She heard the heavy footsteps closing in behind her. Her legs buckled, and she fell to the pavement, the dirty rainwater sloshing into her eyes, blinding her. Her mind raced with sordid thoughts of death. She didn’t want to die, not here, not now, but her body froze in fear, and she couldn’t move. She closed her eyes, focusing on the image of her daughter that glowed for a brief moment in the darkness. The image gave her unusual strength, and she shoved her body upward, forcing herself to stand. The sound of approaching footsteps snapped her mind back to reality.The rain carried the yellow-imbued blood down the sewer drain behind Caroline Austin, leaving an uncanny trail. The water fell like sheets from the heavens, blinding and suffocating her while she ran down the empty Minneapolis streets. The small, open wounds on her breasts throbbed in uncontrollable pain. She swiped at the seeping blood in an attempt to dilute her trail, wishing the dark liquid would mix with the rain and disappear.
In front of her, a bum sprawled on the sidewalk, was sound asleep. She ran toward him, opening her mouth to scream, to wake him from his drunken stupor. Yet no sound would come. The sudden, cold draft of death from behind kept her running. She turned the corner and there was Lucius.
She tried to catch herself, to turn and run the other away, but she slipped and fell in front of him. Looking up at his figure before her, she wondered how anyone as old as him could be so fast.
Lucius leaned against the building, his brown hair falling gracefully behind his back. His smooth, oval face shone, his concerned gaze releasing some of her fear. His eyes could lock even the most non-submissive Deamhan and bring them to their knees. She had never been this close to him. She always believed she never would.
He took slow steps toward her, holding out his hands. Surely he knew of her strong interest in him. She’d written detailed journals about him. These same writings were influential in her organization’s understanding of his kind. Before her, not much was known about his origins. She’d uncovered the rumors and silenced speculations without invading the privacy he had left.
He took another step toward her, and this time she moved back. It plagued him that she feared for her life. She noticed small droplets of rain glistening off his face in delicate drops.
Caroline turned to run, but he again appeared in front of her, blocking her way. She stumbled and fell to the pavement, her breath coming hard. His cold hands scooped her into his arms without effort, brushing her wet and matted bangs from her pale forehead. Her eyes gazed away, unable to stare at him as he placed his cold hand against her right cheek.
He pulled back her shirt and noticed a fresh, wet bloodstain above her right breast.
She was dying.
The stranger held her close to his chest and turned to carry her to safety. How dare they not follow his decree! He’d been clear: they weren’t to harm or attack her. She was protected. His offspring disobeyed the law, which ratcheted the tension between Deamhan and humans.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her, touching an icy finger to her lips.
“Sleep, my love.” His voice was soft. “You are safe here . . . with me.”
Veronica Austin stood in line behind a tall woman with long black hair, her blonde roots clearly visible in the streetlight brightening the corner. A circular tribal tattoo of jagged black lines decorated the base of the woman’s neck between her broad shoulders.
Dad never liked tattoos.
He didn’t like the idea of Veronica returning to Minneapolis after twenty years either, but that didn’t stop her.
A huge neon sign hanging above the entrance glared “Dark Sepulcher,” with the “L” blinking in rapid succession. Black paint peeled from the brick walls, now discolored from years of treacherous Minnesota winters. Posters of upcoming concerts and events lined the wall. Veronica wasn’t interested. At a glance, you’d mistake the building for an old factory, but she knew better. She’d been told that the building housed secrets—dark secrets—and she planned to discover each one. This was the starting point in the search for her mother.
She cleared her throat and the woman glanced back, giving her a half-smile. Instead of real eyebrows, the woman had drawn severe black swathes with an eyeliner pencil, and she’d colored her lipstick line above her upper lip, giving her mouth a full, yet abstract look.
Two bouncers stood at the front entrance dressed in black T-shirts with “Security” printed in white letters. Veronica handed the taller bouncer her California driver’s license and waited while he studied it under the glare of his bright flashlight. She sucked in her breath and prepared herself for questions about why she’d come and what she wanted with Dark Sepulcher. Instead, the bouncer flicked the license back to her and motioned for her to enter.
She slid a five under the steel bars of the cashier’s window, who snapped up the bill without a glance as she bobbed her head to the beat from her earphones. Veronica thought she recognized the chorus of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels escape from the girl’s earphones, but it drowned under the bass coming from behind a thick, dark curtain blocking the venue’s entrance. She stepped forward, sucked in another deep breath, and pulled the curtain back.
She wondered how her mother felt, walking into this same mysterious environment nearly twenty years ago. The question repeated in her head like a broken record. She needed an answer.
