Main Characters: Seven
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. Not making any money from this either. But, for the love of the boys, I persevere.
A lil' note from the author: The idea for this story came after reading 'The Circle Trilogy' by Nora Roberts. There was a vampire in it and by the time I finished the book, I was imagining Ezra as the vampire. After that, everything else just fell into place. This fiction is based on Ms. Roberts' story, but I have taken a lot of liberties with it (not sure now if I should have). Thank you so much to all of you who had written in asking for the story here it is I apologize for taking so long, but real life happened you know. Please read it, hope you enjoy it and drop me a feedback..
The forests of Kells
Midnight . . .
The scream that shattered through the night awoke the beasts in the forests, who then cowered back into their holes and caves, fearing for their lives. For the scream was not from any living creature, man or animal. It was the scream of fury; the anger of being denied again evident in its intensity. The rain that fell that evening could hardly smother the scream. And the villagers of Kells, those whose homes were closest to the forests, huddled in their cottages, bolting their doors, extinguishing their candles and praying to Miranda to let whatever darkness outside stay there.
The wolves of the forests, alerted by the presence of evil most ancient, raised their heads, but they were far too few to fight the creatures that lurk in the shadow. The best they could do was to protect the villagers and make sure the creatures do not venture beyond the borders of the forests. The wolves themselves knew their limits against creatures as powerful as those that lurked in the forest now. And they sensed the infinite fury form one of the creature. The wolves were ready, should anything were to happen.
Deeper from where the wolves were, in parts of the forest where light almost never reaches even in brightest of days, there was darkness here that was unnatural. A dark mist hovered in the air, before solidifying into the creature whose rage was heard just moments before.
The creature was female, her pale beauty unnaturally alluring. A thousand years ago, men made the mistake of thinking she was angel of heavens, which she definitely was not. A thousand years later, after a thousand parallel worlds, her beauty was just as stunning. She stood in a small clearing, unaffected by the raging rain. It was as if the raindrops would not fall on her, not wanting to mar her luminous beauty.
Or perhaps, even nature itself knew what foul creature she was and stayed away from her.
She stood, angry, looking at the only other creature with her, cowering at her feet. Her servant for three centuries; a joke of a vampire if there ever was one one-handed and infinitely weaker than humans.
"You have failed me yet again, Fowler," her voice was cold, as she moved away from the creature at her feet.
"There were too many of them, my lady," the creature spoke, trembling, with both the cold and hunger. It is true, he taunted the young prince with the killing of the queen, but such a thing never occurred. Even the shock of seeing seven demons and a vampire did not hold back the humans in Castle Dara to put up a hell of a fight. Among the first to draw their sword was the queen herself.
"Three humans too difficult for you and the seven demons aiding you?" the tone was mocking, but there was no mistaken the rage beneath it. Her anger was still palpable.
"The prince, his gypsy friend and the High Priest crossed over too," Fowler offered. "They were relentless "
"I am disappointed in you, Fowler," she turned away from Fowler. "You and seven demons; unable to stop mere humans." She knew Fowler was not battling 'mere' humans. Chris Larabee was the embodiment of the perfect slayer; assisted by the Shaman, though nowhere near as powerful as he should be, but smart enough to combine intelligence with physical strength. The Seer, the real thorn in her side, was nothing more than street brawler, whose protective instincts makes up for the lack of trained fighting skills. And the addition of the prince, the priest and the shapeshifter to the battle it was amazing Fowler was still alive.
Of course, she was naturally angry at the meddlesome humans, who have once against thwarted her plans. But in her rage, a well-controlled one at that moment, she could not help being amazed with the man that is Chris Larabee. She has seen all types of men in the thousand years she has walked the planes of existence. And yet, none has intrigued her as Chris Larabee had. None had managed to sustain her interest for as long as Chris Larabee had.
One look during a battle when Chris Larabee took down two demons by himself was enough to convince her that he was her perfect mate. Strong, passionate, good looking he was perfect in every way a man supposed to be. It was just too bad he was a slayer but that was of little consequence to her. So was the fact he was married and with a child. All it mattered was that for the first time in all the centuries she has been alive, she has seen the one man she wanted to spend eternity with.
She had many temporary mates thought the millennia, but after meeting Larabee, the thought of another man did not excite her. One mate did manage to stir excitement, but it was short-lived. Shortly after turning him, he had developed a conscience. That affair lasted all of two days, ending when he found out what Fowler (never her mate, only a servant) had done to his mother. He almost tried to kill her almost but she, infinitely more powerful than the fledgling vampire got the better of him and left him for dead. That was two hundred years ago. She went on without a mate, flitting through the ages as she had done all her life. Until eight summers ago when she saw Chris Larabee.
He was ready to hunt her down, thanks to the Seer, but she had tricks of her own to shield her from his visions. Even so, the rest of the coven she started when she first came into Denver were not so lucky. The slayer, with the help of his friends, and his mentor, annihilated the coven. And she was smiling as she watched indulgently from the safety of a building across the road from her nesting site.
So powerful, so relentless, so passionate.
He was perfect.
And she had plans for him.
She saw the future with Larabee as her mate. Powerful as she is, she is regarded somewhat of royalty in the demon world. With Larabee by her side, she would even more powerful. Perhaps powerful enough to take on the humans...that was always a good thought to have when she's feeding on their pathetic lives.
