Image credit: Visit Liverpool
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A man and a woman left the club, each leaning into the other with their arms around one another’s shoulders. A common scene at night in the city centre, but in this case there was something off about it. Charlotte Dáithín’s senses prickled with the otherness of the man as she watched from the rooftop across the street.
Her ability to tell when the person she was looking at wasn’t human, despite appearances to the contrary, was innate. But it had taken teaching and practice to be able to differentiate one non-human thing from another in an instant. This one was a vampire, just like her father but for one important difference – her dad still had his human soul as he had never drunk human blood, a claim no other vampire could make.
Charlotte caressed the hilt of the sword sheathed at her side as she watched the couple walk down the street. The vamp wouldn’t make his move yet; his kind were the most numerous of any supernatural creature she encountered and yet they were leaderless, disorganised, isolated. Anonymity was the only real safeguard they had for a successful feed.
Keeping her distance, Charlotte followed the couple. She moved from rooftop to rooftop with little effort and less noise. Her agility, like her strength and speed, another attribute she had inherited from her father. From her mother she got her looks and her wavy auburn hair, though at a little over six foot she was taller, and the similarly muscular figure was the result of her training regime rather than genetics.
They moved away from the centre of town. Very quickly, the streets got quieter, emptier and darker. It wouldn’t be long now until the vampire made his move.
What conversation Charlotte did catch was attempts at dirty talk which made her cringe. Periodically, the man groped at the woman or stopped her so they could kiss. The noises she made said that she was into it, and each time he grew bolder. At last, he lifted her up so that she could wrap her legs around his waist. He pressed her against the wall and they continued to kiss and grope.
After a couple of moments, on her urging, the vampire lowered the woman down and let her lead him into the nearby alley. That was when Charlotte stepped forward and dropped down onto the street. Farther along, a cat she hadn’t seen hissed and fled.
She drew her sword as she ran into the alley. The darkness spread as she passed the mouth of the alley, but her eyes quickly adjusted. The vampire and the woman were still wrapped around one another. She was tugging at his belt with both hands while his hands wandered under her top. Charlotte rushed forward and used one hand to pull the woman away from the vampire.
“What are you doing?” The woman demanded, in a shriek.
“He’s a vampire.” Charlotte said, positioning herself between them.
“Yeah, so? Leave him alone.”
“Get back.” She levelled her sword at the vampire’s throat and marched him back against the wall. His pants were still open, but in that moment his gaze was levelled at her and he seemed unaware that he was exposing himself. His eyes glowed red and his mouth was set in a snarl.
“No, get off him.”
The woman put her hands on Charlotte’s shoulders. Charlotte twisted to elbow her in the gut. The vampire shoved her and let his face change. Charlotte fell into the woman, who went down on her backside. All in less than a second.
The vampire’s skin had drawn in tight to his skull, shifting to shades of yellow and grey. His lips had drawn back to expose his gums, and two rows of pointed fangs. His nails had grown out into claws. He growled and advanced upon Charlotte, seizing her sword hand and digging his claws in until she cried out and dropped the weapon. His breath was hot and rancid upon her face.
She clenched her other fist and punched him as hard as she could in the crotch. He yowled and stepped back, clutching at himself. That was enough time for her to grab the sword and swing it.
But the woman recovered enough to grab her by the waist, sending her off balance. Instead of taking his head, Charlotte’s sword slashed open his arms. This elicited another cry, but left him still alive and standing. Meanwhile, the woman was struggling to pull Charlotte down to the floor.
Seeing no other choice, she let herself be brought down to her knees. Then she swung the sword up, catching the vampire between the legs. The sharp pain of the amputation was enough to both throw him off balance and to shock the woman into letting go. She stood up and swung again, and this time she did take the head.
She used the dead vampire’s t-shirt to wipe the fresh blood off her sword before sheathing it, but the stains on her clothes would take several washes to get out. She looked too conspicuous now to do anything but head home. But first, there was one more problem to deal with.
When she turned to face the woman, she found her shaking. She pushed herself up and scrambled away from Charlotte, staring at her with fear in her eyes.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman’s eyes flicked to the corpse. “I don’t believe you.”
