Owls & Ashes


Theme song for this interlude:

Mila parks, steps carefully out of the car. Takes a moment to make sure she’s impeccably put together. Dark, perfectly tailored suit. Bias-cut top in a deep purple. Black stockings, high-heeled boots, tasteful jewelry. Perfect “office to evening” look for the ambitious vampire on the go. She looks good.

And while that’s pleasing, it’s also going to mean she’s in for an annoying walk to her destination. There’s no way to approach the posh address she’s been given without cutting through the Tenderloin, running the usual gantlet of catcalls, disgusting propositions, and maybe even grasping hands. Ugh. She wishes, not for the first time, that she could just pass unnoticed. Be invisible to these assholes. Then, taking an unnecessary yet oddly soothing deep breath, she walks to the corner, turns onto Ellis.

And . . . nothing. As she strides past the usual contingent of homeless people, drunks, and clubgoers, at first she thinks she must finally have perfected her “don’t fuck with me” walk. But no, it’s more than that. Eyes flick over her, as though she were a passing shadow. This, she thinks, I could get used to.

A blessedly harassment-free block later, she’s on an understatedly chic sidestreet near Union Square. She pulls out her phone to check. Yes, this is it. A small brass plaque on an otherwise entirely forgettable door proclaims “Camarilla Club.” She presses the door open, into a cocktail lounge that positively reeks of old money. Really old money. A waiter approaches, and before she can even get out the words, “I’m meeting someone?”, murmurs “Right this way Miss Goodlove,” and ushers her to a booth near the rear of the club.

Adrian Pryor is seated with his back to the wall, a sheaf of documents spread out before him on the table. He looks up, does not rise, but does smile. A cold smile that never reaches his clear, grey eyes. “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me, Ms. Goodlove.”

“Thank you for inviting me.” She’s so eager to find out why she’s been summoned, has to control the urge to question, to babble. No, play it cool. In any job interview—and she hopes with all her unbeating heart that that’s what this is—you need to make them want you as much as you want them.

When it becomes clear she’s not saying anything more, he looks at her assessingly, and continues. “I’ve been reviewing the materials you provided me and I’m . . . impressed. Your methods and your targets are a bit scattershot . . . to be expected of course given that you had no guidance whatsoever. But you seem to have . . . a talent for secrets.”

“I’m glad I could be of some service. Of course I would welcome guidance as to what might be helpful in the future.”

“Would you?” He cocks his head slightly, looks her over. “Do you take guidance well, Ms. Goodlove?”

She hesitates a moment, meets his gaze. He’s tall, slim to the point of gauntness, his black hair touched with grey at the temples. Roman nose, cold steel eyes. Italian suit. Every inch the patrician. In another life, this would be a flirtation. Maybe it still is? She’s not really sure. Let’s play this as a job interview, explore anything else that might be there later.

“In my past life, I was an executive with several different multimillion dollar international companies. I can work creatively and independently, but I enjoy having a place in a hierarchy. I am quite good at following orders, provided I respect my superior. I hope to have the opportunity to demonstrate this.”

“That’s all very nice and tediously according to the book. What else can you tell me? Why should I invest my time and reputation in you?”

“Well, at the risk of telling you something I’m sure you already know, my transformation seems to have made me very good at stealth and at discovering secrets. You have the evidence of some of that in front of you.”

He nods, gestures to her to continue.

“In my prior existence, I was very good with computer searches and data structure. My current . . . talents . . . seem to work well with these strengths. I’m discovering that I seem to have a real aptitude for finding classified information, sifting through well guarded data, discovering hidden files. And . . . liberating . . . them without leaving a digital footprint. A ghost in the machine.”

Pryor is far too experienced to show true surprise but he does, for a moment, look as though he’d heard something unexpected. Something he needs to process. After a moment’s internal deliberation, he speaks.

“Ms. Goodlove, I will be candid with you. As you no doubt know, the Invictus is a . . . venerable institution. Our long history is one of our greatest strengths, but it also means our membership can be a bit . . . traditional.” Words chosen very carefully. “While of course we are aware of the possibilities you describe, and have members with similar skills, it is an . . . area of ongoing interest.”

“I’m keen to assist, and of course to gain assistance. I hope that we can work together. If you don’t feel we’d be a good match, I’d welcome any referrals for colleagues who might enjoy further conversation along these lines.”

“Ms. Goodlove, are you trying to play me?” He almost smiles. This could be said as a challenge, but it feels as though the moment for danger has passed. For now. He knows he has her.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“I doubt you dream at all.” He pauses, the mood shifts perceptibly from almost playful to near-menacing again. “Do know that if I choose to take you on in some capacity, I will not do so as your white knight or rescuer. I am not your friend, and I would not be your colleague. I would be your superior in every sense of the word, and I can be a capricious and demanding master.”

“All I can do is promise to serve to the best of my ability. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

This seems to be, if not exactly what he wanted to hear, close enough. “Of course I will need to discuss matters with the Prince before we speak further, but I believe that we may very well be able to come to an agreement. I will contact you before the next Elysium.”

“Is there anything you’d like me to prepare in the meantime?” she asks.

He gathers up the papers, places them in a leather briefcase that probably cost more than her entire outfit. He smiles, the smile of an alpha predator.

“Surprise me, Ms. Goodlove.”

And with that he seems to melt into the shadows.

I'm Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

This episode’s theme song (play while reading to set the mood):

“We need to talk about Christmas.”

“Yes! I’m so glad you mentioned it. Your father and I were wondering but . . . well, we weren’t sure, with your . . .” her mother makes a vague gesture with her hands, trails off.

Mila’s curled up on the big comfy couch in her parents’ Berkeley living room. She’s been trying to come by for dinner every couple of weeks. Even if “dinner” doesn’t involve any actual food. It’s good to see them, just hang out like old times, feel vaguely human again.

“So, do you need anything for your birthday? A nice black cape, maybe a new coffin?”.

Mila rolls her eyes. Parents. You tell them something shocking, scary, almost unbelievable, and they make corny jokes about it. Could be worse. Could be torches and pointy things.

“I’d really like to do Christmas with the family,” she says. “Especially since we had to miss Thanksgiving with everyone being sick and all. But it’s going to be . . . complicated . . .”

“Have you told your sisters?”

“Dear God, no. Wait, you haven’t told them have you?”

