5 A World of Shadows

Sebastian spent the rest of the night in deep thought, inspired by Gamaliel. His early days with his ‘sire,’ Resheph—in his people’s mythology a demon-god of plague—and his encounters with horrors such as Sekhmet had confirmed for him, early on, certain things about his nature. They were now being called into question from all sides, building on a thousand years of trying to repair his world. Resheph taught him how to be a horror, and they had spread a trail of destruction from Mesopotamia through the Fertile Crescent. In Egypt, Resheph had come into conflict with Sekhmet over Resheph’s influence over Pharaoh Amenhotep II. Eventually, the two “deities” had carved out their own places in the local culture, but by that time, Sebastian—Hesed—had long abandoned his sire over disagreement about dealing with Sekhmet. The demonic vampiress terrified Sebastian, so he had taken his leave and traveled to the Egyptian military outposts in Canaan and settled on the outskirts of the coastal city of Byblos.

After the invasion of the so-called “sea peoples,” he remained in the area, dabbling in their politics and amassing a fortune as a soldier for hire. When the capital moved to Tyre, so did he, and he became an active figure in regional trade, often traveling to the cities of the progeny of his cousin Abraham. Oh, he played the human well, but when circumstances required, he was the demon he had been reared to be, slaying a thousand with his right hand, ten thousand with his left. Nevertheless the old ones had terrified him, and he had avoided them when possible.

The old ones were mad, by and large. The humans viewed them as gods, and at some point, they lost their grasp on reality—each imagining himself an unoriginated being, promulgating the message that he or she was the first, or the worst. They answered to no one. Oh such blessed madness. But Sebastian could not forget where he came from: his relatives were with him, wherever he was. He had seen them as slaves in Egypt; he had seen them rise in Canaan. They were a continual reminder of where he came from, and that kept him sane, preserving the last vestiges of his humanity.

But somehow he always knew or feared he was, on some level, every bit the monster that Resheph and Sekhmet were. And yet, Gamaliel was right, he had changed. He had spared a man he hated more than any he had ever met. He was in love! And he had done a great deal of good in the last five hundred years. Sebastian looked at the sky out the window and asked, whispering, “Perhaps we aren’t enemies? Could you ever forgive me?” Something played at the edge of his consciousness, just beyond awareness.

Sebastian turned on the television and turned the volume all the way down, watching the news. Just the usual—murder, theft, rape, child abuse, mysterious illnesses. Hundreds sickened on a Nile River cruise. A freighter taken hostage by Somali pirates. Perhaps Gamaliel was also right when he’d said that vampires were ‘as bad as’ humans. There were a lot of humans who were certainly as bad as he’d ever been—he just had a lot more power.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted quite suddenly. ‘What now?’ he wondered as voices were raised in the hall. He crawled out of the bed and opened the door to see Richard arguing with two darkly dressed young men.

“What do you want?” Sebastian asked, none too friendly.

The younger looking of the two stepped forward, his hand out. “Consul van der Meer, my name is Horatio Vickers. This is Roman Sylvano,” he added, indicating the man to his left, a man in his twenties who looked Italian.

Sebastian looked at his hand, but at last did take it. “You’re a vampire, but Mr. Sylvano, you seem human….”

Stepping forward, Sylvano drove his hands deep into his pockets, looking around warily. “I am. I am Strega….”

“Ah,” Sebastian said with a smile. “One does not find many practitioners of la vecchia religione on these shores. Since when do the streghe work as enforcers for the Council?”

“Roman is accompanying me strictly in an advisorial capacity, consul,” Vickers answered.

Looking to Richard, Sebastian said, “Sit with James, please?” Richard looked at the two visitors warily, but nodded. “You will excuse us for being a little on edge, gentlemen, but you’ve come at a very difficult time. I’ve sired a vampire who has just awakened….”

Vickers cocked his head to the side curiously. “I’m sorry. It’s just, I’d heard that you didn’t, or wouldn’t, turn people!”

