Grey is my family name. Which is why I was surprised to find such an old book with my ancient grandmother's name on the binding. Normally, not a single person would look twice at the name. It was a common surname. But this was within the unseen library. The one which only those of the Otherworld can visit. Somehow I had never seen it before. I was often within these walls, gaining what information I could manage to store inside my mind. But this was new. New and yet so very old. The binding was old. The outside of it latched and locked. The outside of it made of brown leather and iron plated flourishes, surprisingly in decent condition, and written on the cover were words so ancient that I could not read it.
Aramaic. The language of the witches. At least those who lived several thousands of years ago when the first of our kind was born.
But this particular copy was only a few centuries old at most.
The year was now 1770. The book in my hands should not exist. And I suppose, in a way, it didn't. It shouldn't. All grimoires bearing the Grey name were destroyed during by the Spanish Inquisition. Some during the Salem Witch Trials.
I couldn't open the book. I pried at the locks but feared damaging the artifact.
So I place it back on the shelf. I couldn't take it with me. Having it would get me killed. I'd be number one of the Covenant's most wanted list, a place no witch would want to be. Despite the fact that I couldn't open or read the book, I knew better than to bring it home. No witch in London could cast spells. No witch anywhere would dare to try. Not with the Covenant monitoring our every move.
Upon returning home with my less incriminating books, I find my aunt waiting by the front door. She is leaning against the wall, arms crossed, eyes narrowed.
Mariah was a tall woman with a fine figure. A head-turner. But in her lifetime she had only ever shared her bed with one man. Her only child were lost in childbirth. Of which I was not around to see happen. I was in America until the time of my mother's death, roughly the same time Mariah lost her child. My mother had drowned herself in the sea. That was when I traveled back with my father, whose face I could barely remember now. I only remember him leaving me on my aunt's doorstep and never returning.
That brings me to here. Twelve years later I am as close to my aunt as a mother and daughter might be. Though neither of us would admit to that. We were thankful for each other.
“You've been gone for hours. Where were you?” Mariah asks with only mild worry.
I hold up my books and half smile.
“Why is it always books with you?”
I wanted to tell her it was because I could not feel books. I don't mean physically, but emotionally. I could be in peace with them. That was a difficult thing to say in front of someone I could feel had been far more worried about me than she sounded.
She sighs quickly, trying her best to shake it off, and smiles. Then she walks toward me and smooths out the frizzy hairs around my forehead. “You promise it's not a boy that keeps you?”
I let her look at me, feeling the stabbing pain in my gut as she admires me as if I were her own daughter. Painful, only because she had lost both of her own. Painful, because I often thought of her as my mother. We filled the gap for one another just enough that we did not mind the hurt. It was almost bearable.
“As I promised myself many years ago; I shall never love a man, and no man shall ever love me, Mariah.” I tell her.
These were words I often reminded her of. I had taken a vow of celibacy. Mostly because virgin witches were far more powerful than those who gave in to temptation.
“I know,” she tells me. “Go on, go stick your nose in a book. I know you're dying to.”
I duck away from my aunt and head up the staircase to my room.
My aunt owned a small curio shop in the next building. There she sold charms, medicinal items such as tonics, pastes, and pills, she even told fortunes. The small success of the shop kept me working for her, helping her to create these things for her to sell. These days we split the income, which is why I am able to go out and buy books and ingredients.
What I was working on right now was an elixir for love. These we never kept on hand as they do expire after a few days. Were we to sell an expired love potion it would backfire and make the one taking it hate the one whose blood we brewed it with.
A young woman came in yesterday asking for it. I knew her from the pub as one of the barmaids. Not personally, but from walking past it and seeing her standing by the window, staring at some wealthy drunk. I couldn't be sure of her love for him or if she simply wanted his fortune. But my aunt always told me we never turn them away. We let them purchase these spells and potions and warn them of the dangers of using them. And when things go awry they will come crawling back to us for a way to break it.
As I work, I note the prickling feeling at the back of my neck. It was as if someone was watching me. I try to shake it off but every so often I look up and around the room. I look out the window. Not a soul is there with their eyes fixed on me.
So why did I feel this way?