Her mother shakes her head. “No, I figured you’d tell them if you wanted to. Do you think it would be a problem?”

Mila thinks about it. “Well, nothing freaks Susannah out. But I don’t see any way that telling Tanya could go well, even if she didn’t just think we were all insane. And you know Susannah would tell her. It’s that twin thing, they never keep secrets from each other.”

“You might be underestimating your sister. After all, everyone thought she’d freak out about Max, but she was totally fine.”

Mila just . . . looks at her mother. “Are you actually comparing being undead to being gay?”

“Well, I just mean she might not judge your lifestyle choices.”

“It’s not a freakin’ lifestyle choice! It’s not like I chose this, I mean, I can’t help how I am . . .”

Her mother gives her a very familiar look.

“Okay, fine, point taken. But I just don’t see it going well. Remember when she found out Joe had been to rehab like a year before and she wanted to lock up all the booze in case he had some crazy relapse frenzy and swilled down all Dave’s vintage Scotch? I can just see her doing something like that, deciding I was going to rip her kids’ throats out or something and having a total meltdown.”

“You may have a point there. Your sister isn’t always the most rational person. Give me a day or so, I’ll figure something out. For starters, if your father and I stay at the Air BnB we used last time, the back bedroom is totally dark. It’s like a cave in there. And your father and I can stay on the futon.”

For the first time, her dad looks up from his laptop, starts to say something. Marina gives him a pointed glance.

“Are you really going to deny your eldest child a dark room she really needs for her health just because you can’t stand a stupid futon for a couple of nights?”

John shrugs, looks back at the screen.

“See? Your father agrees with me. Now, how about you and Joe take a red-eye, and then it won’t seem weird to your sisters if I tell them you need to sleep all day. I’m sure they remember how you love to sleep! Then, I’ll come up with some way to deal with the holiday. I don’t know what exactly, but we’ll figure it out.”

Mila feels a wave of gratitude. “I . . . I really appreciate how you’re just rolling with this. I know it can’t be easy.”

“You’re our kid. God knows we’ve put up with an awful lot of weirdness from you and your sisters, this is just one more damn thing, you know? And hey, remember the ‘70s? We put you through our experimenting with dervish dancing, Tibetan chanting retreats, Kirilian photography, aura reading, past-life regressions, all that woo-woo stuff. If you were going to be some kind of supernatural weirdo, I think you picked the right parents.”

“Yeah, I really did. Thanks so much.”

• • •

A night later, Mila is getting ready for another outcall “date,” hoping to find more interesting material she can present to Invictus. God I need this to work out, she thinks. I’ve always been good at making people like me, fitting in with the in crowd. Here’s hoping undead me still has that mojo.

Her phone buzzes. Probably Cassie with some last-minute info on the client. No, that’s odd, it’s from her mom.

>Weird question?
> yes?
>All that stuff about churches, crosses, holy water in the movies.
>True? I mean, is it bad for you?
>Nope, doesn’t seem to be. Not sure about the h2o, but have
>tested the other stuff. Why? Tanya get religion or something?
>Ha. She’s not that crazy yet. Got an idea, I’ll email later w deets.

Well, that’ll be interesting, she thinks. Concentrates hard, unblurs her reflection in the mirror. Hair and makeup look good. Sultry but not quite slutty. High class whore. “Okay kiddo,” she says to her reflection. “Showtime!”.

• • •

The next evening when she wakes up, Joe’s waiting. Looking . . . kind of unnervingly devoted. Guess I’ll get used to that, she tells herself. Let’s . . . just try to ignore it for now.

“We got an email from your mom,” he says. “Christmas plans.”

Mila open up her laptop. This should be good.

“Hi girls. Late-breaking Christmas idea. This is one of those ‘I know it’s weird but maybe you’ll indulge your dear old mum’ kind of things. You know, since my parents passed when you were all so young, we’ve never really done much with that side of the family’s heritage. But as I get older, it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about. Life is short and death is certain, kind of want to do it sooner rather than later. So, I’m asking you to indulge me in a traditional Russian Christmas. I found an Orthodox church in Portland that does a midnight service, and I’m hoping we can attend it as a family. Maybe meet for dinner at Tanya’s at 8 or 9, open presents, have a light dinner, and attend the service together. Mila and Joe will have been asleep all day because their flight gets in so late. Maybe you all could plan to sleep in as well, so we could do this thing? It would mean a lot to me.”

“Oh man,” says Mila. “She’s good. Work that ‘dear old mum’ and ‘family heritage’ guilt.”

There are already a few replies. Susannah is all for it, saying “This actually works better for me. We’re so short-staffed at the hospital, with the holidays and budget cuts, I’ve been working what we call vampire hours—up all night, sleep all day. I have to work on the 23rd, so sleeping til noon—or later if the fam lets me!—on the 24th sounds perfect! I’m in.”

Tanya is a little grouchier. She hates changing plans, worries about keeping the kids up so late. Susannah points out that the ‘kids’ range in age from 15 to 20, and if Tristan, Tanya’s youngest, is anything like his same-age cousin Nikoli, he stays up til all hours playing WoW, he can certainly do it for something a little more important. Tanya can’t really argue with that, so it’s a go.

• • •

The first part of the plan goes off without a hitch. The flight is booked to depart late enough that getting to the airport after dark is no problem. Mila and Joe rent a car, get to the Air BnB, where the bedroom is as dark and windowless as promised. Mila spent a little time on Yelp before the trip, identified a hipster bar not far away. Once they’re settled, she mutters something about going to the Circle-K. Her parents, already in bed, are sleepy enough they don’t ask. They’re still not used to her lack of need for . . . more conventional nourishment. And by now, she’s gotten almost frighteningly good (frightening to herself, at least) at slipping into a bar, identifying a mark, and luring them into a dark corner so she can feed. That sorted, she slips back into the rental, past her sleeping parents. Geez, feels like being a teenager again, sneaking in after curfew.

• • •

Mila jolts awake. Where the hell am I? Where are Sascha and Allie? What the hell . . . oh, right. Portland. Must be nightfall. Joe’s already in his suit, fixing his tie. She dresses what she hopes is church-appropriate, psyches herself up for the inevitably awkward visit.

In the car on the way to Tanya’s, Marina turns to Mila, raises her voice so Joe in the front seat can hear. “Felipe called while you guys were sleeping. He warned us Susannah had the worst night of her career last night, so don’t ask her anything about work.”

