Authors: Scott Prussing
This is a work of fiction. All the characters or events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2011 by Scott Prussing Publishing
All rights reserved.
Scott Prussing Publishing
1027 Felspar St.
San Diego, CA 92109
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any mechanical or electronic means without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review. The scanning, uploading and distribution via the Internet or via any other means without the written permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law.
he line of vampires loped single-file through the dark woods, weaving its way south and east among the snow-draped pines like a snake slithering through tall grass. A six-inch carpet of freshly fallen snow did not impede their progress in the least, nor did the bitter cold. There were a dozen of the creatures, spaced evenly about five feet apart, all clothed in black and shades of dark gray. Only the leader, a vampire of African descent named Jarubu, displayed any color at all in his outfit: a dark crimson oval that covered most of the top half of his black hooded sweatshirt. Above the oval, Jarubu’s coal black skin reflected so little of the pale moonlight that the inside of his hood appeared almost empty. A tiny gold ring that pierced his right nostril seemed to float within the darkness. The crimson swatch on his chest signified nothing, other than that Jarubu liked to be different.
The faces of his fellows—seven males and four females—were all deathly white. In the darkness, they looked like a row of disembodied heads floating through the trees. They were the youngest in their coven of two score vampires, ranging between one hundred seven and one hundred eighty years old. Jarubu himself was scarcely past the two hundred mark, but he was the unquestioned leader of this group, a position bestowed upon him much more by his fearlessness and nasty temperament than his age.
Roaming outside the old mining camp that served as the coven’s lair to hunt in numbers this large was breaking a major coven rule, but Jarubu and his fellows did not care. They wanted blood, pure and simple, and they wanted it soon. Their thirst was fueled by a growing
, a rare mingling of magical energies in the earth and air that magnified the blood thirst of every vampire. Younger vampires were particularly susceptible to
pull. A few of Jarubu’s more timid brethren had been skittish about breaking the rule—meant to prevent drawing unwanted attention to the vampires—but he had convinced them if they all acted together, the elders could hardly punish so many of them. Whether that was actually true or not, Jarubu did not particularly care. He simply wanted blood. No rule was going to keep him from tasting it. His younger companions were simply cover for his actions.
Jarubu sniffed the air as he ran, alert for both danger and for prey. When the first hint of human scent brushed his nostrils, he raised his hand to bring his followers to a halt. Still several miles from the nearest human settlement, he had not expected to find potential victims so soon. Inhaling more deeply, he detected at least half a dozen distinct scents. He thought there might be more, but even six would feed his band nicely.
Turning back to face his companions, he saw the excitement grow upon their pale faces as they recognized the scent. The two youngest appeared especially eager, looking as if they might race forward on their own at any moment. Jarubu nodded to two of his lieutenants, Conley and Alexi. Each flashed quickly to the side of one of the younger vampires and grabbed him by the elbow, holding him in check. There would be no breaking ranks, no careless charges. There were rules, which Jarubu cared little about, and there was order, which was important to him, especially when he was in charge. He motioned for his fellows to follow him, then pivoted and moved silently ahead through the forest.
In less than two minutes, the sound of voices reached his ears, and he slowed his pace still more. What the humans were doing out here in the winter cold he had no idea, nor did he care. Their blood would taste just as sweet in the woods as it would inside the town—and taking victims here would be far easier and far safer.
The thought had scarcely left his mind when he saw them—or saw their tents, at least. Four of them, nestled together in a small clearing in the trees. Voices came from within just two of the tents, but Jarubu’s nose told him all four were occupied, each by a pair of humans.
The math was simple. Eight vampires would need to share a victim, four would get to enjoy their own prey. Jarubu hoped that was not going to be a problem. He gathered his fellows close and explained his plan. He would get his own human, of course, as would Conley and Alexi. The fourth would go to the oldest female, a slender brunette named Melissa. One of the younger vampires who had needed to be restrained earlier seemed about to voice an objection, but a menacing scowl from Jarubu silenced him.
The vampires silently fanned out through the trees into a wide circle around the tents, then crept slowly forward, like a noose tightening around an unwary neck. When each was in position at the edge of the clearing, Jarubu raised his hand and pulled it down in a sharp, chopping motion, signaling the attack. The vampires tore into the tents, ripping the sturdy canvas apart like it was tissue paper.
A moment later, sweet, warm blood began flowing down a dozen throats.
1. EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE
eesa Nyland stood with her arms hanging loosely at her sides, her blue eyes closed, her breathing soft, slow and rhythmic. As the wizard Dominic had instructed, she tried to empty her mind of all thoughts, but she was failing miserably. The tiniest things intruded into her awareness—the low hum of the mini fridge behind her, the way her shoe pinched the inside of her bad right foot just below her ankle, even the weight of her long blond ponytail against her neck and back. The harder she tried to push these intruding thoughts away, the more of them she seemed to notice.
