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“He’s dead!” The girl ran into the street, heavy rain pouring down and soaking her. “He’s dead! Lord Mathias is dead!” she shrieked.

A passerby dropped his umbrella, grabbing the girl by the shoulders. “Miss Ruby, what’s happened?”

“Lord Mathias has been murdered”

 

 

Vampire Lord Waylon Mathias Found Slain

 

The headline was ominous. Jo scanned the article. Apparently the lord had been staked and decapitated in his chambers the day before. His head maid had found him and gone out into the streets in hysterics. The council was ruling it a suicide, though Jo was pretty sure that was impossible. No vampire lord, especially not Mathias, would ever off themselves in such a way. It was barbaric. Besides, if he’d already been staked, how could he possibly have had the strength to cut his own head off? It just wasn’t possible. Something was going on, and Joanna Harley was sure of it.

The café was busy for a Thursday afternoon. It was mid-September, meaning the school children hadn’t yet been released for break. Perhaps it was the dreary weather that was making everyone want to grab a warm cup of coffee.

The rain spattered on Jo’s umbrella as she made the walk back to her apartment. It was a dumpy place in the middle of the slums. That’s where her kind were sent. She was of the sort that had been labeled not only undesirable in most circles, but quite literally forbidden.

The paint on the walls had long since developed a yellow tone, peeling and chipping all along the hallways. Jo’s room was on the fourth floor, just low enough to have a rotten view, and just high enough to be a pain, especially when the elevator was broken more often than not. There was a shout from further up the staircase, followed by a series of bangs. Jo sped up, finding a hooded figure on the landing, gathering the spilled contents of a cardboard box.

“Do you need help?” she asked, moving to assist before receiving a reply.

“Uh, that’d be great, actually.” The person said, voice a little nasally. She began helping to put things back in the box. The scattered contents were of all sorts, pictures, none of which appeared to be of people, books, a bottle of detergent, and an orange cable, among other things. She reached out to grab one of the fallen books, hand brushing against the other’s for a moment. She jerked back, the feeling of smooth scales catching her by surprise. She looked up, staring into frightened eyes. The boy’s face was mostly normal, though there were several patches of green toned scales around his jaw and cheekbones. They were spaced randomly, almost like a skin condition, but they were unmistakably reptilian. Jo stared for a moment before smiling and placing the book back in the box. “Thank you.” The boy said sincerely, balancing the box in his hands.

“Anytime,” Jo waved “you need any more help with that?”

“Nah, it’s the last one, I think I can make it up one more flight.” He laughed, snorting a little. “You wanna go ahead up? I might be a little slow.” He asked, gesturing to the staircase.

“Nah, you go ahead, don’t wanna leave you to clean all that up alone again.” Jo smiled, shoving a hand in the front pocket of her jeans.

She’d tried her best to make the crummy little apartment home. It wasn’t a nice little house in the suburbs, but it was what she had, and she’d learned to make the best of it.

At fifteen, walking home from a friend’s house late one night, Jo had been bitten. The rules stated that no creature was to live amongst humans, and so, she was uprooted, sent to live in the slums with others that had been turned, various undesirables, and abominations. The bitten weren’t like normal vampires. The amount of blood they needed to survive was astounding, hunger rage more common among them. There was another problem with the bitten; they had no fangs, and no way to absorb the blood should they drink it. At one time, this had meant anyone bitten was due to run mad and murderous until they finally died, unable to get the blood they needed. Modern medicine had made it possible for them to survive, infusing them with concentrated blood every few weeks. Still, they were considered dirty and dangerous, like feral beasts in the eyes of the elite.

A knock on the door startled Jo. It was rare she had visitors. She didn’t really get out a whole lot, and her landlord never stopped by. She wasn’t even sure the woman was actually still alive, or, well, undead at least. She crept to the door warily, looking through the peephole before swinging the ratty thing open and wrapping her arms around the girl on the other side.

“Jo, calm down, please.” The young woman spoke softly, eyes darting about as though she were afraid of being seen. “Let’s just get inside, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” Jo stepped to the side, allowing her guest in. “God, I haven’t seen you in forever Ruby! What’ve you been up to?” Jo took a moment to scan her friend’s appearance. Ruby was a natural redhead with green eyes like daggers. She was a pretty thing, though she was a bit stiff at the best of times. “Last I heard, you were working with the high society guys.”

“I was-I am, sort of. I seem to have found myself the heir to a substantial fortune.” Her words were hollow, void of the excitement one would be expected to have saying such a thing. She wrapped herself tighter in the black coat she’d warn, seeming to bury herself in the thing.

“How on earth did that happen? Man, I knew you were born a vamp and all, but we went to the same school and everything, how’d you find yourself up with the elites?” Jo had noticed Ruby’s downcast words and expression, but such a thing was not uncommon for her. Ruby was closed off and difficult to really connect with on an emotional level. If she was upset, it was unlikely she’d say a word about it.

“My employer passed recently.” Ruby held her voice steady, though it was forced.

“I’m so sorry to hear that, who was it? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“I was the handmaid of Lord Mathias.”

Jo froze. She stopped her frantic pacing, eyes scanning her friend’s face for lies. “Stay here, I’ll grab the wine. I get the feeling we’ll need it.”