“Oh no,” says Mila. “Did she have a patient die?”

“It’s . . . actually way worse than that.”

“Yikes. What happened?”

“Last time you were up here, you met her friend Carl, right?”

“The one they all call Deeply Closeted Carl? Yeah, we all went dancing. He’s awesome.”

“He . . . he was killed last night.”

“He what? Jesus, what happened?”

“They . . . they don’t really know. OHSU has been really hit with budget cuts, and with the holidays everyone who has time off has been cashing it in. So they’re really running a skeleton crew. Carl never works down in the morgue, but they had him on overnight duty. Susannah’s done it once or twice, said it’s really easy. You just read your book and answer the phone if it rings. I mean what are the dead bodies going to do, walk away?”

Mila starts to say something, thinks better of it. “What happened,” she repeats. What else can you say? Besides . . . things best left unsaid.

“Like I said, they really don’t know. Best guess is someone totally messed up on meth or PCP or something broke in, maybe looking for drugs. Or just crazy. They . . . they basically ripped Carl to pieces. It sounds like it was horrible. They had to be on some kind of drugs. I mean, how else does something like that happen?”

“So they didn’t catch the guy?”

“No. There are supposed to be security cameras, but I guess they’re like 20 years old, the footage was really cruddy. All a blur, kind of. Typical OHSU. Anyway, just don’t ask her about it. Felipe said she’s trying to just forget it for tonight, have a good time with the family. Who knows, doing something churchy might even be a good idea for her. Not just a cover story to get us all together late.”

“Yeah, and thanks for that. Great idea. You’re kind of the best mom ever.”

“I know.” Her best Harrison Ford imitation.

John pulls the car into a parking spot. We’re here. Marina turns to Mila with that big manic grin of hers. “Okay, kiddo. Showtime!”

True Confessions

Mila slips into the house around 4, safely before dawn, though already starting to feel the slight . . . discomfort that comes with the knowledge the sun will be rising soon. Ugh. She shudders. Funny, she used to love the sun so much, always joked about how embarrassing that was in the punk/goth scene. The only wanna-be vampire who craved sunshine. Well, guess we got that sorted she thinks, with a slightly rueful laugh.

Joe is sleeping fitfully. Fuck. Better get this out of the way now or I’ll lose my nerve, she thinks. It would be so easy to lie, to just let it go. Sins of omission, those don’t really count, right? Reflexively, she takes a deep breath. Even when you don’t actually need to breathe, she thinks, the ritualistic action has the same effect. Calms the mind, strengthens the resolve. Fine, let’s do it.

She walks quietly into the bedroom and, while Joe keeps sleeping soundly, Crawford sits bolt upright and practically falls all over himself in his haste to get away from her. She says, “Hey buddy,” reaches out her hand . . . but he’s gone. That really sucks. The commotion wakes Joe from his slumber and he sits up, slightly confused. “Babe, what the hell?”

“Bunny, sorry to wake you up but, um, we kind of need to talk.” He gets an “oh shit” expression, as various vague concerns struggle to the surface of his dream-clogged mind. “Okay,” he says, in his best “I’m going to stay calm until I know what the fuck is going on” voice.

“So, you know how I was doing that whole fake hooker thing tonight? And how I was kind of nervous about it, because the whole idea is so fucked up and bizarre and seemed like I dunno, like it could go sideways in so many different ways?”

“What happened? Did you get busted? I mean, as a vampire. Or, I guess as a hooker. I don’t know. Just spit it out, you’re kind of freaking me out here.”

“God, this is going to sound so stupid. Like the total cheating-wife cliché . . . it’s not what it looks like. It just kind of happened. I never meant to hurt you . . . gah . . .”

“Wait, you mean you actually fucked the dude?” He doesn’t look too upset at the idea. “Well, I guess that’s okay. I mean I wish you’d have let me know it was a possibility, but it’s not like we haven’t both done that kind of thing before and had to apologize after. I mean as long as you don’t make a habit of it . . .”

“Um, it’s actually kind of worse than that. Shit, I feel awful. I’m so sorry.” She feels as though she were going to cry, but no tears form. Weird. That’s different. Is that really what’s going on? I guess it makes sense, she thinks. Don’t breathe, no heartbeat, no tears. It feels like reaching for something familiar and it’s . . . just . . . gone. Would make you want to cry, she thinks. Except, well, yeah.

He looks at her, apprehensive. He genuinely cannot figure out what she’s about to tell him.

“You know how I said I wouldn’t let anyone else . . . you know . . . drink from me? I totally meant it, and I still do, but I just kind of got caught up in trying to control this dude’s mind, and . . .”

Hurt, shock, disbelief. “You did what? That’s just . . .” he trails off. Jeez, she thinks. I could tell him I had a gangbang with 20 bikers and he’d be like well, I know you’ve been wanting to do that for a while, glad you had fun. But this, this is real betrayal.

“Here’s the thing. And, again, I know this sounds so much like a sleazy cheater, but ride with me for a second. You know how I’m trying to get in good with that Invictus group, right? The big-shot king-hell vampires?” He nods, yes. “I didn’t do it in any way because I liked him or wanted to bond with him. Hell, I don’t care if I ever see him again. But by controlling his mind, I was able to get some intel that might really make me look good to the big guys.”

“So it was just,” he laughs sardonically . . . “a career move?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Well . . . I guess I can see that. I can’t say I like it, but it sort of makes sense.” His features soften. She has the sense that he really does understand and forgive her . . . but also that his reliance on her, that weird bond that the feeding has created might be clouding his judgment. How upset could he really get at her when she’s the only dealer for his favorite drug? Does that mean his forgiveness is worth less? Pushes the thought to the back of her mind. Let’s worry about that later. Shove those thoughts in a box and put them away.

“So,” she says. “Not to change the subject, but there’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.” He gets the, “oh god what now” look again. “No, this is something good. Um . . . I think. Maybe. Probably.”

“Spit it out, the sun’s going to be rising soon and you don’t want to get all crispified.”

“Okay. So you know that big fancy vampire party thing we went to?” He nods, “Yeah?”

“Well, I learned something there that could be . . . really cool, I think.”

He doesn’t say anything, just looks guardedly expectant.

“Remember that episode of Forever Knight where there was the vampire who was running like a health spa or something, and her ‘rejuvenating therapy’ was feeding her blood to people? So, like, they didn’t actually get all vampirized but they stayed young and beautiful and had some vague vampy type powers?”

