01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

Two hours and too much money later, I’m on my way to the office again. As I navigate downtown, I pass yet another group of protestors wearing yellow robes outside the Mayor’s office. I press my fingers to my forehead to ward off the headache they’re about to give me. The Dilectus Deo, or Beloved of God, as it’s translated, are a cult of Norms who believe that all Vampires and Gifted should be eliminated and that ungifted and unturned humans are the true children of God. I personally think the Dilectus Deo are more frightening than Dark Vampires. They appear to be peacefully protesting, but the signs they hold are anything but peaceful. One reads, “Kill the leeches.” Another reads, “Aberrations should be put down,” as though we are animals.

What really makes me mad is the mom out there with her daughter who can’t be more than eight years old, shaking a sign that says, “Get the Aberrations out of my classroom.” It appears they start the hate training early. The kids who are taught to hate early rarely have enough strength to break away from a family culture of hatred. The girl has little chance to develop an independent mind because she can see with what vehemence alternate thinking will be treated. I sigh deeply and keep driving.

When I arrive at work, I walk toward the Supernatural Investigation Bureau building. It rises up, a sleek glass and steel structure, three stories high. This is the central office for the entire Smoky Mountain region, though our unit concentrates on the City of Crimson Hollow. Crimson Hollow is the capital of the region and spreads out over the most scenic, mountainous areas of the Smokies surrounded by smaller outlying suburbs. It’s divided by districts with each district covered by a different unit.

As I approach the building at a fast clip, I see my reflection in the shiny glass. Maud’s saying that “good posture makes the woman” flits through my head when I notice that I’m walking with a straight back and my head held high. She would be happy to see that.

The air thickens and buzzes around me as I walk through the wards just beyond the entrance. The entire building is ensconced in highly specialized wards, and only those who work here can walk straight through.

When I exit the elevator on the third floor, I follow the arrowed sign that reads “Homicides.” I am newly amused each time I read it, as it seems to invite me down the hall to be murdered.

As soon as I walk through our department door, the inviting reception area surrounds me with the comfort of home. I love this office and I’m proud to be a part of it. The room glows with the warmth of oak furniture and dark brown leather upholstery. Fresh flowers on the tables and cheerful paintings on the walls bring color to the room, while the sunlight filtering in through the floor-to-ceiling windows brings the whole setting to life.

I remember two years ago on my first day, the office seemed so professional and grown-up, and I felt like neither. I was sure that before long, my inadequacies would be revealed and Jack would send me packing. No one was more surprised than I when it turned out I was actually good at this job. It’s probably because I truly believe in what we do.

The goal of the Supernatural Investigation Bureau is to maintain interbreed peace and security. Our unit is a small but vital part of the machinery that makes that possible. We use our skills and our strengths to keep the peace and ensure the balance between the Norms, the Gifted, and the Daylight Vampires. We do this by bringing Dark Vampires to the sun, and prosecuting the Gifted and Norms who commit homicide against each other for reasons relating to the Supernatural. The regular police are simply not equipped to deal with these crimes. Our strength and special powers give us advantages.

Reigning queen over the reception area stands Rubalia, but she is far more than a receptionist. She is a brilliant research assistant, an office manager, and, I sometimes think, a goddess. Rubalia has deep brown skin and black shoulder length hair styled in big waves with flippy ends tipped in gold. She wears ruby red cat eye glasses trimmed in marcasite as her crown. Her robes are elegantly fitted skirt suits, and her weapons are dangerously sharp stilettos.

The gold tips in her hair are her magical mark, but I’m unsure of what her gift is. Some gifts are very personal or simply frivolous, so it is considered rude to ask. I could check with my sixth sense, but that’s rude as well. It would be equivalent to men comparing phallus sizes in polite society. I speculate her gift is to be creative, or to find information, or even to keep order. When my mind is being extremely wicked, I imagine our uptight reception commander is really Gifted in pleasures of the flesh and lives a secretly lurid lifestyle when she leaves the office. Go Rubalia! Sometimes imagination is more fun than reality. She would probably slice and dice me with her stilettos if she had the faintest inkling of my imagination. Some things are best kept to one’s self.

