured.
        He was about to say something, but his new charge interrupted him.  "I will not be taken away by someone I've just met.  Someone who literally terrified me upon first meeting."
        Christopher was about to argue, but he had to admit the girl had a fair point.  He crossed his arms, matching her stance, and leaned against one of the stones to hear her out.  If he felt the cold of the ancient rock, he gave no indication.
        Kelly continued, "I have family here.  Friends."  She paused at the word, thinking just who that included.  She knew full well who her friends were, even after her outburst.  She knew who would stand by her if she refused to go with this man and he made an issue of it.  Kelly decided to call Brendan in the morning and put her early silliness behind her.
        The fact that this man seemed determined to keep her mired knee-deep in the muck of Alyson's world whether she liked it or not made it very clear that there was no easy escape from this new life.  But that didn't mean she was going to go quietly.
        "My father was in the service, and for a few years we moved around.  It was when I was still young, too young to remember.  My dad did everything he could to settle down in one place, and that place was here.  He didn't want me living the life of some army brat, bouncing from place to place.  I honour his memory by staying here, and you will not have me dishonour that man.  If you want to teach me about the druids, about my powers, we do it right here."
        Christopher remained silent to be sure she was done before speaking.
        "Ok," was all he said.
        "And another thing...yeah what?"  Kelly's entire second rant she was building up to had been derailed by a single word.  "Really?"
        "Sure.  Any place is as good as another.  There's actually something to be said for doing it here.  Vermont is powerful in the old magicks.  More powerful than most places this side of the Atlantic."
        "And then there's the real Stonehenge," thought Kelly out loud.
        Christopher looked confused.  He knew what Kelly was talking about, but still he didn't know what she meant by it.
        Kelly could see the baffled look wash across her new aquaintance's face.  She only responded by pointing at the very block of granite that Christopher was leaning against.
        He turned and looked right at it, his nose almost close enough to touch it.  He could smell the gritty earthiness of the timeless rock, the greeness of the moss covering it filled his nostrils.  As much as he loved his beloved Chicago, he could not deny that the pure, raw nature of the stones called to him.
        After taking in the smell, realisation began to dawn on his face.  "The standing stones.  Like Stonehenge in England."
        Kelly tapped her nose.  "But lamer."
        Christopher bobbed his head from side to side, considering.  "It's smaller, sure.  Less impressive, definitely.  But there's quite a bit of power here.  Stonehenge has been rather tapped out by becoming a tourist attraction.  While still being mysterious, it has lost a lot of its mysticism.  It's become the magic trick everyone knows.  They've picked it apart so much, it's just a bunch of stones now."
        "Really?" Kelly was fascinated by the true version of her own Stonehenge.
        "Well, not just that.  But it has lost a lot.  It is still on a focal point of ley lines, but it's been forgotten as a place to draw power from even more than this place."
        "Is it a nullification point, like this one?" the curious young woman asked.
        Christopher shook his head.  "It's almost the opposite of this location.  It's a focal point, where many lines of power converge, all coming together.  It was like a harbour for all the power to flow through, where this place is like an oasis for lost travellers seeking refuge."
        Kelly listened, hanging on every word.  Her protestations were long forgotten.
        "Aside from the river, this blank spot actually stretches on for quite a ways.  The forest we exited is on the near edge, the circle close to that source, but on the other side of the Black River, I think the hole goes on for miles."
        Kelly could see the man grow concerned as he stared off into the forest across the river.  "This place is weakened.  The ties that bind everything together are almost non-existant here.  It's almost unnatural."
        Christopher shivered and tore his gaze away from the darkness, turning his attention back upon the girl he had come for.  "This is the perfect place for you to learn your new skills."
        Now it was Kelly's turn to look confused.  "But if this spot is a mystical no-no zone, how will you teach me anything here?"
        The new arrival straightened up.  "I guess your learning has already begun.  What have I already told you about this place?"
        "That it's an oasis."
        "Go on."
        "It's like a fire hydrant."
        Christopher nodded, and made a twirling motion with his hand, urging Kelly to continue.
        "It has a store of energy, that's just waiting for the pump to be primed."
        Her teacher, for even if she had yet to realise it that was what he was now, smiled.
