Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
The park was old, once the grounds of an estate, later willed to the city. The trees were dark and twisted, the bushes thorny. An old iron fence still encircled it, and gates, though welded open, still guarded its entrances. The only concessions to the present were garbage baskets and, by the south gate, a wide asphalt pad with ugly concrete planters filled with tired geraniums. Someone had scrawled political graffiti on the asphalt. In chalk, of course, not spray paint. This was Toronto, after all. Even the vandals had manners.
South of the park was Queen Street. Queen Street West, the heart of Toronto’s club scene, Toronto’s alternative scene, Toronto’s hip, cool, epitome-of-style scene. The place to be seen. A dangerous place for the pack.
There were people here, many people, walking along the sidewalk, sitting on the patios of bars and cafes, clogging the narrow street with their cars. Miranda, Matt and Blue joined the crowds. Few people seemed to be going anywhere; most just wandered, alone or in groups. Miranda, in her black clothing, fit right in with them. Matt and Blue stood out only a little, no more than the occasional cluster of punks or handful of hammered university students. The crowd still parted around the vampires, though. Miranda almost wished they wouldn’t. It was probably an unconscious reaction to the implicit threat of the vampires’ presence, but it made them easier to spot. At least, though, it also made it a little easier to see.
Calais was a trendy clothing store, open late into the night, as so many of the stores on the street were. In the store’s window, pale mannequins in dark clothes were covered with long veils of semi-transparent gauze. The gauze made it difficult to distinguish the fashions displayed underneath, the dark clothes and reflections in the glass blurring the distinction between the crowd outside and the silent mannequins in the window. The shrouded dead surrounded by restless spirits. That was probably the intention. Miranda stopped. “Tolly?” she
asked out loud, ignoring the people brushing past her.
There was no response. Blue went into the store and came out again a moment later. “He’s gone.” He looked at Matt.
Matt straightened his jacket. “Tell me who we’re following, first.”
Miranda was looking across the street. Another woman had stopped over there, staring at them, her face hostile. Then she was gone. Miranda frowned. She had been hoping that this would happen later rather than sooner. “They’ve seen us.”
“We’re following a Camarilla vampire,” Blue told Matt. “We saw him feeding in a car while we were waiting for you.”
“On St. George?” A cruel smile spread across Matt’s face. There were two sects in vampire society; two competing ideologies that fought each other. The Camarilla, weak, bound by tradition and fear of human attention, was one. The Sabbat, strong, wild, free and unafraid, was the other. The Camarilla might rule the majority of the vampires in the world, but they hid behind a Masquerade, concealing themselves from mortal eyes by pretending that there were no such things as vampires. Denying their own existence. The Sabbat knew better. Mortals were nothing. Playthings, more than willing to deny the existence of vampires of their own accord. The vampires of the Sabbat had nothing to fear from them. The Sabbat ruled Toronto. A few lingering refugees from the Camarilla were... tolerated. Within strict limits. “That’s out of bounds. Why didn’t you stop him there?”
“We wanted to punish him here. In his own territory. But we’ll be in trouble too if we don’t find him before
the welcoming committee gets to us.” Miranda turned back to her friends. “Find Tolly, Matt.”
“Where was the last place you saw the kook?”
Blue growled and pointed to a half-shadowed doorway. Matt stepped into it and put his hands flat against one wall. Matt could sense things that humans and many other vampires couldn’t, the only one in the pack with that particular ability. It was one of the few reasons that Miranda tolerated him. One of Tolly’s abilities was to hide, so completely and sometimes so impossibly that only Matt could find him. The gifts that came with the Embrace were varied and strange, but always powerful.
Matt’s hands were like huge white spiders creeping over the wall as he slowly felt for the psychic impressions that Tolly’s presence would have left behind. Finally, he nodded and pointed. “This way,” he said, leading them back the way they had come and around a corner. He paused, head slowly turning from side to side, searching for Tolly.
“Where is he?” demanded Miranda.
“I...” Matt’s head snapped around. “I see him. Come on.” Hurrying down the block, he stopped in front of a tall, iron lamppost, one of the kind erected by the city government in an effort to beautify parts of the city. Matt rapped on it, his knuckles ringing against the metal. “Tolly.”
