CHAPTER ONE - VAMPIRES ARE REAL
“Vampires are real,” Julian Harrow spoke those three words with quiet conviction into the video camera. “And tonight, we’re going to prove it to you.”
His best friend, Christian Thorne, zoomed in with the camera to record a tight shot of Julian’s face for this intro to their web series, Existence. Julian had seen himself so many times in their videos that he could almost picture how he looked right at that moment. Dark hair closely cropped to his head, deep blue eyes that looked almost purple in certain lights, and a day’s worth of stubble on cheekbones so sharp that they could have cut glass. He was almost a carbon copy of his father, except that he had his mother’s eyes. He knew that tonight he also looked more intense than usual. His lean, muscular body thrummed with barely concealed energy.
“For those of you who are just finding our web series for the first time, my name is Julian Harrow,” Julian felt the weight of the Harrow name as he said it out loud. His parents had made it famous. He feared to make it infamous with the claims he’d be making tonight “You might remember my parents, Jack and Joanna Harrow, from their old television show, Believe. Or you might have read one of their many best-selling books on myths and monsters.” He paused for a long moment and then said, “You might also know that they died sixteen years ago tonight.”
Even speaking about their deaths–though he had done so many times to the police, to the media, to anyone who would listen, and few had–still hurt. His parents hadn’t just died, they’d been murdered. No matter what the official reports said, Julian knew the truth. The fact that he and Christian had discovered the location of the city of pale stone–the city that had gotten his parents killed–sixteen years exactly to the day they had died felt like fate.
For a moment, Julian remembered the flashing of red and blue lights streaming through the Thorne’s front bay windows when the police had come to give him the news. He’d been having a sleepover with Christian that night. There had been popcorn and corny 1950s monster movies to be followed by video games. But the police had been a different kind of excitement.
It had never occurred to Julian when he’d seen the two solemn figures walking up the front path to Christian’s house all those years ago that they could be there about his parents. His parents had been immortal in his mind. They could not die! Nothing could happen to them! They’d survived adventures in the deepest jungles and on the highest mountains! They had not even been leaving town that night. How could anything bad possibly happen to them in boring Raven’s Cross after all?
But after the police had spoken to Christian’s parents, Julian had seen the expressions on their faces. Tears ran down Elizabeth’s cheeks. Grief filled Henry’s eyes. They were as white as chalk with streaks of blue and red as the police cruiser’s lights spun. Something terrible had happened. The police knew it. The Thornes knew it. And then Julian did, too. His parents were not coming home.
A lump now formed in Julian’s throat as he remembered knowing that simple fact. It threatened to silence him and end the video before it had hardly begun, but he swallowed it down and went on, “But what you don’t know, what’s never been revealed before, is that my parents died because they had proof of the existence of vampires.”
Christian’s jaw tightened as Julian said this. This was a point of contention between them, a point that Christian had lost. Christian’s logical mind only wanted him to say what they knew for certain. Anything else brought the veracity of the rest of their claims into question. Yet the facts that they did have led Julian, at least, to one simple conclusion: his parents had been murdered to keep the existence of vampires a secret.
Officially, Julian’s parents had died in a car accident. It had been a dark and rainy night. The roads had been slick as ice. His father had allegedly lost control of his car. His parents’ vehicle had then veered off the road, smashed through the guardrail and sailed off the side of a cliff where it had landed five hundred feet below, crumpling like an accordian, before bursting into flames. His parents’ bodies had been incinerated. There had not been enough left of them to determine what had killed them. Were they killed by the crash? Or, as Julian contended, before then?
Unofficially, the story was much different. The timing of their deaths had never sat right with Julian. What were the odds that his parents would die just before they revealed to the world their proof that vampires existed?
The state of their bodies, too, raised doubts. Again, they had been too damaged to determine the cause of death, but what was left of them had “accidentally” been cremated further afterwards, despite their express desires to be buried together in the Harrow family plot. So even if new technology could have come into existence that could have revealed something about their deaths, it wouldn’t have mattered. They were ashes now.
