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NaNo second drafts/deleted stuff

Went back and did a second rough draft for that story I was working on.

My eyes snap open at the sound of the obnoxious radio personality at the bedside. Snaking a hand out from under the sheet, I slap the radio into silence. Swinging my feet down from the bed, I smack my lips together to rid my mouth of the stale feeling and scratch my side through the camisole I‘m wearing. Stumbling into the bathroom, I give a yelp as the shower taps run ice cold before settling to a more pleasant temperature. This is pretty much the standard beginning of the day for me, as mundane as it sounds.

Yep, I’m a vampire. I’ve been one for so long I can’t remember my own age some days. No, there wasn’t any melodramatic rising at sunset from a velvet lined coffin, no breaking my fast with a willing donor, no half-naked men forming a harem in my living room.

Damn about the last bit. I wouldn’t mind those at all. I have a pretty boring lifestyle: I live in an Oceanside home in sunny California and I work at a book store that specializes in obscure, hard to find texts. I don’t even have a cat. I tried keeping fish in a tank by the kitchen, but they kept on dying on me. Instead of wasting money on replacing them only to have the fish die again, I converted the tank into a terrarium for some plants I picked up on my last trip to Athens.

Getting dressed for the evening - I have the evening shift tonight, hence getting up at sunset. I’ve got a pretty good sense of time when I’m asleep, I don’t know why I even bother with the alarm clock - I brush my teeth and check for messages on my machine. There’s a few, but they’re all solicitors telling me that I’ve either won a cruise I don’t remember registering for or that there’s a new perfume on the market that I should buy. I erase all of them without listening to them all the way.

The store I work at is several miles away from my home, so I decide to drive instead of walk. My car is one of the single things I took with me from a previous relationship. My ex-husband loved his cars, the faster the better. The sleek black and silver vehicle was his pride and joy. It gave me great pleasure to drive off in it, especially after putting a long key scratch along the side of the thing right in front of his eyes. Petty for somebody that’s supposed to be older than dirt, but I couldn’t help it. He always did bring out the immature side of my nature. But enough of him. The Jag purrs like a live being and hugs the curves of the road like a lover’s hand and I’m parking in less than twenty minutes.

Archaic Articles always reminds me of a library I visited in the Vatican once. The walls are covered in floor to ceiling shelves which are stacked to the point of bursting with yellowing texts. The center aisles are filled with leather bound tomes and small pocket sized note books, the back wall covered with overlapping maps and rolled up scrolls. To the first-time visitor, it looks as if everything is in a horrible mess when in fact my boss can pull out a certain piece of parchment without having to look it up on the outdated computer. The floors are aged wood and creak whenever you step on a certain board and the musty smell of aging paper permeates everything.

I don’t really need a job, seeing that I’m probably wealthier than my boss’ entire family tree combined, but I had just moved to California and was bored. I was in the life-without-husband phase of my life and didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t been without my husband for five hundred and ninety-eight years, years that had been spent helping him rise to his status as Council member. The first thousand years of my life were spent in solitude in Greece, which I had no intention of doing again. The eight hundred years I had spent traveling beyond Crete before meeting Diego were enjoyable, yet I don’t have a burning desire to live out of suitcases or move from place to place every decade or so. So California was where I planted my roots, at least for the next few centuries, or so I hope.

Back to the reason I decided to work. A life of idle luxury has never appealed to me. Before I was changed, I was a farming woman accustomed to working every day. The need to do something stayed with me. I’ve always been fond of books and manuscripts, so when I came in for some reading material and saw that the store was hiring, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been here for thirty-six years now.

