*The sneek peek is slightly different from the final, published version--apparently PDF don't paste so well here, so here is my original, unedited Microsoft file version.
+ Copyright 2010 by C.L. Warrington: All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.
The sounds of the city echo all around me as I pick my way over the scarred and pitted sidewalk near the heart of downtown San Antonio. I had come to the great state of Texas only six months before, but I could already sense that this city was going to be one of my more extended places of residence. I had occupied nearly every state on the eastern seaboard since coming to the United States at the turn of the century, and the time I spent at each location depended upon two things and two things only: were there others of my kind in the immediate area, and if so, how much danger did they pose to the human population?
With very few exceptions I invariably stumbled upon them in the great cities of the world. The groups varied from grand assemblages replete with hierarchies to loose conglomerations that were nothing more than street gangs, but regardless of their size or organization, they all preyed upon the city’s human inhabitants to sustain their own lives. In every instance the groups were comprised of a Font and their progeny, human companions that had been transformed through a transfer of blood and who were now recipients of the Font’s eternal legacy.
Fonts alone possessed the power to pass on their longevity to others, and the sheer magnitude of the lives that they had consumed over the centuries transformed them into beings of considerable power that the rest of us feared and respected. While there was an undeniable bond between Fonts and progeny due to the blood transference, occasional displays of endearment did little to mask the real truth behind their relationship. When a Font created a progeny—when they shared their blood with a human—they shared a part of their life force with them. Their lives were now directly tied to one another and each progeny embodied a fraction of a Font’s overall strength. When progeny fed upon the life force of their human victims, their Font garnered the lion’s share of the feeding. If a progeny were to be killed, then their Font would suffer the loss of their lives, and if enough of them were to be killed, then the Font risked dying as a result. Fonts were therefore dependent upon their progeny and would stop at nothing to protect them.
That is, until the bond had dissipated between them.
On the surface it may appear that nurturing progeny is actually detrimental to a Font’s existence, but in essence they serve a dual purpose. For one thing, they provide their Font with sustenance via the bond they share, and secondly, they are a show of status. The ability to create others of our kind resides exclusively within Fonts, and to have a number of these progeny at one’s disposal is indication to others of our kind that they have survived for centuries and are formidable adversaries. Fonts were not born, but rather made into what they are by their own actions; each life that they consumed brought them one step closer to achieving this apex of our species, and in essence took them one step away from the bond that they had once shared with their maker. They had once started out as progeny, and only with the passage of centuries and innumerable victims did the bond between them waver and disappear. When they had accrued strength that surpassed that of their maker, the former-progeny were now powerful enough to assume the status of Fonts themselves, and the whole bloody cycle began anew.
Regardless of where I traveled throughout the world or what era I passed through, every Font that I had encountered was cruel, sadistic, and had an affinity for slaughter and carnage. No matter their upbringing during their human lifetime or the circumstances that led to their transformation, this behavior was inevitable. Countless innocents had died so that they could continue to live, had died so that their progeny could live and in essence keep them alive, and I despised them for it. My family and I had been on the receiving end of such treatment centuries ago and I knew what their victims had gone through. I knew the terror and the horror that had been their final moments of life, and I refused to stand idly by while others suffered a similar fate. No, if I had the knowledge, the means, and the fortitude to prevent such atrocities, then I would do so until every last one of them was destroyed.
I had long-since recognized the significance of the relationship between a Font and their progeny, and for the past three-hundred and twenty-eight years I exploited it to my advantage. The Fonts and their progeny—while formidable and protected—were not invincible. Like all things in this world they had weaknesses, and regardless of any allusions to immortality, they were not difficult to kill.
In order to destroy the Fonts and thereby end the whole accursed cycle of death and destruction once and for all, it was simply a matter of killing their progeny off one by one so that they could be dealt with.
Weak and disillusioned after the deaths of their progeny, the Fonts tried to escape to neighboring towns or cities that weren’t quite large enough to hide them and their hunting activities. Desperate to replenish their strength in order to stay alive, they often killed whomever they could get their hands on and seldom concealed the bodies, thereby making it easy for me to track them down. When I caught up with them I was merciless in my treatment, and when they drew their last breath I was that much closer to honoring the oath I had sworn upon my family’s memory centuries before. It was an oath that I had vowed to uphold until the end of the world, and each time that I destroyed one of them—a creature that I considered no different than the ones that had destroyed my family and forever altered my destiny—I was that much closer to regaining what I had lost.
