I sat at the kitchen table with a wine glass. But the red liquid inside wasn’t wine of course. I couldn’t bring myself to even look at it.
Earlier, I’d finished cleaning up to find a set of ironed clothes had been laid across my bed. A three-piece suit. Definitely not my style. But it was better than walking around in the outfit I’d been buried in, I supposed.
The shirt was custom-made, one sleeve much shorter than the other, while the blazer had the left arm pinned up. Putting clothes on with one hand wasn’t easy, but I managed. The buttons were a bitch though, so after spending almost ten minutes fiddling up the shirt, I just left the waistcoat open. I didn’t even bother with the tie.
Doctor Rose raised an eyebrow at my appearance as I entered the kitchen, but decided not to comment.
“You’re going to have to get used to this,” He said as he poured the… drink. “Without blood, your thirst will drive you mad. It replenishes your rapid healing too, as well as your other abilities.”
“Yeah, I noticed the healing.” My hand went to touch my shoulder where I’d been wounded. “Why did the bullets bounce off me, but wood cut through like normal?”
“Your body is different now, as I’m sure you have realised. You’re stronger, faster, and far more resilient. You could jump from a tall building and barely suffer a bruise. You could be stabbed through the heart and the wound would heal in seconds. But you have certain weaknesses now too. Plants are one of them.
“Thorns, sharpened wood, even some breeds of cacti will penetrate your skin with ease,” he continued, “but you needn’t worry, you’ll still heal. Plants don’t prevent healing, precious metals do. The likes of silver, gold, and platinum, have violent reactions with our blood which rid us of our healing ability.”
“Were the hunters I fought using silver bullets then?”
“So, again, why did they bounce off?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you not listening? Only weapons crafted from plants can penetrate your skin. Well-trained hunters will be armed with crossbows, shooting bolts with wooden heads and silver shafts. The wood cuts through—the silver stops your healing. The hunters you faced were… amateurish, at best.”
Great. So it was a safe bet that most hunters would put up more of a fight. I just hoped I wouldn’t run into them ever again. But something told me that was unlikely.
“What else am I weak to?”
He thought for a moment. “Fire.”
“Fire? Not sunlight?”
“Yes, sunlight too. Your body is incredibly sensitive to UV rays, so much so that the sun could burn you down to the bone. But the sun alone won’t kill you. Even if you spent an entire day outside, your injuries would heal come nightfall. I wouldn’t recommend you try; the pain is extraordinary. But you’d still survive. Fire, however, is another matter. If you let it, fire will burn you to ash.”
“Okay.” I counted them on my fingers. “Plants, precious metals and fire. Stay out of the sun but don’t worry too much about it. What about the cross? When that hunter pulled out his cross and started praying, I was paralysed. Why?”
“That, I do not know.” The doctor ran a hand through his short beard and loosened his tie. “Perhaps we are unholy creatures, and symbols of piety drive us away. It is the one question that has plagued me for over a century now.
“What I do know is that it can’t just be any cross lying around. Or even only a cross, for that matter. A Quran or the Star of David would do the job just as well. Whatever the object, it must be held by a devout follower of its respective religion, of whom there are very few left in the modern age. The range of effect is very small too, a few feet, perhaps. That’s why I was able to put that last hunter to rest. I was too far away for his cross to affect me, allowing me to throw a stone through his chest.”
My eyebrows raised. “So I should just carry a bunch of stones with me and keep my distance from hunters?”
“That’s one way of going about it. Regardless.” He glanced down at his watch. “I am running late for a rather important meeting. The others should be back any minute now.”
“You still haven’t told me anything about them! Or anything at--”
But before I even finished my sentence, he disappeared. Either he could teleport, or he was much faster than I could keep track of. Probably the latter.
And there he’d left me, sitting at the table, trying not to look at a wine glass full of… full of… not wine, at least. He hadn’t mentioned anything about why I’d woken up surrounded by hunters. Or explained the hint he’d mentioned in the car—that I was closer to the truth regarding the murders than I realised. Couldn’t he spare at least another half hour?
The wine-glass seemed to stare back at me, as if to say, ‘Get on with it and drink me already’.
No thanks. I needed a distraction.
I went over to the fridge. A snack—a snack would help. The fridge opened to reveal more bottles of not-wine. Fuck’s sake! I slammed it shut, then rummaged through the drawers. The ones that weren’t stocked with glasses were empty. I’d never seen a kitchen without plates or cutlery before. Or food!
I slammed my fist on the countertop, cracking the marble. “Goddamnit.”
“Are you okay?”
I turned around, fast. I hadn’t heard anyone come in.
On the other side of the table stood a man in a hoodie and jeans. But his clothes were the only normal thing about him. He was well over seven feet tall, probably three times wider than me, and had skin like polished stone—grey and mottled.
“Hello,” I said, trying not to gulp.
He stood there for a moment in silence. I realised he’d just asked me a question and was awkwardly waiting for a response
“Yep. Yep, I’m fine.”
He gave a slow nod, then his eyes went from me, to the countertop, to the glass of not-wine.
“You gonna drink that?”
I barely shook by head before he grabbed the glass and downed it.
“Thanks. I was parched.” He held his hand out over the table. “Tristan.”
We shook hands. My hand was tiny in comparison to his.
Tristan had an American accent, a strong southern drawl. I wondered how he’d ended up here. Before I could ask, he threw in a question of his own.