“You’re unarmed, you’re weak, you nearly helped him kill me, and you’re still alive, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, only so you can torture and brainwash me into becoming a killer like you.”
“You are, aren’t you? You’re with The Guild! It’s real, isn’t it?”
Charlotte sighed and waved a hand dismissively at the woman before turning away. “Whatever. Carry on fang-banging, and get yourself killed. I can’t be arsed.”
The woman let her get halfway out of the alley before running after her and crying, “No! Wait!”
Charlotte turned to regard her levelly.
“What do I do now?”
She looked scared and lost enough that Charlotte’s irritation faded. She sighed. “Get yourself home.” She said. “Stop seeking out vampires. Consign this night to a bad memory, and nothing more.”
The woman nodded and then, after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Are you with The Guild?”
“Go home, love.” Charlotte replied, before heading over the road. One leap took her halfway up the building to a window ledge, which she used to propel herself all the way onto the roof and disappear, leaving the woman staring with her mouth open.
A couple of miles away, Joe Dáithín was with several of his friends, sat around a table in the loft of Carroll’s house playing poker. They’d all had a couple of bottles of beer by now and, as ever, this meant that Greeney was off on one about conspiracy theories.
“All I’m saying, lad, is that someone is out there killing vampires and other monsters like that.” He said. “Even if you call them something else other than the Guild, they’re still doing the same thing.”
Joe shook his head. “And it’s totally inconceivable, like, that people could come up with the idea of fighting these things which are trying to kill people without it coming from some secret shadow government?”
“No. Course not. But it’s not about having the idea, it’s about having the resources.”
“Governments have resources…”
“Governments come and go. But someone’s been doing this for a very long time, and even covering up the existence of it all until the War put it all out in the open.”
Li clapped his hands, loud enough to make everyone jump. “Oh, just shut up, will you?” To Greeney: “You need to stop watching people chat bollocks on YouTube mate.” And to Joe: “And you, stop winding him up. You know you’ll never win the argument.”
“Ah, but it’s fun.” Joe said with a grin.
“Nah, this is boring.” Carroll said, throwing his cards down on the table.
“It’s your house, mate.” Nikki pointed out.
“No, but I mean we should have gone out.”
“Out where? To a club where you can all wait outside while Joe goes in and gets drunk?”
Like his sister, Joe had inherited his mum’s red hair, albeit cropped short. But being almost as tall as Charlotte, with his dad’s jawline and broad shoulders, he looked a lot older than his sixteen years.
Greeney, on the other hand, was quite short and chubby with a pock-marked face. Li was the tallest of them, but extremely thin with patchy facial hair. Carroll’s age was a lot harder to judge, since he was a demon with dark blue skin, a spike coming out of each cheek and a crest on his head.
“You wouldn’t be able to get in anywhere either,” Greeney said, sulkily.
Nikki was taller than Greeney, and slim. Joe had never seen her without a tracksuit on and her blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.
“I can scrub up, you know.” She retorted.
“Yeah, and putting you in a dress and make up wouldn’t get us anywhere, lad.” Joe said.
Greeney crossed his arms in a sulk while the rest of them laughed.
Once the laughter died down, Carroll said, “Seriously though, we should go out somewhere we don’t have to worry about getting ID’d.”
“Oh yeah. Like where?”
“Outside the checkpoints.”
Everyone stared at him for several moments, before bursting into laughter again.
“What?” Carroll asked. “Why not?”
Nikki smirked. “Well, have you got the sector passports we’d need to get out there?”
“Or do you know someone who could make convincing fakes?”
“Well, no, but…”
“So how are we getting through the checkpoints?”
“No, well…we’re not. But we don’t need to. Requiem has ways to get punters out without having to go through all that.” Carroll grinned. “And I know someone who can get us tickets.”
The sense of excitement around the table at that moment was almost tangible, as Carroll’s grin became infectious.
“We should go results night.” Nikki said.
“Yeah, good idea.” Li said. “There’ll be lots of birds who’ve just got their results looking to celebrate or needing consolation…”
The other lads laughed.
