**WARNING: mild plot spoilers ahead.
Wrath | Rhage | Zsadist | Phury | Vishous | Tohrment
the last purebred vampire on the planet and the vampire race's king. Essentially blind, he is the leader who is not willing to lead until he is forced to care for a half-breed he falls in love with.
the strongest of the brothers and the best fighter. Cursed by the Scribe Virgin, he is possessed by a dark side which is a danger to everyone. Ultimately, though, he is gentled by a very special human woman.
the most lethal of the brothers. A former blood slave who was mercilessly tortured during the first hundred years of his life, Z is the one who has fallen farthest from grace. But he is utterly worthy of redemption.
the loyal one, the one who sacrifices himself for others. Phury is Zsadist's twin brother and a celibate who cannot truly live because of everything his biological brother has lost. Used to giving rather than receiving, he needs love coming back at him to bring him alive.
the most intelligent and the one who is specially gifted. His curse is his ability to prognosticate: he sees the future, though not the 'when' of events so he is tortured by his inability to save those he loves from danger. His love puts him at odds with a secret about himself he did not know and could never have guessed.
the steady one, the calm one. He is the one whose betrayal by fate will cut the deepest.
When Wrath and I meet for his interview, it’s in early September, right as he’s getting back on his feet after being shot. We’ve agreed to do it in the stacks of the Caldwell Library. I wanted us to get together in the mansion, but he refused. My sense is that he isn’t sure whether he’ll let the other brothers participate in interviews and that is why he insisted on the public locale. If I’d showed up at the compound, the brothers would have sensed it and come to investigate.
I get to the library first. We’re meeting in the basement, all the way in the back, at one of the battered tables that are set periodically in between the shelving.
Wrath appears from out of nowhere, materializing without a sound and with no warning, scaring the hell out of me. As soon as I recover, I stiffen up. Whenever I’m around him, my skin gets tight and my spine straightens. It’s part fear, part awe.
Tonight, he’s wearing shitkickers, black leather pants and a black button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I can see the tattoos that run up the undersides of his forearms; they’re black and very finely done, spelling out his lineage in the Old Language. His black hair is long, down past his shoulders. It’s straight. Shiny. He’s got a spectacular widow’s peak. As usual, his eyes are hidden behind wraparounds because his pupils do not process light well and he is all but blind. His features are aristocrat, but the strength of his body is that of a fighter. He is tremendous in size. Overwhelming.
J.R.: Hi. (I smile, feeling a little foolish.)
Wrath: Hey, challa. (He sits down across from me and smiles back, his fangs flashing. He’s so big, he makes the table seem like something you’d find in a kindergarten classroom.)
J.R.: Thanks for doing this.
W: We’ll see how it goes.
J.R.: We can stop anytime.
W: I know. (His tone reminds that he’s setting the rules, but his expression isn’t harsh.)
J.R.: How’s the gun shot wound?
W: Wounds. And they’re healing up well.
J.R.: You look good. (Wrath cocks an eyebrow.) Okay, I’ll get to questions, why don’t I? (He chuckles.) So how do you feel about being the king now? You’ve ascended, right?
W: Yeah, I have. And I’m doing better than I thought I would. The whole adoration thing is just not my bag. I hate people thinking I’m some kind of savior. My father handed that shit well. I don’t.
J.R.: So what’s being king like?
W.: I’m only a week in to it so I don’t really know yet. Day to day I rely on Tohr a lot. You know, run things by him. And of course, Beth... I do nothing without her. She rules with me, thank God. Over the next five years, we’ve got to find out where our population centers are and then we’ve got to rebuild the social infrastructure and get the festival observances rolling again. So much has slid in the last four hundred years and it’s all... well, because of me. I’ve got a lot to make up for.
J.R.: I understand the race is thrilled to have you on the throne.
W.: Yeah. Let’s see if I can take care of them as I should have from the beginning, though, you feel me?
J.R.: About Beth. You love her a lot.
W: You know I do. You know our story, I told it to you.
J.R.: Yes, you did. And thank you for that.
W: Well, the brotherhood needs its stories told, challa.
J.R.: Are you worried that the books reveal your identities?
W: Nope. We’re found only if we want to be.
J.R.: But surely this violates your code of secrecy?
W.: The humans can’t find us or prove we exist, so no, it doesn’t. What would violate our code would be... if we presented ourselves out in public and identified our nature, for example. Or if we staged a huge battle in front of human witnesses and couldn’t scrub their memories.
J.R.: People will talk when the books come out, though.
