Regan had been dead, now, for roughly a week. In that time she had been in the debt of others from start to finish. She owed her new life to her maker. She had owed a favor to the Earl of Detroit for unknowingly insulting him at her presentation. Without the gift of blood left in her coffin by Jeremiah she might never have escaped the ground. Then he had send more blood for her to feed on and had then sent Shannon to her.
She could not repay the debt to her maker; her maker was dead. She had stepped into a lions’ den of hunters at the request of the Earl; she lived and that debt was clear. All that remained was to finally clear the ledger of the red ink next to Jeremiah Windsor Book’s name.
The blood flowed with surprising ease from her arm into the vial. Regan could not bring herself to look at the two hunters while she made her own contribution. Focusing her mind, she stopped the flow of blood, and watched as the small wound closed by her will. She failed to repress a smile; she was still adjusting to that kind of body control.
Nothing was said as she took the blood from the hunters. She pressed the sharp tip of the vial to the arm of the woman first. The bound hunter would not look at Regan, barely flinching as her skin was pierced and her life blood started to fill the glass container. When Regan moved to the male hunter, he would not look away. If he was not bound, Regan thought he may have offered his arm freely in angry defiance, daring her to do her worst. She capped the vials, white stoppers for the hunters’ blood, and a red for her own.
A nervous energy started to well within her. Regan had claimed the blood but was now alone, in a cellar, with two hunters that had, just twenty four hours ago, wanted to kill her. She glanced around, slowly feeling more and more unsure of this choice.
Something moved in the corner of her vision. She turned quickly, though nothing seemed out of place. The overhead light flickered, casting odd shadows over the stone gargoyle standing in the archway. Its clawed hands stretched up over its head, holding the overhead beams in place. Regan shook her head, trying to clear it. She could only vaguely recall seeing that gargoyle when they had come down into the cellars, if she did see it at all.
She walked back into the maze of kegs and shelves, nervously waiting for something to happen. That really had been the story of the last week: stumbling from one disaster to the next. More than once, she wondered if perhaps saying “I do,” would have been the better course. True, she would be trapped in a marriage of convenience and contentment rather than passion and love, but she would also not be a vampire.
As Regan turned around one support wall she spotted Jeremiah striding towards her. The shadows of the kegs and wine racks danced over his black silk shirt. But Regan found herself looking past him at the creature walking behind him. She felt her blood starting to race as she was certain her eyes were deceiving her. One of the gargoyles from the roof was walking along behind him.
Fear overtaking her, Regan backed away and turned to dash deeper into the cellar. The gargoyle holding up the arch remained at its post, granite arms still stretching upwards. She started towards him only to stop when it turned its head to stare at her. It blinked. Regan shrieked.
Some things her mind could handle. Vampires? Sucking blood? Legions of Hunters? Those her brain could process. A statue coming to life and moving to block her escape? Not so much.
She froze, clutching tightly to the blood vials in her hands. She was truly going mad. She spun again, looking for escape. Jeremiah was there, his grin annoyingly wide.
“A problem, Ms. Fairchild?”
Regan did not answer, instead staring over his shoulder at the statue standing there. It held a small leather case clutched in each of its clawed hands. The gargoyle returned her gaze, its monstrous face neutral and unexpressive. It almost seemed as curious to her reaction as she was terrified by its existence.
She could see Jeremiah grin in the corner of her vision. “Do you recall that I recently asked if you believed in magic?”
Regan nodded and looked back at the other gargoyle. It now stood sentinel in the middle of the archway, its stone arms crossed over its chest. Its wings were retracted along its back, with just the tips peeking over his shoulders.
“Would you like to revise your initial negative response?”
She looked at him fully. “This isn’t possible,” Regan said, looking back at Jeremiah’s companion.
His grin widened. “It is that very thought that defines our limitations, my dear Ms. Fairchild. In this manor we strive to defy those limitations.” Regan could not take her eyes from the granite impossibility standing behind her host. It was bare chested, displaying well-defined muscles and washboard abs that most men would commit multiple counts of murder to achieve. A stone loin cloth provided it modesty. The garment flowed with the statue’s motion as though it were made of silk, and not stone.
It all had to be a trick of the light, an optical illusion. It turned its head a little, its onyx black eyes catching the light and reflecting it at her. A living statue was impossible on so many levels that it defied quantification.
“I assure you that they are real, my dear,” Jeremiah said, seeming to sense her thoughts. He snapped his fingers. The gargoyle flanking him reached out a clawed hand and presented one of the small leather cases it held. Palm up, it presented the box to Regan. Jeremiah continued to smile at her as he reached over and flipped open the top, revealing two brass frames, clearly designed to hold the vials of blood she had collected. “If you would please deposit the blood of the hunters, we can discharge your debts once and for all.”