Rubalia simply will not allow anyone to be disorderly in her space or in the processes relating to the office. She allows us to be messy in our own offices as is evidenced by our office mate Xavier Ramsey. But woe be unto us if we forget to pick up our messages or don’t properly charm our papers blank when we’re done with them. If we miss an appointment, Rubalia is not shy about giving us a dressing down that we will not soon forget. This is a professional office and “by God” she is going to make sure we behave like professionals.

I now know the real reason I succeeded at being a professional when I started was simply that Rubalia wouldn’t allow me to be otherwise. One day I should thank her. That is, if she will allow me.

Right now Rubalia is speaking with Ernesto Ramos-Delgado who is asking for a map of this week’s Dark Vampire sightings and incidents. Rubalia plots the sightings, and Ernesto uses the map to target his hunts. He’s primarily responsible for eliminating Vampires who kill while feeding, thus turning from Daylight Vampires into Dark Vampires.

Not only does Ernesto keep tabs on Daylight Vampires in our vicinity, but he also watches out for Dark Vampires who matriculate in from other areas. He calls on Jack for backup in more extreme cases. Jack is very old, even by Vampire standards, and thus extremely strong. Ernesto is also relatively old, and he is a skilled fighter in martial arts and swordplay. Of course he can use a gun too, but guns are useless against Vampires. He does use a compound crossbow that shoots oak stakes as an effective means to eliminate Dark Vampires.

Essentially Ernesto is an executioner—or an exterminator, depending on your outlook. A Daylight Vampire must kill in bloodlust to turn into a Dark Vampire, so the very existence of a Dark Vampire is proclamation of guilt. Because of this, no trial is required, and they are free game to be killed. The only way a Dark Vampire can be killed is by an oak stake to the heart, Holy Water, exposure to the sun, or being thrown on holy ground. Even if you decapitate them, you had best throw Holy Water on them or hold them down until sun-up; otherwise their bodies continue crawling around searching for their heads. Finding their heads and placing them back on their necks will revive them, thus the name Night-Crawlers.

Since they are pure evil, the only thing that ends them is something purely holy. I am not sure why a wooden stake is purely holy. I must remember to ask Father O’Brennen.

When Ernesto finishes speaking to Rubalia, he lifts up his arm, waving it down again in a graceful flourish while bowing low to me. My face heats up in a blush. I’ve always wanted to respond to his bows with a curtsy of my own, but I don’t know how. It would be utterly embarrassing anyway. Right now I clutch my cumbersome backpack as an excuse.

“Good afternoon, Señorita Blue,” Ernesto says.

Ernesto must have been turned in his mid-fifties. He has light brown skin and short, dark hair with a sprinkling of gray. His elegant, swooping mustache is the perfect accent to his tall, lean form.

I smile at him and respond, “Good afternoon, Ernesto.”

I feel Ernesto’s eyes sweep over me, then keenly scan my neck for a moment. I breathe a sigh of relief when he chooses to ignore my injury, instead flashing an easy smile as he walks away.

I drag my pack up to the counter in front of Rubalia’s desk and lean over it, hoping to keep the cut out of view. “Good afternoon, Rubalia. Are there any messages for me?”

Rubalia hands me a small stack and pins me with her eyes like I’m an errant teenager. “Good afternoon, Blue. Jack has been highly agitated because you didn’t contact him today. Next time we would all appreciate a chime sooner. He’s responsible for everyone in the office, you know.”

I accept my comeuppance and apologize. “I’m sorry, Rubalia. It was a very busy day. I’ll try to do better in the future.”

Rubalia holds her mouth in a stern line and says, “Don’t try. Do.”

I nod with chagrin and walk straight back to Jack’s office, wondering what I’ll see when I arrive. I start to knock, but before my knuckles touch the wood Jack calls me to come in.

Jack sits with his arms flat on the desk, leaning forward while tapping a pencil against the wood top. I had expected anger, but I see warmth in his gaze as he takes me in. Jack is a good boss. He’s fair, and he gives good advice, but he lets each of us run our own investigations. He primarily acts as support and backup, but he does seem to pay extra attention to my work.

