NEEDING to avoid my Mum so she doesn’t notice the added flush from my recent feeding, I turn off the lights and engine, and coast the last few meters down the drive. Her heightened sense of hearing forces me into full stealth mode. However, my control over my abilities is erratic at the best of times, with the added use of compulsion and blurring tonight, my hopes weren’t that high to start with. I may have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the surprise visitors in the kitchen.
“And just where do you think you’re sneaking off to young lady?”
“Daddy!” I jump into his arms as if I was still five years old, and he catches me with ease, as if that were the case. “What are you doing here? You’re home early. I thought you weren’t home until next week? Mum never said a thing,” I ramble excitedly.
“Thought it would be a nice surprise for you.” He puts me down smiling. “Your Mum tells me your eyes are silver now so let me take a look at you.” The smile on his face falls instantly. A split second later I remember why I was trying to sneak in. Shed! His head glances towards the kitchen and then he starts moving me towards the stairs quickly... but not quick enough.
“Thomas.” I see a look of defeat flash across his face, followed by resignation, then determination. A moment passes and his face is a blank slate as he turns us both in the direction of the kitchen, and the unfamiliar voice.
As we enter, I see Mum nervously pottering around with the tea things and serving homemade cookies - her special recipe. My mouth waters, but before I can move to intercept the plate I notice the stranger standing at the table. I stop in my tracks and involuntarily take a step closer towards my Father.
“Raven, let me introduce you to Baron Winterbourne. Baron, this is my daughter Raven.” Part of my mind wonders whether Baron is his name or his title; another part of my mind catalogues the powerful stature of the man in front of me; another part reminds me of my manners and that I should be shaking his hand or something and mumbling along the lines of being pleased to meet him; another part says that would be a lie, because I’m not feeling pleased to meet him at all, he’s giving me the creeps; yet another part of my brain is wondering why he seems to be taking inventory of me in such detail; however, the biggest part of my brain is screaming Ancient Vampire! Run for your life!
Seeing as my brain seems to be in complete turmoil, I look to my Dad for guidance. He seems to be waiting for something. I turn back to (the?) Baron realising that’s why he’s waiting. He’s waiting for a verdict. I’m on trial. Panic sets in. My breathing quickens, my heartbeat starts thumping in my chest. His head tilts to the side. “Such a strong heart” he seems to be deciding what this means. I look back to my Dad who is statue still, debating whether I should say something to break what feels like the most awkward moment in history. A slight movement in my Dads eye warns against this, so I remain quiet and go back to waiting.
A few moments later the tension breaks. “I’m intrigued” he says.
That’s it? He kept us in suspense for those two words? He’s intrigued? I can’t help the eye roll, it’s a bad habit.
“She lacks discipline.” He sits at the head of the table which seems to indicate that we should sit too. My father sits at the other end of the table, directly opposite – a silent reminder that he is head of the household. At least that’s what I suspect, I don’t really understand male posturing at the best of times, but put two powerful Ancient Vampires in a room, and the testosterone levels seem to elevate to new heights. My Mother serves the tea things and sits to the right of my Father, I move to take the seat to his left, but the Baron pulls a chair out next to him, gesturing for me to take it. I look to my Dad to save me, but he just nods. I hold back a sigh and sit. I thank my Mum for the tea and help myself to two cookies. She smiles warmly, but she’s tense and the reason is sitting next to me.
He doesn’t actually thank my Mother out loud; a nod of his head barely acknowledging her seems to be all he can muster. My anger spikes. “My Mother makes the best cookies in the world” I smile brightly, shoving the plate under his nose “You simply have to try one.” He looks at me, his eyes tighten slightly. I feel the power inside him but I refuse to be intimidated by a man who would openly insult my Mother. I keep my bright smile in place and the plate of cookies under his nose. I know he can hear my heart pounding in my chest as the adrenaline is pumped through my bloodstream.
I’m seconds away from cowering and begging for forgiveness, when he smiles. A genuine smile. “Thank you.” He takes a cookie and bites into it cautiously. Moments later, he nods and chews with more enthusiasm. “You are quite right young lady, these are exquisite.” He turns to my Mother who seems to be recovering from a moment of hysteria. “My compliments madam.” Her cheeks are flushed from either the compliment or the fact that her daughter just stood up to a man who is apparently not someone to be trifled with. I don’t have time to dwell too much on this however as the conversation turns to my own flushed cheeks, and the reason for my failed attempt at stealth.
