Patterson shifted in their sleep, the cot in the back of the van creaking as they sought a comfortable position. Shia looked back in concern as they gave a whimper. And then another.
With a sharp intake of breath, Patterson woke, one arm flailing to escape the blanket. They looked around, their soft brown eyes wide, taking deep breaths as they brought themselves back to the here and now.
In the apartment. Across from a large, empty, rundown building. Another stakeout, a long one this time, information gathering rather than taking action. It meant downtime, time to think, time to dream. Time to remember.
Losing the witch again had triggered a flood that Patterson had long been holding back. There had been no sign of her since, and the captive they’d taken was unable to tell them anything about her whereabouts, as he had only ever seen her as a projection. As far as Patterson was concerned, the other information he was spouting in hopes of making a deal could be dealt with by someone else. And yet, here they were, following up a lead from the guy.
A slavers market was apparently going to take place here. People with powers, or gifts, or some sort, captured by any number of schemes – from fake refugee transport to catfishing, vulnerable people of all kinds were sold to the highest bidder, to do with as they pleased. And while the exact date and location remained unspecified until the market was actually on, buyers were put on alert, and help – including their recent captive – was hired for setup.
Patterson sat up, and pulled the hair tie off their wrist, pulling back their long auburn tresses into a loose ponytail and sliding into their chair beside Shia, who took one glance at their pale, drawn face, and looked back at the monitors.
“Hey,” Patterson said, eventually.
“Hey,” Shia returned. “Nothing new to report.”
“Yeah. We figured it wouldn’t be today, looks like we were right.”
“My money’s still on the day after tomorrow.”
“You might be right, actually. They need some setup to run an operation like this and we’ve seen nothing.”
Patterson sat back and sighed.
“You had another nightmare.”
“You want to talk about it yet? If you refuse to see the therapist the Chief keeps offering, you can at least talk to me.”
“That would involve knowing where the hell to begin…”
“Tell me about the witch.”
“Justinia…I can’t start with her, that’d be bringing you in halfway through the story. But…I can start a bit earlier. Back to when I was human. It’s a long one, but I’ll try to cut out the boring bits and the gruesome bits for you.”
Shia shifted, getting comfortable in her seat, “I’m listening.”
“I was turned when I was 27, but that was a lot of years ago. It was 1839, and I was just the youngest child of a blacksmith. My older brother and sister were going to inherit the forge and the business, and they were already 13 and 16, and working towards that when, surprise! I showed up. I wasn’t expected, and I wasn’t wanted, and when it became clear that I wasn’t like other people, I was cast out of the family. Soot was drawn across my brow, my parents spat at my feet, and I was given a small bundle with a change of clothes, some bread and cheese and a flask of water, and told never to darken their door again.
“So I left the township and I travelled across the country. I ate berries, stolen bread, even grass when I was starved enough. I slept in fields, empty barns, in the shelter of trees. I occasionally found work, as a serving boy or messenger, but I always had to move on. I refused to state my gender, or dress as one or the other consistently. I had to be me, you know? All I had was my sense of self, I couldn’t bear to conceal it, not for any reason – even my own best interests. So. The whispers would start. Or some boy or girl would get a crush. Something would start it up, and I’d leave in the night carrying whatever I could scrounge, and be long gone by the time anyone noticed.
“I did this until I was about 20. I was hardened by then. I thought nothing and nobody could touch me.
“One day, walking down one of the lanes. a carriage stopped by me and the passenger invited me aboard. I accepted the ride, and quickly found out three things. One: the passenger was like me. Two: they had been looking for me since one of their people had seen me a while back and found out everything they could. And three: they had a job they wished to offer me.
“When I say the passenger was like me, I mean they dressed like I would if I had only had the money. On the day we met, they wore a flowing skirt and jacket with tails, heeled boots and a corset, makeup and jewellery. To me, they looked like a dream. I fell in love instantly – so quickly that I asked no questions about the spy, the job, the blackout curtains over the windows, their pale face beneath the blush, or the thick red liquid they poured for themselves, whilst offering me simple tea.
“They called themselves Liliane. No title or surname, just…Liliane. I travelled with them for two days, staying in fine hotels, dining on food so rich it made my stomach hurt, sleeping in beds so soft I would panic on waking, wondering if I’d died and lay on a cloud. They treated me kindly, and told me that I would be taken to a tailor, to be clothed exactly as I desired. They told me I was not only not alone, but ought to be revered, as through all the hardships and closed mindedness, I’d never allowed anything or anyone to change or challenge who I was. They treated me as if I were special, and for the very first time, I felt like I…was normal. More than normal, perhaps even…superior.
“Their home was an old house, refurbished to be modern, containing 3 wings full of rooms, art, and people. It was miles from anywhere else – my new patron explained that they enjoyed the privacy. I saw that many of the people there, both guests and staff, were, if not quite the same as me, clearly not the same as everyone else, either. Though I wouldn’t have the right words to describe it all for some time to come, I realised that this was a haven for people of all genders and sexualities, all races and differences. Any who were prejudiced against, or unable to be their true selves, elsewhere, were welcome here. It was like a dream.
“And still I failed to notice the signs. Until I walked into my patron’s room one day. My job varied wildly, but mostly I was there to attend to them as they required. This day, an urgent message had arrived, demanding that it be looked at immediately. I obeyed, knocked, thought I heard an invitation to enter, and did so. I found Liliane naked, in bed with one of the other guests. That itself wasn’t unusual, but this? She was drinking blood directly from their wrist.