It should have been easy; to bring Larabee to her side. But that was when she made her first mistake. She sent Fowler to bring him to her and he failed, spectacularly. Of course, he did manage to at least, kill Larabee's wife and child (he was strictly ordered not to turn them). Thinking that would weaken Larabee, she sent Fowler again. This time, they overpowered the vampire and she had to save him. As she had done today. Her dimension amulet has been used more often to save Fowler than for her to travel between the planes of existence. Fowler came back with one hand and begged her not to kill him.
She retreated to Kells, where she began to plan her next attempt on Larabee. She realized in the aftermath of Fowler's battle with Larabee that, in order to get to Larabee, she must eliminate those who stand around him; the Shaman and the Seer. With them gone, Larabee would be easy picking, easy to turn, for they would be no one to remind him of his conscience, of his humanity. That, she believed, had died with his wife and son in the flames that took their lives.
After seven years, a suitable time for launching a fresh attack, she sent Fowler again, this time aided by seven demons. Her amulet was not powerful enough for so many entities, so she found them a gateway. Castle Dara of Kells. It was no strange coincident she retreated here when she had to. She knew the location of every gateway in the planes of existence she had walked in.
What she had forgotten was the human will and spirit. How they would fight to defend what they love.
Her attempt had failed today. But it was of no matter. The gateway at the castle would still be there and she could still recruit more demons. She has waited an eternity for a mate like Chris Larabee. A few lost battles would not thwart her. She will have him one way or the other. She just needs
"He was with him, mistress,' Fowler spoke, standing up, looking miserable. It was pathetic attempt at remorse, so she did not turn to look at him.
"Who was?" she snapped, not wishing to speak to the joke of a vampire. She should have killed him a thousand years ago. Decadent, derelict, unfit to be a vampire.
"The blood traitor," Fowler said, knowing his mistress would be interested to know. He was right. She turned to look at him. "The one you made two hundred years ago."
She smiled. Though she left him for dead, she never doubted for a minute that that he would not really die. He had more up his sleeves than what he let on. He was the embodiment of vampire cunning, in his human form. Which was why she had been delighted in turning him. So what if he had tried to kill her a few hundred years ago? She had done the same to him so they were even. Perhaps with the promise of gold he was so partial to, they could strike up a partnership beneficial for the both of them. It should not be too hard to convince him to come back to her side.
After all, it only took her a single round of a card game for him to give up his soul.
She smiled in the darkness, reveling in the victory she is about to gain. This time, she would enter the battle herself. The time has come for Larabee to see the evil that has been haunting hunting him for seven years.
They almost clapped their hands when Ezra took the first step unto Chris's porch, with the exception of Nathan, who of course, made sure the vampire saw the vial of holy water in his hands and the stake that hung from his belt. Chris tried not to wince when Ezra stepped unto the porch; he could feel the six generations of Larabee before him turning in their graves. Ezra sensed his discomfort too, and looked at Chris before taking another step into the house. They were both in the same boat, Ezra realized. It must have pained the slayer to invite the monster into the house, as much as it had pained Ezra to enter the house where anyone one of them could kill him.
But the slayer took the risk of inviting him into the house. So the vampire would take the risk the risk of loosing his life. The humans, with the exception of the Shaman, looked sincere enough with their offer of friendship.
Ezra finally entered the house and that was that; no unnecessary cheering or clapping of hands or pats on the back. They retired to the kitchen, where Vin and John of Dara were amazed yet again to see the cold box that held so much edible food. Ice-cream became an instant hit between the two. Chris and Buck wondered if their monthly food rations would last the day with Vin and JD looking as if they were never going to stop eating. Nathan went up to the spare room he used whenever he was at the ranch and slammed the door loud enough for those in the kitchen to hear. Chris looked concerned, but Buck shook his head and told him to just let Nathan be alone for a while.
The rest of the humans in the kitchen were not doing anything of much significance than to eat, so Ezra slipped away to explore the house. He too, was getting hungry ravenous, in fact. And the sight of so much blood from their wounds was not helping him at all. The ride to the ranch in Larabee' s truck, where he was wedged between Nathan and Buck (John of Dara and Josiah rode in the passenger seat, with Vin riding in the truck bed) was torturous to say the least. At one side was the sweet, sweet smell of Buck's blood and on the other, Nathan was rolling the holy water in his hands. Ezra was glad when the journey ended. He had distanced himself from Buck as quickly as he could. They human might have noticed it, but they did not say anything about it. He really did not think they would want to have a discussion on his gruesome feeding habits.
Despite all that, Ezra did not feel compelled to explain matters to the rest of them. How he was not a bloodsucker of any kind. True, he was a vampire, but he has only ever fed on one human being, on the first night he was turned into a vampire. He barely had savored the delightful taste of blood when he realized the human he had fed on.
The memory brought a stabbing pain to where his heart was. A heart that had stopped beating two hundred years ago. A heart that still remembered pain and suffering these were not the things she had promised when she turned him. The loss at the card game; his first loss ever in all the years he been playing the game, both as a child and as a professional cardshark, proved to be the biggest mistake of his life. Knowing he could never loose a game he had born and bred to play, he lost on purpose enticed by the lure of immortality that she had promised him. In his mind's eyes two hundred years ago, he saw the eternity stretching before him unfolding in a myriad of colors, mostly gold, filled with a thousand different pleasures. He only saw a glimpse of that, until he fed on his first human.