“Yeah . . .” Realization dawning in his face.

“I think I can do something like that for you. You wouldn’t be, like, full-on raging vampire, but you’d have some of the cool stuff, and we could spend more time together. Plus you’d have a foot in the door to some of the stuff we’ve been doing. Which would be cool. I miss you a lot.”

He hates himself for asking. Feels like a fucking junkie. But he asks anyway, “So that means I’d still get to . . . I mean you’d still . . .”. She knows where he’s going with this. Feels bad for him, jonesing like that.

“Oh, totally. You actually have to drink my blood to make the whole thing work. It wouldn’t be a big deal any more.”

“And you’re not going to get in trouble with the vampire city council or whatever?”

“Nah, it’s just totally turning someone that gets them all stabby. This is cool.”

“Um . . . all right then. Sure. What the hell. Let’s do it. What have I got to lose?”

• • • •

Theme song for this episode:

Going for a Ride

“Where’re we headed?” Jan says as he tightens the chinstrap on his helmet and adjusts his jacket.

“Gonna meet some people, give you a chance to get a handle on yourself,” Prefect Joshua Garrett says as he shoves the key into his bike’s ignition. Behind him, on their own rides, the rest of the ’pack’—Rickard, Kiko and Alec, Gangrel all—watch and wait.

“Motorcycle club?” Jan asks.

“Some of ’em, yeah. Good people, though,” Kiko replies with a snicker as she zips up her jacket. The diminutive asian Kindred girl is black-clad, but for the leopard print of her name in cursive script on her back, and her race bike is deep black with hot-pink markings. “Not like we’re going out to see the Brides of Dracu—”

“Oh, shut the fuck up, Kiko,” Alec teases. His gear is simple white helmet, brown leather jacket and boots, and he sits atop a slightly-battered older street bike. “Those fuckers are just a myth!”

“No, they ain’t,” Rickard rumbles from atop his Harley. The big red-bearded Savage is decked out in worn denim, with coal-bucket helmet, fingerless gloves, engineer boots and biker’s vest—and the cut is covered in faded spots where patches used to be. “They ain’t a myth at all, and don’t lemme catch you ever sayin’ that again, ‘A’.”

“Enough, everyone.” Garrett’s voice is calm, but it cuts through the debate and the trio fall silent. He pulls his own carbon-black helmet over his head, zips up the green-and-black Dainese he wears. The shocks on his Triumph compress a little as he sits down and starts the engine with a low rumble. “Let’s get going.”

Jan and the rest finish suiting up and start their own bikes, the various engines humming, growling, thrumming as they gather up behind Garrett.

“Try to keep up!” the Carthian shouts over the din before he snaps his visor shut. The Triumph’s engine revs and he kicks the bike into gear, shooting out of the parking lot. The remaining bikes’ engine noise rises almost in unison as they follow the leader. Jan nearly stalls his bike, twists the throttle with a snarl, and the v-twin engine answers with a snarl of its own as the bike leaps out of the parking lot to follow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“So, how do I . . . well . . . control it?”

“Control?” Garrett responds to Jan, looking at him as they remove their helmets. “It’s not about control.”

Jan gives him a puzzled glance as he swings off the saddle of his bike and lowers the kickstand. “I thought you said you could show me how to stop it . . . this ‘Beast’ thing.”

Garrett gives him a wide, mirthless grin. “Do you control the tide? The weather? A volcano?”

Jan shrugs, lets out an exasperated sigh. “I guess not?” He asks.

Garrett dismounts his own bike, hanging his helmet on the handlebar. “No. You don’t. You don’t control it,” he says, “but you know can resist it—that’s one thing—or you go with it. You learn to ride it.”

“Ride it?”

The rest of the pack have already dismounted and lined up their own bikes in a row with those parked outside the building. Within, Jan can hear the thumping of loud music, and multiple voices raised—and the presence of a few more of the Kindred among the living.

“Yeah,” Garrett tells him. “Ride it. This ain’t a two-wheeler, though; It’s a pissed-off bronco shot up with PCP and set on fire. You don’t learn to direct it right, it’ll throw you right off and tear through anything in its way.”

Jan follows Garrett and the others up to the door, and Joshua bangs a gloved fist on the metal. “So, is this some sort of rodeo?” Jan asks, looking warily at the cruisers, race bikes, and other assorted motorcycles and their riders outside.

Rickard turns and shows Jan a mouthful of wolf-like teeth, and Kiko and Alec exchange grins. Garrett just gives a small smile. “Not quite,” he says, and the door opens.

An admixture of scents—cigarette and weed smoke (Jan briefly tenses at the thought of flames), spilled beer and sweat, and the unmistakeable metallic tinge of blood underneath it all—spills out of the building along with light and sound, and the doorman, a large black-skinned, denim-clad biker in a club vest, raises a hand in greeting. “Yo, c’mon in!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rickard’s ham-fist thuds into Jan’s head, snapping it back on his shoulders and stunning him momentarily. Despite the heavily-padded gloves, and the equally padded headgear both wear, the bigger Gangrel’s blows still land like a sledgehammer wrapped in pillows.

Atop the little row of benches and short bleachers within the back room of the East Bay Rats’ unofficial boxing club, Garrett, Kiko, Alec and others (and a few non-Gangrel, ghouls and mortals) all watch, catcalling, cheering and heckling as Jan and Rickard face off.

Jan shakes his head to clear it, looking up at the taller, broader man as he keeps careful distance from him. Pale-skinned, in black jeans and boots, black gloves and headgear, Rickard resembles a giant murderous panda but for the mouthful of teeth and his red beard. Shit, how did I get into this again?

“Get in there!” Alec shouts, and Kiko joins in: “Don’t be a pussy! Take ’im down!” The two both laugh wildly as Jan gives them a “WTF?” glance. Within him, the Beast snaps and snarls, wanting to let loose, even with the boxing gloves to cover potential claws, and the headgear and mouthguard to cover fangs. Rickard’s a wall of stone that just happens to have a nasty right jab, and the Beast within him keeps edging closer to Jan’s, almost playful its challenge. The urge to fight keeps colliding with the competing urge to run, but can he really back down now… or win?

“Do it, Jan!” Garrett shouts. “Show us who’s in charge in there!”

