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Wayne kept his fireball steadily humming in front of the two of them. A warning that he could and would protect himself at any sign of hostility. She, in turn, had one arm linked around his like they were a couple. Her other arm kept Zoe pressed against her chest.

Despite his growing tension, Serena was the picture of relaxation. She leaned her head against his arm, knowing yet uncaring of the flames just inches away. A show of power? Or stupidity.

Either way, she hadn’t attacked him yet. Wayne was willing to entertain her at least until his arm was no longer in immediate danger of being torn off.

“How old?” Wayne asked.

“Fifty-six. I was sixteen when I joined the ranks of the undead.”

Half a century? Wayne thought with a frown.

So long as she wasn’t lying again, that might kill his theory on vampire hair. While it was entirely possible to go fifty years without suffering hair damage–mortals did it all the time minus the regular hair-cuts–vampires tended to lead lives filled with significantly more danger than their human counterparts. She must have regrown some at some point.

Unless she wore some illusion covering up any permanent injuries.

Wayne tried to remember whether or not he had touched her hair and came up blank. It looked real. As she rubbed her cheek against his sleeve, the shoulder-length strands of black hair moved naturally against the fabric.

“You look good for being twice my age,” Wayne prodded.

Serena looked up with a wide grin, visible even behind her mask. “Thank you,” she said. If there was any doubt about her smiling, it vanished when she spoke. Her smile came through audible in her voice. “I do try. I’m glad you appreciate my efforts.”

That answer could go either way. Finding he really didn’t care no matter what she said, Wayne moved his fireball closer as he moved on to a more important question. “This disaster in the city, is it you or yours who caused it?”

“Please,” Serena said, dismissing the notion with a wave of her arm. “There is a phrase. ‘Don’t shit where you eat.’ I believe at least half of it is very literal in these circumstances.”

In moving her arm, she jolted Wayne’s slowly mending bones. Noticing his grimace, Serena stilled as much as possible.

How kind of her, Wayne thought with a bit of mental derision.

“Starting just after Thanksgiving,” she said, tone more somber, “there was a meeting. All the vampires in the city had been called to it, even independents. Not something I usually participate in. The clans leave me alone and I leave them alone.

“I was the only independent who attended. The others, along with about half the Feral vampires and three of the ten August, were dead. Ashes had been found. Ferals thought it was the August and vice versa. Naturally, the meeting devolved into a war with a mere three August coming out alive.”

“Let me guess,” Wayne said, interrupting. “It wasn’t the Feral clan.”

Serena nodded. “I personally found the ash of three August at the meeting place just before Christmas. Humans had started disappearing.”

“You wondered if they were involved.”

“Oddly enough, the area didn’t look like it had been through another fight. More like the sun had risen inside the windowless cellar. At that point, I started making plans to leave the city. I was the last vampire in Lansing and had no intention of suffering the same fate as the clans.”

Wayne nodded. “Traveling isn’t easy for a vampire.”

“Nights only, no steady food supply, no real destination, no safe lairs along the way, no knowing the local politics of anywhere you pass through. I’ve been in Lansing for fifty years and it hasn’t been by choice.

“But as I was preparing to leave, new vampires started popping up. Feral and August for the most part. I did notice one Mekhet.” Serena clapped her hands together, only moving the one that had held Zoe to avoid jostling Wayne’s arm. “Guess what strain the other independents belonged to!”

Wayne didn’t bother to dignify that with a response.

“Anyway,” Serena continued undeterred, “I managed to keep most of them from acting out. None of them had proper sires to show them our ways. The story I gave you originally belonged to the two I had been traveling with. Most shared similar stories. At least until New Year’s Eve, I kept them in line. Forcefully, if I had to.

“On New Year’s Eve, people started waking up as vampires. Too many people. The city quickly devolved into chaos, as you have seen.”

Disturbing, if true. Sarah should have noticed people going missing. Surely it had been in the news. Unlike Serena, she wouldn’t have had the vampiric issues with traveling back before Christmas.

Wayne let a small curse escape his lips. Sarah could have called and mentioned that something was going on, even if the disappearances turned out to be an entirely mundane act of psychopathy. Part of it was his fault, he knew. After their parents’ death, Wayne had been adamant about not continuing the dragon ranch.

Serena rubbed the top of Zoe’s head. “I could have slipped past the military with ease, but I knew for a fact that the nuns were out hunting those who escaped the barricade. I’ve never seen one in person, and still hope I never do. The Lansing clans were terrified of drawing their attention. We all knew how to keep our heads down.”

“Not far enough down. Whoever killed your friends found out about you. And I don’t think it was the Elysium Order.”

“At this point, I don’t care. As you told the other scum, this city is done for. I watched you enter the city and assumed you had a plan to leave. We should execute that plan sooner rather than later.”

Ignoring the fact that he most certainly had no definite plan to leave, Wayne asked, “but you decided to attack me before asking to come with me?”

“If you couldn’t handle a few week-old vampires,” she said without the slightest hint of shame, “how could I trust you with my safety?”

“You’re awfully trusting right now,” Wayne said, flashing the fireball white-hot for a brief instant. “I could end you now and not lose a moment of sleep. I should end you before you attempt any mind tricks on me.”

“You haven’t yet,” she said. “And I won’t.” Behind her mask, Serena’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. “Did you see that repulsive thrall, lapping at the ground? I am a higher class of vampire.”

Wayne gave a short grunt of acknowledgment. Extinguishing the ball of fire in front of him, he replaced his tome under the crook of his arm. The movement was somewhat awkward with only one hand, but he managed.

Extinguishing the fire set off some sort of catalyst in Serena. She lifted up his injured arm, carefully, and slung it over her own shoulders.

He tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go. At the first touch of pain, Wayne ceased moving and resigned himself to having a vampire under his arm.

For now.

“I am not your servant. Nor am I your lover or,” Wayne sneered behind his mask, “husband.”

“That’s okay,” she said, snuggling closer, “I have what I want.”

“The moment we are out of this city, you’re free to do as you will. Sarah and I won’t be a part of it.” He glanced down at Zoe and, after a moment of thought, added, “Zoe will be coming with us as well.” He could find her a set of proper parents at the very least. Being raised by vampires, even if Serena didn’t turn her into one, couldn’t be good for her mental health.

Upon hearing her name, Zoe glanced up.

Wayne was surprised to see somewhat angry eyes glaring at him from behind her mask’s visor. That surprise only increased when Zoe wrapped one arm around Serena.

Great. Just great.

That gave the vampire a short laugh as she started patting the kid’s head. “Are you sure about that?”

“Being raised by–”

“Not Zoe, cute though she is,” Serena said, giving the kid a final affectionate pat. “Sarah. If it is dangerous for me to move, someone completely ignorant will find it most perilous indeed. What will she do if she runs across a clan of hostile vampires when she is barely a few days old.”