In that first few moments when his fangs sank into his victim's throat, he was overcome by the sweetness of the blood rushing into him. He felt stronger by with each passing second; the intoxication that caused him to forget himself to forget the pain of his transformation, which was nothing compared to the sweetness of blood. For a few moment, Ezra truly was the monster he was supposed to be. Until he heard the voice of his victim.
"Ezra " the voice had been weak, but none of its sweetness was lost. All it took was one word, the voice calling out his name and the spell that had bound Ezra momentarily, was broken. But, though he had fed only for a few seconds, the damage had been done, for he was not the first to feed on the victim. Fowler had tasted the victim before bringing it to him, at his mistress's bidding, for Ezra was not strong enough to go hunting on his own.
When Ezra finally looked up, the horror was nothing he had experienced before of after since. Lying dead on his arms was his mother his own mother who had fed him as a child and whose life he had taken by feeding on her.
The magic of immortality broke. The sweetness of blood turned sour. An eternity of opportunity turned into a lifetime of despair and misery. All was lost.
Ezra had become a monster.
Standing at the landing of Chris's home, the memory of events two hundred years back threatened to overcome him. Two hundred years was supposed to be time enough for the wound to heal, but he needed to forgive himself for that. There was no forgiveness for him; his eternity was bound in misery. It was his penance for choice he made.
Perhaps the time has come for his forgiveness. For two hundred years, he had tracked down Fowler. His redemption was near. It really did not matter he had to share his battle with the humans, for when ultimately, he knew only he would kill Fowler. And his mistress. Perhaps then, he will find the peace he had craved for.
When it was all over, the humans will do what they are supposed to do.
They won't fail on that account.
Ezra did not let his thoughts wander anymore. He made his way to one of the doors on the first floor. It opened to reveal an office room. Ezra's eyes took in the almost organized mess that was supposed to be Chris's working area. An Entity Map, one that showed the demon population Stateside, hung on the wall next to the door. The usual yellow blots were in place, showing the demon population Stateside, but there was none of the red spots that showed vampire presence. Ezra nodded to himself.
So far so good.
Ezra saw the bills, the reminders, the financial statements on Chris's desk weighed down by the assortment of weapons and guns. It was almost as if Chris Larabee was trying to make a statement. Slaying was more important than some bank notices.
Ezra studied the financial papers on Chris's desk. Fortunately, since he was not in the habit of eating his accountants, Ezra understood what the documents and figures meant. Ezra smiled to himself. The slayer had a weakness, one that could be beneficial to Ezra in the future.
A sound from the rooms on the floor above made Ezra look up from the piles of paper he had been studying.
" something's going on we need to go to Four Corners now!" Nathan had not bothered to keep his voice low. He probably knows the vampire could very well hear him even if he had whispered.
"We're not splitting up," came the decisive voice of Chris Larabee.
"Come on, Chris, it's a vampire for heaven's sake!" Nathan's voice held desperation; for Chris to understand the very nature of the thing he was talking about. There was also frustration too. If Larabee had been a lesser man than he was, Nathan would have probably thumped in the head. Though Ezra would not put it past the Shaman to put Larabee in his place. Larabee might be the de facto leader of the trio, but Nathan and Buck were in it in their accord. It was not Chris who dictated the terms of the partnership. They were together because
Because it was only natural that they should.
Ezra realized being in their midst was ruining that partnership. He also realized the mule of a man Larabee would not just let him go with a wave and a kiss goodbye. The humans had a mission to accomplish, as did he.
Ezra reached for the telephone on Chris's desk and made a phone call.
Not going to be a hindrance to them.
They were still discussing about their travel plans when Ezra hung up the phone. His hunger overcame him at last and he could feel the blood coursing through each human in the house.
John of Dara's blood would be the sweetest because he was so young...so succulent
Ezra's feet wanted to walk through the door, walk downstairs to the kitchen where the other humans were. The attack would have been over even before they could react.
He willed his feet to move towards the window. Outside, it was bright, but not enough to hurt him. Ezra's emerald eyes locked onto the stables. He heard the sound of animals. He closed his eyes, tried not think of the fresh human blood how exquisite it would taste
Ezra bounded off the window and landed lightly near the stable door a hundred yards from the main house. The door faced east, and the sun was rising, so he could not risk using it. Hunger overwhelmed him, though anyone watching would think he was just standing beside the stables, taking in the view of the sunrise. He put his hand on the wooden wall and then he was gone.
* * *
The apple from Vin's hand dropped when he saw Ezra disappearing. He had been standing in the screened in porch at the back of Chris's house when he heard the slight sound. With his heightened hearing, he heard what most humans could not, and went further out to investigate. Through the gloom of the breaking dawn, he saw Ezra by the stables. He was about to call out his name when the vampire just dissolved into nothing.
The apple forgotten, Vin left the porch and went towards the stable, with every intentions of finding out what had happened to their new, slightly unfriendly, ally. In his hurry, he had forgotten most of the warnings the Shaman had given him, while they were clearing the demons corpses in the church, about vampires.
Vin only remembered one; Vampires cannot stand sunlight.
Had the sunlight hurt him?
