There was little light in the alley. The man and woman walking with easy confidence through the darkness were dressed very inappropriately for the area; he in a tuxedo and she in a slinky, backless, low-cut dress that clung to her shapely figure like it had been made specifically to fit her. Actually, she had made herself fit it. The bulb over the door had been removed - by the owner, a member of the select group meeting here tonight - some weeks earlier. The skyline could be seen dimly overhead, through a thin scudding of river fog. The lack of illumination didn't matter much to those who were supposed to be here. The couple approached and knocked. A muffled voice from inside asked for identification.
"Karen Peltier and Edgar Larch," the man replied. There was silence for a moment, then the door opened.
It was a little lighter inside. The newcomers walked down a narrow, dingy hall and then through another door, into a large room. This was already filled with people, an odd mixture of ages, colors, dress and mannerisms. One common factor was immediately obvious. Normally these gatherings had a party atmosphere, but tonight there was great tension. The conversation was quiet, though strained. The dim illumination would have been oppressive to most people, but the occupants found low illumination more comfortable, so that wasn't the cause.
The refreshments were the same as usual; in the middle of one wall was a table upon which were several different styles of container, some heated electrically, most by candle warmers. Each container was carefully labeled as to what creature the contents had been obtained from. Karen felt her nostrils flare as a vagary in air circulation brought her the scent of fresh, warm blood. She ran her tongue over her enlarged canines in anticipation.
Karen and Edgar made their way to the table, giving brief greetings as they went. Karen took a styrofoam cup and filled it with warmed beef blood. She drained half of it before noticing Edgar's expression. He, as usual, was drinking human blood.
"Why don't you try this? Its pretty good tonight, better than usual," he told her. "Liberated straight from a blood bank; no one hurt in the process. Nothing to have any qualms about."
"Maybe I'm just being sentimental," said Karen, defensively and a bit too firmly. "After all, I used to be human."
She had first met Edgar nearly three years earlier, and they had hit it off immediately. The only flaw in that initial meeting was that he had tried to get her drunk. She thought at the time he wanted to take advantage of her, but later realized that this was the only way he knew to have fun at a party. Now that he was a vampire, the only real change was his beverage of choice.
At least he had a generous nature. After being converted, he had offered to share his new power with Karen as soon as he had gained the strength necessary to do so. He had jokingly offered to do it by the traditional method, but Karen had firmly insisted on something less painful. Since for a willing subject only intimate physical contact and a transfer of bodily fluids was required, they had used sex as the medium. Afterwards, Edgar had readily agreed that this way was much more fun.
That had been six months ago. After some minor problems, Karen had adjusted easily. She kept her refrigerator stocked with beef and pig blood, and had a couple of live guinea pigs for emergencies. She had adapted to living mostly at night, though she still worked days. Her job, fortunately, did not involve going out much, so she could avoid uncomfortable exposure to direct sunlight. Edgar had gone much farther in adopting the lifestyle of a traditional vampire, so much so that he now sometimes frightened and disturbed Karen. Still, she enjoyed the strength and vitality that came with being a vampire, as well as the heightened senses and other abilities.
The benefits were extensive. For instance, sex was incredible since her conversion, having become a noisy, vigorous exercise in unbridled passion. She no longer feared attack by muggers and rapists, either. She was much less inhibited in other ways, now, as well. Her abilities included being able to alter her shape to a limited extent; Karen currently had a figure some women would have killed for. Karen wouldn't, but Edgar would never understand that. She used her old form when around people she knew, but more and more considered that to be a role she played, to avoid rousing suspicion among friends and family. Mostly, being a vampire had been good for her. She had thought that she could continue her masquerade indefinitely, playing the mousey secretary during the day and being the exotic, sensual vampiress at night.
Lately, though, things had gone bad, and not just with Edgar. Many of those converted were not content to feed on animals, claiming that human blood was the only proper food for their kind. Members of this clique had given themselves the rather pompous title "The Night's Children." Some bragged about the number of humans they had fed on. Some even spoke with pride of how many they had killed, though it was not necessary for a victim to die from a feeding. These activities had caused a schism among the group, as well as reaction from the normal public. Lately, a number of vampires had been caught, either by police or Gifted. At first these had just been independent arrests, but now they were seeing the beginnings of an organized resistance.
Karen tried some of the lamb's blood, ignoring Edgar's deliberate downing of an entire cup of human blood in one gulp. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she continued her musings. The most amazing part of all this was how quickly the world had changed, after the Gifting.
Magic had begun working just two years earlier. Anyone could work spells now, if they cared to learn how. Unicorns, werewolves and many other supernatural creatures existed and were documented. Some were the direct result of the surge of magic that had been unleashed as part of the Gifting. Others had been created by human use of magic. The vampires were a case of the latter. A pair of wizards, a married couple, had researched ways of gaining personal power, to increase their abilities beyond the natural. They had felt jealous of the Gifted. The wizards felt that these people, whose abilities were apparently gained through random chance, did not deserve them. Power should only belong to those who earned it through their own efforts. But how to gain such power? Blood was their answer. It carried the life force of the creature it came from, and could be stored for days with little loss of vital energy. Some of the strongest vampires could drain a victim through touch alone, but most needed to actually ingest blood.