This strategy set the precedent for how I lived my life, and I moved around constantly in this fashion for centuries while slowly driving their ranks to the brink of extinction. The advent of transatlantic travel made it possible for my kind to propagate elsewhere in the world, and I pursued them accordingly. In the century or so since my arrival in the United States I had occupied the eastern coast, and it was only when I was satisfied that this area was relatively clean, that I set my sights on the southern states.
I only knew Texas from the brochures and books that I had acquired, but I eventually chose San Antonio as my most recent base of operations. The color photos of the famed River walk and Spanish missions were oddly appealing to me and the cultural and geographical makeup of the area—the gateway to the American Southwest—was wholly different from anything I had ever encountered during my considerable travels.
The city of San Antonio has the distinction of being the second largest in the state of Texas, as well as being the seventh largest in the United States. The current population stands at nearly a million and half souls—a million and a half potential victims if my kind were to take up residence there. Something else drew me to the city other than the promise of a change in scenery or a challenging hunt, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I had learned to trust my instincts over the years.
My exodus to San Antonio is still relatively fresh in my mind, as if it were just yesterday that I was gazing out at the vaguely surreal landscape from the smeared and grimy windows of the plane. As I pulled out of the airport parking lot in my rented vehicle and headed out into the streets, I found myself growing more and more at ease. There was something intensely thrilling about the city as I took the downtown exit and felt the ambiance of my new home wrap itself around me. The massive steel and glass structures that extended skyward were nestled snuggly amongst the remnants of the city’s illustrious past. The Alamo—the unequivocal symbol of pride and nostalgia to the natives—and the beautiful and grand hotels that spoke of bygone eras were comfortably at home alongside one another. The styles did not clash but seemed to compliment one another, creating a skyline that was both imposing in its modernity yet timeless in its features.
The neighborhoods themselves were a virtual amalgam of humanity that mirrored the unique architectural style of the city. Driving down one street, you would find yourself gaping open-mouthed at the majestic Victorian facades of the historic King William District. Turn down another street, and you could actually trace the progression from one socio-economic status to another. Corner markets run by independent proprietors with heavy bars over the windows, car washes, family-owned Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants, and the inevitable and predictable liquor store dotted the landscape. The houses here were shadows of their former selves and of their more upscale counterparts. Paint peeled away from the graying walls in heavy strips, the porches sagged under the weight of the top floors, and the ornate columns designed to support the whole structure were now held in place by large wooden braces that were deteriorating as well.
I was overcome by the passage of nearly four centuries while gazing up at these dilapidated homes. I was keenly aware that even in a city that was growing in leaps and bounds like San Antonio was that time goes on and that change is inevitable. Eventually everything will be swallowed up in the vast and immeasurable depths of time, and the vestiges of yesteryear ultimately mean nothing to the youth of today.
I sighed and turned the collar of my nondescript brown coat up to block the chill that suddenly swept down the nape of my neck. I turned and headed down the street away from the sagging remains of the house that I had been admiring while lost in my own reverie. It was in these moments of silent contemplation that I felt the loneliest, the most vulnerable. I hated feeling vulnerable and I hated the memories that accompanied such a reaction even more. I had resigned myself to a life of solitude and had accepted my fate centuries ago, however much I longed to change it. I knew that there was no value in trying to change the past. It was over, done with, finished. All that mattered was the here and now, the city before me, and the oath that I had sworn to my family to uphold until the world itself came to an end. I had come to this city, to these very streets to serve justice where it had previously been denied and to protect the innocent. This was no time for self-pity or reflection. This was a time to hunt, and I spotted my prey across the street a few yards up ahead.
I placed his age at about twenty, no more. He was gangly, medium-build, with a shock of greasy black hair falling over one side of his face. He was following a man who was obviously drunk down a sidewalk that terminated by a corner market that had closed for the night. To the casual observer he looked like he was just another young man out for an evening stroll, but I recognized the telltale signs of a predator when I saw them. The intensity that he stared at the other man with was anything but casual: it was calculating, deliberate, and analytical. He was sizing the other man up, looking for just the right moment to close the distance between them to strike. I was as sure of this as anything else in my life, and I tracked him discreetly from my vantage point across the street. I had encountered and systematically dispatched four individuals like him during my time here, and it seemed that he was going to become number five.
I knew that the presence of so many in such a concentrated area as the one that I was in meant that a Font had taken up residence here. Progeny don’t live apart from their creator, and the fact that I had encountered five such individuals within the same general vicinity meant that the Font was nearby and had chosen to occupy this particular area. It was the perfect place where people could disappear unnoticed, or the discovery of their body would only signify a jump in statistics. No mobs with stakes and torches would come charging out of the mist in search of the creature behind the killings—at the very least the police would have a little more paperwork to file because of them.