And then there was the fact that all of their research materials on what they had last been investigating had been stolen right after their deaths. Nothing was left for anyone to know what they had been so excited about or willing to risk so much for.
Except for the journals hidden in the attic...
And it was one of these journals with the soft, worn brown covers that he held up to the camera as an exhibit. These journals had told him the truth. The insane truth.
“Two years ago, I found my parents’ journals hidden away where none of the thieves who took the rest of their research could find.” Julian swallowed deeply. “In these journals, my mother revealed what they had been looking for just before they were killed. More than looking for. What they had found.”
He opened the journal with hands that trembled both with anticipation and anger. His parents had been stolen from him and he would never forgive those who had done this.
He read, “All throughout the years we’ve heard rumors of them. The crazed whispering about beautiful people with silver eyes and a taste for blood. Disjointed words that painted pictures of shadowy figures flitting through darkened alleyways. The heartbroken statements from family members of people who have simply vanished. Some were found dead, drained of blood. Others were discovered, but they were changed. They had those same silver eyes and empty smiles. They were vampires.”
Julian swallowed again before he continued reading from the journal, “But then we heard things that had nothing to do with the established mythology of vampires. Things so wild that they almost seemed more true. We heard that they have successfully stayed hidden from humans, because they do not live on our Earth, but in another place, a place connected to our world through magical gates. This place is called the Ever Dark.”
Julian paused in his reading so that their audience could let his words sink in. Forget stinking graves or rotting coffins, Vampires lived in a whole other world with great cities of pale stone. He paged through the journal until he found the next entry he wanted to read.
He licked his lips and continued to read his mother’s shocking words, “We found the symbol to unlock the way into one of their cities today. Jack is convinced that these passages are somehow controlled Einstein-Rosen Bridges, but I don’t know how wormholes could safely be created on Earth, let alone directed to a single city on another planet. But no matter what they are or how they work, the gate took us to another world. We found it! We found the Ever Dark, the world of vampires, and we cannot wait to share our discovery with humanity.”
Julian closed the journal. His hands were still shaking. He lost focus on the camera for a moment, overwhelmed by the fact that this was what had signed his parents’ death warrants. This desire to share with humanity that they were not alone. That vampires existed right alongside everyone. His parents had not feared these beings. They had been awed. But they should have been careful. They should have been more afraid.
“They never got to share this discovery, because right after my mother wrote this she and my father were killed. It was no accident. It was no coincidence.” He lifted his head to once more look into the camera’s lens. “They were stopped from revealing this great discovery.”
But I won’t be, Julian thought.
“We’re here to carry on my parents’ work. I keep saying ‘we’, but, for our newcomers, I haven’t yet introduced you to the Scully to my Mulder, who is the wielder of the camera and a highly logical mind, Christian Thorne.” Julian flashed a genuine smile as Christian turned the camera towards the mirror that was on the right hand wall so that the audience could see him in the reflection. “He’s the one that keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
Julian’s best friend was almost his exact opposite in looks. Light to his dark. Christian was blonde with piercing blue eyes and a pink mouth that looked like he was continually pouting, though Christian had never pouted in his life. He had creamy, pale gold skin that immediately burned when he stepped out in sunlight. His features were masculine yet delicate. He would have been loved by ancient Greek sculptors.
“Personally,” Christian said in a crisp voice. “I like to think of myself as the Spock to Julian’s Kirk. Scully was always getting conveniently knocked out and simply missing all the alien action while Spock was well aware of what was going on. He just wanted Kirk to look at the facts and not be ruled by his emotions.”
Facts not emotions, but you, my friend, inspire plenty of emotions.
Every time his camera-shy best friend went on film, the amount of comments, emails and other social media mentions they got from admirers went through the roof. There was even some fanfiction about them both.