Nikki rolled her eyes. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. Lots of birds to give you the knock back.”
The laughter grew, and Li blushed, although after a moment he joined in. He shoved Nikki in the arm, playfully, and she shoved him back.
“No, it’s a good idea, though.” Joe said, once the laughter died down. He looked at his phone. “But more importantly – I think your mum and dad should be well away by now, Carroll.” He took out a tin containing a small bag of weed as well as a couple of pre-rolled joints.
The cards and the beer were forgotten as Carroll opened the nearest window and the rest of the group went over to join him.
Charlotte had high tempo dance music playing loud while she worked out in the garage so she didn’t hear the doorbell go. Half a minute later, midway through a set of bench presses, she didn’t hear the garage door open either. Though she did hear Katie’s voice, loud enough that she almost fumbled the barbell.
“Charley, your friend’s here!”
Charlotte set the weights on the rack and sat up.
Her sister was eight, tall for her age, with hair twice as curly as Charlotte’s or their mother’s, though a lighter shade of red which was closer to brown. She was standing on her tip toes, rocking slightly, with her hands clasped in front of her.
Emily was stood slightly behind her, a hint of a grin on her face. She was shorter than Charlotte, slightly chubby, with dyed white-blonde hair, black eye-liner and purple lipstick. Tattoos were visible on her upper left arm and on her right calf, partially covered by the hem of the long black skirt she was wearing.
“Charl, it’s far too early in the morning to be healthy and exercising.” She said. “Sicko.”
Charlotte smiled. “It’s far too early to be that dressed up. Sicko.” They both laughed. Then Charlotte noticed her younger sister still staring at her, as if waiting for a cue. “Thanks Katie. You can head back inside now, sweetie.”
The young girl grinned widely then. She stopped rocking on her toes, nodded, and raced out of the garage.
Emily laughed and shook her head. “She’s doing a lot better then?”
“I think so.” Charlotte said. In truth, she didn’t know as much as she probably should about autism and what classed as ‘better’ or ‘worse’. But she knew how to act in order to make Katie smile and laugh instead of staring vacantly into the distance, or worse shutting down entirely, and that always seemed to be enough.
She stood up and walked over to Emily. They embraced and kissed, Charlotte putting her hands around Emily’s waist to pull her in closer.
“How much more obnoxious sweatiness have you got left then?” Emily asked once the kiss was done.
“I’m almost finished.”
“Good. Don’t get me wrong, I love the body all this has given you,” she traced a finger over Charlotte’s stomach muscles, “but it always makes me feel inadequate. I mean, what is that, like two hundred pounds?”
Charlotte shrugged again, suddenly self-conscious about her strength. “Three hundred.”
Emily kissed her again. “Okay, well while you do that, I’ll daydream about cake.”
Charlotte laughed and returned the kiss, before going back to the bench to finish her workout. “I think my dad’s making eggy bread for breakfast, if that helps.” She said.
By the time Charlotte had finished her workout, showered and dressed, her dad was already serving up breakfast. Next to the kitchen counter, Cŷn was sat staring at the food with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. On all fours, the hell-hound was five foot tall and could easily have swiped the food if he wanted, but Myles had already given him a sharp warning so he sat and stared. When Charlotte entered the room he looked up and his tail wagged frantically, making his red and orange fur move like flames.
“Alright Charl,” her dad said. “Hope you’re hungry.”
Myles had brown hair cropped close on the sides, a thick but neat beard and a broad frame of solid muscle. The last twenty years didn’t show on his face, his vampirism having frozen his age at twenty three, making him look more like an older brother than a father to Joe, who had his eyes and jawline.
“Starving.” She said.
“She better not get more just cause she ran a bit and did some lifting.” Joe said.
Charlotte stared at him, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
“What? It’s not fair.”
“You’re sixteen, not six.” Myles said. “Don’t be a prat.”
“Ha ha. You prat!” Katie declared, flapping her hands in the air. “Prat, prat, prat!”
Joe looked in her direction, but ground his teeth rather than saying anything. Still, his mum shot a warning glance in his direction. Katie remained oblivious to this, and continued chanting ‘prat, prat, prat’ to herself.