The drunk weaved and shuffled his way down the sidewalk completely oblivious to the danger that lurked only a few yards behind him. I pressed my body up against the rickety metal fence that enclosed the weed-choked lawn of the house behind me, and allowed the night to swallow me up.
I watched as the drunk sat down heavily on a low stone fence, his body slouched with the effort. His head hung heavily on his chest as he swayed from side to side muttering incoherently to himself, his hands reaching in and out of the pockets of his trench coat in a compulsive manner. The man behind him paused in mid-step as the drunk sat down and glanced around the surrounding area for witnesses. His eyes flicked across the street to where I stood pressed up against the fence.
I breathed shallowly through my mouth and concentrated on remaining absolutely still. His gaze passed right over me and he turned back to the man who was now humming softly and stamping his feet to some tune that was audible only to him.
Even in pitch blackness he should have been able to spot me. The auras of our kind burn brighter and more intensely than humans, yet he hadn’t seen me at all. I kept my gaze fixed on him as he moved closer to the drunk in order to make sure that I hadn’t been mistaken about what he was.
His aura flared out around him in a hazy nimbus of muted red and gold as I continued to track his progress. He was definitely one of us, but the dimness of his aura suggested that he was weak and hadn’t been properly nurtured by his Font. This realization both puzzled and troubled me. Fonts typically choose their progeny with great care and train and nurture them for years before allowing them to undergo the transference. Numerous infusions of the Font’s blood over time allow their progeny to be able to detect the auras of not only humans—potential victims—but others of their kind who may or may not pose any threat to them. By virtue of their extensive age and power, Fonts would not risk creating progeny that were weak or who were otherwise incapable of defending themselves. Progeny were a reflection of the strength and character of their creator, and the Font who had made this one had been careless—very careless.
Before I could consider the motives of the Font in question, the man moved closer and began to close the distance between him and the drunk. I had to act fast.
I moved away from the fence and looked both ways for oncoming traffic. I put my head down and tried to appear lost and nervous, then proceeded to cross the street directly behind the two men. I dug awkwardly in the pockets of my coat for my car keys and kept glancing anxiously around me. The man turned at the sound of my approach and his aura flared once more, obviously excited by the change in the night’s entertainment. I made sure to catch his eyes for only the briefest of seconds before looking away, and then I veered sharply to the left towards the darkened alleyway.
In the space of that single glance I saw in his eyes that he had plans for me, and that he was going to enjoy acting them out. They were hollow, soulless eyes—the eyes of a killer.
I turned at the sound of his footsteps echoing sharply behind me and I let the fear show in my face. It was a convincing act, but an act no less.
He chuckled as I quickened my pace and attempted to outdistance him, and when I broke into a dead run he laughed gleefully and pursued me. All around me the remains of once-grand mansions loomed out of the darkness like menacing ghosts, and there were no street lamps to illuminate our progress. The moon peaked out from the soaring clouds above us, and the broken glass and scattered refuse littering the alley floor winked and glittered in the dim light. Glass crunched under my boots as I made a desperate attempt to reach a fabricated safety, and I could still hear my pursuer behind me taunting me with his laughter.
All at once a sign with the words Dead End came into view, and I couldn’t help the smile that crept onto my face. The words were fitting for more than a few reasons, as my would-be assailant was soon going to learn.
I whirled around and saw him a few yards behind me grinning with undisguised malice. His teeth were a white slash in the dark, and the smile would have been beautiful except for the intent behind it. He took a step towards me, then another, his eyes roaming over my face and body in apparent appraisal.
I was going to enjoy wiping that look off his face. He was about to learn the hard way that appearances can be deceiving.
He paused and I saw the empty, soulless look come into his eyes. “You look lost; maybe I can help you.” He took another series of steps toward me and I visibly cowered.
“Don’t come any closer!” I made myself appear as small and helpless as possible, and I got the desired response.
The grin widened as his lips stretched almost painfully over his teeth, and I was reminded of the way a Great White looks moments before it swallows its hapless prey whole. He strode forward until he was only a few feet in front of me. “You didn’t say please.”
He launched himself at me in a blur of movement and knocked me into the overgrown lawn of a rambling red-brick Victorian, his arms gripping me in a steel-like vice as he attempted to hold me down. I shoved upwards with every ounce of strength that I could muster and we went flying backwards with the force of the momentum, striking the wall of the house with enough force to shatter bone in a normal human being.