“Please.”

 

“So, you think something’s up too, don’t you?” Jo took a sip from her glass.

“Absolutely. Mathias was a good man, he would never have done such a thing, especially where his staff could find him.” A darkness flashed across Ruby’s eyes. Jo then remembered the article. The head maid had found the body. That would have been Ruby. She was the one to stumble into that bloodbath and find the butchered body of her master. “If he were genuinely planning to take his own life, he would never have done it in the ceremonial manner, and he would have told me.”

“Are you sure about that?” Jo asked, beginning to scribble notes down.

“Positive. Mathias had many political enemies. Any one of them could be a suspect, yet the council refuses to even acknowledge the possibility.”

“That doesn’t make any sense though? Suicide was a wobbly excuse to begin with, but with a long list of potential suspects, why would they assume that?” Jo sat forward in her seat, brain switched into interview mode. Now wasn’t the time to be talking with a friend, now was the time to be interrogating a witness.

“I think it’s a cover up. I think the council knows something, might have even had a hand in it.”

“That’s a pretty big accusation, Ruby.”

“Murder is a pretty serious crime, Joanna.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what was Lord Mathias working on that had earned him so many enemies?” Ruby sighed, leaning back in her chair and downing the rest of her wine.

“He wanted to end the segregation.” Jo nearly dropped her notepad. “Entirely.” Jo dropped her pen. “He wanted humans and creatures, of all sorts,” Ruby made a pointed look in Jo’s direction “to live amongst one another.”

 

“Hey, didn’t expect to see you again so soon.” Jo waved. The boy from earlier had just entered the laundry room, finding her plopped in a chair, waiting for her clothes to dry.

“Oh, uh, hi.” He greeted awkwardly, returning the wave tentatively.

“Don’t think I got your name earlier, I’m Jo.”

“Emerson.”

Her head was still buzzing. This conversation was occurring in a very small part of her consciousness, the rest occupied testing theories. After she’d shown Ruby out, giving her instructions to call if anything else came up, she spent nearly an hour just sitting, thinking. It had finally occurred to her that she had chores to do, but her brain wouldn’t stop. If the council had really had something to do with Mathias’s murder, they were in trouble. It meant that everyone was in danger, especially activists. The council was supposed to provide order, peace, this was a potential dystopian nightmare.

“Hey? You okay?” the boy waved, suddenly right in front of her, or had he been there a while? What did he say his name was?

“Uh, I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I said you don’t look so good, maybe you oughtta lie down? You’re lookin’ a little pale.” His tongue flicked out, tasting the air as he spoke. It was forked.

“I think you might be right.” She mumbled, holding a hand to her forehead, which suddenly felt like it was full of bricks.

“Hey, I can bring your clothes up to you when they’re done if you want?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“We’ll call it even from earlier.”

Jo smiled. “Alright, I’m on the fourth floor, 408.” She stood on shaky legs, making her towards the door. “Thank you.”

 

“Well I’m glad you came in Joanna, your levels were dangerously low.” The nurse muttered cheerfully as she peeled her gloves off.

“I was afraid of that, last night had me feeling rather ill.” Jo smiled back at the kindly woman. The setup for bitten was a little dramatic if you asked her, but she understood. They had a rep. Society didn’t trust them.

They had to be given sedation, though mild, just to keep their bodies from overreacting to or rejecting the blood, which was administered in concentrated doses through IV. The sedation was given in gas form, through tubes in the nose or a mask, depending on the practice. It was also a legal requirement that they be restrained somehow. Usually that meant an ankle cuffed to the bed, but again, it depended on the practice. Some of the bitten who went to long without treatment would go feral at the sight of blood, they were a danger, to everyone.

 

“See you in two weeks Joanna, always a pleasure.”

“Thank you Mabel.” She waved off as she left the building. It was a little ratty, just like everything in the slums, but the security was high. They couldn’t risk a feral bitten getting out, after all.

“Ah, you’re out.” An accented voice sounded from beside the door. Jo turned, body tensing, only to find her previous night’s visitor wrapped up in a coat, leaning against the brick wall.

“What are you doing here, Ruby? I thought you’d already headed back to West End.”

“I’d planned to, originally.” Ruby shrugged, pushing herself off the wall. “But, I’ve made a decision, and I hoped you’d be willing to help.”

“Well that depends on what your decision is Ruby; I’m not sure how much I could do, I don’t really have much of a social standing in case you haven’t noticed.”

“That’s exactly why I need your help. I’ve decided to carry on Mathias’s work.”

“The work that got him killed?” Jo spoke in a harsh whisper, eyes darting back and forth.

“He trusted me with his estate, all of it. It will do no good for me to rot, rolling in the wealth of a man whose vision will be lost to the ages. I’ve got to do something. This,” Ruby gestured around them “isn’t right, and you know it.”

“Of course I know it! Everyone here knows it, but that’s just the way it is! They don’t want us, and no matter how much money you throw into the game, we’re street rats to them.”

“Then be more than that! Mathias’s estate might not solve the problem, but at least it’s a step up.”

“Ruby,” Jo slowed her voice, “no amount of money in the world can fix this system, it’s too deeply ingrained into these people.”

“Then break the system.”


Submitted: September 19, 2018

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