Knowing full well that feeding from Humans is considered politically incorrect and law dictates large fines and sometimes imprisonment, I’m not eager to explain the events of my indiscretion. However, it’s not like I can avoid the subject when it’s so blatantly obvious that I fed and then tried to hide that fact. If that doesn’t make me look guilty as hell, then the disapproving looks I receive from the others at the table are enough to think I might actually be in hell itself.
I explained what had happened, carefully omitting the part where the Vamp was my date, as well as his name. After all, I didn’t want to be responsible for getting him in trouble even if he was breaking the law. When I clarified that there were no witnesses to my indiscretion and that I had compelled ‘the guy’ to forget, they seemed mollified. The Baron questioned me on the identity of my attacker-turned-victim and I tried to be as vague as possible without appearing to be attempting to derail him.
When I was asked about his status, I answered honestly that I didn’t know, much to the frustration of the Baron. Dad pointed out that I had never been around other Vamps and therefore wouldn’t know what kind of energy to be looking for. Then the conversation turned again and I got really confused.
Simple words like school and class floated around in my head as disjointed parts of a conversation I wasn’t clued in on. Then my brain seemed to catch up all at once. “No!” I cried out before I could stop myself.
All eyes turned to me. The Baron looked downright outraged at the interruption, my Mum looked on with sympathy in her eyes, and my Dad was somewhere in between the two. “Raven,” he sighed. “You have to understand that there are just some things that a Human school can’t teach you.” The sneer on the Baron’s face told me he didn’t think there was anything a Human school could teach that was remotely of use. “The Foundation will teach you how to take control of your abilities and hone them.”
“My abilities are just fine,” I defended.
“That is most certainly not the case or you would not have been caught trying to sneak in tonight,” said the Baron in a haughty tone. Before I could dig myself a bigger hole for him to bury me in, he continued, “You are apparently adept at compulsion I grant you...” Gee thanks ...”however; there is more to being a Vampire than just that. Having Ancient blood allows you the added benefits that come with such status and we must hope that the disability of having it diluted will not affect these.”
“What?!” I scream in anger at the same time a deafening roar irrupts from the other end of the table. I turn expecting to see my Father but instead am greeted with the sight of a beautiful lioness leaping onto the kitchen table. I yelp and spill my tea, backing away from the huge beast. The wood creaks under her weight and her claws leave indents in the table as she stalks towards the Baron, who sits motionless in his seat.
“I would like to remind you Baron,” states my Father calmly “that Raven’s blood is not diluted, but excessive. Her blood not only holds the power of the Vampire Ancients, but also the power of the Shifter Ancients. Particularly formidable ancestral lines on both sides, I might add.” The Baron looks between my Father and the 8cm long canines that are on display in front of his face. His jaw twitches momentarily, before reluctantly dipping his head in acknowledgement. The lion’s huge jaw relaxes and her powerful legs send her gracefully to the floor. My Mother retakes her seat at my Father’s side. “I would not have thought you as imprudent as to believe the lies of the Council Baron,” my Father scolds.
“Thomas,” he warns. “Do not forget with whom you speak.”
“I have not forgotten who you are; I only ask that you do not forget my friend. See through the lies to the truth. Adele and I were not banished for our mistake.” His eyes find mine and soften, letting me know those are not his words. “We chose to leave for the benefit of our daughter. So she would not have to live with the prejudices of our people.” My Mother reaches over and grasps his hand firmly, showing her support of that decision.
To my surprise, the Baron sighs and nods his head. “You are correct Thomas. It has been many years that I have been without your consistent counsel and I fear I may have become blind to the manipulations of our autocratic governing body.” He turns and addresses my Mother directly “You have my apologies for any slight I may have imparted upon you. Our species have a history and I sometimes find it difficult to remove those prejudices when in the company of... Shifters.”
“Apology accepted,” smiles Mum warmly. “I would expect nothing more from a Vamp.” Only the twinkle in her eye indicates her teasing nature. My breath catches as I turn to watch for the Baron’s reaction.
After a moment’s hesitation, he burst’s out laughing. “I think I find that I like you.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” she smiles.