I finish my work as quickly as I can without fault. The first stage of the potion would need to brew until morning, so I ready myself for bed. I change and wash up and eventually slip under the covers on my bed and try to find a way to get comfortable there. Yet my eyes stay wide open.
I turn over onto my right side.
Someone was looking at me.
I slip out of bed and walk over to the window. Below, there were no people. Not a soul, not a beating heart to be seen. But there was something in the shadows. A pale faced figure cloaked in black which stood beneath a burned out street lamp. The prickling feeling on the back of my neck, that was him. I felt it earlier at the library and briefly on my way home. Though, I had ignored it. I could tell he was a vampire. I could sense it the way I sensed pain and grief. He was drenched in it. Death and darkness and despair. The stench was sweet, but in a way that warned you not to tread further.
His head cocks sideways as he peers at me through my window. Then he takes a step forward. He stops mid-step and grits his teeth. As if coming near me pained him. He looks up from beneath the wide brim of his hat, then vanishes, leaving a cloud of dark smoke in his wake.
I wish I could say I had never seen a vampire vanish before, but it was not uncommon. Not in my line of work. I could not, however, say that I had met a vampire quite this old before now. Most of those I meet are only twenty years old in their state, sometimes younger. Yet, I knew there were more that were older than this millennium. Most of those that old were just stories, long thought to be dead.
But not this one.
The chill which ran from the back of my neck to the base of my spine was gone. So was the vampire.
Still, my sleep never came.
It had been almost three weeks since that restless night. Though every night since then it had not become easier. I was able to keep my eyes open as I skimmed the pages of an anatomy text. Every day, as I browsed the library, I kept the spell book with my name on it close by. And when I left I placed it back on the shelf exactly where I found it.
Right now it sat beneath my elbow. As I turn a page in the anatomy text I feel that prickling chill again. I hadn't felt it in weeks. Not even a little bit.
I snap up and look around the room.
He was there, in the corner of the library, leaning against a section of books that nobody had touched in years. He certainly looked out of place in his heavy clothing, weaponry, and his hat – that which was already out of style by a century. He made no effort to look like he meant to be there in search of books.
I stand up from my seat and clutch the grimoire close to my chest. “Who are you?” I ask him. “What do you want?”
His mouth turned up momentarily. “That is a Grey Grimoire.”
My fingers tighten around the edges. “You're with the Covenant.” I say stiffly.
I look to the vampire, noting the silver rosary around his neck, the dark, shoulder length hair, the accent in his voice which told me he was not only old, but very obviously Welsh. Vampires were not known to be religious. Not because of any affliction they may suffer but because they often lose faith once death has been defeated by their immortality. The cross around this man's neck could very well be a simple keepsake or talisman.
He takes a step toward me but I keep my stance firm. “Burn it,” he tells me as he towers, trying to frighten me enough to do as I am told. “I would very much like to avoid tightening a rope around such a pretty neck.”
For a split second his eyes connect with mine. There was no gentleness, no ease, just sheer warning he will do what is necessary to keep those spells away from those who might mean harm to our known world. Or even those who mean harm to the mortals.
When I return home I bring the book with me. I hold onto it, gripping it in my hands as I kneel in front of the fireplace. I wondered why the vampire did not simply take it from me. He could have. It wouldn't have been difficult. Besides, I had no use for a grimoire. Especially not one I couldn't read. Charms and fortunes, that was it for me. That being said, I get ready to toss the book into the flames-
I twitch with a chill.
“Burning books now, are we?” Mariah says, making me jump to my feet with a fright.
“Deliverance Dane!” I gasp and clutch my throat.
Mariah furrows her brow at me and sips her tea. She then inhales sharply as if she smells something odd. “Do you smell that?”
I nod and look to the window. Beneath the street lamp was another vampire, one even older than the one who approach me. This one was dressed far more modernly. Though the stink of death surrounded him. Only one word came to mind upon looking at him.
“The Covenant?” Mariah wonders aloud. “They've not bothered us in over three hundred years.”
“It can't be.” I lie.
“He's a Warden.”
A sudden rapping on the front door followed by the bell ringing makes the both of us nearly jump out of our skins. I run to the door and Mariah opens it. The vampire who had warned me earlier was standing there, clutching the door frame and breathing heavily as he tried to push through the threshold without invitation.