W.: They already do, or have you forgotten all that Dracula crap which annoys me? Look, the brotherhood books are marketed as fiction. And if anyone stood up in a public forum, like Fox News or CNN or something, and said that vampires existed? They’d be laughed into a rubber room. So we’re protected.
J.R.: Except... why have the stories told at all?
W.: Our race will read these books. Sure, we’re connected by the internet, but it’s hard to get out detailed accurate information and it’s dangerous right now to bring large numbers of the race together in one place. I needed an outlet for the truth, one that could reach a broad audience of my people, and I wanted the stories to be crafted in a visceral manner, so that my people understood at a very deep level what had happened. My book is... well, mine is my confession of sin and failure to my people. The other brothers, they, too, need to be cleansed and they are prepared to make their confessions in this manner.
J.R.: Back to Beth. Did falling in love with her come as a surprise to you?
W: (Wrath laughs in aloud burst.) Hell, yeah.
J.R.: What makes her so special?
W: She saved my life, for God’s sake. But yeah, it’s so much more than that. I mean, I loved her before the shooting. She’s... When I’m with her, I have the strength of ten males to protect her. She makes me strong. And hell, she’s the only person who’s ever handed me my head on a plate. So I respect her.
J.R. Do you want to have children? (As he glowers, I realize I’ve forgotten the subject’s not a good one for bonded males given high maternal/fetal deaths.) I’m sorry, Wrath, I didn’t mean-
W: It’s cool. (He coughs a little.) Sure, I want youngs. But she hasn’t even had her first needing because she’s only just gone through her transition. I want to have her for a while to myself, a couple of hundred years at least. God, if I lost her on the birthing bed, I... Okay, enough of this.
J.R.: Let’s talk about the brotherhood. Do you have a favorite among them?
W: Nah. Though, I’ll tell you, some are easier to take than others. It all depends on their mood and mine. (He smiles.) You want to party? You hang with Rhage. You want to reason out a complicated leadership question? You go to Tohr. You need to have your stereo, DVD, house alarm, cable and internet access, and alarm clock set up? V. Well, and you also go to him if you have any particle physics questions to ask, but that’s a rarity, at least for me. And if you just want to chill? You can go to Phury’s and mellow out.
J.R.: You all are a lot closer now. I mean, closer than you used to be, right?
W: Yeah. For centuries I worked alone. I went after our enemies alone. Now, the brothers are inseparable, which is as it should be.
J.R.: Now that you’ve ascended, they’re your royal guard, yes?
W.: That’s right. They protect me and my family. So living together also makes practical sense.
J.R.: I’ve heard you are no longer allowed to fight.
W.: Yeah, as king, I’m not permitted to go out in the field anymore. But, you know... (I have a feeling he’s winking at me from behind his sunglasses.)
J.R.: And how’s living at the compound with the brothers?
W: Straight up? The place is a madhouse. I don’t know how Beth handles it or why she hasn’t kicked them... us off her property. Butch and V can’t stop talking about the Red Sox and that frickin’ human keeps beating everyone at pool. Rhage eats us out of house and home- have you seen the way he can suck back food? Jesus Christ, he’s a bottomless pit. At least Phury’s cool... he’s easy to get along with. Although I’ll tell you, the boy tokes up a lot, so thank God that red smoke stuff’s just a relaxant and not hard core. Tohr, smart male that he is, has the good sense to get home to Wellsie every day.
J.R.: What about Zsadist?
W: (Grows serious and falls silent for a while.) He’s... you know, he’s Z.
J.R.: Which means?
W: He sticks to himself. Which is just as well. He’s hard to be around. So damn... cold.
J.R.: You were worried about him being around Beth, weren’t you?
W.: Yeah. But he’s taken the pledge to protect her as queen, and I don’t know, he had the chance to kill me and he didn’t... so he’s got some credibility he didn’t have in the past. But I’ll tell you this. She’s my shellan, so I worry about her with anyone. That’s a characteristic of bonded males, as you know.
We talk a little more, wrapping up slowly.
J.R.: So thank you for doing this.
W.: My pleasure, challa.
J.R.: Will you let the others talk to me like this?
W.: Yeah, I will.
J.R.: Before you go, what does challa mean?
W: (In a whisper.) It means scribe.He kisses me on the cheek softly.
I feel his hair on my neck. And then he is gone.