No one in her father’s bastardized organization—The Brotherhood—had the balls to question her mother’s disappearance. No one except for Veronica. Her father buried all photographs and mementos of her mother and he sent her to San Diego to live under the care of The Brotherhood. His actions had since festered inside her wounded heart. He’d sold family heirlooms, pawned his wedding ring. He’d destroyed family pictures—the frozen moments that captured family outings, picnics, and celebrations.
She’d become a threat to her father who now had the title: President of the Midwest Division. The Brotherhood had split America into three divisions long ago with each division answering to the Head Master—the overall leader of the organization. During the time of her mother’s disappearance, her father held the title of Region Leader, a step below President, and his duties included handing out orders to the researchers under his control, one being his own wife.
The group was known throughout the Deamhan world as humans who watched but never interfered. But something happened during the time of her mother’s disappearance. Somehow they crossed the line. The President of the Midwest Division was killed and the Chapter disbanded shortly after.
Veronica had no clue what she might encounter in Dark Sepulcher. As she pulled back the heavy curtain, her eyes jumped frantically back and forth as they tried to adjust to the darkness. Life-sized macramé figures hung from the ceiling. White smoke spewed from fog machines and drifted ghostlike toward the crowded dance floor. Writhing bodies moved in trance-like motion to throbbing music blasting from massive speakers surrounding the floor. She felt an unexplainable euphoric vibe circling the club with the fog. It enthralled her.
This wasn’t the scary Dark Sepulcher from the story told to children at bedtime to frighten them from misbehaving. “If you act up, the scary Deamhan will get you!”
No, this is party central. Or so she thought.
She focused her stare on a small stage standing erect to her left. A wooden beam hung horizontally above the stage with a woman tied fast to the beam. Though mesmerized, she moved on, passing a row of silver-tinted booths next to the wall. A group of boys and girls, none appearing older than eighteen, huddled in the corner booth talking over a small lit candle in the middle of the table. They laughed aloud, shouting over one another until their voices jumble together. The music changed to a faster rhythm and they fled the booth, pushing past her in their rush to reach the dance floor.
Much to her relief, everyone looked human. None of the clubbers possessed traits of the Deamhan: the sharp fangs, the dark hollow eyes. She’d expected them to ooze from the woodwork, romping around like drug addicts looking for their next high.
The speakers pulsed with beats of industrial music. She felt the bass thumping and vibrating each inch of her body. She’d been to raves and dance clubs in San Diego before, but the music had never been this loud.
Of course, The Brotherhood had an explanation for the loud music. A vampire, quite different from the Deamhan, owned Dark Sepulcher. To her, they were one and the same—evil, foul and wretched, yet they also had differences. While vampires lived off the blood of humans, Deamhan lived off the psychic energy generated by humans in different ways.
The fog-filled room, the gyrating bodies, the electrified air, it all combined to assuage her worries. Despite herself, she felt her lips part in a seductive smile.
And that’s when she saw her first Deamhan.
In the writhing crowd, a woman tossed back her head and laughed. She twirled her pale hands above her head as she danced, her long brown hair bouncing around her shoulders. A true professional at mimicking human movements, she’d made a flawless attempt to hide her true identity. The darkness hid the most visible signs, but her razor-edged teeth could not be masked. “She’s a Deamhan Ramanga,” Veronica whispered into the deafening din. Even as she said the words, she felt her heartbeat pick up its pace.
A baby-faced guy dancing with the Deamhan seductively snaked his arms around her tiny waist and ground his pelvis against her. Is he crazy? He had to see those teeth up close and personal. He had to know she could sink them into his tender flesh at any moment. Why didn’t he run?
These ruthless creatures didn’t think twice about killing anyone. They maintained their secrecy by hiding, remaining unknown to the world around them. But here they stood, in a vampire club, doing what they wanted without anyone to tell them otherwise. They walked, talked, danced and conversed with their human food.
Alert to their presence now, she scanned the crowd. Deamhan, it seemed, popped up everywhere. Many danced in groups, though some danced alone. Others danced with a single partner, human and Deamhan alike. Yet fear didn’t exist, except in Veronica’s fluttering chest. No one else cared.
To her right, a large crowd had gathered at the bar, cheering on a man who chugged a full bottle of vodka. A cadaverous woman with blonde dreadlocks stood behind him, caressing his shoulders with red-tipped fingers. Her formal black dress accentuated svelte curves, and her crimson lips formed a perfect “O” as she cheered on the drinking man. Even from several yards away, Veronica saw the bright white contrast of the woman’s spiky teeth.
She turned away, immediately spotting two Deamhan males. They ogled the dancing crowd with lusty eyes as they moved like liquid throughout the club, indifferent of being known and unhindered by any repercussions it might cost them.