An arm, then a leg, sprouted out of the lamppost. More accurately, they came around the side of the lamppost as Tolly stepped out from behind it — or beside it. Miranda suspected that whichever side of the lamppost she had been facing, Tolly would have seemed to come from behind it. He had taken on a shape very much like that of the lamppost itself: tall, and almost cylindrically thin. His face, translucent pale skin framed by long, fine, blond hair, almost glowed with reflected light. The Embrace might bring strange and powerful abilities, but it could also bring madness, sometimes hand in hand; Tolly’s body had a tendency to shift and reshape itself, reflecting the vampire’s moods or surroundings. All totally unconsciously. Occasionally he would wander off and reappear with a new tattoo or a body piercing, as if his body’s own unnatural abilities weren’t enough to satisfy it. The artificial modifications lasted no longer than his ow'n reshapings, healed, erased or plucked away by Tolly’s wandering hands. Sometimes Tolly scarcely seemed aware that he still had a body and that he wasn’t some disembodied spirit. It was eerie to watch him as his face and limbs distorted while he chatted or walked or sat, blissfully ignorant. His lack of control fascinated Miranda — almost as much as it disturbed her.
But Tolly could also be frighteningly competent in the midst of his madness. One impossibly thin arm, like the crossbar on the lamppost, came up and gestured toward a cafe. “He’s in there.”
“Good.” Miranda walked toward the cafe. The others followed her, Tolly still as tall and thin as the lamppost, though he shrank down with every step he took. No one passing on the street seemed to notice. If they did, they were too polite to say anything. By the time the vampires entered the cafe, he was still tall and scrawny, but at least he looked human again.
The server behind the glass case of cakes and pies at the front of the cafe ignored them. No one stopped them as they made their way to a table in the back comer of the restaurant. A man — another vampire — sat there, a cup of coffee untouched in front of him. He smiled at a pretty girl and whispered words that were as sweet as the cake she ate. Miranda dropped down beside him and caught the girl’s eye. Her will was like candy floss. “Go home,” Miranda commanded.
“Shit!” The Camarilla vampire started, his chair squealing on the floor as he pushed away from the table and tried to escape. Blue’s big hands came down on his shoulders and held him in his seat. The girl stood without a word, picked up her purse, and left. Tolly sat down in her place and began playing with her cake.
“Keep quiet, Camarilla,” whispered Miranda with a smile on her face. “There are a lot of nice, normal people here. You wouldn’t want them to know what lurks in the shadows of their little paradise, would you?” The vampire’s eyes were wide with panic as he looked from Miranda with her smile to Tolly, mashing the cake into a brown goo with a fork, to Matt, casually standing with his back to the rest of the cafe and blocking the table from view. “You’re Sabbat,” he croaked. “You’re not supposed to be here. The Settlement...”
“You’re Camarilla, and the Settlement applies to you, too. It’s time for a little geography lesson, I think. What’s your name, Camarilla?”
“Listen.” The vampire licked his lips nervously. “I know what this is about.... Earlier tonight, right?” He glanced around again, searching for sympathy. “I didn’t know she was going to drive out of the Box. And I was hungry. It’s not my fault.” He reached out to Miranda.
Tolly grabbed the vampire’s hand and slapped it down, palm up, on the tabletop. Then he drove his fork through the undead flesh and into the wood of the table. Blue wrapped one hand around their captive’s mouth, muffling his shriek of pain.
Miranda held up her hand. Her fingernails lengthened, growing into long talons. Shadows stretched and shifted around her, around the table, shrouding them in gloom, hiding what was about to happen from the humans in the cafe. The ability to grow claws was something she had learned from Blue, but the ability to manipulate shadows was her skill alone, a reflection of the darkness inside her. “What’s your name?” she repeated.
Blue loosened his grip on the vampire’s mouth, just enough so that he could speak. “Re—Reg.”
“Reg,” Miranda said calmly, as though she were speaking to a child, “when the Sabbat conquered Toronto, a few of your elders helped us in return for being allowed to remain in the city. Our leaders, in their infinite and only slightly questionable wisdom, agreed, and gave the surviving Camarilla a small territory, subject to a few conditions. Can you tell me what the most important of those conditions is, Reg?”
Reg nodded, red tears in his eyes. Even vampires could know terror. “Never to leave it,” he whimpered.
“Very good.” Miranda touched one talon to his pinned palm and swiftly drew it through his flesh, leaving a deep gash behind. “What is the eastern boundary of the Camarilla’s territory?”