Sebastian gave the man a hard look before smiling. He liked the young vampire. “How old are you, Vickers?”

“Around three hundred, sir! I was born in the colonies,” the man replied.

Sebastian smiled brightly. “The last time I turned a human was in the 12th century!” He grinned at the startled look on the young man’s face. “I’m older than I look,” he added, turning to Sylvano, who nodded appreciatively.

“If I may be so bold, sir,” Vickers began, hesitantly.

“You take your life into your own hands,” Sebastian said with a serious look, before breaking into a smile at Horatio’s horrified look. “I’m kidding of course…. Ask away!”

Vickers looked a little gun-shy but he asked anyway—“Why?”

“Why?” Sebastian asked.

“Why did you do it? After so long, I mean,” Vickers wondered.

Sebastian smiled and thought for a moment. “I fell in love…. And he was shot, dying in my arms. Truth be told, I wasn’t ready to let go….” Vickers shrugged, but Sylvano caught his eye with a very serious and subtle nod of appreciation. Something knowing in the look made Sebastian curious about the dark and mysterious strega. “Vickers, I tell you, don’t believe everything you’ve heard about vampires!”

Vickers laughed and nodded, “I suppose you’d know….”

“Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?” Sebastian asked.

“We’d like your permission to operate in your region. Specifically, we’re investigating two mysterious disappearances that are potentially sensitive,” Vickers said, looking over his shoulder nervously.

Sylvano spoke now. “Two of my people have disappeared in as many weeks in this very state, consul! Our representative to the Shadow Council is very concerned that our interests be defended. Only a very powerful entity or group could move against a mature strega without any sign! We are … very concerned.”

Sebastian’s eyes flashed. “Why is this the first I am hearing of it? Why, when the first practitioner disappeared, was I not notified at once?” he asked angrily, knowing Vickers would pass along his disapproval to the Consuls responsible for keeping him in the dark.

“Well, sir, one could have been a fluke,” Vickers said nervously.

“Mr. Vickers, as Mr. Sylvano points out, it would take a very powerful force to take out a strega without any sign or trace! I know it well, so one is not a fluke! Perhaps I have been too lax in overseeing my district. Or perhaps information is being kept from me?” Sebastian took a moment. “How can I assist you?”

“Well, your permission is all we expected,” Horatio sputtered.

Sylvano took the opportunity however. “Could you spare a couple of operatives? We have a great deal of ground to cover, and time, I fear, is not on our side.” Vickers looked peeved, but nodded.

“Where are you staying?” They told him the name of their hotel and Sebastian took out his phone and texted three of his nearest local operatives to meet the men ASAP. “I’ve assigned three of my men to meet you at your hotel. Please keep me apprised of your progress…. Oh, and why don’t you come by my home for dinner tomorrow?” The men nodded and went on their way. Sebastian walked back to the room where Richard sat dutifully by the bed.

“Is everything alright, Sebastian?” Richard asked.

“No. Strange things stirring here it seems,” he said with a private chuckle, thinking again of his recent encounter with an angel. Strange things indeed. “Can you look after him for a while longer, my friend? I must go….”

“Of course, Sebastian,” Richard said.

“Remember, stay close to him when a human is in the room. Remember how to keep him focused.”

“Go,” Richard said with a laugh.

Sebastian waved and disappeared into the darkness. He made a hasty retreat to his home and to his basement bunker. Placing his hand on a panel on his large desk, a computer slid out. He used a special 26-digit code to log onto a sub-network that connected him to the other upper-level leaders of the Shadow Network. Finding that two other consuls, Pedro Salazar of Central America and Americ Bellanuova of Southern Europe were online, he invited them to video conference.

Americ was the first to respond, his face flashing on the screen with a smile. Americ was handsome, with classically good looks. In his mid- to late-thirties when turned, Americ’s hair was slightly graying, and there was a trace of wrinkles around his eyes, which were bold and smiling. “How are you, my friend?” Americ asked.

