“Calling me early tonight, aren’t we, Gre––” Aaron was surprised to find his astral from standing in the middle of the desert, the dull sky of dusk casting a reddish glow over the brown dirt and browner shrubs that reminded him of the planet Mars, “––gor?” He looked around and saw only barren land and rocks. Normally when he’d been called by the Strigoi he’d simply appeared next to him. He was sure he’d been summoned, and he saw no reason he’d spontaneously appear somewhere else.
After a minute of waiting a gray wolf ran up to him faster than he’d thought possible. As it neared him it slowed and then seemed to melt into a thick, dark mist that reshaped itself into a middle aged man in mid stride with the same grey hair as the wolf, wearing a long fleece coat despite the desert heat. “Your aim,” Gregor said, not even out of breath, “is terrible. I was half a mile away when I called you.”
“Sorry, maybe it’s a proximity thing. I was just in the Northeast with the Scavengers, where the hell are we now?”
“Central Mexico. Specifically in the sate of Tlaxcala.”
“Yeah, it might be a bit hard to aim at that range. I guess. What the hell are we doing here?”
“Entering negotiations with a local power,” Gregor said as he led him through the desert in the direction he came.
“‘Cause that went really well last time.”
“Vasilisa was an isolated incident. Which reminds me, do not mention how you tricked those Scavengers into killing her for us.”
“I’m not an idiot,” Aaron said. “You want the community to think we did that ourselves. Can’t have everyone knowing you have a spy in the Hunter operation.”
“That would be a security risk, true. Should Scavengers go about interrogating someone who knows it would blow your cover. But more than that, were people to think that we had claimed control of a group of Scavengers, we may be interpreted as more threat than ally. Few people trust a man who is known to occasionally lose a pack of raving attack dogs.”
“Nope,” Aaron said and kept himself from saying, “you just have one. Me.”
After a few minutes they were walking on a road. Aaron said, “So who are these guys?”
“I think the Scavengers mentioned them at one point, when they were trying to figure out what I was.”
Gregor looked at him and almost smiled, as if deriding the Hunters’ idiocy.
“The name sounds Mayan, or something” Aaron said.
“They are native to this region, though not specifically Mayan.”
“Huh, again with the locals.”
“The Scavengers and I were in Louisiana, there were a couple of Loogaroo. Oh, that’s not an issue is it?”
“I do not believe so. Pair of them in New Orleans, call each other ‘Sibling,’ voodoo practitioners?”
“That would be them.”
“I had met them. They were idiots.”
“One of them thought I was a dhampir.”
“As I said, idiots.”
“Put some damn voodoo paralysis curse on me. Didn’t figure on astral projection.”
“You did not give them your name, did you?” Gregor said.
“She mentioned that. Tried to get my full name. What’s up with that?”
“The name holds power over the thing,” he said, as if quoting some oft-read book. “You identify the sound of your name with yourself, it is so ingrained in your psychology that it is as much a part of you as your flesh or soul. This extends into magic. To have the name of the thing, the full name, is to have an influence over it. In most mortals the effect of this is marginal at best, but among creatures like you or I who are imbued with magical energy, whom it permeates as water does a riverbed, the possibilities are more pronounced.”
“Ah. That’s why none of you have last names. I just figured it was for show, like Madonna or something.”
Gregor crooked an eyebrow. “But if you did not give them your name, for a spell such as that, they would have to get close enough to get a sample of hair or blood without you noticing?”
Aaron cleared his throat and avoided Gregor’s gaze.
“You said ‘she’ earlier? Well. You are reaping all the benefits of espionage, are you not?” Gregor walked ahead, leaving Aaron’s specter slightly in his wake.
Aaron caught up to him. “I think…I think I’m getting more powerful.”
“That is good to hear.”
“I guess. I can touch things now, if I want to. Thing is I’m just…I’m kind of worried where it’s gonna end?”
“Hm,” said Gregor. “It is hard to say. So few Strigoi Viu learn of their condition. So few get to explore their powers. Even fewer get as many opportunities as you. Truthfully I cannot say the true extent of your power, besides that it is limited by the life around you that can be absorbed. I have no idea how powerful you may become.”
“That doesn’t scare you?”
“It exhilarates me,” Gregor said immediately.
After a minute Aaron said, “So what exactly are we dealing with with these guys? Should I expect another giant snake lady?”
“From what I’ve seen so far that doesn’t do much to comfort me.” They arrived at the gate of the ranch were the other Motetz Dam were waiting, among them Gregor’s three apostles: Max, Dick, and Ellen, Nikolas in his human form, Marigold with her hidden cloven hooves, the lovely Lilin Carmen, and Frank. “It occurs to me I don’t quite understand the whole ‘clans’ thing.”
They all looked at him. Gregor said, “What is to understand?” and led them over the dirt road toward a distant house with a smoking chimney.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but every kind of Motetz Dam I’ve met so far has been completely different from every other. Maybe I just haven’t seen enough of you––uh, us, but I guess I’m just not seeing the evolutionary pattern here.”
They all seemed to have a slight chuckle at that. Gregor answered, “You are thinking of us too much as organisms. Recall that we are not. We are creatures of magic. We do not evolve as living things have been proven to do.”
