Are creatures of the night and all manner of extramundane beings drawn to certain locations in the natural world? In the Midwestern village of Beth-Hill located in southern Ohio, the population is made up of its fair share of common citizens…and much more than its share of supernatural residents. Take a walk on the wild side in this unusual place where imagination meets reality.
The Wild Hunt roamed the forest outside of Beth-Hill until the Council bound them for a hundred years. Nevertheless, a century of existence has made an indelible mark not easily forgotten for these ghostly myths that are no longer so ghostly or myth-like…
Jericho Richmond is both a gifted classical guitarist and a vampire. All he wants is to live his life in peace away from the Richmond influence. The household of vampires led by his ruthless, unwavering father Connor makes the rules and all within the circle must follow or suffer the consequences. When Jericho escapes, he doesn’t get far before his father finds him, punishes him, and leaves him to die. Tristan Richmond wants to be just like Connor, and, when Jericho disappears, he’s determined to be the one to bring him back where others have failed. But Tristan isn’t like Connor, despite his earlier, short-sighted goals. He can’t see Jericho suffer for simply wanting to lead a normal life.
Alexander Ross, reputedly the oldest vampire in the world and an accomplished luthier making and repairing musical instruments, finds Jericho. Instead of returning him to the family, he takes in Jericho–and then Tristan–in order to teach both young men a different way of living. Jericho begins to hope a normal life is possible, outside his father’s influence, but the illusion is temporary. When they’re betrayed, their hideout discovered by Connor, Tristan is given to vampire hunters who kill first and ask questions later. Even when he impossibly escapes, Jericho has fallen into the hands of the Richmond Household, and Tristan knows that as long as Connor lives, he’ll never be safe or free. As long as Connor lives…
GENRE: Fantasy Word Count: 75, 232
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Alexander doubted he would ever forget the smell. Cloying, thick, and hanging heavy in the air, the stench of blood–too much blood–permeated the entire warehouse the Hunters had claimed as their own as he stepped into their stronghold.
Their spells and protections had abruptly vanished right before dawn. Realizing it might have been a trap did not stop him from entering the building, just because of the small hope that Tristan remained alive.
But after two days in the hands of the Hunters, that small flame of hope had dimmed enough to be extinguished. Hunters did not leave their prey alive. That they’d taken Tristan with them and not killed him outright spoke of darker things, some plan set in motion by Tristan’s capture and Jericho’s disappearance. Alexander suspected Jericho’s father had a hand in this, but he had no proof, only rumors. And rumors couldn’t help any of them, now.
The warehouse had been one cavernous space, but the Hunters had sectioned parts of it off into separate rooms. Most of the doors were closed. Alexander didn’t open them. Instead, he followed the trail of blood and other things, some unrecognizable as once belonging to a human, until he came to the room at the back of the warehouse and found Tristan.
At first, he thought Tristan was dead as well. He lay sprawled in the middle of what could only be called a torture room, full of medieval devices the Hunters had refashioned to use on vampires. Around him lay parts and pieces of bodies; he lay in a veritable pool of blood. In the two days he’d spent in their hands, they’d hurt him badly; Alexander saw burns on his bare chest, but somehow–through some fluke, Alexander suspected, he’d escaped their bonds and managed to kill them all.
There was no clear spot on the floor to kneel, so he crouched over Tristan to check his pulse. As soon as he touched Tristan’s throat, his eyes snapped open; for a moment; less than a heartbeat, Alexander saw no recognition in Tristan’s gaze. And then he gasped in a breath, baring bloody teeth against the pain of his wounds–although Alexander couldn’t tell yet how badly he was hurt–and he whispered one damning word: “Taken.”
“Jericho?” Alexander asked, although he had little hope Tristan meant someone else.
“Taken,” Tristan repeated, more urgently. He tried to prop himself up; to lever himself off the floor, but his arms didn’t seem to want to work very well. Understandably so, Alexander thought, because under a liberal coating of blood, he saw the glint of metal, pockmarking Tristan’s chest and stomach.
His heart sank. He had no doubt–no doubt at all–that the metal embedded in Tristan’s flesh was silver.
Which meant he’d come too late, because vampires died from silver wounds.
“Taken!” Tristan insisted, then, in a whisper, “Is he dead?”
“I don’t know,” Alexander told him, because that was the truth.