“Concerned, Americ,” Sebastian responded.

“Hmmm,” the man replied with a smile.

Just then, Pedro logged on. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Sebastian? Americ!”

“I was just saying…. Two operatives from US West just arrived and tracked me to the hospital to get my permission to investigate the disappearance of two powerful Streghe in my own back yard!”

“Two?” Pedro asked with shock.

“So you hadn’t heard either? I was wondering if I was being shut out,” Sebastian said.

“No one would dare, Sebastian,” Americ insisted. “Perhaps the Streghe were keeping it under wraps but when the second disappeared they needed our help?”

“Perhaps…. But the council operative, Vickers, seemed to have known about this for a while,” Sebastian said.

Pedro looked concerned for a moment then pondered out loud, “Is it possible that US West has been compromised?”

Sebastian shook his head. “Christen Wheeler? I don’t think so. I mean, she was one of the few leaders of the witches to get on board with their joining the council!”

“Perhaps she’s being undermined,” Americ suggested. “Someone within her organization?”

Suddenly, all of their screens flashed red, as an alert scrolled across the bottom of the screen: “CODE RED…. EGYPT…. Outbreak on Nile cruise supernatural in origin…. Cover story—contagious disease requires quarantine…. North African Consul requests teleconference at 10 15 GMT…”

“My friends, it looks as if things are getting hairy,” Sebastian said. “Tell me, are your regions having any strange or seemingly unrelated occurrences that tie back to either of these events?”

“Not that I can think of,” Americ began. “Wait! You know, there was a strange theft a few weeks ago of an ancient religious artifact from the National Etruscan Museum in Rome: a funerary jar….”

“Americ, Stregheria is heavily influenced by Etruscan religious practice! And two strega are missing here,” Sebastian suggested.

“Gentlemen, we may have a problem,” Pedro mused. “A few medicine men in my region have gone missing. We thought perhaps they were on a vision quest, but they have still not returned. I wonder, is someone moving against traditional witches?”

Sebastian typed out a universal notice: “CODE ORANGE…. All regions, please report unusual activity involving native/old religions, particularly those with traditions of magick…. Theft of magical objects, missing persons, murders, etc. Consul van der Meer, US East….” To his counterparts, he said, “I have a bad feeling, gentlemen…. I’ll see you at 10 15….” Americ and Pedro both bade him a quick farewell as they each logged off.

Sebastian searched for details of the Egypt incident, but found little. Egypt…. Somehow, after all these years, the place still spooked him. He’d never returned. The last time he saw the Sphinx, it had been a well-maintained monument with a nose!

Sebastian called Richard to let him know he was going to wait by the computer for the conference with the consul of North Africa and to ask him to apologize to James if he woke up before Sebastian returned. When Musa al-Kisai, the consul of North Africa came online, Sebastian was the first to connect. A handsome, well-built Arab who looked no more than 22 came up on the screen.

“Greetings, my old friend,” Sebastian said warmly.

“Sebastian! To see you makes my weary heart race,” Musa grinned.

Sebastian laughed. “It has been too long, you hound! So, you’ve seen my alert?”

The man’s eyes narrowed and he nodded nervously. “We’ve been recording faint tremors near the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and in a location of no importance about near the Valley of the Kings. They aren’t earthquakes, and of course no drilling or blasting would be allowed….”

Sebastian looked down and carefully considered what he would say next. “Musa, I am deeply concerned about the site near the Valley of the Kings! It wouldn’t happen to be about 10 miles north northwest from the valley, would it?”

“How did you know this, Sebastian?” Musa asked, curious.

“I was in Egypt once, many years ago…. There was a legend of a subterranean temple complex out there. We need to get our best people on this as quietly as possible. Do you have any archeologists on your payroll?”

“We do! We can have a permit from the Antiquities Ministry by mid-day,” Musa declared.

“If you need brute man-power, I can send some of my men,” Sebastian offered.