        Kelly's eyes grew wide as the implication of her own repeated words sank in.  "We can do that?"
        "I believe so, yes.  One of us, it would be a challenge.  Maybe even impossible.  But together?  I think there is a good chance we can get this thing flowing again.  These outposts were made to be used by more than one druid.  Just one might get a trickle, enough to power him up in times of trouble, but not much more.  It took multiple druids to truly open the floodgates."
        He took a breath and rubbed a hand across the mossy surface of the rock.  Kelly could tell he was smiling like a proud parent.  "It will be good to see some true magic again.  Our powers are so weak these days.  Science rules all, and magic cowers in the shadows on the wall.  Your trick with the orb is nothing compared to what we once could do."
        Christopher stopped caressing the stone and turned back towards his charge.  "The only catch is, the magic available to us will only be within the circle of stones.  Once we exit its perimeter, like we are now, we will be just as powerless as we are at this moment.  Until we cross back into the forest, and out of this bare spot on the world."
        Kelly nodded her understanding.  Her nodding grew all the more enthusiastic when she was asked, "Are you ready to bring some real magic back into the world?"
        Screw normal, she thought.  This was important, she could just tell.  She needed to know more about herself, she needed that power.  If she was going to be drawn into this world, it was best to know everything she could, and protect herself.
        "Then follow me, novice Kelly."  Christopher extended his hand, and Kelly took it, being led inside the circle of stones, the fingers wrapping around them like they sat in a giant's palm.
        The moment Kelly crossed the invisible border made by the stones, she knew it.  She could feel the hair on the back of her beck tingle.  It was like she had gotten a minor electric shock by touching a doorknob, but felt throughout her body.
        Once they were surrounded by the stone monoliths, Christopher bent over and rolled up his pants leg, revealing a knife in one of his boots.  Even with just the starlight, the metal blade glistened in the dark.  Kelly immediately regretted her decision to trust this man as he gripped the wodden handle and pointed the tip of the blade at her.
        Had this been the most elaborate ploy she had ever imagined to gain her trust?  Had he just lured her into the stone circle to make a sacrifice of her, for some unknown ritual?
        Kelly was cursing her curiosity and trusting nature.  She should have stuck by her vow of normalcy.  She found some reserves of strength, and she stood ready for whatever fate had in store for her, but she would not go quietly.
        Well, almost anything, as the knife spun around in Christopher's hand and he held the grip out to the girl.  She looked at it like it was a snake for a moment, before reaching out with a shaking hand.  She gave pause before her small fingers wrapped around the hilt, feeling the smooth polish of the wood in her palm.
        She held the knife, still in disbelief that she was holding the item that had so terrified her mere seconds before, and also with confusion.  "What is this for?"
        "The first lesson you need to know about druidic magic, the most important lesson and the hardest one to get by; while we can draw upon the energy around us to do simple tricks, like your light show.  But the real magic, the real power, comes from blood sacrifice."
        Kelly almost dropped the knife.  "Excuse me?!" she blurted out in disbelief.
        "You've met vampires.  They understand.  Blood is power, blood is real.  Blood is life.  Your abilities will be limited without spilling blood to call upon the true powers of our gods, like Brigid or Sulis."
        The blade trembled in Kelly's hand.  This was getting a little too dark for the perky cheerleader.  "I really don't know about this."
        Christopher nodded his understanding.  "I said this was often the hardest part.  It's ok, Kelly.  You can walk away now, I won't think any less of you.  But you'll never know what you truly are."
        Still, the young girl remained uncertain.  Christopher smiled like a father would smile at his child who was caught doing something wrong.  He reached out and took the blade back from Kelly.
        "I'll go first, it's ok.  Let me show you."
        He gripped the blade in one hand, and used the shining tip upon the palm of his other.  She wasn't sure he had done anything in the darkness, but could soon see the bright spot of his palm against the blackness was soon tinted with darkness of its own as blood began to flow.  It was just a slow rivulet upon his hand, barely even a scratch.
        Christopher held the knife back out to Kelly once more.  She was even more afraid of that knife than she had been when she thought it might be used to pierce her heart.
        Still, it was just a tiny scratch.  It would enable this place to light up once again with magic, bring it back to the world, well, wasn't that worth a little scratch?  Compared to the gunshot wound in her arm, what did that compare?