Tristan nodded. Closed his eyes. And perhaps he would have died there, on the floor of a room full of pain and despair, but as Alexander watched and waited for him to stop breathing–Silver, his mind reminded him, it’s silver, and vampires die from silver wounds–he found himself absently pulling the roll of tools from the pocket of his jacket and selecting a small pair of needlenose pliers. And while Tristan lay there waiting to die, Alexander painstakingly dug the larger chunks of metal from his chest, and then, the smaller ones.
The damage was extensive. Alexander suspected the silver had been molten when they’d poured–or dripped–it on him; it had hardened by then, of course, and since Tristan was a vampire, his body had attempted to heal itself around the wounds. But silver was poison–fatal–to vampires. Alexander did not understand why Tristan was still alive. Or, more importantly, how he’d managed to kill at least–he did a quick count in his head–a dozen Hunters while so terribly wounded. It was no wonder they’d let down their guard. They thought he’d been fatally wounded. In any other circumstance, they would have been right, but apparently, they had been wrong.
Alexander had spent his very long life repairing and restoring musical instruments. Long ago, he’d crafted them as well. In fact, he was one of the world’s most respected restorers, and had never lacked for commissions.
He had, however, never repaired a person before, and he did not know if he could do so now. Vampires died from silver wounds. And yet, as Tristan lay senseless; as Alexander poked and prodded and dug out the last remaining bits of silver, unmindful of the stench around him; the arrival of one fly, then another, happy to feast on the Hunters’ remains, after he watched the holes he’d made in his quest to remove the offending metal seal themselves, leaving scar tissue behind, he realized two things: Tristan wasn’t dying, and that he’d lost track of time.
He’d intended to find Tristan, rescue him if he was alive, attempt to discover Jericho’s whereabouts, and go after him as well, especially if he’d been taken back to the Richmond household, where he would–without a doubt–be sentenced to death, or, worse, immediately killed.
Instead, he’d spent the better part of two days digging silver out of Tristan’s flesh, and as he stood, mindful that this was a Hunter stronghold, after all, although he knew there was no one left alive, he knew that he needed to move Tristan somewhere safe, and soon.
Somewhere safe, and somewhere secure, because while he wasn’t dying, he also wasn’t conscious, and Alexander had no idea if he’d be able to move once he awoke.
So he left the Hunters to rot, and carried Tristan out to his car, and made the long drive home without knowing of Jericho’s fate. He had no one to call; he’d lived a solitary existence, for the most part, a marked disadvantage in this instance. He had no contacts in the Richmond household save for Jericho’s mother, and he hadn’t spoken to her in almost twenty years.
And, it was likely if he did call, he wouldn’t be able to speak to her. Jericho hadn’t said much about life in the Richmond household, and neither had Tristan. But Alexander knew it hadn’t been easy for either of them.
Once home, he spent the next few days at Tristan’s side. With a gentleness that would have surprised the Hunters, he cleaned the blood from his body; helped him drink to replenish what he had lost. And waited, ever-patient, for Tristan to awaken so that he could find out what had happened to Jericho.
On the third day–the seventh day since Jericho’s disappearance–Tristan opened his eyes. They were bloodshot, but aware; he focused on Alexander, licked his lips, and whispered, “He was taken.”
“Back to the Richmond household?” Alexander asked.
Bit by bit, the story emerged. After Tristan had been captured, the Hunters’ questions had been about the human who had given him up to them. Who had given them Tristan’s location with the caveat that Jericho would not be harmed. Although the Hunters suspected the man was not one of their own, they hadn’t asked too many questions until Tristan lay chained in their room, kept alive only for the sake of their own curiosity.
There had been talk about going after the man, but the Hunter who had taken Tristan had vetoed that suggestion. After that, they had set to work, intending to destroy their prisoner. They’d used silver–“How am I alive?” Tristan had asked, then, and Alexander couldn’t answer him–and broken his bones. They’d left him alone after a while, content that he wouldn’t be alive for much longer, and Tristan had–
“They’re all dead,” Alexander told him. “You tore them to pieces.”
“I don’t remember,” Tristan whispered. For the first time, he tried to move; to make a fist, but his left hand refused to obey.
The scars were worse, on that side. And deep across his shoulder. Alexander wasn’t surprised to discover damage to his nerves and muscles.
“Why am I alive?” Tristan asked again, and turned his face to the wall. His voice was a rasp; harsh and thick with unshed tears. “I should be dead.”
“I don’t know,” Alexander said again. “I’ve never heard of a vampire surviving a silver wound. But you’re not dying–”
“I can’t leave him there,” Tristan whispered. “I can’t.” He tried to lever himself upright. Failed.
“You need to rest,” Alexander told him. “I expect it will take some time for you to recover from your injuries.”
