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July 15, 2024

Strange Bedfellows 52

By Lydia Manx

Harry drove up the SUV up the suddenly steeper hills towards the downtown area where Balboa Park was with his usual confidence and style. I noticed that the neighborhoods had begun to shift subtly. While we were traveling through the narrow roads and not on the freeway we were privy to more than just gray concrete and interchangeable overpasses. Gone though were the nicely dressed couples heading to dinner and the beach clubs that we'd seen driving south through the coastal communities. They had been gradually replaced by the edgier elements more common to the underbelly of most major cities. I spotted more and more isolated humans dressed less to impress and more to keep warm. And they definitely were not the theatre going set from my observations. The houses were older and some had been remodeled while others obviously nothing had been done but the lawns mowed -- and poorly at that.

"Natasha?" Simon interrupted my musings.

"Yes, Sire?" I looked to find my Master had turned around in the passenger seat and was waiting for me to meet his gaze. Harry slowed for a red light, and his eyes met mine in the rear view mirror next to Simon. Something had passed between them unspoken while I'd been sightseeing.

"Jasmine isn't just connected to the witches." Simon started out slowly. I'd seen into Harry's thoughts and memories earlier and knew some of that. I didn't reply but waited.

"She's a go-between for vampires approved by the council and she also negotiates for the werewolves, so I've been told." Simon revealed this calmly and from Harry's eyes I saw that he'd also obtained this information without my hearing. Harry hadn't been aware that Marcus knew Jasmine, but obviously he knew that she knew of our little pack of werewolves, at least Marcus. That werewolf had some seriously bad connections. He'd been 'friends' with my now perma-dead fledgling Damson, I'd found out in the past twenty-four hours, and seemed like he'd been messing around with this Jasmine woman. In his mind, Harry had called her a medium and a dead speaker. They both were now alluding that she was something so much more. Always dangerous, in my opinion, when it came to supernaturals.

"Okay," I said as the silence stretched and they seemed to be waiting for me somehow.

"She's not to be harmed, no matter what. We don't know what she'll do with us to fix our situation but you can't assume we are being hurt if we make any sorts of protests. It can be some thing like a magical residue that evokes a bad response from us." Simon looked troubled. I was terrified. What could this woman do to make two strong vampires sound 'harmed'? Nothing good was going to come from this meeting, I feared.

I wondered what this Jasmine creature was really like. Harry's perceptions were just that, his perceptions. The phrase 'through rose-colored glasses' took on another layer when it came to vampiric senses. His feelings of respect and a slight sexual element coated his thoughts of her. His trust and respect for the Nordic looking vampire, Morgan, further layered his image of the woman. She wasn't fully human -- her talents weren't something most vampires were comfortable around -- dead speaker and a haunted figure at that. Her reddish brown hair was fiery and symbolic to Harry. In his personal history he'd met many redheaded witches and mediums. Her pale skin glowed in his mind's eye -- alabaster and smooth. The female in me wondered how pretty she truly was -- Harry's taste wasn't in question, just his memory. Over the decades I'd found more than just vampires could employ a little personal glamour when needed.

We finally arrived at the Park. We parked out of visual range of the Lily Pond figuring there was no need to make it easy for the possibilities of ambushing. I really liked the turn of the century feeling to the buildings and architecture. Balboa Park was in the middle of San Diego. It hosted the 1915 Panama-California Exposition -- commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal -- providing the push for the construction of much of the Park. Many of the buildings still standing were constructed during the celebration. The San Diego Zoo was part of the acreage that was in the Park. The zoo was world-renowned and a constant flow of humanity criss-crossed the pathways to explore. They had worked hard to establish their conservation efforts and the layout of the zoo was ideal for us vampires to pick off stray humans and take our bite in a nice lush tropical setting. The paths were overgrown in many spots and quiet. Many a fond evening was spent poaching near the endangered species enclosures. I skipped the aviaries as birds both predators and prey tended to make far too much noise when sensing vampires. I found it soothing to hear the predators in the background. Harry knew of my fondness for the zoo and smiled. Simon just shook his head, since he'd seen me prowls zoos during our time together.

We didn't run to the center of the large pond area where we'd been commanded to meet the unknown -- but suspected -- vampire. The Botanical Building was still picturesque even at night so we sauntered as if we had all night. Actually we did. I could feel there were other vampires lurking in the distance. I kept my features calm and softly whistled a tune. Harry cuffed me on the arm.

"Natasha, really? Camp Town Races?" I stopped whistling and froze. There was an evil feeling of hatred washing over me.

Simon paled and said, "It seems we have company. Feel free to speak for us if need be, Child." He stroked a finger down my spine and I shuddered at the intensity of emotion flooding me. Simon was nervous and energized. Which for a vampire was a hell of an intense combination.