        She once again gripped it tight in her good hand, and held up the palm of her injured arm.  She drew the blade across it, and was surprised at how painless it was.  It wasn't until after she saw that the only mark upon her hand was a streak left by the Christopher's blood still upon her and that she had accomplished nothing.
        Kelly flexed her fingers around the wooden hilt and took a deep breath.  She pushed the blade against her soft flesh, and at last felt it pierce through as she dragged it across her palm.  Kelly winced at the feeling, at last experiencing what she had dreaded the first time.  She wished that time she had gotten it right, and this was already over.
        As she stared down at her darkening hand, the blood gathering up like a dark pool of ichor in the hollow of her palm, like a lake forming in a crater, she felt like she might pass out.  Her breath quickened, and if she didn't fall over, she was sure she would hyperventilate.
        Christopher grabbed the girl's shoulder.  His grip was strong and tight, making Kelly glad he grabbed her good arm,  Even so, she still felt pain, and it drew her away from her hand.  Her eyes met his, and they stared at each other.  His gaze was solid, steady, and giving her something else to focus on.  Kelly felt her breathing slow as she regained her composure and concentration.
        "Are you ok?" the man asked, in one of the most caring, gentle voices she had heard.  It reminded her of her father's voice, a voice she had not heard in almost a decade.  That voice alone made her feel better, made her act somehow seem all right.
        Kelly bobbed her head, her stomach still churning at what she had done, but she did feel ok.  As long as she did not give it too much thought.  Or look at her hand.  Or smell the blood.
        Christopher loosened his grip, but still held onto Kelly for a few ticks.  Their eyes remained locked until he was sure she was ok.  The frozen pair moved at last when Christopher smiled, and clapped Kelly on the shoulder.  She was so far out of it by that point, by everything she had experienced, she was almost knocked right down to the forest floor.  It was by sheer force of will that she kept her footing, even as her upper half cantored to one side.
        The man's white teeth shone through the inky dark, making him look like the Cheshire cat, eyes and teeth floating in front of Kelly.  His face was visible, but only just.  The contrast between his face and smile was so stark that the latter stood out all the more.
        "Good," he said at last.  "The blood needs to be fresh, and the longer we wait, the harder this will be."
        Kelly didn't like the sound of that.  The last thing she wanted to do was to have to cut her hand again that night.  Second to those thoughts were that if she wasted time, then nothing would happen, their efforts would have been for naught, and then what had been the point?
        Christopher continued, "Just follow my lead, with that stone over there."  He pointed to the stone behind her, the one she had hidden behind an eternity ago.
        The man walked away from Kelly, his figure becoming more indistinct with each step into the dark.  She could still make out his outline and watched as he placed his bleeding hand upon the stone he approached.  He turned back to look at his charge, and thrust his chin towards the stone he had indicated before.
        Kelly shook her head, trying to clear her hazy thoughts, everything all coming too fast to process.  Still, she followed his instructions and went to the stone.  She hesitated and stared at her hand, blood running off the palm and dripping to the leaves below with a rythmic plopping that would have been heard if not for Kelly's dazed state.
        She mimicked Christopher and placed her hand upon the stone, feeling the chilled, solid granite beneath her flesh.  The blood pressed between the two surfaces and spread out, oozing from the space where they met.
        Kelly stared at the crimson ichor, tinged a dark black by the night, and the stone which it ran down.  Several rivulets dripped down the surface like a line of three tears.  It was far less than she had expected, having never deliberately cut her hand before, but it was still too much for her.
        Part of Kelly's brain screamed about how wrong this felt, but other parts of her did not find it that bad.  This is what she was.  It was just a small cut.  It was all so justifiable.  But where would this road take her?  Is this what she wanted to be?
        Did she have a choice?
        As she watched the trail of blood droplets scar the surface of rock, Kelly began to hear something behind her and turned back to Christopher.  She could just about make him out, and could tell his eyes were closed, and he was speaking at just above a whisper.
        "Crom Cruach," he said and Kelly began to copy that as well, but when she spoke, Christopher shot her a glance and she closed her mouth tight.  The interuption didn't even put a break in his chanting.  "Crom Cruach, we beseech thee here amongst your stones, accept our sacrifice, accept our praise.  Bring your life, your light, and your power back into this place once more.  The old times return, the darkness of science shall once more be lit up with the eternal light of magic."