Vin reached the stables and could hear the sound of animals moving. The animals were frightened. He could not hear Ezra though. He touched the exact same spot Ezra had touched and shimmered into a moth. He flitted through between the cracks and entered the darkened stables in search of Ezra.
* * *
Chris and Buck came down from Nathan's room; no consensus had been reached other than the fact that both Chris and Nathan were too stubborn to admit both had a point. Nathan did not want to delay their departure to Four Corners because of the vampire. Chris did not want to split up because he wanted to narrow down Fowler's hunting options. Both tried phrasing it differently; both only managed to annoy the other more. Finally, Buck intervened, suggesting they at least take a break from arguing, which was also taking up their precious time and try to come up with a plan that might actually work. Nathan wished him good luck and shut the door in their faces. Chris had wanted to shoot the door, but Buck shook his head.
"You already did that before, remember?" he pointed out, showing Chris the bullet holes from an argument three months ago that happened when Chris found out Nathan had gone demon-hunting on his own at the local high school; a Jilaka demon hidden in the janitor's closet that was eating the students. It was a fairly routine hunt, the Jilaka had been too full to actually put up a fight, but Chris had been furious as hell.
We are a team. We are supposed to hunt demons together. What if something had happened?
Nothing happened, Chris. The Jilaka was so old the worst it could have done was gum me to death it had no teeth.
Nathan could take of himself. So could Buck, despite his predicament. But Chris could not help but to feel he was responsible for them all. Now, with the added load of the inter-dimensional travelers. And the vampire.
"Come on, old pard," Buck said, pulling Chris away from Nathan's door. "Let's get somethin' to eat."
Chris sighed, shaking his head. He was tired, he did not need this. He turned away from Nathan's door and headed down the stairs with Buck. "You sure there's going to be anything left?" he asked, remembering a few minutes ago when he had left the kitchen with the prince and shapeshifter plowing through his refrigerator.
Buck chuckled. Josiah had explained that Vin probably ate as much he did because he needed the energy for the transformation. This explained why the young gypsy was so lean despite everything Buck had seen the man put in his mouth. As for the prince he was young. Which explained his appetite.
They entered the kitchen and saw Josiah nursing a cup of coffee and from the looks of it the High Priest looked as if he was enjoying his beverage. John of Dara was eating ice-cream straight from the tub. The refrigerator was open, revealing empty shelves. Vin was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey, John, where's Vin?" Buck asked, pouring out two cups of coffee for himself and for Chris. Chris, on the other hand, was going through whatever left of the food on the kitchen table; trying to salvage something edible. He found a head of lettuce and a loaf of wholemeal bread he never knew he bought. A quick check on the expiry date assured him the purchase was made three weeks ago.
John of Dara seemed not have heard Buck. Perhaps it was the rapture of chocolate fudge sundae. Buck repeated his question again, this time tapping the prince shoulder to get his attention. "John? Where's Vin?"
"I am not John," the prince said, glancing at Buck. "I am John of Dara."
"That's what I said," Buck reiterated, frowning. Inter-dimensional travelling must have fried his circuits or something, he thought. "John."
"I am not John. I am John of Dara." The young prince went on eating his ice-cream.
"What the "
"John of Dara does not answer to the abbreviated version of his name," Josiah explained, twinkle in his eyes; almost as if he knew the outcome of this little argument. "He only answers to John within the royal circle "
"Vin too," John of Dara added, pointing with his spoon.
"Yes, Vin has the privilege," Josiah complied with a nod of his head. It was going to be interesting, he thought, to see the young prince come up with someone as brash and straightforward as Buck Wilmington.
"Well, that's just plain stupid!" Buck was in full swing now. The prince turned to look at Buck.
Shit, Chris thought. He just wanted to eat his sandwich in peace.
John of Dara opened his mouth to say something, but Buck was quicker. "Are we supposed to bow and get your stupid titles right before we save you from a demon that's eating you?"
"I am just asking you to address me by my given name!"
"Well, in that case, how about if I address you "
"JD." Chris's voice held finality to it. He looked from Buck to the prince. "We'll call him JD."
"And that's stands for John of Dara?" the young prince asked, his expression conflicted between the delight of a new moniker and the unbearable thought of loosing his identity in this foreign place.
"No. it's what we call pomp " Buck's irritation began to spill over, until he caught the look in Chris's eyes. And saw Chris's hand reaching for his holster.
Doesn't he ever take it off?
"Yes," Buck conceded. "JD stands for John of Dara. Much more practical, don't you think?"
"The warrior has given me a new name," the newly-baptized prince said, nodding at Chris, who stoically munched his stale bread sandwich. "I like it. What do you think, Josiah?"
Before the big man could open his mouth to answer, the sound of engines broke the silence of the morning. Buck and Chris looked at each other; they usually don't have any company. Nathan could be heard rushing down the stairs. Chris went to the front of the house, the rest of them following close.
* * *
A gleaming black bus, with heavily -tinted windows, was parked in the driveway to the ranch house. The driver cut its engine and got down from the bus, jiggling the keys in his hand. He was whistling a tune, but found himself out of breath when he saw the assortment of men gathered on the porch, watching him. The cheerful morning suddenly turned grim, despite the sun shining brightly and the birds singing. The driver felt afraid, he did not why. Perhaps it was the way the black-clad man was looking at him; eyes narrowed, hands on hips and the shoulder holster undone to reveal the meanest looking gun he has ever seen outside of television.