Realistically, I am physically the weakest of my comrades. My gender limits my physical strength. My gift isn’t helpful in a physical confrontation. I’m a non-Vampire, and I’m relatively young, and inexperienced compared to everyone else.

Thankfully, Jack doesn’t hold me back; he just keeps tighter tabs on me than he does my counterparts. Sometimes I wish it were because he had feelings for me, but there are too many practical reasons for his overprotection to conclude that.

Jack Tanner is a dichotomy of a man. He wears impeccably tailored suits and mixes with the upper echelon with charm and ease, yet when in his comfort zone his manners can be rough and quite abrupt. While his attitude is often cool and distant, his nature is protective and his actions show he’s caring. He has incredible strength and speed and can be a warrior when needed. All in all, he’s an excellent man to have on your side and would make for a fearsome enemy.

I stand in the middle of the room, simply because I prefer standing to sitting, but with Jack’s gaze on me, I feel awkward. “I’m sorry I didn’t get into the office until now. It’s been a really busy day.”

Jack’s eyes look concerned, then I see his nostrils flare. He stands, and in the blink of an eye he’s right next to me. I always find it disconcerting when he moves so fast, especially now because he’s standing in my personal space. He slowly moves all around me, circling me like a jungle cat, assessing me, close but not touching.

When he comes around to the front of me again, he asks in a low, growling voice that rolls through me, making my abdomen clench with an ache, “What happened today? Your neck is injured and you’re shaky.”

Jack is so close I have to tilt my head back to see his eyes. It’s challenging to stand this close to him and not reveal how he affects me.

“What do you mean I’m shaky?” I ask, ignoring the more obvious question. I try not to notice the strong line of his jaw close enough to my lips that I could lean in and trace it with my tongue. I try to ignore the deep, musky scent of his skin that makes me want to inhale deeply. I fail on both counts.

He reaches his hand out to my arm but pauses torturously a hairsbreadth from my skin. He drops his hand, instead saying, “Your aura is thicker today. Thicker and shaky.”

My mind wars with the urge to touch him or step away removing temptation entirely, but instead I stand immobilized within easy reach.

“How do you know what my aura looks like?” I ask.

Jack shifts on his feet, lifts his hand toward me, and then drops it again. He mercifully returns to his desk, at human speed this time, sitting down. What would he have done if I had reached out for his hand and caressed it? Too late as the moment has passed.

Jack says, “I never told you? That’s my gift. I can see auras.”

“No. I didn’t know you had a gift. I don’t see a mark. In fact, I didn’t know Vampires could even have gifts.”

I move to sit in the chair across from him. I was a little unsteady just now, and it seems safer in the chair.

Jack frowns. “We were human once, just like you, Blue. Some of us are Gifted.”

“Oh. I guess it was wrong of me not to consider that.” He’s piqued my curiosity now. “So, what does my aura look like?”

“Beau . . . ” Jack cuts himself off. I swear he was about to say “beautiful.”

He continues. “It is a white light with a faint tint of blue. The tint is the same tone as your eyes, blue with a touch of violet, only much lighter. Hardly blue at all. Usually it’s only a hazy outline, but today the margins are much thicker. It comes out almost three inches, and it’s wavering like a flame.”

“Hmm. Well, it must be because I had a challenging day.” I tilt my head and squint at Jack. “So, Jack. You must be an expert on auras, since you are one of the few people who see them.”

Jack looks a little uncomfortable when I make this declaration, but he nods. “I do know more than most.”

“Well, have you ever heard of someone having an aura strong enough to scare Dark Vampires away?”

Jack starts coughing very hard, and his color turns a little gray before he turns his head away. When the coughing subsides, he finally looks at me and asks, “Where did you hear this?”

I try to sound nonchalant. “Oh, Father O’Brennen and I were talking, and he mentioned hearing that happened once.”

Jack is my boss, so I really don’t want to get into the whole died at birth, chased Dark Vampires away by the age of three, and was rescued by a mysterious Daylight Vampire thing. It seems a little heavy. What I want is for him to think of me as a capable professional.

Jack seems to have recovered from his spontaneous coughing fit and says, “As a matter of fact, I think there was one case I recall, a long time ago. I prefer not to go into the details, though.”