Rickard spits out his mouthguard for a moment into one gloved paw to speak clearly. “Y’heard him, boyo. Stop dancin’ around, ‘cause I can just go all night, or I can knock y’out till next sunset!”

Shoving the guard into place in his mouth, Rickard squares up again, both fists raised in front of his chest. He snarls, the growl rumbling in his throat and chest like the engine of his Harley.

Within Jan, the beast edges closer to the surface, wanting out. No, not yet . . . not like that . . . follow me instead . . . if I can just

Another hammer-blow from Rickard sends Jan sprawling, and he rises up on one knee as quickly as he can, the Beast howling in fury, surging forward—

“Ride it!” Garrett shouts over the crowd. “RIDE IT, damn you!”

Jan feels the Beast wanting to tear off the gloves, rip away the headgear, hurl his body at Rickard, teeth and claws and fury—

No, not like that!

—and he seizes onto it, like grabbing the mane of a rabid animal, like pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, like desperately paddling to body-surf the crest of a too-tall wave . . .

And for a moment it threatens to throw him off, to trample him beneath its fury, and Jan hangs on all the more desperately.

Just one good swing—Rickard advances, drawing one big fist back, and the Beast snarls soundlessly—

Okay, two—Rickard’s fist descends, clubbing Jan down again, the Beast howling in fury—

Alright, fuck it THREE

Jan pushes himself off the ground as if lifted by an outside force, feeling his muscles suddenly burn with cold fire and his heart thudding briefly in his chest, while the Beast finds accord with him, and the two of them indistinct, rider and ridden. With an audible howl even through the mouthguard, Jan makes a quick hard left jab into Rickard’s stomach, a fast awkward swing with his right that shoves the big biker’s own right arm out of its defensive posture, a third hard left hook against the side of his headgear that rocks his head a little to the side. Rickard staggers back a step, two, eyes wide in surprise and amusement even as the Beast within Jan bares fangs, wanting more—


Jan and Rickard pause, gloves up, looking over at where Garrett has rung the bell to halt the round. The Prefect looks the two of them over, his gaze flicking back and forth between the brawlers, then gives a perfunctory nod to Rickard, and a brief grin to Jan.

“You still with us?” He asks.

Jan feels the Beast settle back, present as ever, but satisfied—just barely. For now. He huffs out an unnecessary breath past the mouthguard, reaches up and pulls the molded rubber free with an effort. “Yeah . . . yeah, I’m okay.”

Kiko and Alec exchange high-fives, and Garrett gives him a short approving nod. “Well done; looks like we’ll make something of you after all.”

Jan nods in appreciation, but Garrett cuts him off: “But this is only just a start.”

Oh, fuck me.

Just Like She's Ten Foot Tall
Mila as Force Majeure

Even before her transformation, Mila had always had that knack for walking into a room like she owned it, like she could have any man she wanted. True? Almost certainly not back then, though the air of confidence was always a good way to up her chances. Now? It . . . it kind of feels like maybe she could. Or woman for that matter. And that feels . . . really fucking good. It’s not exactly sexual, except in the way that power always is. It’s a different kind of rush, but just as strong. I could get used to this, she thinks.

Approaching the mark, Mila feels herself slipping back into those old stripper tricks. You want to look a little shy and a little bold, so they feel like you’re not some cynical pro. Like you’re just an adventurous girl who got into the biz to take a walk on the wild side. To have some adventures. To have . . . him. She casts her eyes down, looks up through her lashes, smiles. “You’re Max?” (meaningful pause, not too long, 3-2-1) Goes on, “I certainly hope so!” Shy smile. Okay, now slightly more sparkly. Ah, there we go. He’s on the hook.

“The pleasure is all mine,” he says. “Oh, I doubt that.” Light tone of voice, but then the smouldering look. Start to really turn on that strange new charm.

“Can I get you a drink?,” he asks. She figures yes is the right answer, make him feel like she’s really interested in him, not just rushing to make her money. Orders a Campari and soda—not too alcoholic, ladylike, okay to sort of fuss with it. He won’t notice. “So, you in town on business?”. “Yeah, you know, meetings meetings meetings.” “Sounds like you could use some R&R. So, what’s it you do?”

He pauses. She can tell he’s wavering between wanting to impress her with how important he is, and not being so drunk or lust-besotted that he’ll say anything he shouldn’t. You can’t ask a whore to sign an NDA. “Oh you know, boring business stuff.” Hmm. There was a flicker of . . . something there. Something interesting. She makes a mental note. Let’s see if this is worth following up later when he’s a little more . . . pliable.

She takes his hand across the table, strokes it gently. “You have such powerful hands. God I love that.” He gulps almost audibly. These white-collar businessmen, high-powered executives. They always worry that they’re too effete, not manly enough. Now with a little targeted flattery, he feels like some kind of Stanley Kowalski brute. And that feels good to him. Really good. He’s ready for the next move. She smiles. “I think you should sign your bar tab and we can continue this conversation somewhere a little more . . . private.” He practically slide-tackles the waiter to get the bill.

In the elevator, she consciously keeps amping it up. It. The whole process feels . . . kind of weird. Like she’s actively creating an aura of persuasion, releasing some uncanny pheromone. Max is too suave to make any kind of real move right there, but he moves closer, almost actively inhaling her scent.

Once in the room, she pushes her body against his, as though she just can’t wait. Ha, she smiles. Guess there’s no question at least some portion of him is filled with blood! A silly joke to herself, but as soon as she thinks about blood, the desire starts to consume her. Blood. That almost sexual rush of anticipation. She pushes him to the bed, and speaking in a low, seductive voice, says, “This is going to be the most amazing experience of your life. I am going to take you places you’ve never been.”

He looks dizzy, almost drunk, like he would do anything she asked. She leans in, and . . . yes. It’s time. He gives a little whimper of pleasure as her teeth sink into his neck, then shudders in release. Stopping before she’s fully sated, she debates a moment. Yeah, what the hell. Let’s do it. She sinks her teeth carefully into her own wrist, letting just a taste of blood well up. Holds it to his lips and, as he drifts away into what seems almost like a postorgasmic state, he eagerly presses his lips to her wrist, letting those drops wet his lips. Licks them. Sighs.