She felt a gentle tap on her right shoulder and jumped. She whirled around, coming face-to-face with a young waitress with a tray tucked under her left arm, her right hand perched on a pillar.
“You want anything?” she screamed above the music.
Veronica only shook her head, startled by the woman’s bizarre appearance. She wore a black wife beater, faded black pants, and her mascara was smeared and smudged. She winked then turned on her heel and disappeared into the crowd.
The music thundered even louder now, and Veronica returned her attention to the dance floor. Two dancers clad in sheer white shirts, micro-minis, and fishnet stockings gyrated on a raised stage in the center of the dance floor, while a horde of men below them clawed at their feet. One of the dancers placed the spiked heel of her knee-high boot against a man’s forehead and shoved him backward. Like shamans in a ritual trance, the men and women twirled their hands and moved their hips from side to side.
Veronica stared at the performance until the rapidly blinking dance lights caused vertigo to set in. Feeling nauseous, she turned and leaned against the railing that separated the dance floor from the rest of the carpeted venue. She swallowed back bile, resisting the urge to regurgitate the ham and cheese sandwich she’d wolfed down earlier.
The tiny hairs on the back of her neck danced. She felt the waitress standing behind her and stiffened. She knew it was vital to hide her thoughts from Deamhan, and she did her best to make her mind a blank slate by imagining a brick wall.
It was just one of their various abilities. They couldn’t control humans like vampires could with the sounds of their voices. Instead, they forced themselves into a human’s brain, scouring it for any information they desired.
“You okay?” The waitress tapped her on the shoulder. “You sure you don’t want anything?”
A bottle of Jack popped into her mind. “Whiskey.”
“Yeah, just whiskey.”
The waitress twisted her mouth into a wry smile. “Whiskey it is, then.” She headed for the bar.
The music changed tempo and volume. A slow song oozed throughout the club. One of the dancers left the stage with a line of men trailing behind her. She stopped just outside the bathroom door, blew a kiss, and entered, closing the door behind her. As if the spell she’d held over them had broken, the men glanced at each other in confusion, then each headed back toward the dance floor.
The waitress seemed to appear out of nowhere again, and she placed a shot of whiskey on the table in front of Veronica.
She handed her a five. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks.” She folded the bill between her fingers with one hand, and tucked it in her cleavage. “Anything else I can do for ya?”
“Yeah. How long has this place been open?” Veronica glanced around, feigning awe.
The waitress rolled her coal-rimmed eyes to the ceiling and tapped her chin. “It’s been here forever.” She shrugged.
“It’s always packed like this?”
She smiled. “Oh, yeah. Everyone comes here. There’s nothing else to do in boring Minnea-snore-a. You here by yourself?”
“No, I’m with a friend.”
“Well, have fun. It’s a kick ass club.” She waved and walked away.
Veronica tossed back the whiskey and gagged as it stung the back of her throat. The volume of the music increased again, and the crowd’s jollity changed with it. They cheered, pumping their hands at the DJ booth in unison. The DJ whistled into his microphone in response. She finished the rest of her whiskey, sipping slower this time, as she scanned the crowd. Her stomach gurgled a complaint against the harsh liquor. She sought the bathroom door again and noticed a crowd of women pushing in. Better go get in line.
She excused herself through the crowd, passing another group of scantily dressed teenagers. She pushed open the bathroom door. A group of women stood in various poses in front of the cracked and broken mirrors near the far wall. She stepped over the clumps of matted hair and wet, crumpled toilet paper on the bathroom’s white-tiled floor, noticing the wet garbage lining the sinks and stalls. The toilet in the last stall overflowed, spilling its nasty contents onto the floor. The bathroom’s filth contrasted the rest of the club.
Dozens of different conversations overlapped one another, and the sound of the running toilet grated Veronica’s nerves. A few of the women glanced up, then continued pasting on make-up in blotches of cherry, amber, peach, tan, purple and black.
Not all of them were human. One woman, particularly ghostly, applied a heavy layer of face powder to give her skin a normal hue. She painted her eyes, lips, and cheeks to eliminate her Deamhan markings. Veronica saw the dancer, now standing in front of the mirror brushing her hair. She chatted freely with the Deamhan woman, giving her tips on what kind of makeup appealed to men.
A chill snaked up her spine.
The dancer shoved her hand into her red backpack and pulled out more cosmetics to add to the many bottles and tubes littering the sink.
She approached the sinks, her steps tentative. The dancer watched her silent approach in the mirror. In one swift motion, the female Deamhan scooped her belongings into an oversized handbag and pushed her way out the door. The other women followed, leaving her and the dancer alone.
