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Starr stared out of the window and wished she were
somewhere else. Often, she contemplated just
forgetting it all and going into hiding. Just the other
night, she watched a French Indie Film There was a
story, a plot, but for the most part, it was just
observing a simple woman going about her day. One
moment, she was drinking coffee and having a
smoke in a Paris café; the next, she was walking
through the districts, looking serene. Her
surroundings were always grey and drizzling.
Since seeing the film, she fantasized about
having days like that. She’d drink lattes in leisure
while watching strangers walk by, and then zone
out, reading her tablet. Then, taking walks through
Champs Elysees, she’d contemplate life or the
meaning of some writer’s words, or some musician’s
wild. Maybe she’d even take up smoking. It looked
so elegant in the movies.
Shane had a terrible habit of walking in
without knocking, lately.
“Right,” she said, reading her mind. “If you’d
answered when I knocked, I wouldn’t seem so rude.”
The sounds of her heels clopping echoed off
the walls as she walked across the office floor. The
chocolate brown leather chair, opposite Starr, made
a puff noise as she sat.
“No need to apologize, but realize that just
because you don’t want to work, the day doesn’t
Starr sighed and said, “Yeah, okay. What is
“The Fleet just got back from Bangkok.
Anchali denies any responsibility for the missing
women. She says she’ll give you her full
cooperation, if you wish to come and investigate. I
don’t understand why you called back the Fleet.
They could have taken care of the investigation
while they were there.”
“Blakely needs them.”
“The company Christmas party and Winter
Solstice Soiree is next week.”
“And that’s more important than the deaths
of pregnant women?”
“Oh, come on, Shane! Since we’ve been here,
people haven’t stopped dying! Every single day, it’s
someone or some damned thing!”
“This is your job.”
“I know and I’m doing what I can. We’ll
continue the investigation after next week. I know it
sounds awful, but we won’t get anything solved by
then anyway. We can’t have hundreds of people in
the castle without security.”
“When has the Fleet ever acted as security?
They party just like everyone else. Last year, I
caught Manuel having a good time with the Duchess
in the pool room. Ethan brought some sort of
powder that can get even us high. These are only
two examples. Many of the other Fleet members
were out of control, too, and hardly in a state to
“I know how they can be. After all, I served
with them for ten years. They can get out of control,
but if anything should happen, they will be the first
to respond. Besides, if you’d done a better job of
recruiting, we wouldn’t have to rely on the Fleet.
They could have a night off, for a change. Not that it
matters because I’d still insist that they be here. You
know how many have it in for us. Having a party
makes us vulnerable and open to attack.”
“Any other news?”
She tossed a folder on the desk.
“You got a bill from the Romania Ministry. It’s
for the Sighisoara property. It’s for 20.2 million
euros, which you can’t afford to pay.”
“What? Why is it so much?”
Starr flipped open the file and found a few
“You haven’t paid your taxes in ten years.
That would be how.”
“Alex should be taking care of this,” she said
as she flipped through the papers.
“He has enough on his plate. Although it’s
possible he didn’t know. After all the property you’ve
inherited over the last decade, it’s amazing this is
the only slip up.”
“Where am I going to get that much money?”
“You have to sell it. I have a few appraisals
here. It looks like you could get quite a bit for it.”
“I don’t want to sell it. I have too many
memories of that place.”
“You’re kidding, right? They’re not your
memories. When are you going to learn to separate
yourself from Credenza?”
“Shane, there is no separation. You don’t
understand, so stop judging me. Stop telling me how
I should be, because you don’t know that.”
“Then you should find something else to sell.
If I might make a suggestion: What about Valhol?
Surely, there’s something there that’s worth a lot.”
“You’re right, but it doesn’t seem ethical.”
“Well, you might not have a choice. If you
don’t sell or pay it in full in thirty days, Parliament
will acquire it. Michael Gabor – he’s the Minister of
Culture and National Patrimony – has been notified.
“What in the world is that?”
“A government office; part of their job is to
keep track of historical properties and landmarks,
like your castle.”
“Is that for real?”
“Check their website. Yes, it’s real. They feel
Sighisoara should belong to the government. Plus,
you haven’t lived there, not once, so you don’t have
homeownership consideration. It just sits there, so
it’s not really considered a home or commercial
property. They’ve already made a proposal.”