“So what’s with all the variation?”
“The disparate clans of the Motetz Dam are not evolutionary offshoots of some common ancestor. While of course we can know nothing with certainty, it is widely held among the more intelligent and studious of our kind that we are more likely a Class of being.”
“I assume you don’t mean like Home Ec or Intro to Art?”
“For example,” Gregor continued, ignoring him, “were I to say Flying Animals, you may think of birds, or bats, or any number of insects.”
“Pterodactyls,” Ellen said, suddenly walking just behind Aaron and Gregor in her goth outfit. “Just throwing that out there.”
Gregor ignored her as well. “Each of these creatures has an almost identical characteristic. Yet, this characteristic evolved entirely separately in each. It is considered likely the various clans appeared with similar inconsistency.” They now stood in front of the ranch house, an old building made of logs and stones, comfortable, sizable, and likely cool enough in this heat. Nothing in particular happened.
After a moment Aaron continued the conversation in whisper. “So your best theory is that the human race just spits out a bloodsucking magic subspecies every so often?”
Gregor was about to answer when there was a loud crack and he lurched back, several points on the back of his coat bursting open.
Heads whipped around to see a short, round man with dark skin and a shotgun standing on the porch of the ranch house, looking at Gregor inquisitively.
Aaron regained his senses fast enough to see the Motetz Dam arming themselves with their ensemble of bladed weapons.
“Ooowwwwwww,” Gregor moaned, still standing. His apostle, Max, ever stylish in his 70s leisure suit, came to his aid.
“Lo siento, Señor Gregor,” said the man on the porch, his voice rough from years of tobacco use. “We had to be sure, you understand.”
Aaron practically expected the wounded Strigoi to write it all off as fine. Instead he growled, “I liked this coat.”
“It’s right after sunset, and this shot is lead,” the man said. “You’ll be fine. Please, come in.” He reentered the house and closed the door behind him.
“I liked. This coat.”
“You stole it from a Burlington.” Marigold said
“Shut up,” he snapped. He turned to Aaron, a look of undirected aggression chiseled into his features. “We are all here,” he said, “because long ago there was some outcast, some heretic or criminal or traitor, and somewhere up the Cosmic chain of command, someone decided death was simply to good for them. And this happened in Europe, and in Mexico, and in Greece and all over the world, one after the other. And so here all our accursed kind is.” He walked up the steps to the house and the others followed.
Aaron looked at Ellen, then at Carmen and Marigold, and their eternal youth and beauty. “Doesn’t seem like much of a curse.”
Gregor stopped before reaching the door. He turned to Aaron with a smile that was a sneer. “That is the arrogance of the Gods is it not?” he said cruelly. “‘Poor pitiful little humans, their lives so full of strife and hardship and the fall of those they love. Their only solace through it all must be that one day it ends.’” He took a deep breath that puffed out his chest showing that while it was visible through buckshot holes in his shirt, it was free of any wounds, or even blood. Seeming visibly calmer, he walked into the ranch house.
The living room of the ranch house was spacious and homey. The flames in a large stone fireplace crackled against one wall. Thin rugs covered the hardwood haphazardly. A variety of couches and chairs were worn into comfortable shapes. Native American artwork befitting the region adorned the walls, along with innumerable portraits and snapshots of all the people that now stood on the edges of the room looking menacingly in at the group of Motetz Dam. A flatscreen hung from one wall.
There were perhaps forty people in the room, some clustered into groups that looked like families, but most standing alone or with friends. There was a notable majority of women. There were some children, but none younger than thirteen or so. Many whispered to each other in Spanish, but all leered at the group.
The Motetz Dam stood in the rough center of the room. Gregor sat at a large couch, where he indicated for Marigold, Nikolas, and Aaron to sit with him. Across from them sat a small, withered old woman, her once dark hair turned white, her knuckles protruding as she laced her fingers in front of her. She wore a denim jacket and jeans that fit her well and seemed worn with many years of use. Here eyes were clear, and spoke of wisdom and cunning. The man with the shotgun stood behind her.
“So,” she said, in perfect English. “You are the infamous Gregor, crusading about America, seeking allies for a mysterious cause. I expected you to be taller.”
“Mrs. Hernandez,” Gregor said, once again in his state of diplomatic calm. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
“I apologize for our precautions, but you would be surprised what lengths the Hunters in this area might go through to get close to someone such as me.”
“I understand fully, your tribe is one of the most powerful in the area, you cannot afford to take risks.”
She stared at him quietly, a slight grin showing in one corner of her mouth. Gregor also remained quiet. Whatever she was trying to goad him into, he wouldn’t buy into it.
“The most powerful tribe in the area,” she said at last. “No ‘one of’ about it.”
“May I offer you a drink?”
“My clan does not eat as mortals do, Ma’am.”
“Not what I was referring to. We have a supply of bagged blood.”
“No thank you.”
Most shook their heads, but Frank said, “I’m never one to refuse hospitality.” Mrs. Hernandez nodded in the direction of a teenage girl and she left the room and came back a moment later with a plastic bag of blood. Aaron looked away, not wanting to see the corpselike man feed.