Rhage and I meet a week later in brotherhood’s mansion. And not surprisingly, it’s in the kitchen. When Fritz brings me to him, Rhage is over the stove, cooking himself French toast. Well, a whole loaf of French toast. He’s wearing a black muscle shirt and a worn pair of Levi’s that are frayed at the waist, cuffs, and back pockets. I stare. His physical beauty is so... compelling, I measure it once and then again and again. The striking planes and angles of his face, the utter perfection of his big body, those astounding blue/green eyes... it’s all an anomaly, as unnatural a combination as that which equates to true ugliness.
Rhage: You didn’t like me! (He smiles, those bright eyes glowing.) I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe you didn’t like me at first.
J.R.: Ah- (What the hell do I say to that? And how did he know?)
R: S’okay, challa. You want some food? (He flips a slice of toast over in the pan.) I can bust out another loaf.
J.R.: No, thanks. Listen, about the not liking thing-
R: You thought I was too perfect, right? You bought the outside image.
J.R.: Well, yes. But then I got to know the... other side of you.
R: (Loses the smile.) The curse? Christ, I wouldn’t think that would be a recommendation.
J.R.: Can we start with it? The beast?
R: Fine. (But I can tell he’s not happy as he takes the pan off the flame.)
J.R.: What’s it like... living with the dragon inside of you? (He frowns so deeply, I decide to change the topic.) Actually, why don’t we discuss-
R: Straight up? I hate talking about the damn thing. And there isn’t much to say, anyway. (He picks up the plate he’s been stacking the French toast on and goes over to the table. After he sits down, he douses the lot of it with maple syrup and uses a fork to cut into the leaning tower.) The beast’s a buzz kill. I spend every day busting my ass to keep it from coming out. I worry about hurting my brothers. And it hurts like hell when I go through the change. That’s it. The way it’s been for the last ninety years. You gonna sit?
J.R.: Is there any way you can make peace with it? (I take the chair opposite his. And... boy, he has the most amazing table manners. He eats with a delicacy that is at odds with all those muscles.)
R: Peace is not part of my life. On any level. Next question, okay?
J.R.: Yeah, sure. Ah, what do you think about Wrath and Beth?
R: (Beaming now.) My boy’s got a major glow-on and I’m loving it. Hell, we’re all loving it. Wrath deserves the best and she’s a female of worth. Hell, the brothers and I are half in love with her and not just because she’s our queen. (He pauses.) Not that we’re, you know, inappropriate about it or anything. Wrath has seriously bonded with her so none of us would ever go near her.
J.R.: So out of all the brothers, who are you closest to?
R: V. Definitely V. He’s a riot and... I don’t know, he gets me. He understands where I’m coming from. And you know, Butch, too. Not that he’s a brother. Yeah... I’m really tight with Butch. He and I worked with V to wire up the compound before we moved in. The three of us together are a good combo.
J.R.: Even though you all tried to kill each other the first night you met?
R.: (Laughs out loud.) Yeah, that was quite a scene wasn’t it! That’s what I love about Butch. He is categorically incapable of feeling fear. Hot-headed dummy that he is. (Rhage’s tone is warm and affectionate here.)
J.R.: And Butch is living with Vishous now, right? Are you surprised to have a human so close to you all?
R: Yeah. But Butch isn’t just any human, challa. That cop is a friggin’ power-house. I mean, come on, the guy takes on both me and Vishous in front of the brothers that first night? Love the guy. Love him. I’ll tell you what, I’m glad we didn’t have to kill him, that he chose to stay with us. He’s become a friend. And sometimes I think...
R: I kind of wonder where he came from, you feel me? He’s not like normal humans, even the males. Too intense, too aggressive. I don’t know. Maybe he’s just tripped out on testosterone or something.
J.R.: About your reputation.
R: (Wipes his mouth with his napkin then folds the thing before putting
it in his lap.) Which one?
R: I can handle myself. (He shifts in his seat.) You want to talk about my other claim to fame, too?
J.R.: I wasn’t going to bring it up.
R.: It’s cool. I mean, I can’t really deny it.
J.R.: You’re also known for your... love life.
R.: Yeah, I am. (This is said with no pride, no macho boasting. Actually he seems... resigned.)
J.R.: That doesn’t please you.
R.: Being a legend isn’t all it’s cut out to be. (He pours on some more syrup. Then continues eating.) Especially that kind of a legend.
J.R.: Women love you.
R.: Females want me. That’s different, challa.
J.R.: Do you believe in love?
R.: I believe very much in what Wrath and Beth have, how about that?
J.R.: Fair enough.
We talk for awhile about things. He’s thrilled that Wrath has ascended and Rhage loves living with the brothers. He spends most of his time at the Pit with V and Butch; the only time he’s really in his room is when he’s sleeping. I get the feeling that he doesn’t like to by himself.