“You-” I begin to say.
“Let me in . . .” he says with a heavy growl.
Mariah drops her cup and grabs me, pushing herself in front of me as if she needed to protect me. “Do you think us thick?”
His blazing blue eyes flit over to me. “The book, Theresa. You have to burn it.”
I hold it tighter. “I can't.”
“Tess, you know him?” Mariah asks as she turns to face me. Her eyes dart down to the book in my hands. She snatches it away. “A Grey Grimoire . . . Tess, where did you find this?”
“I-” My voice stumbles.
She rushes to the parlor and throws it into the flames. I jump slightly at her rage. Suddenly, someone comes crashing through the window. A she-wolf. She claws at Mariah's back, slashing through her flesh, knocking her to the floor. I then feel something grip my arm and pull me out of the house. The vampire is seething in pain, letting go of me as I pull away from his grasp. I rush out into the street and clash against something. A pair of arms tighten around my body.
“Mariah!” I scream.
“Let her go!” the vampire commands with a guttural roar.
The one holding me obliges and throws me onto the ground. I dig my nails into the dirt, pulling what energy I can from the Earth. I use it as a shield and push it forward, knocking the man onto his back. I watch as the house goes up in flames, knocking out windows, curling the wood into ash and soot within mere moments.
“Mariah!” I scream again. I begin to move, running toward the house when the vampire who tried to help catches me. We vaporize into thin air.
That is the last thing I remember.
My eyes open and before I can get a look at what is around me, my stomach turns. I am on my side, bracing myself to get up, and I vomit on the floor. Something cold brushes against the nape of my neck. A pair of hands hold back my hair. I look up and immediately push away. My head is dizzy, my body aching, and I want to throw up again.
“You . . .” I say, my voice wavering. “Tell me who you are. Now.”
The vampire sits back. He wasn't in his heavy coat and armor or his hat. He was dressed down to three pieces, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. His black hair was pulled back. He even looked unshaven, which meant I had been lying here for some time with him just sitting there waiting for me to wake up.
“My name is Matthew.” he says as if defeated. He stands up and reaches his hand out to me. “You should rest. The sickness, it will last several hours.”
I refuse his hand and pull myself up on my own. “Where are we?”
He looks up at the ceiling, that which is of a cathedral. “Saint Bride's, I think.”
“You think?” I scoff. “Did you think before you came to my home and had my aunt killed in cold blood?”
“I didn't have her killed. I was trying to help you.” He stabs his index at me. “I told you to burn that book. You didn't listen.”
“So, this is my fault?”
“That's not what I said.”
“It was implied.”
“It wasn't-” Matthew bites his tongue. “She likely is not dead. The Covenant values witches. You need to rest while you still can. “
I grit my teeth and let out a sigh of relief. Followed by worry. “And the book?”
“It is safe.” Matthew says knowingly. “I should burn it, as I told you, but they want it turned over undamaged. I suspect it will come in handy if that is the case.”
I huff as I begin to feel nauseous again. “I don't understand why you're helping me.”
He gives as much of a smile as I am sure he is capable of. “The Covenant's methods and beliefs are quite draconian. They believe that the Otherworld is superior and they want to drop the veil and destroy mankind. Does that suffice?”
“Yes.” I say through my teeth.
“They want the book. And if I am right in assuming your aunt is alive, then the book is all they need.” Matthew sighs and looks up, assessing his surroundings. “We're safe here. We have sanctuary.”
I look up at the vaulted ceiling, the surrounding pews, the altar. “So, what now? We wait them out? We can't hide forever. That does nothing. Sanctuary means nothing, especially when vampires can waltz into any church they wish.” I push off the pew and stand on my own. “You did the rescuing part but you've yet to solve the rest of the problem.”
He shrugs. “I tend to be a bit impulsive.”
“Clearly.” I breathe. Then I falter.
Luckily enough, Matthew was there to catch me before my head hit the floor. I might be willing and wanting to stand on my own, to not feel so sick, to keep from aching, but I was unable. The genetics of my body were different than his. That was why I felt this way. I couldn't travel the way he did, I couldn't apparate on my own. So I had to set my stubbornness aside and let the vampire help me.
“You should listen to me. Perhaps one day it will keep you out of trouble.” he tells me.