Wayne grimaced. He had read books on vampires, as had most everyone–they were a very popular creature for some odd reason. None of the books he had read were guides on how to survive as a vampire, just information. He doubted any guide-type books would exist in a world where the Elysium Order was so well-regarded.

“Incidentally,” Serena said in a slightly angry tone, nodding towards a masked Sarah slowly making her way back to them, “your girlfriend–”


“That’s wonderful news!” The anger vanished from her voice as if it had never been. “Your sister is an August. One of the ones who just woke up as a vampire, based on me never having seen her before. I don’t know if or how she is different from regular vampires, but it is something to keep an eye on.”

“Noted,” Wayne said as he watched his sister.

Sarah no longer clutched at her stomach. Her arm wasn’t quite back to normal, but it was visibly on its way. Vampires’ regeneration was something special. Despite her elbow being far more damaged than Wayne’s arm, he was willing to bet that hers would be back to normal first.

“You alright?” Wayne asked.

“Fine. I just…” Sarah shook her head. “Let’s just leave. What’s the plan.”

Wayne shifted his weight to one side.

“Wayne. What is the plan?”

He shifted again.

“Please tell me you didn’t charge into the city with no idea on how to get out.”

“I figured we could wing it. That normally works out for me.”

Sarah tried to rub her forehead only to hit the visor of her mask. “How have you not been caught already?”

“I’ll have you know that I’m very skilled at what I do. My forging skills got me in with no problem.”

“Wayne,” Serena said, aghast, “you’re a criminal?”

Keeping his attention on his sister, Wayne ignored the finger running down his chest. “Three ways,” Wayne said, “find some helicopter. Surely even a town this tiny has a hospital or news station with some flight capabilities.

“Second, we could try going out the way I came in. That relies on the checkpoint not having found out that my papers were forged. Additionally, finding a way to contact them and let them know that it is me without getting my head shot off might be a good idea.

“Lastly,” Wayne frowned at Sarah, “you tunnel us out.”

“Those are all terrible,” Sarah said with a huff. “Especially the last one.”

“Yeah, yeah. I had a fourth plan. Basically amounted to hailing the nuns and hitching a ride with them. A good number of them are trained to teleport.” He glanced between Sarah and Serena. “Probably not useful so much anymore.”

“Quite,” Serena said in a clipped tone, lacking all her previous banter.

“Do you even know how to pilot a helicopter?”

Wayne shrugged. “Can’t be that hard. There’s a stick right? Push it forward and the thing goes forward, back and it goes back.”

He’d seen a few movies involving helicopters. They didn’t look too impressive. Though they did have an unnerving tendency to explode. That shouldn’t be a problem here; during his scoping out of the military, he didn’t notice anything that looked capable of taking out air targets. With enough altitude, all the ground forces should be easily avoided.

“Right,” Sarah said. Her opinion of that plan was plain in every word. “That plan is off the table.”

“Oh? Through the military blockade it is. I hope they’re friendly.”

“Don’t worry Wayne,” Serena said once again in her husky voice, “I can handle anything mere humans can come up with.” After a playful wink, her tone turned serious. “But we should wait until nightfall. Unless the smoke extends well beyond city limits, your sister and I will have trouble in the sun.”

Wayne nodded. “I could use a nap.”

“Me too,” Sarah said with a long yawn.

Did vampires even need to yawn? A leftover trait of humanity or some idiosyncrasy with how she just woke up as one?

A moot point at the moment.

Zoe tugged on Serena’s shirt. Without even a word of communication between the two, Serena hefted Zoe up on her back. Once settled, Zoe rested her head on Serena’s shoulder.

Possibly mental tricks of the Blacksky vampire reading the younger kid’s mind. He suspected manipulation for a moment before remembering the vehemence with which she spoke of the ‘mindless’ thralls.

In retrospect, Wayne had probably left Zoe and Serena to their own devices far too much if he wanted to prevent any sort of attachment forming from the former to the latter. A kid wouldn’t understand the dangers of a vampire. Her mother might have been a mage, but that didn’t mean that she had any lectures on the creatures.

As Serena relinked her and Wayne’s arms, he realized that he might be suffering from a similar problem. He had killed that other vampire without hesitation or remorse, yet Serena hung off of his arm without retaliation. All because he had bought into her earlier sob-story about becoming a vampire. A story she had freely admitted was untrue.

If he didn’t need her for Sarah’s sake, would she still be here?

“I’ll keep on watch for any nuns, I suppose,” Serena said.

“I don’t know how you can stand to be awake,” Sarah said with droopy eyes. Whatever adrenaline had been keeping her alert was rapidly vanishing. “No torpor for you?”

“Being the pinnacle of vampires that I am, I can easily ignore the effects for a day or two. Maybe when you’re older.”

“Alright,” Wayne said. “Let’s find a place to hold up for a few hours.”

Wayne clicked the CB radio off.

“Worthless,” he mumbled as he hopped out of the truck he had been sitting inside of for the last hour.

“No luck?” Sarah asked, yawning despite sunset being within the hour.

Shaking his head, Wayne said, “I didn’t expect much. It’s an unmodified civilian-band radio. Mostly certain that it is illegal to modify it to drop to military frequencies.”

“And you don’t know how to modify it yourself?”

“Can’t say that I’ve ever studied radios. Wouldn’t know where to start.”

A sharp clap in the back of the truck had Wayne turning around.

“We’re going for the break out forcefully plan then, right?”

“Unless Sarah wants to tunnel,” Wayne said, turning to his sister with an eyebrow raised.

“Not unless you want to be buried. While alive. Permanently.”

“No. Not so much.”

Earth magic had never come easy for Sarah, despite it being her primary element. After graduating, she hadn’t even passed her third class exam. Wayne was still sure that she could tunnel them out. He could even help with his own meager skills.

Pushing her to do it wouldn’t help. Wayne knew his sister. She would get either angry or nervous. Both could easily lead to a cave-in.

“We need to find a weak point in their barricade. The roads all have heavy-duty checkpoints. Snipers, several soldiers, flamethrowers.”

“The river? We shouldn’t have a problem finding a boat at one of the houses along the Grand.”

“Not sure. I didn’t thoroughly scope out where their fence met the river. I assume they’re watching it.”

“Better plan than charging through with a car,” Sarah said with a self-affirming nod. “We can ditch the boat shortly after and find a car. Probably switch cars a number of times to hide from any followers.”

Experience had taught him that getaways were rarely so clean. He’d never tried fleeing from the actual mundane military before, but it probably wouldn’t be so simple. It was a better plan than nothing, though, and he had been winging things for long enough that he was sure it wouldn’t be that hard.