“So,” the old woman said, “you wish me to serve under you.”
At that, Gregor laughed. “My dear, for me to ask you to surrender power, I would need to be much braver and far, far more foolish.”
“So what is it you do want?” she asked.
“At the moment? Only for you to listen to what I have to say.”
“And what is that?”
“I would ask that it be discussed in a more private setting.”
“Do you not trust my tribe? The most peaceful and secure of the Tlahuelpuchi?”
“Can you not speak for them, their sovereign leader?”
“I am not a dictator.”
“Nor I a public speaker. Rather I am a diplomat, best suited to negotiate with a representative, rather than the whole.”
After a pause Mrs. Hernandez said, “Armando, Ximena, conmigo.” The man with the shotgun and a motherly woman out of the crowd came to join her. “El resto de ustedes puede ir, y mantener un ojo en nuestros huéspedes. I assume the Baobhan Sith and Strix and your phantom will be staying with you?”
Gregor indicated Marigold and Nikolas, “Only these two.” He turned to Aaron and whispered, “I want you, Dick and Ellen to meet with some of the younger members. Late teens, early twenties. Try to convince them that we are worth trusting. People’s children hold a substantial influence over them, not to mention they are the next generation’s majority.”
“That would be easier if I knew what the big plan was.”
“You know enough.”
“Wait. I get me, and Dick, he seems pretty young and he was only changed a few years ago. But I think Ellen might be a bit out of touch.”
“Hey,” she said, suddenly poking her head into the conversation. “I’m not ancient. I mean, I was only turned in 1995.”
Aaron said, “That was twenty years ago.”
“Seriously? Jesus H. Fuck!”
“We do not have time for this,” Gregor snapped. Everyone was shuffling out of the room. “Go. The tall girl in green seemed to be a focus of several young members, try to talk to her.”
They got up to leave but Ellen turned back. “Has it really been twenty years?”
“Oh, please, wait until you find out it has been three hundred.”
Marigold said, “Yah, the 1950s were hard for you.”
“Would you stop that?”
All but the six Motetz Dam slowly left the room, leaving them to their discussion.
“Alright,” Aaron said to the two young Strigoi once they were outside the house. He knew that the goal was to endear the group to the young members of the tribe. What he didn’t know was particularly why or how. “How do we approach them?”
“Well,” Dick began.
“Hey,” the tall young woman in the green dress Gregor had pointed out said as she approached. She was maybe twenty, taller than Aaron, thin, with long dark hair. She was attractive, with intense eyes. She approached with five others, three girls and two boys, each about her age. “You guys are supposed to talk us into siding with the old corpse in there, right?”
“Um,” Aaron said, “how’d you know that?”
“Because we’re not deaf, and he said it while we were right behind him.”
“Oh. Well, uh, would you like to, uh, talk about––” he turned to the others and shrugged
Dick sighed in disappointment. He turned to the young Tlahuelpuchi. “You guys got any beer?”
“You bet your ass we do,” the tall girl said with a grin. She waved them along and the nine of them walked to a small shed.
As they reached the shed another girl went inside and reached under a workbench. She pulled out a pair of six packs out from their shady hiding place. She handed them to the taller girl.
“I’m Valentina,” she said and popped out a can. She then introduced each of her friends as she handed them a beer. “And you guys are?” she tossed each of them a beer in term and the Strigoi answered as they caught them.
Aaron didn’t even move. He stood still and watched the can of beer pass through his chest and heard it clatter to the ground behind him. He took a moment to let that sink in. “Aaron.”
“Oh, mierda,” One of the boys, Mateo said. “It’s true.” He walked up to Aaron and held out a finger as if to poke it through him. “You’re, eh…”
Aaron flicked him in the forehead, making him flinch away in surprise. Everyone else laughed. “Not really here. No.”
“How come you can touch me, then?”
“Like this I can only touch things that are magic. This does not apply to beer, despite popular conception.”
“Sorry about this,” Valentina said.
“No, no, it’s nice to finally meet someone who knows less about my own life than I do.”
“It’s just we’ve never met a ghost before.”
“Ah, okay, I’m not a ghost. I’m an astral projection. Which is different. In some way. I think. Is it?”
Ellen shrugged and drank her beer. It looked very refreshing. He wondered if it actually had any effect on an undead woman.
“In any case I’m not dead. My body isn’t. It’s just asleep. Therefore, not a ghost. I mean, I wouldn’t even have a ghost since when I die I’ll become like…” he looked at Dick and Ellen and trailed off.
“One of those walking corpses?” said Isabella, the small one, in a high pitched voice.
“I––you keep saying that like you’re not.”
“Uh,” Valentina said, “we are not.”
“We never died or anything, that’s not how it works with us.”
“How does it work then?” Ellen said, curious.
“We just sort of pop up. Get the powers and the cravings some time around puberty.”
“Best we can tell,” said one of the girls, a shorter, stockier teen dressed for farm work, “it’s a recessive gene found in the area’s population at large. That’s why the child of two human parents can be a glower.”