"Delivery for um " the driver of the bus found himself unable to speak. He certain he was going to get hurt that morning. "Mr. Chris Larabee?" He looked at the tall man beside the black-clad man, the one who was grinning and looked friendly enough to warrant a cup of coffee. He hoped this smiling, cheerful man was Chris Larabee. Or even the giant of a man who looked as if he juggled cement bags for the fun of it. Not the one with the gun. There were lots of papers to sign and he did not want to have to deal with the man who looked as if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
"That would be him," the grinning man said, his smile wider, pointing to the black-clad gun man.
His first delivery of the morning and he has to deal with the devil himself.
I don't get paid enough for this.
"Well, what is it?" Chris Larabee's voice had the same cheerful note as a cracking whip. The driver of the bus winced, as if he had been physically pushed back.
"You delivery, sir," the driver said, his voice but a squeak.
"Where is it?"
The driver of the bus held aloft the keys he was holding. He did not speak, as he glanced towards the bus. Chris followed his gaze, frowning.
"The bus?" It was supposed to be a question, but came out more as a bellow.
JD has never seen a forty-plus year old man with tears in his eyes before that morning.
* * *
The stables were unusually quiet when Chris approached it. He could not even hear the three horses he kept.
His broke into a run, and just before he reached the stable doors, he caught sight of movement in the corral beside the stables. His three horses were cantering lazily around the paddock.
The horses are safe which meant
This time, he took out the gun in his holster. It would not do much to the vampire, but it should be able to slow him down. And Chris had daylight on his side.
Should have listened to Nathan.
Vampires, if anything, were creatures of habit. Always thirsty for blood. There was no such thing as a vampire which does not feed on blood. Not as far Chris knows.
What was I thinking?
Twenty years of slaying demons and vampires had amounted zip in just a few hours. If Vin was dead, then it was all Chris's fault.
Like the death of Sarah and Adam.
Thoughts he had buried at the back of his mind began to resurface. Slayers are not meant to have families; neither could survive the risks of the job. Orrin Travis, his mentor after his father died, had told him this on Chris's wedding day. The very fact that all six generations of Larabee had their spouses die before them was a good point. But Chris was not going to let anything happen to his family. No way, he was the best slayer there was. And he was going to be the best husband and father there ever was.
The hazards of his occupation spilled over to his family life. The loss was not gradual more like a violent yank from his life. One that left him bleeding, to this very day.
After all that's happened, how could I be so stupid?
He pushed away all thoughts of Sarah, of Adam and of the fire that consumed them and burnt him still. He moved soundlessly towards the door, and pushed it opened.
The stables were dark, but his eyes adjusted quickly, a slayer's gift. The darkness surprised Chris; it should be streaming with sunlight in the stables, not darkened like this.
Vampire's got more up his sleeves than I thought.
Perhaps even more than that, Chris thought to himself. It just occurred to him, as he made his way slowly into the stables that Buck never once saw Ezra in his visions last evening. Buck mentioned Fowler and the seven demons but not Ezra.
It's just one puzzle after another.
The stables were too quiet, which made the deep rumbling sound ominous. A warm draft breezed down his neck. The rumbling was rhythmic, as if someone or something was breathing.
Chris felt something cold touch the back of his head. He turned around reflexively, aiming his gun at the thing that had nudged him in the back.
"Jesus " was all Chris managed when he turned around.
The dragon cocked its leonine head slightly, as if appraising Chris. It stood on its back legs, body raised parallel to the stable walls; its head reaching the roof and its wings outspread. It was covering the sunlight from streaming into the stables.
Well, what do you know
"Where is he?" Chris did not want to waste anymore time. Anyone who knew Chris would have heard the relief in his voice when he spoke to Vin.
The dragon bent its head down again, this time nudging aside a pile of hay in one of the stalls. Ezra was sleeping inside the pile of hay. For the first time since entering the stables, Chris noticed the row of dead mice near the stall, arranged in a precise manner. All mice had puncture holes on its jugular.
"Shimmer down, Vin," Chris told the shapeshifter. "I'm going to wake Ezra up."
The golden light was brighter than sunlight and soon Vin was standing next to Chris. "He was hunting for mice when I found him here," Vin said, looking at Ezra, who was lying too close to the shaft of sunlight near the stable floor. "He fell asleep soon after, inside the hay. I thought I'd let him rest for a while."
"Most kind of you, my shapeshifting friend," Ezra's spoke, his eyes open. A quick check around him and he was assured no sunlight touched him in the shadows of the stall he had been sleeping in. True to his vampire nature, he showed no signs of fatigue; it was as if he had been sitting there waiting for Chris to come and get him. "Though the same cannot be said of Mr. Larabee here." Turning to Chris, he asked. "Why do you disturb my slumber?" his tone was indignant, as if Chris had disturbed an ancient ritual.
Chris raised an eyebrow. "You used to be an exterminator?" Chris asked, glancing at the mice near his feet.
Ezra actually looked offended. "I had to make do," he answered tersely.
"There is a bus parked outside my house," Chris told him, as Ezra stood up, dusting his clothes. Bits of hay were stuck on his jacket.