Shane leaned across the desk and flipped the
papers in the folder over until she reached a
document at the back.
“They’re offering to wipe out your tax debt
completely, and give you a credit for five-million
euro, if you sign it over to them within the next
thirty days. Here’s the address. You must bring any
and all deeds or historical documents regarding
ownership of the property. Further, you must leave
everything that originally came with the castle;
rather anything historical or significant. Now, you
could try to sell it and get way more money, but if
you go over the thirty days, the interest will double
and accumulate. Wait too long, and they’ll start
invading your life. And it’s not like in the United
States where you have rights and must be given
notice and time. If they want, they can simply take
your property and still leave you with the bill.”
“I can’t come to a decision right at this
moment. I’ll think about it and get back to you. In
the meantime, get Marla out here. I want a full
audit. Alex is to do everything she tells him.”
“But Starr, you know she hates to fly.”
“I don’t care. If she tries to refuse, I’ll drag her
here myself. After everything I’ve done for her, she
can do me this favor.”
Starr grabbed the file and leapt up onto the
stone window sill.
“Where are you going? We have a meeting in
an hour? You’re not seriously gonna fly in the middle
of the day?”
“Don’t worry, Shane. One day, I’ll be gone
and you won’t have to deal with me anymore.”
Starr almost took off, but then turned and
said, “I’m sorry that I’m difficult to work with. I’m
unhappy; that’s all.”
Then she flew out toward the peaks of the
mountain, toward the Castel de Negru and onward
Lately, she’d taken to long walks in the park
en pointe, overlooking the clock tower. Sometimes,
she even liked to rest on the tower, itself. From
there, she could see the sea reflecting into the sky.
Today, it was the park again.
She landed on the soft grass and walked to
her favorite secluded spot. In the middle of a ring of
trees, the sun was completely blocked out, lending
her shade and cool salted air.
She sat on the bench and tried to make sense
of the paperwork. Just one charge per year labeled
“assessment.” After, interest charge levied four
times per year plus late fees.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket.
“Hi, I just spoke to Shane,” Alex said. “Listen,
I think you should sell a couple properties to pay for
the tax bill. You have several magnificent houses.
When can we talk about it more in detail? I was
hoping to see you today, but she says you’ve gone.”
“Don’t do anything yet. I’m having a friend of
mine flown in from New York. She’s gonna do an
“What? You don’t trust me? It wasn’t my fault,
and I can prove it.”
“She’s a specialist. I want her to negotiate
any deals with the ministry. It’s nothing personal,
but I want her to do it American style.”
“So you’re not gonna sign over the castle?”
“No, I’m gonna try and settle with them.”
“Oh, well, I guess that means you’ll be
leaving us, then?”
“I thought Shane explained everything. By
law, even if you pay the tax bill, you can still lose
the property if you don’t reside there. The
government can do so for items of historical or
“Shane, naturally,” she mumbled to herself.
“Nothing. Look, if that’s what I have to do,
then that’s what I’ll do. It’s my father’s house. How
can I let it go to Parliament? How long do I have to
be there, in order to establish residency?”
“At least six months of each year.”
“Okay, set up a meeting, first thing next
week, with Minister Gabor.”
Six months at home. She’d dreamt about
getting away, but what was she going to do in
Sighisoara? And not even in the city, but in the
sticks outside it?
Life had taken a hard turn on her. When was
she going to turn it back? It was a question she’d
asked herself so many times. Never, did she go to
college; she didn’t finish high school; she never
even had a real job.
What she would do, if it meant she could go
back and re do everything, but how would she?
There was no way to go but with the current. Since
when was she ever able to go against the tide that
insisted on breaking before her feet, drenching her.
From saving the world and killing the empress, to
inheriting all of Valhol, the Council, and Credenza’s
estate – an estate so priceless that it was like a pile
of rocks with thin veins of dew. The properties were
nearly impossible to sell, and the liquid on hand, left
by Credenza, was barely enough to cover the costs
of maintenance. No doubt, when she was alive, she
killed someone or stole to pay her debts.
But still, how could Alex miss taxes on her
father’s property? We’re talking ten long years.
Further, how could Shane act as if it’s no big deal?
It almost made her wonder if they were in on
something, together. Shane had certainly come to
resent her over the years, and she did try to kill her
a few times, back in New York when they were
Eventually, everyone stabs the person they’re
supposed to be loyal to in the back. And eventually,
all relationships must part ways, even friendships.
