Harry cleared his throat, prompting the man to automatically jerk to his feet. He wasn't noticeable was my only thought. Descriptions would be only words like an average white male, sandy blondish brown hair, hazel eyes -- neither blue nor green; there were some golden glints giving his eyes a bit of warmth -- he wasn't wearing glasses but if he had been they would've been unremarkable, I knew. He was a medium build, yet I instinctively knew that he was stronger than he appeared at first glance, probably had muscles beneath his casual clothes. Mid-West features from what I'd seen. He wasn't a handsome actor type like most thirty-something men I saw lounging around Southern California.
"Ah, I don't know what to say," he started slowly, I watched him roll his watch around on his left wrist. It was quite apparent that he was uncomfortable and a bit nervous. Being a null didn't guarantee safety from harm, just from magic users and supernaturals getting the upper hand. He stopped fidgeting with his wrist at Harry's comment.
"You better start or I'll allow Bethany to simply take what it is she thinks she needs from you."
He didn't bother to explain to either the man or me how that could be done. He was a null?! I didn't have a clue what Harry thought I'd do to crack the man's brain short of fanging in and draining a pint. I was still shut off from Harry's mindspeak by choice so I couldn't precisely inquire. I stared straight into the man's eyes with confidence and a healthy chunk of arrogance. If Harry said he'd let me damage his toy -- I would have to assume that I had the needed power short of blood. The man blanched, and meeting my eyes he said quietly, "I am Zachary Gregory Gerard. I'm from Michigan." He seemed to stall on what else he could add to his introduction. Taking pity on him, I helped fill in the unsaid, "And you are a null, right?"
Relief flooded his features, then panic-filled puzzlement, "How do you? How can you? I mean ... I am."
Caleb was now shaking his head like a dog worrying a treat filled with peanut butter. With his confusion apparent, I noticed Valerie looked floored and her lips fell open in shock. Harry answered for me, "Zach, because as I told you all, Bethany isn't stupid. I picked her to help us for a reason. She's one of the top apex predators that I know. I would trust her at my back. I have before and as Jasmine and Valerie both personally can vouch for me, she isn't easily fooled or ambushed."
I consciously flushed -- as if I was flattered -- but at the same time I wondered what the hell Harry was doing. Either way he just painted a huge target on my ass. Both Jasmine and Valerie had joined Morgan in staring at me. Not complimentary or loving glances but pretty much matching sets of hate-filled eyes. I pulled my attention away from the unwanted glares and saw that Caleb's eyes weren't confused any longer. No, he looked excited and utterly captivated. His eyes lit up with interest and I could see he had a ton of unasked questions.
It was then Eddie jumped up and into the fray with, "Ah, man. I have to follow that? Hell, Eddie. I am just a vanilla werewolf. Not currently affiliated with any pack. Mine were all slaughtered courtesy of a brutal local purge here in California. Harry knows the details."
His self-deprecating introduction made everyone switch their glances over to him where he was seated between Zach and me. Zach dropped to his seat and I watched him nervously fiddle with his watch. The watch didn't look ultra-expensive, it was stainless steel with decent sized Roman numbers on its face. Eddie looked around and said, "What? Did I do it wrong?"
Harry chuckled, "No, Eddie, you did just fine. There are too many alpha types here." Harry nodded and Eddie sat back down, he looked very relieved to be done talking.
I nearly nodded. Harry called it. We were all the lone wolf sorts, pardon the pun. As Harry said earlier, he'd already told them all about me. I certainly wasn't going to stand up and introduce myself to his group and possibly tell them something Harry hadn't. Caleb looked up to find that he was now the center of attention. Better him than me, I bit back a chuckle and waited to see how he was going to handle the situation.
He confidently stood up, "Caleb, surfer. Ahem, perennial grad student. Totally blown away here. Like I have a couple hundred tiny little questions. I always knew the world was totally fucking nuts but all this stuff," here he swept his right arm encompassing the gathered folks from Harry to Zach, "like, actually makes more sense to me than you'd think."
He sat down and nodded to me with a wicked smile promising me he'd be asking me at the very least a couple million questions if we ever got alone. Actually, his casual acceptance of the revealed supernaturals made me proud of him. It shelved an immediate worry I'd had about him freaking out at the big exposure of Harry's group. The gleam in his eyes let me know he hadn't forgotten the vampire comments along with Harry labeling me an apex predator. As he was a huge history buff, I feared he would have questions for days.