“What is it?” Regan could not focus on the contribution of blood, still taken by the simple impossibility of living stone standing before her. Her mind was racing with possibilities. She was still convinced that soon it would be revealed that these were just examples of amazing stage makeup.
Jeremiah’s smile began to waver as a touch of annoyance crept into his voice. “I am the master of the Library of the Straits. As such these creatures are mine to command as I need or as I see fit.”
Regan took that in. “So they’re really alive?”
“They are created. They can die.” Jeremiah set his hand on the arm of his stonework servant. “But if you cut them, they do not bleed. They have no will of their own, and they are loyal unto their own destruction.” He withdrew his hand but continued to gesture at the offered box. “Alive or dead is really a semantic debate is it not?”
“I suppose so,” she said. Regan hesitated a moment before reaching out and dropping the two vials into the case. This could not be happening. She watched, wordlessly Jeremiah gently closed the case, careful to barely touch it as he did so. The gargoyle lowered the box and offered the other. Jeremiah opened it for her. A single metal frame sat in the space waiting for a vial of blood, presumably her own. Mechanically she reached out and let the glass slide down into place. Again, Jeremiah carefully closed the case. Gently he lifted it from the gargoyle’s clawed grasp. The stone creature turned and began to walk back between the kegs and the wine racks, making its way out of the cellar. Regan watched it go with a fearful curiosity.
“Our debts are settled, Ms. Fairchild. You are free to go and pursue your unlife without obligation to me or mine.”
“Wait,” Regan said, feeling her ease return quickly with the departure of the most immediate gargoyle. “When you asked me to get that Cross pen, you said that would settle our debt. I’ve repaid you twice now.”
“How astute.” His smile never wavered. “And where is that pen you speak of?”
“Well it was in the back of your car,” Regan admitted. “That was the last I saw it.”
“And do you often settle your accounts with lost goods?”
Regan could feel her face filling with blood again. “Point made.” She looked over her shoulder at the two hunters, bound and awaiting some fate at Jeremiah’s hands. “What do you have planned for them?” She shuddered involuntarily. She could have left with Stacy, but something had drawn her to know what would come of those two. The statues were, indeed, freaking her the heck out but despite the overwhelming urge to completely melt down, she felt a need to know what would become of two humans.
“You don’t need to know what will happen to them,” Jeremiah said with a wave of his hand.
He was right. She had paid her debt and could go. Just last night these two had tried to kill her. Regan would gain little knowing what Jeremiah had in store for them.
Jeremiah waved his hand again. “You won’t find the answers you’re looking for.”
She had so many questions far more pressing than what happened to those two. She still had no idea who her maker had been, or what had possessed her to violate Vampire Law and earn herself a death sentence. Those were, really, more important matters to explore.
“You should go about your business.”
Regan knew he was right. She found herself nodding absently as she turned to look at the path through the maze of kegs to the upper floors. Maybe Stacy had not left yet and she could get a ride back to the city with them. “I should go about my business,” she echoed mechanically.
“Move along.” Jeremiah made another wave of his hand.
Regan took step forward. She did have places to go. It made sense to move along. That was an odd phrase, though. Why would he ask her to “move along”? Why not suggest she go upstairs or go home? Where had she heard that phrase before?
She paused mid-step. “Did you just use the Jedi Mind Trick on me?”
Jeremiah shrugged, one hand raised in surrender the other still gently cradling the leather case holding her blood donation. “I confess I have my faults, among them an appreciation for the classics. It does make my enthrallments a touch easier to break, but no less fun to engage.” He gestured towards the way back. “But it is time for you to go. I believe that the nature of the ritual should be clear enough, and I am most afraid that there will not be room for spectators.”
Regan hesitated then looked from the hunters to the gargoyle still standing guard in the far archway. “They are created,” she said in a low voice as she made the connection. “You’re going to turn them into gargoyles?”
“They will transcend flesh into immortality and an existence of perpetual purpose. They will forever be bound to this library and thus share in its ongoing pursuit of knowledge and glory. They are being given a great gift.”
It was almost as though he were addressing the hunters more than Regan as he spoke. His voice had a rich reverence; he clearly did believe he was imparting a gift on to them, not condemning them to an existence of slavery. Regan shuddered, now aware that the shivers were becoming a permanent state. The gargoyles that stood at the gates and perched on the roofs had been people. Now they were but the stony servants of the Blood of the Book. Her desire to see the ritual itself was fading into nothingness at an alarming rate. There was no need to use some kind of mind trick to get her to leave; she wanted no part in this macabre scene.