Anyone who says anything different was a mortal
and hadn’t a clue. When you live forever, things are
different. Things change; they don’t ever stay the
same. In relationships, there’s always a leader and a
follower. Over time, the follower always rises, defies
or leaves. That’s what being a vampire had taught
Lately, she thought about Meghan a lot. When
they were kids, she collected charms. One
afternoon, she put together a bracelet of ogres and
knives and gave it to her. It made her cry. Then
later, feeling guilty, she gave her a pretty one made
of roses and smiley faces.
Then there was that last summer at the lake.
How sullen she was, right before her boyfriend
abducted her. It was such a drastic change. Was it
all hormones and teen angst? Before, Starr didn’t
understand how she could be so unhappy. She still
didn’t understand, but despite that, she now
understood how the need to escape can taint the
taste of everything in life.
Then there were all the false memories of the
life she had before. Times with her brother, Dracus,
came to mind to. They’d have lunch, fight and take
trips through the forest together. He’d teach her
how to live off the land, preparing her for the day
when she’d have to leave her father, the King. Then
the King would come home. He was so arrogant; he
thought was invincible – that he really was divine.
He was so mad and would punish her for their
activities. Back then, that meant lashings, even for
the royal family. He’d bar her in her room for days,
or lock her in the carceral.
But Starr owed everything she was to Dracus.
She pined for the love of the King, who wouldn’t
even acknowledge her in public. Now, after all the
years, it was Dracus who was there for her. If it
wasn’t for him, she’d have never survived. She’d
have never overcome those Gypsies.
For someone who had all the time in the
world, Starr felt like death was nearing. If she didn’t
make a change, now, she’d be erased. The only
problem was she didn’t what kind of changes to
make. It’s one thing to fantasize about a life of
leisure, but such a life was impossible. Besides,
people would be pissed if they thought she quit so
as to do nothing.
She sat there, staring at the trees until dark,
trying to imagine a few different life scenarios, none
of which appealed to her. But a stranger in the park
once told her that you can’t find yourself by
idealizing. You must walk a lonely path, and follow
the signs that appeal to you. Sometimes, you’ll
follow the signs all the way through, and other
times, you’ll retreat after a time and go back to your
The sounds of footsteps brought her out of
Two dirty smelling men stumbled across her
path. They stopped and stared, speaking in
Romanian. One looked like he’d been on a bender,
and the other, like he was one foot in the grave.
“Hi, what are you doing out here all alone?”
said the younger one.
“Be on your way. This is your one warning,
strangers. I’m dangerous.”
Of course, they didn’t believe her. Even after
all the years, she still looked like a sixteen year old
girl. It would be many more centuries before her
skin would wear the signs of weathering. Not in the
traditional aging sense, but imagine your flesh
slowly petrifying before your eyes: a process that
replicated becoming calcareous.
Foolishly, the men sat on the bench beside
her. They leaned back and looked up at the sky. It
reminded her of the time when the old Gypsy sidled
up beside her, and lured with salted pork and fresh
ale from his bag. She was so naïve, then.
“It’s a beautiful night,” said the older one.
“This is a great spot.”
Starr held her breath. The old man hadn’t
showered in weeks. And in his cotton ball hair, she
saw little things moving about, biting his scalp. Lice,
she supposed it was.
“You need a place to stay?” asked the
younger one. His oily face shined under the
starlight. On his lip, a crusted sore lightly oozed. “I
can help you. I got a place in town. I like helping
people from time to time. You know, I had it hard
when I was your age, too.”
Starr laughed because, obviously, she was
not having a hard time. Her clothes were
immaculate, as was her make-up and hair. What was
She took short sniffs off the air, taking in his
pheromones. The taste of three or four different
scents were on him.
Disgusted, Starr got up from the bench. “No,
thanks,” she said.
Slowly, she walked off into the trees. As she
predicted, they waited a bit, and then followed her.
Starr rose up into the trees and rested on a
The men walked by looking confused and
turning around in circles.
“Man,” said the older one. “I would have liked
to have gotten my hands on that bitch. Did you see
the stones on her?”
“She was too smart for us. I could tell,” said
the younger one. “Let’s go. I don’t think we’ll find
her. Even if we do, it might be more trouble than it’s
worth. Did you see the look in her eyes? She was
dangerous, she wasn’t lying.”
