Ezra had allowed his Maker to clasp his leathery hand over his own and guide him at vampire speed through the desolate city and towards the secret Vampire Court meeting.
Now they both stood, shoulder to shoulder, looking across the graveyard to the old stone church. Candlelight danced behind the stained-glass windows.
“A creepy, abandoned church. Really?” Ezra arched an eyebrow. “What, were all the gothic castles taken?”
Silas smirked. The cool night breeze made his grey hair float about his ears.
“The Court does have a soft spot for theatrics,” he said.
Ezra looked down at himself; at his simple grey polo-shirt and jeans, and then to his Maker, dressed in his usual tailored sports jacket, trousers and dress shoes. Ezra’s nose wrinkled. Was he underdressed? He was about to be in the company of the vampire equivalent of the Royal Family, or so he thought. To be perfectly honest, he still had no idea what to expect. But nevertheless, he didn’t think he was in the best attire. For Christ’s sake, he was wearing Vans.
“Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. I will not have you showing me up, got it?” said Silas.
Silas began making his way down the path between the graves and Ezra followed doggedly behind, running his hand through his styled hair and flattening his collar.
His Maker rapped his knuckles on the huge wooden door in an obviously thought-out pattern. Secret knock? Nice. Ezra heard a slat being pushed back, then the door opened inwards. At this precise moment, Ezra envisioned some sort of occult scene. A group of vampires all standing in a circle in long black robes, hoods covering their faces. But that’s not what he found.
It had been a female vampire who had opened the door. She was Asian with straight dark hair, wearing a navy knee-length dress. A knowing smile between friends passed between her and Silas, and when her dark eyes hit Ezra, she cocked her head curiously but said nothing.
Ezra stayed a short pace behind Silas as they walked down the aisle between the pews, so close he almost stepped on the back of his shoes. His eyes were everywhere. At the rows and rows of candles that were alight beneath the windows and up high on mounted sconces. It wasn’t until Silas stopped and Ezra stumbled to a halt beside him that he noticed the other vampires in the shadows near the alter.
There were five standing. In the centre stood a bald man, tall and lithe and dressed in an immaculate three-piece grey suit. His eyes were dark and beady, surrounded by a pool of wrinkles. Silas was no longer the oldest looking vampire Ezra had encountered. It was clear this man had been Turned in his seventies, at least.
Flanking him were four other vampires, two on either side. Three males in similar smart attire, and one female. Ezra’s eyes shifted to the female. She looked so striking amongst all the others; her floor-length white nightgown style dress made her look out of place amongst the suits and ties. Her hair was jet black and fell in two sleek waves down her chest, almost to her hips. She caught him looking at her and winked. Ezra gulped and quickly looked away, only then noticing that there were other vampires sitting along the first row of pews.
“Silas, so good of you to join us,” said the bald man, who was clearly more important than the rest.
“Guardian.” Silas bowed his head. Ezra bowed too, still not really knowing what was happening.
When he looked back up, the bald man was appraising him. His thin lips uplifted into something similar to a smile.
“And who is this?” he asked. There was a weird, playful edge to his tone as if he were addressing a shy puppy.
“This is my progeny, Ezra.” Silas gestured to him. Unsure of what to do, Ezra bowed his head again.
“Pleasure to meet you, Ezra. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Ezra’s eyes shifted to his Maker. You have? Because I’ve heard nothing about you.
Guardian extended a thin, bony hand. When Ezra just stared at it, Silas jabbed him in the side with his elbow.
“Pleasure’s all mine,” Ezra rushed, taking his hand and was surprised by the strength of his grip.
Guardian then gestured to the pews. “Please, sit. And then we’ll begin.”
Silas and Ezra found space on the front pew. Directly in front of Ezra stood the mesmerizing female vampire. She locked eyes with him again and swayed her hips slightly so her dress swished about her ankles. When he adjusted himself on the bench, she smirked; her deep blue eyes teasing. Not allowing himself to be drawn in, he looked down the pew to the other side of the church. The woman who had answered the door now sat on the other bench with several others. They all had their eyes forwards, like actual church goers awaiting a sermon.
“These are trying times,” began Guardian. He started pacing slowly before the alter, wringing his hands. “There is an air of trepidation, of fear, of uncertainty joining us tonight, as we are all here to discuss what is unfolding all across the world.
There is no doubt that things will never be the same again. But that doesn’t have to be our downfall, if we don’t let it be.”