Oscar appears from the back stock room at the sound of the door chimes. Oscar Henderson is the last of his line, a tall man with a full head of hair the color of new fallen snow. Bits of pale ginger hair still peek out at varying places on his head, but for the most part, he’s gone all white. His face is long and his hawkish nose is a perch for wire framed glasses. Crow’s feet adorn the corners of his eyes and age spots linger at his temples. He has a penchant for wearing somber colors and clothes that hang from his lean frame, making him look like a living scarecrow. He calls the look monkish, I think somebody should take him shopping for clothes that fit. His hands shake slightly as he holds some of the more fragile scrolls, but otherwise he’s as healthy as a man half his age. He’s a retired wizard, or at least a privately practicing one. His specialties were elixirs of any sort, except for love potions. He frowns on the improper use of them and still sometimes lapses into a sort of lecture about using them for illicit purposes.

The only other employee Archaic Articles has is a shape shifter named Anne. Unlike werebeasts, she can shift her form into that of any animal she wishes without losing any of her own human mentality or relying on the phases of the moon to dictate her change. She’s on vacation this month, her and her newly wed husband are on an extensive honeymoon trip to Europe that I helped her plan.

The door creaks closed as I move into the store. Oscar looks at me critically before turning back to tiding up. “You haven’t eaten,” he comments. I shrug, knowing that I haven’t fed since the day before. Whenever I haven’t taken blood, my vampiric nature becomes even more apparent. For every vampire made, there has to be one that made them. Each of our Makers has the ability to reform us into whatever image he or she wishes. Luckily, the majority of Makers opt to create beauty instead of ugliness, which Hollywood has capitalized on. My Maker had seen a too thin woman with straggly dark hair and dark eyes on the verge of death from the massive plague that had swept through Athens four hundred and thirty years before Christ. For some reason, he had decided to spare my life and grant me with this one. Once I asked him why he had picked certain characteristics for my new image and he had said that he had wanted to share his gift of the gods and create a child of their image in tribute. At the risk of sounding vain, I’ve been placed in the more beautiful circles of the vampire community.

Still, for all our preternatural beauty, our true natures stand out in sharp relief if we don’t feed on a regular basis. Some vampires are worse than others; all that happens to me is that my skin becomes paler and more transparent looking and my canines are more pronounced.

“Not tonight,” I reply, thumbing through a batch of new books. Illuminated letters in gold ink stare back at me and I run my fingers over a piece of religious text. “I remember this when the paper was new. Did I ever tell you about my stint in Rome during the Byzantine Era?”

“No, I don’t believe you did. Besides, that paper is younger than Byzantine. I say fifteenth century at the most.” Oscar reaches up and dusts off the top shelf. “You had a call this afternoon, I left the message on the counter.”

“Oh?” My eyebrow raises as I walk over to the counter. I don’t usually get any messages while I’m at work, only Dean, my ward, knows the phone number to this place. There on the counter is a piece of printer paper with Oscar’s neat and tiny handwriting.

Carmen, meet at Mickey’s, no weapons, no worming out of it. Has Dean as leverage. Called @ 5:30.

It was just like Oscar to write down everything and not outwardly react to whatever the call had been about. My face paled at the notice of Dean already being involved. Crumpling up the paper in my fist, I grit my teeth.

“Take the night off, I can hold the fort. No killing, get something to drink while you’re at it.” With that, Oscar turned his back and he absorbs himself back into age old scripts. He doesn’t even look up when the door chimes signal my exit.

Slamming the car door, I turn the engine on forcefully. My mind is racing a mile a second; why would Carmen want anything of me after all these years? What did she have that was so important she made sure she had a hostage to insure my attendance? Not paying any heed to speed limits, I whip around curves and make my way towards the Ghoul District.

Ghoul District isn’t properly named. There hasn’t been an area ghoul sighting in nearly a hundred years. Yet that’s what the tourists call it, mostly because it’s a hub for Californian residents of the supernatural type. Vampires are the main crowd, their ages varying from Newborn to Old Ones. The main part of the district caters to the New age, from clubs with the PVC and leather fashion trend to tattoo shops with blackened windows and Gothic architecture.