With the tension somewhat relieved, the conversation returns to my education or as I have decided to deem it - my impending doom. The Baron explains that as part of the Species Integration Policy brought into effect a few years prior, that The Foundation decided all Ancients would be housed together regardless of their individual species. This of course would work to my advantage and not give any potential trouble-makers additional ammunition. My mother and I exchange concerned looks, but before we can voice them, the Baron goes on to establish that this year is a relatively small class and that he couldn't think of any individual that would intentionally cause trouble for me. "Besides," he adds "I am now the Head of Ancient Studies and if there are any problems, you should bring the matter to my attention immediately." I look to my parents who seem happy that he would deal with any situation that may arise; however, I still had reservations.
He produced a prospectus pack (from where I don't know) which held the usual school gumpf about the facilities. It also held a map of the grounds, the school itself, and Glendower House - the living quarters that I would be assigned to. Also inside were my class schedule, reading list, and extra-curricular activities that would give me extra credits. I scanned the list. "No gymnastics team" I sigh.
"Well, no. However, we do have a cheerleading squad that I'm told is very good," explains the Baron.
"Cheerleading?" I ask confused. "Where exactly is this Foundation?" I was pretty sure there weren't any cheerleading squads locally. I knew the sport was becoming increasingly popular and competitive in the UK, but it was still considered to be an American pastime. Surely The Foundation isn't in America? That's pretty far away.
"Zaratan" he answered as if that explained everything.
The shock on his face was almost palpable and for a moment he was lost for words - something I didn't think he experienced very often. He turned to my parents who had the good grace to look sheepish. The Baron took out my reading list and in an elegant script added a new title: The History of Zaratan by Thomas Draco. I look at my father. Couldn't be.
Shortly after, the two men retired to the study to open a bottle of Grade A. My mother cleared away the tea things as I flicked through the prospectus. Some of the classes on my schedule had me intrigued. Compulsion 101 I figured I would ace, but Shadow Manipulation had me excited. The second semester was blank and I wondered if I was missing some information. I looked through the prospectus again, but couldn't find anything. "What's the matter?" asks Mum, joining me at the table.
"I can't find my class schedule for the second term," I explained.
"The second term is when all the Shifters travel to Naguales Forest for the journey," she explains.
"But I thought I took more after Dad? Why would I need to complete the journey? I don't have any Shifter abilities. Apart from my eyes changing whenever they feel like it, but I hardly think that counts," I joke, trying to cover up my embarrassment. Mum wasn't buying any of it.
“Raven, you are the only Vampire/Shapeshifter hybrid. We don’t know which abilities you are capable of and which you are not. You are neither one, nor the other, yet you are both. It is only right that we give the chance for both your genetic lines to exert themselves.” OK logical I nod in agreement. “Whilst your Vampiric tendencies have exerted themselves early on, your Shifter tendencies are only likely to begin showing themselves now. You are approaching the age of recognition, when your soul searches for its animal counterpart. You must make the journey if you are ever to be complete.”
“What if I don’t have an animal soul?” I ask hesitantly, not positive I really want an answer, not if it’s bad. The look on my Mum's face tells me the possibility has crossed her mind. I sigh. “That’s what I thought.”
“Raven no! You must not think like that. You are half Shifter” my Mum corrects herself “You are half Ancient Shifter, which means you have power flowing through your veins, and you are one of us just as much as you are one of the Vamps. You will take your rightful journey and you will find your animal soul. I just know it!” My mother’s enthusiasm and assurances make me feel slightly better. She pulls me into a hug and the last of my doubts seem to fade away. “Besides,” she adds, pulling back, “maybe you’ll find the soul of a Vampire bat.” I roll my eyes and everything is put to rights.
I turn back to the gumpf, but I feel her eyes on me. When I look up, she's wearing her 'how do I put this' face. She takes a breath, fortifying herself. "Did I scare you?" Huh? She looks down at the table, her finger tracing the indentation from her claw. Oh. I realise she's referring to her shift.
"Mum, you were awesome!" She visibly relaxes and lets out a breath she was holding. "I've never seen you like that. I mean, I've seen lion-you before obviously, but you were sooo scary... In a good way!" I add quickly. I lean in conspiratorially "I think he almost messed himself." She laughs, which had been my intention. "I do have a question though" I fidget in my seat awkwardly, then whisper "Where did your clothes go?" She laughs so hard, tears stream down her face.
When she's caught her breath, she pulls me up. "Come on. It's been a long night. Get some sleep and I'll tell you all about it tomorrow."