Then, in an obvious attempt to change the topic, he demands, “You’re injured. You have been avoiding telling me about it. I need to know what happened.”

I retort, “Like you are avoiding telling me about auras chasing Vampires away?”

Jack smiles smugly. “Yes. Exactly like that, except you work for me. Tell me what happened.”

Jack leans back in his seat and his hair, which is full of dark gold curls, catches the sunlight from the window. He keeps it long enough so you can see the curls but not long enough for them to be ringlets. He has vivid green eyes and a disturbingly sexy five o’clock shadow. His broad shoulders look magnificent in his light gray suit. I’m not sure what make it is because I don’t shop in those stores myself, but it is very elegant. His charcoal gray tie hangs loose, and his top shirt button is undone, both uncharacteristic of him. I wonder if my late timing made him that upset or if it was something else. His eyelids droop lazily as he leans back in his chair, looking the picture of ease, but I’m not fooled. He’s watching me intently.

I take a deep breath, gathering the courage to tell him about the incident with the masked man. Since no out presents itself and I see no way to further delay, I fold my hands in my lap and say gently, “As I was leaving my apartment building today, a man grabbed me from behind in the alley, disarmed me, and held a knife to my throat.”

Jack doesn’t move a hair, but the air in the room immediately fills with a violent, thrumming energy. He, who is usually so hard to read, is pouring deathly rage into the room to such an extent it seems the very air is becoming pressurized to the point of explosion. Outwardly I see only his eyes tighten at the corners and turn into two black, bottomless pits. His mouth is fuller, a sign his fangs have extended, though he keeps his lips tightly sealed. His absolute stillness feels indubitably more dangerous than a thousand men attacking with knives. Others might not notice anything wrong if they walked in this room at this moment, but with my gift, I feel it. I’m almost overcome by it.

I lift my chin a degree and brave the threatening explosion. “The man was wearing a mask and had me from behind, so I can’t give a good description. He was about six feet tall and thin, with an obvious beard beneath the mask. That matches the description from the bartender at the Cock and Bull Tap of the man wearing the red cloak. There was no red cloak today, though. He was wearing a gray cloak and dark pants with a white top. He was asking about the amulet, but I didn’t tell him where it is.”

Jack moves his hands slightly, gripping the edge of his desk. Despite seeing his knuckles turn white and hearing the wooden desk groan beneath his fingertips, I finish the tale.

I drop my voice to a whisper, knowing full well he can hear me clearly but hoping to calm him slightly as I recount the entirety of the events. When I finish, Jack’s eyes are still black pools, but he has relaxed his hold on the desk. The intelligence has returned to his eyes, and they flicker as he internally calculates all the possibilities of what happened, what could have happened, and what might happen. I’m afraid of his conclusions, but even this is preferable to the mindless black rage I saw a few moments ago.

Jack finally leans forward and appears to regain his voice. Through clenched teeth he snarls, enunciating the key words, “You took an injured wolf that was about to kill a man . . . in your car with you?”

I’ve learned when Jack is snapping like steel to remain strong like silk.

“When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so great. But it was really fine. I went straight for my Glock, but I didn’t need it.” I decide not to tell Jack I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. He doesn’t seem in the mood to hear it, and I’m not above omitting teeny tiny, irrelevant facts such as that.

“And where is this wolf now?” Jack inquires.

“He’s with my friend Alexis getting cleaned up, cared for, and fed.”

This seems to settle Jack down slightly, but still he probes, “And he showed no signs of aggression toward you or Alexis?”

“None whatsoever, nor toward her assistant. I’m sure his aggression was directed solely toward the man.”

Jack settles back a bit more.

“So, as I was saying, I dropped the wolf off at Alexis’ so this put me behind. Then I went to the Medical Examiner’s office.”

Jack nods his head and says, “We’ll get back to the masked man in a moment. But tell me, what did you find out from the M.E.?”

I hand Jack a copy of the preliminary report. Jack sits quietly for a few minutes, scanning through it. He flips through the pages, and I watch his face as it goes through several degrees of disgust and rage—not quite the degree of rage I saw a few moments ago, but rage nonetheless. When he finally looks up, his mood is black.