Bricks cracked and crumbled under the ferocity of the impact as we continued to grapple for dominance, our hands locked tightly around each other’s forearms to keep as much distance between us as possible. I whirled him around until his back was pressed firmly against the wall and I head butted him viciously. He yelped and his hands flew up instinctively to protect his face, and I used the momentary distraction to unsheathe one of the knives I had hidden under my coat.
He recovered from my attack quicker than I anticipated, and with a ferocious growl, his hands shot away from his face and gripped mine in mid-strike. He held my arms away from his body and I strained to gain an inch, my teeth gritted in concentration. I could see the tension singing along his arms as he struggled to hold me at bay, and for just the briefest of moments I saw doubt flicker in his dark eyes.
I planted my feet firmly on the ground and shoved forward to loosen some of the tension, and I managed to extend my right hand towards his cheek. The blade slid along the skin and sliced into it effortlessly. Blood welled upwards in a thick, red line and dribbled downwards along his jaw. He snarled in pain and then batted at the knife clumsily with his left elbow. I laughed at his feeble attempts, and he retaliated by lashing out and backhanded me brutally.
The blow sent me sprawling to the ground. My knife flew from my grip and skittered off into the darkness, which was just fine by me. I had a spare—three actually—but he didn’t know that.
I lay on my side pretending to be hurt, and moved as little as possible. He knelt down beside me and his hands closed around a fistful of my hair. I was forcibly hauled to my feet, but I made no attempt to fight him. I was careful to keep my hands loose at my sides and away from the sheaths concealed under my coat. If he realized what I had planned for him I would quickly lose the upper hand.
“Not so tough now, are we?”
He flung me back against the wall and pinned me there with his weight, our bodies pressed so close together that barely a whisper could pass between us. He still had me by the hair and he brought it up to his nose, inhaling the scent.
I made a mental note to cut it short before the night was over.
“You smell so good; let’s see how you taste.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, but I resisted the urge to go for my second knife. The fool was so busy enjoying himself that he had neglected to restrain my arms. It was both stupid and careless, and would soon prove fatal.
He leaned closer and his tongue flicked out, wet and eager. He began to trace the contours of my lips as if his tongue was memorizing every curve, and I turned my face away from him in disgust. He laughed and pulled me closer, obviously enjoying my reaction.
By now I had managed to undo the sheath holding the knife nearest my right hand and I was slowly working it free. His fingers bit into my cheeks and chin as his hands clamped onto my face and he kissed me, rough and sloppy. His teeth grazed my lower lip and drew blood, and I squirmed despite myself. He threw his head back and moaned in pleasure as he ran his tongue across his teeth, tasting me. Our kind could never resist the taste of blood—however unnecessary to our survival it was—and I was fairly certain that he would not be satisfied with so small a taste.
Long fingernails stroked the sides of my neck and I forced myself to remain still. I knew that he was capable of ripping my throat out with a flick of his wrist, and the last thing I wanted to do was make any sudden moves.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” he whispered.
The nails raked harder, drawing blood in lines. The knife slid free from the sheath and I gripped it tightly in my hand, bracing for the kill.
I breathed along his mouth, “So am I.”
Confusion chased away the cocky grin on his face and was soon replaced by anger. He was used to his victims begging and pleading for their lives, and I had spoiled the fun for him. Victims were not supposed to be cooperative or compliant, but I wasn’t a victim. I had been one centuries ago, and once was enough.
The momentary pause was all the time I needed, and I brought the knife around in a slashing arc. The blade sank into the side of his neck with a satisfying, meaty thunk and he reared back screaming, hands instinctively flying to his throat. His weight shifted off of me and as his face twisted up in a mixture of rage and agony, I kneed him in the groin with everything I had. His eyes widened in surprise and he fell to his knees with a muffled grunt.
He stared up at me, and I saw the realization that he had bitten off more than he could chew cross his features. His aura flared brilliantly around him, charged and blazing with his heightened emotional state, and the myriad shades of red and gold danced chaotically within the swirling nimbus. My own body reacted strongly and violently to the energy crackling around him, and I felt the hunger rise within me. It screamed and raged in eagerness, demanding that it be sated.
I allowed myself to succumb to the primal urges sweeping throughout my nerve endings and embraced the thing that I was: vampire. To deny this would be tantamount to denying my very existence, and while the hunger may be a part of me, it was not the part that ruled my head or heart.
I longed to take the energy surging around and within him and make it mine, to take it into myself and make it a part of me forever. The hunger demanded it, the revenge burning in my heart demanded it, and ultimately I demanded it. I would settle for nothing less.
He saw the way that I was looking at him, and he knew, knew with absolute certainty that he was going to die and that I was going to be the one who killed him.