When the nights are long

Gold Valley Mine 
There was only so much stalking and brooding one miserable vampire could do, and Sayed was bored of it. He was bored of Lavender Heights, but knew well enough to stay away from some of the wide open spaces of Mountainside on account of the damn shifters. Red Rock, however, he didn't know a lot about. He also didn't think there was any cause for alarm for him to be there since, to his knowledge, there were no shifter groups there.

The vampire had heard of some abandoned gold mine out there, and after a little stalking (on the internet, this time), he'd managed to find its location and headed out there. He didn't need to breathe and he was very strong, so any bad air or tunnel collapses weren't necessarily anything he was worried about. More than anything, he wanted to see the abandoned mine and see if he could find some gold. He doubted it, but it would be rather nice; especially since he was running out of money and needing to get a job was something he still didn't think he could do (unless he worked at the planetarium, which he really didn't care to do).

So, easily enough, he hiked to the mine's entrance and stared inside the dark tunnel with warning signs everywhere. "Hopefully this is entertaining for the night," he mumbled.

The moon was nearing fullness, and as with each wax and wane Fletch was keenly aware of its cycle. Problematic, especially where the dog was concerned, one night when the creature felt especially restless he had taken himself off to the back of beyond. Sometimes, it was easier to slip into his second skin and simply be, than spend energy holding down the lid of a pan that threatened to boil over.

With the van parked a few hundred yards from the road he had wandered out into the desert on two legs, intending at some point to shuck his clothes and shift onto four. But it was peaceful this far out; bereft of people and problems, and for a time he simply walked a path he half remembered the last time he came out this way.

That had been the night Kai had followed him out here. When they came across Miguel, and Camilla. It had been a conscious decision to tear the wiper off that Chevrolet; man and beast vying for control over the singular point of contention. Hungry has he had been, he was not so lost to himself to commit pedicide.

His thoughts took him back there, to the abandoned place now silent and still. But even before he arrived at the entrance proper he caught the soft and faecal scent of decay. A fleeting thought of the fox flashed through his mind, as swift and dark as the creature herself. Then he saw him stood there, considering the mouth of the mine.

'What're you doing here, pal?'

His voice echoed, as hard and unwelcoming as the red rocks around them. With his hands in his pockets and his boots anchored firmly in the dust he squared off to the trespasser. On a case-by-case basis, Alex had told them. He wondered what case this vampire would present.

Sayed had stopped breathing long ago. Bad air meant nothing to a vampire anyway, since he was already dead. But if it smelled, why put himself through that torture? Unfortunately, that meant that a shifter had been able to easily sneak up on him. The sudden voice, after having stared down into a cavern of pitch black, startled him. Sayed turned to face the owner of the voice, fangs and claws and wild, amber eyes suddenly forming. He let out a screech of warning, one that echoed behind him into the cavern.

But there was still a little bit of rational thought left in the man, and Sayed forced himself down to his knees to try to keep the feral creature within him at bay. He had started breathing at one point, and the scent of animal had only helped to feed the irrational side of him. Now, he held his breath purposefully to stop himself from breathing, to stop the scent from pushing the vampire forward. Thankfully he'd eaten before he came out to the mine, otherwise, he doubted that being startled by a shifter while being unfed would have worked out the way it currently was now.

Sayed groaned against the battle of wills fighting inside of him, but his fangs and claws began to shrink back to human teeth and fingernails. His eyes were still screwed shut, but as his body stopped the shaking and near convulsing it had been doing before, he opened them, green, with just little flakes of amber showing. He stayed on his knees, but instead he sat back on them, still allowing himself time to calm down before he looked at the shifter. "Wow, sorry, you really startled me there," he said with a nervous, airy laugh.

He - it - the instant the creature whirled around to present teeth and claws Fletch jerked backward as though shoved by an invisible hand. The eyes that stared back at him were so much like his own that for an instant the colour was mirrored in his irises too. Amber for alarm. Amber for warning. The dog was alert and straining at its confines; keen to tear out the creature's throat and put an end to it. But the vampire did not advance, rather, his knees connected with the dirt as the devout might before their effigy, and the struggle Fletch witnessed left him feeling ill-at-ease for the parallels so clearly put before him.

'Didn't answer my question.' Now, he had a bucket load more to go with it.