He brings my arms up around his neck and scoops me up. But I could barely get a grip. I was just far too weak at the moment.
As he brings us to an open door and down a small flight of steps to cellar beneath the church, he continues to speak. “Normally, I wouldn't have apparated to get you out of there. But your life was in danger. Stafford would have killed you.”
“The one you very impressively knocked onto his back.”
I knew who he meant then. “What about the she-wolf?”
We come to an area where there are no beds, but blankets set up next to bags of grain and shelves of red wine. “I'm not sleeping next to you. I'd rather die.”
He chuckles. “Vampires don't sleep, Miss Grey.” he tells me as he puts me onto the blankets and covers me with another. “I'll be over here,” he says before moving into the corner of the room and sitting in a chair. “I may not have a plan but at least you're alive. Be grateful for that.”
“We can't just hide down here forever.” I tell him.
“Well, I can.”
When I woke up I was not alone. Matthew was still there. Only now he was standing up at the top of the stairs, he was listening at the door to the Sunday Mass. The cross around his neck was now in his hand and he was . . . praying? Before I can make a move or speak, Matthew seems to know I have already woken up.
“So fazed by the image of a vampire comfortably holding onto a crucifix?” he says.
“It's not that.”
He snaps his head back to look at me. “Then what is it?”
“You don't normally see them practicing religion.”
“My mother would scold me for disrespecting the church, being here and not attending Mass. Hence,” he points to the door and continues to listen. “It's almost finished.”
I watch him. He brushes his thumb over the crucifix and then crosses himself with the image before kissing the symbol in his hand.
“Your mother is dead.” I say without thinking. I could sense his grief over it, though not because her death was unexpected. The details were fuzzy, ancient, and far away in the back of his mind. I almost couldn't hear them. But it was so quiet down here that there was nothing else to listen to. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-”
“It's alright, she's been dead for about nine hundred and eighty years. I've learned to cope with the loss, Miss Grey.”
Part of me wanted to ask him how. But I don't. I was sure his mother died because she had grown old and that is simply what humans do. Even witches did not live such short lives if we could help it. I know my mother couldn't.
“What are we going to do?” I ask him.
Matthew leans against one of the shelves full of wine. “I have allies up north. We will go there, seek out those who will help us against the Covenant.”
“Tell me we mean to travel by horse. I truly do not think my body can take another apparation.” I beg with all the amusement I can muster.
“No, Theresa, we will not apparate.”
I bite the inside of my cheek. “Don't call me that. My mother called me that.”
“Tess, then.” He looks at me curiously. “I will have someone bring some proper clothes brought for you. You've been half naked since last night.”
I bring my blanket up to my neck. “You could do with a shave.”
“We leave at nightfall.”
My horse kept at a brisk pace beneath me, riding close next to Matthew's. I had a cloak wrapped around my somewhat new threads; a dark blue linen dress that was as out of time as Matthew's clothes and armor. It was his cloak around me, but I still felt like a target. I was afraid. That wouldn't stop. Not until I knew the Covenant's plans – whatever they were – would never come to fruition.
We have been riding for upwards of two days now. Mostly in silence. We would stop to rest, to eat – though human food was not enough to sustain Matthew. That was a fact becoming more obvious on his face. There were dark circles under his eyes, streaks of gray in his black hair, and a sharp edge to his tone when he did decide to speak. I could sense something worse was bound to happen if he did not feed.
Again we have stopped. We traveled at least three hundred feet into the forest off the edge of the main road. There was a stream there, a tree large enough to lean into without discomfort. I come back from the stream where I had fetched some water and washed my face and I watch as Matthew attempts to lift a small tent for me.
“Do you need to feed?” I ask him.
He doesn't look at me. “Am I to assume you are going to offer me your wrist?”
“I am offering it.”
“I will be alright.” he assures me. “It is only another day's ride.”
“You saved my life, it is the least I can do for you.”
“I said no.” he snaps.
I jump a little at his tone but am otherwise unafraid. I take another step toward him, thinking maybe I can seduce him into taking a few drops. But I couldn't be sure how to even begin to do that. That was something I lacked in my genetic makeup. Something I had sworn off like some novitiate.
