Crimson Veilpart #15 of Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series by Yasmine Galenorn / Fantasy
The sky was clear for once, though rain was forecast before morning. The moon glimmered, her faint sliver shining down over the cemetery. Soon she would be new, dark and hiding her face. A steady flurry of gusts shook the trees, their boughs shaking like tall sentinels sounding the alarm. It was the perfect night for a funeral. A funeral none of us wanted to be at.
We were gathered at the Seryph Point Cemetery, around the open grave. A small group we were, there to send our friend off to the afterlife. There was me, Menolly, and my wife, Nerissa. My sisters, Camille and Delilah, stood beside us. Derrick Means—my bartender. And Tavah, Digger, and Kendra—all from the Wayfarer. Chase had joined us, as had Mallen. We had asked the guys to stay home and keep watch over the house. As I said, we were a small group, but everyone in attendance had cared. Everyone was there because they wanted to be.
Chrysandra’s casket rested in front of us, over the grave on the device that would lower her into the earth forever-more. Her body would return to the Mother, even as we consigned her soul to the long nights of eternity. At the service—which we’d held in our house—Morio and Shade had worked their magic to seal her body in her grave. Nothing save the most powerful necromancer could ever raise Chrysandra’s remains. She’d be free from the threat of being raised as a zombie. She’d never come back as one of the undead. Her soul was long gone and her body would undergo its natural breakdown, undisturbed from the machinations of sorcery.
We had said our good-byes at the house. We had bade her farewell. Now we were simply here to stand witness to the final act. To the last chapter in our friend’s life. Chrysandra Jones had been a waitress at the Wayfarer since I first came Earthside. She’d stayed on as I moved from bartender to owner. She’d helped me out, done her job and then some. But Chrysandra had been a private person. We still knew nothing of her family. It was like she’d left every trace of her past behind her, put it in a safe box, and buried it somewhere to keep it hidden. Even now, in death, all we had left of her were these—her mortal remains.
I’d gone through her effects, helped Chase clear out her apartment after the fire that had destroyed my bar and the lives of eight people caught in the flames, including Chrysandra. We’d torn the place apart, but there had been nothing to indicate that she’d had any life before she first came to the bar. I was beginning to suspect she’d been in the Witness Protection Program, but if so, they seem to have left her unsupervised. Whatever the case, Chrysandra had died as she had lived—a private person, a loyal employee, and a woman I considered my friend.
As Gage, the funeral tech, lowered the casket into the ground, I closed my eyes. I’d cried myself out. I’d cried when I realized she was dying, in such horrible pain that she couldn’t even scream at the hospital. I’d cried as I sucked the life out of her burned and crisped body, ending that pain. And I’d cried till my bloody tears left irremovable stains on my sheets. Now, the tears were gone, and I just wanted to punish the arsonist responsible for Chrysandra’s death, and the deaths of the others who had perished in the flames.
Gage glanced at me. The tech might as well be nameless and faceless, for all I knew him, though I knew he was a werewolf. He worked for the funeral home where we’d made Chrysandra’s arrangements. We’d limited our transactions with them to buying her casket and paying for her care.
She had told me once she wanted to buried in a simple pine box, unprotected from the elements. She didn’t want her body to outlast time. So we’d ordered a hand-carved coffin that was untreated, that would give her up to the earth as it broke down. We’d arranged for Gage to lower the casket, but we’d taken care of the service ourselves. The funeral director was a Supe, and he understood. He didn’t try to push us into buying an armored casket that would last forever.
Silence hung heavy, like fog soup, as he slowly lowered the casket into the waiting grave. Delilah and Nerissa threw roses on the coffin as it descended into the ground. Derrick stared straight ahead, trying not to let anything crack his gruff demeanor, but I knew the werebadger was taking it hard. He and Chrysandra had gotten on, and I suspected they’d been on their way to a romance.
Tavah and Digger might be vampires, but they had also been her friends, and now they watched the proceedings bleakly. Camille stepped forward and gave me a nod. I took hold of her hand as we recited our prayer for the dead.