        Kelly could feel the stone beneath her hand, but something had changed.  Something was different.  It felt like it was humming.  A low vibration reverberated throughout the slab of rock, and it was just the barest tingling up from the earth and into her arm, but it was growing.
        "Brigid of the fiery arrow, we beseech thee here amongst your stones.  Your flames have been forgotten, and we call upon thee once more to warm up the cold, heartless world with your burning brightness."
        Beneath her hand that was beginning to grow numb from the stone, frozen by long cold days and the ever colder night they stood in, Kelly could feel the stone change again.  It was a slow build up, but the longer her hand remained against the stone, the less cold it felt.  Her fingertips began to feel warm again.  She could still feel the wintery wind off the river blowing through, and most of her body could feel it down to the bone, but the palm of her hand felt like it was gripping a warm mug.  The stone grew ever more warm with each passing second, and the feeling crept up past her wrist.
        "Sulis of the sacred waters, we beseech thee to flow through these stones once more.  Instead of wearing them down like the rivers of old, fill them again with your strength and power that the Waterways may once again open to all who seek their paths."
        Kelly felt nothing from the stone this time, but the sound of the Black River off in the distance grew louder.  Or was the sound in her head?  Kelly couldn't tell for certain as the sound became almost defeaning.  It came from everywhere and nowhere.  From the river and from her head.
        As the rushing waters flowed all around her mind, Kelly no longer felt cold.  In fact, she felt hot.  The stone felt hot, burning, and she yanked her hand away with a loud cry of pain.  She feared she may have heard the sound of sizzling flesh if not for the sounds of the river drowning out all sound and all thought.
        She inspected her hand, and found no burns though, which was a relief.  Most remarkable was finding that her hand was not even cut anymore.  The wound had sealed itself up, and she could not even see a scar.  The tracks of blood upon the stone had even disappeared, like the rocks were living creatures that had drank up her blood, feeding off the scarlet lines like a vampire, like Alyson.  It was as if they had not done anything at all.
        Except Kelly could feel it.  The place had changed.  It was alive.  Moreso than she at first thought.  If she looked at the stones in just the right manner, they began to glow.  The implication of what she was looking at was lost on her at first, but a realisation dawned on her.
        "They have auras?" she whispered to herself.
        The question had been rhetorical, but Christopher had heard her all the same, and came back over to her.  "Yes, they do."
        "Are they...alive?"  Kelly couldn't even believe she had thought of such a question, let alone was asking it.
        Christopher shook his head.  "They're just stones.  But the magic they draw upon, the lines of power, the auras you see; they all come from the same thing, the magical lifeblood that flows through everything.  It's highest concentration is in living things, that's why we can see it as an aura, filtered through the person it's a part of.  The lines of power bind everything together, and the stones are magical focal points, or stores of the energies, so they appear to have auras of their own without actually being alive."
        Kelly listened, fascinated, the reasoning behind it all drawing her in and making her forget all about her hand.  Even her shoulder felt better as she was surrounded by the energy.  She realised just how much better it felt, and pulled off the sling.  Prodding at the spot Beadle had shot her with a cautious, tentative finger, Kelly found no twinges of pain.  She flexed her fingers, and moved her arm around like the past weekend had never happened.  Kelly could have done a backflip she was so ecstatic to be rid of the sling.
        Christopher saw the question upon her face, and answered it before she could give voice to it.  "Brigid is also a goddess of healing, she must have sensed your need and made your arm better."
        "Don't care.  Just glad to be out of that sling!"  Kelly made a tiny, balled up fist with her hand, raising it in triumph in front of her face.  If this was the reward for the cost of a little blood, maybe this wasn't all that bad, she thought.
        While she looked at her hand, she noticed it looked different.  Less that her hand looked different, but there was something about it.  She held up her other hand, and saw it there too, and all down her arms.  The air shimmered around her, not quite like an aura, but similar.  She could see the same effect around Christopher, distorting her view of what lay behind him.
        Again, Christopher answered her unspoken thoughts.  "You see it, don't you?  The energy around us, inside us?"