Hazel had the same hair, face and muscular figure as her eldest daughter. The difference was she had a few extra lines around her face and despite being almost a foot shorter than Charlotte she carried herself with that extra degree of surety and authority which seemed to come with age.
“So, what are you hoping to get today?” She asked Emily, changing the subject from the food currently being served up.
“As long as I get good enough grades to justify getting to uni and moving out…” Emily shrugged. “But yeah, I think I’ll do alright.”
“Alright?” Charlotte hit her in the shoulder. “You’re gonna get all As, you big nerd.”
“Well, one of us has to get some academic achievement.”
“F–” Charlotte glanced quickly at her mum. “Sod off.”
“Nice save.” Hazel said, sharing a look with Myles.
After breakfast, as Charlotte and Emily headed out there was a mechanical whirring above them from a camera drone hovering past the house. The black sphere in the middle swivelled around like a great, floating eye with four legs protruding from it in a cross, each with a rotor at the end. Hence why they were commonly referred to as Eyeballs. The two women barely gave it a glance before heading down the path to Charlotte’s car.
“Charl, I know you could’ve passed everything if you wanted to.” Emily said as they set off. They were headed to school for the last time, to find out the results of their A Level exams.
“How do you know I didn’t?”
“Come on. I know you – and I haven’t forgotten that conversation halfway through year twelve.”
Charlotte didn’t have to ask what conversation Emily had been referring to. It was a day in mid-December with a heavy enough snowstorm that the school had been closed, and they had ended up huddled in a nearly empty pub shortly after eleven am. Too many drinks too fast had the pair of them sharing secrets, but Charlotte’s were far and away the biggest.
“Don’t brush it off like it was nothing.” Emily said, anger in her voice. “It was something.”
Charlotte reached out and put her hand over Emily’s, holding it until she had to use it to change gear. “I know. I know exactly what it was. But do you have to keep coming back to the part about school and exams?”
“Yeah, I do. You know why.”
“Just leave it. Please.”
“But Charl –”
The silence stretched out between them. Too long. Charlotte was certain that they were about to have another row. They’d had too many already, about the future and Charlotte’s future in particular, and since it always ended unresolved they were due many more no doubt. But Emily only lowered her eyes and said, “Fine.” Her tone was distant enough, and her body language tense enough, that Charlotte still felt as she would if they were rowing. But then they were at the school.
She parked the car outside of the main gates, alongside a billboard of a middle-aged man in a suit wearing a bisected red and blue rosette with the words ‘Peace. Prosperity. Continuity.’ above his head. There were no other cars nearby, and the three shapes moving towards them down the long path between the gates and the main school building were the only other signs of life.
“I guess we beat the rush, then.” Charlotte said.
“That was the point.” Emily said. “I really couldn’t be arsed with bumping into certain people.”
The reason why was amply demonstrated moments later when the three figures heading in their direction turned out to be women who they knew too well. As they passed, all three threw disdainful looks at them – and at Emily in particular. Once they were further away, thinking they were out of earshot, Charlotte heard one of them mutter, “be glad to see the back of those weirdos,” and the other cackle in response.
“Forget them.” Charlotte said. She grinned. “Academic success awaits.”
It was a weird sensation, heading into the school when it was almost empty. They saw a couple of others coming out with their results, so far looking happy about it. Inside the building, their teachers were dotted around the common room. Charlotte and Emily exchanged quick, awkward greetings with those they passed before collecting the brown envelopes with their grades in.
“Go on, then.” Charlotte said. “Open it.”
Emily nodded at the pack in Charlotte’s hand. “You first.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes.
“You first.” Emily said again.
Charlotte sighed, then ripped open the envelope. She pulled out the results and presented them to Emily. “There you go. Happy?” She said.
Emily’s eyes widened as she read. She looked up at Charlotte and a surprised smile crossed her face. “You should be.”
She felt the confusion cross her face in a frown, and her eyes widen in surprise as she looked at the paper herself and saw the ‘Bs’ next to each exam, along with one lone ‘C.’ She quickly schooled her expression though, offering a frown and a shrug to Emily after reading the results.
