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January 23, 2023

Strange Bedfellows 09

By Lydia Manx

A silence fell over the crowd as Kenyon motioned for the DJ to put the music down a notch and the bartenders to stop pouring. The gestures were regal and fit the persona he was projecting. The Renaissance attire still cracked me up, but I resisted snickering. Renee caught my eyes and whispered, "Natasha, he really likes being the top dog."

"Fitting given his ideas of how this impending marriage is going to go." I was shocked to hear Marcus say. I guess he wasn't completely unconscious of what Kenyon was plotting for the 'happy couple' after the ceremony. I didn't know that it would do much good but it was a nice notion. The vampires weren't going to give up control to the werewolves any time soon.

Kenyon cleared his throat and raised a gold goblet. I guess he wasn't willing to risk getting burned by using silver. We could handle silver but not comfortably. It was surprising how many things were made with recycled metals. The Church liked to bless crosses and cups at a remarkably steady rate and a single drop of consecrated metal tainted the entire object. And blessed silver did all sorts of nasty things to vampires. Silver just was poison to the werewolves from the get go but it didn't need to be blessed to cause damage -- which was why that stupid human had been so dangerous for Lee. Supernatural rules weren't always what was expected. Gold wasn't blessed nearly as often, I'd found over the decades. Avarice, greed and all -- there definitely was a darker tone that surrounded gold for humans. I'd always thought less chance of God being involved when there was the glitter of gold in sight. Sanctified objects -- silver or gold -- could and would damage us all, figured out through trial and error over the years. Blessed wooden crosses used as stakes were the classic example of humans finding out what did the most harm.

Poised like royalty in his costume of fine silks and pricey leathers, he intoned, "My family and friends. I must ask that you all pull your cell phones out." He waited while we did what he asked. Given the bouncers around the room I didn't think it was much of a request. That explained the second cell phone Harry had slipped me. I took out my phone and handed it over as the large men silently collected the phones. They were put behind the bar with no words. We were being cut off from the outside for the meet. It wasn't unheard of, but it was disturbing.

A murmur fluttered through the crowd. He was assuming much but nobody lifted a sword much less a word against him. His chest visibly expanded along with his ego. The council-given pendant glowed with an unearthly energy and I felt a cold chill run down my spine. The horror of that piece was nearly beyond measure. The blood that flowed to and from the stone in the center literally had fed it. Kenyon was smug and flaunting it before us all. I wanted to know which vampire had given his soul and pendant in true death to Kenyon. I wasn't at all happy.

Carlos was frozen at the small bar table we were all sitting around and like us, he was watching Kenyon carefully. Whatever came out of the vampire's mouth was going to change everything with the werewolves. Carlos, as the crown prince and leader of his Northern Sierra and Southern California werewolf pack, was well aware of the changing tides and waited for the decree. Nobody said a word, but the shuffling and moving let me know that nobody was really ready for whatever was coming. Kenyon really had done a damn good job of changing the rules. The werewolves were totally screwed and didn't have a clue what the vampires had plotted despite the stiff upper lip the werewolves were displaying. Not that they had much of a choice in the vampire-filled room. A vulnerable werewolf was acceptable food for vamps. Such a take down wouldn't hold near the repercussions as the kidnapping and ambush of Jessie and Buddy. Werewolves appreciated the top dog even if it came with vampiric talents.

Kenyon pranced in the middle of the half-drunken vampires and werewolves posturing with a complete disregard of the number of visual daggers being shot his way from the crowd. He wasn't nearly as loved as he thought he was. That would be his downfall, I'd always thought. Well, that and a nice stake followed by a full separation of his head from his shoulders with a spare cutlass or silver sword, blessed or not.

Renee grumbled, "He's really in fine form tonight isn't he?"

I didn't reply. She'd know, considering her position in the clan; besides I could hear a rhetorical question. Add in that Renee's glance at her Master was less than that of a loving vampire to her leader -- more like it was more like the picture of non-slavish devotion. I knew that Renee had her own home, so she wasn't as strongly tied to Kenyon as he'd thought. Her stare wasn't that of loyal follower in the least. He really didn't have a clue what was happening inside his own vampire clan, and yet he was still trying to force an alliance with the Californian werewolves. Hell, I wouldn't have to try to stake him at this rate much less report his transgressions to the vampire council. He'd be dust before dawn by his own hand in a way.

Harry edged into my view and grounded me. I wouldn't be staking Kenyon without his approval. Simon, my Master, wasn't going to like it if he heard I'd staked Kenyon just because he pissed me off by wearing a pendant and crappy outfit. Honestly, at this rate it'd be a done deal if Harry hadn't been present. I was itching to take the ass out viciously and decisively whiled witnessed by all the vampires and werewolves. I resisted. But damn it, I really wanted to slay Kenyon right now. But with his wearing the pendant I was beyond screwed if I skipped the approval process. I wasn't big on rules, but there were some lines I didn't cross. Not too many -- Damson Barlow, my less than socially acceptable fledgling ... admittedly he was definitely a line I had crossed without looking first. And Harry would be forced to bring me up on charges if I took Kenyon out without his nod. There were layers of politics and maneuvering to be sifted through and agonized over before a decision would arrive. Time wasn't on my side. The pendant changed the rules again. Harry would have to give me the nod now for me to execute a Master of Kenyon's level. Ironically Kenyon always took me for Simon's vampire arm candy. That was funny to me, since I was Simon's executioner. It wasn't something generally discussed in Master meetings, I guess.