"My, my. What have we here?" A girl came striding towards us dressed like a reject from the club wait line at Dark Whispers. Dressed to depress with a Goth look adding a bit of a sadistic twist of metal and anger. It had to be the Arizona vampire called Cynthia. I could see why Damson had been so willing to talk with her. I could immediately see that she had the same lack of connections to humanity that my dead fledgling held dear as a principle for his behavior. I knew that meant basically both had a sociopathic mentality. They forged their own path for aberrant communications with humans and vampires such as torture, maiming or brutalizing anyone they picked -- tools of their trade as it were.

I felt the vampiric strength fall from both Harry and Simon once the child spoke. Okay, she wasn't a child and yet I still wanted to fang in and finish her before she'd said a word. Yep, that had been one hell of a magical whammy dropped on my boys by the dead witch. I was nearly rocking on my heels with excitement. I'd been given permission by both Simon and Harry to do whatever I wanted to the rogue vampire -- no explanation needed -- it warmed me though out my body.

Also I had taken a minute to use a bit of my own personal glamour before we'd left the SUV. Unseen hidden in my aura was the Civil War sword. I held it in my left hand. There it would be less noticeable in the unlikely event I used it and lost control of the vampires nearest me. Most humans and vampires automatically looked for weapons in right hands. Decades of training and being naturally ambidextrous I'd used that talent to my advantage on more than one occasion. The glamour took tons of personal energy, and both Simon and Harry would have normally buffered some of the drain with their power, but given the witch's spell we thought it wouldn't be a good idea. I swayed -- appearing lost and bedazzled -- on purpose mostly. Cynthia clapped her hands together briskly with supreme authority. She'd grown quite comfortable acting like a Master vampire. What I had to fall back on was that the vampire council didn't recognize her nor did the werewolf territory leaders -- meaning despite her desire to be a ruling power she was just fanged prey for me and any strong council-aligned vamp or werewolf. The temptation to end her 'reign' immediately was flooding through me, and keeping my own fangs in my mouth was more of a challenge than I was currently up for so I kept my lips shut for now.

"So these are the famous 'Masters of the City' Kenyon's been whining about -- can't say that I see it," she spoke mockingly to unseen vampires. So far she was the only one standing in front of us. She must have concluded the same thing because she put her right hand out, palm up, and wiggled her fingers, summoning instantly a few vampires who rapidly scurried to her side.

Quickly responding to Cynthia's imperious gesture were four young male vampires. Not one older than their mid-twenties in human years and less than ten in vampire years. All had the same lean, angry look of punks -- it didn't matter when they were born because as humans they weren't happy with their lot in life. Becoming rogue vampires just added into those issues. They all radiated hatred of Harry and Simon -- both of my vampires were easily recognized as old 'mainstream' Masters and council approved. I was dismissed automatically as little more than fang banging bait. Cynthia thought she was the only powerful vampire in Southern California. My personal glamour hadn't influenced her thoughts since her personal arrogance had done all the work for me.

"Bradford," she growled out to a sharply featured vampire. He snapped upright and swept her a half-bow. His features were fox-like with his blade cut cheekbones and a long pointed nose. He'd not quite grown into his features before he'd been turned. As a man he may have ended up being fairly handsome -- as a vampire minion to Cynthia he had a nearly ferret-feral set of features. His skin was pale and stretched drum tight over his bones. Blue-black circles gave his eyes a hungrier appearance and his fangs weren't fully descended so when he said, "Yes, my Mistress." It came out with a marked sibilant lisp.

Had Simon and Harry not been so transfixed, I probably would've broken out in laughter. Amused but quiet, I watched the rogue vampires carefully. They were all vibrating with extreme emotions. Blood lust was a whisper away in their youthful exuberance; it would be a pain to kill them all without any answers. Not that I'd shy away from such an elegant solution but I would rather not just yet burn that bridge. I'd yet to sense any creatures on my side of the game out in the darkness of the Park. I could hear the animals in the distance calling out their own personal lusts. The zoo after dark was always full of sounds and emotions that understood. I'd be happy to go hunting there again. The zoological society was nice enough to host after dark functions which made the spot all that more attractive to me right now.

Disregarding that temptation, I could only think that Renee must have had her hands full trying to tame Marcus. As for Jasmine -- I didn't know her so she could be lurking in the shadows for all I knew. Harry wasn't in any condition to help me at this point.

Bradford was cowered nicely in front of Cynthia.

She smiled, her fangs out, "I want you to take these two creatures back to the van and kill them. I want to find out what their minion knows."

Bradford turned a new shade of white and lisped, "Of course, Mistress."

I watched the wheels turn as he contemplated two on one. I was busy figuring out which slice would separate his head from his shoulders quickest. The flat swing with both hands would do nicely, I'd decided when I smelt the werewolves.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-08-23
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