Of course, all that relied on surviving the next few days. The timetable for the purge wasn't spelled out on the website but Halloween wasn't too far away -- add in how winter hid so much from quick detection. I knew the Council was aiming for the attacks to start immediately. Thinking of the long nights and the darker evenings as winter dropped into most of the continental United States I wanted to scream. Humans wouldn't notice if a neighbor didn't come out and mow their dead lawns. Houses with doors and windows shut were very useful when executioners came a knocking. The assassins would love to use the shadows and seasonal darkness to their advantage. That made not just the next few days but the next few weeks and even months problematic for us all. The hunting would be easily hidden from unnecessary discovery by humans. This time of year made detection harder and gave the Council an edge.
Harry got up from his spot on the couch. The keyboard should've been smoking from all his typing -- near abuse with vampiric speed helping. His face was serious but actually not as grim as I'd expected. "Thank you, Caleb, for reminding us that all of humanity isn't lost. As you all know and from the look on Caleb's face, he too has figured this out, I am a vampire. But something that none of you may realize is that I was once asked to join the Vampire Council."
Color me surprised. I definitely didn't have a clue. From the open mouths it was breaking news to us all. Even the null -- excuse me, 'Zach' -- didn't look like he had that information prior to Harry's words. Automatically my thoughts drifted to the years my Master had run around with Harry. They had been extremely challenging to others during their time together. I was on hand for more than one of the elaborate campaigns they had waged. When they carried out their convoluted plans, I stayed clear and simply observed and learned. They conquered clans and awarded the seized spoils as they saw fit with little to no interaction with or from the Vampire Council. Conquering corners of the forgotten Old World landscape was a sport to my Master and Harry.
Once the Old World began to cannibalize itself my Master and Harry planned our escape. The streets, castles and countryside had become fatal to all supernaturals. Humans were dying too -- poverty, wars, disease, stupidity -- it really wasn't something we concerned ourselves with -- as vampires we saw mass slaughterings in the mortals happen in waves over our decades. Thus, to us, humans were always dying for some cause or from an error in judgment that had nothing remotely to do with us.
But the world was growing as the Old World seemed to be getting impossibly crowded. Once traveling to the New World had begun to occur with growing regularity and safer than the initial journeys, my Master pulled me aside to explain how it was suddenly time to leave. I'll admit the idea of leaving the known world horrified me. I was comfortable and complacent in our homelands -- easily protected by lesser fledglings and minions. I was completely unaware of our diminishing numbers and the changing world. Traveling by boats on the ocean seemed like certain true death would be the only result.
Harry joined the discussions with my Master after he saw my reluctance and he knew all about my fears. Together they listed the horrors that awaited us if we stayed in Europe. They slowly explained the loss of much of our human food sources due to the mortals dying was a large piece of the list. But they went onto catalogue many more complex issues, political changes and human conflicts. I'd been growing restless and after many late-night conversations with them I deferred to their knowledge and shared history.
Harry took time to make it sound like a lark that we were going to embark on that could be easily reversed should the New World prove to be uninhabitable for us. Later I heard stories of the mass slayings of our kind in the lands we'd left. Very few vampires successfully made the months-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Honestly, I didn't overthink it -- I was much younger and truthfully my Master did not have to ask my opinion. As his creation, all he had to do was command me using his vampiric voice and I mindlessly would have obeyed him. I knew I was his chosen -- his favorite that he was grooming to be above the others.
That probably was part of the reason I hadn't, since his death, even tried to find a new Master.
Now I wondered if our departure coincided with Harry being offered a position within the Council. The Council didn't like being denied anything. I had watched from the dark recesses of the vampire world. Yes, it made sense that they would've wanted Harry.
I looked up to see everyone had been staring at Harry waiting for him to tell them more. I fully recognized the layers of history he'd admitted to allowing the Council to rule without his involvement. He could've been part of a solution -- not waiting in the New World for the Old World to finally focus on conquering the vast untamed lands. Granted a few centuries later than any of us had anticipated but the e-mail did alert us that the time had finally arrived.
Harry continued, "That said ... now we need to flex our powers and stop the Council. The various executioners have been given carte blanche by the Council but that doesn't mean we should just stake ourselves to make their task easier. They can die, hell, we all can. But we've earned the right to live on our hard-won territories and lands. There is no reason we must accept this mistake from the Council as an acceptable option. We will resist and send the assassins back to the Council in boxes and urns if possible."
Harry had everyone's attention. He slowly sat back down, allowing us to absorb his speech. Again, I found myself feeling like this entire gathering had been preordained and well-crafted. Nobody else seemed to pick up on the working of Harry's mind, but I'd been around him for a very long time over some incredibly horrific events. I was skeptical at the very least.