“It was pretty bad,” I say.

Jack’s mouth presses in a tight line. “I see it was.”

“I also stopped by the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop and got a little history on the amulet.”

Jack looks curious. “Did you speak with the Dragomir herself?”

I raise my eyebrow. “Yes. Do you know her?”

Jack’s lips twitch slightly, and I can see immediately he does know her, perhaps personally. I feel more than a little angry about this and try to school my face from forming the scowl it wants to. I remind myself he’s my boss, and even if he were interested in me, it would not be wise to pursue any type of relationship. He’s goodness knows how old, so I must seem terribly immature to him. He probably has some stunning Vampiress I cannot possibly compete with keeping him company at home. This thought does not help with my scowling problem.

Jack says, “Yes. I’ve known her for some years. She’s an expert on certain topics.”

I scowl despite myself. I bet she’s an expert on certain topics.

Jack gives me an assessing glance and asks, “How did your interview with her go?” I contemplate how much to tell him. I stand and pace a little as I speak, feeling restless for some reason. “She gave me a hard time at first, but when I showed her a drawing of the amulet she was very forthcoming. She told me the amulet is part of a key. There are two parts: the amulet and an eye that fits in the center. The eye is missing from the piece I have. Both together serve as the key to the Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium.”

Jack sits up straight. “The Spell Book of the Spirit and Soul?”

I nod slightly, watching his reaction.

Jack demands, “And where do you have it stored?”

“I have it hidden in the wall of the bell room in St. Michael’s Church. I thought it best to stash it on holy ground.”

“That was a good choice,” Jack says. “So, did Dragomira tell you the history of the book?”

“Yes. How did you know about it, though? It sounds like it was kept pretty secret.”

Jack frowns and looks out the window, obviously considering what to tell me. “Years ago I did some research on the Birth of Vampires. That’s how I met the Dragomir. I’ve never seen the book, of course; no one has. I’ve only read some of the history.”

Something has been bothering me about the story, and I bet Jack knows the answer. “How come this story isn’t well known? It was obviously pivotal in our history.”

Jack stands up and appears to be concentrating on something outside the window before he angles toward me. “The book itself is too powerful for many to know of. But remember it took some time for the Vampire population to grow and cover the globe. It wasn’t until about a third of the way through the Deconstruction Era of the Red Ages that knowledge of Vampires was widespread, and the incident with the book had long passed. People just knew that Vampires were. The further civilization deconstructed, the harder communication and learning became. Then, during the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, all humans were in hiding.”

Jack walks close to me, standing in my body space again. His eyes implore me for something. “Even though I was turned during the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, I am not proud of who we were and what we did. I know most Daylight Vampires feel the same. We are ashamed of how we treated humans and how we looked away as Dark Vampires destroyed your breeds.”

My mind reels. Jack has just dated himself to before the Reconstruction Era. That makes him over five hundred years old. Jack’s eyes search my face, and I feel he’s seeking some sort of absolution from me, a person who had not even been born at that time.

“Jack,” I say, “you are only responsible for your own actions, and what you do today speaks to who you are now, not what your people did five hundred years ago. Civilization is a thin veil over our savage selves, easily lifted by some for personal glorification. Look at the Dilectus Deo if you want an example. We fight to hold on to our moral values and maintain civility between breeds. Regardless of what your people did in the past, Daylight Vampires did make the peace pact with humans that brought on the Reconstruction Era. Today you keep us safe from Night-Crawlers, and today, that is what matters.”

I can see his eyes lighten, and he steps back, leaning against the wall of windows behind him. Then he looks sharply at me. “So someone’s trying to get the book now. It is a dangerous book, Blue. It would be an interbreed disaster if it gets into the wrong hands. It could destroy the peace we’ve fought for during the last five hundred years.”

“I know,” I say. “I also learned a few more things today, but before I get into that, I want to show you this.” I reach behind my back and pull out my knife.

Jack’s eyes light up. He holds out his hand and asks, “May I?”

I give it to him hilt forward and watch him caress it with his thumb and eyes. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

“Dragomira gave it to me. I wasn’t sure if I should take it. It’s obviously very valuable. However, after the incident this morning, I couldn’t say no.”