Reg’s eyes went wide with pain, but he managed to gasp out, “University Avenue.”
Miranda made a second gash at a right angle to the first. “The southern boundary?”
Slash. “The western?”
Reg choked before replying, “Bathurst Street.” A vampire could heal most wounds quickly and cleanly. The wounds of Miranda’s claws would heal slowly, though, and they would leave deep scars. Reg might even lose the use of his hand.
Miranda made a fourth cut, completing the square that gave the Camarilla’s restricted territory in Toronto its nickname — the Box. “And the northern boundary?”
Surely the human patrons of the cafe weren’t oblivious to the torture that was taking place in the shadows behind their backs. Reg’s voice bubbled with agony, even though he held back the true expression of his pain. But no one intervened. No one came over to see what was happening. Sometimes, Miranda thought, it almost seemed that the people of Toronto knew what dark forces lived among them and ruled their city, but were simply too polite to stop them. Politeness and manners became a protective shield against fear.
There’s nothing to see. Just ignore them and they’ll go away.
Miranda looked into Reg’s pain-filled eyes. “So if that’s the Camarilla’s territory, where would you say you were tonight?”
“In Sabbat...” Reg’s words caught in his throat, and he almost gagged trying to get them out. “In Sabbat territory.”
“Show me,” Miranda said. She flicked the fork embedded in his palm. Reg’s hand spasmed in answer to the vibrating metal. He clenched his teeth. Reaching across with his other hand, he traced a shaking trail that ended just above the base of his second finger. Miranda nodded. Blue reached down and pulled Reg’s free hand away. Miranda grasped the finger almost delicately between her talons.
There was no way to muffle Reg’s scream this time. The Sabbat pack left him clutching at his ruined hand, trying to drag the fork out of his bloody flesh, and walked out of the cafe. Miranda lifted her veil of shadows, exposing him to anyone who dared to look. But the human patrons ignored it all, deliberately oblivious. Perhaps one of the staff would phone the police, but Miranda suspected that none of what had happened here would even make the news.
There were more Camarilla vampires waiting for them on the street outside. Not many. Only three, maybe four. Trapped in the Box, the Camarilla vampires of Toronto were overcrowded, degenerate refugees hiding from the justice of their own sect. Miranda faced them down. “One of your own violated the Settlement,” she announced coolly. “We came here to punish him, as is our right under the Settlement.”
“Get out.” It was the hostile woman Miranda had seen on Queen Street. “Get out and leave us alone.” Matt laughed. “We’ll go when we’re damn well ready.”
“We’ll go now.” Miranda glared at Matt, and the other vampire subsided into sullen silence. She looked back at the Camarilla vampires. “Because we’re done here. Punishment has been carried out.” She turned and began walking back toward Queen Street. A gaunt vampire caught her arm.
“We won’t forget this, Miranda.”
She knew him. “You can remember for as long as you want, DeWinter.” She brushed his arm away — he was weak. “There’s nothing you can do.”
* * *
“We’ll leave now.
Heli, Miri, why didn’t you just bare your neck for them?”
Matt hadn’t stopped complaining since they had walked away from the Camarilla vampires. Now they were coming back up through the park and Miranda was doing her best to keep herself from silencing him by removing his tongue.
Let him get his rant out of his system,
she thought to herself.
Then I’ll crush him like the idiot that he is.
Freedom was important to the Sabbat, but so was a certain amount of intelligence. “Those Cammie assholes need to be taught a lesson,” Matt raved. “We’re Sabbat. We can go wherever we damn well feel like! Why’d we let those bastards stay in the first place?” “They begged for their lives,” Blue replied. The big vampire scuffed his feet as he walked. “The Archbishop decided to let the Cammies keep them — for a price. Like killing a bear and turning it into a rug. They’re living trophies.”
“Maybe they’re starting to forget that they belong on the floor, then. We should get some of the other packs together and show the Cammies what being a vampire is really all about.”
That was enough. “We should leave them alone.” Miranda turned to look at Matt. Her voice was as warm as velvet, but it had all the strength of iron. “The Sabbat made a deal with them. The Box is theirs. As long as they respect the Settlement, we respect it, too.” She paused, giving him a disdainful glance. “Why do you think they didn’t attack us when we came out of the cafe? They could have surprised us and had the upper hand. They could have taken us, but they didn’t.”