She presses against him, whispers in his ear. “This was amazing. The most incredible sex of your life . . .” She goes on, describing specific acts, moments, sensations, desires. The kind of things you replay over and over in your head the morning after an amazing encounter. “Now sleep. Sleep soundly until tomorrow. And remember how mind-blowing this experience was.” He’s out. She carefully undresses him, then flings the clothes to the floor, as if they’d been ripped off in passion. And, sure, why not. She strips off her black lace panties, tosses them into the mix. Why not leave him a little souvenir.

She texts Cassie. “All’s good, he just asked if I could stay another couple of hours. Add it to the tab, I’ll let you know when I’m leaving safe. Happy client.” “Grt, thx, ttyl, will give $ total by tomrw morning.” “K, thx.”

Almost as an afterthought, she decides, why not do a little, er, reconnaissance. Oh, that sounds so much better than “snooping.” She carefully rifles through the papers on his desk. Thinks, gotta love an old-school hardcopy guy. The documents would make a lot more sense to someone who knew anything about banking or corporate M&A, but they certainly seem to be outlining a major bank merger, top secret eyes-only notifications everywhere, NDAs for every damn phase. This is big-money stuff. Someone who knew about it in advance and had the capital to do a little insider trading could probably rake it in big. It’s not the crown jewels or a secret CIA assassination plot, but it might be the kind of thing Samuel had been hinting at? At least a sign of her potential worth to Invictus. She pulls out her phone and carefully snaps the most relevant looking documents. Note to self, toss a thumb drive in your purse for the next outcall. Who knows what you might turn up?

Purse, right. Back to business. She takes a tiny dab of her perfume, touches it to the pillow next to him. Carefully pulls out a long auburn hair, drapes it next to his sleeping head. He’ll wake up, sink his face into that pillow, replay it all in his head. All those things that never happened. Lipstick on the collar? Nah, too cliche plus there’s going to be a Mrs. Max back home. Tacky, tacky.

She scribbles a note on the hotel stationery. “Thanks for an amazing night. Wish I could have stayed for breakfast. Maybe next time. Call me!” (gives the agency number, of course. He’ll be a little disappointed it’s not her personal cell, but we’ll deal with that later she thinks.)

In the elevator, texts Cassie. “Omw home. All went great. Thx for the chance to prove myself! ttyl.” “k, got it. nite! $$ tomorrow.”

She slides back into her car for the drive home, realizing that she’s feeling a strange combination of invigorated and drained. The hunger is sated (and she has a slight buzz from the expensive scotch he’d been nursing while he waited for her), but she feels . . . almost like she’d run a marathon. Like she’d burned up some inner resources. Huh. Maybe all that charm takes it out of a girl. Still using that power felt . . . amazing.

She shakes her head to clear it, hits “play” on her stereo and heads out, singing along.

  • And now you’re walkin’ just like you’re ten feet tall
  • Oh, boy, girl, that’s it all
  • Just like you’re ten foot tall . . .

Every girl needs a theme song. Johnny Thunders would be proud.

Meanwhile, in the Hills over Berkeley . . .

As the car with the two neonate vampires pulls back onto the road and hums away in near-silence, soft bootfalls tread across the late-autumn ground, pausing before the form lain on the ground by the departing duo. The boots’ wearer puts hands on hips, letting out an exasperated sigh.

“Fuckin’ leeches,” the wearer’s voice rumbles, as he drops to one knee, placing a broad hand on the shoulder of the recently-dead deer.

He chants softly, calling upon the spirits to give him their vision, and his eyes cloud white as if covered in cataracts. Blessed with a fragment of their sight, he looks over the body. Broken cervical vertebra, body still warm, blood still fluid, if sluggish. The creature’s spirit barely present, wanting to slip free soon.

Grumbling softly about ‘imbalance’ and ‘no harmony,’ the figure draws a knife from his belt, its blade finely-honed steel inlaid with silver. With a quick movement, he slashes open his palm, snarling low in his throat at the sting of the moon-metal. Let’s see if this works . . .

He clenches his fist around the cut, blood dripping slowly into the dust before the deer, and sheathes the knife. With his free hand, he sketches out glyphs encircling the darkening patch of earth, carving them into the soil with a fingernail gone long and talon-like.

The figure continues to softly chant, giving praises to spirits of growth and healing as the blood trickles out of his hand, spilling into a tiny puddle. Working quickly, he extends the glyphs, etching them to encircle the deer’s head as well. The deer’s spirit is barely there, now . . .

With a quick swipe of his fingers, he carves a channel in the dust between the glyphs around the blood, and the deer, marking a pathway for the flow of energy, and squeezes his other hand hard, shaking a few more drops free from the cut in his hand. In his spirit-granted sight, the blood gleams a dull crimson, but the glyphs are a brilliant green-white, and the gathered weight of attendant spirits hangs heavy in the air for a moment.

Then with a soft crackling, the sound of fractured bone mending, the deer’s head turns a little. Dull eyes blink, then take on sheen, and the deer snorts in a faint but unmistakable breath.

The figure stands, taking a step back and bowing his head, giving thanks in a language spoken only by his kind and the spirits.

The deer rolls itself over, getting onto its hooves, blinking and confused at the different sights and sounds and smells—then stiffens as its awareness fully returns, realizing it stands before one of nature’s hidden, but most powerful, predatory beings.

The figure bares teeth in a wide, not-unfriendly grin, then says, “Run.”

The deer totters backward a few steps, and the figure jerks his head forward, snapping his teeth and making a low bark. In response, the deer turns and bolts into the hills to seek shelter as the lycanthrope grins in satisfaction. He turns to look down at the road again, at the cityscape far below, and his smile fades a bit as he shakes his head once again in exasperation.

“Fuckin’ dumb leeches . . .”

He throws back his head and looses a throaty howl, and in the distance a few voices answer him, before he runs into the dark, booted footfalls fading into something heavier but more padded . . .

An Old Celebration . . .

Zombies. Mummies. Edwardian funeralgoers and pallbearers. Goths. Mesoamericans in feather and fur costume. All decorated in makeup, cerements, and costumes, the various celebrants make their way down the street through the Mission district toward Garfield Park.

Amid these people, Jan and Violet take part in the procession, and here and there among the resounding soft thrum of heartbeats, they can detect the occasional stillness instead, replaced by the quiet seething presence of the Beast in other Kindred who have joined in the march.

Nearly fifty feet ahead, Livia and a few others of the Circle cluster together, all of them pallid and clad in garments befitting a Victorian memento mori. The Crone priestess turns and casts a glance at the couple, flashing her fangs just briefly—plenty of mortals here bear similar, albeit artificial, sharp-pointed teeth.