She wondered if Dominic’s magic enabled him to sense how much trouble she was having fulfilling her task. Dominic was the last of a race of wizards known as waziri—the last, at least, that had not given themselves over to the black arts. Thinking of the renegade wizards brought Leesa’s thoughts to the mysterious figure they had allied themselves with, the Necromancer, who was trying to break the seal the waziri had fashioned between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Over the last two months, Leesa had been troubled by highly realistic dreams of bodies rising from their graves. Worse, her frightening dreams were apparently coming true. One of the first things Dominic was going to try to teach her was to control and interpret her dreams.
“Open your eyes, Leesa,” Dominic said.
Leesa opened her eyes and found Dominic sitting on her desk chair, watching her closely. His blue eyes were so pale they appeared almost gray. In his dark green button shirt and plain khaki pants, he certainly didn’t look like any kind of wizard she had ever imagined. Instead, he looked like he could have been the dad of any of the kids in her dorm. She knew his ordinary appearance was by design—Dominic had been hiding from his renegade brethren for more than a hundred years.
“So, soon?” she asked.
Dominic stood up and moved closer to her.
“Your eyes were racing behind your lids. I’ll wager you were thinking about zombies or vampires…or even the Necromancer.”
Leesa wondered if reading minds was another of the wizard’s talents. “I was,” she admitted. “Not at first though. At first it was just little stuff getting in my way, like how my shoe was pinching my foot. The more I tried to push that stuff away, the more things I noticed. Then somehow, my thoughts turned to you, and then to the renegade waziri. Before I knew it, I was thinking about my dreams of the walking dead.”
Dominic smiled, revealing a row of white, even teeth above his pointy salt and pepper goatee.
“Then you have just learned your first lesson,” he said.
Leesa’s brow furrowed. “Huh? What did I learn? I was supposed to be emptying my mind of all thoughts. I failed miserably.”
“You learned that trying to force this to happen does not work. You must let it happen, not try to make it happen.”
Leesa was still confused. “I don’t get it. How do I ‘let it happen?’”
“I cannot tell you how to do it exactly,” Dominic said. “Each person must find their own path. But I can describe to you what it is like.” He stroked his goatee for a moment with the fingers of his right hand. “Tell me one of the most monotonous things you do in your daily routine.”
Leesa grinned. “Ha! That’s easy. Studying. Depending on the class, studying can get really boring. Physics last semester was the worst.”
“And when you are studying, do you not sometimes find your mind drifting off, not to anything in particular, until you realize you are no longer thinking about your work and you have to pull your attention back to your book?”
“Yeah. Like all the time.”
“That is exactly the state you are seeking to achieve. One where your attention is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”
Everywhere and nowhere?
What the heck did that mean? It sounded like something Master Shifu would say in
Kung Fu Panda
. She shook her head. This magic stuff was going to be much more difficult than she thought. And what Dominic was trying to teach her now was not even truly about the magic yet. He was showing her the things he should have been teaching her in the months before she turned eighteen, had he been able to locate her like he had planned. His well thought out plans had gone awry, however, for reasons he could not have foreseen.
Dominic had secretly passed his magical abilities to Leesa while she was still within her mother’s womb and then had gone away to make sure his enemies would have no clue about her existence. He had expected to find her eighteen years later through their magical bond and begin preparing her for the day her magic activated, but her mom had been bitten by a
—a one-fanged vampire—while still pregnant with Leesa. The taint of
in Leesa’s blood had altered her vibrations enough so that Dominic was unable to sense her from miles away as he had expected. Instead, he needed to be much, much closer.
When Leesa’s magic had begun to spontaneously appear a few months ago, Dominic was three thousand miles away in San Diego. He had come to Connecticut only last week and had finally found her just yesterday, when Leesa had somehow unleashed a blast of magic in her effort to save her best friend Cali from a vampire. The magic had been strong enough for Dominic to sense.
After spending most of yesterday evening and this morning explaining all this to her, Dominic had given Leesa a choice. He could teach her to restrain her magic so that it would no longer bother her and then leave, taking any danger from his enemies with him, or he could train her how to use her magic, so she could join him in eventually trying to destroy those enemies.
At first, the choice had seemed like a no-brainer. The magic had produced far more frustration than anything else so far—she’d be happy to lock it away inside her and never have to deal with it again. But then she learned that embracing her magic would allow her to live for hundreds of years—years which she planned to spend with her volkaane boyfriend Rave. The vampire-hunting volkaanes lived for many centuries. They also possessed a magical inner fire they used to kill vampires—an inner fire that also made it impossible for Rave to kiss her for more than a few seconds without risking her life. Rave was trying to master an ancient volkaane technique that would enable him to turn off his fire temporarily. Ironically, it involved a breathing method similar to the one Dominic was teaching her now. She smiled, realizing that Rave might be practicing the breathing at this very moment with his mentor Balin just as she was practicing with Dominic. Unfortunately, Rave’s progress was coming as slowly as hers. Still, Leesa guessed a few hundred years would be more than enough time for Rave and Balin to figure something out.