Christian abhorred the attention. Who he was had nothing to do with how he looked. And after the terrible experience with David, Christian would never open his heart again. The only people he allowed himself to care for were Julian and his parents, Drs. Henry and Elizabeth Thorne.
Christian turned the camera back on Julian. Now was the time to get to the good stuff.
“Why, you might be wondering, if we’ve had my parents’ journals for two years, haven’t Christian and I gone to the Ever Dark?” He held up the journal. “Well, my parents were clever. Really clever. And they hid the location to one of these gates to the Ever Dark in a code that we couldn’t decipher. Until tonight.”
It was slightly theatrical--okay the whole presentation was highly theatrical--and he saw Christian giving him a raised eyebrow about it, but Julian was playing to their audience. Unlike most people, Julian’s heart did not thrill at the thought of vampires, at least not in the way that most people’s did.
They’re predators. And I’m going to expose them to the world so they can’t hide and hurt anyone else, he silently promised himself.
So the more people he intrigued with their videos–whatever their reasons for wanting Vampires to be real–the better.
“We are filming this here, in my father’s study, rather than on location, because of the danger we will be in the moment we get to the gate.” Julian gestured to the room.
Christian slowly panned around the space, highlighting the bookcases stuffed with thick leather volumes, delicate scrolls, and reprints of ancient texts his parents had used in their research into the paranormal. He finally stopped on Julian once more.
“We will be going to the location tonight. We will be going to the Ever Dark,” he said and his voice shook with emotion. “But when we do, like my parents, we might not come back. So we’re filming this intro and uploading it to the server along with scanned copies of my parents’ journals and the location of the gate. This video and those materials will be posted tomorrow night whether we return or not.”
“Now, once again, for those of you unfamiliar with our work, let me tell you what we’re not going to do tonight,” Julian’s voice was firm. “We’re not going to run around in the dark with cameras showing only our faces, looking scared and breathing heavily as we ask ‘what was that’ about normal sounds of buildings settling, traffic whizzing, or crickets.”
Julian allowed his expression to show the disdain he felt for the many, many “haunted places” shows that never actually showed any paranormal occurrences let alone ghosts. Those shows went to creepy places, turned off the lights–if there were any–and filmed the actors more than the actual locations.
His parents had never resorted to such gimmickry in their television programs. If they had not been able to film what they were researching–whether it was Atlantis, the Abominable Snowman or the Jersey Devil–they’d explain the actual history of the alleged myth. They would speak to scholars and the knowledgeable elders in the area. They would write up what they learned for scholarly magazines–which often wouldn’t accept their papers because of the subject matter–but they kept trying. They treated these things respectfully.
And they were right to.
“You’re going to see what we see. No editing. No filters. Just the raw footage. Tonight changes everything.” He stared deeply into the camera as if he were looking into the viewers’ eyes. “The next time we speak to you, we will be able to prove that vampires are real.”
“And that’s a cut.” Christian stopped the video recorder and popped out the small memory card.
“Yeah, it is. Can I have the memory card? I want to upload the video to the site right this instant.”
Julian extended his hand. It was finally steady. As soon as they had decoded the city’s location, he’d wanted to go there, but he’d forced himself to make this video first. They needed a record.
“You’re really going to post this, before we’re even sure there’s anything there?” Christian kept the card in his hand.
“Don’t worry. I really will be setting the video to go live tomorrow unless we come back and change it.” Julian wiggled his fingers expectantly.
“In case we don’t make it back, right? ” Christian’s eyebrows rose and a slight smile twitched his lips. He clearly thought Julian was being melodramatic.
Julian disagreed and gave no answering smile. “Exactly, if we don’t make it back.”
“We’ve gone halfway around the world to look for proof of the Yeti. Yet you didn’t have us upload any footage then,” Christian pointed out.
“A Yeti didn’t kill my parents,” Julian responded dryly.