There was a knife strapped to my leg that I thought about using to open a vein. But that seemed a tad over dramatic. So I walk over to help him with the tent. I touch his shoulder, making him twitch slightly. I bend down and hold the center post while he ties it down. Then he stands and backs away from me. I can feel him vibrating like a tuning fork. His face was like stone, his blue eyes suddenly turning black.
“If you don't do this you could end up trying to hurt me, which you have expressed you would prefer to avoid.”
He breathes a laugh. “I would never hurt you, Tess.”
“You say that now-”
“I've risked quite a lot to protect you. Do you think a bit of dry mouth is going to change that?”
“You said it yourself, you tend to be impulsive. Does that not apply to thirst?”
He is quiet then. I supposed he didn't know I could be this stubborn, even when it came to keeping a vampire from suffering. I unbutton the edge of my sleeve and roll it up before forcing my wrist in his direction. I could see the look in his eyes, nothing but contempt for what I was making him do for his own good and for my own safety. Still, he takes my arm and his lips curl, showing the fangs he kept hidden very well when he spoke.
“Five seconds.” he tells me.
“I need you to stop me at five seconds. Understand?”
I nod simply. Then I feel his breath on my wrist, followed by the warm tips of his fangs, and he sinks them deep into my flesh. I feel the pull against my blood flow and a sharp sting. But it is nothing I cannot handle. That is until I forget to count.
How long had it been? Three seconds? Four?
“Stop.” I say and I pull away a little.
He tugs me back with a growl.
“You have to stop, Matthew.” I demand.
When I am almost sure he means to drain me, he stops. He pushes me away and I stagger before falling against a tree. He inhales sharply, exhales, and licks the remaining blood off his lips. I could see the change happen in him as his sallow face turned back to a more natural alabaster. The gray in his hair faded. He no longer looked sickly, just immortal.
“Thank you.” he breathes.
I hold my wrist to halt the bleeding. “Don't mention it.”
“Let me.” he says. He reaches into a saddlebag on his horse and pulls out a bandage roll along with a small bottle of what looked like whiskey. He waves me over and I sit on a nearby stone along the stream. He sits across from me and silently asks for my wrist. “This will sting,” he tells me as he opens the bottle and gently pours the liquid onto the two bloody bite marks along the inside of my wrist. There is only a small sting and the smell of cheap whiskey in the air, but I am otherwise free of pain. “You're a tough one.”
“Don't patronize me.”
He begins to wrap the bandage around my wrist then. “I meant, you let a vampire drink your blood and trusted him not to kill you. That takes guts. More than I have, I must say.”
“I'm being serious.” he says. “Even my wife wouldn't let me drink her blood. Not even if it would save both of our lives.”
My brow creases. “You're married?”
He nods. “I was.”
I thought it best not to press that matter.
Matthew finishes by tying the bandage and patting the back of my hand before letting me have it back. “Good as new.”
I nod and take a breath before standing up and noting the moon coming up after the sun. I crawl into the small tent and curl up atop a blanket. But I wished I could see the stars. Not the tan tint of linen which blocked the night sky and the tree stops. Before I go to sleep I look ahead of me. At the opening of the tent, Matthew sits tall and still, and he doesn't move an inch.
Not even when I wake the next morning.
We reached our destination near sunset the next day. At first I could only see what appeared to be the ruins of an old church. But as we rode on toward it we slipped through another veil of some kind that – upon passing – revealed a castle rather than a church. Any unwitting human would see only the church and would as well never enter the building that did not exist. It was a cloaking charm, and a strong one at that.
“Does the Covenant know of this place?”
“No. They wouldn't, either. I was never with the Covenant.”
I look over to him and we stop inside the castle. “How did you know to help me, then?”
“When you need to know, I will tell you. But such information is not important right now.”
It was to me. But I knew better than to press the matter further. “What about this place, then? Do you live alone?”
He shrugs. “Until now. You live here, too, I suppose.”
It seemed to large a place to be so empty. The walls were high, the outside of it covered in a mass of ivy, and the structure itself was no older than three centuries. I look up after we migrate into the castle. It looked like the inner workings of a Gothic cathedral. The walls were bare, no tapestries or art. There were large candelabras but no candlesticks. Even some of the windows were boarded up and blocking the sunlight.