R.: So who are you talking to next?
R.: (His body stiffening.) Where?
J.R.: Ah, here. I mean, I’m meeting him in the foyer.
R: (Frowns.) You stay out in the open with him. Don’t go to his room. I have to go to the gym to work off my edge, but I’m going to get Butch and V to come over from the Pit.
J.R.: Really, I don’t think-
R: Let me take care of you. (He smiles and for a moment I forget everything including where I am and what language I speak.) I’ll see you later, challa.
When he’s gone, I take a deep breath. Without him in the room, I feel as if I’m suddenly out of the sun and in the shade. The warmth, the glow, the tingle is gone.
I wait for Zsadist in the lobby. You’ll learn the details of the space soon enough so I’ll keep them to myself, but suffice to say, there’s plenty to look at. Within minutes, Butch and V come over from the Pit, emerging from the hidden door under the staircase. We chat and then they go into the billiard room. As I hear the sound of pool balls cracking into each other, I check my watch. Z is late. By twenty minutes. Somehow I’m not surprised. And I won’t be surprised if he blows off the whole thing, either.
As I think about him, I picture his face and the scar that intersects it. I see his glossy all-black eyes. His skull trimmed hair. His pierced nipples. The tattooed blood slave bands around his throat and wrists... I can almost feel the anger and the erotic threat he throws off... God, it’s as if he’s known hell on earth and carries the place around with him.
And, you know, I must confess. Of all of the brotherhood, he was the one I loved first and he remains the one I love the most. For me, he is just the... one.
Zsadist: Don’t turn around.
I jump and then freeze. His voice is right behind me, in my left ear. Immediately, I feel a cold chill on my back, as if I’m standing in front of a refrigerator’s open door. It’s his body, close to mine. And even though I love him, I’m suddenly very grateful to know that Butch and V in the other room.
Z: I’m not into this interview shit.
J.R.: Okay. That’s... okay.
Z: And I’m pissed off that you think you need an armed escort to talk to me.
J.R.: Butch and V are just-
Z.: Save it. They’re here to make you feel safer. (There’s a pause.) You’ve got five minutes to ask the questions. So make it quick.
J.R.: Ah... what do you think about Wrath’s ascension? (I figure this is a safe enough subject. And it’s the first thing that pops into my head.)
Z.: It’s about time he got off his ass.
J.R.: Do you think he’ll be a good king?
Z.: Yeah. He does everything well.
J.R.: And Beth, as queen? Does it bother you she’s half-human?
Z.: She’s Darius’s daughter. She should be queen on that alone.
J.R.: Were you... upset when Darius died?
Z: He was murdered. You make it sound like he keeled over of natural causes, putting it like that.
J.R.: And were you upset?
Z.: Next question.
J.R.: Ah... (This is so not going well.) What do you think about the brotherhood living here together?
Z.: I don’t care where I sleep.
J.R.: Do you have any problem with Tohr taking over?
Z.: You know I don’t. You wrote down what my response was in Wrath’s book.
J.R.: Right. Yes. (At this point, my mind goes totally blank. His responses are getting more and more brusque. I can tell he wants to end the interview... like two minutes ago.) Is there anything you want to say?
The silence is so deep and so long that I figure he’s left. I start to look over my shoulder.
Z: I told you not to turn around.
J.R.: I’m sorry.
Z: Have you spoken with Phury?
J.R.: Ah, no. Not yet.
Z: Then the only thing I’ve got to say is this. When you talk to my twin, you treat him with respect. He’s... a fine male who’s living a whacked life. Because of me. (There’s a pause.) And you didn’t need the protection. I’d never harm you. Later.
This time, when I finally turn around, he is gone. And I realize I’m disappointed I couldn’t look at him. He isn’t ugly. At least not to me.
I was going to talk to Vishous next, but Phury’s on my mind so I tell Butch and V I’m going upstairs. Once I’m on the second floor, I can’t remember which room is Phury’s and, wow... there are so many doors. But then I catch a whiff of something delicious... a Starbucks. I follow the scent of roasting coffee beans to a door and knock on the thing.
Phury opens up and the scent gets stronger. As he smiles, he stuns me anew for a moment. It’s his hair, or rather, his mane: great flowing waves of blond, red and brown that fall below his shoulders. The colors are blended into a wild profusion and the shine on the stuff is something north of glossy. It’s also his yellow eyes: his irises are the color of morning sunlight, a deep canary. And he’s dressed beautifully, as usual. Perfectly-tailored black slacks and a dove gray silk button down that makes his hair look even brighter.