Once the bouncers had returned to their usual awkward stances scattered strategically around, a mood descended on the room. All eyes focused on the Master. Kenyon was positively preening once again as the club grew quiet. The various shuffling and squirming had stopped for the most part. Given the large percentage of vampires and werewolves it was an uncanny silence. The weres did have rapid heartbeats but their animal side allowed them the ability to remain perfectly still. That was one of those traits both of us types of predators enjoyed. Vampires only breathed when they wanted to impress or trap someone -- after a few decades we had to think to do it. It wasn't automatic for us or even necessary. That I think was part of the reason so many vampires skipped social gatherings of humans after a while, because it was nice to turn off the fake posturing of humanity.

The slightly muffled music was quietly being piped around the dark room safely blocking any outside listening devices. I tried to see if Jane had crept into the crowd without being overly obvious. With her missing, I felt uneasy. As Kenyon's chosen minion and gatekeeper, she was vital in his clan. I'd heard her skills went beyond the basics. Not just content to be a universal blood donor, Jane had learned techniques that could make a vampire's life difficult -- if not shorter. As a human she made us vulnerable to her claws -- fake or painted. My eyes rolled over the folks on the fringes and I didn't see her. Renee caught my eyes and deliberately looked upwards. The place she'd indicated with her glance was a recessed spot painted flat black just over the heads of the bartenders. Damned if I didn't detect slight movement once I knew where to look.

Jane was perched like a rabid bat nearly in the pseudo-rafters of the building. A reflected patch of light and a glint of glistening metal let me know that she was actually recording the meet by hand not relying on stationary cameras to catch the meet. I wondered if she'd be making the event public with a webcast or if the footage was just for her personal and private file. Then I noticed how precisely Kenyon was framing himself so he would be in the center of the eye of the camera showing his most flattering side. I hoped Harry was somewhere catching the flagrant breach of any and all of the vampire code of stealth. We weren't for public consumption, but rather -- we preferred to consume the public.

Carlos was still bracing for whatever news Kenyon was fixing to announce oblivious to our distraction while Marcus' eyes followed mine and he grumbled under his breath, "Is he totally without ethics?"

"Pretty much," I breathed back.

On my other side the furry bookend, Lee, was still a bit upset from his near fatal brush with silver and not catching our focus on someone other than Kenyon. He was breathing a tad faster than the rest of the werewolves at our table and I was finding it disturbing. For all his rippling muscles and strength he wasn't very well equipped to be sitting around a large group of supernatural creatures much less one with any predatory vampires. I looked for the human pet of Kenyon who'd accidentally tried to kill him with her stupidity and fishing lures of silver. She was still missing, but I noticed that the bartenders who'd dragged her stunned ass out had returned to their places and were surreptitiously removing the glass and bottles from the bar top. Fangs and fur could be somewhat anticipated with any meeting of vampires and werewolves but the lightning fast speed in which a vampire could hurl a bottle could seriously compromise his cool -- not to mention a severed jugular would be very messy and a tad awkward to heal on the fly.

The bar's countertop was soon being wiped down after it was emptied of all the breakables. My stomach kept feeling the vibrations from the cell phone Harry had snuck to me just a few minutes earlier. Whoever was trying to call was certainly persistent. It took a bit of concentration on my part to not jerk and appear humanly skittish. The buzz was probably detectable but I wasn't garnering any odd glances, so the locals must of have thought it was something to do with the speakers playing the music.

The crowd was mesmerized and glued in their places closely watching Kenyon, as he'd intended, while Jane continued to slowly pan over them all with her camera thus committing their presence to film for posterity, bribery, coercion -- or as it might turn out -- evidence. The meet wasn't exactly sanctioned, but if whatever Kenyon proposed resulted in vampires being slaughtered or exposed to humanity the recording would be useful to many folks. The vampire head council would eradicate each family present and literally salt the graves of them with holy water and curses at the least.

Marcus, Renee and I weren't as focused on the ringleader as everyone else in the club, but instead, keeping an eye out on what Jane was doing. She'd yet to pan over to our table but it was just a matter of time. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do. Harry edged over into my line of vision and tilted his head toward Damson. DB -- Damson -- was underneath Jane holding a large magnum of champagne. The bartenders were giving my frightening fledgling plenty of personal space. He had set the bloody cutlass down on the freshly cleaned wood and was baring his fangs slightly. Last I'd seen that cutlass he'd been brandishing at us before Harry had taken it away. I guess he decided to retrieve his little toy before someone else snagged it off the ground. With the crowd present I didn't blame him for not leaving it there so just anyone could use it against him. My fledgling really had wasted no time in making new enemies in Kenyon's clan.

To be continued ...

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-05-18
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