Using a bit of heat manipulation, he could probably hide them completely from any night vision equipment they may have. Then it was just a matter of losing them long enough to hunker down at a hotel. Preferably in Detroit. Being a big city–bigger, anyway–it would be easy to get lost inside.

“Alright,” Wayne said. “Jump in the truck.” The river wasn’t far, but they needed to be indoors by sunrise. Even though the sun hadn’t even set yet, every second counted.

Serena jumped to her feet. “Oh, I call–”

“The back of the truck,” Sarah said.

Serena’s glare was muted by her mask, but there was definite hostility behind it.

Wayne stepped between the two before a fight could break out. Looking up at Serena, he tried to deflect her attention. “Is Zoe still asleep?”

“Out like a light,” Serena said, her eyes wrinkling in a genuine smile.

Great, Wayne thought even as he returned her smile from behind his own mask. I’ve got a bipolar vampire on my hands who thinks she’s my girlfriend. Or thinks I’m her servant.

“If you could keep her from sliding around,” Wayne said, “I would appreciate it.”

“Alright,” came the instant response. “I can do that.”

Shaking his head, Wayne turned to Sarah. He gave a sharp nod towards the truck’s cab before climbing back into the driver’s seat.

Sarah circled around to the passenger side and got in without a word. She remained silent until they had been driving for a few blocks.

“So,” she said, tentative hesitation plain in her voice, “the girl…”

“The kid or the granny?”

A heavy thump cracked the rear window. Looking through the mirror, Wayne saw a pair of eyes glaring at him.

“Guess she can hear,” he mumbled to himself.

“Zoe,” Sarah said. “Serena told me how you saved her, and that’s great, but what do you plan to do with her?”

“Find some orphanage and drop her off.”

“That’s it? Simple as that?”

“Simple as that. Why?” He took his eyes off the road for a moment to glance in her direction. “You want to adopt her or something?”

“I’m a vampire.”

“So?” He paused, considering his words. Serena, he didn’t like the idea of her raising Zoe. But his sister… “You’re not going to eat her, are you?”

“I’m a monster.”

“No. You’re my sister and you’re being overdramatic.” Wayne gave a long and drawn out sigh through his mask. “Sarah. It’s cliché but worrying about being a monster is a great sign that you’re not. Your message to me was about caring for the stupid dragons of all things. Not exactly the kind of things a monster would worry about.”

Smiling, Wayne said, “then again, those dragons are evil.”

“Wayne,” she snapped, slapping him lightly on the shoulder.

That was the response he had been hoping for. Why she cared about the overgrown lizards was beyond him, but she did.

“Maybe having a kid to care for will help keep you on the straight and narrow.”

Wayne caught a glare out of the corner of his eyes.

“Rich,” she said, crossing her arms, “coming from you.”

“I wish I was rich. Wouldn’t have to,” he coughed, “borrow so much.”

“So you’re just going to foist her off on me?”

Wayne cricked his neck back and forth. “Why not? She’s middle school, maybe elementary school aged. Only a few years before you can ‘foist her off’ to an academy. Her mother was a mage.”

“So I heard.”

“Either that or an orphanage,” Wayne said with a shrug. He turned down another road, bringing the river into full view. “In the mean time, let’s find a boat.”

“There’s a neighborhood,” she said, pointing vaguely, “they literally dug channels from the river into their backyards.”

“Rich people neighborhood?”

“Oh yeah. Unless they all took the boats, we should have plenty of choices.”

A genuine grin spread across Wayne’s face. “Perfect.”

“Two towers,” Wayne said as he passed his binoculars to his cohort. “A sniper and a spotter on top of each along with mounted flame throwers. Several soldiers patrolling along the shoreline fences.”

“And a big net dangling off the bridge to catch anything that tries to swim past,” Serena said, finishing his explanation. “Which shouldn’t be a problem for your flames. And I’m sure you’re proficient enough to take control of their flames.”

“Their bullets worry me the most. Both Sarah and I should be able to erect thaumaturgical shields without much difficulty, but they won’t stand up to the amount of lead that they can pour in our direction.

“The river is flat and free from obstructions. Not even much smoke down here. They’ll see us coming the moment we move the boat around the bend.”

Serena hummed a sing-song tune. “I’ll handle them.”

“I have no doubt that you can kill them or just slip past them, but the rest of us can’t. They’ll call for reinforcements. Those reinforcements will call for reinforcements. Someone will report our boat. Soon enough we’ll have an army trailing after our boat and they won’t stop if we ditch it.”

“You worry far too much, Wayne. Forgetting my strain? Never fear, the boat will be the last thing on their minds.” Serena tapped him on the nose with her finger. “But you’ll need to be fast. Return to the boat and rev it up. Charge full speed through. Both you and your sister should have your shields at maximum strength just in case.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Now now,” she said, chiding. “Can’t reveal all my secrets, even to you. Go, we’re already wasting moonlight.”

Wayne thought to protest, but shrugged. He scooted back carefully and slowly–he had no intention of being spotted by the spotters just yet–leaving Serena behind some bushes on the riverbank.

The boat they had found wasn’t the best in the neighborhood. It did, however, have its keys in an easily accessible lockbox next to the boathouse. Zoe was huddled up under a few blankets and a few life vests just behind the driver’s seat.

Sarah, who had been sitting on the edge, stood up as Wayne approached.

“Where’s the vampire?”

“Distracting the army.”

“Distracting or killing?”

“Didn’t ask,” Wayne said, hopping into the boat. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”

The engine of the boat roared to life. They had to siphon some gas out of the truck they had stolen, but it otherwise appeared fine. Probably hadn’t been used much for a few months.

Wayne was just glad that the river hadn’t frozen over.

“Well?” Wayne said. Sarah hadn’t moved to join him in the boat. “The army would have heard that. We don’t have time to debate. Get in and put up the strongest shield you can.”

“I thought you said that she would distract them.”

“Just in case,” he said, repeating Serena’s words.

After shaking her head, Sarah hopped into the passenger seat.

Before she even had a chance to settle in, Wayne gunned the engines.

At the same time, he heard the crystal clear crack of a rifle’s report. Machine gun fire followed soon after.

“What’s going on?” Sarah asked even as the telltale haze of a powerful shield popped up in front of their boat.

Wayne gripped his tome, adding to the magical effect. “A distraction,” he said with a light grunt.

Accelerator at full speed, Wayne swung the boat around to face the blockade.

Distraction might be an understatement.

Every gun the military had in this section of town was firing. None of them were firing towards the river. Trees and the buildings of a marina were the targets of choice.

Serena stood silhouetted against the white floodlights of the military. One hand held Wayne’s binoculars up to her eyes while she held the other out extended. One finger pointed out with the thumb up in a facsimile of a gun. As she mimed her finger-gun firing with recoil, a black beam shot out of the binoculars, aimed at one of the sniper towers.