"I can explain that," Ezra said, moving back into the shadows.
Chris crossed his arms and waited for the explanation. Vin waited to make sure Chris does not accidentally kill Ezra. The vampire was so much to have around, but he doubted if the slayer felt the same.
* * *
The bus was the kind rock bands use for touring. It had, beside the usual bus seats, a kitchenette, a working bathroom, six private berths and an entertainment area equipped with the latest electronic entertainment systems. Chris and Buck admitted to themselves the Vampire certainly had some style, though the windows were much too heavily-tinted for their liking. Nathan pointed out the packaged blood in the freezer. Buck assured him it was pigs' blood. Nathan decided to keep his rosary and holy water vial in his hands.
They were ready to leave within the hour; the necessary weapons and ammunitions packed and stashed in one of the berths. All six of them were in the bus, Vin figured if he felt stifled, he could always shimmer out of the window and fly beside the bus. Chris gave him a strictly-no-dragons talk. He did not want people in the highway getting a cardiac arrest when the see a dragon beside a bus.
"Where's Ezra?" Buck asked when Chris gunned engine.
"I think he's still in the stables," Chris managed to look sheepish. Nathan wanted to open his mouth, to suggest they just leave, but he caught the look on Buck, Vin and JD's face. Clearly, they did not feel the same way he did.
"Allow me, bothers," Josiah said, getting down from the bus.
Ezra was waiting in the stall he had been sleeping in when Josiah walked into the stables. Chris had left the door open after talking to Ezra and had taken Vin with him, so Ezra was now standing in an island of shadows surrounded by the sunlight. Josiah grinned when he saw Ezra, irritated and standing with his hands in his pocket.
"It is not amusing to be forgotten," Ezra said. Irritation was evident in his voice, but there was also a hint of .
"They had been busy," Josiah offered as consolation.
"I heard," Ezra replied. "They must have forgotten about Ezra as they loaded up the bus Ezra bought with vampire-killing weapons!" sarcasm was barely disguised in his voice.
Josiah actually laughed when he heard that. "I am glad to be of some use," Ezra said. "Are you here to tell that Mr. Larabee wishes to end this fiasco of a team? I am free to go my way? Because I do not mind "
Josiah frowned when he heard Ezra, but realized now was not a right time to argue with the Vampire. it seemed to Josiah Ezra was making his plans a little too quickly; almost rattling off whatever thoughts that was crossing his mind.
He truly does not want to be left behind.
Josiah took off the red robe he was wearing, his temple robes, and gave it to Ezra. "Here, You can use that to cover yourself, brother."
Ezra took the robe between his index finger and thumb, eyeing it disdainfully. "It smells," he said, trying to keep a distance between himself and the robe. He also saw a stain of some kind he did not want to know what it was.
"It will protect you from the sun," Josiah said quietly.
This time, it was Ezra who laughed aloud. "Really?"
Josiah took a step back into the sunlight. "Trust me."
Ezra sighed. There it was again trust. It had not harmed him in any way for the past few hours, but it was hard to take the first step, to believe what others told him. to take their words for it.
Once bitten, twice shy.
The proverb was made for Ezra.
"Our friends are waiting, Ezra," Josiah said, gesturing towards the door. "And Nathan."
Ezra had to laugh at that. "Ah, Josiah. I'm in this for the laughs, if not anything else," Ezra said and threw the robes around him, ignoring the smell. He hooded his head and tucked his hands in the robe. And without thinking about for a second time, like he had when he entered Chris's house, Ezra stepped into the sunlight.
It was a new sensation for him. He remembered the warmth of sunlight from two hundred years ago; the slight burning of his skin. And the one time he suffered sunburn when he was just a boy.
So long ago.
This time, he was not in direct contact with the light. But he felt the light. It felt cool, almost as if he was walking through a marble hallway. He did not feel hot, it was a scorching morning, but he did feel warmth.
Like the warmth of blanket on a snowy December evening.
The impatient sound of the horn broke Ezra's train of thoughts. He looked at Josiah, who blinked in surprise when he saw the clarity of Ezra's emerald eyes in the sun, even when hooded from the light.
Ezra stepped out of the stables and walked towards the bus, Josiah next to him.
"Nice," Buck commented when Ezra got on the bus. Ezra gave a glare and removed the robe, the tinted darkness offering him sanctuary from the sun. "Smells a bit weird though."
"Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said, in his best Chris-voice. "Shut up."
To which Buck laughed. Chris put the bus in gear, hiding a smile. Vin and JD were in the kitchenette, scrounging for something to eat. Ezra made his way to the kitchenette and took out two packaged blood, an action ignored by the rest of them, though Ezra did catch Chris's eyes on him through the rearview mirror.
Nathan glared at Ezra from his seat at the entertainment area, but managed to refrain from waving the rosary at him.
Josiah was settling into one of the berths. Ezra made his way to the berth further back. He was still holding Josiah's robe.
"Thank you," Ezra said, giving the robe back.
It seemed to Josiah that Ezra was thanking him for something more than just lending him the robes. Perhaps he was thanking Josiah for coming to get him at the stables. Or perhaps he was thanking him for the opportunity, never mind how badly-dressed he was, to walk in the sun. Whatever it was, there was sincerity in Ezra's words and eyes.