P.: You’re early. I was just getting ready. (He turns and puts a hand-rolled out in an ashtray.) Would you like to go downstairs or do it here?
J.R.: Here’s fine. (I take a deep breath and relax. There’s something so easy-going about him and I remember what Wrath said. No doubt about it, Phury’s a good guy to unwind around.
P.: Why don’t I take the chaise and you can have the bed? (He walks across the room and I catch his limp. It’s a subtle hesitation as he brings his leg forward, as if he’s waiting for his foot to catch up with his knee. This infirmity makes me measure the rest of his body, but he’s so hard and well-muscled, I decide I don’t have to worry about him fighting.)
J.R.: So how do you like your new home? (I sit on the edge of his antique four-poster.)
P.: (Stretching out on the chaise.) Love it. I’m so damned glad we’re here together. Although, I have to say... It makes me miss the hell out of Darius. Did you know he built this whole compound?
J.R.: I think I did know that, but tell me more.
P.: He constructed everything in the 1920s: the training facility, the underground tunnels, this mansion, the Gate House where Butch and V now live. Darius chose this location because its close to the Tomb and he tailor fit the buildings to our needs.
J.R.: The Tomb is the brotherhood’s sacred place, right?
P.: Yes. (Pauses.) Darius wanted us to live here, but things were different back then. Wrath hadn’t taken throne- not that I blame him. He had his reasons and he did the very best he could. Anyway, Darius wanted us to live here but the timing just wasn’t right. I’m sorry he missed how well this is all working out... He would have been so pleased.
J.R.: (I look around the room.) Did he furnish and decorate this house too? Because if he did, he knew his stuff when it came to art and furniture.
P.: He had great style, great style. And real appreciation for beauty. But he was still a hell of a fighter.
J.R.: Kind of like you.
P.: (With a blush that is so damned adorable, I can barely stand it.) Yeah. Whatever. Listen, I need to talk to you about something.
P.: When you talk to Z-
J.R.: I already did.
P.: (Tensing.) How did it go?
J.R.: He wasn’t happy and it didn’t last long. Funny, though, he was stern about my talking to you.
P.: What did he say?
J.R.: That I should treat you with the respect you deserve. That you were a male of worth who was living... how did he put it... a whacked life because of him.
Phury falls silent. Then his yellow eyes narrow and drop to the floor. Eventually, his gaze shifts over to the bureau.
P.: Would you mind if I lit up?
J.R.: Not at all.
He goes across the room and takes a hand-rolled out of a mahogany box. He uses a silver lighter to torch the thing and draws deeply on it with a hiss. He holds his breath. As he exhales, I catch that wonderful coffee bean scent and my bones loosen.
J.R.: I like the way that stuff smells.
P.: (Regarding the glowing tip.) Red smoke has its uses. God knows, it’s gotten me through some hard days.
J.R.: We don’t have to talk about Zsadist.
P.: That’s okay. He’s the most interesting part of me. Well, interesting is probably not the right word, but people are fascinated by him. It’s the danger, I think. No doubt part of it is a survival reflex. It’s important to try and understand what can hurt you and my twin is capable of anything.
J.R.: Is it true you... shot your leg off to save him?
P.: (Takes a long drag. He speaks as he exhales and the smoke coming out from between his lips is... erotic.) Yes. The particulars aren’t important anymore, but yeah, that’s how it happened.
J.R.: Have you ever regretted-
P.: Never. I would do it again. Getting him out of slavery, getting him away from all that abuse, was worth any sacrifice.
J.R.: He was abducted from your family as an infant?
P.: And then he was sold. That was back in the early 1700’s when blood slaves were still tolerated. Nowadays, that kind of thing is frowned upon. Thank God.
J.R.: (We’re quiet for a moment. And I get to thinking about sacrifices.) You are celibate, aren’t you?
J.R.: Is that because of Zsadist, too?
P.: I’d prefer not to talk about why I made my choice. Is that okay?
J.R.: Absolutely. I don’t want to pry or make you feel uncomfortable.
P.: (Smiling a little.) Thanks, challa.
J.R.: May I ask you one more thing, though?
J.R.: Who do you feed from?
P.: You don’t have to have sex when you feed, you know.
J.R.: Oh... of course not. (Now I’m the one who’s blushing.)
P.: (Smiling a little.) I have a couple of females who are generous with their veins. They are aware of my choice and do not expect anything of a sexual nature to go along with it.