“You’re a pussy,” said the old man. “Scared of
She watched them walk on by, slowly. Then,
with her mind, she followed them all the way home.
They squatted in an abandoned house that was up
in the hills. From there, she sensed the presence of
half a dozen women. She couldn’t see their faces
because, inside, it was dark. Only the light of
candles threw glimpses of their faces.
The men walked in and they scattered to do
various things. As long as they were there, of their
own accord, why should Starr interfere?
But then, a memory from the other night
came back to her: a feeling. She wanted that again.
She flew up to the house and landed in the
front yard. They’d patched the rotted holes with
wood planks. From the room at the back, the young
man ran a bath. He took off his clothes and got in. A
moment later, a woman came in and did the same.
Carefully, Starr opened the old wood door. It
made a light creaking noise.
Inside was as disgusting as they were. An old
moldy couch faced a couple sticks of wood nailed to
a ¾ inch plywood. Across from there was an old
fireplace, in which the last remaining embers were
On the fireplace mantle, there were dozens of
crunched up cigarette boxes, which they appeared
to be using to start fires.
This was Starr’s favorite part. She’d watch the
people in the house, heavily – for lack of better
word, until they’d get the feeling of unease. Often,
they didn’t know what or why, but they had to check
their surroundings. The only thing was, Starr could
never decide if she wanted them to discover her all
at once, or one at a time. In other words, have a
blast or make it last.
The old man was the first to respond. He
walked in, but his eyes weren’t so good.
“Casey?” he called.
A smirk pulled at the corners of Starr’s mouth
as she commanded the candles on the plywood
table to light.
But the old man still didn’t see.
“Goddamn, Casey, go to bed. Why do you
always linger out here?”
Starr merely stood and watched.
“Why don’t you do as you’re told?”
He moved closer to her and put his hand on
her upper and tried to pull her. When she didn’t
move, he knew something was wrong.
He took a step back and raised the candle
higher. Recognition came to him.
“What are you doing here? Why did you follow
“I told you to be on your way, did I not?”
“Yeah, and you left. Look, it’s late, so you’ll be
Starr grinned and spit out of the sides of her
mouth; something she sometimes did when trying
to contain herself, and doing so unsuccessfully.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re putting off notes of fear into the air.
It’s funny because, once, the scent lured me, but
ever since I was touched by the soul of a babe, it
makes me giggle like a little girl.”
And giggle she did, mirthfully, as the man
She laughed louder and louder, and wickedly.
The man became more and more afraid.
A moment later, the man came into the room,
accompanied by the woman. They were both
wrapped in bath towels.
“What is it? Have we got another coon?” he
Then he saw Starr standing in the living room
with a big grin on her face.
The woman looked at her in disgust.
Immediately, she hated her; this made her laugh
“So you followed us?” asked the man, trying
to sound surprised. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
Starr detected he was ready to try and rob
her, beat her or something of the sort.
The old man left the room. He returned a
moment later with a rope. Several other women
came into the room.
Alfred stood and grabbed her by the wrists.
Starr didn’t resist; rather she got up compliantly.
Erroneously, he assumed that he’d overpowered
her, which made her laugh even more.
“Yeah, you’re gonna regret coming into my
house at this hour. You do this all the time? Follow
Starr laughed once again.
“Why do you keep laughing?”
“Because I told you to be on your way, did I
“Yes, and you left.”
“Yes, but you followed me, intent on causing
me harm. I was trying so hard to be good. But you
see, life has been miserable for me, lately. Maybe
this is just what I need. I’m so excite. It’s been a few
weeks since I’ve had as much fun.”
“Whatever, lady. Things are about to get
worse for you.”
He put her arms behind her back and tied
them with the rope. Then he smacked her. When she
didn’t flinch or blink, he punched her. When she still
didn’t move, he got frustrated and grabbed a piece
He drew back the wood and whacked her
across the face. It broke clean in half.
Thinking it was a fluke, he went back for
It broke in half.
A smile spread her cheeks back wide.
They all screamed, and the room was bathed
Starr’s head got heavy. Her teeth lightly
touched down to her gums. And all the sudden her
vision became extremely clear in the low light of the
They screamed even louder. The women ran
Starr pulled her wrists apart, and then broke
away the rope easily.