"You are most welcome," Josiah said, pushing the robe back to Ezra. And immediately saw the hurt in his eyes.
He must be thinking I don't want it anymore after he's used it.
"You will need it again, brother," Josiah said, keeping his hand on the robe, above Ezra's own.
Ezra nodded, as if understanding, but he did not look up to meet Josiah's gaze. He thanked Josiah again and moved to his berth.
Josiah watched him go wondering how a man with so much humanity in him could ever be a monster.
* * *
Highway 43 to Four Corners
Nathan took over driving in the last two hours of the journey. Chris had driven four hours, with only a ten-minute break and was glad to be relieved. Slayers had extraordinary stamina, but slayers needed rest too, especially if there was a battle at the end of this journey. Buck had volunteered to drive, but Chris ruled his suggestion out. Should Buck get a vision while he was driving well, the implications would be very bad. Buck had sulked for all of ten minutes, then kept throwing scathing looks in the general of Nathan, who could take over driving from Chris, but did not want to on the account the bus belonged to Ezra. Nathan feigned sleep, until he really fell asleep. Buck woke him three hours ago by pouring water on him and downright demand that he took over the driving from Chris. Chris gave Nathan a sympathetic look for his drenched clothes.
"Buck can be really persuasive when he wants to," Chris told JD, who was looking up from the laptop screen. In between giving Nathan a hard time, Buck had been teaching JD the basic use of computers and also high-speed Internet search. After the first half an hour, JD was browsing through the web as if he had done it all his life, with Buck suggesting the sites he should visit. Since there was a priest on board, Buck kept his suggestions to those that were deemed merely educational and not the usual educational and entertaining variety.
While JD had been enthralled with cyberspace, Vin managed to stay interested for not more than a couple of hours at most. He particularly enjoyed looking at the images of animals, and stored it away in his memory for future use. After that, he pretty much kept to himself, looking out of the window at the rolling sceneries, not eating as much as the humans on Earth thought he would be. Chris went to sit on the seat opposite the shapeshifter.
"Your kingdom is very beautiful," Vin said, still looking out the window. "You are willing to fight for it, risking your life to battle the monsters for it."
Chris smiled when he heard Vin. "It's not my kingdom," he corrected Vin. He wondered if Vin would understand local politics and then decided not venture to areas he could hardly any make any sense of.
"She's very beautiful," Vin said, turning to look at Chris now. 'The woman in the pho topho "
"Photograph," JD offered, not looking up from his laptop.
Vin acknowledged it with a smile. "Yes, photograph. She's very beautiful. As is the child with her. Is she your woman?"
Chris's heart constricted when he heard Vin. There was only a single picture of Sarah and Adam out; it was in a frame on the mantelpiece in the living-room. It was about the only reminder Chris could handle now without experiencing physical pain; the aching heart, followed by the inexplicable paralysis of his limbs. He would also hear their laughter and could almost see them in front of him...that would make him smile. Until the laughter turns into screams and their image is consumed by fire. Then, the only cure would be to reach for the bottle of Scotch. But he was past that now. He has moved on. A quiet cough across the aisle made Chris look up. Buck was sitting next to JD, looking at Chris, his dark blues anxious. Chris shook his head, an almost imperceptible movement; an assurance to his oldest friend that he was fine.
"Yes. Sarah's my wife. Adam's my son," Chris replied. Before Vin could ask him where they were, Chris choose to explain it. "They were killed." The look of shock across Vin's face did not escape Chris. Even JD had looked up from the laptop. Josiah was seen emerging from his berth and slowed down his step. Chris continued, "They were killed by "
"The creature Fowler," Vin finished for him. "Now I know why you fight the way you do." Vin's eyes hardened into blue steel. He leaned forward. "I will fight with you, Lar'bee," he promised. "I will help you bring this creature monster down!"
Chris kept his expression bland. It was his battle, his war. He did not want to bring others into it...to add to the casualty list. But he kept his opinion to himself. For when the time came, it would just be Chris and the monster.
Orrin Travis lit the candle on the altar and took a step back. The heavy wooden cross that hung above the altar was shined to a polished finish; a stark contrast to the rest of the church that was falling apart from age and disuse. It had been almost thirty years since the church held its last Mass. That Mass had been said for the funeral of his former hunting partner, Michael Larabee. And since then, the population of the town dwindled; some left, others perished in the risk that came with the fact that the town was a gateway for inter-dimensional travel. The town disappeared from the maps, forgotten by time. Orrin had endured, because this was his home and being here made his job easier. Not much has changed in the town since it was founded a hundred years ago; a main street, a church, a handful of business establishments and a town square. Of course, everything was falling apart and soon, Orrin knew, the town itself would not be here.
And the time for it has come sooner rather than later, Orrin thought, as he took a seat on the only unbroken, undamaged pew. He had done his best for the church; his home, really. It was the only building in town still standing.
His instincts were tingling that evening, no thanks to the recent changes he saw on the Entity Map he had in his rooms. Seven demons; a highly unusual amount of supernatural traffic, in Denver. And the red spot over St. Anne's. The portal had been breached.
He wondered if it was the one-handed vampire.