J.R.: Do they feed from you?
P.: No, they have others they turn to.
J.R.: Is it hard to be chaste? (This blurts out of my mouth before I can stop it.)
P.: (Laughing.) It can be extraordinarily difficult sometimes. This body of mine has the same needs as any other male’s. Well, actually, because I’m of the warrior lineage, and a pure bred warrior at that, I have a lot of extra aggression in me and very strong... urges. (Falls serious.) But I made a commitment. And I will keep it.
J.R.: Are you ever lonely?
P.: God, no. (He stabs out the blunt.) I have Zsadist so there’s too much on my mind for me to be lonely. I have to take care of him... however he will let me. What? Why are you looking at me like that?
J.R.: I’m fighting a terrible urge to hug you right now.
Phury: (Jerks a little.) Oh... wow.
J.R.: You’re just so... I don’t know, noble.
Phury: I’m no different than any other male.
For quite some time, we talk for about subjects that have nothing to do with the brotherhood or Zsadist. The conversation covers art, philosophy, books. Phury knows a lot about a lot of things and I love the way he thinks... so much so that it takes me a while to realize that the interview is over and he’s ended it in such a way I didn’t even notice. Smooth, very smooth. When I leave a little later (without hugging him), I think he is so wrong about him being no different than any other male. He is extraordinary... but, I worry. He’s as lonely and isolated as Rhage and as detached as Zsadist. I find myself hoping he’ll find true happiness someday. God knows, he deserves it.
Vishous and Butch
I go down to the billiard room and watch as Butch and V finish their game. I was going to interview them separately, but then I decide I’ll ask them if I can do them together.
As they play, I watch them both. There’s something other-worldly about Vishous. You sense it the instant you see him even though he appears normal. Well, normal for a six foot six, two hundred and sixty pound warrior vampire. Maybe the perception that he’s somehow different is because of the power in his eyes. His pupils are the color of diamonds, and when he stares at you, you feel plucked clean. It’s as if he sees the whole continuum of your life at a glance, and the beginning, middle and end are all known to him. He’s also sexy as hell. The tattoo at his left temple, an interlocking pattern of swirls, is gorgeous as it bleeds into the outside corner of his eye. He’s sporting a goatee, too, which is the color of his short black hair. On his left hand, he wears a black leather driving glove. That hand, I’ve heard, is capable of vast destruction and I’m glad it’s not out in the open.
Butch O’Neal’s presence isn’t over-shadowed by V’s. Butch is not as a big, but compared to other human men, he’s heavy duty. He’s about six feet two and his shoulders are very broad... and they’ve gotten even broader since I first met him, as if he’s been lifting weights with the brothers or something. He’s got hazel eyes and a nose that’s been broken a couple of times and brown hair. His attitude is cocky and self-confident, but it’s not offensive because you sense he can back it up and then some. And he obviously likes women. Not in a skivvy way or anything; he’s not an ogler. When he looks at you, you just have the sense that he respects you.
Vishous: So which one of us do you want first?
J.R.: Mind if I ask you both some questions?
V: I’m good with that. Cop?
Butch: Yeah, but lemme finish this. (He leans over the pool table, cracks the cue ball, and... sinks the four and six into two separate pockets.)
V: I hate you.
Butch blows a kiss at his roommate and then wins the game on his next shot. The two put down their sticks and we sit on a couple of sofas.
J.R.: So how do you guys like living together?
V: I like it better when I don’t play pool with him.
B.: We get along great. Except he snores and I can hear it through the wall.
V: And Butch is a clothes whore.
B.: Excuse me? (When V cocks an eyebrow, Butch laughs.) Fine, so sue me.
J.R.: (To Vishous.) Are you surprised to have a human living with you all?
V.: It is as it is supposed to be. So no.
J.R.: How about you, Butch? Are you surprised to be with a bunch of vampires?
B.: Yeah. But I didn’t have much to leave behind. And I don’t know. I’m happier.
V.: What a sap. (But Vishous’s tone is not unkind. To the contrary, it’s affectionate and full of respect.)
J.R.: Will you ever leave, Butch? (Both of them tense.)
B: (Leaning forward and putting his elbows on his knees.) Some decisions you can never go back from. My coming here is one of them. Only way out is feet first, you feel me?
J.R.: (I’m a little stunned to hear it spelled out so clearly by him. I turn to Vishous.) But if security is an issue, you can take care of that, right? I thought you can strip the memories of humans.
V.: Only if they’re short term and not traumatic. Cop’s been with us for too long and he’s seen some shit. (Looks at Butch.) True?
