Apologies for how rough this is – it started as a character builder, and I haven’t put much time into going back and editing it, but here is Josef’s prelude to Echoes of Balance. More coming soon from perspectives of other characters. Stay tuned, and enjoy.
EoB is out via REUTS Publishing on December 17th. You can preorder your copy now on reuts.com!
It happened on a Thursday. Josef LeRoy was meandering through the streets of New York, somewhere between Soho and the East Village, when someone bumped into him a little harder than the average accident. He paused, blinking at the small, mousy girl.
“Tomorrow,” she mumbled, her eyes glazed. One small hand held out a piece of paper towards him.
Cautiously, he reached out to accept the slip. A two line address with the word ‘rendezvous’ was scrolled across it.
The small girl in front of him gave a dazed smile. “You’re welcome,” she said, before turning to walk into traffic.
If this had been the first time he had been summoned, he might have been surprised. Shocked, even, or somehow disarmed at what had just happened, because a moment later there was a squealing of brakes as the girl tumbled over the hood of a yellow cab. As it were, this was not his first summons. At any rate, Josef doubted that he was human enough to care anymore beyond a vague feeling of dissension that had settled in his stomach several years prior. He knew exactly who this message had come from; and he knew he had to be at the address the next day.
As there was no specific time on the card, he made only the briefest of stops to the small apartment he had been calling ‘home’ before heading to the address on the paper. It was a few hours outside of the city, and though it was by no means morning, it was just after midnight and as such technically ‘tomorrow.’ As he expected, there was already a dark car waiting with a mountain of a man in the front seat. The only other thing he would see of the car would be the front seat: that was all it would take for the witch beside him to plunge his senses into darkness.
And that was how it would be until they reached the house. That was how it always was until they reached the house.
Josef was sure that he would never entirely get over the opulence of the posh manor home. Part of the feeling undoubtedly came from the fact that he was always disoriented when he walked in – Gavin wouldn’t have it any other way – but part definitely came from decor. He was sure the marble that coated the floor was at least several inches thick.
“Wait over there,” said the man who had entered the elegantly wrought doors behind him. With one thick hand, he gestured to a small seating area perched atop an elegant Persian rug.
Josef obeyed, choosing a velvet chaise that he had never seen before. He wondered not for the first time if the house he was brought to when Gavin required something of him was just one house, or in fact many locations scattered about the country. He knew that each was located in what could roughly be considered the middle of nowhere; despite the precautions Gavin always took, there was not much that could fool the senses of a vampire into thinking they were somewhere other than a dirt road with no urban sounds to speak of.
He had just begun to consider the option that maybe Gavin – or rather someone he hired – was just particularly gifted in rearranging furniture to create new spaces when a woman sauntered through the front doors that he had entered moments ago.
“Hello, pet,” she said in a soft voice.
A shiver shot down Josef’s spine. The scent of her witch blood mixed with the familiar blood bond to his line was dizzying, nauseating, even. But he was sure that was what she was shooting for. “Adelyn,” he said, as conversationally as possible. He had to will himself not to clench his teeth.
The woman, this Adelyn, calmly selected a seat in one of the high backed chairs across from him. She was encased in a sleek black dress that made her complexion seem somehow paler. With her dark hair, her bangs so long they hung in front of her heavy lidded eyes, she looked a dozen times more the part of vampire than Josef ever would. Adelyn popped her cherry red lips, drumming her fingers across the arm rest. “You’ve been gone awhile.”
“I only come when Gavin calls,” Josef replied stoically, staring straight ahead.
Adelyn crossed her legs, the hem of her skirt creeping steadily towards the uppermost reaches of her thighs. “You only come when Gavin yells,” she answered lackadaisically. “And by the by: did you enjoy my message?”
“It reeked of you,” he offered.
The corner of the woman’s lips twitched.
“What does he need me to do this time?” he asked, finally tearing his gaze away from an elaborate tapestry to look directly at the witch before him. “Or will I have to wait to ask him myself?”
“Oh,” she purred, “I think you already know the answer to at least one of those questions.”
Josef rolled his eyes. “And where is Gavin today?”
“Sparring,” Adelyn said simply.
Sparring. That was a single step away from execution when it came to Gavin, and worse when it came to his victims: Gavin was especially fond of playing with his food.
“He’s found something that you’ll be quite interested in, you know,” she said, her dark eyes peering out from beneath her bangs. “Something useful to his mission.”
Josef snorted, and Adelyn immediately looked scandalized. He regretted the action instantly. The long term goal of his maker had been to achieve power in the name of true immortality, but in all of the years he had been with him, it had created only a wide-spread path of destruction. The experiments he ran had all been fruitless, the avenues he explored all dead ends. Josef had recently begun to feel quite disillusioned about the empire Gavin had built around himself, but saying anything along those lines – much less thinking it – was unwise in this house.
“Hm,” Adelyn hummed, closing her eyes for the briefest of moments. “Yes. I believe he is ready in the study,” she finished, rising from her chair and holding out a hand to Josef.
He ignored it. “You’ll be in on this meeting, then?”
She widened her eyes in faux-surprise. “Of course I will. You should be used to it by now, Josef.”