Jan simply nods at her, then squeezes Violet’s hand as they continue. Just as he did a few years ago, he wears the black-and-white greasepaint of a skull over his face, with black vest and coachman’s hat. Violet, clad in tight-laced black leather corset and deep purple skirts with crinoline, is unmade, her doll-like features porcelain-pale and smooth.

As their part of the procession reaches the park, the marchers slow down, and spread out, wandering, singing, placing votives and pictures and other decorations at the bases of trees. Jan and Violet keep a wary distance of the open flames, only somewhat less unsettled by the solid glass containers for the candles.

The atmosphere is a bizarre hybrid of carnival abandon and somber remembrance, and strangely, in this moment, the Beast is still, as if simply watching, waiting . . .

Ludi circenses . . . Jan blinks at the sudden unbidden thought. What the fuck—

He raises his head, watching the figures in the crowd stream around him: Candles in flickering arrays, celebrants all around passing flasks and wineskins and jugs—

Jan blinks, hard. This time he says it out loud: “What the fuck…?”

The trees are hung with colored lights and paper skull streamers, the ribbons and cloth banners stirring in a late-autumn breeze, and a trio of hipster musicians head by, beating on hand drums, playing zydecho and trumpet, and the one with the panpipes is a drunkenly off-key—

He spins around, looking for Violet, the girl’s deep vermillion chiton standing out in the dim torchlight. He streams among the people, hearing their hearts thudding all around as they leave the circus, the last chariot races for the night finally ended, but the party goers all have plenty of wine. It will be an easy night to hunt…

The presence of another Kindred suddenly tests the edges of Jan’s senses, and he takes in an involuntary (and unnecessary) breath, clenching his teeth and looking around the park. Everything is as it was a moment ago: candles, decorations, pictures, people.

“What the fuck was that . . . ?”

As he slowly turns his head, scanning the crowd, that raised-hackles feeling slowly grows, that sensation of being watched, the presence of another of the Kindred nearby. Finally, he catches sight of the newcomer: At the edge of the park, Bishop Esteban’s pale-blonde-haired acolyte, Gabriel, stands with the fingers of one hand laced through the chainlink fence, watching the proceedings—no, watching them in particular.

Jan stares back at him silently, waiting for him to make a move, to approach, to speak, but Gabriel seems content merely to watch. High, sharp laughter sounds behind Jan and he turns quickly back, seeing Livia and her hangers-on making their way through the press, their eyes coldly reflecting streetlight as they pass by. He turns back, but Gabriel is nowhere to be seen.

With a soft growl of frustration, Jan turns back to Violet, eyes wary and unsure.

Sascha's Night

Feeling emotionally drained, Sascha can feel the Beast struggling to take over, like a crazed passenger grabbing at the steering wheel. If he doesn’t decide to kill something, the Beast will and when it does, there will undoubtedly be consequences.
An hour later, in the woods of Marin County, he waits patiently for a deer unfortunate enough to wander close enough for him to catch it. Eventually, a victim is found, and Sascha snaps its neck. Not long after that, they are depositing the deer in the Berkeley woods with a note tied to its antlers saying, “A deer for a deer. Please forgive me.”
More than a little excited about having a new job, Sascha drives himself back to the safe house in Oakland and begins getting ready for bed. One by one, Sascha loads the rounds into his 30-round magazine until it won’t take any more. He shoves the magazine into the rifle and gives it a tug to make sure it’s secure before pulling the bolt back and chambering a round. With the safety on, Sascha lies down next to his rifle at the base of the stairs. The next time someone touches that door without saying, “Hold your fire. It’s Joe.” it’s going to be the last fucking thing they do. If he’s dead, there won’t be anyone to take care of his grandfather. He makes a mental note to call his grandfather to let him know he has a new job, though his grandfather may not need to know all of the details. Should take him out for dinner with his first check too. Sascha reassures himself by positioning his rifle at the angle that comes most natural to him as he reaches for it. Sascha closes his eyes and smiles for a moment as he relaxes and starts drifting off to sleep while thinking about exotic dancers, tiny lingerie, tits and ass. The relaxed, and aroused feelings disappear as thoughts of being humiliated, a ruined suit covered in chocolate and dirt, and Barton’s obnoxious face come bubbling back up to the surface, and a sinking feeling takes hold as he realizes the Beast is still angry, and it still wants out.

Dancing with the Devil

Sascha turns and whirls on the dance floor in front of the orchestra, keeping his steps timed perfectly to the ever-increasing tempo of the musicians as the song segues from stately waltz to energetic swing to furious high-speed marching improv.

Within him, the Beast roils in fury, lashing and snapping at its bonds. How fucking dare you, you little bastard, it would say if it had a voice. The Beast wants out. It wants to tear Barton a new ass and feed it to him. Covered in mud, chocolate, whipped cream, cherries, and plant debris, Sascha’s suit for the evening is ruined, the crowd eyes him silently as he pulls Mila with him into the dance, and the Beast rages inside the Man, wanting to repay in kind the humiliation heaped upon it.

Yet, Sascha resists. His concentration sinks entirely into the dance, the performance, pushing out, letting his Majesty show that despite the distractions, the challenges, the pressure, he is grace, he is ice, he is steel and charm and silk and he is un-fucking-touch-able.

Barton flings out a white-gloved hand, slashing in the direction of the orchestra, and the musicians all come to an abrupt halt, the hall echoing with the last notes. Instead of stumbling to an ungainly stop along with the music, Sascha times it perfectly, whirling Mila around him, dipping her, and standing perfectly upright in the space of a breath—if any here drew breath, that is.

He turns to survey the crowd watching him—the Prince, his court, the various attendants of the evening’s Elysium—and the Beast backs down, snarling in the darkness behind his eyes. It will wait. It will repay, if it can.

In response, Barton watches him with cold disdain, and the Beast within him pushes out, testing Sascha’s limits. Then it abruptly recoils at the strength it finds there, and with a whirl of his garments, the Sister turns away. With one soft snort of icy, infuriated derision, the Harpy marches crisply away, his sycophants in tow.

The crowd gives polite applause, gradually building into genuine appreciation as the undercurrents of the drama stir them. Sascha gives a slight bow, and even O’Neill gives a grudging, appreciative nod.