B.: Yeah, true. Including you in your boxers. Jesus, I thought I’d go blind the first time.
V.: (Laughing.) Smart ass.
J.R.: Vishous, what do you think about the brotherhood living together?
V.: It’s about time. We should have been doing this all along. I mean, here, all together, we can coordinate our efforts better, go out together, come down together. S’all good.
J.R.: And what about Tohr taking over as leader?
V.: My boy’s perfect for the job. He’s leveled-headed, decisive, smart.
J.R.: He’s going to run the training facility, too, right?
V.: Yeah. He and Phury are going to do the teaching. Wrath wants more warriors supporting the brotherhood and he’s right to drive that agenda. The Society’s changed its strategy. They’re abducting civilians and trying to get information out of them. When the lessers were just going after us it was different, but now the innocent are being brought into this war. We used to have an active warrior class, but like a lot of other social orders, that has faded. Fortunately, Wrath’s committed to rebuilding the race and reviving our traditions. The community infrastructure must be fortified again.
J.R.: Speaking of infrastructure, I understand that you hard-wired this compound. I mean, the security cameras and the motion detectors and the cameras and alarms.
V.: Yeah. Cop helped me. So did Rhage.
B.: We worked for about two weeks straight, pulling all nighters.
V.: I think that’s why the three of us bonded so hard.
B.: Yeah. We work well together.
J.R.: I’ve heard the three of you hang out a lot. The troika. I’ve also heard Rhage can be a lot to handle.
B.: (Grinning like a madman.) Part of his charm, baby. Part of his charm.
V.: Thank God the brother doesn’t drink, you feel me?
The three of us chat for a little longer. I’m struck by how aligned the two men are. They’re finishing each others sentences, jostling each other in a macho way, joking. But underneath all that, there is a deep connection. (Maybe it’s because they’re both members of the Red Sox nation.)
And then Tohrment materializes in the room. He apologizes for being early, but Butch and V and I are basically done so Tohr’s timing is perfect. The two roommates leave, heading back to watch the Sox’s highlights on Sport Center.
Of all the brothers, Tohrment looks most like a solider and it’s not just because he came armed tonight (although good God is he armed). He’s got a Marine brush cut and his navy blue eyes are grave. He’s dressed in combat boots, black cargo pants and a tight black T-shirt... and he’s dripping with weapons. There’s a handgun on his hip, another holstered on the outside of his right thigh, and there are two black handled daggers strapped to his chest. And there have to be more weapons concealed on him. As he sits, I find him... He’s not cold, but you get the sense he doesn’t smile that often. And V’s right. Tohr is a natural leader. He just radiates the kind of calm intelligence you’d want at the helm in a crisis.
J.R.: Thank you for coming.
Tohrment: No problem. (Smiles a little.)
J.R.: Were you surprised when Wrath tapped you to be the brotherhood’s leader?
T.: Hell, yeah. And I didn’t want to do it at first.
J.R.: Why not?
T.: (Frowns.) I felt responsible for my brothers before. Now, that emotion is so much stronger.
J.R.: You are also running the training center.
T.: Yeah. Phury’s my back up. Have you talked with him yet?
T.: He’s an outstanding fighter and a damn good male.
J.R.: Where are you going to get your training candidates?
T.: I’m going through an old list of the warrior class and reaching out to the families to see if they have sons who are pre-transition. We could start with the older males, but the training is better if we catch them before their change.
J.R.: Will you ever have any female candidates?
T.: (Frowns again. I get the feeling we’re going to have a lot of that.) If we go by tradition, no. Females are forbidden from fighting in the old law. And straight up? There’s a part of me that wants to continue that tradition. It’s ingrained in the male instinct to protect our females. Females... females are to be sheltered and cared for and fed well and given everything they could ever need.
J.R.: Sounds chivalrous, if restrictive.
T.: Think about it from a survival perspective. Because of the number of females we lose in childbirth, they are the key to the race’s survival in a way males just aren’t. We males are not important; they are critical. (He takes a deep breath.) But going back to your question. Things are changing. You know, I think of my shellan, Wellsie. She could take on anything. (Respect warms his voice.) Females like her- you bet your ass they could fight as well as a male. Maybe in different ways, sure. But they could be just as lethal against the lessers.
J.R.: I understand Wellsie is pregnant. (Shoot, I’ve done it again... asking this question is just bad form. But Tohr handles it better than Wrath does.)
T.: (Rubs his face.) Yeah. I’m sick over it. Really... fucking sick over it. If I were to lose her... (Clears his throat.) Anyway.