Veronica adjusted the water temperature to cool and prepared to splash her face.
“You have to wait a minute,” the dancer said.
Veronica jerked her hands from the milky water gushing from the faucet. In a moment, the water ran clear. “Thanks. I nearly put that on my face.” She noticed a healing scar above the dancer’s collarbone, slightly discolored. A scab wound extended from the middle of her back down to her cleavage, stitched together with dried blood. Healed bite marks covered her neck.
The Brotherhood called them minions—humans who spied and reported to their Deamhan owners the details of who, what, when and where. They vied to be sired by serving their masters well.
“How did you get those?” she asked, pointing to the dancer’s scars.
The dancer glared. “That’s really none of your business.”
Veronica dropped her head and murmured an apology. She snatched a paper towel and dried her hands. “Sometimes I don’t think before I open my mouth.”
The dancer’s shoulders relaxed and she returned to brushing her hair. “It’s okay. You aren’t the first person to ask.”
Veronica knew she wouldn’t be the last, either.
The dancer turned to her again. “I’ve never seen you here before. You a first-timer?”
“It’s obvious, huh?” She appraised her own clothing in the mirror. Her faded black shirt revealed its age and tiny holes. Her blue jeans were ripped at the knees, but that was fashionable, right? She looked down, noticing the fraying cuffs and her scuffed shoes. Fashion had never been her thing.
The dancer coughed a laugh. “No, not really. Anything goes at Dark Sepulcher.” She struck a pose in the mirror, pursed her fire engine red lips, and blew herself a kiss. “See ya, toots.” As she strutted out the door swinging her tote behind her, two women rushed in, nearly knocking the dancer down, but she never spoke up nor broke stride.
The two shoved into the nearest bathroom stall together, slamming the stall door behind them.
What the hell?
A loud bang echoed from the stall, rattling the adjoining booths in a domino effect. Following loud and furtive whispers, a leg covered in bruises and welts jutted from under the door.
As she tiptoed to the exit, the stall door flew open and slammed the wall.
A tall, dark-skinned woman stood up, straightening her black leather mini skirt. “Mmmm.” Her eyes bored into Veronica’s. “Your scent is intoxicating.” She curled her upper lip into a snarl and jerked her thumb toward the other woman. “Better than this whore.” She cocked her head back, closed her eyes, and sniffed the air again. “You’re a virgin,” she cooed. “Untainted.”
When she smiled again, Veronica noticed the blood on her lower fangs. She took a step back toward the door, her hand hidden behind her, frantically searching the air for the knob.
“What’s your name, honey?”
Her voice felt sensuous in Veronica’s ears, and her eyelids felt heavy. She grasped the doorknob, jerked open the door and fled into the club.
“Where’re you going, baby?” the throaty voice called behind her.
Veronica rushed back to her table, her heart pounding out a cadence in rhythm with her hurried steps. What she learned on her own about the different kinds of Deamhan ran through her mind again now, in an effort to calm herself.
They were called demons, hell spawns, and even vampires. Centuries ago researchers in Ireland finally settled on the name Deamhan, due to their licentious behavior. Based on their feeding habits, they then split the Deamhan into the Ramanga, Lamia, Metusba, and Lugat.
Through blood and with sharp teeth, the Ramanga drained every drop of blood from their victims. Being the only Deamhan with retractable fangs, they relied on the psychic energy within the blood to survive.
Conceited, the Lamia fed by draining the same energy through the mouths of their victims. They had no need for fangs. All they needed was a viable opening and a willing or non-willing participant.
Metusba, the quiet of all the Deamhan, fed off the psychic energy contained in their victim’s auras. They took what they needed, nothing less and nothing more.
Lugat fed off the leftover psychic energy by using their hands. They could feed off of almost anything; where a person sat, what a person touched.
Though all four clans differed in feeding habits, they all died the same; beheadings, staking, starvation, and sunlight.
“Hey!” The waitress appeared in front of her. “You okay?”
How does she do that? Veronica glanced toward the bathroom, afraid she’d be followed. Her chest heaved and beads of sweat collected on her forehead. “I need a drink.”
She nodded, and the waitress disappeared into the crowd. The pulsating bass emanating from the speakers grew louder and more intense, causing her to rub her temples. Fog machines released a steady stream of mist from above the crowded dance floor, giving the huge room an ethereal atmosphere. The lights dimmed, and she could hardly make out the waitress as she returned, carrying a shot of whiskey.
“Here ya go.” She handed her the drink.