“She’s talking about Vampires all sciency again,” another girl dressed more stylishly complained.
Aaron barked out a laugh. The Tlahuelpuchi all looked at him. “You called yourselves ‘Vampires.’”
“Uh, sí,” Valentina said, “that’s what we are. It’s what we all are, right?”
“No, yeah, it’s just, Gregor’s always super intense, all ‘We are not Vampires, we are the Motetz Dam, the only Vampire here is Frank, do I look like Frank to you? Is my skin ruddy and my flesh bloated?’”
“No, see,” said Dick, “you have to get the stuffy accent right. Everything is enunciated ver-y clear-ly.”
Aaron and Dick both laughed. Ellen stood very staunchly, but Aaron could totally tell she was laughing on the inside.
“Yeah, well,” said Valentina after they’d calmed down, “they’re all stuffy old corpses. We were raised human until puberty, thought the Tlahuelpuchi were just old stories. We watched the same movies as anybody and we called them vampires. So we still did, even after we became glowers ourselves. Papa Strigoi can get with the times.”
“Sorry, did you say, ‘Glowers’?” Dick said.
“Yeah!” Valentina exclaimed. “Yeah, yeah, hang on, you’ll see.” She began fiddling with the straps of her dress. “Oh, eh, you guys turn around.”
Aaron and Dick looked at each other. Aaron began to turn but Dick said, “Not really an issue.”
Valentina just made a twirling motion with one hand and Dick sighed and turned to face the other way with Aaron.
“Cool,” they heard Ellen say after a moment. They turned back around.
On the dusty ground lay Valentina’s green dress, and beside it stood a large turkey vulture. The bird emitted a kind of glowing aura in a light red, almost pink hue, not unlike the more sinister “death flash” Aaron was capable of perceiving around a Vampire as it was killed. But he realized that this one was more potent, it was not a figment that only those with particular talents could see, this was real, this was something that was put out for all to see, it even cast its color dimly on its surroundings as it hovered, mislike around the bird.
“Wow,” Aaron said. “It’s beautiful.”
“Eh,” said Dick. “When I turn into a bird at least I don’t shine a beacon on myself so everything with eyes knows what I am.”
One of the vulture’s feet lifted off the ground and the two talons on either side curled up, leaving the middle one straight. Aaron chuckled.
The bird made a pivoting motion with its head. Dick rolled his eyes and he and Aaron turned around again. There was a moment of rustling and Valentina said, “You can look now.”
She was clothed again, her dress slightly dusty from laying on the ground.
“Not bad,” Aaron said. “Though you must admit, at least these guys can do it with their clothes on.”
“Well, if that’s the price one pays for a beating heart, I’ll pay it.” The other Glowers nodded in agreement.
“I’m feeling some anti-undeadism here,” Ellen said with a mocking glare.
“Oh, come on, who wants to live forever?” Victoria, the larger girl said.
“Uh, me,” Ellen said. “I chose this. I made Gregor turn me.”
“‘Made’ him?” Aaron asked. Ellen shrugged.
“And what’s that gotten you?” Valentina said.
“Does eternal youth mean anything to you?”
“Yah, it means watching everything around me wither away while I stay the same. It means that with every connection with a human I’d ever make I’d have to watch them die: family, friends, lovers. It means eternal arrested development in the culture I was turned in, unable to progress with society, keeping my outdated state of mind. I’ve met a few old immortals, like your boss in there. They’re all still trying to live in eras where women were property and carrier pigeons were the fastest means of communication.”
“That’s your worry?” Dick said. “Getting stuck in old prejudices?”
“Doesn’t seem like you should have to worry about that much,” Aaron said. “Vamps seem pretty progressive to me. Very feminist especially, look at all the all-female clans, and hell, you guys are a matriarchy.”
“Well, that’s more a symptom of the condition,” Ellen said.
“Female Motetz Dam are stronger than males. Just as a general rule. Actually, that goes for a lot of things, like how witches are always more feared than wizards or whatever. Women just have more potential when it comes to magic. Look at me and Max, I’m twenty years younger than him and I’m already almost as strong as he is.”
“Huh. Wonder why?”
Ellen shrugged. “Hard to say. Maybe it has to do with the ability to produce a new organism inside yourself. Maybe the gene for magic is carried on the X chromosome. Maybe the Gods love tits, who knows?”
They all laughed at that, though a couple of the Glowers seemed to have to take a moment to translate.
“But yah,” Valentina said, “I’m just fine with my mortality, gracias.”
“Well, thanks for the words of encouragement,” Aaron said
“I’m mortal to a point, remember? I’ll die like anybody, but I won’t stay that way. Instead I come back like them,” he indicated Dick and Ellen.
“That’s gotta be weird to consider,” another girl said.
“You have no idea. I mean I’ve always been kind of self destructive, I got injured a lot as a kid because I showed practically no regard for my own life. But I’ve still got a survival instinct to deal with, just like any other living thing. Most people, they worry about dying young, that they won’t get a chance to live a full life. I don’t have that concern. If anything, I should be worried about dying too old, having to spend eternity as an old man. Sure, I’ll be as strong and as fast as any Strigoi, but who wants to be old, let alone old forever? So I have to eaither hope somebody kills me while I’m still good looking, or––” he paused when he realized what he was talking about. The others were staring at him. “Ah, shit. Jeez, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all this on you, I think I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about this. Shit.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment as they walked. At last one of the girls said, “If that’s all true, why are you still alive?