“What was life has crumbled. What was form, now falls away. Mortal chains unbind and the soul is lifted free. May you find your way to the ancestors. May you find your path to the gods. May your bravery and courage be remembered in song and story. May your parents be proud, and may your children carry your birthright. Sleep, and wander no more. ”
The words echoed in the night, punctuated only by the sound of the casket as it disappeared from sight. We stepped back and formed a circle around the grave, holding hands. And then, as a cloud passed over the face of the moon, Gage pushed the button on the portable stereo, and “Shuffle Your Feet,” by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, echoed into the night. It was Chrysandra’s favorite song, and it was the last time it would ever play for her in this world.
I recognized the strains of the Stone Temple Pilots echoing out from the crowded club. As much as I’d wanted to hole up with my sisters and wife at home after the funeral, I had an appointment to keep. Roman was waiting for me. With what had gone on this past week, there would be no downtime for any of us—not for the foreseeable future.
As I threaded my way through the room, the scent of blood hung heavy in the air. The Utopia was a new vampire club. Shikra, the owner, managed to keep on the right side of Roman’s rules, albeit by a narrow margin, so all was good. No bloodwhores on the premises, but contracted private pets were allowed, and feeding on them was acceptable. I still was squicked out by the thought, but since the contract was a two-way street and nobody was here against their will, I couldn’t impose my morals on the vamps frequenting the joint.
Hell, I fed on people—although they were the dregs of society. Life was full of gray. Black and white had ceased to exist for me the day Dredge took my life and turned me.
Roman was waiting for me, looking gorgeous as usual. He was wearing black leather pants, a shirt open to the navel, and a burgundy smoking jacket. His long dark hair was pulled back in a smooth ponytail, and his eyes were almost frosted over, he’d been a vampire so long.
The Lord of the Vampire Nation, son of Blood Wyne—the Queen of the Crimson Veil—Roman had chosen me for his official consort. He had also re-sired me, taking over as my sire to break a blood bond of which I had needed to divest myself. So while I was married to Nerissa and my heart belonged to her, I was bound to Roman in an unbreakable fashion. And to be honest, I didn’t mind so much. He was ancient and dangerous, but seductive and passionate, and though I didn’t love him, I was able to fully act myself with him. I was able to play, and not be afraid of hurting someone I loved.
He stood as I approached, holding out one hand. I took his fingers lightly as he guided me to the booth. Every move he made was smooth and deliberate. Roman did nothing lightly, nothing without a reason. He was a man of motives, and plans, and opportunities.
“Menolly, love. Sit. ”
There it was again. Love. He used the word casually, but every time it set off an uneasy feeling. I’d warned Roman not to fall in love with me. While I could sleep with him, I knew I could never return his love. I didn’t want to become as calculating as he was. And… the fact was, I was more gay than straight. Nerissa held my heart, and I held hers, and I couldn’t imagine loving someone else the way I loved her.
Roman motioned to the waitress. Only vamps worked at the Utopia; it was too dangerous to have living, breathing staff at a vamp club. But the fang girls and boys were out in droves tonight—FBHs who wanted to walk on the wild side. Full-blood humans here, Earthside, loved vampires as much as they feared us, just like they loved the Fae. We were dangerous and held the promise of sex and passion. Sadly, a lot of people over ES seemed to lack intensity in their lives and so they made up for it vicariously. A very few stepped over the line to actually take the risks.
“Two bottles of your best, warm. ” Roman normally disdained bottled blood, but when we were out together, he drank it to appease me. I objected to his bringing members of his stable along on our dates. It wasn’t that the other women bothered me—in fact, I wanted him to focus on other women. It was the whole bloodwhores thing again.
I slid into the booth, leaning my head back and closing my eyes for a moment. The silence of my pulse echoed through my body. I had gotten used to having no breath over the years, but there were times I missed the involuntary sigh, the rush of air flowing out as I let go of the stress. I missed catching my breath at something beautiful.
“Was it so hard?” Roman’s voice brought me back to the present.