Veronica gulped her drink and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, this time thankful for the sensation of the amber liquid searing her throat. She preferred vodka, but at this moment, any liquid running down her gullet was good enough.
“You want another one?”
She nodded, and the waitress left. Damn, this is harder than I thought it’d be. Her mind raced: hide your thoughts, don’t show fear, stick to the plan.
She felt a tingling sensation deep in her forehead. In seconds, it had increased to the extent of a migraine. She looked up squinting, the pain becoming more intense with each passing moment, and she knew.
Someone’s reading my thoughts.
The waitress returned with two drinks.
“Uh, thanks?” She couldn’t recall ordering two whiskeys, but she pulled out a ten dollar bill.
“It’s already paid for.” The waitress pointed to a man sitting at the opposite end of the bar, his long brown hair slicked back in a ponytail. He wore black jeans and a long black see through shirt, revealing his six pack.
He stared back at her with deep brown eyes and smiled, his pale skin resembling a Deamhan at its finest. She felt the pain in her forehead ebb and flow, subsiding a bit each time. She turned to the waitress, but she’d again disappeared.
Muddled, she downed the whiskey and slammed the empty glass on the table in front of her. She shut her eyes and concentrated on emptying her mind. The pain diffused into a mild tingling.
Her eyes open when a male voice told her to not be afraid. She whipped around, but no one was near.
The voice came from within her head.
“It’s okay,” the voice said.
She looked at the man, who still fixed her in his stare. He slid from his seat and headed her way. She dropped her head and stared at the counter, quickly visualizing the brick wall.
“Your thoughts stick out.” He sat on the empty stool next to her.
His penetrating stare caused her head to tingle again, but the tingle stopped as quickly as it started. She’d clouded his attempt to rummage through her mind.
“Beautiful women like you shouldn’t drink whiskey.”
What a line. His respectful approach did nothing to impress Veronica. The Deamhan were naturally devious. She cupped the whiskey glass and stared into its glowing liquid.
The stranger smiled and reached for the glass, grasping it from the rim and placing it front of him. “I’m trying to start a conversation,” he prompted.
From the corner of her eye, Veronica saw him examine her. His eyes roved her semi long brunette hair. She tried hard to block her thoughts from him, but the tingle sensation told her she was failing.
“You should know it turns me on when you do that,” he said.
She made eye contact for a second then quickly looked away. He mumbled something, but his voice was too low for her to hear over the blaring speakers. Most of the men in Dark Sepulcher were attractive, but this man was hot. She stole a covert glance from under her eyelashes. Tall, medium build, long, glossy hair—stop it. Stay off that bandwagon.
His full lips broke into a smile. “Sorry I intruded on your thoughts. But I gotta admit, I like what I see in there.”
She felt heat rise in her chest, neck, and face. Busted. He offered his hand, another trick she wouldn’t fall for.
“I’m Remy and you are?”
She fixed her thoughts on her napkin, staring at the condensation ring left by the wet glass. Still, her mind wouldn’t quiet. What Deamhan type is he? Teeth aren’t sharp and pointy. He’s not a Ramanga. She stared again at her drink, wiping the droplets of water from the side of her glass.
“Am I scaring you?”
She shook her head and remained silent.
“Do you talk?”
“Not to strangers.” She immediately regretted her gutsy remark, knowing it would intrigue him further.
“Maybe you should.” He traced the rim of the glass with a slender finger. “You’re new here.”
She studied the woodwork on the bar.
He’d read her like an open book. She felt a tiny tingle as he tried again to read her thoughts.
“Your thoughts. They come to me kinda like a movie: sometimes clear, other times fuzzy.” He chuckled. “Right now, they’re crystal. Do you really find the bar’s wood grain that intriguing?”
Veronica couldn’t help but grin.
“Do you smell that?” His voice dropped to a loud whisper. “I smell a vampire.” Remy’s eyes fixated over her shoulder.
The dark woman from the bathroom sashayed over and leaned against the bar. Veronica hardly recognized her. She now wore the professional attire of a business woman: grayish slacks, a red blouse, and a gray suit jacket. She’d styled her hair into a chic ponytail and glossed her lips in red.
Remy and the woman locked eyes.
Veronica felt a fierce, electrical tension emanating from the two, and glanced back and forth between them. The woman smirked, and he smiled nonchalantly.
“She’s mine, Remy,” she said. “He said I can have her.”
He revealed his even, pearly teeth, his finger still tracing the rim of the glass. “Already tired of the other one?”
Unable to stand the crackling air between the two, Veronica slid from the stool. The woman placed her hands on her hips, blocking her escape with her elbow.
Remy smiled. “Not every female who strolls into Dark Sepulcher belongs to you, Alexis.”