        "Is that what it is?" she asked.
        "Of course.  The stones aren't the only things drawing upon the ancient power beneath our feet, our own bodies are batteries, filled up as long as we stand here.  Sadly, the power will drain away almost instantly once we leave the protective circle."
        Kelly nodded and continued to look around Christopher, fascinated by how the shimmering distorted the air behind him.  As she stared through space, the air given an unusual light from the glowing stones, Kelly saw something behind Christopher.  If her eyes had not grown accustomed to the dark, or if the slight incandescense only she and Christopher could see didn't lessen the black, she may well have not seen a thing.
        But she did.  She saw a figure just outside the stones, standing there silent and watching.  The low light casting a long shadow from the figure and out into the trees far behind.  A familiar figure, one she never thought she would see again, but someone she knew was out here, thanks to Alyson.
        Marcus Boyd, the boy who was killed here a few months ago, and began her descent into the strange stood there and smiled back at her.  They had never been that close, but they had never been enemies either.  Kelly had talked to him on occasion, and considered him a friend of some degree.
        Seeing him standing there like he had never died, looking just the way he had that day sent chills through Kelly.  How long had he been standing there?  Not that he had anywhere else he could really go, but to see him there, see a dead boy watching them, gave Kelly more than enough cause to want to get the hell out of there.
        What Kelly had mistaken for a shadow moved as she stared past Christopher.  Yet, Marcus's spirit had not moved.  Even stranger, Kelly realised as a ghost he should not be casting a shadow in the first place.  Not to mention there wasn't really any light eminating from the blocks of stone surrounding her.
        That was when it dawned on her, she knew what she was looking at.  It was what she had feared Christopher to be those first few moments after she had met him.
        Now she truly was staring at the Ferryman.
        Staring at that pure blackness that stood out even in the dark of night, she wondered how she could have ever mistaken the one for the other.  The difference was striking to anyone that would have looked upon both.  The Ferryman truly had no form, no given shape.  The only form he had was the one the human mind imposed upon its ever shifting blackness, like the eye seeing what it wants to see in the clouds.
        When she had seen Christopher she had indeed felt afraid, but that was all from the chase, and the unknown.  That feeling was nothing compared to what she was feeling from what she looked at now.  Any warmth she had felt drained away as she knew the pillar of black smoke stood there and stared at her.  Kelly didn't know how she knew it was looking at her, but its gaze was unmistakable all the same.
        Christopher noticed Kelly's attention was elsewhere and he turned around, staring right where Marcus and the Ferryman stood, and straight through them to the woods beyond.
        "What is it, what do you see?"
        Marcus raised a finger to his lips, motioning for Kelly to remain silent.  With the cold stare of the guardian of the river Styx boring into her very soul, Kelly was not about to disobey.
        "Nothing," she said.  "Nothing at all."
        Marcus smiled back and nodded.  She could almost sense him saying thank you wrapped up in the look he gave her.
        And even through the darkness, she could knew the Ferryman smiled as well.
***
        Darien and Alyson walked in silence away from the school.  The elder watched as his sister kept looking back towards the forest on her right.  He could sense her concern over Kelly.  He knew what must be going through her head, because he was feeling the same way.
        Part of him wanted to run through those woods until he found the girl.  He wanted to comfort her, tell her everything would be all right.  But Darien knew the best course of action was to leave her be.  If anyone deserved to get as far as possible from the Montroses, from their problems, it was Kelly.
        He knew she was an innocent in all this, dragged in against her will no matter how much she may have said she wanted to be part of it at first.  If she could get out, be free, no matter how hard it was for Darien to let her go, that is what he had to do.  He was surprised to find he cared so much for Kelly, but something drew him toward her.  It may have been something more than just raging male hormones, but Darien figured it was just that.
        Besides, he had far more pressing concerns.  He had to take care of his sister.  This was made all the more apparent to him this weekend.  He had grown lax since they arrived in Kraftsbury.  He had let his sister do what she wanted, when she wanted.  Darien even began to let his own guard down, by taking a few drinks at Rachel's Halloween party.  Because of that, he blamed himself for another girl dying, and his sister being captured.
        Darien couldn't let that happen again.  His conscience could not take the weight of it, if it did.