As the shifter spoke, the smile Sayed had on his lips slowly fell. He stood up slowly, hands out in front of him to steady the wild animal in front of him as he got to his feet. "Well," he said, looking back to the mine behind him. "I was bored and decided I'd come out here, scout the mine, and look for leftover gold."

It sounded idiotic when he said it out loud, but was it not the truth? Sure, he could've just called it 'exploring the abandoned mine,' but there was more to it than that; particularly if the shifter thought it best to demand him to leave, to go explain some caves or whatever elsewhere. Honestly, Sayed tried, but it seemed that all the areas which had wide, expansive lands also had shifters who were down to start shit with a vampire at the drop of a hat.

"I'm not here to cause problems. In fact, I'd rather not have anything go down because Beauregard is probably really sick of me getting into trouble." His voice was gentle and easy-going; a fine attempt to not upset the normally brutish shifters.

As the vampire found his feet again, Fletch crossed his arms. The alibi left as much of an impression on him as the creature's knees had made in the dirt; two lingering divots that remained to challenge his preconceptions. Much as Fletch struggled to believe the vampire had come here seeking gold, there were no people here for him to feast on. No girls to terrorise. Only an ageing shifter, a waxing moon, and the sun-bleached skeletons of what had once been the site of industry and riches. So what harm could he do, really?

'Beauregard.' For as well-connected and infamous as the Eventide Dominus was, the name meant nothing to Fletch. 'That your king?'

He wondered how much trouble this vampire was already in. What kind, and whether he brought any with him. Perhaps he had come here seeking solitude and reprieve from his problems. He could understand that.

So far, so good. The shifter didn't seem to want to cause him problems as he merely crossed his arms when he stood. The question regarding Beauregard caught him off guard, since Sayed wasn't aware of the fact that shifter leaders were called kings and queens. He gave a sudden guffaw, but stopped abruptly, not wanting to offend the shifter with his question.

"Sorry. Beauregard is the Dominus of my clutch. He's the leader. I guess, in a way, he's king, but I don't think clutches tend to do the whole royalty thing." And really, Beauregard seemed humble to Sayed; no doubt he wouldn't even want to be called a king.

The vampire laughed. Fletch laughed too; just a short huff through his nose.

'Guess not. Just the whole absolute, unquestioned sovereignty angle. Sprinkled with a pinch of tyranny.'

He flashed the creature a toothy smile. The mirthless humour had stilled the beast for now, evidenced by the slow shift of his gaze from fierce amber to sharp blue. Yet he remained firmly rooted to his post; a dog holding quarry at bay.

'What kind of trouble you in?'

The shifter laughed too, and Sayed felt himself relax a bit. Maybe this shifter would be more like Orri- not quite as nice, but at least understanding of their differences and accepting that. He asked what he was in trouble for and Sayed grimaced first and then frowned.

"Well, several things, I think. Had the police called on me once after trying to feed from a woman. Things like that." That was pretty serious in itself, but Sayed wasn't about to mention the trouble he'd been in from the shifter groups, or at least, Yana, Asha, and Levka. Nor was he going to mention the fact that he had straight up murdered someone very recently and then turned them.

'Things like that.'

Quick to note the vampire only listed one of an implied multitude of sins, Fletch's gaze narrowed. It was difficult not to think of Minerva the night he found her, screaming anguish at the wheel of her car, nor her defeated confession over breakfast at Momma's. She had never mentioned vampires could transform - teeth and claws - into hell-spawned horrors, and if this had been the thing which stifled her desire to speak, he understood. Small wonder she had told him the cops would be useless.

He agreed.

'You get in this woman's head? The police? Tell them what to do? How'd your lot do that, by the way? I know you can.'

Oof. Suddenly, the mood shifted. It always made Sayed bitter that others would hold feeding against him. If he could just eat a burger like he used to, he'd much rather do that than drink blood. But this was the way things were, and why he was considered an asshole for simply doing what he needed to do to survive was, to him, completely unfair.

But then the shifter started in about suggestions. He didn't know that they knew about such things, and did his best to look more confused than surprised. His eyes shifted from green to amber as he attempted a suggestion then: "Vampires don't mess with people's minds."

Of course it failed, but at least it didn't come across like he was trying to mess with his head, even though he totally was.


'That so.'

The vampire's eyes had shifted back to amber, quick as you like. The full significance of this was lost on Fletch, though even without first-hand experience of the phenomenon, the lie was as stark as the surrounding desert.

'So, what. You just lurch about asking women for a wee nibble, fingers crossed they don't call the cops?'