Aaron thought about that. It was a damn good question. An obvious answer might be his use as a spy in the Hunters, but they’d met him once before that had even become a concern and at least a few of them seemed to prefer him to live. They could just want to have his power, after all, none of them were fire-slinging telekinetic ghosts. But Gregor had implied he wasn’t sure what Aaron’s powers would be, if he had any at all. From what he’d seen a Strigoi Mort would be substantially more loyal to them by instinct alone, maybe even if he’d just been murdered by them. Why not just stab him in the sewer back in LA, or for that matter when Gregor had first appeared at his front door, carry him off and get a new full time ally? Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
Aaron looked over at Dick and Ellen. They both shrugged and said “We do not question Gregor,” in eerie unison that didn’t seem to disturb them in the slightest, though as he looked over the glowers Aaron thought he saw the same confusion and concern in their eyes as he felt.
“Well, for the moment,” Aaron said, “I’m alive, and for the moment I don’t plan on changing that. Also, sorry I brought up that whole––y’know––thing. The way my life’s going lately it probably won’t be necessary. That’s not better, is it?”
“Uh, yeah,” Aaron said nervously. “Quite the prize fight.”
“Oh, he’s being humble,” Dick announced. “By the time this guy was done with her she was nothing buy ash and bloodstains.”
“You should have seen it,” Ellen concurred. “If you wanna know why they haven’t killed him, that’s why. I’ve seen trained magic practitioners, humans who studied the art for years who can’t sling around as much power as him. And he’s known he’s one of us for what? A few months?”
Aaron glared at them. They lied with a kind of precision, a kind of calm that most humans could never pull off.
“Oh come on, guys, I didn’t do all the work. I mean, Marigold, with those talons. She went toe to toe with that bitch, ironically. And you two got a couple jabs in yourself, didn’t you?”
“I know I did,” said Dick. He jabbed a thumb at Ellen, “I think this one was too busy staring at her.”
Ellen shoved him in a way that sent him tumbling ten feet across the desert. “I took off an ear, asshole.”
Dick pushed himself to his feet and jogged back over to the walking group. “Oh, please. By the time you got there Frank had already left it hanging from a thread.”
“What fight were you watching? Frank couldn’t––”
“Guys!” Aaron interrupted. The deception was getting out of hand. “She’s dead, and ash, I think who cut off what body parts is fairly moot at this point.”
“Eh, fair enough,” said Dick. “Though I’ll say this, I wish you’d been a bit less thorough burning the body. I’d have liked a souvenir.”
“What?” Aaron said as they all stopped walking. “What are you gonna do, wear a big lizard finger on a necklace and tell people, ‘This is from the monster I didn’t kill?’”
“A fang would have been cool,” Ellen admitted. “I’d like to at least have one fang.”
Aaron was surprised at how well he lied in tandem with the others. He’d only known them a few months, and only in brief encounters, but he worked with them as though he’d been learning their patterns for years. “Hey, don’t talk to me, talk to your boss. He told me to burn the body, I burned the body. I don’t do this shit half––”
He heard a rock hit the ground to his left and turned to see a small stone tumbling away from him. Suddenly another erupted from between his eyes to follow after it. He jolted back and turned to see that one of the boys, a younger one of about fifteen, had collected a handful of rocks and was throwing them through Aaron’s astral form. As he threw another Aaron quickly condensed his telekinetic powers around the image of his hand and caught the stone. In a quick movement he tossed the rock back at the stunned teen and it bounced harmlessly off his forehead.
“Woah,” Ellen said. “Since when can you touch any old thing?”
“Something I picked up a couple weeks ago. Not as easy to maintain here in the desert. Less life to feed off, I guess. I’ve been, sort of, practicing.”
“Where is your real body anyway?” Valentina said.
“Did you not hear about that?” Dick asked her.
“We hear a lot of things, mostly rumors. Some say scavengers buried him alive and he’s projecting from his own grave. Some say he killed the owner of a mansion in Hollywood so he could live in it secretly.”
“Well that’s all very macabre,” Aaron said. “Truth is I’m in hiding. Just after Gregor and his crew tried to contact me, some hu–– Scavengers who’d managed to catch up to them got a hold on me. We lost them, but I’m on their radar now.” He wished he’d come up with a more complete story beforehand. “Luckily, uh, I knew a little cabin out in the woods where the owners weren’t likely to show up, so I…Wait. Why did we walk here?”
The others glanced curiously at him. Valentina said, “We were just walking.”
“But this…this is where I showed up. When I projected over here, I appeared here instead of where Gregor was when he called me.”
“There’s a lot of desert here, man, it’s not like––”
“I don’t mean I showed up in the desert, I mean this exact spot. I remember that big rock there. I pop up here for no apparent reason, then when we all decide to just walk aimlessly, we immediately, without anyone talking about where we’re going, head in this direction and stop here. Exactly here. We stopped walking here, like two minutes ago, for no reason. All of us. Together. None of you find that odd?”
