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Day Shift – Chapter 21

Chapter 21 – The End of the Year

Mattias had barely finished with an irate customer seconds before. Christmas had come and gone, and now it was that stretch between the holiday and the new year. It was a strange twist that very few people really understood. People had their gifts now and were trying to figure out how to use them or set them up – and they no longer felt the need to be polite. It would be a couple of weeks before it calmed down, but it was just as busy as it had been for the past week or so. It was tormenting, but the light at the end of the tunnel gave a bit of hope that it wouldn’t be forever. Those things would go back to normal soon.

As he leaned back, he worried that normal wasn’t what he wanted it to be. There was a dread to keep doing this. Even after the realization that these people were closer to him than he cared to admit. He took a breath and finally turned his head to the person that had drawn his attention. One of the Human Resources goons had shown back up at his cubicle and flagged him down. He saw the man waving at him and waiting for the call to end. He pulled off his headset and tossed it down on the desk.

“HR,” The vampire spoke with an unhappy smirk on his lips, “I guess we’re here to talk about the whole Eve, thing.”

“Something like that,” The HR man said with a twist of his forefinger into a come-hither motion before moving off towards Ed’s office.

For whatever reason, that really unsettled Mattias. Oh well, he assumed he was getting fired. One couldn’t throw down with a werewolf and not get fired. The camera’s caught the whole thing, so the police and district attorney had no intention of charging him with anything, sure. It was only fair that the company opted to fire him over it though. After all, he had spent Christmas in jail. Oh well. It was a good run. One he was happy with overall.

He took a breath and pushed himself back and away from his desk. “Alright, I’ll be back.” He glanced around and realized no one could hear him. He shook his head. He’d at least have to come back and get his stuff. He pointed down at his small and constant companion of a Lunchbox. “Stay.” He ordered before stepping up and heading out of the cubicles and into the hall. He kept getting stares from people as he passed by. Between the scarred up face, the shattered glass doors as a reminder, and the rumors, he couldn’t have guessed what exactly brought their attention to him.

He never liked meetings with HR. He was pretty sure no one did. And in this case, he expected it to be his last. He didn’t think he would have a job after the meeting. The look on the faces of the HR personnel waiting for him in Ed’s office. There were three of them, and he hadn’t ever seen them before. Each was dressed impeccably but in that meticulously designed way as to pretend to be a little more approachable. And they all watched him with the same level of bland disinterest that marked so many in their profession.

That was fine with him. They needed to be distant. It made their job easier, and frankly, he didn’t begrudge them for it. Well, maybe he did a little bit. He glanced into the glass out of instinct, trying to check his reflection. It was just a blur. There was nothing there to point out that he was anything but a smudge as far as he could tell. He could almost see through it now. That was a depressing realization. He would have liked to know if any part of him was still hanging off or was an obvious give away for him being a member of the undead.

He approached the door and took a moment to look back. He had grown to like this place, or rather the people inside of it. Now, he was kind of sad to see it go. He didn’t know what else to do now but go on in. He pushed open and stepped in, watching the three keep their eyes on his every single move. He’d make the first move.

“You wanted to see me?” He asked with a little nod of his head.

“Yes, Mr. Holland. We need to talk about your future with the company,” The middle Human Resources goon spoke up.

“Of course. That’s what I expected,” Mattias admitted.

“Most people,” The Left one said with a little nod out of the room, “Would not have come in today. They would have taken a few more days to recover, or may have even sought some sort of benefit from the company.”

“But you,” The Right person said quickly, “Are not most people, are you?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Mattias felt a bit of defensiveness slide up his spine.

“Just that. You are not most people. You have scruples, and always seek to get the job done,” The Center spoke up again.

“We have to ask if you understand that your actions have consequences,” The Left added.

“And if you are prepared to accept those consequences.” The Right concluded.

Mattias was already tired of glancing back and forth between them. He didn’t like feeling as if he was being treated like a child as if they were buttering him up before tearing him down. He took a deep breath and waved a hand at them. “Yes, I did. Get to the point.”

“Company policy is to wait for security or the police.”

“And let one of my team get eaten by a lycan? I don’t think so.”

“There was no sign that she would have been injured. Until you intervened,” The Center spoke coldly, placing both hands on the desk and standing up.

“There was. Plenty before and at the time,” Mattias spoke, “I acted. I won’t apologize for that. Do what you have to do.”

The three stood quietly and looked at him for a moment.  They each gave a slow nod, and the center one turned towards him again. “And what is it that we should do?”

“Fire me, I assume.”

They all gave a quiet nod again before the Center smirked. “That would normally be what we would do. But today is not normal. You fought a Lycan to protect a team member, despite every bit of evidence pointing to the fact that you had no desire to be here. You’ve been an exceptional employee, even with your personal challenges. And a position has just opened up that we would like you to consider.”

Mattias didn’t trust them for a second, but he had to admit he was intrigued by the fact that he wasn’t getting fired. “What position?”

The Left and Right stepped away from the desk, as the Center took a step back, pulling with him the chair he had been sitting in. He waved across it, “This one.”

There was a moment when the vampire took them seriously, but then a smile crossed his lips and he let out a small laugh. “Ms. Chambers is the boss here, not sure how she’d take me sniping her position.”

“Ms. Chambers quit, effective this morning.” Both Left and Right spoke at the same time.

Mattias’ smile dissipated. “What, why?”

The three looked between one another, and then looked at him. Center cocked his head to one side, “I’m sorry, Human Resources can’t offer an answer to personal questions about employees. But, the position is open. It would come with a large jump in pay, a more flexible schedule, full benefits, and of course, your own private office.”

There was a moment of silence in the room. A pin could have dropped and sounded like a hammer. He had wanted to get away from all this, but now that he had started to feel attached he was having second thoughts. He likely needed stability. He needed to have a little extra cash flow and a more secure set of benefits now that he was progressing as far as he was. He never would have assumed this curse would have brought him to this point. He never thought it would trap him in a job he hated, and a cubicle farm he could have cared less to see again. The thought of security was hard to miss in his place. Every part that fell to pieces needed to be replaced and surgeons were expensive in the best of times. After all, discretion was the better part of valor, and his team needed a watchful eye.

Still, a minute to talk it over even with just himself would be a good plan. “Can I get back to you?”

“Sure, take the day,” Left responded.

“We just need an answer by tomorrow.”

The day finished and Mattias went home to consider the options. Of course, he spoke to Rory and Olivia about it. He didn’t want to talk to his team about it, but he did eventually ask Hal about it as well. All of them said the same thing. None of it helped. He had one more person he needed to ask about the job before he decided. One last person to talk to about it.

He was lucky that the weekend came fast, and with the new year stretching it a bit further, he wouldn’t need to be back to work for a while. It gave him time to do some research, to find out where Ed had gone. After a day or two of pestering everyone he knew that might have known where she was, he finally found himself standing on a sidewalk on a busy street. The same busy street he had met her on that night with Ava.

He tapped his knuckles against a glass door, the dim-lit building completely abandoned, but recently cleaned. There was a light flickering in the back of the building and after a few moments, Ed appeared from one of the doors. He gave her a little wave, and she waved back. He took a step back as she moved to the door.

She looked different. She wasn’t as sharp. She was smiling, spattered with paint and wearing loose-fit clothes. Her hair was a mess, barely staying in the loose ponytail she had pulled up recently if the small streaks of paint on the strands of hair were anything to go by. He kind of liked her better like this, though he didn’t quite understand it yet.

She pushed open the door, “What are you doing here, Mattias?”

“I heard you were here, so I had to see for myself,” He said with a grin and a nod to her. “So you decided to go your own route,”

She nodded, “Yes. I quit after your… well, fight. Put my entire savings into it. Probably stupid…” She waved in, “But I had to try. Want the tour?”

“Sure.”

“What about you?” She asked, “Human Resources told me you were their pick to replace me.”

“Yeah, that’s what they told me too,” He said with a nod. He stepped into the building and glanced around. “So downtown, easy for people to get to, close to a busy street for students and things. You’re going through with your plan, right?”

“Might as well try. Right?” She smiled over at him. Her hands waved out and gave a quick image, “I figure I can get this well lit, well painted, offer something like coffee or ice cream or whatever. You know. Give people a safe place to find themselves.” She paused for a minute. “I know it’s not much yet. I’m still painting, and then I have to get the floors…”

“No, I see what you’re saying. It’s a good open room, plenty of light fixtures…” He shook his head. “A little work will go a long way. I have faith in you.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have expected to hear that from you,”

“Really? I thought we bonded pretty well as things went on.”

“Good, I’m glad. I thought we did too.”

He took a breath. He was going to say something else, but she beat him to a question.

“Like the new gig?” She asked with a sly tilt of her head.

“Wouldn’t know.”

“Haven’t started yet?” She asked.

“No,” He said taking a deep breath. “I quit.” He said with a little nod, “I’ve only got one life, turns out. Not going to waste it there.”

“What are you going to do instead?”

“Well, I was hoping you might be willing to listen to a proposition. I had this dream I kept putting off, and with a friend starting down the same path… I thought I might tag along.” He said. Her smile widened a bit, and she gave a nod. That was the beginning of his new life, and there was nothing about it that didn’t terrify him. It was better than wasting away though.

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Day Shift – Chapter 20

               Mattias stared at the blank wall behind him, the cold stone a welcome distraction from the constant roaring hum of the industrial fan set up just on the other side of the cold county prison cell he found himself sitting in. They had been kind enough to set up a heater behind it for the other people in the cell, and it was set low enough that it was only a nuisance. It was incredibly uncomfortable, though, feeling the force cycled air pushed against the bare bones of his upper arm and jaw. It chipped away at him with a relentless constancy that would have irked him under normal circumstances, but under these, it made him anxious and it made him itch.  He assumed the latter was due to the dust in the gaping open wounds he had, but he wasn’t sure. It could have been that itching for the blood he had lost.

               It had not endeared him to the other prisoners, that was for sure. The constant wind was uncomfortable for everyone stuck here. Mostly, it was drunk folks who had been enjoying their Christmas Eve a little too much. Or succumb to the loneliness of the holiday season. Either way, this is where they ended up. Of course, to them, it was a bit more hellish, as they were sharing a tank with a broken and torn up undead.

               Luckily, Hal had been put in the tank with him too, at least after a couple of hours. He went to the hospital to get checked out first with a nice police escort before being brought out to the station to serve his time there until the district attorney or a judge was available to set up their possible crimes and come up with whether they were going to be charged. Even the police seemed to agree it would be a self-defense situation, and that they shouldn’t expect to hard of a fight from the DA or authorities. Still, they were going to be treated like criminals.

               So, here, on Christmas eve, he sat staring at the wall with a fan blowing his clothes and hair all about him in a torrent of discomfort designed specifically to keep him from turning to mist and floating away harmlessly. Though, he had no such plan to do so. That would just make the situation worse, though he had to admit, he wondered how they would even be able to book him, or anything given that they couldn’t take a picture of him.

               It was an odd way to spend Christmas Eve. He mostly sat against the walls, and eventually adjusted to glance out and around himself from time to time. The others here were as pathetic as he was, asleep on benches in a county jail cell waiting for a chance to get out and go back to whatever it was their lives held for them. He didn’t know, he didn’t talk to any of them except Hal, but they all looked as excited with the idea of going forward in life as he felt.

               He didn’t really look forward to anything. He didn’t regret his actions, of course, but he didn’t quite understand the way things unfolded. He was having to conclude that he cared about his team. They were his friends, or as close to friends as he had nowadays. Aside from Rory and Olivia. He even kind of cared about Ava, as weird as she was. He hoped he hadn’t drained too much, but she was able to call the cops, so he supposed he hadn’t.