Delivered deadpan, his expression stony.

It would seem that Sayed was not going to be able to explore the mine tonight. The tone with which the shifter spoke said volumes about how he felt. "Uh, it's something like that. Lots of times people are just fine with it. My last meal was like that. Just told the man I was hungry and he was fine about giving me blood. Didn't even bite his neck. Just used his arm."

With the downward spiral this was going, Sayed knew well enough that it was time to get out of the area before anything actually happened. Shifters were just too volatile. He took a few steps to the left, away from the entrance of the mine, closer to where he'd need to go to head back to his car. "I can tell you're uncomfortable with the whole thing, so how about I just be on my way, alright?"

Fletch wrinkled his nose, and his mouth twitched a little to the left. Difficult to imagine anyone willing to donate blood to a vampire, he wondered if it was done on a volunteer basis, in exchange for goods and services, and whether this one kept a stash of tea and biscuits on hand for his host, as you might for those that visited their local Red Cross.

He checked him, as he crept to the left.

'Nah, sorry pal. No can do. Not before you pay up.'

If this one wasn't going to indulge him with the truth, he could at least make himself useful otherwise.

"Pay up?" Sayed repeated, confused and uneasy. He didn't know what he meant. Was he actually expecting money? Because Sayed had none. After the incident with the police, he tended to leave identifying information in hiding places. So, his wallet was back in his car.

He thought about running, but wondered if maybe he could try one more suggestion, and maybe luck would be on his side for once. His eyes shifted once more as he frowned and spoke confidently: "I don't owe you anything." But, as it had before, it failed. Still, he kept up with the confidence. "I just came out here to look through the mine. I wasn't causing problems. I'm sorry you don't like the way I eat, but does anyone shame you for killing some small, helpless animal whenever you shift? Do they bother you about the meat you eat at restaurants? Because I don't do that. In fact, I've never even killed anyone or anything."

A slight lie, because, hello, Katherine. But technically, she was still alive.


'Yeah you do. S'called a Liar's Levy.'

Plenty of people had harassed him over the years. Neither coyotes or drifters were much loved in rural America. But this did nothing to soften him towards the creature who, to his mind, sat on par with the sort of men who committed far more heinous crimes against a person's liberty. What he had witnessed tonight had made him far more uncomfortable than the simple notion of taking blood from a willing donor.

'See, I don't believe you.' Slow on the approach, he nonetheless drew closer with each, careful footstep. A humourless grin split his face. 'About any of it, really. And I think it's pretty rude to interrupt my evening with your rot when I was trying to make friendly conversation and educate myself.' An expansion of the truth, perhaps. But he wasn't the one in the docks. A muscle twitched beneath his eye. 'I know your lot can get inside people's heads. Had it happen to me. So either you can tell me how you do it, or you can empty your wallet and fuck off.'

Fletch had never really intended to push things this far. But here they were. He tried not to dwell on why the vampire had not yet attempted to dive in for a mental rummage.

Was Sayed intimidated? Sure. Was he going to show that? He was going to try not to. He took a small step back as the man drew closer, but he wore a scowl on his face. "I'm not lying to you," he said with a roll of his eyes. "You know how some humans have special abilities? If they're turned into a vampire, they don't lose those abilities. If a vampire was fucking with your head, it's because they had that power previously." It was partly a lie, but also absolutely true, and he was sure the shifter in front of him wouldn't know the difference.

"So there you go. You've been educated." With that, Sayed turned and headed into the mouth of the mine. He didn't know if the shifter would follow him in or not, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve if he did. Mostly though, he hoped the stupid guy would be satisfied and leave him alone. He didn't want to cause problems, and he wasn't about to let a problem happen that would get him in deeper shit with Beauregard.

Fletch had heard enough stories to corroborate what the vampire was saying; that there were people out there with supernatural ability. It seemed far-fetched that two vampires had the ability to influence another person using the power of their mind, but without direct experience of the phenomenon himself, all he could offer was a noncommittal hum.

He watched, as the vampire turned and walked into the mouth of the mine. The stale air from the tunnel mingled with its own, innate stench to create something wholly unpleasant. There was a moment where he contemplated ways to make the ageing wooden support beams give way and bury the creature for good. But, ultimately, he let him be.

Much as he wanted to believe they were as different as night and day, watching the shift from monster to man had been a sharp lesson to the contrary.

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