Having managed to sneak out of the southern region without becoming either a pincushion, or an unwilling blood donor, I was feeling lucky. Apparently, the vamps had as deep a stake into things as they suggested, blood's honour and all that. I didn't care... and that felt good.
I was due to meet up with some of my best friends, righteous in their own right, both back from duty on the Border itself. I had ordered us some drinks which might have been made somewhere near peaches, according to their write-up, and whose paper umbrellas were cheap and gaudy. I had heard the same about the waitresses, but they seemed to be ignoring me and my drained glass.
I sat up, trying to spot one of the spangly girls, though I had my eye on a plump redhead with dazzling ruby tassles. I was busy enough watching her squeeze a lime into someone else's concoction that I didn't catch Shurakai and Sizzler coming up to me.
I covered my surprise with a sudden yelp and a jump. I had my gun out and a knife primed before I fell back into the chair. Shurakai laughed, and Sizzler just grunted. I kicked a chair out for Sizzler, holstering my gun in the process.
Shurakai caught the hint, seating herself. She's a very tall black woman, dressed in the casual half-armour, half-ritual robe of a combat sorceror. I was, as usual, half in love with her, reminded by just watching the grace with which she sat down. She at least half knew the way my heart pounded...and didn't let it bother her, which was just as well, if there were a lot of things half-said between us.
Sizzler is a bear of a man, though, to specify, he's hairier and scarier than some of the wereursine I've had the pleasure of meeting. He has half their patience, all their girth, and a shorter temper. He still had blood under his fingernails, and the left half of his face looked slightly singed. He drank his tonic in a single smooth motion, crushing the umbrella with his other hand.
"It was rough?" I asked, guessing.
"It was bad," Shurakai's voice was soft, and her expression only twitched slightly. I frowned, trying to make it a hard look, and not one tempered by worry.
"You?" Sizzler often communicated solely through grunts, so I was quick at translating.
"You heard about the elves?" I asked. I groaned as their smiles came out. "Guess so. Just had a vamp couple contact me in the South."
Sizzler's part-time job was as a Stake, a vampire hunter. He grunted. I translated.
"Young. Old enough to have some resources, but no pack." That was the trouble with older vampires -- most of them had attracted a family, a number of lesser lampreys to do their dirty work. "And before you ask, no, as far as I can tell they're still... not breathing." I grinned.
Shurakai sighed. "We had to put down an extended family, trying to emigrate the old fashioned way... after their tests for the curse came out positive." She had my cute waitress fill our drinks, summoning the redhead with a snap of the fingers and a jingle of the tassles. "We couldn't take them, but we could hold them in place until sunrise."
"Nasty." So was my drink. I sputtered, and shook my head, watching my spangly girl go into the kitchen.
Sizzler grunted again. This time Shurakai translated.
"You hear anything about the vampire rights groups popping up?" she asked, calmly.
I about jumped out of my seat again. "RIGHTS?" I asked.
Sizzler's grunt agreed with me.
"Let me guess," I interrupted. "Sponsored by a group of younger humans, black dyed hair, heavy into the black scene all around, sometimes metal in their faces, sometimes fake fangs, annoying coo, tendency to stay in during the day...? Am I on the right track?"
Shurakai met my rant with a cool smile. Sizzler grunted, unhappily.
"What is it with these folk? Like anything with that fresh-from-the-grave smell could be romantic? Maybe it's the dominance. 'Ignore my fetid touch and come to me...'" I slapped the table in annoyance.
"I seem to remember..." Shurakai went silent.
"What?" I asked, annoyed.
"Well, there was a time in which you dressed in all black. You were quite the advocate for the monstrous end of things. I seem to recall a discussion we had about a 'certain nobility to darkness'?" Shurakai looked down at me with an amused glint in her eye.
Sizzler grunted, more amused. He picked his teeth with the remains of the umbrella.
"That was different. I wasn't...pretentious."
Shurakai only kept her gaze on me.
"And I never liked vampires. I didn't get funny piercings. I never spoke with a fake Transylvanian accent. I didn't change my name to 'Amanita'." I was anxious to prove my point. "I never, ever wore black lipstick. I didn't coo about how romantic it was to be possessed and under someone else's complete control. I only... appreciated the dark side a little."
Sizzler grunted. It was a laugh.
"No, you didn't," Shurakai agreed. "And you grew out of it soon enough. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what you dislike about the types you were describing. You see it as immature."
"And only half-thought out. I've been kissed by a vampire. I was sick for days," I pointed out. "I just get the urge to show them a real vampire... after she's lost her hair, and all that's left of her dominance is the dull look of hunger in her eyes."
"You still want to see a dragon," Sizzler said, suddenly.
"But that's different. They're huge, glorious, magnificent..." I grinned, seeing where this was going.
"They're lizards," Sizzler grunted.
"Point taken. But vampire RIGHTS? What, 'We the Undead, possessing certain needs as endowed by our monstrous creator...'? I'd rather have a mosquito run for president!" I scratched briefly at one of my bites, reminded.
"Don't say that." Shurakai's eyes were large.
"Huh?" I grunted, forgetting that was Sizzler's line.
"There's been rumour..." she began.
I interrupted her. "Oh no...! I HATE bugs!"
(To be continued...)
j n m ( m n j
"Some have been thought brave
because they were afraid to run away."
-- English Proverb