Veronica made a mental note of the vampire’s name.
“But this little catch is stirring up the attention.” Her lips puckered.
“Oh, that’s it,” he said. “You just want to be the first to take her.”
Veronica eased sideways. They were playing a game to see who would be the first to have her. Well, she wasn’t going to be “had” by anyone.
She decided to leave. “Excuse me.” She slid past him with the intent to walk away.
“But we haven’t talked yet, researcher.” He tapped his index finger on the counter.
His comment stopped her in her tracks.
“Researcher?” Alexis visibly cringed at the mention of the word. “Well, then. You can have her.” She snarled her lip in distaste. “I don’t like them. Their blood tastes funny.”
A cold chill blew up Veronica’s spine. Try as he might, she couldn’t allow herself to be associated with The Brotherhood. She was not a researcher, her father made sure of that. He kept her away from it, shielding her just enough to tell her what she needed to know.
“I’m not a researcher,” she blurted. Not like my father.
“Then who are you?” Remy asked, fixing her with his penetrating stare.
The bad memories of The Brotherhood were fresh in the execrable minds of the vampires and Deamhan alike. She couldn’t risk allowing him to peg her with that title, thus immediately black listing her in the club—and in the city. She buried the important pieces from her memory like names, cities, places, and the reason why she came to Dark Sepulcher from her mind.
“What? What is it?” Alexis asked Remy. “What do you see?”
He smirked. “A brick wall.”
“That’s why she interests you?” She rolled her eyes. “Because she knows how to hide her thoughts? That should make you want to kill her even more.”
“Now, now,” he said softly, “let’s give Veronica a chance to explain.”
He knows my name! The tingling sensation in her head returned. This time, it hurt.
She ran toward the front exit, plowing through the crowd until she made it passed the security guards outside. Her heart thumped in her chest, and she drank fresh air in huge gulps.
She slowed her pace once she reached the corner.
Sloppy. Mom would never have acted like that.
As she continued her walk home, thoughts about her father’s warning before she left San Diego repeated over and over in her mind. He’d said she wasn’t ready to come back to Minneapolis. Nonsense.
She had to be.
The full moon filled the night sky. She zipped her jacket as the wind picked up. She turned her face to the wind and inhaled, letting the crisp air fill her lungs. Fall was the best time of year in Minnesota. She shoved her hands into her pockets and mounted the steps home.
Moving her head from side to side, she stretched her neck. A sharp pain in her back reminded her why she should have slept in the bed last night. A loud slapping sound woke Veronica, and she jerked upright on the couch, startled. She cocked her head, listening for the arcane sound to repeat itself but nothing came.
The apartment building, Palm Oaks (once a shoe factory that fell victim to a wave of new development) sat facing the bank of the Mississippi River. She’d considered a larger apartment, but the river view kept her there, despite the fact that in only a few days, she felt she’d outgrown the tiny space.
She released an audible breath as she turned her head to look out of the window. The leaves on the trees that banked the edge of the river were in the middle of changing colors. Her gaze drifted near the red asphalt bike path to the old gazebo. Now weather beaten, its white paint cracked and peeled at the edges. Its once detailed walls were non-existent, destroyed by the harsh Minnesota weather.
Yep, I’m in a great location.
The apartment building was also located near many of the dance clubs and bars littering downtown Hennepin Avenue. The area seemed perfect for her. At night, the street came alive with tourists and Minneapolis citizens crowding the sidewalks along with young adults who bar hopped to relieve themselves from the job pressures of corporate America.
Hennepin Avenue ran the length of two miles from east to west, beginning at the bank of the river and ending near the freeway. Its warehouse district rested near the eastern edge, close to Dark Sepulcher. With huge, boarded up vacant buildings, the district felt desolate and quiet until nightfall; except for the occasional police sirens in the distance. It agitated her that many of the buildings, part of original downtown Minneapolis, was shamefully left to rot in disrepair. Finally, the city decided to renovate half of the buildings, turning them into condominiums and businesses instead of tearing them down.
Veronica stretched her arms overhead, then reached for the remote control on her coffee table and flicked on the TV. In her still groggy state, she paused on a breaking story about a house fire near the warehouse district. The camera crew panned on the ruins of the destroyed home behind the newscaster. The report showed a crowd gathering across the street from the fire, watching smoke escape into the sky from smoldering pieces of wood and debris.
Before coming to San Diego, her best friend, Sean warned her about the fires. The Deamhan in Minneapolis now violated their Dictum— basic rules laid down by their ancestors centuries ago on how to survive in the human world without risking your privacy. Now they had turned a total one eighty from their rules which were simple, yet explicit: maintain secrecy, dispose of human remains, and respect the Ancients, the oldest of the Deamhan.