“That would be much appreciated, my friend! Perhaps you should come yourself…. There is plenty of room in my bed,” Musa offered with a laugh.

“Musa, there was a time when I would have found that offer impossible to pass up! But I have found someone. The one,” Sebastian explained.

“What is this!? My Sebastian, in love?” Musa teased.

Sebastian smiled in spite of himself. “He is the one for whom I was made, my friend….”

Musa smiled. He was one of the few vampires Sebastian had ever met who believed in such things; he was also religious, which Sebastian had once thought a foolish paradox. “God is great, my little Sebastian,” Musa offered.

Musa’s face changed to astonishment when his comment was met not by the accustomed reproof, but by a simple and smiling nod. “Perhaps He is, Musa? Perhaps He is….”

But their exchange was cut short as other consuls and governors (sub-consuls) logged on. When representatives from most geographical regions were logged in, Musa began, “Thank you for heeding my call, ladies and gentlemen! As of this morning, I can tell you that of 120 passengers on a 3-night Nile River cruise, 80 are dead and the rest remain in quarantine, under my authority. The government of Egypt is standing aside. There is no evidence of pathogens or poisons, or of terrorism. The seers and healers who have seen the bodies indicate that they do expect the dead to rise….”

A general commotion ensued, and Sebastian leaned in. “Pardon me, Musa, but are you trying to tell us that 80 humans have been turned in a single weekend?”

“No, my friends…. We are awaiting word from an expert who has just flown in from West Africa, but it seems as if these bodies were prepared for zombification!”

The commotion increased, and there was a sense of almost panic among the members. “But why?” one delegate demanded. “Surely they must have known we would respond by destroying these … abominations and hunting down those responsible!”

Sebastian interjected, “I suspect they never expected us to find out before it was too late!”

“Right you are,” Musa said, somberly. “We believe that the terrorists expected to kill and reanimate all the passengers, but some survived to call for help. Had this not happened, a ghost ship full of zombies would have docked in Cairo in two days’ time, with disastrous effect!”

“Terrorist is the right word,” Sebastian mused angrily. “Someone is threatening to bring our world into view! We’ve fought long and hard to prevent this from happening. I have already promised manpower to support the efforts in Egypt and I invite you all to do the same! In the meantime, I propose we consult the Oracle.”

“Do you really think that that is warranted, Consul van der Meer,” a governor from Tibet asked anxiously. “The Council hasn’t resorted to the Oracle since….”

“I know very well how long it’s been! I myself made the journey in 1943 to face the Oracle when it seemed as if all was lost to the Nazis and we would all be exposed. You will all recall the price I paid for that encounter, so you’ll know I do not suggest this lightly….”

A general silence fell over the assembled creatures, and Musa asked, “If you support consulting the Oracle, please indicate your vote by pressing the red button.” In the end, the vote was approved by 75%. Somberly, Musa asked, “Sebastian, who shall we ask to undertake this task?”

Again, the silence was absolute, and suddenly Sebastian felt a very heavy weight as he weighed the choices. He could go himself again, but it was too risky with James so newly turned and danger hanging over them all. He’d ask Richard, but the man was a bit young to face the Oracle.

“Unless one of you or your governors would like to volunteer,” he began with a heavy pause, unsurprised when no one did, “I would like to suggest that we seek the assistance of Avery Salazar.”

Suddenly, the entire assembly was in an uproar, as private conversations and angry shouts broke out across the internet. Inside, Sebastian was grinning, as he shook his head at these “elder” shades! They could be so childish.

“Consul!” one man shouted the rest down, “With all due respect, you can’t be serious!”