               It was a long night. He couldn’t sleep for a variety of reasons, but most of them were vampiric in nature. He wasn’t in his comfortable environment, his lair. There were a lot of little aspects that made it uncomfortable here. The smell of others, the fact that he wasn’t near any of his supplies, and that he was already in poor shape.

               But it didn’t matter.

               He had done what he needed to do and now he was being punished for it, and the world kept spinning as it always did.

               That was the thing, he supposed. That’s what bothered him. Nothing would change, he felt. Not in a way that mattered to him in a lot of ways. Ashley might be a little better off, and that was good, but would she just go straight back to work? Straight back to the same old job she hated. He’d fall into the same trap most likely. He always did. Things would come along that were just similar enough that he could settle for them. He always settled.

               He drifted off for a few minutes. He honestly didn’t know how long. There wasn’t a dream or anything similar.

               “Vampire,” An officer called out, rapping his knuckles against the bars of the little local jail. “Good news and bad news.”

               Mattias didn’t feel like turning around but forced himself too. His eyes squinted in the wind as he tried to look out to the guard. Try as he might, though, the winds made him look away.

“Bad news is the DA won’t be back until next Tuesday, so your sentencing is going to be a bit.” The officer hadn’t even asked which he wanted if any of it. He just started in on his explanations when the opportunity arose for him. “Good news is your lawyer is here,”

“That would be good news if I had a lawyer,” Mattias spoke as he stretched.

“Mattias, I’ve always got you covered,” Rory’s voice came from behind the officer, as he stepped out into view, well dressed in a fine and expensive suit, complete with tie and cufflinks. He looked as if he had just walked in from a deposition or a courtroom, though it was well into the wee hours of Christmas morning. “Can you turn off this fan, Officer? If he was going to escape, you don’t really think this would help do you?”

“He can turn into mist.”

“It’s not mists, its an incorporeal form and the refraction of the light in the ectoplasmic residue makes it appear as mist to the uninitiated,” Rory corrected as he pulled a hand from his pant pocket, “I have a few courses I can suggest if you and your officers would like to get more acquainted with non-humans,”

“No thanks,” The officer said nothing else but did reach over to turn off the industrial fan.

The sudden lack of fan noise was almost disconcerting in a way, but that infernal itching stopped quickly after, and Mattias had to admit that it

“Halil too,” Rory pointed to the sleeping Hal, who was twisted awkwardly around one of the cell benches. “Matt, if you’d wake him up.”

“You’ll have to fill out his paperwork separately…”

“I understand how paperwork is done,” He waved his hands across his suit, “Note the lawyer suit,” He grinned, “Let them out and I’ll get all that done,” Rory spoke before walking back off towards the front office of the station.

Mattias shook Hal awake. “Hal,” He said a couple of times as the barred door was pulled open.

His old manager groggily sat up, quietly stuttering out a bit of a word or two, but none that were fully formed yet.

“Rory’s getting us out, come on,” Mattias said, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.

The men both stood and stretched and walked out of the cell on their own volition. The officer just waved them down the hall. Neither said anything, but both were as relieved as they could be to be out of that place. It would still be another quiet half-hour, or maybe a full hour. It was hard to say, really. Again, he couldn’t help but doze off a little bit from time to time, and Hal didn’t help. The man sat down in the lobby and fell right asleep. Again, he was sitting alone. But again, he felt like, at least for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t actually alone. And on Christmas, that was a nice feeling.

“Come on,” Rory spoke as he entered the room and wandered on past them. “Let’s get you guys fed. They haven’t fed you, right?”

“What?” Hal spoke as Mattias helped him walk up and get standing. “Hey, Rory,”

“Hey Hal,” Rory smirked and gave him a nod, “So, food?”

“Food sounds good,” Hal said with a groggy yawn and nod.

“Where’s open?”

“There’s one of those twenty-four-hour diners across the street,” Rory said with a clear hand motion in what Mattias assumed was that direction, “I go there a lot of nights like tonight when clients do something stupid. Usually, they’re buying me dinner, though.”

“I can pay,” Mattias spoke, “Least I could do.”

“I was kidding,” Rory shook his head, “Come on, my car’s just outside.” The man yawned and marched out of the jail’s lobby, a few folders tucked under his arm. He didn’t wait for them, but it didn’t take too long for Mattias and Hal to fall into step behind him.

Just as he said, his car was just outside. He wasn’t one to show off, so there was just an older mid-sized sedan waiting for them. Mattias looked up when he stepped outside but kept walking towards the car. He climbed in, and there wasn’t a conversation. There was just a short drive. There was the darkened sky, his natural habitat. The stars, while dimmed by the light of the city, were pretty visible. And it was quiet. Unnaturally quiet. The city was asleep. Families were resting and waiting for the big day tomorrow. No one was waking up early to rush to the gym, no one was having trouble falling back asleep before work. There was a peace to the air that couldn’t be denied. There always was this time of year.

All in all, humans had a habit of sucking the fun out of everything. Humans embodied the seven deadly sins more than any of the non-humans. He struggled to survive, trying his best to be a decent person, fighting against his personal challenges. Everyone did that. Every single person on the planet had their challenges, but then nights like tonight came along. Christmas Eve. There wasn’t that worry. People weren’t bogged down by their usual struggles, not as much. Yes, there were outliers. An abusive partner could ruin the thought of holidays. A bigoted family who didn’t want to see you because of your life choices. Those things happened. Those were part of the challenge.

There was still hope, though. Hope that humanity would prevail, that the holidays would bring out the best of people. He needed to be reminded of that sometimes, and Rory showing up in the middle of night to bail him out of jail was one of those reminders. Perhaps not as big of one as the crowd waiting at the dinner for them.

As the car pulled up to the diner, he saw that the parking lot was full. As Mattias stepped out of the car with Hal and Rory, the trio walked up and stepped up onto the sidewalk outside of the diner. It was one of those old places that were always open, where the cooks made the food for you on a slab just behind the counter and waitresses always said hello when you entered. The food was greasy and perhaps not the best food ever, but on late nights like this it was very welcome.

And there, waiting for them to arrive was a table full of familiar faces. Olivia caught his eye first, a habit he still couldn’t break. But she sat next to Ashley, who was trying her best to understand how Olivia’s purse could communicate with her. An older couple sat next to her, her parents perhaps. They shared a lot of features. He could see the back of Lindsay’s head too and even spotted Maddox jogging back to the table with wet hands.

“Well, what’s all this?” Mattias asked.

“You should’ve asked for your one phone call,” Rory said as they paused outside the door. He sighed and turned around to face Mattias. Hal paused as well. “Luckily for you, you have people that want to watch out for you.”

“So, Ashley called Ol..”

“It doesn’t matter who called who, or any of that,” Rory said with a smirk. “Maybe, just maybe, you should try leading by example more often.” He took a breath. “I’ll sew you back together tomorrow morning, alright. Anyone who is going to freak out with skeleton Matt showing?”

Mattias watched as Maddox paused, giving time for someone to move off the boot. Ava popped out of the booth with a little bit of a bounce, and her eyes just happened to catch a glimpse of him. He couldn’t hear her but he saw her mouth move. She gave an excited bounce on her toes and rushed towards the door. That got everyone moving towards the door. He even spotted Ed, letting others go before her.

“I’m not worried about it. I don’t think this crew sees the vampirism,” He spoke with a little smile. “At least, not tonight.”

“Not ever,” Hal spoke up with a smile before he pushed open the door.

 

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Day Shift – Chapter 19

Eve

For the next week, work was hellish. Then came that fateful day. The one that every countdown had been working towards. All around the nation people sat and prepared to spend one of the most revered days of the year with their families. For the most part, after a week of relentless calls, it made the day relatively straight forward. It was no less busy than any other, but it was much less painful. Most of the questions and comments moved from trouble to happy people just wanting to make sure something got set up correctly to make the holiday go off without a hitch. It was much more doable. No less busy, but a much more pleasant sort of busy.

Still, by the time lunch finally rolled around to give him a break, Mattias was in a state. His throat hurt and he didn’t want to talk anymore. He just wanted to walk off the conversations for a while and be out of the office. So, he went out into the halls, outside his company’s office, and he walked in circles. He tried drinking his bottle as he walked. He was going slow though. Between the daylight from random windows he passed by, and general nausea from dealing with people all day, it was slow going. He made sure to finish the bottle before he finished his walking in circles. He couldn’t risk losing control again. And he wouldn’t.

From time to time, he’d stand in the hall and just concentrate on sucking the blood out of the bottle for a few seconds. At least on one occasion he awkwardly locked eyes with some worker from another company and gave him a friendly single nod. He was kind of curious if the man knew what he was doing. It wasn’t a common thing, and the bottle was just red-colored with minimal branding, so it wasn’t like he was out in the open drinking blood. Still, it was an odd thing to do, he thought. It must have been at least a little morbid for those around him too, but he really wasn’t sure what he could do about it. The only real alternative was to lose control and drain people, and that would be much worse. So, really, he wasn’t sure why in the world he felt like it was awkward to choose this option.

Either way, his break came to an end. His pocket vibrated as the alarm on his phone went off, giving him the two-minute warning on his time, and he let out a defeated sigh. He began to schlep his way back to his office. He was in no hurry and had no desire to return to work. So, he took his time. A minute or two late wouldn’t hurt anyone.

When he came back through there was a woman at the counter talking to Ava. He thought about passing on by, but a burst of familiarity with the brunette and the look on the receptionists face both made him linger for a second. The lady turned towards him with a sort of scowl. She was annoyed about something.

“Can I help you?” Mattias spoke up softly, turning on his customer’s voice and adding a little smile.

“I’m looking for Ashley Tran. I need to talk to her.” The woman said. He couldn’t quite put a finger on where he knew her from. Her voice wasn’t familiar to him.

His eyes turned to Ava, who just shook her head and shrugged. There was something else there though. “It is Christmas Eve so she…”

“I know she’s here. And I want to talk to her. I’ll go back there myself to get her if I have to.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I’ll check for you,” He replied. The tone the woman had didn’t instill him with any trust, though. “Anything I can pass along to her about who was asking to speak to her?”

“I just need to talk to her,” The woman turned and stared straight into the vampire’s eyes. She bore a hole in him with her look, anger virtually dripping out of the air around her.

“Okay, fair. Business or personal?” He continued, though there was enough snark in his voice to be picked up. Enough that her eyes narrowed deeper on him. A shame that he lacked the empathy most humans enjoyed. He was tired, and with his human parts still recovering, he couldn’t quite find the courage to give in to the worry he knew he should have felt.

“Personal.” She spat the word at him.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Ms. Mays, would you be kind enough to treat the lady to some coffee or cookies or anything she needs,” Mattias said as he walked off and through the doors.

“I don’t want any treats,” The woman howled after him.

He didn’t see poor Ava’s response. It wasn’t the first irate customer she had to deal with. Or team member. Or whoever this lady was. He didn’t care. He walked back to his desk and paused at the edge of the cubicle. Every one of his agents was sitting and talking to a guest or team member and going just as hard as they could go. He walked over and set his bottle on Ashley’s desk, which caused her to look up at him. She never flinched or changed her tone of voice with the guest. She was on a roll, and she just kept going.

He took a pad of paper and jotted down a quick message. Someone up front to see you. Seems pissed.

He didn’t need to write anymore. She just nodded and went back to the phone call. That was good enough for him. He stretched and moved towards his desk, but then the curiosity got the better of him. He tried to remember where he had seen the woman before. He couldn’t put a finger on it. He thought about it for a moment and decided to walk back up to the front and talk to her.

He was surprised when he saw Hal there talking to her already. He wasn’t against it. A couple of managers was better than one, after all. Especially at calming down an irate guest. He hustled a bit to get to the door quicker and pushed it open in time to hear some words.

“You aren’t welcome here,” Hal didn’t pull out a stern voice often, but with a confident point to the exit. “Now, leave.”