“It just…” Ellen cut off. “It seemed like a good place to stop.”
Aaron was about to go on when he saw something else. The group, as a whole, was centered around that large rock. They all clustered around it as if they had stopped exactly when it was in the center of their party. A few of the glowers were still staring down at it from when he pointed it out. The same rock he’d pointed out. A rock seemingly indistinguishable from any other particular rock. “So why do I remember it specifically?” he said to himself.
Dick began, “What are you––”
“Somebody move that rock,” Aaron said. The rest of them gave him a blank look. “What are you staring at me for? Go!” One of the glowers, the stocky young woman, stooped to lift it, but as she looked down at the stone in her hands she stopped, and stared, blankly, into it, as though lost in thought. “Hey!” Aaron said and flicked her across the head. He stare broke and she glared at him. “Keep your eyes on me. Lift.” She complied. “Flip it over.”
The rock toppled onto its side, exposing a series of carvings done in its flat bottom in the style of Mayan hieroglyphs. The gruesome tableau depicted complexly designed beings in the process of a human sacrifice, the anatomical heart of one of the character being carved out, blood dripping and pooling everywhere. As Aaron watched it, as if by optical illusion the blood seemed to flow, the menacing beings seemed to cackle, the severed heart seemed to beat on its own and in some faint, low pulse Aaron could hear the rhythmic beat calling him.
Aaron tore his eyes away from the image only to see that the others remained mesmerized by its trance. “Hey. Look away from it. Hey!” None of them even seemed to hear him. He turned to the boy who’d tried throwing rocks through him and started shaking him by the shoulders. Nothing. He covered his eyes. Nothing. He turned to Dick. “Dick.” He shook him. “Dick, come on!” He slugged him across the face. The Strigoi kept staring into the icon. “Ellen! Ellen, please!” He grabbed her by the jaw and tried to forcefully pull her gaze away from the symbol to no avail. He stood in front of her. “Sorry about this.” He sent a low blast of fire into her face, not close enough to do any harm. He couldn’t have done much more with that little life around.
She flinched. She took a step back in shock. Her eyes darted around wildly. “Hey!” Aaron said. “Hey, look at me. Look at me! Keep focused on me.” She was glassy eyed and seemed confused but she managed to keep her focus on him. For the time being. “What’s the symbol? Don’t look at it! Just tell me what it is.”
“It––” she blinked a few times, “It’s some kind of lure. Must be designed to attract Motetz Dam by interacting with our energy in a way we’re not consciously aware of. I don’t think I can fight it for long.”
“Who would put it here? Why?”
As if on queue Aaron heard engines in the distance. He turned around and saw a pair of old trucks approaching from off into the desert. “Scavengers,” he murmured.
He turned back to Ellen only to find her once again staring blankly into the symbol carved under the rock. “Dammit!” Not knowing what else to do, he thought back to the farmhouse.
“––which I must reiterate will in no way infringe upon your existing hierarchy,” Gregor was saying as Aaron reappeared in the living room.
“I––” he looked at the specter. “What are you doing here? I thought I had told you––”
“It’s the others. Ellen and Dick and all the glower kids, they’ve fallen into some sort of trap.”
“What?” cried Mrs. Hernandez.
“The Scavengers, they set up some sort of trap with a drawing under a rock that lured us there. I fought it off, but the others are all just staring at it.”
“You were good to warn us,” Gregor said. “We will––”
Hernandez interrupted, “We will get the children out. Phantom, you stall the Scavengers as long as you can.”
“What? How? I can’t do anything in this desert, there’s no life for me to absorb.”
Gregor said, “The Scavengers are alive, are they not?”
“No,” said Hernandez. “Don’t kill them unless necessary. We don’t want any random death on our hands. From what you were saying, I’d think you’d agree with me?”
“My apologies, Señora, I was caught up in the moment.” He turned to Aaron and said, “Stall them however you can,” emphasizing it very carefully.
Aaron watched as the two elder Motetz Dam assumed avian forms and flew off into the desert. Behind them more turkey vultures and a few other birds, including the massive monstrosity of an owl that Nikolas turned into did the same.
With a thought Aaron returned to the site of the lure and immediately felt its tug at his mind again. He avoided looking at it and looked towards the oncoming cars. He had maybe thirty seconds before they got to him, and he had to think of something fast. He went with the first thing he could come up with.
He’d never transported into a moving vehicle before. With a thought he was sitting in the passenger seat of one of the trucks, which was also occupied by a lanky Hispanic man. “Well that went better than I expected.”
“Baje el aparato de aire acondicionado,” said the man occupying the same space as him.
Aaron reached a hand inside the steering wheel of the truck, making his fingers tangible only once they’d gone past the outer layer of plastic.
“Se es apagada,” said the more muscular man driving, just before the airbag inside the steering wheel exploded in his face. “Mierda!” he cried as he swerved. Aaron vanished out of the truck in time to see it topple over itself.
“Boy, I hope they were wearing seatbelts.” He readied himself to appear in the other truck but it had already slowed to a stop next to the group. He moved over to them.