Flame started spouting from the mounted turret, all aimed away from the river.

She repeated the action for the other tower, which also started spewing impotent fire, before turning to face the oncoming boat.

After giving a half-salute half-wave, Serena jumped.

“Shield down,” Wayne shouted.

Just in time for her to land on the bow of their boat.

Wayne immediately reapplied his own shield over their boat.

“Thirty-seconds,” Serena shouted over the engine.

Sarah shouted back. “For what?”

“Until they stop thinking that every vampire in the city is charging their outpost.”

“We’ll be clear by then,” Wayne said. Probably too quiet to be heard over the engine and the gunfire, but he didn’t care.

He was too busy dragging the flamethrower’s flame across the net. It was much easier than conjuring flame from scratch, but still required concentration. Doubly so as he was both driving and maintaining a shield at the same time.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t burning fast enough.

“Hold on!”

The front of their boat hit the net, most of it catching on their shield.

Weakened from the flames, it tore.

Wayne let out a sigh of relief as their boat sped through underneath the bridge. The rope hanging off of their shield quickly burned away with a smidgen of extra effort on Wayne’s part.

He had to slow down for another turn of the river, but that turn carried them well out of sight from the sniper towers.

“We have with us today a very special guest.”

Wayne blinked his eyes open, yawning as the last vestiges of sleep left him.

“He wishes to remain entirely anonymous, but felt it was his duty to report what actually happened during the tragedy at Lansing.”

Wayne rolled his eyes as he glanced over at the hotel television set.

This story again.

Lansing was all anyone had talked about for a solid week. No one knew what happened. It was all baseless speculation. Everything had been blamed as the culprit. From Russian satellite weapons test to aliens of all things.

This time, however, was slightly different. Rather than talking over pictures of the crater, the journalist sat in a chair on one side of the screen. The other side had been covered with opaque glass. Only the barest hints of a shadow could be seen on the side of it.

“So,” the anchor said, “what can you tell about Lansing?”

“Thank you for having me.” His voice had been garbled to the point where it was barely intelligible. Luckily for anyone viewing, whatever news station this was had hired a quick transcriber to add subtitles to the screen. “Everywhere else turned me away as crazy.”

“Of course, Mr. Blank.” She actually said the word ‘blank.’ “We’ll let the you speak and the viewers will decide.”

“My detachment had been rounded up for emergency containment of a biological threat. Initially, that’s what it appeared to be. A strange one, to be sure, but nothing unimaginable.”

“Can you tell us the nature of the biological threat? Effects and transmission vectors?”

“Transmission, we didn’t know. None of us had been issued NBC suits–that’s nuclear, biological, chemical suits–and none of the soldiers ever came down with the ‘illness.'” The shadow moved as the man put quotes around his word. “As for the effects,” he coughed, “some seemed to turn into zombies while others turned super-human.”

“Zombies, Mr. Blank?” Despite the way she phrased her inquiry, there was no mocking in her voice.

“Sounds crazy, but when you hear what I have to say later, it’ll be the sanest thing you heard. There are certain chemical cocktails that can turn a person towards a more brain-dead state while still leaving motor functions, so it isn’t too absurd to believe that someone would have weaponized such a thing.

“For three days and three nights, we fought off the zombies and the people who took a few extra bullets to put down–”

“Did these super-humans ever attempt to communicate?”

“Never allowed them to get that close. Our orders were clear. We couldn’t allow the threat to spread.”

“I see.”

He shook his head, ignoring her slightly accusatory tone. “On the third night, things started to change. If some people who took a few extra bullets to put down counted as super-human, these things counted as absolute monsters. They would charge the fences, dodging bullets. They could take entire magazines and still run forward with speed.”

“You called them monsters, but were they human? Or actual monsters.”

“About half and half. Some had limbs like bears while others looked human. Save for a few bodies for the egg-heads, we burned all the corpses. The ones we didn’t burn still had to be restrained with steel because they didn’t always stay dead.”

“Adding to the zombie motif of this attack.”

Again, the man shook his head. “Nope. Crazier than that. That same night, a man showed up at our post. Started spouting off this nonsense about vampires.”

Rather than speak, the anchor just raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I had that expression as well. Then he started a fire in his hand. A gigantic ball of flame the size of my head. He just held it there, casually. I could feel the heat coming off of it. He extinguished the fireball and a forcefield popped up around him.”

“Experimental technology?”

“Not like anything I’ve heard of. No, he wore a sharp, well-fitting suit. The only thing he carried was a thick book. It was honest-to-God magic.”

“Magic?” Unlike her comment about zombies, the disbelief was clear in her tone now.

“Some others saw it as well, but I don’t expect them to come forward. Scary stuff. He claimed he was special forces needing to extract a VIP stuck within the city, though no one I talked to could verify his identity.”

“You don’t believe he was a special forces?”

“Could be. Could be that no one I talked to had the clearance to know. Or the clearance to tell me. Either way, his papers checked out initially. So we let him in. Our orders were to keep things from escaping, mind you, not entering.”

“Did you allow him out of the city once he secured this VIP?”

“Never saw him again. Don’t know if he made it. Though there was a disturbance the next night in which no less than fifteen trained soldiers insisted that they were under attack by about three hundred of the vampires, only for the vampires to vanish into thin air. No body parts, no blood or gore.”

“That would have been the fourth night,” the anchor said. “That just leaves the fifth night?”

“I don’t have much to say about that. It was just a blindingly white light. Flooded over the outpost to the point where no one could see anything. When it faded, the city was gone. I learned more from the recordings that have been playing on various news stations. Our own cameras were too close and only display a white screen.”

As he said that, one of the clearer clips played. It showed the smoke rising from the city from afar. Clouds overhead literally parted to allow a bright white beam of light engulf the city. The time stamp on the video then skipped to the end, roughly thirty minutes later.

The only thing left was a crater.

Wayne shuddered. Roughly twenty-four hours. That was all the spare time he had had, just missing utter annihilation.

The Elysium Order was scary. Scary enough that he was almost considering dropping his current project.


As the television snapped back to the interview, Wayne shut it off. The anchor was just thanking Hicks–for who else could it be–for his time.

Looking around the hotel room, Wayne frowned. Zoe slept on in the adjacent bed, but there was no sign of either of the vampires. The bathroom door was open and the light was off, so they weren’t in there.

Wayne noticed the notepad propped up against the side of the room’s telephone as he got out of bed.

Went out for a bite.

Be back soon.

Took sis with me.

The three lines were punctuated with an imprint of lips. Serena had put on lipstick just to kiss the paper. She had to have. At no other point had Wayne noticed lipstick on her.

Wayne shook the thought out of his mind. It didn’t matter either way. She could have her games. He was beyond content in ignoring them.