Mattias started to say something, but then he noticed the blurred reflection on the brass of the receptionist’s desk, with Hal’s reflection being fine. His heart sank a bit. She looked taller than when he left too, but surely that was just in his mind or the way she was standing.

“I want to talk to her now, and I won’t take no from some random jack off,”

“Whoa, that escalated. What the hell is going on here?” Mattias held up his hands.

“Fine, Ava, call security,” Hal ordered the receptionist, who was nervous.

“This fat ass won’t let me talk to my girlfriend,”

“Girlfriend?” Mattias said quietly. Suddenly he saw it all come back together in his mind. She was the woman he spotted on the texts. He had seen her here before. And, then there was Thanksgiving. “Hal’s right, you need to leave. Now.”

She gritted her teeth. There was a visible vein on her neck for a moment, and her face twisted to an angry red. Hal gave a nod of his head, “We know all about your anger problems, so why don’t you,”

He never finished the sentence. The woman raised a hand and backhanded Hal. There was a sickening slap and it knocked him off his feet. Then another sickening snap as the woman’s leg twisted and shattered, growing and reforming. Then it got worse. Her face twisted, her nose tore and twisted, a maw growing out of her face and fur beginning to sprout from every visible point of skin. This wasn’t some movie like transformation where she stood still though. She stomped forward on mismatched legs. One hand, half transformed to a claw reached out and caught Mattias by the throat and she lifted him off the ground with no trouble what-so-ever. He might as well have been a doll. Then the transforming lycan threw him.

Not just tossed him aside. Threw him. She launched him back and hard, and he slammed into and through the glass doors that separated the foyer from the cubicle farm. He rolled limply up against one of the nearby cubicles in a shower of shattered glass shards.

“Mattias!” He heard Ava’s voice. By the time he looked up to see where she was, Hal was back on his feet. He was bravely if stupidly doing his best.

The heavyset man charged the werewolf with all his might and heft, catching her in a tackle rather low. With only one leg transformed she was easy to bring down in that first second. She kicked him off of her and tossed him up and onto a nearby chair like a ragdoll.

Ava had taken the opportunity to run out of the foyer and over to the vampire’s side, “Are you okay?”

“I just got thrown through a glass door, Ava…” He muttered as he pushed himself up. “Get out of here, get to Ashley. Call the damn cops while you’re at it.” He said quickly.

“Right, what… you’re going to fight?”

“Gotta save Hal.” He said quickly, before standing up. She stood too, and then an idea crossed his mind. This fight wouldn’t be fun. “I hate to ask, but do you mind if I get a boost?”

“A boost…?” She asked before she saw him bear his teeth. Even in this situation, the sudden realization excited her more than he would have liked. “Oh, fuck yes,” She said as she pulled her hair away from her neck.

He didn’t wait for further permission. He just leaned forward and latched onto her neck. She let out a noise that was too close to euphoric for him, or this situation, as his venom began to slip into her veins and he pulled forth some of her life force.

Now frozen donated blood was sustaining for him. He didn’t need to worry about that. But fresh blood. Fresh blood was an entirely different thing. And from a neck, there was so much. He felt a warmth in his veins he hadn’t felt in years, a flow of energy stolen from a willing victim. It was invigorating. Dangerous. But invigorating. He released her neck and watched the woman slumped over for a second, taking a moment to catch her breath and let herself restore a bit of energy. Looking down at her, he could not help but want to drink more, even if the woman and her obsession bothered him to no end. He gave her a light smack on her shoulder.

“Do me a favor and call the cops,” He spoke as he sat up and cracked his knuckles.

She gave a nod but didn’t say anything. He didn’t look back. He just trusted she would do what he asked. In the meantime, he turned his attention back towards the danger that awaited him. There before him was a pissed off woman, half-way transformed into her lycanthropic form. Her body was still twisting. Bones and ligaments tore and twisted, snaps and disgusting tearing sounds were light on the air. He stepped forward back into the room and dusted himself off.

“Sorry I gendered you,” He asked coldly, his eyes twisting up to the massive beast. “I just assumed Ashley’s loser with a temper was a guy.”

She snarled down at him and it seemed the fight was on.

Now, it was important to remember that there was no glory in fighting. That this had devolved into hand to hand combat was a great failure on his part, and he knew it. Then again, he knew what she had done to Ashley and personally he thought she deserved a beating. He had a good line in mind too. His celerity would be perfect to slip in and out of her blows, to bob and weave, and launch small attacks of his own when he had an opening. Then he’d coolly ask if she was done yet once she was visibly winded. A solid line, a good plan, he was ready.

Of course, no he wasn’t. No one was ever ready for a fight. No plan ever survived being introduced to someone else. He was reminded of that when she pounced him, and once again caught him in one great paw. She tackled him to the ground without hesitation and dragged his head up in preparation to slam it back down.

After his head was put through one of the floorboards he realized he should have done something smarter. Turn to mist maybe. That would have been good. Luckily for him, she assumed he was dead. She was right, but off on her timing. She bounded forward, towards the cubicles – but that was something he couldn’t have. He closed his eyes and his body rose from the ground without a movement, carried by the solemn winds of the grave back to his feet.

He pushed off from the floor with one foot, and he was on her within a second. He didn’t have a catchy phrase to give to her right then. He just grabbed her by the back paw, and with a moment of undead strength, he yanked her back and threw her with all of his might.

She did not go as far as he had hoped. He was hoping for a heroic throw where she flew back across the foyer and through the glass doors. But no. She just toppled a few feet and scrambled onto all fours, charging him once again with her teeth bared. That was enough to let his instinct take over and when she reached him he was just a cloud of mist. She tried to snap at him, but traveled right through him, tumbling against the pathetic cloth and board wall of the nearest cubicle – which startled a few people beyond.

“Hah, missed me,” Mattias spoke as he reformed in the lobby. “Ah, damn. Mist. Mist me. Shit.” She turned with a howl and rushed back towards him. That warranted another move from him, and with his unnatural speed, he slipped away from that charge. He didn’t realize how quickly she could pivot, though, and she very quickly caught him in the side as he tried to turn to face her. Her momentum, even staggered by the change in direction, was more than enough to slam him hard into the receptionist’s desk. That snarling maw snapped at him and caught him in the cheek, tearing flesh from bone.

He had plenty of blood in him at the moment though. The pain wasn’t there, just a feeling of anger. He slashed at her with his claws, fingers across her arm. A small spray of blood and a howl from her was all he needed to get a little wiggle room. She wasn’t holding as tight with the wound, and that let him send a swift kick to her knee. His enhanced strength was more than enough to add another sickening snap to the series that had been filling the room. He did not enjoy the feeling or the sound, or her angry howl afterward.

She snapped at him again, and he tried to dodge and pull away from her. Her teeth sank into his upper arm, and he didn’t have time to change his mind on pulling away. Instead, he pulled his arm out of her teeth, causing his flesh and cloth to be ripped away like it was nothing. It left only a bloody bone and some hanging flesh on his arm, and the wolf spit out the flesh, her maw twisted into a look he could only describe as ravenous.

He raised the now partially skeletal arm and pointed at her. “We can stop this anytime, you just need to calm down.”

He should’ve left that last part off. She roared and charged at him, and he bolted towards the foyer door in response, with the werewolf right on his heels. At least she was concentrating on him for now. He pushed through the doors and into the hall, not glancing back as he heard shattering glass. He wasn’t sure what he was doing exactly. Leading her away, he thought. So he headed down the hall towards the stairs. When he reached the fire exit he kicked open the door and vaulted over the side and down the stairs.

His little bit of levitation let him snake his way between floors, hitting the ground on the first floor after falling a few stories, while the wolf was bounding down levels of stairs one at a time. He ran through the door into the foyer and waved off the nearest work. “Go, leave,” He yelled before he turned to see a couple of police officers, “Oh, thank god, she,”

He felt an odd sensation. Two small pricks, then searing pain and his body locking up hard. He twitched and collapsed to the ground, convulsing as one of the police officers loosed every ounce of juice into him from his taser. Luckily, they seemed prepared, because as soon as that werewolf ran through that door, she met the exact same fate.

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NaNoWriMo Day 22

Author’s Note – This is what I got written today. No where near a full chapter, but I just wasn’t quite finding the words. This chapter isn’t exactly as easy as I had hoped it would be to write. I’ll admit, climbing action is a little harder to do with slice-of-life, and that is making it more of a challenge for me to write. But, that’s the good thing about trying new things. You learn.

Chapter 19 – Eve

For the next week, work was hellish. Then came that fateful day. The one that every countdown had been working towards. All around the nation people sat and prepared to spend one of the most revered days of the year with their families. For the most part, after a week of relentless calls, it made the day relatively straight forward. It was no less busy than any other, but it was much less painful. Most of the questions and comments moved from trouble to happy people just wanting to make sure something got set up correctly to make the holiday go off without a hitch. It was much more doable. No less busy, but a much more pleasant sort of busy.

Still, by the time lunch finally rolled around to give him a break, Mattias was in a state. His throat hurt and he didn’t want to talk anymore. He just wanted to walk off the conversations for a while and be out of the office. So, he went out into the halls, outside his company’s office, and he walked in circles. He tried drinking his bottle as he walked. He was going slow though. Between the daylight from random windows he passed by, and general nausea from dealing with people all day, it was slow going. He made sure to finish the bottle before he finished his walking in circles. He couldn’t risk losing control again. And he wouldn’t.

From time to time, he’d stand in the hall and just concentrate on sucking blood out of the bottle for a few seconds. At least on one occasion he awkwardly locked eyes with some worker from another company and gave him a friendly single nod. He was kind of curious if the man knew what he was doing. It wasn’t a common thing, and the bottle was just red-colored with minimal branding, so it wasn’t like he was out in the open drinking blood. Still, it was an odd thing to do, he thought. It must have been at least a little morbid for those around him too, but he really wasn’t sure what he could do about it. The only real alternative was to lose control and drain people, and that would be much worse. So, really, he wasn’t sure why in the world he felt like it was awkward to choose this option.

Either way, his break came to an end. His pocket vibrated as the alarm on his phone went off, giving him the two-minute warning on his time, and he let out a defeated sigh. He began to schlep his way back to his office. He was in no hurry and had no desire to return to work. So, he took his time. A minute or two late wouldn’t hurt anyone.

When he came back through there was a woman at the counter talking to Ava. He thought about passing on by, but a burst of familiarity with the woman and the look on the receptionists face both made him linger for a second. The lady turned towards him with a sort of scowl. She was annoyed about something.

“Can I help you?” Mattias spoke up softly, turning on his customer’s voice and adding a little smile.

“I’m looking for Ashley Tran. I need to talk to her.” The woman said. He couldn’t quite put a finger on where he knew her from. Her voice wasn’t familiar to him.

His eyes turned to Ava, who just shook her head and shrugged. There was something else there though. “It is Christmas Eve so she…”

“I know she’s here. And I want to talk to her. I’ll go back there myself to get her if I have to.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I’ll check for you,” He replied. The tone the woman had didn’t instill him with any trust, though. “Anything I can pass along to her about who was asking to speak to her?”

“I just need to talk to her,” The woman turned and stared straight into the vampire’s eyes. She bore a hole in him with her look, anger virtually dripping out of the air around her.

“Okay, fair. Business or personal?” He continued, though there was enough snark in his voice to be picked up. Enough that her eyes narrowed deeper on him. A shame that he lacked the empathy most humans enjoyed. He was tired, and with his human parts still recovering, he couldn’t quite find the courage to give in to the worry he knew he should have felt.

“Personal.” She spat the word at him.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Ms. Mays, would you be kind enough to treat the lady to some coffee or cookies or anything she needs,” Mattias said as he walked off and through the doors.

“I don’t want any treats,” The woman howled after him.