“You lookin’ for a job, yeh?” He says to Sascha. “Well, you’ve got one. Show up tomorrow night, and don’t be late. We’ll see what we can make of ya.”

Sascha grins, teeth clenched a little tighter than normal as the Beast shows its teeth around the edges. The audience gradually drifts away from the drama, and the night’s Elysium, with its strains of the Danse Macabre, returns to its normal movements.

Wild Nights (Part 2)
Into the Dark, from Violet's Perspective . . .

After Jan leaves the photo-shoot, I change into my ‘mistress’ clothes and we start shooting again. I don’t know how much my ‘pull’ will translate into film, but I have to make these the best I can. Along with my leather corset, skirt, stockings and platform boots I concentrate on that part of me that can attract and dominate.

“Kayleigh, I’m going to try something for this next set—let me know if it’s too much OK?”

She nods, and I focus… drawing myself up, projecting that I want to be seen, projecting out an aura of power and command as best I can. I see Kayleigh blink hard a few times and then focus on the task at hand.

She shoots me from below, elongating my short frame as much as possible. Props of canes and floggers and chains complete the look as we get as many fetishes covered as we can. Stern disciplinarian with glasses for a Librarian look. My patented Execu-Bitch with promises of pain and command. 50’s housewife with a strap-on. Shots of my tiny feet, with and without the 6" heels. I try to keep varying the feel of the pictures and as we end with a set where all I’m projecting is “Desire Me” I feel Jan approaching. My focus falters and my senses sharpen on his approach. He seems . . . a little rough around the edges and I can sense his excitement—and that he’s well fed. The blood-tinged kiss just confirms it but the blood tastes different and less than I’m used to.

“Photos going well?” He asks.

“Yeah, we’re almost done.” I give him a curious look. “You okay? Something wrong?”

He shakes his head once, sharply. “I’m fine,” he says, "I’ll explain later . . .”

Since he seems elated rather than injured, I let it pass. I thank Kayleigh for her time and pay, then change back into the riding gear we came in. Holding focus for photo-shoots used to leave me hungry when I was just human, and as we go back to the bike I realize the same is true now.

“I’m hungry.”

“How bad?”

“You smell delicious, and I know you’ve already fed tonight. I don’t want to take too much from you, so I should probably take care of this now before you become any more tempting.”

I see a flash of desire in his eyes, a smirk of challenge and then I’m on him, fangs just not quite piercing his flesh. His nails, suddenly sharper and more present dig slightly into my hips and I reluctantly back off.

“Let’s find you a bar, and save the fun for later, eh?” His nails dig harder for a moment and then let me go.

It’s amazing that even as an undead, things like Yelp are incredibly helpful. A few moments of searching later and we’re off towards a bar that’s rated as ‘delightfully seedy’ and ‘busy as hell’.

I’m a little concerned about feeding outside of our usual area, but when we arrive at the bar I don’t get the feeling any other Kindred are nearby.

“So, same idea as before?”

I ask before we enter separately, me radiating charm and trying to find a nice healthy body for the night. The layout is not quite as friendly as Forbidden Island, but it’s late enough that the crowd is loud, happy and just a little bit drunk, and thankfully I notice some booths just a little out of the way that already have couples canoodling.

Remembering the cautionary tales Sasha and Allie have related about the transitive properties of drug and booze laced blood I don’t want to repeat those mistakes. The first guy to approach me is swaying visibly and far too drunk for my tastes.

“Hey therrre sexy—anybody ever tell you ya look just like a doll? Wanna be my dolly?”

He slurs and tries to wrap his arm around my waist. Without thinking, I’m just not there when his hand should have hit my hip. He stumbles a little, and then looks up at me standing across from him, not smiling anymore. I remember how I scared Jan on that first night and feel no mercy towards the man in front of me. I smile, and he smiles back for a second before I let the humanity drop from my eyes and the smile becomes a lovely rictus grin and I whisper, “Go Away, and leave me alone or I’ll haunt your dreams.” His eyes get large and I just keep staring at him letting him see the part of me made of nightmares and demons. “Go away NOW,” I whisper sharply at him with another push, and he just whimpers and starts pushing his way through the crowd in a hurry to leave.

Quickly, I try to pull the shine of humanity back on, and scan the room for a less drunk and more . . . amicable target. Ah, there we go: I see a girl across the room with clear eyes, pretty hair and no company. She looks a bit bored and as I get closer I try to see if that glass in front of her is just soda. Good—no smell of alcohol on her or in the drink so I lean in, push out a healthy dose of charm and introduce myself.

She seems a bit startled to be approached, but warms up as I make small talk and draw her in.

“So where’s your date?” I ask.

“Well, I came with my friends but I’m the DD and they’re all dancing up a storm in the back with some skeezy guys.”

“Aww, that’s no fun. It’s OK, I’m DD myself tonight. Maybe we can just hang out and enjoy the knowledge that we’re not going to have hangovers tomorrow eh?”

She laughs and seems just a bit charmed by me. My control is just a bit faulty, and as hungry as I am I can’t help staring just a little at the pulse in her neck. I waiver for a moment and the hunger takes over just long enough for me to whisper, “Let me kiss you,” with enough power behind it that I see her eyes glaze and she gives the tiniest of nods before I lean in, kiss her lips and then catch her lip with my teeth and drink. She whimpers, and then it turns into a tiny moan as the blood flows to me. All to soon I realize I need to stop and pull back before I hurt her. I want more—I need more to be sated but with some effort I close the small wound, give her another kiss and pull back.

She just stares at me, dazed until I offer her her drink and she seems to come back to herself a little.

I make some excuses about the time and give her a kiss on the cheek as I draw away from the table. I catch Jan’s eye as I cross the dance floor. He’s leaning next to the jukebox, just surveying the crowd. I leave, he follows a moment later.

“Feel better?” He quirks a smile at me as we suit up for the ride home.

“Somewhat, but lets get home quickly. I’m still hungry for you. And I want to know what you were up to while I was smiling for the camera.”

He starts laughing, and the smirk becomes a full on grin.

“I fucking flew tonight. I think I’m really starting to like this.”

I stare at him, more than a little surprised as we click down visors and he revs the bike to take us home.

Some of his mortal caution seems to have left him and we speed home faster than we’ve ever gone before—pavement and other vehicles just blurring past as if no more than a dream.


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