Christian opened his mouth to make his usual argument that vampires didn’t kill Julian’s parents either. That, other than the Harrows’ journals, there was no proof that vampires existed. There were enough killers in the human population alone to account for all the terrible things that happened without adding immortal, blood sucking beings to the mix. And, Julian might have agreed with him, but the journals told him differently. His parents did not lie. So he believed what he’d read no matter what logical arguments Christian put out there.
Christian though did not argue this time. He merely said, “You know I would prefer us to wait to post anything until we’re certain.”
“I know. And, if you’re right, we’ll be back tonight in plenty of time to stop the video from running,” Julian answered. “But if you’re wrong…”
With a sigh, Christian handed the memory card to him. Julian went over to the computer and inserted it into the slot. He typed in the login and password for their website and uploaded the video to the server. The only sound in the room were Julian’s fingers tapping on the keyboard. When he stopped typing, the silence seemed thick.
“Well? What did you think of the intro?” Julian asked without turning around to face his best friend.
“It was fine,” Christian’s voice was dry and clipped. Not a good sign.
He heard a snap as Christian folded the screen closed on the video recorder. There was the rip of velcro as Christian fastened it into the handmade carrying case on his hip before going over to the chair where both of their backpacks sat. Inside the packs were lengths of rope, flashlights, extra batteries, first aid kits, pads of paper for taking notes or etchings, water, and freeze dried packets of food in the main compartment. Christian was always prepared. His best friends had only once not thought of every possibility. That would never happen again.
“You don’t sound exactly enthusiastic,” Julian pointed out.
“I’ll get excited if we find anything beneath the old library except moldering periodicals,” Christian answered.
Julian grabbed his own backpack off of the chair. The smell of his father’s cologne suddenly rose up all around him. He froze as a memory of Jack Harrow sitting there, holding his arms open for a young Julian to climb into his lap, came back to him with poignant clarity. He pushed the image away as he pulled the straps of his backpack over his shoulders. His mother's journal with the explanation of what symbol to place on the wall went into the front pocket of his pants.
“We’ve been working to find this city since we discovered Mom and Dad’s journals. Now you’re regretting it?” Julian pressed.
“Who says that I’m regretting anything?” But Christian’s tone was tense, belying his words.
This had to be something feeling-based, which explained Christian’s curtness. His best friend hated emotions, and he wasn’t very good at dealing with them. Julian turned around to face Christian. His best friend was holding his own backpack with white-knuckled hands in front of him as if it were a shield and Julian was about to lob missiles at him. Christian’s muscles were hard and tight under Julian’s fingers when he put his hand on his best friend’s shoulder.
He’s really upset.
“Tell me what’s bothering you,” Julian said gently. “We’re on the cusp of discovering vampires exist -”
“Or, more likely, that they don’t exist.” Christian looked at him almost sadly. He went back to arranging his bag, not quite meeting Julian’s eyes.
Julian’s brow furrowed. “We’ve had this argument for years. We’ll find out who is right after tonight. Nothing you can say will change my mind about going there. Or yours either, I might add. You know that, so what’s really going on?”
“I’m worried about you,” Christian answered as he checked the clip-on flashlight’s batteries.
Ah, here we go.
“Why are you worrying about me?” Julian probed.
Christian stopped fussing with his backpack and looked into Julian’s eyes. “I know how much you need answers about what happened to your parents. I know that you need their deaths to be something--something more meaningful than just a car accident.”
Julian’s throat closed up again. He did need that to be the case. But just because he needed it didn’t mean that it couldn’t also be true.
“Yeah, I do,” Julian admitted. “And we’ve argued back and forth since we found the journals about whether what they wrote about is connected to their deaths. We can’t convince each other. You don’t believe in vampires, but I do. Just come with me tonight–”
“I’m coming! Of course, I’m coming with you.” Christian ran a hand through his thick blond hair. “I’d go anywhere with you, Julian. I just…”
“If I’m wrong then I’m wrong. Nothing happens to me. My heart doesn’t shatter.” These were romantic words from Christian, but Julian knew that Christian hid behind logic because he felt too much. “But if you’re wrong--”
“Then I’m wrong,” Julian cut him off. A faint tremor ran through him, but he thought he hid it well. Though the look of disbelief in Christian’s eyes told him he might not have hid it well enough. “We’re going to the city, Christian. So you can’t protect me from what’s going to happen. I’m going to find out the truth. No matter what it is.”