J.R.: Are you excited for your baby? (I’m hoping to ease him. I fail miserably.)
T.: (Grimacing.) No. I just want Wellsie to get through the labor and come out the other side fine and healthy. Then I’ll think about the child. I don’t mean to sound... unfeeling toward the young in her belly. It’s just that, as a bonded male, I’m focused on Wellsie. She is my mate. She is the center of my life.
J.R.: Even above the brotherhood?
T.: My brothers are the only thing that comes close to what I feel for her. But look, about the kid... I’ve heard that when a male finally holds his young, the bonding thing happens. I mean, you’re supposed to feel as you do for your mate. Personally, I can’t imagine it, but a lot of males say its true... That’s why they put their youngs’s names in their back along with their shellan’s, I guess.
J.R.: So you have Wellsie’s name on yours?
T.: (With obvious pride.) Wanna see it?
When I nod, he removes his chest holster and then pulls his shirt off. He twists his torso around. There is a beautiful stream of characters in his skin, but I can’t read them.
T.: It says Wellisandra in the Old Language.
J.R.: You did Wrath’s carving in English when he was mated to Beth.
T.: Yeah, so Beth would see her name in a form that she could recognize, so she would know that he is hers. And, as most vampires have assimilated to the point where they can read English, it’ll be clear enough to the race who he belongs to.
J.R.: Can you clarify something for me?
T.: I’ll give it a shot, whatever it is. (He shrugs back into his shirt. And I do a masterful job of ignoring the powerful muscles under his smooth, hairless skin. He is, after all, very mated. And I’m married. But damn...)
J.R.: Ah... (I clear my throat.) Males can take more than one female as a mate, right? So are there males walking around with multiple names on their backs?
T.: There are different degrees of taking a mate. Some males just have sex with their mates and they are the ones who tend to have more than one. But the ceremony that Wrath went through with Beth, and that I went through with Wellsie? That’s the highest level of mating. The ritual, if taken literally, means that his female and mine own us like a pieces of furniture. My Wellsie, she can command me in any way. It is the truest, purest union, where the male acknowledges the innate superiority of the female and pledges his life to her.
J.R.: And females do not take more than one mate?
T.: Depends. Generally speaking, if it’s casual, that’s fine. A female can have as many lovers as she wants. It’s if one of the males bonds that the trouble starts. We males are highly territorial, especially about our mates. If two males bond with the same female, either because she encourages it or it just happens? Big trouble. Humungous trouble. Two bonded males are capable of mortal combat over a shared mate so it’s serious business. Which is why the marking scent is damned helpful. It tells other males to stay away, and usually, that is respected. If only out of self-preservation.
J.R.: Speaking of bonded males, are you surprised that Wrath settled down?
T.: I was shocked. I’d always hoped, but... he’s been alone for so long. And not just with the females. He kept separate from the brothers, too. Then he ascended- holy shit, that wiped me out. I mean, he took his seat as king. I didn’t think that would ever happen, not after that thing with his parents. He’s hated himself ever since the night they were murdered, he really has. Probably still does, but he’s handling it better. I mean, Beth came along and she changed everything, just turned him around and helped him get on the right course. She’s like my Wellsie. You do not screw with Beth. She’s the loveliest female you could want to meet- and, hell, she even likes Godzilla movies. But you step out of line? She’ll knock you right back into place. Ass first.
(By now, it dawns on me that of all the brothers, Tohr has been the most open and clear. That’s typical of him, I decide. He’s upfront and a deep thinker. A perfect interview.)
J.R.: Does the fact that Beth is Darius’s daughter help you all accept her?
T.: Beth would be accepted with pride no matter the connection. She is a female of worth. But for me, Darius was the one I was closest to, so she’s extra special for that reason. Darius... man. It still hurts every time I think of him. I never had a brother or a sister, but then I ran into him in the sixteen hundreds. He proposed me to the brotherhood. He and I were a team. Losing him was... anyway.
We talk for a little longer but it’s clear that the subject of Darius has disturbed Tohr. He leaves a while later, smiling as he tells me that he’s going home to Wellsie.
I sit back and listen to the house for a moment. The other brothers and Beth are eating in the dining room: I can hear the sound of silver on china and the growling male voices. I close my eyes and lean back on the silk sofa, just listening. I can’t hear the words distinctly, but that doesn’t matter. Just the fact that they are close by is enough for me. I am so grateful to be where I am, to be on their periphery.
It is a long while before I can force myself to leave...