She finally pulled herself from the couch. The bright sunlight crept through her window and blinded her. She twisted the window blinds to block the rays and smiled to hear and see the birds chirping outside her window. When she opened the window, the smell of wet leaves and dew entered her nostrils. Below, the sidewalk came alive with cyclists and rollerbladers. The Jubilee Coffee shop across the street spilled its patrons onto the sidewalk. The clear blue sky showed nary a cloud.
“This is the Minnesota I remember,” she spoke to herself. “Beautiful scenery, ten thousand lakes…and Deamhan and vampires.”
She wiped the morning sweat from her forehead. She thought about Sean Fechin, her best and only friend in The Brotherhood. He secured the secret documents about the Deamhan for her and supported her decision to go to Minneapolis. She yearned to hear his voice.
She pulled the cell phone from her coat pocket and dialed his number.
“So now you call,” he answered.
“It’s only been a couple of days.”
“Three, to be precise. Besides, you told me as soon as you arrived in Minneapolis you’d call.”
She remembered. Their short conversation about her trip became clear as though it had happened yesterday. “Well, I had to get settled first.” She headed for the kitchen. “I still haven’t unpacked everything yet.”
“What do you have to unpack? It’s not like you’re staying there forever.”
“So now you’re my self-appointed protector.” The noise of rustling papers and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon rebounded from the ear piece. “I thought you didn’t like Pink Floyd?”
“What makes you think that? I’ve always like Floyd.” He grunted. “So, how is it up there?”
“So far, so good”—she opened the door of her fridge to retrieve a carton of orange juice from the top shelf. “I guess.”
“And Dark Sepulcher? Was it like I said it would be?”
“Uh, I went last night.” She heard his audible gasp across the miles.
“I thought you were going to wait a couple of weeks.”
“I was, but I changed my mind.” She heard more clattering in the background.
Sean lowered his voice. “So, what happened in there?”
“They were everywhere.” She pulled an empty glass from the cabinet. “You should’ve come with me, Sean. It was unbelievable.”
“I’m sure it was but you know I don’t have the stomach for that.”
Veronica knew all too well. He didn’t plan to head out into the field as a researcher. He avoided danger like the plague. He was most comfortable sitting behind a desk.
“You know I don’t want to be anywhere near them.”
“Yeah, you don’t have to tell me twice.” She heard the twinge of excitement in his voice. She pictured him sitting in a dark enclosed office, his back to the wall, his hand cupping his mouth, and his eyebrows raised in elation. “Well, I really didn’t think they’d let me in.”
“They? The Deamhan?”
“And the vampires.”
“Well, did anyone recognize you?”
“One Deamhan accused me of being a researcher”—she poured herself a glass of juice from the pitcher in the fridge— “so yes, I think they recognized me.”
Everything she knew of Dark Sepulcher came from Sean’s excellent ability to obtain secret Brotherhood files. He’d taught her that the building that housed Dark Sepulcher had been through many facelifts in the past: a bar, a theatre, a hotel, and even a house of ill repute. Its vibrant history placed the building and surrounding structures in the historic district of Minneapolis. The building still maintained the look of an old two level warehouse, complete with a small upper level and fire escape stairs on the outside. It had been his suggestion that she begin her research there. He’d told her it was common knowledge that no researcher had ever stepped inside the venue. While there, they’d avoided the building at all costs.
“You think so? Who was it? What happened? Were you hurt?” He shot questions as fast as pellets fired from a gun.
Veronica sipped from her glass. “I should’ve been more prepared. I should’ve studied the documents you gave me.”
“You didn’t read over them?”
“Yeah I did, but not enough to remember everything.”
“Veronica, you promised me you would.” His voice grew solemn. “You need to be more careful and more prepared.”
“I’m fine.” She heaved a sigh. “But I think I’m going to need some more information.”
“What kind of information?”
“One of them, the Deamhan who accused me, went by the name of Remy. I recognized the name but I was wondering if you could find more information on him.”
“Like his history?”
“Yes, his history, anything you can. I’ll gladly take.”
Sean hesitated. “It’s—it’s not going to be easy. They’re revamping the Archives here and moving the majority of the files to a secured location until they’re done.”
The Brotherhood Archive was the most impressive part of the San Diego headquarters. It housed old researcher accounts about the Deamhan in the western hemisphere and other relics from past centuries. She reserved to comment, knowing her father used his position as President of the Midwest Region and his influence to keep every information they had secretive and hidden. It boggled her mind. Of course, it wasn’t coincidental that they decided to revamp the place just when she needed access to the information.