Christian let out a sigh. “You are so goddamned stubborn.”
“That’s hardly new.” Julian gave him a crooked smile.
“I just wish to prepare you,” Christian murmured as he pulled the backpack on.
Julian squeezed Christian’s shoulder one last time. “I am as prepared as I’m ever going to be. Let’s go. Let’s find out the truth.”
“Balthazar,” Vampire Confessor Arcius Kane joined the Vampire Lord of House Ravenscroft out on the expansive balcony. They could almost see Wingate from where they were. “What is so interesting about that infernal mortal device?”
“Arcius, your presence is quite welcome, but your commentary on technology is not,” Lord Balthazar Ravenscroft said without looking up from the tablet he held in his slender, long-fingered hands.
He was watching the as-yet-unreleased video from Julian Harrow and Christian Thorne on location in the Harrows’ old home of Wingate. Having had one of his fledglings hack their website to give him unrestricted access to their server was paying dividends. His full lips were lifted into a large smile.
“You aren’t watching those boys again, are you? Haven’t you grown tired of their snipe hunts? Or is the blond one with the pouty lips obsessing you again?” Arcius grinned as he sauntered over.
“Butter wouldn’t melt in the lovely Christian’s mouth, but he does intrigue me. And for more reasons than simply his beauty,” Balthazar said almost primly.
He didn’t deny that he had hungers. Christian Thorne aroused him like few others. But that might have only been because he told himself that he could not have the blond beauty. If he could have slaked his hunger for him by taking Christian’s body as well as his blood, he likely would have forgotten him by now.
Or, at least, that was what he told himself.
He'd been tempted again and again to simply use his Eyros Bloodline gift and have the young man before erasing the memory of their encounter from his mind. But, perversely, he wanted Christian to remember him. He wanted to burn the memory of himself on Christian’s mind. So he stayed away.
Arcius chuckled indulgently and broke Balthazar out of his thoughts by saying, “You are a slave to Christian’s beauty.”
“I am a slave to no one. That is why I was exiled after killing my Master.”
Speaking of killing his Master Roan Tithe never displeased him, but his exile from the Ever Dark did. There was no way to grow his House’s power unless he had access to the world where the first Immortals came from. As it was, even today vampires had only limited access to certain of the Ever Dark’s holdings, a fraction of what was rumored to be there.
Balthazar leaned his aristocratic face back to bathe it under the young October moon. As he did so, he caught sight of his reflection in the french doors’ glass panels. His dark brown hair fell in loose waves to his chin. The moonlight brought out the hints of copper in his locks. He'd had green eyes when he'd been mortal, but now he had the silver eyes that all vampires shared no matter what their Bloodline or House. His olive toned skin made him look tan despite him not having been in the sun for over 200 years. He was tall for the age he'd come from, just over six feet. His body--like most vampires'--was corded with muscle and had little fat content. His appearance pleased him, and likely would please Christian, if he ever revealed himself to the young man.
Not that it would have mattered if he was ugly as sin. Being of the Eyros Bloodline meant he could control minds, but he also had a powerful subclass of that gift which allowed him to become the object of fantasies of anyone he wished. His kind were called Seducers and most other Vampires, ironically, loathed them, because love really was the most powerful thing one could control.
Mine is the best gift of all. Though the Ashyr Bloodline's gift of telekinesis would be useful. Or even the Seeyr Bloodline’s gift of seeing the future would be a kick, though it would make things boring.