“Come off it.” Emily said, “you can’t expect me to believe you don’t care even a little bit.”
Charlotte tried to hold Emily’s gaze, but after several moments she had to lower her eyes and raise her hand to smother a smile. “Fine. So it turns out I’m sort of good at this stuff without really trying. Now, what about you?”
Emily opened her results to reveal all ‘As’. She also tried to look stoic about it, but couldn’t even start the pretence, a broad smile overtaking her face and colour filling her cheeks. Charlotte hugged her in congratulations, and they kissed – before remembering that they were still inside the school. Several teachers and other students also collecting their results were now staring at them.
“Err…how about we go and get some lunch to celebrate?” Charlotte suggested.
“It’s not even half ten and we had breakfast less than an hour ago.”
“A pint then. Let’s just get out of here, either way.”
As they left, Charlotte’s hearing picked up all the whispering behind them. Some of it was judgemental, but so much more was vulgar. She tensed up as she tried to shut it out and resisted the urge to turn back and hit people.
They ended up in the corner of a pub a few streets away that was almost empty, drinking pints of lager. Charlotte’s chest felt tight, the surprise elation of her exam results and anger at the whispering they had faced mixed in with anxiety. She kept glancing at Emily, readying herself for what she wanted to tell her, but so far no words had come and they had spent the journey to the pub and the last couple of minutes with their drinks in silence.
“What?” Emily said eventually.
“I know you too well Charl. What is it you wanna say?”
Charlotte took a long swig of her drink. She swallowed and looked at Emily, telling herself that the easiest way was to just get it out there. “Em, I love you.”
“I love you too. But I knew that anyway.”
Charlotte shook her head. “No, that wasn’t it. I mean, I do, obviously.” She took another drink to try and get rid of the smile still etched across her face. “Which is – that’s why I want to tell you something about me…something you can’t tell anybody about.”
“Ooh, I’m intrigued.” Emily raised an eyebrow. “Is it your secret porn career?”
“I’m serious, Em. This is important and I need you to be okay with it.”
“Sorry. Go on, what is it?”
Charlotte hesitated again. “Okay. Well, I dunno if you know about how during the War there was this one vampire who was on the same side as the humans. He helped them fight against the other vampires and then against the demons that came from hell, even closing the portal that they came through…”
“Yeah. The Champion of Man. Everyone knows that story.”
“Yeah? Well look at this.”
She pulled up an old newspaper article on her phone, titled ‘Who is the Champion of Man?’ There was a picture accompanying the article. Emily gave Charlotte a quizzical look, then squinted at the picture. After a moment, something made her stare harder. Then Charlotte saw the recognition in her eyes. The photo wasn’t a close up, and his hair was longer and wilder, with stubble instead of a beard, but she clearly saw the resemblance. She looked up at Charlotte.
“My dad. Yeah.”
“But that would make you – what? Half-vampire?”
“The proper term for it is dhampir. Look, I know this is weird…”
“Weird? It’s amazing!” Emily took Charlotte’s hand and kissed it.
In that moment, Charlotte felt relief and affection flood over her in a wave, making heat rise to her cheeks. Charlotte looked into Emily’s eyes, and could see nothing but excitement and curiosity. She wasn’t scared, or repelled, or judging. Why would she? But still, the fear that she would was only just abating – and slowly.
“I won’t tell anybody, I promise. But, Charl, what’s this got to do with you thinking you’ve got no future?”
“I never said I’ve got no future. Just that whether I do good or bad in my A-Levels doesn’t make any difference to it.”
“Because of who your dad is?”
She shook her head. “My dad’s the Champion of Man, and that’s his burden. But my mum’s something called a Sentinel – and I’ve gotta be one after her.”
“A Sentinel? What is it?”
“Kind of like a guardian. Someone with superhuman powers; strength, speed, agility, and all that. My granddad had them before her, and they always pass to the first born.”
Emily laughed. “Really? ‘In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires,’ –”
Charlotte slapped her in the shoulder. “Behave!” But then she was laughing as well.