What did matter was that they had gone out. The Elysium Order would surely be scouring neighboring cities for any vampires that managed to escape their wrath.

At that moment, Wayne made a decision. They couldn’t stay in Detroit any longer. The moment the girls returned, he would head out, find a large van that could have its windows blacked out, and they would drive. They would drive as long as they needed.

Clear to the other side of the country if they had to.

>>Author’s Note 005<<

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Wayne hammered his fist against the heavy oak door.

“Sarah! Open the door!”

He rattled the handle to no avail. It was locked.

“Maybe no one is home,” Serena said, arms clasped behind her head as she leaned against the wall.

Zoe clung to the vampire’s shirt, pressing her mask up against a curtained window near the two.

Since rescuing Zoe from the thralls, the younger girl had stuck close to Serena. At first it had been mere holding hands. After about ten minutes of walking, Serena put her enhanced strength to good use by giving Zoe a piggy-back ride.

Wayne had kept a close eye on them the entire time. Despite Zoe’s arms being wrapped around Serena, just beneath her sharp fangs, the vampire never once acted like she was about to throw away his trust.

After eating two whole people, maybe that wasn’t so surprising.

All the while, they had kept up a steady conversation. Almost all of it was initiated by Serena. Any time it drifted towards Zoe’s family, Serena skillfully directed it away. It was something that Wayne was beyond grateful for. He was at home in answering Serena’s questions about vampires and magic, but keeping a kid’s mind occupied and off of her parents was far beyond his capabilities.

That Serena kept her from crying only raised Wayne’s opinion of her.

Wayne had abstained from their conversation unless he had been directly addressed. He had not, however, abstained from listening in. Through overhearing their conversation, Wayne had learned that Zoe was a mere ten years old.

Serena herself was sixteen. Older than Wayne had initially suspected, but not so much that he had been expecting her to keep quite such a level head. That was just another thing he had attributed to her vampiric condition.

A less cynical person might say that no one should ever have to experience the things the girls had, especially not at their ages. Wayne was of the opinion that tragedy struck at some point or another, best it come when you can survive it.

For Serena and Zoe, that might just be now if only because of his presence in the city.

And hopefully for Sarah as well.

If she’d open the damn door.

Wayne took a step back. Gripping his tome under the crook of his arm, Wayne held out one hand towards the door. The wood erupted in bright yellow flames. He directed the flames and heat away from the rest of the house, concentrating it all in on itself, focusing on the door.

A metallic clatter made its way out of the silent flames. Wayne extinguished the fire.

The doorway stood open. A handle and a deadbolt lay on the floor, both emitting a faint glow.

“Watch your feet,” he said as he took a ginger step over the threshold.

Serena actually lifted Zoe up and over as they crossed. “I don’t smell any blood,” she said with a sniff of the air. “But there is definitely a smell here. It is a lot closer to Eric and Bart…”

Frowning, Wayne ignited a decent sized ball of flame in his hand. “Stay here,” he said. “And keep the kid safe. Be ready to run.”

“You don’t want backup?”

“Yeah, keep an eye on the door and make sure that we haven’t attracted any attention.”

Words spent, Wayne moved deeper into the house. It wasn’t a large home. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. The latter two were connected and were attached to the entryway. He started with the nearest bedroom.

Bedroom was probably the wrong word to use. Sarah had converted it to an office as soon as she finished school. But, it had once been his bedroom.

Gone were the posters of various new wave bands. His bed had been replaced by a curved desk, looking out of the curtained window. The only thing remaining was his old guitar, propped up in the corner with a thick layer of dust covering it.

Most of the rest of the office had a decent coating of dust as well. A good deal was probably just the particles of smoke in the air finding a place to settle.

Apart from the dust, nothing appeared amiss. The desk hadn’t been turned over. The computer and stationary sitting atop was undisturbed.

Wayne shut the door and moved on.

He wasn’t entirely certain what to expect within the next room. The last time he had been inside his sister’s room was during their parents’ funeral. It could still be her room, but if he still lived at home, he would have moved into the master bedroom if for no other reason than the added size and attached bathroom.

Whatever he was thinking, he wasn’t expecting a full home theater. Two thick leather chairs sat in the center of the room. A projector had been mounted up against one wall with a white screen opposite. Heavy-duty speakers were in each corner while foam padding lined the rest of the walls.

Where did Sarah get the money for this? Wayne thought with a low whistle. Even with the money they received from their parents, Wayne wouldn’t have considered either of them in any sort of well-to-do position.

Shaking his head, Wayne closed the door. He passed through the main living room again, noting that Zoe and Serena were talking softly near the front door. Or front doorway? Either way, nothing looked amiss.

The door to the master bedroom had been locked. Wayne took that as a good sign. It indicated occupancy. And, unlike the front door, a simple coin would be sufficient to unlock it.

Not in the habit of carrying around change, Wayne extinguished his fireball and fished out his car keys instead. The lock gave way with a light click. He pressed in on the door without creating any more noise.

A hand reached out of the darkness, gripping the wrist that held the doorknob.

The moment he felt the lightest brush of something cold against his skin, Wayne pushed the limits of his mental acceleration. Relative time slowed to an almost complete stop.

Wayne’s first instinct was to incinerate everything within the room. The hand had already clasped tight around his wrist; there would be no escape from his assailant through any regular force.

A glimmer of light on the wrist stayed his hand. A small charm bracelet wrapped around the wrist, adorned with various caricatures of dragons. Wayne’s familiarity with the bracelet kept him from attacking, but filled him with a certain measure of despair.

Cutting off the flow of magic through his focus, time resumed its regular speed.

Wayne found himself being yanked into the room. A hand on his back and a leg sweeping upwards flipped him up through the air. His grip on his tome wasn’t tight enough, it went flying as his back landed on a bed.

Even as cold fingers wrapped around his throat, Wayne didn’t struggle. He stared up as two steel-gray eyes looked down at him. The eyes matched his own. The two sharp teeth, however, did not.

“Hello Sarah,” Wayne said. There was no humor in his voice. No good cheer at seeing his sister alive.

Because she wasn’t. While her eyes maintained the same intensity they held the last time Wayne was in her presence, her complexion matched that of Serena. Her cold hand was the first sign of something being wrong. Her teeth only confirmed that suspicion.

Looks like I won’t be needing those spare masks after all.

“Wayne. I would say it is good to see you again.”

“It has been two years.”

“Hell of a time to visit.”

“Could be worse,” Wayne said. “Could be snowing.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes. Shaking her head, she moved back and released her hold on Wayne’s throat. “I take it you didn’t get my message?” she asked as she bent down to pick up the lost tome.

“Oh no. I got it. Loud and clear.”

His thick focus flew back over his shoulder and slammed into the wall.

Wayne winced at hearing papers tear upon it landing. That thing hadn’t been cheap.