Mickey’s is a pub that caters more to the older crowd. It’s been here for as long as anyone can remember, and it seems to fit even amongst the newer buildings. The owner is a man by the name of Michael McDougal, hence the pub name. He had been Turned during the California gold rush of forty-nine by a long imprisoned vamp. Michael had thought he had hit gold, but it was a gilded sarcophagi instead. Some nights he’ll wax maudlin and insist that he should have just left everything well enough alone and died a poor farmer.

He’s at the taps tonight. Michael was a middle aged man when he was Turned, all smile lines around the eyes and dark honey skin from his mortal days spent in the sun looking for his fortune. The one that Changed him hadn’t been specific on how Michael would end up looking, so he missed his chance at preternatural beauty. He looks up as soon as I enter, but decides against welcoming me when he sees my stiff posture. My eyes rove around the crowd, which is pretty thick for a weeknight. There are mostly younger vampires and wannabe Old Ones dressed in their leather and lace, proclaiming that they had lived in the age of Marie Antoinette when in reality they hadn’t even been alive long enough to remember Kennedy being assassinated. Just like Carmen to pick a place where there were plenty of witnesses if things went nasty. My nose twitches and I can detect Dean from one of the back booths. Stalking over there, I draw myself up to my full height of five feet seven inches. Before the woman sitting with Dean can see me, I smooth my anger from my face and replace it with a long practiced look of indifference.

Dean sees me first. He’s pale from nerves, even though there’s a slight pinkish tinge to his skin that shows he’s fed tonight. His floppy mass of hair is in his face as usual and I have to fight the motherly urge to smooth it away for him. He’s in a raggedy college t-shirt and faded jeans. Forever twenty-one, he’s all gangly arms and legs. I first saw him a year ago, alone and to the point of starvation. His Maker had been executed before giving Dean any sort of instructions on how to live as a vampire, so Dean was basically a wild animal by the time I got to him. It took a month just to get him to speak instead of growl. He’s gotten better under my care, but he’s still green when it comes to the more detailed aspects of vampire culture.

Unfortunately, he’s getting a firsthand learning experience with our politics tonight. Carmen looks up and gives me a lazy smile. Carmen is Diego’s messenger girl, running from country to country to dispatch any message her master might have for other important Vampire Council dignitaries. She was Italian at birth, her long black hair fixed so that the riots of curls cascade over her bare shoulders. The ethnic scarf wrapped around her head and the large hoop earrings would have made any other woman look like a B-movie fortune teller, but not Carmen. She looks regal and beautiful and self satisfied that she has me where she wants me.

“I see you’ve come at last,” she says, her voice carrying a tiny hint of her native accent. “Please, sit.” She stands and hold her hands to show me she’s unarmed and I do the same as I sit. Folding my hands carefully on the scarred wooden tabletop, I look at her.

“What is so important that you have to hold my ward as ransom?”

Her lips quirk up at the question. “It was the only way I was sure you’d talk with me. Diego said you wouldn’t answer his calls.”

“I don’t answer his calls because I despise the man. I would have come to talk with you.”

Carmen sighs, giving an all but inaudible laugh. “May we drop the formalities, Kalika? It tires me to speak with you thusly.” I outwardly stiffen at the mention of my given name on her lips.

“Fine. What do you want?” Carmen steeples her hands in front of her and studies the table.

“My master sent me to collect you in his time of need. He’s wanted for murder and has a Guard posted on him.”

I’m still for a while. Across the table, Dean stares at me uneasily yet doesn’t say a word. He knows all about my past with Diego de Roxas, one of the most powerful vampires in North America. Diego is a leader in the Council, a member of the innermost circle that creates our laws and governs over us all worldwide. For him to be wanted for murder was a serious offence.

“Who was he foolish enough to kill?” I ask, not showing that the last bit of news disturbs me. Guards were Council appointed, much like a preternatural police squad. To have them dog your heels was a serious hint that your future was pretty much doomed.