“¿Qué carajo le pasó a Jesús?” One of them, a tall woman who was driving said to the other. Both were holing shotguns and carrying wooden and iron stakes. Aaron had to figure out what to do. The other Motetz Dam were nowhere in sight.
“No hay tiempo,” said her counterpart, a young white man. “Cuidemos de estas cosas antes de la tribu aparece.”
“Shut up with all the Spanish! Come on, Aaron, think, think, think.” He couldn’t just kill them. He also couldn’t just let them kill the Motetz Dam. And if he made it obvious who or what he was, and word got back to the group of hunters he was traveling with… He was getting frantic. “Where are they?”
The young Motetz Dam didn’t even notice as the two Hunters walked among them. “Oye,” said the woman as she looked over Ellen and Dick. “Estos dos no se parecen a Tlahuelpuchi.”
Aaron frantically sought an answer until he looked at the car. He remembered how he got Ellen out of the trance for a minute. He appeared beside the car and looked it over, examining the space beneath it, knowing he wouldn’t have much energy form the environment to enact his plan. “This would be easier if I knew literally anything about cars!”
The male Hunter said, “Están atrapados en la trampa, matarlos de todos modos.” Aaron watched as the woman held up an iron stake at Ellen’s heart, poised to strike.
“Oh, screw it,” Aaron said. He held out one hand towards the woman and the other pointed at the underside of the truck. Before she could strike with the stake she wavered as though suddenly tired and dizzy as Aaron absorbed her life energy and moved it beneath the truck in the form of a wash of fire.
The explosion was smaller than Aaron had expected, the car made no sudden jump into the air, nor did pieces of the chassis get scattered everywhere. He supposed he’d watched too many movies. It was however, much louder than he ever could have imagined. The Hunters staggered away in shock, and the eye of every Tlahuelpuchi and Strigoi alike was drawn for a moment away from the hypnotic symbol.
“Go!” Aaron screamed at them while he still could. “Go! Fly away!” In an instant the Motetz Dam realized what was going on and assumed their animal forms, the glowers dropping their clothes or tearing out of them with beak and talon, Dick swooping away as an owl and Ellen taking the form of a flapping, squealing bat.
“¿Qué demonios fue eso?” screamed the male hunter.
Now that the others were out of danger, Aaron began to call on the remaining knowledge of those three Spanish classes he scraped through in high school with a high C. Hopefully the hunters’ conversation would focus on getting directions to the library.
“I have no *expletive they don’t teach kids in public school* idea,” said the woman.
“Could someone have tampered with the cars before we left?”
“Who would do that? It’s not the bloodsuckers’ style to make the first move against us.”
“You’re suggesting one of them blew up the car? They were stuck in the trap! The book said they wouldn’t even be able to think straight. Much less use any powers.”
“Then maybe there’s something else here.”
“Something that can summon fire? And that we can’t even see?” said the woman, only slightly incredulously.
“Stranger things. Come on, we’ll see if Jesús and Antonio are alright and if we can flip the car back up. Then we’ll go check out the library,” huh, what do you know? “And put the word out to the community. See if any of them have heard of anything that fits the bill.” Oh shit.
Aaron wasn’t sure how many fire summoning invisible things known to associate with vampires there were in the world (given he’d met like twelve kinds of vampire in the last few months, nothing would surprise him) but if the Hunter group he was part of heard of this it wouldn’t take long for them to suspect him. Given that they thought he was the Hunter community’s agent in Gregor’s group this would seem exceedingly suspicious. And hunters tended to react to suspicion with guns. Big guns. Very big guns. One guy could even make them work properly on him.
“Shit, shit, shit, I did not think this through,” Aaron said. At that moment he received a telepathic impression from Gregor. A simple message: “We have intersected the children. Coming your way to finish the job.” Aaron looked off in the direction they would be coming from. And for an instant, for a brief and terrible moment, he considered letting them just kill the hunters.
“Different plan, different plan,” he said as he snapped out of it. “Something to give them an answer, to draw the attention off the possibility of it being me. Something fiery and…If it were a snake it would have bit me. In fact it tried to a couple weeks ago after I had se…bad memory. Okay, here we go.” He vanished and reappeared under the burning car. The two hunters were already jogging to the other car, whose occupants were crawling out dazed. Not two weeks earlier he’d met something known to associate with vampires that was all about fire. It tried to kill him. He’d learned a new trick from the experience. He might just have learned two. Trying to ignore the fact that there was a blazing inferno just above him, Aaron focused on how he could wrap his telekinetic influence around his spectral body, to give his hands a tangible form. Drawing energy from the four hunters, from the shrubs and rats of the desert, from whatever life he could, he did it again, except this time he surrounded his entire upper body.
And he did it with fire.
He scrambled out from under the burning car as a ball of orange flame floating three feet off the ground, vaguely containing most of the shape of a human form. He ran at the hunters, waving his arms in a menacing and not at all ridiculous way. As he flailed towards the hunters they took aim at him, but before they could fire he threw the fire that surrounded him into the sky, letting it soar away into a pinprick of light before letting it be extinguished. Aaron collapsed onto the ground, exhausted from the use of power.