He didn’t see poor Ava’s response. It wasn’t the first irate customer she had to deal with. Or team member. Or whoever this lady was. He didn’t care. He walked back to his desk and paused at the edge of the cubicle. Every one of his agents was sitting and talking to a guest or team member and going just as hard as they could go. He walked over and set his bottle on Ashley’s desk, which caused her to look up at him. She never flinched or changed her tone of voice with the guest. She was on a roll, and she just kept going.

He took a pad of paper and jotted down a quick message. Someone up front to see you. Seems pissed.

He didn’t need to write anymore. She just nodded and went back to the phone call. That was good enough for him. He stretched and moved towards his desk, but then the curiosity got the better of him. He tried to remember where he had seen the woman before.

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Day Shift – Chapter 18

Letters to Santa

 

               The week before Christmas was such a unique experience in the Customer Service Industry. While it was unique for each different type of worker. Retail workers perhaps had the most demanding job, as hundreds or thousands passed through their gates. Warehouse workers shipped with an unending frenzy of items to process and move on. Food workers dealt with hungry and happy people non-stop, watching dramas of countless lives unfold before them. And every single mistake made in that time, no matter how benign or human in nature, would end up at the desk of a Customer Service Representative – by whatever title they held at their respective company. It was no different for his team. Every slip, every mistake, every team member pushed just beyond breaking, would end up with a call to their department. Everyone would be the worst. They no longer received calls from confused team members or guests. All hands were on deck. So that Monday before Christmas, Hell Week started. Every call was angry, every one a problem to fix or solve, and those scant few that weren’t would only last a few seconds before they were over and it was back into the trenches. There was no break, no relenting of the wave of trouble that followed them here. It was eight to ten hours a day of constant trouble that needed to be solved. Every second of this weighed on his team, each building their stress more and more, until they were all exhausted and broken, smashed into the dirt and left there begging for the release of silence at any cost.

               Of course, they were professionals. All of them knew the secret to survival. All of them knew how to make it beyond this week and to the next. Each had been prepared.

               Helena was the newest, and she struggled the most. Lindsay had a kind heart, and she was right there with the newbie. The others, though. They had the secret down pat. And that secret was.

               Let them win.

               Let the waves of complaints destroy you. Don’t try to survive. Once you were broken, everything became easier. Nothing hurt you. All you wanted was for it to end. You could do your job without the worry of being defeated because you had already lost. This wasn’t a pit of despair. The guests had done nothing wrong. There was no reason to hate them or be hurt by them. The reason this week was so hard was the company, the expectations. All that faded away with one simple idea.

               “Worst they can do is fire me,”

               It was true. Every discount, every refund, every little breach of the company’s policies to make the guests happy and find the solution needed to keep things moving was worth it. The guest was happy, you were done with it, and the worst-case scenario was that you were fired. At this point, with this much stress, the idea of being fired was one of many lights at the end of the tunnel. Survive with a job, or survive without. Either way, once you were broken the week was already won.

               “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ed said with a shake of her head, standing with a box of donuts in her hands, already half-empty from the ravenous desire of the various team members who had jumped up. “You all don’t believe that drivel right?”

               “I mean,” Maddox spoke up first with a mouth full of donut. “You pay us shit, and expect us to provide excellent service, go above and beyond, work extra hours.”

               “And benefits suck,” Ashley added before taking a bite of her donut.

               “Right, and when we push for better wages you say dumb stuff like… you make well over minimum wage, there are a lot of perks to this job, blah, blah, blah,” Maddox continued.

               “And you two?” Ed looked over to Lindsay and Helena with a bit of a scowl.

               “I’m new here, don’t look at me,” Helena said with her arms up, and a donut daintily placed on a napkin at her desk.

               “I think Maddox is being too polite,” Lindsay shrugged.

               “Really? I mean, this is a good job,” Ed gave a glance to Mattias.

               “Sure,” The vampire said quietly with a slouch and a sigh, “But it’s not what any of us want to do forever.”

               “Well yeah, but until then,” Ed argued.

               “Until then it’s a drain on our life force, our very souls,” Ashley gave a little bit of extra verbosity and staged drama.

               “Seriously?”

               “Actually, she’s not wrong. It’s just good enough to keep you here for the money and benefits…” Mattias said, but before he could finish, he was interrupted.

               “But exhausting enough that you can’t really look for anything better.” Maddox spoke up, “I mean, of all of us, only Mattias can pay for his apartment,”

               “And he lives in a shithole of a tiny box they can sort of classify as an apartment,” Ashley tossed a little barb towards her boss.

               “It isn’t that bad of an apartment,” Mattias had planned on saying that. He didn’t, though, it was Ed that said it. Which made the conversation pause for a few seconds before the awkward silence was broken by Maddox.

               “Oh, ho. So the boss’ boss has seen his apartment too,” He teased.

               “Shut up, Maddox,” Ashley bit back. “I have, Lindsay, has,” She waved between the two, “You just leave instantly after every shift and don’t want to help out.”

               “I signed the card,”

               “Oh,” She laughed, “My bad,”

               “Guys, it’s fine,” Mattias waved a hand down to try to draw them away from that.

               “You all think this way, though? That we don’t treat you well?”

               Mattias sighed, “No company treats its employees like family, they just pretend they do. We don’t make enough, we get decent benefits, but doing this eight hours a day is hard during the slow periods. You take on everyone else’s problems, and by the time you go home, you are exhausted. You forget what you really want to do. But, you make enough to survive. Just not enough to thrive. So you keep going, hoping it will get better, or you’ll stumble beyond your station. That’s what I did. Got comfortable, and kept a job that exhausts me and really kills me… and I’m ranting. Nevermind,” He suddenly stopped talking and glanced away. The others stared at him for a minute.

               “What did you really want to do boss?” Ashley asked.

               “I didn’t say,” Mattias almost bit back at them.

               There was a long silence this time. The soul of the conversation had been touched on. There was something else each person here long term had shared, something they didn’t admit. Each of them had a dream they had set aside because of this job, because of the toll it took on their balance of life. The drain of emotions for the service of others was a real thing. It left so little time to do what one wanted to do. When broke it down workers, they worked eight hours a day, plus the commute. Mattias was closest, and that was another hour or two a day, depending on traffic. Then there was getting ready before the day and once one got home. Another hour would be gone if there wasn’t a haste to that getting ready. Decompression was also necessary from a job like this. Some people did it better than others, of course, but most days it easily ate up another hour – just getting away and over whatever it was that had eaten away at the mind from the worst that day.

               At the least, this was eleven hours of the day. Days when a team member worked more, or got caught in traffic, or faced off against an angry guest or employee – it could easily reach thirteen or fourteen. Sleeping eight hours a night was necessary too, or mistakes were made and irritability became a much easier trap. It was a dangerous combination. One that could compound swiftly. Three or four hours to one’s self was not enough. Not enough to have a healthy balance, at least. Things got left behind.

               It was dreams that were easiest to drop. They felt distant and less than essential.

               Mattias was realizing that might have been a mistake. That dreams might have been all there was separating them from the monsters at their core, whatever those were.

               They all realized that is where this conversation had moved. Mattias had been here the longest, but he wasn’t speaking up.

               “I wanted to be a gymnast,” Lindsay spoke up softly. “In college, I studied that, and communications. I was too big to make professional or Olympic teams, but I always thought I could work with teaching gymnastics somewhere.”

               Helena spoke up, “That’s awesome,” She said with a feigned bit of excitement that was something they all had practiced to such a degree that it became second nature, though she wasn’t great at controlling her switches in and out of that mode yet. “Sorry,” She realized what she had done as the other eyes glanced over to her, “Why don’t you?”

               “I probably could have right after starting here… but,” The Fomorian sighed and slunk down in her chair slightly. “Now I just want to go home after work, and I don’t feel like doing anything. I’m shy by nature…” She admitted, “So this takes a lot out of me. I don’t have the energy to deal with more people after work. So, I don’t.” She played with the edge of her shirt nervously.

               Again, there was a short, silent pause.

               “I wanted to go back to school. Learn magic, you know, properly,” Ashley spoke up next. She let out a harsh sigh, knowing exactly what follow up question that would warrant. “I didn’t have enough money to pay to go much. Thought I’d take a few little classes, community college stuff…” She sighed, “Even that made me have to get help from my folks. Then last Christmas it got busy, even on night shift…” She looked away, “Didn’t make it. Failed out. It’s hard to look at a computer screen once you get home from this, you know.”

               Maddox gave a smirk, “My turn, right?” He took a deep breath, “I’m always looking for another job. I should’ve quit when I realized how unhealthy it was making my… what do you call them…” He snapped his fingers, “You know, that thing you do instead of dealing with it?” He gave up and threw his hands to the side, “Well whatever it is called. I stopped doing that well. Tried a few different things to cope. None of them good. Now I’m medicated, which helps. But, still.”

               “You’re medicated?”

               “Yep. I mean legally, like psychiatrist approved anxiety-reducing wonder pills,” He snapped his fingers a few times. “Make everything more doable. Still, haven’t found another gig yet.”

               “Should I be worried about having taken this job?” Helena asked quietly, trying to lighten the mood slightly. It didn’t work for her though. She sighed, “I might have made a lateral move. I wasn’t too happy being overlooked and forgotten by most people in my last position.”

               “Oh, being walked over,” Ashley said with a nod, “Yeah, you’re not getting away from that here.”

               “Yeah. I’m the tallest person here, and no one knows my name,” Lindsay added.

               “Partially the shy thing, Linds,” Maddox spoke.

               Though no one had said it, they had all noticed that Mattias hadn’t said anything. Not yet. He clearly didn’t want to talk about it, or he hadn’t been convinced yet. Ed had watched him for a moment. He had tried to zone out, to ignore the situation. She had noticed. It was working on him. He wanted to open up, but there had not been quite the push he needed.

               “I wanted to open my own business,” Ed spoke quietly. “It was stupid. There was this old radio show I listened too when I was… really young,” She shrugged. “There was a place the kids in the show always hung out. I never had that growing up… my room was about the best place I could find. But I always wanted to make a place like that. You know? Sell snacks for after school. Somewhere kids wouldn’t have to worry, where they could study or hang out…” She laughed, “And here I am, a corporate stooge instead,”

               “Aw, you aren’t a stooge,”

               “More like a high-ranking minion.”

               “Not helpful, Maddox,”

               “Somewhere to teach non-humans how to handle it,” Mattias spoke in a little over a whisper. That silenced the conversation completely. His team watched him as he took a long sip of his blood in a bottle. “I was incredibly lucky to know some non-humans… and it was still stupid hard to learn how to deal with all this bullshit.” He said looking down at the bottle, the crimson liquid swirling back to stillness near the bottom. “Every non-human is a little different. And those of us that changed later in life… it’s a damn minefield. If I had a place where I could have learned, where I would have known there was someone to talk to. I wouldn’t be this far gone.”

               His voice trailed off. Then there was stark silence.

               “That’s… nice, boss. The idea,” Ashley said with a nod.

               “And…” Ed spoke up. “Working here made you hold off on it?”

               Mattias nodded, “It gave me an excuse to.”

               “Yeah,”

               “Remember when Christmas was all about presents?” Maddox said with a nod.

               “Maddox, not now…”

               “No,” He waved his hands down. “I know I’m kind of an ass, but I’m serious. Remember how we used to write Christmas lists and letters to Santa?”

               Everyone but Mattias just stared at him. Mattias stared at his desk, or the floor.

               “I’ll take that as a yes,” Maddox continued. “My therapist says writing down dreams, goals, all that, is helpful in finding a path and keeping yourself calm. In my case, it helps things keep from getting overwhelming. So, I just had the stupidest thought,” He smirked. “Why not write our dreams that this job killed as letters to Santa? You know… what we’d need to pull it off and stuff. It’ll celebrate the season, and maybe give us a couple of ideas on where to go from here.”