“He killed a rival leader. It puts him in line for a bigger territory.” Carmen pauses, then bites her bottom lip. “To make matters worse, it is his turn to host our Ball.” I let that tidbit of news sink in. Every hundred years, one of the high ranking Council members hosts a ball where all and sundry vampires are invited. Usually only the over five hundred crowd ever shows up, though there’s occasionally a vampire that’s fifty or sixty years old that attends. It’s more of a power display than an actual get together. I personally don’t care for them, especially the themed ones.

“So it would mean Diego would be condemned on his own grounds, whoever challenges him gets not only his seat on the Council, but all his lands and the people that live there, correct?”

“You haven’t lost your grasp of politics, Kalika, that I’ll grant you.” Carmen licks her lips and continues. “Your husband also requests that you are in attendance as a show of power.”

With that, I nearly swallow my tongue. “Carmen, you know as well as anybody that Diego is not my husband any more. He hasn’t been for nearly forty years.”

“I know that and you know that, but I’m not quite so sure Diego got that memo.” Carmen casually leans her elbows against the table. “You two didn’t really part in a conventional way.”

“What do you mean? I slapped him and rode off in one of his expensive toys.”

“Yes, but did you sign the papers?” Oh. That was one of the things we hadn’t done. At the moment, all I had wanted to do was get as far away from Diego and the young woman that he had as my replacement. It was pretty much a given that we weren’t considered man and wife any more. Before I can answer, Carmen sighs and puts her chin in one of her palms.

“There’s a document from fourteen hundred and six that says for better or for worse, you ’re still the lady Roxas. That also means you’re still half in charge of Diego’s people. Do you know how much that chafes Gwen’s ass?” The last question was asked with a rueful grin that showed off a hint of fang for the first time tonight.

I shift in my seat, my eyes on Dean, who now feels comfortable enough that his role as hostage material is finished. He’s in his usual slumped posture with an arm hung over the back of the booth. “I don’t wish to speak of Gwen,” I tell Carmen.

“Can’t be helped. She’s another reason you have to come home.”

I roll my eyes. “Oh? She has to be in her sixties now, can’t Diego control his little pet? I would have thought Diego would have tired of her when her boobs started to sag.”

Carmen chews her bottom lip, her façade of indifferent messenger crumbling. “You’ve got her all wrong. She…she has some sort of hold on Diego, on us all. It lessens with distance, but when you’re in the same room with her…” Carmen’s lip starts to bleed and her tongue swipes out to catch the bright red droplets. “She makes us do things we normally wouldn’t do.”

The frightened tone of voice isn’t like Carmen. It draws my attention and makes me lean forward in my seat. “What kinds of things?”

“Remember Jeff?” Vaguely, I do. He was one of the newer vampires to come into Diego’s territory right as I was leaving. “Last month he called Gwen a whore to her face. The next thing we knew, he was walking out in the sun. He got as far as the threshold of the building he was in before he burst into flames.” Beside her, Dean winces. Some vampires are highly allergic to sunlight. The more extreme cases are found in Newborns, where a mere ray of light can cause their bodies to combust. As a vampire ages, sunlight becomes a smaller problem to the point where one could walk about in the full noonday sun without worrying about anything beyond a normal human sunburn. Other vampires are born immune to the sun, depending on how powerful their Maker is. Sunlight has never been a problem for me, except for the one time where I looked directly into the sun. I was young and testing the boundaries of my powers, thinking myself invincible. The stunt left me blind for nearly a year and my eyes severely sensitive to daylight for decades afterwards. My Maker had said that the god Helios had punished me for my pride, for thinking that I was worthy enough to stare at his face without fear of his wrath.

“What makes you think Gwen had anything to do with making Jeff walk out of the building?” I ask.

Carmen swallows hard. “Because he fought the entire way. He tried hanging onto anything: furniture, baseboards, the threshold itself. His arms tried, but his legs looked as if someone had attached string to them and were moving them like a puppet.” She closed her eyes. “He screamed until his vocal cords had burned away. You know as well as anyone what we look like when we die that way.”