Sebastian now smiled on the outside, and leaned into his microphone. “I am quite serious. It would be irresponsible to send a vampire of any less than 500 years to the Oracle, and none of you seem willing! Shapeshifters, by and large, do not heal as well as we vampires do, so the damage that could be inflicted would be more injurious.” The few werewolves and other shapeshifters present shook their heads in assent to that point. “Wizards and witches have the benefit of being human, so they stand a good chance of escaping the Oracle’s notorious dislike of our kinds, and, if not, a powerful wizard could counter most of the Oracle’s magick. And Avery Salazar is the most powerful wizard I’ve known who is still alive!”

Consul Chang leaned in and interrupted. “We all know of your vocal opposition to the sentence this Council imposed against Salazar! One cannot help but feel that you are taking this opportunity to lift the exile imposed against your friend….”

“What exactly are you accusing me of, Consul Chang?” Sebastian asked with a sinister quiet in his voice.

“Perhaps it is merely opportunism, or perhaps it is something more,” Chang replied.

“That,” Sebastian said with a heavy pause, “is very serious double-talk! And by the laws of this Council, I would be within my rights to demand the opportunity to defend my honor!” Quiet whispers broke out, but he shushed them. “However, I will, for the moment, waive that right, if Consul Chang will either support my suggestion or volunteer to undertake the task himself!”

Chang leaned in angrily. “So, if I don’t accept Salazar, and presumably a pardon, then….”

“Then you may either face the Oracle, or you may face me in a battle. In either case, the sentence is death,” Sebastian completed his thought.

A freezing silence fell over the assembled representatives, as Chang’s face reddened. “Recall Salazar, then, if that is the will of the Council,” he said, as his screen went black.

Musa spoke again, “That’s one vote in favor of recalling ex-Consul Salazar from his exile and offering him a pardon in exchange for his seeking out the advice of the Oracle. Please indicate your approval by pressing the red button!” Lights began to flash as nearly 90% gave their assent, motivated by fear of Sebastian’s wrath. Sebastian was given the charge of summoning him and convincing him to undertake the task.

As the meeting concluded with pledges of support for the Egyptian operations, Americ sent Sebastian a private message, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Sebastian. Let me know if you need anything. A.”

Pedro Salazar, however, called him into a private video conference and looked at him beaming. “My brother always said you’d never let him down, Sebastian! I can’t thank you enough!”

“Well, Avery still has to accept and succeed,” Sebastian cautioned.

“You know he will, Sebastian! You know our family!” Pedro declared.

“The strangest in our world, my friend! One brother a wizard, the other a vampire…. Your brother and I had some interesting adventures in the day,” Sebastian recalled.

       “When will you recall him?” Pedro asked.

       “If he agrees, tonight! I’ll get him in touch with you as soon as he comes home,” Sebastian promised.

       “Thank you, Sebastian, thank you,” Pedro said.

“Goodbye for now, Pedro.” Sebastian signed off and sat back in his chair. Zombies in Egypt, strange disappearances, tremors, now Avery Salazar and the Oracle, all on top of James returning to him! What a day, and it was still morning!

Back at the hospital, he found James up and in good spirits, talking to Richard. “You look terrible,” the boy said to him. “Can we go home?”

“Has the doctor cleared you? We need everything to look right on paper.” Richard nodded and tapped his head with three wavy fingers—he had apparently given the man some guidance. “Let’s go,” Sebastian said. Richard fetched the car and a nurse wheeled James out to the classic limo. Back at home, the three vampires rested, James drifting into deep and dreamless sleep.

Night came early, and they were all up and alert when Peter, Chris and Steve all arrived. “Sheesh, man, you’re home quick! When will you be back to school?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know,” James said.

Sebastian jumped in and added, “He’ll need a lot of therapy and that sort of thing for a while, so probably not before spring.” James nodded, understanding that it would probably be that long before he could stand prolonged exposure to humans he didn’t care deeply about, or more dangerously, humans he disliked.

The guys sat around talking to him for a while, and they all said they’d be at his mother’s funeral, which had been postponed a few days so he could attend. They shared some tearful conversations about the woman, who had been well liked by the guys on the team. Only Chris did not know her very well.