               Again, silence for a few moments. Maddox sat with his arms wide, glancing from person to person and expectantly awaiting an answer. From the smile on his face, he expected an affirmative.

               “Huh,” Ashley intoned with a little neutral shrug.

               Ed glanced to Mattias, and took a small breath, “Mattias, I kind of like the idea. I’ll write a letter if you will,”

               The others gave small nods, but it was Lindsay who finally asked outright, “We’re all in. What do you say, boss? Want to write a letter to Santa with us?”

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Day Shift – Chapter 17

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

Mattias had needed a few extra days to recover from the damage dealt to him by his unfortunate and uncontrolled transformation into his more bestial side. He had forgotten just how disconcerting such an event could be. For his recovery, he didn’t feel like himself at first. He was tormented by fear. Countless what-ifs flooded his mind and gnawed at his sanity for those nights after. His friends were kind enough to visit him and watch over him.

Not just Olivia and Rory either.

That part surprised him. Ashley stopped by to stay with him for a couple of day shifts once he was back and awake. That filled in one of the scents he hadn’t been able to identify – the vanilla. She admitted she felt a bit at fault when she heard what happened, but he quickly quashed that line of thought. It was no one’s fault but his own. Even then it was debatable. She understood that though and seemed to respect it. She didn’t wish to push the topic at the least, and that was all that really mattered to him.

She did always seem to arrive around the time Olivia was coming, and eventually got a few tips on animating objects from his ex-wife. He had some visits from other people as well. Hal dropped by and spent a couple of nights. He had apparently been one of the first people that offered and spent some of the nights when Mattias was still completely unaware of it. Rory had even taught him how to draw blood in case Mattias had needed it while the others weren’t around. He didn’t seem to remember his scent from that time though. That may have been a hint of selective memory, though. Hal wasn’t a foul-smelling person, but he did choose a scent that the vampire didn’t particularly relate to fond days.

In their conversations, though, Hal admitted that the office was different without him. That people were worried. Lindsay and Maddox constantly asking for updates, and Ashley pretending to be a hard ass. Ed and HR both asked but did so carefully. And Ava had been relentless wanting updates, but Ed asked that Hal only give her ‘minor’ updates at most. Which he didn’t understand. It was kind of nice to know that his absence had meant something at least. It was nice to be missed, and something he didn’t think that would be the case.

He had prepared for his first day back more than usual. Olivia had come over the night before and stuck around to help him get ready. He couldn’t see himself anymore, and his body was still torn up and scarred from the transformation. So, an extra pair of hands was essential in getting himself prepared for work. She even offered to drive him. He didn’t want to take that bit of charity though. By all means, he should have been willing to take it. He hadn’t driven for a while, and jumping right back into rush hour traffic with sunlight beaming down on him was likely a really bad way to start getting back out there. He was nauseated, hotter than he wanted to be, and nervous to be driving. It didn’t give him much time to think, though.

When he got to work and joined the throngs of people. It was uncomfortable for him. He felt like all of them were looking at him. He could see every little thing they did, and he could almost hear the blood pumping through the veins of the souls in the room with him. The elevator ride was even worse. He held himself back and close to the inner wall of the elevator, concentrating on Lunchbox in hopes of being ignored and left alone. For a moment, there was a sudden clarity as to why so many vampires chose a more secluded life. This was challenging. People were challenging to be around. For countless reasons. He watched them eat, drink, chat, and stare. He had never been fond of humans, but something was different with this twist. He didn’t feel close to them.

He glanced at the bronzed walls of the elevator. Despite the smudges and general wear, they were still reflective. Faces and profiles of the various denizens of the company riding the elevator. And there he was, a blur of universe defying undead – a lack of reflection of more than the shadows and blur he cast upon other reflections. It was a gruesome reminder of just how different he was from those that walked around beside him in the light. He took a breath and steadied himself, wishing he could see how he looked. He didn’t know how rough he appeared still, though Olivia said he looked fine. Tired. But fine.

He should trust her. It was a challenge at the moment though. He couldn’t trust his own eyes, his own body, how could he trust someone else.

As the elevator opened on his floor, he followed a few people out. Most went their own way. One woman walked in the same direction as him. She had a box under her arm, and when she opened the door, he instinctively reached out to hold it open. She gave a small smile and a nod back over to him.

“Thanks,” She said before stepping into the foyer and over to the receptionist’s desk.

Ava, meanwhile, had spotted Mattias and had bounded to her feet. She was stopped by the woman, though, who held out the box. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I have a package for someone here,”

“Do I need to sign for it?” Ava said quickly, with a glance over to the vampire as he tried to slip by before she could end the conversation.

“No. Note on the top for who it goes to.”

“Awesome, I’ll get it to them. Mattias, wait!” She was all but dancing around the desk, and when she thought the conversation was over, she jumped around the edge and rushed him. He had almost made it to the threshold of the cubicle farm. Almost.

He had been so close. “Ava.”

“You’re going to pass by without even saying hello? You’ve been gone for more than a week. Is everything okay?” She was talking too fast, and not giving him a chance to get a word in edgewise. “IS the rumor true? Did you, you know? Did you find someone to…” She was slowly talking quieter and quieter until she was in a whisper.

Luckily, the woman that had dropped off the package had left.

Mattias closed his eyes. “Were you worried, or just want to hear a vampire story?” He was already exhausted by her. Her fandom for his ailment was not endearing, it was taxing. He knew she meant well, and he didn’t begrudge her for it. It just made him tired.

She was clearly hurt by the response. Her face went from excited to blank in a split second and she backed away from him. “Mean.” Was all she said, still quiet.

He sighed out a small, “Sorry,” Before shaking his head. “I’m a little raw, right now, and you come on strong, Ava.”

She didn’t respond for a few minutes, instead just standing quietly before a little smile crossed her lips. “I know.” She tilted her head to one side. “Sorry you, you know. And I do want to hear about it.” She said quickly and then added a defensive, “I was worried – and I do want to know the vampire stuff. I get that it isn’t the same as the fiction and its weird,”

“You have no idea,”

“I know, but I would kind of like too.”

He paused for a second and glanced over to her with a shake of his head. “How so?”

“Like… I love the stories and the romantic ideas of vampires and stuff, but,” She bounced on her heels just a bit. “But, I get it. I get that it isn’t like that at all, and those are just stories,” She bobbed her head back and forth slightly, “It’s like those people obsessed with anime. I’m like that, but I actually want to know about Japan too, in this metaphor.”

“I think it’s just an example, not a metaphor,”

“Whatever.”

Mattias sighed, “Fine. Maybe we can talk on a break,” She didn’t let him finish before bouncing once more, a little higher, a little faster, and with a quick little clap. “But give me a couple of days at least to get used to being around people again. This is… well, hard, at the moment.”

“Got it. Won’t ask a word for a few days.” She spoke, making a little cross on her heart.

He just stared at her for a second. She was still looking at him.

“About you. Can I still ask general vampire stuff?” She released that particular thought in a swift wave of verbalization.

He closed his eyes for a second and took his breath. “Fine.”

“Is it true that there’s an Asian vampire that throws its own head at prey,”

“No, that’s a mistranslation. Those are more closely related to Dullahan,” He responded, giving a point into the cubicle farm. “I’m going to work now.”

She just nodded and smiled, giving a little wave before moving back towards her desk.

He wished he had never seen her out in town. He would have rather not known about that part of her, and it probably would have kept her from acting this way around him. At least she cared. He had a moment or two of silence as he walked. Ed’s office was empty and dark, and most people hadn’t arrived yet. Those that had, for the most part, watched him from a distance. He made his way to his cubicle and turned into the desks. His team hadn’t arrived yet for the most part, but Ashley was here particularly early.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, boss,” She spun around in her chair to face him as he walked in.

“Hah. Hilarious,” He responded with a sarcastic smirk.

“You love it.”

“Did I hear Matt?” Hal’s voice called over from the neighboring cubicle group. He appeared in theirs just a few seconds later, with his arms wide and waiting for a hug. He laughed heartily, “It’s good to see you up and out in the land of the…”

“Already made that joke,” Ashley said with a grin.

“Damn it,” Hal seemed dejected, his arms dropping softly to his sides. The smile on his lips didn’t fade though. It was clearly not something that really bothered him. “Oh well. How are you feeling today?”

“I’m alright. Still a little…” Mattias didn’t have the words. How did one really explain a sense of existential solace and loss of self to other people in a way that didn’t encourage further followup questions and unending check-ins? “Weird,” Was what he settled on.

“I bet,” Hal said quickly, adjusting slightly to make way for another person to pass by, some nameless coworker that wasn’t on their team but worked even deeper in the hold. Jonas or James or something, if Mattias remembered correctly. “Well, you just take it easy. Get your feet wet again and don’t worry about the big stuff. You just let us handle that for you today. You’ll be back at ‘em in no time, better than ever.”

Mattias wanted to say he doubted it. This one felt different. He felt different. Something about this was more penultimate than he could put into words. He didn’t need to say that, though. These people, as much as he was loathed to admit it, were as close to family as he had. “Thanks. It’ll be a while, but here’s hoping.” He knew that particular thing was not going to keep eventual questions, but it might buy him some time this morning.

It seemed he was right, at least for the time being. As he unpacked Lunchbox, he heard another bit of movement from Hal, who stepped aside to let in another person. Before he could turn around he had a pair of arms around him and he was pulled into an awkward hug from a woman very much taller than himself.

“Hi, Lindsay,”

She didn’t say anything. She just went on over to her work station. She understood a bit more than most and had likely heard him talking just before.

It was quiet after that. Maddox came in and said something snarky, but didn’t push on the idea. Helena was a bit nervous because she was a bit late. She said she was glad that he was okay. She was tense though. Before long, they were all back to work, taking calls and awash with customer questions and the occasional complaint. It was an ordinary and unremarkable day for the first couple of hours. Then he sensed something familiar. There was a scent, one he remembered from his time spent out of commission.

Ed popped her head in the cubicle for a second, “Glad to see you back, Mr. Holland,”

She was very clearly wearing the scent he remembered but couldn’t place. He gave a little smirk at the realization, “Good to see you again, Ms. Chambers.”

“When you get a minute, come by my office and we’ll catch up on the numbers,” She said with a little dismissive wave of her hand just over the cubicle wall, “Not urgent, so don’t rush.”

“Will do, Boss. Probably after the lunch rush,”

“Sounds good,” And she was gone.

It was strange, for the first time in a long time he wasn’t sure what to say. He felt a little smile on his lips. It was genuine. It was instinct. He could not help it. It was one of those smiles that were paired with a moment of freedom and realization. It was one that wouldn’t be stopped, that crawled across his lips with a mind and a soul all of its own. It was a true smile. It hurt a bit, stretching the stitches under his skin that had held him together after his transformation, and showed off his fangs just a hint. But the people here on his team did seem to worry about it. You couldn’t worry without caring, and it was nice to realize that they cared.

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Day Shift – Chapter 16

Blurs

 

               Mattias had to rest for the next few days. He slept on his couch, uncomfortable and fraught with poor sleep and unnerved dreams. He would wake up from time to time, barely aware of his surroundings, and usually due to getting his tooth injected with fresh blood or someone putting him back together. He could tell days were going by – but to be in torpor was much different than sleep. There was a strange awareness of everything around him, of all the things that happened around him. Though he didn’t have any sight, there were other senses. A muted sense of sound, the sensation of touch made his rest confusing. His mind tried to fill in the blanks there, to give him some sense of reality as he slept – though, in truth it just made his dreams stranger than normal.

               It was his sense of smell that made them truly strange. He could smell everything in his home. While muffled talking, pricks and pressure made strange twists of his dreams, the smells dictated more of what was driving the direction of his dreams. He found he could determine who was around him, to some degree, through those.

