Abigail always had an answer.
It was a constant in Elizabeth’s unlife. Abigail was her sire, her protector, and her anchor. She always, always had an answer, or a solution, even if it was a cruel one.
Abigail had not given her an answer about Ben. She had listened to her intently, and she had not responded when Elizabeth finished her recounting of what had happened. Her sire had turned her out of the big study and closed the door on her questions, only saying that she would look into it. After a long night and another day, there was no more forthcoming, and Elizabeth was getting worried.
She waited in the hall, hovering restlessly around the door. Marcus and Christoph would be along soon. It was late evening, and the sun had long since set. Still she felt as if she didn’t need to feed; the vitality she had pulled from Ben the day before had not stopped warming and invigorating her. She had said that she would go, however, and it would be impolite and unusual to stay home.
Her brothers arrived from the downstairs parlor arm in arm. Both were dressed in jeans, and had the same long coat as she did. Christoph was tall, pale and silent next to Marcus, as was his custom. She nodded to them, and pulled up her hood in readiness. For this, she had to wear something at least a little more modern, and she had settled on a mid-length skirt with knee-high boots. She could move freely in it, and that was all that mattered.
“Dear Elizabeth,” Marcus said warmly. “Shall we go? I’m eager to hear all about your adventure yesterday. You can tell us the story when we reach the club.”
She sighed heavily. “There is little enough to tell, brother, but I will indulge you if you like.” She paused, and considered her words carefully. “Will you and Christoph be staying later than usual?”
His wicked grin told her everything she needed to know.
For the second time in as many days, she flew down the mountain on light feet towards Amber Falls, this time with her kin flanking her. The sun had just set, and the fading rays would vanish into starlight soon enough. Her brothers weaved through the trees, avoiding the brightest patches of light still remaining, but Elizabeth ran through them without feeling their effect. The pulse of vitality in her chest surged again as she drew near to the outskirts, and her awareness of Ben grew until she entered the town proper. Then the call of the source was muted, lost in the background hum of humans all around them.
They slowed to a walk. There were many people around, a veritable feast of vitality that glowed in her mind’s eye, in this part of Amber Falls; bars and nightclubs and endless neon lights dominated the street. She did not hunger, however, and her vampiric touch was kept coiled inside her. Marcus and Christoph were far more controlled even at the worst of times, and they never fed until it was proper to do so.
She let them handle the job of pushing people away. It was a simple trick to divert attention from them, to become unseen and forgettable. Elizabeth doubted herself, however. It had not worked on Ben, and whether that was her failing or something to do with him, she did not know. They remained silent as they walked out of habit. No words, in case someone picked up on them; no voices, in case someone remembered their tone. The trick of pseudo-invisibility could only work so far, and it was made easier by having less to conceal.
Their destination was a nightclub called Seventh Heaven. It was the biggest, the sleaziest, and the wildest place in Amber Falls, and it was packed with three floors of music, alcohol, and quite a large amount of illegal drugs. It also had a queue that stretched around the block, filled with lusty-eyed young men and women. They would not be going in the front, of course – the club burned like the sun to their senses and blotted out even the background hum, and such close proximity was dangerous for more than one reason.
They slipped into the alley behind it. Elizabeth was first to scale the wall. She leaped to the fire escape, then climbed hand over hand to the roof at a speed that spoke of long familiarity. The roof itself was nothing but a bare, boring space bordered by air conditioning vents, a small pool of darkness surrounded by the halo of the streetlights below.
Marcus and Christoph were only a step behind her. They sat down in the middle of the roof, cross-legged, in a loose circle. Elizabeth drew her coat around her.
“So, sister, tell us of the source,” Marcus said, when they were all settled.
She shrugged. “In truth, I don’t know what I found. The source is a man.”
“A single man?”
“Indeed. One man, but he carries the power of thousands. I don’t know what to make of it.”
The club pulsed and shifted below them. The vitality of so many seeped up to them, and bathed them in warmth. Her brothers were undoubtedly taking advantage of it, by the way Christoph sighed and leaned against Marcus, but Elizabeth felt… hollow. Her vampiric senses reached down into the light, but only a mere taste returned to her. She simply wasn’t hungry, and hadn’t been since she had fed from Ben.
She had not mentioned this to Abigail, and would not until she knew more.
“Strange,” Marcus mused. “Very strange.”
“You are older than me, brother. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
He shared a glance with Christoph. “Old stories, perhaps, but I had discounted them as flights of fancy or delusion. Has Abigail said nothing?”
“No. I have wondered if she is as baffled as I am.”
“Ridiculous.” Marcus waved the idea away. “Not even we know how old Abigail really is. If it is unknown to her, then it is unknown to the whole world.”
“Tell me the stories, then,” Elizabeth said, leaning forward in interest.
To her surprise, Christoph spoke up, and Marcus was silent. His voice was quiet, and his accent called to mind the Scottish Highlands.
“We lose our souls, to become what we are. They used to say the souls go somewhere. Not beyond the veil, because they have not had a proper death, but it stands to reason that they look for another way into the next life, and maybe that way is a person.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“He means your source may have many souls, sister,” Marcus said. “Hence why he burns brighter than others.”
“But this is not just one or two – he has the power of thousands. There cannot be that many Vigilant in the world.”
Christoph spoke up again. “Perhaps ’tis not only the Vigilant.”
She stiffened at the thought. She had not considered the others, mostly because she found it hard to believe they had ever had souls. But the truth was that even the most lost, animalistic Feralat had once been human, and if that were the case…
“How many of us are there in the world?” she asked.
“Of the Vigilant? Hundreds,” Marcus said, throwing his arm around his lover. “But I do not think we have ever known the true numbers of the rest. No census of the Feralat has ever been possible, because they live as animals. The Estri might keep records, but they certainly wouldn’t tell us. And the Nosferatu… operate alone.”
He was being polite. Marcus was a gentleman at heart, and he tended to speak delicately around women. Elizabeth knew, however. Abigail had taken her to see the aftermath of a Nosferatu feeding once. The sight of the remains, and the splashes of blood, had hardened her more than anything else she had ever witnessed in her hundred years.
“So it is possible, then? There may be thousands of us?” she asked.
Elizabeth tried to imagine that many, with difficulty. Abigail’s stern face rose in her mind, forcing her to at least think the word she shied away from saying out loud: that many vampires. The years had not made it any easier on her, and she preferred to think of herself as Vigilant first, but the truth remained. They were vampires. And not one of them, not even her, had a soul.
The sliver of vitality suddenly pulsed in her chest. Something nearby called to it, and to her. Elizabeth frowned and reached out again, trying to find one single point of light among the all-encompassing glow of the club. There was nothing but a heaving mass of humans inside the building, and she could no more pick out one than she could see a single leaf on a tree from a distance. The queue outside, perhaps? She stretched as far as she could, but the power around them distorted her senses.
She stood. Marcus looked at her curiously. This was far too early for her to have fed properly.
“Where are you going?” he asked?
“Something is wrong, brother. I sense it below somewhere.”
“Perhaps you feel the source,” Christoph said. He looked up at her lazily from where he was, cuddled against Marcus’ chest. “You should tread carefully, sister.”
His voice was becoming drowsy, but the warning was clear enough. Christoph had always been strange, but he knew things that he shouldn’t and he did care for her.
“I don’t know what I feel, but I promise I will be careful,” she said. “Stay here, and stay hidden. I will meet you both at home later. I can feed tomorrow night if I need to.”
She didn’t wait for a reply.