I stared out over a river running through the city and sighed. Over a week had passed since Jarod’s bachelor party. I received another challenge upon returning home. Aaliyah and Mila had taught me Russian over the course of a few nights following the letter’s arrival. My parents didn’t desire to come this time, ― I honestly believed they wanted to avoid another dinner with Adelmar. ― so I was left without company and decided to explore the city. Well, I did have to escape from some unwanted company first.
“Such a heavy sigh doesn’t suit you.” came a soft voice at my side.
I could tell at a glance that he wasn’t human and was disturbed that I hadn’t noticed his approach. Thick, dark brown hair nearly the length of his shoulders framed a face utterly devoid of blemishes. A spell formed around him faster than I could see, and the alarm I had tried to smother rose to the surface within me.
“Oh, James… No need to be startled. I’m a friend. An ally. A vampire!” he exclaimed, completely disregarding the people nearby. “Don’t worry about them. Think. I’m speaking far too softly for human ears, and the nearest immortal ones aren’t nearby quite yet. Well, unless Aaliyah is around. You never know with her, do you.”
His fangs were quite prominent, but I knew from experience with Cosette that he had to be doing that on purpose.
“Pardon?” I asked, completely unsure of how to respond to this person’s admission about knowing Aaliyah.
“My apologies. I should start with an introduction. I am known as Zachary Blood, and meeting you is a pleasure, James.” he insisted.
“Nice to make your acquaintance, but I’m still at a loss.” I told him, but my mind was racing through memories. There was something Ariadne had mentioned that would have seemed insignificant if not for Cosette’s reaction. Oh! “Do you know Ariadne? I do recall her mentioning vampire brothers.”
“Of course, assuming you refer to Aaliyah’s ‘auntie’. She’s a delight!” he told me.
“Excellent! Might I have your autograph for one of my employees. Cosette seemed rather excited when Ariadne mentioned…” I was saying, stopping when he suddenly dashed off. He was incredibly fast.
“Here you are. I composed a letter for her.” he told me, though only seconds had passed. Seeing my astoundment, he said, “I actually wrote that to her after Ariadne told me of her. I just needed to pop home to get it.”
“‘Pop.’, you say. Do grow up.” stated an elderly looking man who appeared beside Zachary.
“As if you can talk, Vito.” came a gruff voice from over the side of the bridge.
I peeked over to see a monstrous face wink at me. He had a large, squat nose and elongated, pointy ears. His eyes looked far too small for his enormous head, and I could see a wing stretching from his back.
“Please, Papak. You haven’t changed your name since 300 B.C.” stated Vito.
Smiling, Zachary said, “These are my older brothers, Vito Sanguinem and Papak Khoon.”
“A pleasure to meet you all.” I told them. “I take it that you’re a bit older than Ariadne then.”
“Has Aaliyah really not mentioned us at all?” asked Vito.
“Aww… don’t be offended! James needs things at his own pace.” claimed Aaliyah, from where she suddenly appeared on my shoulders, hugging my head for support.
I realized a moment later that we were no longer at the bridge. Somehow, all of us were now in a well-furnished lounge with very high ceilings.
“You’ll eventually get used to that happening.” claimed Zachary.
“Speak for yourself.” stated Vito.
“Well, I like it. You two don’t have to take the long way into buildings.” claimed Papak.
“You haven’t taken ‘the long way’ in centuries.” argued Vito. “You could have stopped much sooner with a little more self control.”
Papak reached forward and picked Vito up about the waist with a single large hand, pulling him close as he stared him down. Vito seemed completely undaunted.
“Don’t fret. This sort of thing has happened regularly since we came to live on this island.” explained Zachary. “We had grown accustomed to living apart.”
“Will you three settle down?” asked Ariadne as she stormed into the room. Spotting me, she said, “James, nice of you to visit. Care for a drink?”
I nodded and thanked her, and a tray with a complete tea set appeared in a flash of light beside me.
“Auntie! You didn’t offer me any!” pouted Aaliyah.
“You’re stirring up mischief, and I will not encourage you.” replied Ariadne.
Aaliyah fell off my back and slammed into the floor with her arm over her head. “My own auntie won’t even encourage me! I’m doomed, boss-man, sir. Doomed!”
“James, what did she do to these three now?” demanded Ariadne as I tried some tea.
“Nothing really, except maybe transporting us here. We had barely gotten introduced when she arrived.” I explained.
“Well, don’t put up with her nonsense.” commanded Ariadne. “She has a tendency to treat these three as playthings, despite the fact that they’ve been helping guard humanity for thousands of years.”
“You, my dear, are absolutely adorable when you’re being sassy.” stated Vito, still held aloft by Papak.
Ariadne crossed her arms and looked away from him.
“What do you think, James? Is that one really her niece?” asked Papak as he set Vito down.
“I’ve learned not to argue with Aaliyah.” I told him, glancing down to see her still being melodramatic on the floor.
“Zachary, James thinks I’m melodramatic. Please tell him I’m not!” pleaded Aaliyah, now on her knees in front of him.
“Umm… I don’t really want to be on your aunt’s bad side. She spends more time with us.” he replied.
“My…” started Aaliyah, stopping to count on her fingers. “One of my somewhat oldish friends likes my aunt better than me!” she cried.
“I wouldn’t say that I like her ‘better’, really. I just know she’ll get moody if I take your side.” explained Zachary.
“Moody!? I haven’t been moody in at least a thousand years.” argued Ariadne. “And as for you, Papak, I cannot believe you still don’t believe that Aaliyah is my niece. Shame on you!”
One of his enormous wings moved in front of him as if to shield him. “You do have to admit that her being older than you makes that seem a bit improbable.” he insisted.
“You know Carl. Argue with him about it.” retorted Ariadne.
My phone had started ringing as they argued. I reluctantly decided to answer when I saw that Adelmar was calling.
“Hello?” I asked.
“James! My team reported that they lost you, and my cousin got… you know how she is.” he suggested.
“Ah. I’m with some friends.” I told him. I had spotted and ditched Adelmar’s lackeys shortly before making my way to the bridge where Zachary had found me.
“Friends? Here?” he asked.
“Tell Adelmar that you’ve joined his nemeses to see how real men party.” yelled Zachary.
“I… see.” stated Adelmar. “I wasn’t aware that you knew them. Though I wouldn’t presume to tell you what company to keep, I feel I must inform you that some in my family will take your current company as a personal affront, given that you are likely to marry into the family.”
“Aaliyah’s here with me, so they can take up their grievances with her. She simply loves hearing that people disapprove of her company.” I replied. “Please tell Alma that I’m fine.”
“As you say. I look forward to dining with you tomorrow. I asked the chef to prepare something extra special.” he assured me.
“Ridiculous, isn’t he.” stated Vito as I hung up the phone.
“That family forgot how to have fun ages ago.” agreed Papak, grabbing his brothers and roughly embracing them in his enormous arms.
“I assure you, we’ll show you how to have a good time.” insisted Zachary with a grin.
This was most certainly going to be an interesting night.