“I see your thoughts have wandered again,” Dominic said, his voice pulling her back to the here and now. “To Rave, perhaps?”
Leesa blushed. She reached for her hair like she always did when she was nervous or embarrassed, but it was still gathered in a tight ponytail behind her. With nowhere for her fingers to go, she ended up rubbing her ear instead.
“Is mind reading another of your wizard abilities?” she asked.
Dominic smiled. “Sadly, no. But you get a very content and happy look on your face when you think of Rave. It’s not hard to recognize.”
“Sorry. I guess I’m not a very good student.”
Dominic laid a comforting hand on Leesa’s shoulder. “Nonsense. Until yesterday, you did not even know you had magic within you. You cannot expect to master any of these techniques in a day, or even a week—not even these beginning ones.”
Leesa nodded. “Okay. Let me try again.”
“You said you keep being distracted by little things, like the way your shoe pinches your foot. Instead of trying to push those things away, try focusing on one of them to the exclusion of everything else. Try to picture and feel every little detail.”
Leesa took a deep breath and then started again at the beginning, counting out her inhales and exhales, increasing the length of each by one count until she reached eight, then counting back down to two. She went through the routine twice before turning her attention to her foot, trying to feel every little detail of the sensation. She imagined she was writing a five page paper just on the way her shoe pinched her….
“Open your eyes, Leesa,” Dominic said.
The wizard’s voice seemed to come from somewhere far away. When Leesa opened her eyes, Dominic was sitting again.
“Why did you stop me? I think I was just getting there.”
Dominic smiled. “You were more than ‘just getting there,’ believe me. How long do you think that was?”
Leesa pursed her lips in thought. “I’m not sure. Two or three minutes, maybe?”
“More like ten,” Dominic said.
Leesa’s eyes widened. “Really? No way.”
“Yes, really. You drifted off after just a minute or two.”
Leesa was stunned. She couldn’t believe it had been that long. She tried to remember what she had been thinking about all that time, but all she could remember was her shoe and her foot.
“Did I fall asleep?” she asked.
Dominic chuckled. “Not unless you can sleep standing up.”
Leesa looked down at her feet, planted firmly on the rug. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t think of that.”
“You got exactly where you were trying to get to,” Dominic said. “Everywhere and nowhere. Well done.”
Leesa smiled. Dominic’s praise made her feel better than she expected.
“What’s next?” she asked, eager to move on and learn something new.
“What’s next is we get you away from this for a bit, and then we come back and practice it again. And after that, we practice it some more.” Dominic got to his feet. “We’ll go for a short walk, to truly get you away, before we try again. But first I want to give you something.”
Leesa watched curiously as Dominic brought his hands together and pulled at his finger, almost like he was taking off a ring. She wondered what he was doing—she had never seen a ring on his hand. After a moment, he opened his hand and held it out to her. Sitting on his palm was a beautiful gold ring set with a sparkling red stone. Leesa gasped.
“Take it, please,” Dominic said.
Leesa hesitated, still not sure what she had just witnessed. Had Dominic performed some sleight of hand magician’s trick? And if so, why? He had magical powers—why would he do some sleight of hand thing?
“Where did that come from?” she asked.
Dominic held up the fingers of his left hand. “From right here. I was wearing it.”
Leesa shook her head. “No you weren’t,” she said, her tone making it more of a question than a statement. “I would have noticed, for sure. It’s so beautiful.”
Dominic smiled, his eyes twinkling with delight.
“Maybe you are not as observant as you think.” He lifted the ring toward her again. “Take it. I want you to wear it.”
Leesa hesitantly took the ring. By its weight, she was pretty sure it was real gold. If the gold was real, then the stone would be, too. She wondered if it was a ruby.
“I can’t take this. It must be worth a fortune.”
“It is certainly one of a kind,” Dominic said, smiling again. “So I guess that makes it pretty valuable. Please, put it on.”
Leesa studied the ring more closely. The stone was cut into a multi-faceted oval, the color so bright and pure it almost seemed to sparkle from within. On either side of the gem, the gold band was engraved with an intricate design that looked almost like an exploding star. The craftsmanship of the ring was beyond anything she had ever seen.
“I can’t take it,” she said again. “And even if I could, it’s way too big for my finger.”
“Do not worry, one size fits all.”
Leesa held the ring up close to her face, looking for some kind of joint or clasp that would make the ring adjustable. She found nothing—the gold was smooth and seamless.