This time, he really did clench his teeth together. Adelyn was Gavin’s prized possession, the witch he had pulled into his games decades before. The witch with the ability to lock up memories so the holder could not speak of them. If his destruction in his lust to become unstoppable had become more pronounced in the years prior, so then had his paranoia. Undoubtedly, the latter was with good reason.
The study was a long room down several hallways from the main sitting area. It had a tall, domed ceiling, and the walls were flush with large shelves of tomes both ancient and modern, trinkets that both implied supernatural origins and factory creation. Aside from the shelves, there was no furniture apart from a large desk and several chairs at the far side of the room, in front of a particularly extravagant fireplace.
It was behind this desk that Gavin sat. His golden hair, falling in soft waves to his chin, gleamed in the light of the fire. That gleam was the only thing about him that seemed alive: his skin looked as if it could have been porcelain. His eyes were almost black.
“Ah, Josef,” he crooned, setting aside a tablet that he had been investigating. “Welcome back to the fold.”
Josef said nothing, but took a seat on the other side of the desk. Adelyn moved to stand behind Gavin, just to the right of the fireplace. Josef was sure she saw her give him a wink.
“You must be wondering why you’re here, after all of these years,” Gavin said, picking up a glass from the table to swill the red contents within it.
“I assume you need someone found,” he replied. He tried to keep his expression neutral, to show neither enthusiasm nor dread.
From behind his desk, Gavin made a quite tsk, tsk, tsk sound. He drummed his fingers against the polished mahogany. “Not quite, Josef,” he said with a devilish grin, leaning forward in his chair. “You see, I’ve already found something. Now I just need my interests to be… protected.”
Josef leaned back in his own chair, away from the dark gaze of his maker. Next to the fireplace, Adelyn looked positively jubilant. It was difficult to avoid her gaze. “What have you found?”
There was a long pause. Gavin glanced over at several of the materials sitting on his desk: a tablet, several pieces of parchment. Several dusty tomes. Then his gaze slid back towards Josef. “You have heard, I assume, of Pan and Damonos?”
“A myth,” he replied. He couldn’t help but feel a corner of his lip twitch upwards in response. Gavin would be one to chase a child’s tale.
“Not a myth,” he answered with a sly smile.
Something rattled in the pit of Josef’s stomach: it was a hideous, hollow feeling. “Then long gone from this world.”
“Oh, you are quite right there,” Gavin agreed, leaning back and steepling his hands in front of his face. “But not beyond reach. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story? The Originals, who created all shadows that began our side of the supernatural, were in a position of great power in the world. Until the Naimei struck them down.”
Naimei. Josef turned the word over in his mind a few times.They were not something that he was foolish enough to think, as he had with the Originals, to be a myth, but it was still a rare word to hear in conversation even amongst powerful supernaturals. The Naimei, the ancient line of beings charged with righting the balance of the world, generally did not mingle with other supernaturals – especially those of the vampire variety – unless it was to further their inherent purpose of balance. It was rumored that there were very few Naimei left, as other supernaturals had taken their place in the balance of things. At any rate, Josef had certainly never met one. It was probably for the best: they were notoriously anti-vampire and most definitely anti-darkness.
“Assuming you can do this, what makes you think the Naimei will allow the resurrections of the two Original demons?”
Next to the fire, Adelyn smirked devilishly. Gavin simply chuckled: it seemed a strange, too-innocent sound to come from him. “I don’t expect them to allow it. Which is what brings us back to you protecting my investments.”
Josef felt his eyes narrow and had to consciously try to keep his expression neutral. “What exactly are you investments? How do you know that your reach extends far enough to pull someone from the realms that exist beyond death?”
The blonde man at the desk snaked one hand backwards, catching a hold of the witch’s wrist and pulling her forward. “Adelyn has made some invaluable connections. They have uncovered all that I – that she – needs to bring our strongest of ancestors back from their exile in the afterlife.”
“And so I will be…?” The empty feeling in his stomach was turning into a ravenous pit that seemed to be trying to swallow him from the inside. The idea that Gavin could be successful… it set his fangs on edge.
“In the quaint town of Molton,” Gavin said simply, “ensuring that nothing Naimei or otherwise gets in the way.”
“There’s nothing in that town,” Josef said, despite the quiet storm of his ever growing panic.”Nothing noteworthy, anyway.”
Gavin smirked up at Adelyn, trailing one finger down her arm. “For now,” he said simply. The witch seemed to wiggle with pleasure.
“Perhaps if you told me how – “
“That is unnecessary, Josef,” the blonde man snapped. “You will undoubtedly be able to ensure my success with all of the information you have now.” He sucked in a deep breath before continuing, in a calmer tone, “I do not pretend to ignore the fact that you have been drifting, Josef. You seem uninterested in the life I have given you.”
“I -” he began.
Gavin simply held up one hand for silence, leaning away from the woman next to him. Adelyn’s expression darkened slightly. “An eternity is some time to spend in the employ of a single individual, I realize. I trust you will always remember who your creator is.”
“I do,” Josef mumbled.
“Good. Then you will do this task and then enjoy whatever freedoms you desire; I doubt very much that I will be needing your services once I am successful.” A wicked grin spread over his lips.
Josef was sure that, had he still been human, he would have vomited.