I supposed a vampire didn't need decorations.
Something suddenly rushed behind me, a gust of cold air, a breath on the back of my neck. Matthew was not kidding when he said there were spirits. I knew the feeling, the sharp knife in the gut that meant the dead were surrounding me. But I could not see them. It was nothing but a stirring as they tried to reach me from beyond.
“I will let you wander, if you like. Pick a room. There are plenty to choose from.”
He slips away from me and around a corner, leaving me to find my own way. It wasn't difficult. The castle was large and spacious, most of that room made up of common areas. Kitchen, parlor, sitting room, even a full library which had been big enough to hold my old home and the curio shop. But the next two floors were made up of several offices and bed chambers.
I come out of the haze of wandering when I hear footsteps, boots which echoed as Matthew walked down an empty hall. I follow the sound to the floor above me and down the long, arching hallway. The only open door is at the end. As I reach it, I stop in the doorway and look around. No bed. Only an open disarray of a wardrobe and a large trunk which sat against the back wall. In a chair near the empty fireplace, Matthew sat with a book in his hand which he was reading intently. As if he were trying to read something that wasn't there.
“How did you die?” I ask him.
He looks up at me, confused that I would ask. “Fever.”
I give no response.
He closes the book in his hands. “Is that all? You just wanted to know how I died?”
I shake my head. “I only wonder these things because I can feel with people. We're alone here so your soul is quite loud. Almost agonizing.” I shrug. “I had to ask.”
A long, unnecessary breath comes out of him. “You're an empath.”
I turn and look around the empty room, trying to make myself look busy. The truth was that I had many questions. But I didn't want to spit them all out at once. With nothing else to do, I felt now was the only time to get answers.
Matthew is staring at his black book, but he speaks to me. “You have the stench of someone who has questions.”
“You knew my name before I told it to you.” I point out.
“That is not a question.”
I sigh with frustration. Prompting him to answer me regardless if it were a question.
“You're a Grey. The Covenant has all of your names going further back than Christine.”
The answer satisfied me enough. “If you do not agree with the Covenant then why did you threaten to hang me for being in possession of that book?”
“To be sure you burned it. Clearly, threatening your life does very little to motivate you.” he says to me. “And I stand by what I said. Your neck is far too delicate to wrap a noose around. It would be a waste.”
My hand reaches up to my neck, touching gently at the base at the thought of my neck being anything other than a neck.
“Such words are forward of me. I apologize.” he says sincerely.
“High praise from a vampire.” I blush.
Even in the midst of this chaos I liked the attention he gave me. Not that I knew what to do with it, if it was the sort of attention I believed it was. He was flirting with me the only way a vampire could flirt. The notion scared me just a little. Enough to get my adrenaline pumping.
“If you're having trouble deciding on a room there are a few in this hall you might like.” he suggest while opening his book once more.
My attention is pulled to the hallway at his words. “I only require a bed. Most of the rooms in this place don't have one.” As I step into the room directly across the hall I find the first bed I had seen in four days. And I can't help what I do next. I stand at the end of the bed and I put my arms out before falling backwards onto the mattress. “This will do.”
“I will have to get you some more clothes.”
I had half a mind to tell him he needed new clothes. But I keep my mouth shut. Then when I lift my head to look at him he is just standing in the middle of the room. His eyes wide and fixed on nothing in particular. He seemed entranced. I stand up and take only one step toward him when he puts up his hand.
“Don't. Not an inch closer. Do you understand?”
“What are you doing?”
I can almost hear his teeth grind in response. “It's your blood. Please, step away.”
As if my life depended on it, and it likely did, I do as he says. My hands grip the bed post behind me when suddenly, Matthew moves toward me. He moves so quickly, like a blur. He stops mere millimeters away from me. His blazing blue eyes darken into an endless black – and they are fixed on me. His hand reaches up and touches my hair, holding a lock of it gently in his hand before pushing it behind my shoulder. He breathes in the air around us.
Then he blinks. His eyes shift back to their sapphire blue.
I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. “You would never hurt me. Right?”
He nods. “Right.”
“You don't sound so sure.”
“I am sure.” he assures me. Then he takes a few paces back. “Sleep well, Tess.”