Regan looked back at the two captives as she started to leave. The man did not look at her. She recalled his name was Glenn. He had been proud to take his place with the hunters, eager to visit death upon her kind. She could not remember the name of the woman. There had been two sisters at the meeting. Regan assumed that the other was dead, and now the remaining would live forever as a servant of this mansion. Closing her eyes briefly, Regan turned and headed briskly towards the stairs out of this effective dungeon.
It had never occurred to her to be ashamed of what she had become. Having to drink the blood of others was a marked downside. Her usually pasty complexion made sunbathing a potentially fatal dance with skin cancer before her conversion, but she still missed the blue skies and the white puffy clouds. She would stare at when her brain just needed a break from another pile of invoices.
Still, neither of these compared to what was about to occur. This was worse than murder. And she had become party to it. All this so she could feel better about having had help to escape her coffin. Was it worth it? Regan took the stone stairs slowly, a hand along the cool brick wall. If she had not used the blood Jeremiah had left for her in the coffin she might not have ever escaped it. She would still be interred in the ground, forever seeking escape. She emerged from the stairwell into one of the main hallways of the mansion. Regan paused.
She glanced around unsure what to do. She had no car so if Daryl and Stacy had left she had no way to return home. On the other hand, this was a place known as the Library of the Straits. If she was going to look for answers to any questions, this seemed like the place to start. Maybe they had some kind of records about her maker, better insight into what she could do as a Blood of the Coin. Of course she would be likely to be working alone, or have some statue looking over her shoulder while she did. Another shudder filled her body at the thought.
A tall man, his black hair trimmed short passed her in the hallway. He did not even look up from his tablet PC as he walked by, Regan’s presence totally unworthy of his attention. She followed him with her eyes until he disappeared into a room off the main hall. She saw two more residents, both women and both dressed in matching slacks and white blouses, coming down the main stairs. They spoke to each other in low tones as they descended and then turned to follow the hallway deeper into the mansion. Regan remained, for the most part, ignored.
She walked the short distance to the main doors to the manor house. Daryl’s car was still parked in the drive. He leaned against the hood, absorbed in his own cell phone. He looked up as she came down towards him. Regan was sure he looked relieved to see her approach. Wordlessly he opened the back door to the car, where Stacy was waiting for her. She got in.
“So,” Stacy started, “do you feel better knowing?”
Regan tried to repress what was becoming a rather annoying habit of shuddering but failed. “No, you were right. That is a-“ She paused looking up at the statues along the top of the house. “Did one of those just move to look at us?”
“I’d be stunned if one of them didn’t follow us home,” Stacy conceded. She too gave a shiver. “This is why I don’t live here. I can’t stand what goes on half the time.”
Regan turned to her quickly. “You knew? That they did that to people?”
Stacy hesitated but eventually nodded. “I knew, but I don’t approve. It’s why I don’t live here with the rest of my bloodline. It’s why I live in an off-campus apartment complex rather than in the largest repository of vampire lore in the county. I live with an innate and insatiable curiosity about what my blood can do, but I can’t—I won’t—give in and join the library.” Her cheeks took on a pink hue as she talked, her frustration becoming evident. Stacy looked away and blinked a few times. “I’m welcome to come back, of course. The kinship of the blood, he calls it. All I need to do is get past the stonework guardians.” She let a small grin cross her face. “It’s not easy to resist. Every so often I’ll give in and come here for a week or two, live in the library stacks with a mug of blood, and piles of tomes exploring what we can do.” Finally she turned to Regan and forced a smile. “So, now what?”
Stacy pointed at the mansion. “You are at the greatest collection of our history in the area. Care to go diving through the history of the Blood of the Coins? I can get over myself for a night or two to help you research. They may even have something about your maker there.”
Regan considered that. Could she overlook the once-human statues throughout the mansion? Would the knowledge worth the price?
But she was clear of responsibilities, now. There was nothing stopping her from going home and resuming her search for an appropriate windowless office to lease, and a few dozen personal assistants to interview at dusk the next night. She could just as easily turn her back on this life that had never really invited her into it. She had been welcomed into death by an Earl who did not even care to listen if she accepted his terms. She owed the vampire world nothing.
“So what’s the plan?” Daryl asked, sliding into the driver’s seat. “I got a friend that’s playing at three at a club over in Hamtramck. If we get going now I can help him set up.”
Regan glanced at Stacy. “Can you even get into clubs?” She had serious doubts that the vampire trapped eternally in the body of a fifteen year old did much bar hopping.
Stacy waved a dismissive hand. “You have no idea how good I am at the, ‘You don’t need to see my identification,’ trick. One of the few things I’m glad the Master of the Library taught me.”
Regan looked up at the stonework gargoyles a final time. Her choices were again numerous, but now with such greater implications.
The story continues into the Chapter 12 Addendum
Our heroine is, dear reader, at a crossroads. But this choice shall have far reaching implications and determine a wider course for her. What shall she do?