Soon, though, they left so he could get his rest. Once they were gone, Sebastian asked James and Richard to accompany him to the basement. Handing Richard a piece of chalk, he said, “Please draw me a magical circle about 10 feet across, with the directions marked….” While Richard was doing that, Sebastian took candles and placed a different color at each of the cardinal directions. Then Sebastian made a thick ring of rock salt outside the chalk. To James, he merely said, “Watch.”

“What are you doing?” James asked.

“I am contacting an old friend,” Sebastian answered. Then he removed all his clothes unabashedly and donned a white robe. “I summon you, guardian wind of the north, come and stand in your place, opening this magical circle! I summon you, guardian wind of the east, come and stand in your place, opening this magical circle! I summon you, guardian wind of the south, come and stand in your place, opening this magical circle! I summon you, guardian wind of the west, come and stand in your place, opening this magical circle! Guardian winds protect this circle that none may enter and none may exit, that what is in this world remains here, that what is in that world remains there!” The two circles glowed, the inner blue, the outer white, as a gentle breeze filled the basement. “Across the vast expanse of space and time I conjure thee, Avery Salazar, from your place in the ancient prison of Ashaer! Appear before me, come to me, hear my call!”

A dirty figure appeared curled in the fetal position in the midst of the circle. James started for him but Sebastian grabbed his arm. “Do not cross the circle!”

The figure made no move or noise other than a soft sobbing. “Avery! Avery my friend?” Slowly the figure uncurled and looked at the three men, as if he doubted their reality.

“Where am I? Who are you?” Avery asked.

“You are in my basement. I am Sebastian, your old friend….”

“Sebastian? Is it really you? Sometimes the jailors at Ashaer come to us … as people from our past to get information.”

“Do you remember when we met? You were just a boy of twelve. I had come to your father seeking refuge. I taught you your first bit of magick—how to addle the mind of the young maidens you chased after!”

The man laughed despite his tears. “And tell me, mirage, given that knowledge, which of those girls gave me my first kiss?”

Sebastian laughed. “I did, of course! And I was surprised I didn’t have to addle your mind, either!”

“It was the eighteenth century! Most of the girls in my village weren’t as pretty as you!” the man declared with a laugh, rising shakily to his feet. His body, dirty and covered with cuts and bruises from instruments of torture, was also exquisitely built beneath all that, with a soft coat of light brown hair on his long legs and around his impressive manhood. He stood nude with noble pride before them. “Sebastian, what’s going on?”

“I have gotten the Council to agree to pardon and recall you,” he said, but Avery cut him off.

“On what condition?” Avery asked.

“We are living in strange times, my friend. We require the guidance of the Oracle, and,” he paused, looking longingly at James, “I cannot go myself.” Avery looked at James with interest, curiosity, and a bit of something else.

“I should leave them all to their own mess,” Avery said.

“What of the rest of the world, Avery? What of yourself? Your punishment could very well last forever, otherwise,” Sebastian pleaded.

“Sebastian,” Avery began, but Sebastian cut him off.

“Avery, your brother! Come back to him … come back to us, my friend!”

The man looked hard at Sebastian, and nodded, “For … for my friends, for my brother … I’ll do this thing you ask!”

Sebastian nodded, then sighed and said, “Swear to it, by the ancient code?”

The man extended his palm and said, “I swear by the ancient code that I shall undertake to do as I have promised my friend to the best of my ability, and should I shirk this duty, may I perish in that very hour!”

“It is done,” Sebastian said, as static crackled between them. Then he reached out with his foot and broached the two circles. “Four watchmen, I release you this day with thanks,” he said with a wave of his hand, stepping into the circle just as Avery collapsed into his arms.

“Richard, help me get him upstairs to the shower!” Together, the older vampires helped the man up to the second floor and into the large shower in Sebastian’s room, while James waited downstairs.

He took out the violin and sat practicing in a chair by the window, and time began to pass unnoticed. He jumped a little when Sebastian said, “Wonderful, darling!”