I opened my eyes and gazed at him. “Rough enough. ”
He gave me a little nod. “I’ve seen so many people die over the centuries, I suppose I’m used to it. But each time a friend vanishes into the past, it still hurts. ” With a soft murmur, he reached out and stroked my face, leaning in for a gentle kiss. “Poor Menolly… it has been a harsh week for you. ”
I stared at the table. Harsh was an understatement. My bar had burned down and eight people had died in the fire, and we were pretty sure that a daemon had a hand in it. In fact, we were trying to break the white-slavery ring specializing in Supes he was running, but were having a hard time figuring out how to go about it. We’d just met relatives of our mother’s, blood relatives at that, and had no clue how they were going to figure into our lives.
And that wasn’t the half of it. Back in Otherworld, Elqaneve—the Elfin city—had been destroyed by the sorcerers, and we’d been there for the direct hit. Delilah and Camille had struggled to make it out of the war zone. I counted myself lucky that I’d been trapped and rescued without having to run the gauntlet of fire and destruction that the sentient storm had rained down on the city. And now, Queen Asteria was dead, our father was missing and presumed dead, and the spirit seals were in jeopardy.
“Yeah, harsh is the word for it, all right. So did you draw up a list?”
The waitress brought our blood. It was bottled, like beer, only the bottles were red to mask the color for the patrons of bars who might be a tad bit squeamish, and to differentiate it from the alcoholic beverage. Couldn’t chance a mix-up.
I cradled the bottle in my hands, then took a long swig. A wave of thirst ran through me as I tasted the blood. If the thirst gnawed too much, I’d want to go out hunting, and right now, I didn’t have the heart for it. Too much death, too much anger and fear running rampant in my life. So I downed my drink to quench the aching emptiness.
Roman pulled out his tablet. He’d gone high tech when high tech was still a baby and his ease with the computer world confounded me the more I saw it in action. I hadn’t known that little fact about him, not at first, but slowly had begun to realize just how savvy he was.
He tapped an icon, then another, and a document sprang up. As he scooted close to me, my skin tingled. He was old—one of the oldest vampires Earthside. Son of the Queen, his very presence exuded a magnetism hard to ignore. It made me want to run my hands over his chest, to slam him down on the ground and tear into him, fucking his brains out. And that was one thing about being Roman’s consort that made it all worthwhile. My position gave me the outlet I couldn’t have with Nerissa. Roman and I could play rough without hurting each other. In a way, it let me keep my love and passion for my wife safe and secure, keeping her protected from my inner predator.
“Later,” he murmured, feeling it, too. “We’ll play very soon. ”
“Count on it. ” I gazed into his eyes, the crackle of energy almost palpable between us. But then, bringing myself back to the task at hand, I took the tablet from him and scanned the document.
We really had no clue how many vamps frequented my bar, but there were some known regulars who had taken to hanging out at the Wayfarer since I’d become Roman’s official consort. And that list ran to about forty names. As I looked them over, I recognized a number of them. One thing was for sure: Roman had rushed to pull this together, putting his best men on it.
The names had been highlighted with two colors. Green meant the vampire had been accounted for. Yellow meant they were missing and nobody had been able to get in touch with them. Out of the forty-two names, thirteen were highlighted in yellow. Their last known contact was listed, as well.
I winced. That meant thirteen more potential victims. “Can you sort these out from the others and e-mail them to my phone?” I’d given in and accepted that I needed to break down and get an e-mail address, as much as I hadn’t wanted to go that route. Delilah had embraced her laptop. Camille had embraced her iPhone. I hadn’t fallen in love with either one. Though I had to admit, I loved my iPod, especially since I could plug it into my car.
I handed him the tablet and he tapped away while I sipped the rest of my blood.
“I guess I should track them down. ” I toyed with the bottle. The thought of going on a hunt for missing vamps who might already be dead seemed like a colossal time suck. The legwork normally wouldn’t bother me, but we were already facing so much chaos and trouble at home.
“I’ve already got my men on it. ” He punched one final button and I heard a little swoosh sound. The next moment, my phone pinged and the list was in my e-mail in-box.
I wiped a smear of water off the table where the condensation from my bottle had formed a ring. “Thanks. By the way, in addition to trying to figure out who burned down the Wayfarer—we’re convinced it’s arson—I have the privilege of having been slapped with a lawsuit. Don’t know if I told you that. Add yet another thing to the week-from-hell list. ”