“She looked up at me, and for the first time I saw her vampire face. Grey and veined, mouth wide and fanged, eyes glowing coals beneath an overhung brow. I know now that every vampire, over a number of years, can form their vampire face how they choose, and if they don’t, it will remain essentially the same as their human face, with some minor changes to accommodate the extra teeth. To be truthful, that knowledge makes this worse. I know now that she chose that look. Back then, it was simply the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen.
“I’d heard about vampires, and other extranatural creatures, of course, but like most humans who haven’t met one in person, I dismissed them as simple tales. I took in that face, the act I’d interrupted, I realised the tales were true, and in an instant, I knew what to do.
“I took a step forward, even as Liliane and her guest hurried to clean themselves up. ‘Make me like you’, I whispered. Pleaded, really. The sudden, desperate need to be like her threw everything else into a pale shadow. This was it. This was what I was destined for.
“So when she dismissed her guest, sat me down, and gently told me no, I was stunned. I begged, on my knees, to be changed, but she told me no, and threatened to eject me from her house if I told anyone else, or refused to drop the subject. I asked her why, and she shook her head, said I didn’t know what it was I asked for. She would wish immortality, and dependence on blood, upon nobody.
“After that, my job became less about attending to her, and more about attending to her guests. I obeyed, silently hoping she would relent, or provide me an opportunity to ask again, to show her I was serious. But she put me further and further away from her.
“So I made a new plan. I studied the guests until I was certain I had found a vampire with loose enough morals to change me, and as I attended him one evening, I asked if he were, indeed, a vampire. He told me he was, showed me his fangs in a handsome, pointed face, as pale as moonlight. I asked him to turn me, and he told me he would, but that I must first leave with him on the morrow because Liliane would never forgive him, or me. His name was Celius, and we ran away together that night. We travelled over the weekend to his cottage in the northern mountains, and the night we arrived, he stripped us both bare, and gave me my first taste of sex. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever experienced, and in the afterglow, he stroked my hair and pulled me close, draining my blood, before giving me his.
“I slept the Sleep, and awoke a vampire, still in his bed, with him naked next to me, crooning softly. He fed me blood from a flask, then another, until I was sated, assuring me it was animal blood, that no human need ever die for me to eat – though many would volunteer themselves as a meal. He told me the secrets of our kind, and he took me to places of pleasure I had never imagined before. I thought myself in heaven.
“Then I met her. Justinia. A week after my change she came to visit, wanting to meet Celius’ new pet, as she called me. It was clear she was jealous – an ex lover, of course, not pleased to be sharing the man she thought of as her own. But I sat back and smiled, trusting in my new love to protect me, and assuming, foolishly, that he had the same ideas about he and I, as I did.
“I was wrong. He and the witch, despite her jealousy, had been looking for a person like me. Gullible. Blind. Foolish. They drugged my blood and the next time I woke, it was in a basement laboratory.
“You ask about my nightmares. That’s where they come from. You see, both of them wanted to know what made a vampire tick. How are we immortal? How does our body change to use blood as our sustenance? How do we do the various and varied magics we learn over time, and what dictates who learns what? How far can one be hurt and still recover? And so on. It was torture disguised as research, and I’ll never describe those days to anyone. But I escaped. I barely remember how, just that one day they were careless, they didn’t lock everything back up properly when they left me for the night, and I worked my way out and ran.
“They thought I’d forget. They thought I drank the blood they gave me, with its forgetting spell. But I could sense the spell and I starved, pouring it away rather than drink it. So I remembered. Everything. I don’t know how much longer I could have resisted, and I don’t know how I kept going that night. By dawn, I was close enough to a farm that I could hide in their barn. I buried myself in the hayloft and slept. When I woke that night, I found a new power was developing. I called, and rats came. They offered themselves to me as food, and I drank it directly through their filthy, flea-ridden fur.
“I called again when I felt stronger, and the farm cat came. It was big and strong, well groomed and fed. It offered itself to me, but I told it to run home. I wouldn’t take someone’s love from them, animal or otherwise. With the strength from the rats, I made it to the woods, and called wild animals, who again offered themselves to me. Those I drank, as it did no more harm than if I’d hunted them for their meat.
“It was a long time before I felt myself secure enough to do anything but run and hide. I don’t know how they reacted to my disappearance, but I swore I would hunt them one day and ensure they couldn’t harm anyone else. I got him some years back, before I became a Lawkeeper. I won’t tell you what I did to him, you might feel the need to arrest me,” Patterson gave her a tired smile. “But that’s why the witch is so important. That’s why the nightmares. That’s why…so many things.”
Shia reached out and squeezed Patterson’s hand in hers.
They squeezed back for a moment, then let go.
“Thank you for telling me. We’ll get her, Pat. I swear to you we will.”
Patterson nodded, and turned back to the screens, “Why don’t you get some sleep. I wouldn’t mind some quiet time, after sharing that.”
“Sounds good to me,” Shia stood, stretched, and carefully arranged herself on the cot, staring at the ceiling. She was glad they’d finally opened up, but that was way worse than she’d been expecting. Fucking witch. She wouldn’t be out there much longer, Shia swore that to herself. They’d find her. Soon. And she would be lucky to make it as far as an arrest, if Shia had anything to say about it.
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