Setting the violin in its case, James turned to Sebastian and looked at him solemnly. “Who is this man, Avery?”

Sebastian led him to the couch and said, smiling, “When I met him, he was just a boy on the verge of becoming a young man. I was a worldly older boy to him, though he quickly realized who, or what, I was…. He was always such a prodigy!”

“You kissed,” James said.

“James,” he said with a smile. “I’ve had a long life, and I’ve kissed a lot of men, and more than kissed! You know that! Avery was different. We just played around like boys! I taught him to kiss, and to jack off. But girls were his thing, usually. It was always just playful between us, except for the magick. Like I say, he was a prodigy, and he learned from me over the decades. I’d come and go and every time we met, he was stronger and stronger! I’d hazard to say that I still know more magick than he does, but the forces he can command are much more powerful. I remember when he stopped aging. Wizards and witches age more slowly the more power they command, but long before Avery learned to control the force of time itself, or at least its effects on him. When he couldn’t do the same for his brother, he tried to get me to turn Pedro. I refused, but Avery managed to find someone, I’m still not absolutely sure who…. I think Avery was afraid I would kill the vampire responsible. In any case, his brother is a very powerful member of the Shadow Council: he holds the same position I do, Consul…. Avery used to hold that position as well, before he was exiled to the Ashaer prison in a mystical dimension created to hold the worst offenders.”

“Why was he sent there?” James asked.

“They were afraid,” a weak voice replied, and Avery made his way around, clad in Sebastian’s favorite, silk pants and robe. He sat opposite James and Sebastian, quiet for a moment. “The Council never understood that I am insatiable not for power but for knowledge. My extremely power is entirely uninteresting to me except as a side-effect of what I’m really after. But the rest … oh they were afraid I would … what, take over?”

“That’s not all,” Sebastian said, chiding.

“No, that’s not all! There was a woman—she was very special to me! A werewolf killed her savagely one evening after she left the dance studio where she taught. I tracked him down and interrogated him!”

“Interrogated him?” Sebastian asked with arched eyebrows.

Avery smiled grimly and shrugged, “How does the fellow in the movie put it, ‘I’m going to tear your soul apart’? I took that like a serious suggestion. In any case, he was the chief enforcer for the consul for East Asia, and he would not have acted without his master’s authorization!”

“So you killed the consul?” James asked.

“I like this one,” Avery said, smiling. “I did kill the consul! And his second in command!”

Sebastian leaned back and added, “And his bodyguards, and his best friend, and his mistress!”

“Oh, and don’t forget the consul’s headquarters in Hong Kong,” Avery added with a sad laugh.

“That was the thing that did it; that really screwed us, Avery! Avery blew up this compound in downtown Hong Kong in the middle of the afternoon!” Sebastian said.

James nodded, raising his eyebrows. “In retrospect,” Avery said, “perhaps it was a bit of overkill, but … I … I can’t say I wouldn’t do it again!”

“You loved her,” James stated.

“More than I thought I could! I was so angry, consumed with grief and…. But I think you might understand, now, Sebastian?” The ancient vampire stood and walked to the window, as Avery reached out and touched James’s elbow, motioning for him to turn to face him. “Let me get a good look at you, James!” James smiled and turned to face him. Avery put a hand on his cheek, not sensually but curiously. He moved his fingers to James’s temple and raised his other hand to the other temple.

“Avery!” Sebastian said, turning around. “What are you doing!?”

“I’m reading him! He doesn’t seem to mind,” the man said, laughing, not at all noticing that James was leaning in more and more.

“That’s because … your blood, Avery!” In a flash, Sebastian was at James’s side, squeezing his hand firmly. “Listen to me, James! James, control! Remember what he is!”

James shook his head, “Sorry…. What were we talking about?”

Sebastian ran his hand through the boy’s hair and kissed the side of his head. “Nothing, sweetheart. Avery wants to try one of his parlor tricks on you, but listen, focus on his face and just remember who and what he is! Don’t let the scent of the blood mesmerize you!” Avery got closer and put his hands back on the boy’s temples.