               Olivia was the easiest. She smelled like she always had. There was a slight undertone of the ingredients needed in her witchcraft, things like sage, lavender, and pennyroyal. She had never been one for perfumes – but she did like fruit-scented soaps and shampoos. There was a hint of charcoal in the scent as well, which his mind took as a bit strange, but the others matched. He knew when she was there and could sense when she was with him. That was a strangely comforting feeling. She was not there all the time, though. She’d trade off with others from time to time.

               Rory was likely the next easiest. He had worn the same deodorant and used the same soaps since they were in high school. That was now decades gone. He would have thought they were long since discontinued, but there they were. They were that stereotypically male scents most related to salt and wood, the ones you saw stupid commercials the played only far enough into sporting events to know the audience was at least partially inebriated. It had a reputation for being the brand of stupid teens, or at least it once did. Now it was mostly forgotten.  He noted that Rory was there quite a bit. While Olivia spent a good amount of time watching over him, he thought Rory was there more.

               There were a few other scents. A subdued and bland scent, not unlike vanilla. It was there a couple of times. Another that visited his down and out self was the scent of something else. His mind thought of Halloween. He wasn’t sure how that was, or what the smell actually was – just that it was that holiday that it reminded him of when he found the scent.

               He couldn’t recognize voices. Even when sure of the person, it sounded as though he was under running water, and there was just no way to hear a voice well enough to understand or identify it. He might know that Olivia was speaking to him, but he would only know so due to the scent. For those he couldn’t identify through his other senses, he was simply at a loss. He didn’t know what they said or who they were, and that was less comfortable of an experience as he was hopelessly vulnerable and in the hands of those around them.

               The reminder that he had people that cared enough to stay with him, though. That was important. That was something that made this experience survivable, beyond the fact that he was put out of his beast state by a stake. Had he feasted, he would have recovered alone, but he didn’t think he would have survived the after. The Torpor would have taken everything out of him, all that was left of his soul. He wasn’t sure there was much left. He wasn’t sure how much of him was left, and how much had been replaced by this thing. He didn’t feel like he was Mattias now. He felt like he was his vampirism. And he hated that sensation.

               Eventually, he finally felt himself wake up – genuinely reaching the land of the living once again. It was the middle of the night when he woke up. His apartment was dark, except for the dim blue light of his television frozen on some screen of an old sitcom, with a warning up on the screen. Are you still watching? He smirked and glanced around trying to find out who was here with him. It was Olivia, curled into an uncomfortable-looking ball on his recliner. She didn’t even have the recliner, well, reclined. She was just curled up under a pile of blankets and with a small legion of animated items curled up on her, in her arms, or around the bottom of the chair. Her purse, Lunchbox, and plenty of others sat with her. It was nice to know that she had so many loving pets.

               It was a bit disconcerting as he adjusted and sat up. Most twisted as if to look at him, but then ignored the movement and went back to sleep with their creator. That was fine with him. He felt his stomach growl, and though he ached at every single joint, he swung his legs around and off the couch. He felt pain in his throat. It was dry, scratching pain. A lack of use for however long he had been in the state of torpor had not been kind on the poor dead body he inhabited.

               He stretched, moving his palms along his upper legs and glanced down to his hands. They were still gaunt, but they were by no means skeletal. He took one long deep breath through his nose and pushed himself up. Standing was more of a challenge than he expected. He could feel his legs, but only just. It was like standing on a ghost of himself. He did not enjoy the feeling. He took the first step, carefully watching as he moved to try to make sure his feet found the floor and didn’t end up atop any animated creature. Still, he needed to walk. He needed to see himself. If he still could.

               He moved slowly, slumped against the wall from time to time as he realized just how little energy he had upon waking up. He felt weak, but he could feel again. He watched his legs moving slowly but surely, each step measured and with purpose. There still was not enough feeling to really trust his steps. It was coming back, though. By the time he reached the bathroom, he could at least stand without too much worry.

               He took a breath and looked to the mirror. There was nothing but a blur, his image broken and twisted by a universe that couldn’t deal with the existence of an undead monster. Whereas he could see himself somewhat a few days prior, now it was just a blur. There were still some colors but only vague shapes. It was a strange sensation. He reached out and pressed his fingers to the mirror. His fingertips pressed against the cold glass, but where they met the mirror there was an aura. The pale skin color flowed like a puddle out from his finger to the reflection that all but melted into a blur on the smudged glass.

               The realization that his reflection had further deteriorated was a hard one to come to grips with, not just at that moment. There was a bit of shock, of course, while he felt nothing immediate he could sense the impending weight of a lifetime growing on his shoulders. He knew that looking back, this would be a memory that would scar him and stay with him forever. The time he realized he would never again see himself. It was a strange realization and one that was too important and impactful for his long-term development for his mind to really wrap around swiftly or effectively. He wouldn’t dwell on it. He could not. It would drive him mad. He knew that plenty of nights would be spent attempting to come to terms with it. No sense in starting now.

               He did take some time. His eyes were glued to the mirror. He just stared at this blob that would have once been himself. He felt his eyes drift, his vision relaxed and his mind blanked. It was a moment of silence, though unwitting and unplanned, for himself. A somber feeling had washed over him, and so he did what he was want to do. He turned around and stepped over to the shower and twisted on the water. It was set as hot as it could, and the water hissed out of the head slightly. It was odd, he remembered it not working quite that well. He paused and moved back to the toilet, and just sat down on the seat.

               It may have been a few minutes before anything changed. He had zoned out. Even missed the first time that she spoke to him, but when Olivia repeated herself from the doorway, he finally raised his head. He glanced at the doorway and shook his head apologetically. The room had filled with a small layer of steam, blocking off the view of the mirror, which was a relief to him. Of course, now with his ex-wife staring at him from across the room, with a few of her legion of animated items scattered around and bumping the back of her legs.

               “You can’t get in the shower, Mattias,” She repeated. Her voice was quiet and broken. She waved her hand about his body. “You’re still broken and falling apart. Rory hasn’t been able to put you completely back together.”

               He paused for a few moments and gave a bit of a smirk, but he could feel the stitches in his mouth. He shook his head. “I know.”

               “The steam isn’t good for you either,” She added with a long sigh.

               He gave a shake of his head and glanced over to the shower for a minute. He waited for a second and then took a glance back over to her, just his eyes moving to her. “I know that too,” His voice was quiet and raspy still, “But, I just need a few minutes. The steam helps.”

               “Not physically,”

               “Mentally is more important right now,” He spoke with a small defensive twist towards her.

               She relented and her shoulders slumping slightly, “I know.”

               That was it. That was the entire conversation. They both sat quietly in the bathroom for a moment. Him sitting, her leaning against the door frame. Her arms crossed and the two were just silent. There was something peaceful about it though. Only the sound of the shower and the feeling of the steam. It was nice. But he finally needed to say something.

               “Thank you,” He said softly, “For watching out for me.”

               “You’re welcome. We’re family,” She admitted. She adjusted, standing up a bit straighter with a slight roll of her shoulders and movement of her feet. It gave enough room for Lunchbox to barrel beyond her legs. It stumbled over her foot and rolled back to its own little nubs and waddled swiftly over to its master. It twisted its head up towards him and knocked against his calves to try to spur him to some sort of action.

               “Weird thing for an ex to say,” Mattias joked.

               “Shut up,” She snapped her teeth at him, “You know that part only has to do with the weirdness with aging.”

               “And the thing didn’t help.”

               “True,” She shrugged her shoulders high. Neither spoke to what the ‘thing’ was, and the conversation twisted away and faded from the verbal part of the conversation. They both knew what they were talking about.

               “No, I really can’t,” He tilted to one side and reached down to give Lunchbox a pat on the head. “It is weird and kind of awkward.”

               “Mhm,” She spoke and stepped over towards the shower. She reached out and turned off the water. “Come on, let’s get you out of here and get some food in you,”

               “Food or blood?”

               “Blood, Mattias. I doubt you can metabolize food properly still,” She reached over to a towel and dried her hand before offering a hand over to him. “Need some help?”

               “I’ll take it,” He took her hand, and she tightened up to let him pull himself up. Then the two moved back towards the other room. He returned to the couch where he had been set up to rest and finally took a better look around his room. It was cleaned up for the most part, though there were plenty of little messes around the room. Leftover food and drinks, and some casual reading brought by friends that were watching over him.

               He was surprised when Olivia sat down next to him. The couch bumped a bit and laid her wrist on his arm. “Here, eat up.” That offer confused him. She bounced her arm a bit when he didn’t say anything for a moment.

               “Are you sure?” He put his hand on hers and paused.

               “Sure. It’s no problem,” She responded. “I figure I’m the most comfortable being fed on, and someone else will be here in a while to watch you.”

               “Oh. That’s probably true,” He spoke with a slight pause.

               She moved her hand towards him, and he took a breath. She gave a smirk, “Hand me the remotes. Might as well find something interesting to watch…”

               He did so, offering over the controller and letting her find a show to put on. They ended up on some old sitcom, and he took her wrist and took a bite. There were two sides to this ritual. For the victim, or in this case volunteer, his venom was quick-acting. It made the person sedate and did so with a similar feeling to powerful antihistamines. It was a drowsy state, designed to make the prey easier to feed on and move past without danger of them fighting you during the bite. After all, a vampire’s teeth were no stronger than human teeth. For him, that warmth of blood was almost instantly calming and each minute of taking in the blood, he felt a little bit more human.

               It took a few minutes of feeding to get his fill, but soon enough he had. She would need a few minutes to recover, and he was still fatigued – so the two dozed off on the couch. Honestly, he was comfortable for the first time in a long time. He felt content. He felt more like himself, despite the loss of control, than he had in a long time. He couldn’t yet put a finger on why.

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Marches – Chapter 04

Mirabelle comes to the Vouivre

Mirabelle had dwelled on the thoughts for some time since Tienette left. After about six seasons, the time for her sister’s wedding came. It was decided that after the wedding, she and her entourage would leave for Vouivre. There would be no returning home for her. She knew that going in, and she had been able to collect a few things to take with her. Most importantly, she had decided it was for the best. A few weeks with her sister, and then a year in the province of her ancestor’s enemy to see if she could even go through with her own wedding.

For those few weeks, she concentrated on Roheis, though. She traveled with her, spoke to her, watched her as her nerves ran rampant. The journey was long, but as soon as they were free of their father’s eyes, the girls were quick to be themselves.

Roheis had grown up into a tall, slender woman. She was like her siblings in that she had her stark white hair, and her eyes were a pale clouded gray. It gave a strange look to her face, one that had a certain etherealness to it, but a deep and sometimes disturbing look of distance. Her eyesight, however, was not poor or diminished. Quite the opposite. She had been blessed with an astonishing sight. Unlike Mirabelle, she had not shown an aptitude for courtly intrigue, and after much convincing her father relented to allow her to train with more martial affairs.

It worked out well, though. Her martial prowess caught the eye of a nearby family who had a son seeking a bride. With old ties between the two families, it was fortuitous, to say the least. Roheis had even been lucky enough to meet him a few times before the arrangement was finalized.  They even had started a sort of friendly relationship. Though, thanks to tradition, that ended when their marriage was announced. She felt an entirely different sort of anxiety from her sister as they prepared for her wedding. She looked forward to her arrangement.

 Her husband to be was Marquis Ghislain Girardin de Tirmont. He was the only son of the Girardin family and inherited his father’s lands and rank young. There was no way around describing him as perhaps the best of men. He was kind, generous, selfless, and the epitome of chivalric. He was powerfully built, and handsome – with bright golden hair and deep green eyes. He was an experienced and renowned knight, a champion jouster. The list could go on, and on. To his credit, one would never have guessed he would have had that many accomplishments under his belt by talking to him. He was humble, and genuinely more interested in others than himself. Still, for Mirabelle, it was hard not to dislike him a little bit because of it. Or maybe she was just upset that she was betrothed to some vagabond, and her sister was bound to the epitome of Republic chivalric thought.

