1 - A Grave and a Madman

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The man had been dead for hours.

His murderer kept screaming, still bloodied, his gnarled hands gummy with the drying liquid. The policemen circled him in a ring of bodies, their faces painted red and gold in the oscillating lights coming off the police cruisers stalled among the crumbling gravestones. The tires made fresh ruts in the unkempt grass. A young rookie spooked by the murderer's caterwauling tightened his grip on the length of chain looped about the murderer's neck.

The vampire's screams heightened as the silver smoked against his skin.

Night shrouded the surrounding woods, and the hills rose like shrugging shoulders against the sky. The three Fae Seelie creatures stood with their backs to the trees, all three swathed in robes of alabaster and gold, the embroidered fabric rippling in the evening breeze, their hair bright against the backdrop of twilit trunks and drab, uniformed officers. They spoke in clipped voices and agitated hand gestures and thin chains of gold bobbed from their throats and ears.

I could see the same phrase, "Our Court, our land!", flying from their sculpted mouths again and again.

The Seelie spat their words over the heads of the detectives and the deputies separating them from the four shadowed vampires standing at the iron fence. The vampires were unimpressed; they crossed their arms and tipped their chins up with bored smirks on their lips. Nobody wandered too close or stared for too long at the four individuals waiting aloof from the noisy scene. The tallest of their number stared at the moon as if he could feel the tug of the lunar revolutions animating his magic and his body.

I recognized the giant of a vampire with his black hair slicked back, the ends of it curling about his ears and neck. The starkness of his complexion contrasted with his dark trench coat and dress slacks like spilled ink on a fresh page, black and white with little variation in between, his head ghostly above the rest of his imposing, muscled frame. His name was Aurel Havik.

I shivered and averted my eyes.

The vampires didn't speak, didn't have to say a word in response to the irate Fae, because it didn't matter that the graveyard was an abutment of the Seelie's Court of the River; night was the domain of the vampire. When the sun abandoned the sky, the world became their kingdom.

Stupidly poetic perhaps, but true.

Among the four vampires stood Ishcer Emial. I whistled low because, aside from cutting an impressive figure among his followers, Emial was Roccia Nera's Baron—the city's top vamp authority. Nearly six feet tall, the vampire Baron had a head of dark hair and honeyed skin that must have been dark before he'd become other. I couldn't discern much else his appearance at my nice, comfortable distance, but I'd seen Emial up-close before and knew what the Baron looked like. His gray eyes would be bloodshot with prolonged hunger, his Iranian features proud, arrogant. A thin beard traced his jaw and a mustache sketched lines upon his upper lip.

Tonight, the vampire dressed in black trousers, a golden button-down, and an off-shoulder cape that caught the wind and floated around him and his inferiors. The gold of his shirt looked washed out next to the color painted over the Seelie.

Among the uniformed officers, snarling Fae, and bored vampires, I spotted Sibbie Sabrador: an overworked, unappreciated rookie detective too often tasked with the worst and most demeaning assignments—assignments like driving through the county's back-roads responding to reports about possible body dumps in closed cemeteries. The only thing worse than coming out this far to investigate a suspected prank was actually finding a damn corpse and having to call it in.

A flood of uniforms and roaring sirens followed that conversation. Here was a dead man found on Seelie lands with the raving, killer vampire still licking blood from his chipped teeth. "A political nightmare," Sibbie's voice snapped through the dark as she argued with Sergeant McCully. Her russet hair bobbed back and forth as she shook her head.

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