        Around the 49th time Alyson looked to her right, Darien finally broke the silence.  "She'll be okay, you know."
        The girl's stare didn't waver, and she kept looking out to the woods, ignoring the homes in between her and the forest.  "No, I don't know that.  I do know that circle of stones is the reason we're here, and nothing good has come of that."
        "They're just stones, Alyson."
        Now that made her tear her eyes away and her gaze shot daggers at her brother.  "Just stones?  How long did we search for one of those?  You know they're not just stones, they're power, power we can use."
        Darien nodded and turned from his sister.  He couldn't stand her looking at him like she was.  So many times he had seen that look, like he had let her down.  Each one stung all the more since she had died and he couldn't stop it.  Each one felt like an accusation of that night.
        "I know our resources are running low, and we need the power stored here.  I just don't understand why we couldn't just tell our friends why we're here."
        Alyson sighed.  "What we have told them isn't a lie.  I do like it here, really I do.  It's so much quieter than Denver.  So much more quaint, in a good way.  The sense of community, the closeness, all that.  But that's not why we came here Darien.  Do you really think they'd understand if we told them the truth?"
        "They might," Darien muttered.  "They took you being a freaking vampire pretty well.  I guess we have the current oversaturation of vamps in the media to thank for that."
        Alyson snorted.  "If I ever go all emo like that, stake me.  That's your job."  She ignored Darien's indignant look and continued to speak without pause.  "And yeah, they might.  But I would rather not find out.  Besides, soon enough it won't matter.  We'll be done, and never have to explain a thing.  It will be like nothing has ever happened."
        "I suppose.  I just don't like lying to our friends."
        "It isn't lying, it's just not telling them everything.  That's less morally...bad.  Or something."
        Darien grumbled and muttered some more.  "So, not going to put our plans on hold then?  Not going to even try that normal thing we've heard so much about?"
        "Darien," he could sense the exasperation in his sister's voice when she said his name.  "This is normal for me.  And for you.  Besides, we don't have to tell Kelly.  What she doesn't know, won't hurt her."
        "I could list a number of things for which that isn't true."
        "I was being rhetorical, you walking literal machine."
        Darien put a hand on his twin's shoulder.  "I know, that's why it's so fun to frustrate you."
        Alyson gave one last glance, now looking almost behind her the pair had walked so far.  They had reached the intersection off of main street that led to their home.
        The pair turned left at the light, walking up an ever-increasing incline.  Much like Brendan's hill, the street lights began to thin out, but not disappear all together.  But the distance between one and the next grew with each one they passed.
        Neither of them felt uncomfortable in the dark.  For Alyson, it was almost home.  In fact, she felt her most comfortable when there was no light at all.  To her, it was like looking around in the full brightness of the day.  There was no sunlight making her skin crawl, making her absently scratch at the feeling something was burrowing through her muscles.  Ever since the change, she went out during the day as a necessity more than anything.  The sunlight wouldn't harm her, but it made her feel on edge and uncomfortable for every moment she was out there.
        Her only respite was inside the school, or her home on the weekends.  The windows at the high school let in a lot of light, but most of the sunlight landed elsewhere thanks to the design of the school.  Only at noon did she really get antsy, and was at lunch in another, much more enclosed space.
        Alyson knew Darien was aware of her condition, but she never let on just how bad it was.  He knew to some degree, but not that there were times when she wanted nothing more than to tear her skin off, or hide in the dark room on the bottom floor of the school.
        Now that the sun was gone though, she felt calm.  She felt at home.  Her brother may not have been told just how rough it was for Alyson, but he sensed the changes in her every time the sun went down.  He could see them, they were that plain.  Every day, Darien was amazed at how much like the old Alyson she acted while at school, and he knew that must have been hard for her.  She may have become more dour when they were alone, but at night, she felt more like her old self than she ever did forcing her old personality out to cover up any discomfort during the day.
        Darien wished she would drop the act, and just be herself, but every day he got to see the Alyson he knew. He just could not let go yet.
        They walked in silence all the way up the hill.  Darien remained ever frozen with his grim, sullen face, and Alyson had begun to smile more, the further they got from the town center.  The sun was down, and Kelly was all but forgotten.  It would be good to get home, they both felt it.  Even if Darien wasn't showing it.