Envy did not particularly suit her, though, and she would chase away the thoughts as soon as she could. Instead, concentrating on the excitement her sister showed. The wedding was small, and a relatively private affair, however. It took place in the Tirmont Castle, overlooking their small province. A priest, some family, and a few friends of the bride and groom, and that was it. Then it was over, and everyone went their separate ways. Including Mirabelle.

 She spent the next few weeks on the road, with a mere handful of attendants. Coralie came with her, as did her long-time personal bodyguard, a templar by the name of Sir Avent Bastien. Bastien was not the largest or most powerfully built man. He was not a young man. He had served as her bodyguard from the time she was born, his sole duty to protect the children of the house of Lune. He was getting older now, his hair graying and face beginning to show the wrinkles and marks of age. His skill with a sword had not been needed for a long time, and she hoped it would stay that way. She had a handful of other servants and guards with her as well.

Much of the journey was pleasant, as it was still late spring. They passed through Ava and into the great fields of the Licorn banner lords. Their lands were untamed, but the Licorn respected the Ava, and by association the people of Cote d’Argent – so for a young noble on her way to wed, they were sure to keep the way clear and safe. It was an uneventful journey. They rarely even saw the Licorn riders, a fact that Mirabelle was a bit disappointed with, by the time they reached Vouivre territories.

As they crossed the border into the territories of Vouivre, she felt that the very plants and sky changed. Everything seemed darker and colder. The looming mountains in the distance likely didn’t help things either. It was sparsely populated along the roads. They rarely passed by peasants or traders, and when they stopped in various villages, it was quiet and often people treated them with suspicion or distrust. It was a long journey still for them, as the Astier were a border family. She spent much of her time there in the carriage, partly due to the anxiety of the event, but partly due to her view of the countryside around her.

After weeks of journeying, they finally arrived in the evening, just as dusk was beginning to set in and she was called by Bastien.

“My lady d’Argent. We’ve arrived at the frontier village of Mileo.” His gruff voice bellowed back towards her.

It almost startled her, but she didn’t say anything back for a moment. Coralie, on the other hand, was quick to sit up and move about the carriage, collecting items for her lady. For a moment, she watched and finally nodded, “Thank you, Bastien. Let us know when we reach the manor.”

“With all due respect, Lady Mirabelle, you may want to see this.” The old man’s voice. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

She sighed and shook her head. She moved to the carriage door and pushed it open, the mounted templar catching it as it opened. Their group continued moving, and she glanced out to him. With a gauntlet covered hand, he pointed out towards the village that they approached. She turned, and for the first time her eyes fell on the place, and it took her breath away.

Along the road, there were two great willows marking the border of the town. They were enormous trees, who’s branches reached out over the road and created an almost natural arch. Dangling willow branches were scattered throughout the arch and hanging from some of the branches were small lanterns, flickering lightly in the wind. As she looked about, the lanterns were everywhere in the village that she could see. They hung from the eaves of houses and shops, from the trees and paths, illuminating the way for weary travelers.

Below the trees though, were the banners of her house – the silver crescent on a blue shield supported by white stags on either side. The full coat of arms of her house hung under the willows’ branches, with small versions hanging from countless buildings. The people of the village had gathered to see her arrive as well. Not the nobility, the people. As the first spotted her out of her carriage she heard a cheer. The cheer grew, and people shouted. She could barely hear them, but it was impossible for her to miss the words Fille de Lune. They were certainly waiting for her.

She glanced at Bastien, who merely smirked at her. “I think they’re excited to have you, my lady.”

“Why?” She asked, but she never got an answer. A horse rode to meet them and Bastien spurred his own on to meet the rider.

“Hail, travelers! Welcome to Milae.” The chain mail-clad rider spoke, putting a fist to his chest in salute, as the other hand held tight the reins of his steed.

“Hail, rider,” Bastien called back as he road to meet him. “I am Sir Bastien, templar of Lune, and protector of Lady Mirabelle d’Argent. We are here at the invitation of Marquis and Marquise Astier.” He spoke.

“Wonderful! We’ve been expecting you and hope your travels have been pleasant and uneventful. I am Ervig de Milae, the Astier family has allowed me to act as the steward of this village, and I am honored to serve as Captain of her militia.” He spoke proudly, waving back to the village. “Our people wished to welcome the lady themselves. I hope that isn’t a problem. They don’t grasp the security problems that presents.”

“No, I think it is a good sign.” Bastien spoke frankly, “Though, it has taken my lady aback, it seems.”

“I feared it may be a bit -,” Ervig was surprised when he saw Mirabelle wave a hand.

“It is a bit much,” Mirabelle called out from the carriage. “I want to walk from here.” She was not asking, she was doing. She stepped out of the carriage and onto the dirt path below. Coralie jumped out after her and fell into line.

“My lady, we’re honored. But for your security,” Ervig spoke swiftly, noticing the templar shaking his head and starting to dismount.

“Is it unsafe?” She asked as she approached the front of the line and began to pass the horses.

“Yes, any situation with this many people can be dangerous.” Ervig watched as she passed by him, and then he seemed to panic a bit. Her templar had not even caught up with her yet, and she was walking down the road towards the mass of villagers. He swallowed and quickly dismounted, barely getting off the horse before the old man had stepped past him as well. “In addition, you are a daughter of the Duc du Cote d’Argent… we are on the border.”

She was not listening, instead, she set her pace faster. Coralie and Bastien kept pace with her, with the rest of her guards following suit with the horses and carriage. Ervig rushed to catch up with her. She didn’t know what to do, but she had decided she wanted to know why these people came to meet her, why they were excited. It was, perhaps, dangerous. If they were to be her people though, she wanted to start off right. Or at least, what she thought of as right.

As she approached, the crowd seemed to grow a bit less boisterous if only out of surprise. She slowed a bit at that but then moved forward to the first of the villagers that met her eye and stepped forward. It was a young mother holding a child. She gave a warm smile, and the mother gave as low a bow as she could.

“My lady, you honor us.”

“No, no,” Mirabelle said softly. “You honor me. I didn’t expect any fanfare or welcome – much less to see your home lit up with my colors.”

“We want you to feel at home, my lady,” The mother said with a little bit of a crack in her voice as nerves caught up to her. Around her, others tried to but into the conversation, and Mirabelle seemed to adjust and respond to as many as she could.

“We brought in foods from your homeland,” A local cook called out.

“Our minstrels have learned your songs,” Another person added.

“We even planted flowers from the Coast in gardens around town,” There were so many more words cast to her though.

Mirabelle gave a smile and finally replied. “Thank you all.” She raised her hands, “I don’t know how to repay you.” She admitted, “But, I also want to know your culture. Your foods, your songs, your flowers.” She gave a warm bow. “After I’ve settled in, I hope you’ll allow me to get to know those things with you. For now, this will…” She nodded, “This will help me feel at home.”

“We’re glad, my lady.” The mother spoke to her quickly.

“We hope it will be your home,” Ervig admitted from behind. “Someday.”

“Ervig, Bastien,” Mirabelle turned back towards them. “I’d like to walk to the manor. Can you order the carriage to follow at a distance? And Ervig, please introduce your people as you can.”

They did as ordered, and for the next few hours, the lady and her entourage made slow progress through the village. They met and spoke with so many villagers. She never lost her spirit and spoke to so many guests her voice threatened to fail her. Eventually, though, the end of the crowd was reached. While many still played music and cheered behind her, they did seem to stop following at the gates of the manor house.

Valamir and Tienette were standing at the doors of the manor when she arrived, flanked by their personal guards and a few manor guards. They were still masked, but they seemed different. Maybe it was the conversations she had during all those nights with Tienette. Neither were dark unknown figures. They were like her, and like the people of the village, they were excited to see her.

Tienette spread her arms and stepped out to greet her, foregoing the normal noble greeting of a bow, and offering a more familial expression. “Mirabelle, it is good to see you well,” For whatever reason, Mirabelle was excited to see her, and fell into her arms – and the two embraced like family.

“It is good to see you as well, Tienette,” Mirabelle replied hoarsely.

“My lady, please,” Bastien spoke swiftly, before bowing to the lord of province. “Forgive her familiarity, my lord. She has had a long day.”

Valamir laughed at the templar, “No, no. She has earned it.” He offered a hand out to the man, “We are genuinely glad to have her, and her attendants with us. You are?”

“Sir Avent Bastien,” Bastien spoke as he took the hand and stood.

“A templar. Vedast was worried about dark magic?” Valamir spoke quietly.

“No, sir. Not that I am aware of. When I was a young squire, I had visions of a white stag. One night, it led me to the Temple. It was the night Lady Mirabelle was born. I saw the stag again for nights after. It was never far from her.”

“Gods. That’s a clear sign.” Valamir smiled as he put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I am not a devout follower of Lune, but even I can understand that one. Bessus doesn’t have as good a story for me.”

“I do not, sir.” The Marquis personal guard said from nearby.

Tienette and Mirabelle had been talking for a few moments when the Marquise started to guide her into the manor. Mirabelle stopped her though, “Marquis, I did not mean to leave you out of the greeting. I am glad to see you as well.”

“No need to worry, my lady,” Valamir said with a dismissive wave. “I’m elated that you were excited to see Tienette. I know I still have a long while to earn that sort of greeting from you.”

 

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Day Shift – Chapter 15

Hunters

To those that had never experienced lust, it was a hard thing to express. In countless humans or non-humans, there was something that would set a person into this feeling. Most well-known for its use in its most common and pervasive version; shorthand for sexual lust. That may have given some people an idea of what the feeling was, but lust was more than that. There were people who lusted for power or knowledge or money. Lust drove men mad.

The thing to understand about the feeling is that it is all-consuming. It is an addiction. The aspect of the experience that has found itself as the target of a soul’s lust is to them an inescapable need. As much as they may want to escape, it will always draw them back in. The glance to a beautiful woman, the opportunity to make an extra dollar, to see just beyond the ridge; there is always something beckoning them back.  But with all addiction, it is insidious. One can believe themselves in control, just indulging in what they desire in a perfectly harmless way. Lust builds, though. Once you have a bite, you want more and more. Eventually, everyone who suffers from a form of lust falls for their gluttonous desire. Maybe it is because they delved too deep or stepped into a situation that triggered their dam to shatter. It may be no fault of one’s own. But you still fall.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is inevitable. It is unavoidable. No one is perfect. Missteps have different varieties though. Some are mere stumble and some change lives forever, but most fall into the middle ground.

Unfortunately for Mattias, this was not going to be a stumble. Or a middle ground.

For him, the lust for blood had suddenly overtaken him. Every semblance of his humanity began to strip away until there was only an animalistic drive to feed being left behind. Survival was all that mattered beyond that. As he lost control, thoughts began to fail. Blood stopped flowing to his brain normally. He couldn’t think like a human. Complexities were impossible to understand, and soon only the simplest of thoughts would remain. As he faded, his form changed too. He could appear as human most of the time, but his skin tightened against his bones as the blood had dried up. If he had noticed earlier it may have been enough to stop it. By the time he had gotten home, the skin shrank on his form, giving his fingers a long and claw-like appearance.

The point of no return was crossed. Thoughts left, and time lost. It happened fast. Suddenly. A single mistake, and he was a monster. He was one of the many reasons that humans feared the night. He had set up what defenses he could quickly, in hopes that someone would stop him. He had some confidence that would work or at least buy enough time for someone to get to him, to stop him. His last cohesive thoughts though were fear. He had fallen like this before. Each one was worse than the last, though. Each fall threatened to be the last. One would be the one where he wasn’t able to get help in time, and he either escaped his home and fed on a bystander, or he wasn’t able to feed in time and he simply faded into a ghoul.