“I can’t leave him there,” Tristan whispered, but his eyes slid shut, despite his efforts to keep them open. “I–”
How long would Jericho’s father keep him alive? Alexander tried to think of a way to save him, but the majority of his contacts now were human, mostly musicians, some from museums. He had very little to do with the vampire households nowadays. Years ago, yes, but years ago would not help Jericho now.
He’d relished his anonymity; his solitude over the years. Except in certain circles, the world had moved on without him. In certain circles, and the fact that Jericho’s mother had sent him to Alexander, for fear of her son’s life. Tristan’s only job had been to bring Jericho back–at his father’s orders, but Alexander had convinced him to become Jericho’s protector instead.
And now, Tristan was horribly wounded, Jericho gone, and Alexander had been left to pick up the pieces.
Despite the fact that he knew his small number of contacts would likely not know what had happened to Jericho, Alexander reached out anyway, to the one person he thought would be able to discover Jericho’s fate.
Rose Duncan, owner and operator of the Rose Emporium, a place where Alexander had spent many a happy hour rummaging among her collections, regretfully informed him that she had no contacts in the Richmond household, and, more gently, that Jericho was likely dead. “Connor Richmond has the peculiar habit of leaving those he wants dead tied–or chained–to a tree in the forest to await sunrise. Sometimes, I’ve heard the elves of the kingdom that borders the Richmond household are able to save them. I can make enquiries, if you’d like.”
“Please do,” Alexander said. “I have no contacts in Faerie, to my knowledge, at least.” At one time he had, but Kian had been dead for years.
“I’ll make enquiries on one condition,” Rose said. “That you tell me this story–in person–someday. And that you stop being a stranger. We were friends, once.”
They had been more than friends. But she’d refused him; refused the question he’d asked of her, and he had retreated so that she could live her life in peace.
“I–I rather thought you never wanted to see me again,” Alexander admitted.
“I’m an old woman now,” Rose replied, a trifle tartly. “And I have no regrets.”
Alexander had agreed to see her, after all of this was over, subdued at the thought of Rose as an old woman; she was forever twenty-six in his mind. That was one of the reasons why he had closed himself away; why he had never allowed himself to get that close to someone again, after Rose.
When he checked in on Tristan, he found his patient lying on the floor beside the door. Somehow, he’d managed to drag himself across the room. He lay facedown; Alexander gently rolled him over.
“I can’t leave him there,” Tristan whispered, but what little strength he’d had was gone now; he could barely raise his head. “I can’t.”
Tristan had taken his role as Jericho’s protector very seriously. And in his mind, he had failed; because the Hunters had overcome him; because he’d been betrayed, he had failed in his promise to keep Jericho safe.
“What if he’s already dead?” Alexander asked.
“I can’t,” Tristan whispered.
Alexander could have done something completely out of character. He could have abandoned his solitary existence and taken over the Richmond household. Bent all of them–even Jericho’s father–to his will. He could have murdered anyone who dared to object to his presence with barely a thought of the consequences. He could have done all of these things, and more.
However, he hadn’t lived this long by acting like a tyrant. And while he could have taken care of the Richmonds without help, the aftermath would have destroyed everything he’d ever worked towards, because he would have ended up just as bad as Connor Richmond, in the end. And perhaps then, death by Hunters would have been fitting for such a creature as he would have become.
“I can’t,” Tristan said again, forcing him out of his reverie.
“I know,” Alexander told him. “Be patient, please. I’m waiting on word from someone I know whose word I trust completely.”
Tristan didn’t fight when Alexander carried him back to his bed. But there were tears on his cheeks–in a better frame of mind, Tristan would never be one to admit that he knew how to cry at all–and he whispered those two words one last time before slipping away into sleep.
Rose called two hours later. And after her report, after Alexander realized what he would have to do, he sat by Tristan’s bed until he opened his eyes.
“Jericho is to be left in the forest to await the dawn,” he said. “There is a possibility that the elves who live in the kingdom that borders the Richmond household will save him.”
“A possibility isn’t good enough,” Tristan said. “I’ll go.”
“You can’t walk,” Alexander reminded him. “And despite the fact that you aren’t dying, you’re still badly wounded.” This did not have the effect he’d hoped for, but then again, Tristan was terribly stubborn. “I used to have a contact in that kingdom, and I intend to–”
“I will go,” Tristan insisted, and somehow, managed to lever himself upright in the bed. Barely. “Please,” he said, then, and Alexander said, “I had intended to go to make sure they found him. And if they did not, to save him myself.”