“Hmmm? Something … what?” Avery sat back and looked at Sebastian, then James, then back at Sebastian. “How old are you?”

James looked at Sebastian, who shrugged. “Nearly nineteen….”

Frustrated, Avery shook his head. “How old are you as a vampire, since you’ve turned?”

“I would have been nineteen, next month, but I only just turned a few days ago!”

“That,” Avery said, shaking his head resolutely, “is not possible!”

“And yet, it is the case,” Sebastian said brusquely. “I sired him myself.”

Avery looked enigmatic. “Hmmm. Perhaps? It’s nothing like any vampire I’ve ever met! Of all the vampires I’ve come across—and remember, I was a consul, James—I’ve never felt a vampire like you! There’s something … off about your aura! And it feels so old, so powerful!” Again he shook his head. “James, look into my eyes. Concentrate really hard on something you want me to do, something you don’t think I’d do otherwise. Really concentrate!”

James smiled, but noticed Sebastian had a very curious look. James looked into the man’s eyes, and suddenly a very dirty idea came into his head. He smiled and concentrated. As Sebastian watched wide-eyed, his old friend opened his robe and began to stroke himself with a faraway look in his eyes, rapidly he working his way to orgasm. James broke his gaze and Avery shook his head, slowly realizing what he had been doing. “Naughty boy,” he chastised with a grin, reaching for some tissues. As he tossed the tissue into the trash bin, he asked, “Sebastian?”

“What, aren’t vampires supposed to have this mind-control?” James asked innocently.

“Usually, it takes years to develop any skill to manipulate normal humans! And Avery is no normal human. He honed his skill at resisting over many years as a consul. Many of his underlings would have loved to take advantage of his human weakness, otherwise! Now, truth be told, I’m sure he wasn’t resisting you very actively!”

“I might have had I known what your little imp had in mind,” Avery grinned.

“But still, a vampire only risen two days ago has no business,” Sebastian began, but he was interrupted.

“Another test?” Avery asked, and Sebastian nodded. Avery called for Richard. “Richard, if you don’t mind, could you stand here and let James look into your eyes?” Richard did as he asked. “Now James, as before, but … let’s keep it rated R!”

James looked at Richard and thought, what to do? Richard began to lean in, putting a hand on the boy’s cheek. When he was less than an inch from kissing James, James let his mind clear and Richard stood dazed, withdrawing his hand quickly.

“I … I’m sorry, I don’t know what! Sebastian,” Richard stammered.

Sebastian laughed. “Not at all, Richard, not at all! We were just testing James’s powers, and it seems we’ve got more questions than answers. He’s developed enough power to exercise mind control on other vampires!”

“What?” Richard asked, shocked. “I still couldn’t…. That’s … not possible!”

“So I was saying,” Avery said, “and nevertheless. I’m at a loss, my friends.”

“Well, he did feed on me upon waking. He would have attained some of my….”

“And that is an enormous boost, Sebastian, but in abilities, not so much in power! He has the power of a very old vampire, and the only thing holding him back is inexperience! He must be trained immediately!”

Sebastian nodded, “But you, my friend, must rest! You have an urgent task to undertake as soon as possible!”

“Indeed! I planned to rest for two days, and go see the old hag day after tomorrow,” Avery announced.

Sebastian nodded, and said, “Call your brother! I promised him!” Avery nodded and walked to a guest room. When Avery was gone, Sebastian gazed into the faraway space.

“Have I done something … wrong?” James asked, looking nervous. Sebastian smiled and put a hand on James’s cheek.

“No, my beautiful boy,” Sebastian said, “only very unusual, and it’s been an unusual sort of day!” “Tell me about it?” James laid his head on Sebastian’s chest and curled up on the couch. Sebastian smiled and recounted the events that had occurred since the previous evening.