In those moments, there was a cold that swallowed him. It was a heavy cold, pressing his chest against his lungs. It was a challenge to take in the breaths he needed, to keep thinking. The cold was otherworldly, clinging beyond just his skin and stretching deep throughout his body. It felt as though the ice was scratching along his soul. It was that frigid grasp of death. His body was shutting down, soon to be animated only by the curse of undeath that he had stumbled into. The panic that caused in him should have warmed him somewhat, but instead, it only deepened the chill.

His vision blurred.

His mind blanked.

His memories became vague and broken.

Dreamlike would be the only word to describe how he remembered anything that happened for the next stretch of time. He could catch glimpses of memories. These scattered images and senses were impossible to make sense of, and they seemed to be without rhyme or reason. The idea of a chronology was lost as things seemed to bounce from one time period to another as they desired. He could neither tell how long he was in this state nor when the scant visions of his time within it had occurred or even in which order. The truth was, that time was as lost to him as anyone with an injury or who had fallen out of consciousness.

What he did remember was vague. Perhaps the easiest memories were the earliest after fading away and the latest. He remembered the feeling of hunger, of stomping about and searching for food. He remembered ransacking his refrigerator, and the general mess he made in trying to find any semblance of blood. The scent of old take out, the chill of the box, and the dripping of the frozen goods after he left that search all stamped into his mind.

He knew that it was after that when his mind began to search elsewhere, though he didn’t know the exact drive that took him to search anywhere else in his apartment. He remembered attempting to sniff out the scent of blood. Someone to feast on. There was another scent blocking him though. There was only the pungent smell of garlic. As he got close to the source it overwhelmed him, and he needed to retreat to be able to breathe anything but the smell. It confused him. It made him frustrated and angrier. But he could smell just the smallest hint of blood beyond the horrific smell.

He grew more and more frustrated, his claws tearing at the walls in search of a new exit. He remembered the tearing drywall under his fingertips and the sound of the crumbling matter. The hunger began to hurt, his body aching with a need he could not contain.

He didn’t know when, but the hunger overcame his dissuasion tactics. Eventually, he made his way past the line of garlic below his door. He remembered using all of his strength, his celerity, to rush to create an opening. He remembered the sensation of wood against his shoulder, the shattering door raining down around him. He remembered the scream. That delicious, unexpecting scream.

The source of the scent of blood had been leaving the apartment. They had wandered too close to his door, and his drive to catch prey had overwhelmed the rest of it. It gave him the strength of cause to push beyond his defenses and start the hunt in earnest.

He remembered the look of terror on the man’s face. A bloody nose. It was unfortunate, a mere side-effect of the cold weather and dry heat clicking on. The scent was all the vampire had needed.

This poor soul had never seen a vampire, not a true vampire on the hunt and now, mere minutes or hours after missing a feeding, here he was. His control was lost. The human was no more. Only the beast remained an emaciated and skeletal form. The skin had drawn back tight enough to tear and rip. His jaw bone shone through, skin tore as it constricted around the bone. His long fangs dripped with a black substance, old blood or venom returning up and through their veins.  His eyes were dark, dull and soulless, fully dilated for a truer hunt.

The way Mattias moved was disjointed. His human body fighting the curse within. His joints twisted and snapped, sudden jerks of movement. Once his eyes had fallen on his prey, his entire body swung about towards him. As any excited animal, his mouth opened dripping of blackened bile that only further highlighted the four sharp and expectant canine teeth – and he let out an otherworldly wail. There was no soul to this sound. This was the sound of death, a cold gasp before a screech the sounded as though it tore from the throat. He threw his arms back, preparing to leap on the startled and unfortunate man.

Those memories had left his head. But there was one from this instance that survived. There was a sound, the sound of metal smashing against flesh. The feeling was there as well, just at the side of his head. A rush of anger surged up from within him, and his target shifted to the poor bastard who had hit him. There he saw a blur, stunned. A figure of a man, standing with a baseball bat in his hands. He couldn’t make out any figures, only the shadowed form.  He heard the word.

“Run,” The man had called out. He heard his prey’s footsteps.

Interloper. He could smell the man’s blood through his skin. He was ready for a fight. Adrenaline pumping through him. To the beast, it didn’t matter. A man with a bat was no threat. He could feast on this one instead. The memory of lunging towards the man was clear, but the man took a second swing. Somehow, it had been unexpected, but it landed squarely at the top of the vampire’s head, crashing down and sending the beast to a sudden stop.

He skittered on the floor, wildly twisting to pull himself back up. But there was another powerful swing of that aluminum bat. The last had come down, but this one came back up. It was a hard swing that found its mark against the chest of the rising beast. It would have knocked the air out of any man, but it just smacked against his ribcage. There was a pain, there was the sound of creaking bones, and the hissing anger of the vampire. Another strike against him followed. This human was admirable for fighting against him. A gallant act to save one its kind. It was foolish. It was pathetic. It would have no mercy from the beast. Defenses like this were useless, only driving the beast towards anger.

He remembered the focus it gave him, the need to end this human, this mere prey that dared to interrupt its meal. He would be more than a snack, though. His anger would drive him to drain the poor defensive soul.

He didn’t remember much for some moments. The many footfalls of prey feet, a fleeing man. There were flashes of a chase, through the halls of his apartment. He had been faster than the prey, but the prey was smart. It didn’t run in a straight line. It took turns, moving through open apartments at times. The chase, though only pieces remained in his memory, was a short but distant one. But Mattias had chased the prey with a rage that only built every moment he wasn’t caught. That hunger and frustration made him lash out further and further, attempting to reach his foe.

Even in this bestial form, he knew when he was being led on, though. He remembered that realization, the moment he stopped chasing. Other prey would be easier. With a wail, the vampire stopped his chase and turned to find an easier feast.

That had been his mistake.

The prey had been the Hunter.

As soon as his back was turned he heard the clattering of the bat to the ground. It didn’t concern him. It should have. The next memory was clear. Pristine. There was the hurried sound of feet dashing down the floor. The prey was returning to him. He turned to face him, only to feel a sharp pain in his chest. There was the feeling of something foreign, the crack and splinters of his ribs and the agonizing squelch of wood tearing and pressing into flesh. He was being staked. Salt and pepper hair tussled from the running, tired eyes, sweat on his skin, scruffy beard – a moment of closeness and familiarity with the hunter.

A fitting end to a beast.

As the stake sank to his heart, he felt a sudden and all-consuming cold. He let out a quiet moan. His body twitched, with blackened ichor dripping from the wounds given to him.

Then there was nothing.

So, it was a welcome surprise when the lack of anything gave way to a sound. It was the sound of skin slapping skin lightly, the snap of a rubber band. Sight came back to him suddenly, blurry at first. He saw the source of the sounds. A man sat nearby, with rubber tied around his arm, two fingers slapping the nook of his elbow. His eyes drifted up a bit further. The man took a needle a moment later and pressed it into his own arm, soon after dragging forth blood. The man was familiar.

It took him a second, before Mattias tried to speak, “Rory?” He spoke as his vision clarified. His voice was harsh, and he could feel the skin of his jaw flapping against his teeth as he spoke.

“Oh, hey… you’re trying to talk, but you still look like a lich,” Rory responded with a smile. “Don’t do that. I still have to sew you back together after we get blood in you.”

Mattias felt himself look around the room. He was in his own apartment. He had never left the building. He twisted around to look about, to see what he had done. His apartment was a mess, torn to bits and only minorly cleaned up around where they sat, and some in the kitchen. His eyes fell on the bent aluminum bat nearby, a discarded and bloodstained stake on the table. He swallowed and turned back towards Rory.

Salt and pepper hair, scruffy beard, tired eyes.

“You were the hunter?” Mattias asked, rasping out the words with a sufficient bit of volume.

“Just lucky I got here before Olivia. Don’t think she could have staked you. You were full-on gone.” Rory spoke, holding up the needle. He waved the tied hand. “Eyes up here, droopy,” Mattias instinctively looked, only to have his jaw caught by the man. It was odd to feel another human’s skin on his bone. “This will feel weird awake…” He said, pressing the needle to Mattias’ canine, sinking the point of the needle into the canine’s opening.

He was right. The feeling was uniquely unpleasant. Open nerves and a cold needle – but the feeling of blood flowing through his tooth a moment later removed any unpleasant feeling. When the needle was removed, he felt better and took a breath. “Thank you,”

“You’re welcome. Quit talking. Seriously…” Rory said quietly. “I can see the tendons holding your jaw together. You need to heal. Go back to sleep.” He said with a pat of his hand against the vampire’s shoulder. “One of us will be here when you wake up. And I’ll put you back together. Mind and body.”

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NaNoWriMo Day 15

Author’s Note – This is my writing for Day 15. I decided to take a day off for some self care, but wanted to still right a little bit. My goal today was only 500 words, so effectively it is a preview of the chapter to come. Below is the preview of Chapter 15. Enjoy. The full chapter chapter is now available in its own post! Enjoy.

Day Shift Chapter 15

To those that had never experienced lust, it was a hard thing to express. In countless humans or non-humans, there was something that would set a person into this feeling. Most well known for its use in its most common and pervasive version; shorthand for sexual lust. That may have given some people an idea of what the feeling was, but lust was more than that. There were people who lusted for power or knowledge or money. Lust drove men mad.

The thing to understand about the feeling is that it is all-consuming. It is an addiction. The aspect of experience that has found itself as the target of a soul’s lust is to them an inescapable need. As much as they may want to escape, it will always draw them back in. The glance to a beautiful woman, the opportunity to make an extra dollar, to see just beyond the ridge; there is always something beckoning them back.  But with all addiction, it is insidious. One can believe themselves in control, just indulging in what they desire in a perfectly harmless way. Lust builds, though. Once you have a bite, you want more and more. Eventually, everyone who suffers from a form of lust falls for their gluttonous desire. Maybe it is because they delved too deep or stepped into a situation that triggered their dam to shatter. It may be no fault of one’s own. But you still fall.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is inevitable. It is unavoidable. No one is perfect. Missteps have different varieties though. Some are mere stumble and some change lives forever, but most fall into the middle ground.

Unfortunately for Mattias, this was not going to be a stumble. Or a middle ground.

For him, the lust for blood had suddenly overtaken him. Every semblance of his humanity began to strip away until there was only an animalistic drive to feed being left behind. Survival was all that mattered beyond that. As he lost control, thoughts began to fail. Blood stopped flowing to his brain normally. He couldn’t think like a human. Complexities were impossible to understand, and soon only the simplest of thoughts would remain. As he faded, his form changed too. He could appear as human most of the time, but his skin tightened against his bones as the blood had dried up. If he had noticed earlier it may have been enough to stop it. By the time he had gotten home, the skin shrank on his form, giving his fingers a long and claw-like appearance.

The point of no return was crossed. Thoughts left, and time lost. It happened fast. Suddenly. A single mistake, and he was a monster. He was one of the many reasons that humans feared the night. He had set up what defenses he could quickly, in hopes that someone would stop him. He had some confidence that would work or at least buy enough time for someone to get to him, to stop him. His last cohesive thoughts though were fear. He had fallen like this before. Each one was worse than the last, though. Each fall threatened to be the last. One would be the one where he wasn’t able to get help in time, and he either escaped his home and fed on a bystander, or he wasn’t able to feed in time and he simply faded into a ghoul.

In those moments, there was a cold that swallowed him. It was a heavy cold, pressing his chest against his lungs. It was a challenge to take in the breaths he needed, to keep thinking. The cold was otherworldly, clinging beyond just his skin and stretching deep throughout his body. It felt as though the ice was scratching along his soul. It was that frigid grasp of death. His body was shutting down, soon to be animated only by the curse of undeath that he had stumbled into. The panic that caused in him should have warmed him somewhat, but instead, it only deepened the chill.

His vision blurred.

His mind blanked.

His memories became vague and broken.

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