This is what I’m talking about. Ezra looked to his Maker. He was gazing up at Guardian like he was a prophet. They all were. Even the flirty woman in the white dress. Except, she was looking to him more like her saviour. Like he had already solved all of their problems. Was Ezra missing something?
“Our kind have survived everything that this world has thrown our way. Witches. Wars. Vampire Hunters,” Guardian continued. Ezra furrowed his brows and looked around. Wait. Witches are real?
“But we have always learned to adapt. To thrive. And our discovery will be no different.” Guardian sighed. “We are playing the long game, we always have. And, being immortal, that isn’t too much to ask of us. This curfew, I admit, will cause problems. But to me, this only seems like a way to delay the inevitable.”
Guardian looked around the church. Looked at every vampire individually. The pause lengthened. Some of the vampires closed their eyes and if in prayer. Others waited, eyes wide and expectant.
“The inevitable?” Ezra asked, his voice surprisingly loud within the stone building. Silas looked to him, his frosty blue eyes screaming.
Guardian smiled, again like he was a puppy learning a new trick. “Acceptance.”
All the other vampires nodded in agreement, like the answer was obvious.
“You think they’re gonna accept us? After what they’ve been broadcasting? They’re making us look like monsters.” Ezra could see his Maker in his peripheral vision, his eyes flashing a warning. But if this Guardian guy was going to stand up there in front of them preaching like he knew all the answers, well then Ezra was going to take this opportunity to get his.
“Right now, the human authorities are gathering as much information on our kind as they can. In other countries around Europe, vampires are complying, answering questions to ensure their continued freedom.” Guardian strolled over to Ezra, his heels clicking loudly across the stones. He stopped before him, hands behind his back. “Once the humans realise just how many of us are out there, they will have no choice but to accept us. They’re not stupid. They know our kind are stronger. We have the power to overthrow them and if that was our goal, we would have done it already.”
Ezra gazed up at him. At the liver spots at his temple, the certainty in his dark eyes.
“They will kick up a fuss, no doubt. They want to make us the enemy before they corral us. They need a way to make it seem like they have won some sort of conflict. If they show the public that they have tamed us, the humans will believe it because they want to.”
“And how exactly do they think they are going to tame us?” asked Ezra.
A soft laugh rumbled in Guardian’s throat that sounded like griding rocks, and he shifted his eyes to Silas. “He’s an inquisitive one, isn’t he?”
Silas’ jaw clenched.
“We have already let them know about our ways of keeping unruly vampires off the streets. Silas has told me that you have had your own part to play in that.” The smirk Guardian sent him- fanged and wicked- made Ezra’s stomach roil and the bloody memories attack him once again. The phantom feeling of his slick grip on a bloody stake had his hands curling into fists on his lap. “No doubt that they will take all the credit for themselves, though. They can’t have us being the heroes now, can they?”
“So, that’s it? We just do nothing and everything will somehow work out just fine?” Irritation edged Ezra’s voice. “Not buying it.”
“Ezra,” Silas finally snapped. “Do I need to walk you out?”
Guardian held up his pale palm. “No need, Silas. This is good. The boy’s got gusto. He’s passionate. It’s what we need right now.”
Ezra felt like the praise was supposed to validate him, but it just made him feel dirty. This man was creepy. And the way all these vamps just sat and watched, taking his word for gospel? It just seemed counterintuitive to him.
“I’ve received word that the human authorities are planning something,” said Guardian. At this, all the vampires noticeably straightened and leaned in. Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff.
Guardian looked about the church before stepping back into the centre, now addressing them all.
“I was going to wait until things were clearer, but there has been talk that they are going to try and make us more humane.”
At this, the dark-haired female vampire pulled a face of disgust.
Ezra opened his mouth to talk but Silas jabbed him with his elbow. Guardian caught the altercation.
“I don’t exactly know how,” he answered Ezra’s unspoken question. “It’s in the early stages but I have my best people sniffing out the information. And, with that said-” Guardian clapped his hands together, “is there any other questions?” His eyes cut to Ezra but by the stiffness of his Maker’s posture, he feared he’d said to much already. When Ezra stayed silent, Guardian smiled and gestured to the group. “Meeting over.”
Guardian turned and the four vampires who had been standing all gathered around him. It was clear that they were some sort of inner circle.
“I can’t believe I thought it was a good idea to bring you here,” Silas seethed, looking at Guardian but addressing Ezra. “You made me look like a fool.”
“He seemed to like me.”
Silas turned to him, his face cast in shadow, making his eyes look even more hauntingly bright. “The best thing to be with Guardian is forgettable. Now you’ve shown him up you’d better be on your best behaviour. He’ll have his people watching the both of us.” He let out an angered breath. “I’m going to try and smooth things over. Stay there and don’t cause any more trouble.”