“Then why are you here? I explicitly told you not to come. Someone needs to take care–”

“I’ve never cared about the dragons. I care about my sister.”

“Wayne,” Sarah said with a sigh. “Mom and dad loved–”

“I don’t need you lecturing me about them. I grew up with them, same as you. You know that I don’t like your crusade to carry on their ‘legacy.'” Wayne grabbed his tome, smoothed out the pages that needed smoothing, and incinerated the pages that had been torn loose in the throw. “Besides,” he said, “you didn’t get rid of the kin, did you? They can get along without you for a while yet.

“We, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of time. If the government doesn’t nuke the city, the Elysium Order will. Standard operating procedure for lost-town scenarios does include a quick sweep for survivors, but they don’t actually care about people. Those that do get rescued will typically be inducted into their order. I wouldn’t put it past them to skip straight to scorched-earth for Lansing.”

“Since when did you become an expert on Elysium Order tactics?”

Wayne shrugged. “Been researching them lately.”

“Oh?” Sarah narrowed her eyes in his direction. “What priceless artifact do you want to steal this time?”

“You’re the last person I want to hear a lecture from. Don’t think I have forgotten about your hobbies.” Wayne stood from the bed and moved for the door. “We need to find a way out of the city.”

Wayne stilled as he felt a hand rest on his shoulder.

“You’re not going to mention it?” Sarah said, her voice so soft that Wayne had to strain to hear.

For a moment, he made no move. There was so much to do, so much to consider. At the worst, he had expected a deceased sister. Wounded at best. For her to have become a vampire had never entered into his fears.

“How did it happen?”

“Went to bed around eight on New Year’s Eve. Woke up in my bed with pointier teeth at sundown the night before last. Sent out the message a few hours later.”

“Two days?” Wayne turned to look her in the eyes. “And you didn’t willingly–”

“You think I’m stupid? Of course I didn’t.”

Wayne searched her eyes, looking for any hint of deception. He found none. Blinking, Wayne realized something else that was missing. “Your eyes are the same as mine.”


“You don’t have the Blacksky eyes.” Wayne took one of her hands in his own, just for confirmation. “And you don’t have claws. What strain are you?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped, slapping his hand away. “It didn’t come with an instruction manual.”

“Have you fed?”

Sarah’s eyes went wide before she turned her gaze to the side.

Understanding, Wayne let the matter drop. He turned back to the door. “Nevermind. It doesn’t matter. You’re still my sister and you didn’t attack me. That’s all that matters. We can discuss your condition more after we’re safe. Or even on the way, for some of it.”

That said, Wayne threw open the door and stepped out.

His frown immediately deepened. “Zoe,” he said to the little girl wringing her hands, “where is Serena?”

The little girl spun to face him, taking a step towards him as she moved. Her step turned into a stumble as she retreated backwards upon seeing Sarah.

Watching his sister out of the corner of his eye, Wayne was pleased to note a hurt expression cross her face. Pleased because it wasn’t hunger or malice.

“She won’t hurt you,” Wayne said as he put on his kindest smile. “This is my sister, Sarah.”

Something–probably my smile–made Zoe take another step back.

“This is a survivor we found,” Wayne said for his sister’s sake.

“‘We?’ You dragged someone else into this?”

“A vampire that wisely decided against trying to kill me. Mostly.”


“Well, she started out attacking me…” Wayne shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Where did she go, Zoe?”

“Something smelled good. Serena went to find out what.”

“Something?” Wayne sniffed, but couldn’t smell much of anything behind his mask.

“I smell it too,” Sarah said after taking a few breaths of her own. A dazed look clouded her eyes. “Blood. Fresh and warm. Lots of it too. More than a single person for sure.”

Wayne grit his teeth together. She just ate two people plus some of my blood. How gluttonous is that girl? “Whatever,” he said. “I told her to stay here. We don’t have time to go rescue her from an Elysium Order trap.”

Both of Zoe’s hands clasped around her mask. “It’s a trap?” she said with a gasp.

“That or a big fight going on. Either way, not something we want to get into.”

“But,” Sarah said, taking an unsteady step forwards, “but I need–”

Wayne clamped a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Sister or not, if I have to break your legs to get us out–”

Not having turned on his mental acceleration, Wayne didn’t have time to react. His sister wrenched out of his grip. An elbow found its way into the pit of his stomach.

Collapsing to his knees, Wayne tried to regain control over his breathing.

Zoe screamed as Sarah charged into a full sprint. Luckily for the girl, Sarah, and Wayne’s conscience, Sarah completely ignored Zoe in her rush to the door.

Vampire out of the way, Zoe walked up to Wayne.

“Definitely a trap,” he groaned out. “Both ate recently. I don’t believe that Sarah would go into a frenzy just because of a little blood.”

“You’re going to save Serena, right?”

Wayne rolled his eyes. Using Zoe’s shoulder to steady himself, he pushed himself back to his feet, rubbing his stomach as he went. “If she’s still kicking.”

Putting a hand on Zoe’s head, Wayne considered telling her to stay where she was. With the front door gone, the house wasn’t as safe as could be. He decided to keep her at his side in the end.

“Let’s go see if we can’t find a couple of vampires.”

Finding their wayward vampires turned out to be much simpler than expected. Zoe helpfully noted in which direction both Serena and Sarah had taken off running. From there, it was a simple matter of walking in a straight line.

The music helped as well.

Classical hymns blaring over half the town only reinforced the feeling that this was a trap. The music would attract what the smell of blood did not; thralls, ghouls, and possibly humans.

It certainly gathered a number of thralls and ghouls.

Smoke obscured most of his view, but what he could see spoke wonders. Humans stood around the edges of the park, all looking in, all watching. A ghoul would occasionally slip through and shamble towards the center. They didn’t last long, usually winding up torn apart in seconds.

A wide vat filled to the brim with thick red liquid sat in the center of Washington Park. Lights had been set up all around it alongside speakers and fans. The fans served to push around the soot-filled air more than clear it, but they did clear it enough to offer a slightly better view. Wayne had a feeling that they were to spread the scent around the city more than any sort of environmental control.

And they performed that task admirably.

At least ten vampires swarmed around the vat. Rather than drink from it, they were too busy fighting their competition.

Probably intentional, Wayne mused from his position atop the park’s tallest slide. He didn’t know of any way to poison a vampire, so whipping them up into a frenzy and having them fight each other was a decent way to cull the group to manageable levels. Then again, if anyone could find a way to poison a vampire, it would be the Elysium Order.

The plan would probably be more effective at night. More vampires would be awake and therefore there would be greater chaos around the vat. But daytime was safer for regular humans. Gathering all the vampires, thralls, and what-have-you to specific points gave the Order free rein to do as they please. If Wayne didn’t miss his guess, this would be the time when the nuns would perform their token check for any regular humans.