“What happened to your arm? Were you born like that?”
“Oh. No, I got run over by a car. A Honda.”
“Ouch. At least it must have been quick. I was dying from cancer when I was turned.”
Is this normal vampire conversation then? Discussing our near-death experiences?
I don’t know what I expected. Some grand entrance where a group of vampires flew in and prattled about their lives in Transylvania? Whatever it was, I hadn’t expected an awkward twenty-something American with gray skin. Before I could think of another topic for discussion, two more people walked in. A man that stank of vodka and a woman with red hair, both about the same age as me. Or maybe fifty years older, who knows?
The woman, noticing my presence, ran to my side and gave a quick bow.
“Welcome! I am Zheng Yaojin.”
I wasn’t sure if I should bow back or shake her hand, so I just sat still, wishing I could twiddle my thumbs.
“Shay,” I said. “Cable. Shay Cable.”
She smiled, then grabbed a bottle from the fridge. “Will you be drinking with us tonight, Shay Cable?”
“Um. No, I’ve—”
“What happened to your arm?” the other guy said. He collapsed into the chair next to me.
“He got run over,” said Tristan, “by a Honda.”
“Fuck me, not the best way to go. I got shot in the face.”
Yaojin laughed. “Perhaps, Archer, that explains your lack of brains.”
Archer raised his middle finger at her, then put an arm over my shoulder. That brought back the memory of the ‘straight guy’ in Cavern. Not something I wanted to think about right now. The stench of vodka on him definitely didn’t help.
“So, you’re John’s brand-spanking-new spawn. He’s even got you dressed up like him.” He paused to cough, then leaned in. “Say, you’re British, I’m British. The two of us have to stick together. I’ve had to put up with these two foreigners for three years now, and I’m sick of it.”
“Well, if you keep breathing in my face like that,” I said, peeling his arm away, “I’m going to be sick too.”
Tristan and Yaojin howled with laughter, while Archer grumbled something underneath his breath.
Then they fell silent, the three of them watching me. It took me a second before I realised they expected me to continue the conversation. I racked my brain for a topic.
“So you three are Doctor Rose’s spawn as well. Does that make us… siblings?”
They shared a glance.
“Did Mr Jonathan not mention anything about us?” Yaojin asked.
“He seemed to be in a rush.”
“Did he also fail to mention that you are his only spawn?”
I turned to Tristan. He nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, dude. A high-vampire that everyone calls the Vukodlak made me. Li Jun the Undying made Yaojin, and Mortimer Godfrey made Archer.”
Archer tried to respond, but a raspy cough swallowed his words. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Godfrey didn’t make me, you twat. He turned me. There’s a difference.”
Yaojin shook her head and mouthed, “Ignore him.”
“Tomato, to-mah-to, dude.” Tristan shrugged.
Archer slammed his hands on the table and launched himself to his feet. Tristan rose to meet him. Fucking hell, here we go. Looks like not every vampire gets on. Archer had a similar build to me, so Tristan towered over him. I knew who I’d bet my money on.
But before either of them landed a blow, Yaojin cleared her throat and they froze. Literally. Their fists were inches away from each other’s faces when they just… stopped. I watched as Yaojin twisted her hand, her eyes glinting red. The pair’s bodies trembled in the air, as if struggling against an invisible force, then they collapsed back into their seats. What the hell was that?
“And now you’ve made me waste energy for no reason,” Yaojin said. She looked a lot angrier than she sounded, as if she’d gotten used to breaking up their fights.
Tristan and Archer didn’t look particularly happy, but at least they didn’t go for each other’s throats again. Instead, after a final glare at Tristan, Archer turned to me.
“You ready to go hunting, then?”
I swallowed. “Hunting?”
I could see it in my head. The four of us stalking through dark alleyways, waiting for someone to walk through on their own, sneaking up behind them and biting their neck.
“I don’t have fangs!” I blurted.
Archer furrowed his brow. “What the fuck are you on about? None of us have fangs.”
Yaojin gave me a gentle kick under the table, then winked. She knew what I meant. But her smile was reassuring.
“We are hunting ghouls,” she said. “One ghoul in particular.”
“Kevin Clarke,” Tristan added, “or, as his friends call him, Frogman.”
That’s a shit nickname.
“Why?” I asked.
Tristan scratched the back of his neck, as if deciding whether or not to tell me. Archer, on the other hand, rolled his eyes and pulled up a photo on his phone. I recognised it immediately.
“That’s the fourteenth person that Frogman’s killed in the last three months,” Archer said. “We’ve been trying to track him down, but the bastard’s slippery. Tonight though… we’re gonna get him.”
This was it. The answer. Or one answer at least. One answer was good enough. But the analytical side of me still had more questions.
“How do you know it’s him?”
“Fits his MO. He used to kill werewolves like that all the time back in the ‘eighties. But ever since all the treaties, he went into hiding. Now, for some reason he’s back, and if we don’t do anything about it, he’s gonna cause a war.”
I barely heard a word after he said ‘werewolves’. Of course there’s fucking werewolves! I half-expected him to casually mention the tooth-fairy next. Did that mean Jacob had been a werewolf? And his brother too?
“So, are you coming or what?” Archer asked, interrupting my thoughts.
I looked up at him. This was a test. I could see it in his eyes. He was trying to see if I’d chicken out. Hell, no.