Alfred and the older man stood there with
Starr walked across the room, slowly,
breathing in as deeply through her nose as she
“Why aren’t you running?” she asked. “Aren’t
Then, as if their legs found themselves, they
took off out of the door.
Starr let them go, but followed at a distance
for some time. And every time they thought they
were safe, she appeared. They, then, screamed and
Starr did this for about an hour, when their
pheromones started to wear off. Then she swooped
down on the old man and broke his neck. For a
moment, she contemplated drinking his blood, but
he was disgusting. Then she found Alfred, whom she
also snapped like a twig, but didn’t feed on.
Not that Starr was above feeding on humans.
She liked to do it once in a while, but she buff men.
People who were healthy and liked to bath, or wear
perfumes that made their skin nice. She was a
vampire who preferred fine dining, instead of
diseased and alcoholics.
She could have found the other women and
continued the fun, but she was tired and wanted to
return to peace. So she walked the streets of Sibiu
for a few hours until sunrise.
Shane appeared before her.
“Are you coming to work, or what? Today, we
need to decide on the case of the Miscoptus.”
They were a group of vampires who’d decided
to start a cult. Like judge and jury, they needed to
look over the reports and decide who should die and
who should live.
She got up and they flew back to the castle
Shane dragged her to the buffet.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You haven’t fed in awhile, and you look
Food had become harder and harder to
“I just can’t, Shane.”
“At least, have a little blood in your coffee.”
She handed her a mug.
They walked down the hall to the large
meeting room. There, Anige gave her presentation,
supplying them with evidence of the cult’s
misdeeds, deaths and abductions.
“The FBI is already investigating them.
Although they don’t know it, they have two
undercover agents in their organization, and none of
them realize it yet,” she said.
“Okay, but that’s all circumstantial,” said
Count Julius. “You haven’t proved that they did
these things. Further, if they are undercover agents,
they’ll detect them eventually. I say we move on,
until something more serious happens. We have too
much going on right now, and with end of year
festivities, our plates our full.”
“I don’t totally disagree,” said Anige. “But I
think that we need to keep them under our radar.
They’re new, they’re young, and they’re careless.
When have cults ever gone on peacefully?”
“True,” said Starr. “Give them enough time,
and they’ll be a problem. Let’s just get rid of them,
now. How many vampires are there?”
“Twenty-four and they plan to make more.”
“Okay, contact the Fleet and give them the
“Starr,” said Blakely. “You really want them all
killed? Shouldn’t we bring them here and evaluate
them? See who should live and who should die?”
“No, because all that will do is make more
lifelong enemies, down the line.”
“Starr,” said Anige. “Some of them were
kidnapped against their will; some of them aren’t
killers or psychotics. A few might even be a good
addition, and they might willingly help us bring
down the Miscoptus.”
“Fine,” said Starr. “Do whatever you guys
want. I really don’t care.”
The rest of meeting was about money and
assets, which new groups had formed and which old
and powerful vamps had decided to die.
That night, she managed to fall asleep a few
minutes. It was long enough to dream about the
vampires and the time she’d spent with the Fleet.
Then she woke and tossed and turned, and
then got up.
Becky, Kay, Misty and Misaki came to mind.
She wondered what they were doing at the moment.
They were backpacking through Europe together,
but no one had heard from them in a couple weeks.
She got out of bed and got dressed. Then she
flew to them, using her inner demon to guide.
An hour later, she recognized the horizon
She hovered by the window; then
commanded that it open.
Inside was a nice but old world flat. It even
had that old smell that these old places grew into
In her mind, she saw that they all slept,
cozily, in their beds.
Starr ordered room service.
As she waited, she looked around. They were
certainly having fun. Having the life she should have
had. Clothes were strewn everywhere, a pile of
make up and mirrors were on the living room table;
bottles of liquor and beer smelled from the trash
A knock came at the door.
Starr let him in.
She wrapped all the garbage and handed it
him. Then she called for the maid, who took their
clothes to launder.
Although she intended to stay have breakfast
with them, she changed her mind. The bathroom
mirror return a painting of a lost soul, gaunt, pale
and thin lipped with papery skin, and deep onyx
eyes, the kind you expect to swallow souls rather
than reveal any depth.
She needed to feed.
But she just wasn’t hungry.
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