Jack looks up at me with a question in his eyes, then he seems to answer it for himself. “You should keep it,” Jack says. “Do you have a sheath for it?”

I shake my head.

Jack takes it to his closet and steps inside. I see some ammunition belts and swords hanging, but Jack’s broad back blocks my view. He rummages around a little, then closes the door. Turning back to me, he places the knife in a beautifully embossed black leather sheath. He hands it to me. “A weapon this special should be housed properly.”

I smile from ear to ear as I run my fingers over the exquisite craftsmanship.

Jack says, “Now, about the other things you learned. Please tell me everything.” He’s back to his feigned nonchalance again, crossing his legs gracefully as he leans against the window.

“After the M.E.’s, I went to the precinct. The boy was on the missing persons list for twenty-eight days. His name is Jason O’Connell. He had a magical gift, but it’s unclear what it was as he’d just come into power. His mother is Gifted as well, and she hid it from her husband for their entire marriage. When the boy came out, the mother came out as well, and the father split. He is obviously a person of interest, but Gambino isn’t feeling it.”

“You plan on questioning them?”

“Yes. I’ll do that first thing tomorrow. I should be in the office before noon. By the way, can I share openly with Gambino about the book?”

This must be an important question because Jack raps twice on the window behind him in his thoughtful way before answering. “I think we need to tell him a powerful and dangerous book is involved,” he says, “but I don’t think we need to give him details or the history. Furthermore, you shouldn’t tell him where the amulet is. The fewer people who know, the better.”

I nod at this and contemplate it awhile. Jack seems to understand my pause, because he says, “Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to lie. It’s sensitive information and we have a right—no, a responsibility—to keep it confidential. Tell him it falls under the category of privileged information.” I nod again, this time feeling a lot more comfortable.

Then Jack asks, “So, what are your theories on the murder so far?”

I think for a moment. Many theories have run through my head, some more viable than others. “The boy was hit by the car at an angle. It seems to me if someone was purposely running him down it would most likely have been head-on, though not necessarily.

“It’s possible the murderer is not the same person who had the amulet and tortured the boy. I doubt it was the father, because what would the father who hated magic be doing with an amulet? Could the boy have gotten the amulet on his own? I don’t know. I think the amulet is the key to finding out what really happened. I’d like to know more about it.”

Jack says with hooded eyes, “Tomorrow I’m going to the Glenwood Charity Gala. They have a silent auction of magical artifacts. Everyone who is anyone in the magical community will be there, including the most knowledgeable of collectors. Why don’t you accompany me?”

“Isn’t that Gala to support the Green Tree Orphanage?”

Jack nods imperceptibly, and I wonder if he knows I grew up at Green Tree.

“I don’t know,” I hedge, more than slightly embarrassed. “I’m not used to mixing with that crowd.”

Jack smiles warmly. “You’ll be fine. I’ll guide you in anything you need to know. The invitation is exclusive, and the timing is kept confidential, so only share this information with those you trust. Dress in evening attire, and I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Okay,” I say, because it’s an excellent opportunity to meet a collector and gather more information on the amulet. After all, it’s never wise to collect all your information from one source.

Jack becomes serious as he gestures to his guest chair. “Now sit down. We need to discuss the masked man in detail. First of all, why did you leave through the alley entrance rather than the front door?”

I sigh. “Because the front door had a wet paint sign on it. I assume he put it there to direct me to where he lay in wait. I should have been alert, but I was in a rush. Inexcusable, I know.”

Jack ignores my self-berating and says, “A murderer obviously knows where you live, so we must keep an eye on your place. We could have a man there to try to catch him. Is there somewhere else you can stay for a while?”

I give Jack the evil eye, which I hope speaks louder than words, but just in case I vehemently insist, “No way am I going to cower down at someone else’s house. Nor are you putting a stranger in my place. If you want to have someone drive by, fine. But remember I can sense souls. The only reason I was surprised was because I was in a rush. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Jack looks dubious but says nothing further, so I excuse myself.

What does it say that the question most unsettling me as I leave is what in the world am I going to wear to the freaking Gala?

Return to Top