After a moment of silence, I finally look at Carmen again. “Do you think Diego killed his rival?”

“No. I think he was framed. So does Hisawe, who is visiting right now.” Hisawe is one of the older Council members, hailing from Japan. I met her several years before I met Diego and we’ve remained close friends. Seeing as she is one of the older members of the Council, her belief in Diego could save him from execution, if the other members think he’s guilty of murder.

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Last night. He’s been confined to his home until investigation can begin.” Carmen licks her lips and stares at me hard. “Kalika, we need you to come and speak on his behalf. I have a reason to believe Gwen set this all up so she can gain power. She is not the timid little waif that you remember her to be. The others, they’re afraid of her. I’m afraid of her. If Diego is killed and you do nothing, she gains everything.” Her eyes plead with me and I can see just how afraid she is.

“Very well. I’ll go.” Relief visibly washes over Carmen’s face.

“Good. I’ve arranged for flight tickets for you and your ward.” Pulling out two narrow pieces of paper, she slides them over the table towards me. “I have other matters to take care of on behalf of my master, but I’ve arranged for a car to pick you up when you arrive.” She stands and I mirror her movements.

“I did not agree to Dean going.”

Carmen looks at Dean with soft eyes. “It cannot be helped. Diego wishes that your and your ward come. It would be best for him as well, seeing that he is unwise in our ways. I had little difficulty getting him here.” Dean shrugs his shoulders and looks at me sheepishly through the curtain of hair over his eyes.

I sigh. “Very well. I’ll see you there, I hope.”

Carmen smiles at me and extends her hand. “I will see you there. No matter what, it has been good to see you again. Your presence has been greatly missed amongst us.” With that, she leaves the booth and walks out of the pub. Dean looks at me and finally pipes up.

“I’m sorry, Kalika. I should have known better.”

I wave my hand. “Not your fault. She’s older and stronger than you. Just learn from tonight’s encounter, okay?”

“Okay. So, what do we do now?” He taps his long fingers on the tabletop.

“We go home, pack and head towards the airport. After that, we see how things develop.” We leave soon afterwards, the drive back to our home quiet save for the radio. I unlock the front door and Dean heads to his side of the house. I can hear him rummaging through his closet for his clothes. I walk to my room and do the same. It’s strange, but I don’t feel anything except numbness at the fact that I’m going to be seeing Diego again. If I close my eyes, I can see him how I saw him last, still hear his voice in my ears and still feel his skin on my fingertips. I loved him once, but he betrayed my trust by sleeping with a human girl no older than nineteen. Zipping up the bag, I let it fall from the bed to the floor with a muted thump. If what Carmen says is true and Gwen can control other vampires, I wonder what kind of experience I’m going to be up against. I have a mild fear for Dean, seeing how young he is, especially when we are going to be rubbing elbows with vampires older and more powerful than myself. I berate myself for sheltering Dean as I have, as my Master had sheltered me for the first thousand years of my life. Hopefully I won’t have to teach Dean the lessons my Master taught me.

I meet Dean in the hallway. We don’t say much on the trip to the airport, or as we sit in the cracked plastic chairs to wait for our flight. When we finally board, I let him have the window seat. Every time one of us hosts a ball, we don’t hold it on our home ground. Instead, we hold it in the place where we were born or where we were Turned. Diego may have an elaborate home in southern Illinois, but he has a far more beautiful one in Madrid. Dean leans against the window as we cross the ocean, yet I don’t look out with him. Instead, I pull out a pair of sunglasses from my purse and slip them on. We exit the airport in Madrid and find one of Diego’s cars already awaiting us. A man and woman that I don’t know welcome us and open the doors to the vehicle. I hesitate before taking a step, but then steel my resolve and enter, waiting to be driven to one of the biggest ghosts of my past.

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