Their lives were never the same again after their fist encounter with the creature Fowler. Somehow, Orrin believed that Fowler was not the one behind killings. Fowler was but a minion, incapable of planning the murder of Larabee's family. The fact that Sarah and Adam were killed by fire and not turned was enough to convince Orrin that someone...something else was behind the attack. An examination of their remains showed no bite marks, which meant, Fowler did not feed on them. It must have taken a vampire with a will of iron not to feed on humans. Fowler was too weak for that unless he was carrying out someone's orders.
But there had been no time for retrospection in the aftermath of the tragedy that robbed them of their peace and to an extent, their sanity Chris's sanity. All they wanted was to see blood; in a manner more frenzied than the monster that brought this upon them. They had a small consolation with the severed hand, but keeping up with the anger took a toll on their body and souls. Orrin got badly injured, putting him out of commission after sixty years of slaying. Buck barely had time to heal from his visions and Nathan had to put them together again time after time. And Chris was descending deeper into alcohol. Perhaps it was Orrin getting injured, but that was when they all realized they had been blindly following their rages, believing themselves to be more than human. Believing they would not be hurt.
Orrin came home to Four Corners, going up to Denver only when the battle became too hot for the trio to handle, which was a very rare occurrence in the last five years. Chris had tried to make him move permanently to Denver, but Orrin refused. Someone needed to keep eye on the town, on the gateway. It was a lonely job, but someone had to do it. And it was also not as stressful as Nathan and Buck imagined it would be. Orrin was there to mainly make sure the supernatural traffic kept to its course and did not divert outside of Four Corners. It was an entry way and Orrin kept it that way, with little assistance from Chris and his team. Orrin had a reputation; it preceded him. And the fact that Larabee was his friend ensured even the densest of demons know that this limping old man was not to be messed with.
Orrin turned his attention to the cross, a solid, handmade relic carved from wood not from this plane of existence. It had been a gift to the church from a traveler a long time ago; the same traveler that had given the gold for St. Anne's to be built in Purgatorio to protect and seal the portal there. It was a parting gift, thanking the generosity of the people who had been kind to the traveler. It had been hanging in the church since the last forty years. It was a beautiful gift and one that serves it purpose well
Orrin's rumination came to an end when the silence of the evening was broken by the sound of an engine.
Right on time, he thought. He knew had been expecting Chris just not so soon.
Orrin got up and walked down the aisle, pushing aside debris that had collected throughout the years. He saw a glimpse of a black bus coming up the dusty road and wondered if Chris is broke enough to have to take the bus to Four Corners. He opened the door just as the bus came to a stop in front of the church. Orrin winced as he got down the three wooden steps to the ground.
"What? Did you guys get a group discount of something?" he called out when he saw Chris, Buck and Nathan getting down from the bus, followed by several other men.
"Or something," Buck said, grinning. "We have new inter-dimensional friends," with a wave of his hands that encompassed three other men who got down after them. Orrin looked closely at one of them. He seemed familiar
A movement from inside the bus distracted Orrin. When he saw the seventh man getting down from the bus, Orrin's good leg almost gave out.
"Oh, my God."
"Please, Mr. Travis. Ezra would suffice," the vampire said, getting down from the bus, smiling at the old man.
To which, the old man in questions stepped right up to Ezra and planted a left-hook to his jaw that threw him off balance.
"That's what I'm talking about!" Nathan unclipped the stake from his belt and got ready to hurl it.
Six men put themselves in front of the vampire.
"Oh, come on!" Nathan threw up his hand, part frustration, part despair. "You're defending a vampire, for crying out loud!"
"You're in no danger from him as you would be from anyone of us, Nathan," Orrin said quietly.
"So, you punched it because "Nathan began.
Orrin turned to Ezra, approaching the Vampire and offering a hand to help him up. "That was for cheating me at the card game "
"That was thirty years ago, Mr. Travis," Ezra countered back. "And I did save your life that night."
"From a drunk Piraka!" Orrin argued back. "I finished off that "
"Thirty years ago?" Chris interrupted the argument. He looked at Ezra and then at Orrin. "How long have you known Ezra exactly?"
Orrin looked at Ezra, a slight smile on his lips. "Forty eight years this Christmas," he answered Chris. If it was possible, Chris was even surprised than Nathan. Orrin Travis was his mentor; the man was like a father to Chris. And to learn that the man who taught him to hunt and kill vampires had actually been friends with a vampire for close to half a century .it was even too much for Chris and his newfound tolerance for vampires.
Orrin saw the confused look on Chris's face. He gestured towards a building opposite the church. "Come on," he said. "Let's have a drink. I'll tell you how I got to know Ezra, and you tell me about your new friends. And what happened in Denver last night." He put his hand on Chris's shoulder and led the way towards where a bar used to be. Nathan threw a dirty look at Ezra and followed the two men. Josiah and JD, who still holding on to the laptop, followed suit.
"I'll just look around," Vin called out to the men and before anyone could reply, shimmered into falcon.
Orrin saw this and fell into a momentary, albeit, thoughtful silence. "Well " was as far as he managed. He has seen things much, much stranger than that. They continued towards the bar across the dirt road.
Buck lingered near the bus, waiting for Ezra. When the rest of the men were out of earshot, he grabbed hold of Ezra's arm.
"I need your help," Buck asked, looking at the vampire and hoping that all he had believed of Ezra to be true. There was much more than his life at stake here and the only man who could help him now was the Vampire.
--END OF PART TWO--