Which meant that the end of the city was drawing near.

Needless to say, he was beyond pleased that they had actually decided to check for humans. That gave him the time he needed to get everyone out of the city. Unfortunately, everyone currently included at least one of the vampires involved in the brawl near the vat.

Sarah, being a trained earth mage, was wiping the floor with her opponents. Literally, in some cases. She carried no focus but was just as effective at manipulating earth as she had been in life–which was to say: terrible. Still, it was a distinct advantage over the other vampires.

And it did confirm Wayne’s suspicions that vampires were entirely capable of thaumaturgy. Serena ought to be happy about that.

If she survived.

Thanks to her little invisibility trick, Serena was performing quite well. She would blink out of sight before appearing on the back of an attacker.

Wayne didn’t know what effects a vampire drinking vampire blood would cause, but he expected that he would be finding out shortly. So long as she survived.

Thus far, the two had remained on opposite sides of the vat from one another. They weren’t working together. Luck had kept them apart so far.

Testing who was stronger between the mediocre earth vampire-mage and the invisible vampire was not a current desire of his.

Wayne stood, cracking his neck side to side.

He’d just have to get them to stop.

“Nice mask. Yours go crazy too?”

Keeping a firm hand on Zoe’s shoulder, Wayne glanced to his side.

One of the thralls had the gall to walk up to him. A scrawny type with wide-rimmed glasses.

“No.” And that was it. Nothing more needed to be said. Wayne didn’t know how the kid came to be a thrall. Probably another sob story; not a thing Wayne cared to hear about. He already had enough sob stories on his hands between Zoe and Serena.

Zoe pressed close to him, holding on to the hem of his suit jacket. “What are you going to do?”

We,” Wayne said, uncaring as to whether the thrall heard him, “are going to destroy all that blood. It was set out by vampire hunters and I’m not interested in sticking around for their trap.

You are going to stay right by my side.” Wayne wasn’t about to trust the thralls not to kidnap the kid. “If I say jump or duck or run, you are going to jump or duck or run. No complaints. No hesitation. Understand?”

The kid nodded.

Wayne was fairly certain that this was the point where someone else would give her a confidence boosting ruffle of her hair. Wayne wasn’t someone else. He was Wayne Lurcher. Affectionate displays were far beyond him.

Besides, she had a mask of her own over her head.

“A trap?” The thrall moved closer. “Do you need help? I’m sure some of the others–”

Wayne silenced him by igniting a fireball. “And you can leave. You’ll wind up as nothing more than mince-meat if you come with me.” Wayne wasn’t about to trust the thrall anyway. It was too beholden to his vampire. If, even in the midst of their frenzy, his vampire shouted out some order or another, Wayne held no doubt that the thrall would die to carry the order through.

The thrall backed away, not taking his eyes off the fireball in Wayne’s hand.

After ensuring that the kid was keeping up with his movements, Wayne started wading out into the center of the park. For several steps, none of the vampires so much as glanced in his direction.

Twenty-five feet from the vat, something changed. Two vampires broke off their fight with each other and charged at him.

Slowing his perception of time to a crawl, Wayne had all the time in the world to step to one side, keeping Zoe with him. He nudged the closer of the two ever so slightly as the vampire ran to his side.

Amazing how a slight redirection of momentum can send a vampire crashing into another one.

With both vampires on the ground, shoving and struggling to disentangle their limbs from one another, Wayne was free to burn another prepared page.

A column of fire erupted around the two like a miniature volcano. It lasted only a few seconds, but by the time Wayne extinguished the flames, nothing but ashes remained. Ashes that the fans kicked up into more dust to fill the air.

Wayne took an instant to appreciate his mask. Breathing in vampire remains couldn’t be good for his health.

He felt a slight tremor at his side. Zoe had started shaking. Reaching a fireball-less hand down to her shoulder, Wayne gave her a reassuring squeeze.

“Don’t worry. Vampires of this caliber are not a threat.”

Unfortunately, more vampires were taking note of his presence. Three-way fights were harder to break away from, to Wayne’s great relief. Day old vampires might not be troublesome, but he wasn’t immune to being overwhelmed.

Wayne started forward again, increasing his speed even with Zoe hanging off of his clothes.

It would have been simple to launch a fireball from afar. Multiple fireballs, even. That ran the risk of destroying the vat and spilling the blood. Not something Wayne wanted. It would be much harder to destroy spread around the park.

Burning two pages, Wayne created walls of flames extending out and around the vat. It was a long shot, but he was hoping that the vampires would maintain some semblance of sanity and stay away from the fire.

Pushing Zoe into the fastest run her tiny legs could manage, they reached the vat.

A vampire burst through the firewall to his side. So much for that idea, Wayne thought with a groan. At least the vampire wasn’t Sarah.

It was, however, on fire. Wayne didn’t need to spend much effort in fanning the flames. Soon enough, the woman was a pile of ash.

Not wasting any more time, Wayne tossed a fireball up onto the center of the vat. As it flew, he burned another page.

Flames exploded outwards, doubling, growing, and heating. By the time the ball reached the top of the vat, he had a miniature sun bearing down on the liquid.

Foul and vile scents penetrated his mask as the blood vaporized under the heat. Zoe audibly gagged, though managed to hold down her lunch.

Then again, who knew when the kid last ate. She might not have anything to throw up.

“Come on,” Wayne said, breathing solely through his mouth, “we should back away until they calm–”

Wayne stumbled forward. His foot got caught in the ground as the earth lost solidity. He sunk into the ground up to his ankles before the dirt hardened.

A figure emerged from the flames. Trails of hot magic licked her clothes as she moved through.

Wayne immediately extinguished the fire. Vampires regenerated from just about anything, but fire damage took the longest by far.

While Sarah would probably forgive him even if the scars lasted a century, it wasn’t a chance he was willing to take.

Sarah opened her mouth in a scream. Her twin fangs protruded from her teeth, dripping with ichor. With blood-addled eyes, Sarah charged.

Unable to move his feet, Wayne was forced to hold his ground. He swung his heavy tome, making contact with her outstretched arm. Something snapped as her elbow bent the wrong way.

Not letting his sympathy get the better of him, Wayne followed through with an elbow-strike to her ribcage.

Again, something snapped.

Pain shot up Wayne’s arm. He accelerated his mental process to the max to take a good ten minutes worth of time just to scream internally.

His arm was broken. No doubt about that.

The only consolation was that he was fairly certain something snapped inside her as well. It wasn’t so much her durability that snapped his arm, it was her sheer speed that broke both their bones.

Working through the pain, Wayne brought his raised tome down on Sarah’s head. She crashed into the ground, face smearing into the dirt.