There were ten Vampire Bloodlines founded by the ten original Vampires, or Immortals, as they were known in the Vampire's religion. These Immortals had never been humans, but had come from the Ever Dark to Earth. Whoever these Immortals had changed into Vampires gained that specific gift the Immortal had in addition to eternal youth and the taste for blood and they passed both down to their fledglings.
There was supposedly an eleventh Immortal, a First Among Equals, a king, who had all the other Immortals' powers, plus another one referred to simply as Armageddon. But he was a myth. And the others might as well have been, too. They’d been given their Second Deaths long ago if they’d ever existed. Though really having all the powers would be quite the thing.
Balthazar rubbed the tattoo of two, interlocked silver rings on the inside of his right wrist. This was the symbol for the Eyros Bloodline. It appeared on the skin of every Vampire of that Bloodline. Each Bloodline had its own symbol. The symbol for the eleventh Immortal's unnamed Bloodline was an infinity symbol.
And no vampire has ever had one of those, because this eleventh Bloodline is a myth. Even vampires have myths it seems. We too need to believe in something greater than ourselves.
“I did not mean to make you think of Roan,” Arcius said after studying Balthazar’s face. “I am sorry.”
“The memory of Roan is not what is making me cross. And you, of all people have the right to bring him up to me,” Balthazar said with a small smile. “You left the Order, chose exile, and that spared my life.”
“The proudest moment of my Second Life.”
Arcius leaned against the stone railing of the balcony. He had shoulder-length, dark brown wavy hair and a full beard barely brushed with frost. His heavily muscled body made him look like one of those berserkers that Balthazar remembered from his human life. But Arcius had chosen to be the equivalent of a priest in his Second Life though that did not mean he abstained from fighting or killing. Quite the opposite.
“I hope you haven’t grown too attached to being an exile and living only on Earth, Arcius, for I might have a way for us to get back into the Ever Dark,” Balthazar drawled, a mischievous light in his silver eyes.
Arcius turned his bear-like body towards Balthazar with one raised eyebrow. “Do not tell me that the boys have found the supposed abandoned vampire city?”
Balthazar nodded. “I think they have. Imagine the accolades we will gain from bringing access to a heretofore lost city in the Ever Dark to vampire-kind!”
“But Caemorn ordered the Harrows’ deaths. If there really was a city, he would have obtained the information from the Harrows before killing them," Arcius pointed out. “He is no fool.”
Caemorn was Vampire Preceptor Caemorn Losus, leader of the Order, and all around bastard. He had gleefully exiled Balthazar and all who took his side. He was as vicious as a viper and a zealot, but as Arcius had said, he was no fool.
“You would think so.” Balthazar smoothed down the front of his pale green silk shirt. “But, then again, he's more comfortable with the dead than the living considering his Kaly blood."
The Kaly Bloodline's gift was necromancy. Those of the Kaly rarely joined the Order, because they had little interest in living things, preferring to work with the dead. But over 1000 years ago, Caemorn had left his House and joined the Order, rising to the highest rank within just 500 years.
“Do not be racist, Balthazar! He did not kill the Harrows to have access to their bodies. He must have thought they were a real threat,” Arcius murmured as he stroked his thick beard.
“Humans have discovered our existence many times before and we’ve dealt with them without resorting to killing.” Balthazar shook his head. “The Harrows were such public figures, too. Their son is of their mettle and more so, I think. Caemorn made a mistake.”
While Christian Thorne was more to the taste of his loins, Julian Harrow had a certain something that made him think that the young man would be an excellent addition as a vampire. He’d had a fantasy of taking both young men as his own fledglings. Maybe the time had come for that.
“What would have made Caemorn so desperate, I wonder?” Arcius wondered. “Another Ever Dark city would be a boon unless... Could it be that this city is special in some way?”
But Arcius merely shook his head. He had no answers yet, but they would get them.
“I’ve sent Heath and Selene to follow Julian and Christian.” Balthazar’s silver eyes gleamed. “Whatever those young men find, we will find it, too.”