        As the duo were about to turn off the road and enter their driveway, Alyson stopped.  Darien took a couple more steps before he realised he was alone on the road.
        He stopped and pivoted on his heel.  When he saw Alyson stopped on the road in mid step, his hand went straight for his inside coat pocket.  The two had trained together long enough that their instincts and signals went beyond the abilities of twin telepathy.
        From the look on his sister's face, he knew she had sensed something.  She smelled at the air, taking in every scent and aroma.  The smell of warm pavement from the day's worth of sunlight filled her nostrils above all else, but she pushed past it and sorted through the smells beneath that, even ones that no one else would be able to pick up on.
        The crisp autumn leaves were smelling of rot and decay as the fall leaned ever closer to winter.  The stench of car exhaust hung in the air like a bank of fog to Alyson's senses.
        But underneath it all, she picked up a smell she knew all too well, but a smell she was not expecting.  At least not as fresh as it was.
        There was blood in the air.  Blood nearby, and it had just been spilled.  Alyson didn't like where the smell was coming from.
        The girl resumed walking, but she moved with slow, steady determination.  She moved with purpose and certainty.  Her footfalls were silent, even when she stepped over the leaves that had littered their yard.  Alyson shifted into a slight crouch, ready to pounce whatever they may find.
        Darien followed on her heels, his hand pulling out of his coat with a long wodden stake that had been sharpened to a wicked point.  The stake was so polished, so hewn to perfection that in the bare light filtering down, it almost shone like steel.  His own steps made some noise, but not much.  But compared to Alyson, it was like a herd of elephants was stampeding through.
        They were always prepared for the worst, whatever they may think it could be.  The world had often thrown unexpected levels of worst at them, but it was rare when either of them could be surprised.  Darien was always on guard and he showed it, but so was Alyson.  But she had become quite skilled at hiding it, unless she went into full on predator like she had at that moment.
        Darien knew enough to remain silent and follow her lead.  He may have been dubbed the vampire hunter amongst the pair, but his skills were nothing compared to his sister's, and she had a better chance of survivng whatever opening salvos might come their way.  That said, Darien was not about to just hang back and let his sister go into anything without his protection.
        No sound came from their home, and only a few lights were on.  Otherwise, the house was dark.  Only the porch light was on, marking an arc of light that Alyson was fast approaching.
        Darien placed a hand upon his sister's shoulder to stop her before she stepped too much closer.  They were still hidden from sight, but a few more steps and they would be seen with ease.
        At his touch, Alyson turned and growled at her brother.  Her face had changed into its vampiric state.  Gone were the soft features of an innocent young girl.  They had been replaced with long fans, blood-red eyed, and a monstrous, furrowed brow.  Alyson was not even visible in the face she now wore.
        Even then, after all they had been through, that face made Darien recoil.  Every instinct Conrad had taught him was to kill anything that looked like that.  Yet his sister remained.  He could never bring himself to kill her, no matter what she had become.  Every day, Darien was thankful she had remained herself and not given into the animalistic urges that every other vampire did.
        "Oh, will the two of you quit dicking about out there and get up here so we can get this over with?"
        The voice caught the twins off guard so much that Alyson's face flashed back to normal.  Once she regained her composure, it returned to its vampiric guise, but they were not expecting to be addressed.
        Darien was so startled by the British accented voice that he almost dropped his stake.  Even with all their preperations, there was the universe surprising them once again.
        From a small copse of shadows that would not have hid anyone any larger than then man that stepped out of it, came a dark-haired figure.  He wore a black trenchcoat like Darien, but underneath could be seen the hints of a suit; buttoned up shirt, tailored slacks, and what was either a vest or another jacket.  It was all shades of black and grey, helping the stranger blend into the shadows.
        The twins stood there dumbfounded and watched as the rumpled man lit a cigarette and blew smoke that danced through the halo of light cast from the bulb above the front door to the Montrose house.
        "Hello, Alyson," said the new arrival.  "So good to see you again.  I see you've not found any better company to hang around with since we last met.  He does look tasty though."
        The man flicked some ashes off to the side, and smiled.  He didn't hide what he was, and the light he stood in shone bright off his long, vampiric fangs.
        "Care to introduce me?"
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