Silas stood and headed over to the inner circle. Ezra folded his arms and looked down to his lap like a scolded child.
If he hadn’t have said anything, they would have left the meeting just as clueless as they were when they entered. It wasn’t his fault this Guardian seemed to expect people to blindly follow his lead.
In the corner of his eye, Ezra caught a swish of white material. He looked up just as the dark-haired woman sat beside him. Ezra just looked at her, wide-eyed. Up close, she was even more stunning. Her blue eyes crinkled in delight as she chewed her bottom lip, watching him watching her.
“I haven’t seen you before, have I?” she asked. Her voice was silky and seductive. Her dark blue eyes slid down his chest. “No, I’d definitely remember you.”
Ezra wanted to look away, to ignore her. In the back of his mind, he knew he should. The way she watched him; it was predatory. A lioness stalking a deer. A spider coaxing a fly.
She pursed her full, red lips and frowned. “Why so quiet? You sure had a lot to say earlier.”
Ezra cleared his throat. “Silas told me to stay out of trouble.”
She rested her pale elbow on the back of the pew, twisting her body to his fully. Her dress was cut low, with only thin lace covering her chest.
“Now where’s the fun in that?” A cold spell washed over his entire body when her fingers slid into his hair, her long nails massaging his scalp.
Ezra looked ahead. He found Silas. He had his back to him, conversing with Guardian. A soft laugh tickled his ear and that cold spell hit him again when she raked a finger down the side of his throat, from ear to clavicle.
“You have fire in you,” she said and Ezra let himself look back to her. Her face had softened. She no longer looked like a temptress. Her smile was wistful as her eyes roved his face. “You remind me of a dear progeny of mine.” She leaned back against the pew and faced the front of the church, but there was this faraway look in her eyes – like she was somewhere else entirely. “I should check up on him. It’s been a while.”
And then she picked herself up and left, leaving Ezra reeling as he watched her go. The way the thin material of her dress slid over her body like liquid had him adjusting himself once again. It wasn’t until Silas grabbed his shoulder when he finally tore his eyes off the mysterious beauty.
“We’re leaving,” said Silas, his eyes already on the door.
Ezra obediently followed him out, meeting his clipped pace.
Silence rang between the two of them as they weaved through the graves. The moon was high in the sky, bleaching everything with its light. The wind rustled through the trees. Beyond the gates of the cemetery, Ezra could feel the expanse of emptiness. They were still at the outskirts of the city, but the absence of cars on the road was noticeable even from where they were.
Ezra watched Silas’ back as they continued walking at mortal speed. He could feel the tension between them, thick like a blanket. His jaw worked a few times before he managed to speak.
“Is it bad?”
“What?” Silas replied curtly, not looking back.
“What did Guardian say? About me?”
“Not much. He accepted my apology and you will not be joining us at any more meetings.”
Ezra nodded. That’s fair.
“Who’s the woman in the white?” he had to ask. He’d been wanting to ask since they left the church.
Silas halted and Ezra nearly walked into him. Silas turned and looked at him, for the first time in what felt like forever. He smirked.
“You mean Milah?”
Milah. The name echoed in his mind.
“What about her?” asked Silas.
Ezra shrugged, emitted a noncommittal grumble.
Silas huffed a laugh and continued walking. “Stay away from her, if you know what’s good for you.” His eyes slid to Ezra. “I mean it.”
“Why?” asked Ezra.
“She’s got a bad reputation.”
“But she’s part of the Court. She can’t be that bad if she’s part of the inner circle.”
“Inner circle?” Silas tasted the words. “I guess you could call it that. And Milah’s an ancient. A powerful one, at that. She may have wreaked havoc over the last few centuries but Guardian knows how important it is to preserve ancients. He would never kill her. So, instead, he made her join him.”
Ezra furrowed his brows, confused. “You make it sound like a punishment. I thought the Court are here to help us? They’re the good guys, right?”
When Silas didn’t reply, Ezra quickened his pace so they were shoulder to shoulder. His Maker was looking off into the distance, his husky blue eyes squinting through the wind. He looked pensive; his thin lips were a tight line.
“The Court is here to protect us,” he finally said. “But protection comes at a price. And Guardian is not afraid to get his hands dirty. I brought you here because I could sense your restlessness, Ezra.” His eyes found his. “Guardian is a practical man. He does what is right for our kind. We do not question his methods.”