“But that’s where you come in, Sean. You can get almost anything.”
“Well, that might change,” his voice softened to a whisper.
“What—what do you mean ‘it might change’?”
“Nothing. Never mind. Let’s see. Remy, right?”
“And Alexis. She’s a vampire.”
“A vampire.” He blew out a pent up breath. “A vampire and a Deamhan at a club together? I thought they couldn’t stand each other.”
“Well, they can’t, from what I saw.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll get started.” His voice suddenly took on a pleasant, professional tone. She heard more muffled sounds and the muted voice of a man in the background.
“Veronica, I gotta go. Let me in on the inside scoop when you call back. You are going to call me back tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“And Veronica,” Sean said softly, “keep your cell on and be careful.”
“You should stay away from that club for a few days at least.”
She glanced at the television. “Yeah, I have some sanctuary hunting to do. Bye for now.” She snapped her cell phone shut and sipped her OJ.
“Who was that?”
Sean rolled his brown eyes and he looked away from Kenneth Dearhorn. He refused to say Veronica’s name. He replaced his phone in the cradle, turned down the volume on the radio, and leaned back in his leather office chair, a gift from Veronica’s father.
“I came here to tell you to not worry about Rick’s eulogy.” Kenneth leaned against the edge of his desk and he picked up his electric pencil sharpener, examining it.
“Because I’m writing it.”
Sean gripped the Styrofoam cup in his hand and brought it to his lips. The coffee had turned lukewarm. His eyes fixed on Kenneth’s tall medium build body and the mischievous smile overshadowing his hazel eyes.
“I want to know how you managed to get Mr. Austin to approve for you to write a eulogy,” Sean asked, “especially since you didn’t even know Rick.”
“No, you can’t know.”
He wanted to smack Kenneth’s smile off his face. Scattered papers and desk memos about the recent increase of Deamhan activity in San Diego, and a report about the recent death of Rick Sorfield littered his large office desk.
Rick’s body was found underneath the inner pass of the Interstate 5 freeway in Chula Vista. Large fire ants had eaten away his eyes, and larva filled his ears. His throat had been slashed, and his body was drained of blood. They’d identified him by dental records because his face was unrecognizable.
Sean knew Rick. Unlike the majority of researchers, Rick didn’t have family in the organization. After being viciously attacked and nearly killed by a Deamhan, he’d decided to join The Brotherhood. They had competed for the more lucrative desk position after their formal graduation. He landed the job, and Rick ended up as a field researcher. He’d only been on the job six months before his murder.
He breathed heavily. “Congratulations, I guess.” His friend didn’t deserve to die and this asshole has no right to write his eulogy.
“I came here to see if you have any ideas on what should be in Rick’s eulogy.”
“You can’t be fucking serious.”
“Rick was Brotherhood. He was family.” Kenneth stood up and he walked around to the other side of the desk. “I might not have known him as good as you may have. However, I want to do my best in representing his legacy, if you know what I mean.”
Sean rolled his eyes. There wasn’t anything he could do except agree. Kenneth held the lead researcher and he was the personal favorite of the President of the Western Division. Disagreeing or failing to participate meant disobeying his orders and nothing was worse than working in the backroom, filing paperwork and handing out mail for the remaining of his career. He had to play along, for now.
He forced himself to smile. “If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Good.” Kenneth placed his hands on his hips. “Also, don’t leave after the funeral. Mr. Austin has asked to speak to you privately.”
Kenneth nodded. “So be on your best behavior.” He leaned over and whispered, “I know you were talking to Mr. Austin’s daughter.”
Sean placed his fingers on the back of his head and he leaned back in his chair. “Now, why would she call me?”
Kenneth laughed. “Why wouldn’t she call you? You’re her best friend. You know I’m going to find out anyway so you might as well tell me now.”
“Tell you what?”
“What would Mr. Austin think if he knew you were helping his daughter?” He straightened his jacket. “Just food for thought.” He gracefully walked out of the room.
Sean rested his head on his desk. He tried to clear his mind. He knew the way Kenneth worked. He was sure that he already told his superiors about Veronica.
He wished he had the courage to be there with her, in the mix, delving into hands on research, coming face-to-face with a Deamhan. He yearned for the experience but his fear of the environment dampened his desire.
He turned up his radio, catching the intro of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” He could relate. From his office window, he watched the cars rushing down the freeway below. “She’d better call me back,” he muttered to himself.
The sun’s rays blinded his eyes. Another California day, gone.
Deamhan. Deamhan Chronicles #1 is available on Amazon
Thank you for taking the time to read the prologue and the first two chapters of my novel.
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