Wayne was a fire mage. Through and through. He had never cared about dalliances of air magic or the complexities of earth magic, and water magic was sealed away from him due to his affinity for fire. That didn’t mean he hadn’t learned anything from school or his sister.

Using the little earth magic he knew, Wayne freed himself and Zoe–who was in the midst of screaming–from the ground.

Sarah was in the middle of using her arms to push herself up. One arm, mostly. The other didn’t look like it would support much weight anytime soon.

Wayne directed a portion of magic over to his wayward sister. Her arm sank into the ground up to her shoulder.

His sister, though a terrible mage in general, still surpassed him in earth magics. She immediately started to counteract his manipulation of the ground under her arm. In her blood-addled state, she wasn’t that great at it.

“Sarah,” Wayne said, his voice as deep and as authoritative as he could make it. “I am your brother. Wayne. Calm yourself. Do you hear me? You must stop fighting me.”

He could see movement in his peripheral vision. Nothing had burst through his walls of flame since his sister, so their blood-lust may be subsiding. Or they were still too busy fighting each other.

“Sarah,” he said again. “Please.”

His sister’s struggling ceased. She lay flat against the ground with her face in the grass.

Wayne took a step closer. “Sarah?”

“I’m sorry.”

Blinking, Wayne shook his head. “I don’t give a damn about your sorrys.” He released his hold on her arm. “Get up and move. We don’t have time to muck about.”

Only when she finally started to move did Wayne start to feel the second coming of his arm’s pain. He knelt down, gritting his teeth, and tossed his backpack on the ground.

“Could you do me a favor,” he said to Zoe. “Find me a vial of milk-white liquid.”

At the younger girl’s staunch nod, Wayne moved up to his sister.

Before he could say a word, she spoke first. “Are you hurt?”

“Broken bone. Not a bad break at that. I have potions.”

“Of course you do.”

“You’re injured worse.” Wayne said, gesturing at her backwards-facing elbow. “And I’m hesitant to try potions on you.”

“Vampires heal right?”

A voice at his elbow sent Wayne jumping to one side.

“They do,” Serena said as she faded into sight. “There are plenty of thralls that just lost their master if you want a little boost to your regeneration.”

Sarah clutched at her side as she stood. A slightly disgusted look crossed her face. “I think I’ll pass.”

Wayne started to smile at her resolve. That smile disappeared as he watched her shamble forwards a step. “Reconsider,” he said to Sarah. “We need to be in top shape to escape.”

“Besides,” Serena said, “I’m not planning on taking on any thralls. Worthless beings that can’t think beyond their next hit. And if you’re not planning on taking any under your wing, then they aren’t coming with us. I don’t rate their chance of survival very high.”

Wayne narrowed his eyes at Serena, but slowly nodded his head in agreement.

Zoe chose that moment to run up to him, holding a vial in one hand and a backpack in the other.

Breaking the seal on his mask, Wayne downed the potion in a single gulp. The acidic taste left over in his mouth caused an involuntary shudder to wrack his body. Pain in his arm flared up almost immediately as the bone reset itself and started mending.

It would still be a few hours before he could use his arm. A few more before he should use his arm. But it paid to get the process started as soon as possible.

“Thanks kid,” he said, giving Zoe an awkward pat on her head.

While she had his bag open, Wayne reached in and pulled out his last two masks. “I don’t know if these will help against any more traps, but they won’t hurt anything. Put them on,” he said, holding them out to the two vampires.

Making some noise that Wayne assumed most teenagers made when excited, Serena accepted immediately. She slipped it on and proceeded to breathe as loudly as she could.

Sarah took the mask, but only held onto it. At his questioning look, she bared her teeth without smiling.

“Right,” Wayne said, understanding. “You hold off for a few minutes.”

With that, Wayne extinguished the flames around them.

Five vampires–not counting Serena and Sarah–stood around with an accompaniment of thralls. All looked like they had been waiting for him.

None looked to be in a fighting mood. Several were wobbling on their feet with droopy eyes–Sarah included. Many were injured to some degree.

Wayne kept his pages charged and ready as he looked over the crowd just in case.

When they failed to part and allow his passage, Wayne cleared his throat. “Vampires. This,” he thumbed over his shoulder at the vat–or where the vat had been before his sun atomized it, “was a trap set by those who hunt your kind. If you stay within the city, you will die. Again. Permanently.”

One stepped forward. “How are we supposed–”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. Move at once or I will end you now.”

“Come now,” an older vampire said. She drew a sharp fingernail across her wrist. Blood dripped out, landing on the ground.

The thrall standing behind her leapt forward, tongue out. He buried his face in the grass and licked. Several of the other bystander thralls looked ready to join in.

Though he knew it was hidden by his mask, Wayne drew back his lips in disgust.

“Surely you want to serve a real master,” the vampire said, having continued to speak even as her thrall made a fool of himself. “I can provide so much more than that flat–”

Wayne had heard enough. Burning a page, Wayne replaced the vampire and her thrall with fire.

The screams filling the air caused Wayne to wince. The vampire had turned to dust in an instant, but her thrall was still mostly human. There would be a charred carcass left over.

He hadn’t even considered Zoe before igniting the two. Looking down, he was pleased to find Serena pressing her hands over Zoe’s ears while pressing the kid’s face into her chest.

Wayne gave a curt nod of thanks to the vampire.

He could tell that she was smiling even behind her mask.

“Anyone else have something to say?” Wayne called out as the thrall’s scream died off.

The remaining vampires cleared away in a flash, leaving behind a scattered group of masterless thralls looking somewhat dazed.

“Oh, me!”

Whipping his head back to his side. Serena–Zoe still pressed against her–moved right up against Wayne. She looped one arm around his, eliciting a small grunt of pain.

“I don’t want you to be my thrall,” she said with a slight husk in her voice, “but maybe something else?”

“Too young for me, kid.” Wayne said. He almost smiled at the pout visible behind her mask.

“Buut,” she said, drawing out the word, “I’m going to be sixteen forever. I’ll always be too young.”

This time, he actually did smile. Glancing at Sarah to hide it, Wayne gave his sister a slight nod of his head followed by a nod towards the thralls.

She sighed, but took off running without complaint.

Which suited him just fine. He wasn’t too interested in saying anything aloud with Zoe around. Though she probably heard anyway, he considered, she had only been a few steps away when Serena had initially mentioned it.

Shaking his head, Wayne turned back to the kids. Mirth over the previous conversation gone, he narrowed his eyes at the vampire.

“Sarah will return in a minute or two. We will leave as soon as she does. But first,” he slowed his perception of time and ignited a small fireball, “I want to know exactly who I am traveling with.”

To his surprise, she didn’t balk away or grow hostile. Serena leaned into him more than before, smile visible beneath her mask.

“You saved me from the Elysium Order’s trap so I’ll give you a little hint. I’m a few years older than I look.”

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