“Was that a Soucouyant?” said the driver of the first car in Spanish.
“They never come this far south,” said his passenger.
“Doesn’t change the fact that we just saw one,” said the third man.
“What the fuck is going on here?” said the woman.
Aaron watched as they contemplated. He could sense the adult Motetz Dam getting closer. “Come on, get out of here.”
“Help me get the car up,” said the first driver. The others scrambled to prop the toppled vehicle upright.
“That’s…” Aaron stammered, “that’s not a new power is it? That was just a coincidence, right?” As the driver was testing the engine Aaron whispered to the woman, “Take your shirt off.” She paid him absolutely no heed as she piled into the truck with the others and drove off into the desert. “Just a coincidence then.”
A few moments later a flock of various birds swooped down. Gregor, Max, and Nikolas resumed their human forms, while the tlahuelpuchi simply landed and remained as birds, likely for modesty’s sake, with one exception: one of them, as it swooped down, dropped a blanket held in its claws over another one, allowing Mrs. Hernandez to resume human form without exposing herself.
“You allowed them to get away,” Gregor said.
“You didn’t see that light show?” Aaron said. “I went at them with fire but they had some iron and all but dissipated me. I’m just now pulling myself back together. Besides, I thought we were keeping a low profile?”
“Precisely,” said Mrs. Hernandez as she wrapped the blanked around herself. “Our little game with the local hunters is a long one, and I will not have them killed for their exploits.”
“Game, madam?” Gregor said. “They intend to kill you.”
Gregor forced a smile. “I am sure. Now, back to what we had been discussing.”
“We will consider your proposals,” Hernandez said matter-of-factly. “Your goals are compatible enough with our own beliefs, but I do worry at your methods.”
“My methods, madam, are nothing but––”
“You have been very purposefully vague on your methods since your arrival. I won’t assume the worst from this alone, but we will be observing your behavior following this. Seeing what methods you use in future negotiations. If we further believe you share our values, we may yet join your movement. Until then, we will only wish you good luck.”
“I thank you for that. And I assure you, you will find no fault in us.”
“We shall see.” She turned to Aaron. “Thank you for saving my great-granddaughter, and her friends. I, and my tribe, are in your debt.”
“Uh, thanks. Ma’am.”
She bowed to him and promptly resumed bird form, clutching the blanket in one glowing talon, and flew away back towards the ranch with the others.
“Well,” said Gregor. “It would seem that you are useful in ways I had not predicted.”
Aaron nodded slightly. “High praise. Does this mean I get a raise?”
A few minutes later, the rest of Gregor’s band of Motetz Dam met them in the desert. Marigold ran up, her long dress tied up around her thighs, inhumanly fast on her cloven feet. A big cat followed after her that reformed into the Lilin Carmen as it approached. A cloud of dark mist condensed into the copse-like vampire Frank. Two owls and a bat dropped out of the sky and regained the forms of Gregor’s three apostles, their eyes flicking towards the idol they had moved away from.
“So,” said Marigold as she stood before Gregor, letting her dress down. “How’d it go?”
Gregor recited the previous conversation with Mrs. Hernandez.
Marigold nodded, not looking directly at Gregor. “So she’ll be watching us. We’re under scrutiny.” She faced her leader. “I told you it was too early to go seeking groups this organized.”
“The authority will help us.”
“The authority is watching us. Before, we had freedom. We were unregulated. Now, one slip up, and we’ve lost…”
“Marigold. This is in our best interest. Remember. I am prepared for all eventualities.”
She stared at him for a moment. “I hope you are.” She walked away.
“You are prepared for all eventualities,” Aaron quoted. “That oughta’ be your catch phrase.”
“I must thank you, Aaron,” Gregor said. “Had the blasted scavengers of this area been successful in their trap, not only would my apostles be dead, but my negotiations would be wholly ruined.”
“No problem. Scary thing, that idol.”
“Yes. A charm designed to affect our baser nature. To mimic the mystic draw of our natural urge toward blood. A dark magic we will have to take precautions against, especially among our younger numbers.”
They stood together in silence for a moment, thinking over the events of the evening. Aaron suddenly said, “Do you know who my father is?”
Gregor seemed more curious, almost worried, than he did surprised. “I cannot say that I do.” He almost whispered, “Why are you asking now?”
“I’ve been meaning to for a while now. For some reason I just haven’t been able to get it out. You’re sure you have no idea? There are no Strigoi in the US you think are reasonable candidates?”
“I do not know personally every Motetz Dam in the country.”
“Do you think you could help me find him?”
“I suppose, however at this time I would not expect much luck. Why do you wish to meet him?”
“Why does anyone want to know their long lost father?” Gregor kept looking at him. Aaron sighed. “At first, I just wanted to ask him why. Why he bothered conceiving me. Why, if there was any reason, he decided to leave a Strigoi Viu. But the more I do this, the deeper I get into all this, the more I think that that will eventually change.”
“You mean you might no longer wish to meet him?”
“No. I think, if this goes on long enough, I might end up wanting to kill him.”