On Substack I’d make half of the first post available to everyone, with a ‘pay for more’ cut half way through. Can’t do that here. Trying something different: Cover goes out publicly, first post goes to everyone with a membership, after that paid memberships only until I ‘unlock’ the post in six weeks.
I knelt by my mother’s grave and ran my fingers over the tips of the grass. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back.”
I turned and smiled at Marcus, standing a respectful distance back. “You’d like them, Mama. We’re still figuring things out, but I think they’ll be good for me. And they are very good in a fight.”
The wind sighed through the grass, and I imagined it was my mother chiding me for being flippant. “We all knew that I would need to fight. But I think… for the first time, I think I might really have a chance.
“I don’t know how to lead. I’m not ready to be Luna’s Lady.” Luna’s laughing caress was definitely chiding me. “But we’ve found the clan — or well, they found me. And we survived the first attack. And I think I could really be happy with them if we make it through this.”
The graveyard was quiet at night. There was probably a watchman somewhere, but if so I had never seen him. And my sotii knew patience and silence — it was part of why I’d chosen them. Though I still wasn’t entirely sure why they had chosen me.
“I know you aren’t really here. You’ve become the grass but that isn’t the same as /being/ the grass. And Luna can hear me anywhere.
“But it won’t be the same when I can’t come here.”
After a minute, Marcus cleared his throat, interrupting the silence.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small stone. One I’d found the night Marcus and the others had agreed to be my sotii. Setting it carefully on the gravestone, I stood up and dusted off my pants.
“We need to get going,” I said — apologized — “So I don’t have time to tell you everything. I wish you were here, though. You’d do better at this lady stuff than me, and you could tell me who to trust, who these people are.
“But I’ll find a way to do this. I’ll make you proud. And as soon as I can, I’ll be back to see you again.”
/Twelve Hours Earlier/
Unknown maybe-allies inside the perimeter, enemies coming up the back, a team that was still shakey, and a princip– a new leader with no training working with them.
Some days it wasn’t worth getting out of bed.
“Ma’am?” he asked. Not entirely sure which of a dozen questions he was asking just then.
Thankfully, somehow, Nastasia understood at least two of them. “You’re in charge during the fight. I don’t remember the phrase…”
“That one. And you can trust Vasile and his sot.”
An unspoken ‘for now’ resonated between them and he couldn’t help wondering just how much of that was vampire magic. It sure as hell hadn’t been helping them understand each other earlier. But earlier they’d both been intent on jamming their fingers in their ears like stubborn toddlers.
Victor was in his ear again, “They’re moving slowly, but they’re almost to the deck.”
“Benj, Karen, on the back door. Leyla, stay on Nastasia. Remember, we don’t know what tricks these guys might have.”
He didn’t have time to say more before the back door exploded in a shower of glass and wood.
“Vasile, watch the front door!”
Victor was running down the hall, taking up Karen’s position at the stairs, Benj and Karen were surging toward the intruders, and Marcus was turning to face back toward the garage entrance and cover the rear. When everything slowed.
Suddenly, he felt like he was underwater, fighting against the weight and density to bring his gun up.
“Nivele,” Ozanna muttered behind him. Clan name? Didn’t matter, no time.
Karen and Benj were shooting, suppressors making the noise something less than deafening. That meant Marcus could hear them curse as the shots went low, dropping too fast.
“Downstairs,” Marcus ordered, “Training rooms.”
Which might be a huge mistake if there were enough enemies to overwhelm them. But it would give them relatively quick access to the garage and a defensive position with only two entrances to guard and walls reinforced enough to block small arms fire.
Though so far, Nastasia had been right about the enemy not using guns.
“Can you put them to sleep?” Leyla asked as she shadowed Nastasia down the stairs.
“We need a connection,” Vasile growled. “A name, eye contact, something!”
For a moment, the only sound was Karen and Benj’s guns as they covered each other.
“Nivele!,” Nastasia yelled suddenly, “Sleep!”
And Marcus could move again.
“Yes!” Karen yelled as a scream marked the first shot going home.
“They’re still advancing,” Benj reported as he jumped down the first flight of stairs and turned to provide cover to Karen and Victor as they joined him.
More cries. More bullets going home. Then quiet as Marcus urged Leyla and Nastasia down the hall.
“They’re hiding in the kitchen,” Benj said, “Can’t get a clear shot.”
“Allow us,” Vasile growled, the sound coming over comms now that Marcus was out of the immediate fight.
Victor had to admit watching that vamp work was a thing of beauty. Nastasia’s ‘sleep’ power may not have been able to put them down, but it clearly rang their bell. They moved like folks who’d been in a running firefight for hours.
As soon as Marcus gave the okay, Vasile and his partner had run up the stairs, almost invisible even in the bright sunlight spilling through all the windows and skylights. Victor and Benj kept cover on them as best they could while Karen turned to watch the front door.
Not that the strangers need much in the way of cover. With the enemy too tired to use their magic and at least a third of them injured or down, the Luna pair moved like mist through the room. Seen and gone, knives flashing in a dance nearly as pretty as the one Karen would have been making if she’d been in there.
Victor didn’t relax, exactly. But unless the attackers had reinforcements Nastasia’s magic had turned the trick. The only bad moment was when Vasile’s partner turned her back on one of the enemy that wasn’t ready to stay down.
That was okay. Victor gave the asshole a quick double tap. That fucking kept him down.
Then it was over. Dead, dying, and wounded bodies littered the floor. The enemy’s unwillingness to use guns had saved the team a bunch of trouble — the only injuries were minor ones on Vasie and his pal. (They needed to get her name, stat.)
That wouldn’t last. They’d been lucky this time. Lucky that Nastasia had been able to magic them. Lucky that the enemy hadn’t known what to expect.
They couldn’t count on that luck holding.
“So,” he asked, “How long until we have cops breathing down our necks?”
With a final long look over the grave, the grass, and Luna lurking high above both, I turned to go.
“I’ll be back, Mama. I promise.”
Marcus shadowed me out of the graveyard and into the van. My tactical gear was a close match for my sotii, like I was finally part of the team.
I was going to miss my fast cars and pretty clothes. But there would be time. Emil and Mama had planned well, and we’d been able to pack and move everything critical before the cops arrived. Helped that most of it was stored elsewhere.
Vasile and Marsha were leading us to one of their safe houses. I was going to meet my clan. I couldn’t wait.
“Hey, Karen,” I asked as Ozanna pulled out of the parking lot, “you finally ready to see the knives?”
Karen squealed, and I laughed as I pulled the case out from under the seat.