Tristan did not say please very often. And there was a way that he could share his strength with Tristan; to mask the effects of his wounds enough for him to function so that he could be the one to rescue Jericho from certain death.
“Please,” Tristan said again, as if he sensed Alexander wavering.
“It’s very dangerous,” Alexander said. “For both of us. You could die, once the spell has run its course.”
Tristan’s arms gave out on him. He fell backwards, onto the pillows, baring his teeth in frustration. “What spell?” he asked, and Alexander told him.
For a moment after Alexander finished speaking, Tristan was silent. “You trust me that much?” he finally asked.
“It’s not likely you’d get far, if you intended to betray me,” Alexander said. “The spell can only work for a limited amount of time. Usually half a day.”
“Twelve hours,” Tristan said.
“I’m not sure that would be long enough for you to find him,” Alexander told him. “The Richmond household is a three-hour drive from here. And you would have to hide your trail from anyone who might follow you; I can’t imagine that they’d just leave him there without a guard. And I don’t know if the elves will act if there is one.” Now that it was out in the open, Alexander saw all the potential issues with that specific spell. “You won’t be at full strength. If you have to fight someone for him, you’d be at a disadvantage. If you have to cast a spell, you’ll already be running on a deficit–”
“I’ll go,” Tristan said, as firmly as he could, considering. “If I have to beg you, I will. Let me go. Please.”
“I’ll drive you, then,” Alexander said. “And I will wait for you to return to me, with or without Jericho. The elves are likely to have a Healer; he’ll need their expertise. I am no Healer. I will defer to your judgment whether or not to leave him in their hands.”
“If I find him,” Tristan pointed out.
“You will find him,” Alexander said, because he couldn’t imagine Tristan giving up the search. “And I will extend that spell as long as I am able, if needed.”
“Thank you,” Tristan said. His eyes slipped shut; he forced them back open. “How long do we have?”
“Not long enough,” Alexander told him. “Take my hand.”
Tristan extended his hand. It must have hurt; he bit his lip and briefly closed his eyes. Not for the first time, Alexander wondered at the wisdom of allowing Tristan to do this. There was no guarantee that sharing his strength would make Tristan able to do anything, especially since he was so badly wounded.
But then he thought about what Tristan would do if he didn’t cast the spell, and what he might attempt to do, and he knew without a doubt that he truly had no choice.
So he cast the spell. And for a moment, he felt nothing, no sign of weakness, no sense that it had worked, and then Tristan’s hand tightened in his grasp. He gasped in a breath, opened his eyes. And sat up, almost convulsively.
“Oh–Oh my,” he said, and shivered. Bared his teeth. Took a deep breath. “Oh–”
“Can you stand?” Alexander asked.
Tristan swung his legs over the side of the bed. Eyed the floor as if it were too far away to contemplate, then slowly stood with Alexander’s help. “It’s–I can still feel it,” he said, his voice sounding almost normal now. “The pain. In the background. It’s distracting.” He took a step, still holding Alexander’s hand, and then, greatly daring, released it. His other hand had strayed against his chest, as if cradling the scars that now were the only physical reminders of his wounds.
“I can stand, and I can walk,” he said, but Alexander saw a struggle in his gaze, as if he wasn’t quite sure he would make it all the way into the forest to rescue Jericho. But then he pushed the doubt away, and faced Alexander with some of his usual confidence. “And I will find him.”
“I have faith you will,” Alexander said, and offered him his hand again.
Tristan hesitated. “You need strength too,” he said.
“And you need to be able to protect yourself,” Alexander told him. “I have plenty of strength to spare.” Even so, sharing that much; holding so much of Tristan’s pain in check was distracting, at the least. And potentially damning, if Tristan ran into trouble. But despite the risks, he knew he had no choice. Not if he wanted Tristan to find–and save–Jericho.
Tristan took his hand. Drew in a sharp breath, then let it out in a wavering sigh. “I’d almost forgotten,” he murmured, and clenched his left hand into a fist. “I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be whole.”
“You can’t–” Alexander began.
“I know,” Tristan whispered. “I know. I won’t fight. When you take it back. I promise. You have my word.” He paused. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider fighting you for even a little of your strength.” His gaze was bleak, but only for a moment. “It’s not going to be easy, is it?”
“No,” Alexander said. “It won’t be easy. But I have faith you will survive, and I have faith you will recover.”
“Thank you for that,” Tristan said, his voice hoarse.
“We should go,” Alexander said.
Tristan nodded. He curled his left arm against his chest again. Took a deep breath, and followed Alexander out of the room.