The wizards had developed a method to duplicate the abilities of fictional vampires, and had used the process on themselves. They were ecstatic with the results, especially after they had learned that they could share their new power with others, once they had built enough strength to spare some. They had become creatures of legend, far greater than the mortals they had been. It never occurred to them that in a world fresh with magic there would be things more formidable than vampires.
Karen's thoughts were interrupted as a speaker approached the podium. The already low noise of conversation dropped to a mumble, then ceased entirely.
"My friends," the man, one of their seniors, announced, "We meet this evening to decide our future. Largely through the actions of some of our less cautious members..."
This brought cries of protest from several present. The speaker waited until these died away, then continued.
"Largely through the actions of some of our less cautious members, the public has become aware of us. The response has been much as we expected, and feared. This was why we had attempted to keep our existence secret." He paused a moment, looking over the assembly, his expression grim. "We have failed in that. Now, we face active opposition. Just this week, three of our number were captured, one being killed in the process. Normal humans are only a minor danger to us, but many Gifted are now or promise soon to be dedicated to our elimination. These include Nemesis, Stagger Lee, Tiger and Flaming Sword."
The recitation of names caused a stir, and made Karen shiver. These people had received a Gift, a seed of magic which grew to become part of them, granting them direct use of great abilities, without need of spells or charms. There were several hundred Gifted, but while they had respectable powers most of them were no real danger to vampires, really being only normals with odd abilities. However, some Gifted were both formidable and aggressive. All of those mentioned were such, but Tiger, whose name had made others beside Karen shudder, was as much a creature of the night as any vampire. He was stronger, mentally and physically, than any but the greatest of their kind, and similarly outclassed them in nearly all other areas. He also had the sort of bloody mindedness that made a foe dangerous out of all proportion to what would be guessed from ability alone.
"I have been informed, through means I won't elaborate on now, that the government is preparing to offer amnesty to any of us who voluntarily come forward and allow themselves to be returned to mortal existence."
The disturbance this caused was both noisy and mixed. Many there were surprised at the announcement. A few welcomed it; a few rejected it in no uncertain terms.
"This will have to be determined on an individual basis," the speaker continued, raising his voice to be heard over the noise. "But I strongly urge you all to accept. Any who don't will be hunted down like animals, a fate we don't deserve."
"I won't surrender to cattle!" cried one man, hurling his cup of blood to the floor. "They belong to us, not us to them! Better to die, than to be what we once were!"
Many in the crowd echoed this sentiment, Edgar among them. Karen felt an odd sense of the inevitable as she realized that she had lost him. She would not turn herself in, but neither would she participate in the underground war these people were advocating. Edgar would. And he would die. With a shock, Karen realized that she felt no grief at the thought, no anger. Only regret at what she - they - had lost.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," said the speaker. His form shimmered oddly. Abruptly, he was Paul Lee, standing before them with calm self assurance. "This building is surrounded by forty police and eight Gifted. I suggest you all give yourselves up quietly."
The room exploded. Some surged forward to attack Stagger, some stood frozen in place, some milled about, shouting in confusion. Many bolted. Edgar grabbed Karen's wrist and dragged her out a side door. As they left, Karen heard a crash, and looked back to see Nemesis and Creedmore dropping through a hole in the ceiling to aid Stagger.
"Bet they don't know about this!!" Edgar yelled, as they ran down a darkened hallway.
It ended in a heavy door, which Edgar crashed through, nearly falling. This let them into another building, built against the one where the meeting had been. From there they went down into the basement. Fumbling in a darkness thick enough that even they had trouble seeing, Edgar led her to a steep flight of steps, blocked at the top by a horizontal steel door.
"This is how they bring supplies in. It opens in an alley, near where we parked."
He cautiously unbolted the door and lifted it a bit, looking around. Satisfied, he pushed it open and slipped out, holding it for Karen. Edgar then lowered the door quietly back into place, and they set off down the alley. They didn't get far. A figure stepped out from behind a dumpster, blocking their path.
"You're both under arrest," said Tiger, as casually as if commenting on the weather.
Both vampires froze. Then Edgar, snarling, leaped at the figure. Tiger pivoted away from the attack, slashing with his right hand as the vampire hurled by. Edgar dropped to the pavement, hands clutching futilely at his ruined throat, gurgling as precious blood poured around his fingers. Tiger turned toward Karen. She closed her eyes and prepared to die.
After several seconds she opened her eyes. Tiger was standing disturbingly near, nostrils flaring as he gave her a quizzical look.
"You've never taken human blood," he stated.
"N-no, only animal blood," she gasped.
"Get out of here," said Tiger, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.
"Wh-what...?" stammered Karen.
"I don't kill vampires because they're vampires," he explained. "I kill them because they kill people. If you've got that much self control you're not a problem. Now get out of here before the police show up and start asking awkward questions."
Karen suddenly realized that she was protesting her own pardon. She squeezed warily past Tiger, sparing one last, sad look at Edgar, and ran into the night.
This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith,
who can be reached at: email@example.com. Please contact the author for
permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.