Chasing Shadows
Author:Christina Moore

chapter One

“Vampires are not dead.”

I smiled as I read the first line of Vivian Drake’s most recent article in Vampire, the #1 best-selling magazine that catered to vampire enthusiasts (hence the name). I couldn’t help it—because I am Vivian Drake.

Oh, that’s not my real name. Nor is it even the name I was given at birth. But “Vivian Drake” seemed just the right kind of name for a fantasy novelist who wrote about vampires, and I had needed an alias. It wouldn’t do at all for certain people to find out that the woman who was spilling the secrets of vampire kind through supposedly fictional stories was one of their own.

Yeah, not only are vampires not dead, but they’re very much real. See, I’m one of them—sort of. I’m actually what vampires (and numerous human mythologies) refer to as a dhampyr, or vampire-human hybrid. I had a vampire father and a human mother.

“They are very much alive,” my article went on. “Sure, the process by which a person becomes a vampire can make them look like they are dead, which is why many people are buried and later rise from their graves. But the truth is they’re just being transformed. You see, no human being has ever been made a vampire after death—the transformation requires a living victim. Like certain species of bats, vampires produce a substance called draculin (named for Count Dracula, of course) in their saliva, which is injected into a victim through being bitten. However, unlike the draculin in bat saliva, which is an anti-coagulant, the draculin produced by vampires is a mutagen. When passed directly into the bloodstream, draculin first paralyzes the person and then begins to alter the human genome at the molecular level…and then voila! A vampire.

“So ladies, no worries about kissing your vampire boyfriends!”

The article I’d written went on to say that the mutation from human being to “undead” vampire was really quite painful, and it was highly recommended that one not choose to become a vampire. After all, the only thing a vampire can digest is blood, and the thirst for it is constant. Even hybrids like myself require blood in order to survive, though certainly not as much as a bitten vampire. We’re also capable of eating normal human food, but there’s no escaping the vampire side of our nature…so it’s not a lifestyle change one should want to undertake, no matter what benefits went along with it.

I detailed exactly what one could expect when becoming a vampire, and also tore apart the myth that dhampyr were hideously ugly monsters with no skeletons, no shadows, and no souls. That was a common belief in the Balkans and Serbia, or had been at one time, because how could a thing that was not living, whose soul had been damned, conceive a child with a living, breathing, not-damned human? Logic said that the dead could not conceive with the living; it was a truth that had eventually led vampire scientists to determine (with the help of advanced medical technology) that they were, in fact, not dead at all. Eighteenth century peasants simply could not comprehend the science behind what made a hybrid, so they allowed themselves to believe such children were beastly creatures that only roamed at night. So not true—the beastly part, anyway—because I’ve been pursued relentlessly by dozens of men in my 230-plus years, both mortal and immortal alike. Guess that means I’m pretty.

Of course, this miraculous discovery didn’t mean that my sire’s people were ready to embrace their human brethren as equals. Just because you’re as alive as your food doesn’t mean you stop thinking of it as food—most humans knew that a cow was alive, but it didn’t stop them from eating steak. Plus, it was believed that humanity just wasn’t ready to accept the truth that not only were vampires real, but they were also living beings who had simply been changed from human to superhuman like the mutants in their comic books.

I closed the article with another truth, that there was a third kind of immortal: the dhunphyr. They were created when a human woman was bitten while pregnant. If the woman wasn’t killed during the attack and the vampire’s draculin didn’t cause her to miscarry, the child was born gifted with immunity from illness, accelerated healing from injury, and an extended lifespan. They were also blessedly free of the unending thirst for blood. No one knew exactly how long dhunphyr lived, however, as they were so very rare—most pregnant women who were bitten were killed, and if they weren’t, they miscarried during the change. Only those bitten after the seventh month, when the human fetus was considered viable, had a chance of giving birth to their children…a remote chance, but a chance nonetheless. Many vampire females desperate for children had tried to gain a child to raise through this method, but due to the high mortality rate of the mothers and infants, the practice was eventually outlawed.

Couldn’t have the mortal population getting suspicious when their young, pregnant mothers were dropping like flies under a swatter, after all.

I sighed, closing my copy of the October issue of Vampire and laying it on the coffee table. I checked my doors and windows to make sure they were locked, turned off the downstairs lights, and called to my two Chihuahuas, Moe and Cissy, who followed me up the stairs to my bedroom. After changing into a nightgown and brushing my teeth, I shooed them onto their bed, bent and scratched each one behind the ears, then turned the light off and climbed into my own bed.

As a hybrid I can sleep at night if I want to, and I most certainly dream. So I wasn’t really surprised to find myself soon dreaming of the same man I had been dreaming of since I was a child. Certainly I didn’t mind dreaming of the wickedly handsome man with short brown hair, warm brown eyes and a tall, muscular body—a body that in my dreams he certainly knew how to please me with. But the dreams always left me feeling a little bittersweet when I awoke, for I had been dreaming of him for more than two hundred years and still had not found him.

When I was about ten, I got the courage up to confide in a female companion of Diarmid’s about my dreams, and it was through her that I learned all vampires pair-bonded; that the man of whom I dreamed was my destined bondmate. A psychic I had once consulted after disowning Diarmid had said that the man held the missing piece of my soul—he would complete me. It was frustrating, though, to ache for the real thing and not know where the hell he was, or when I would finally meet him. Until then, all I had were dreams that scintillated and enticed and always left me wanting more.



*****



The following day was a busy one. I run a small farm where I breed Thoroughbred horses, as well as raise cows, pigs, and chickens. Most of the vampires I knew found this as unbelievable as my abhorrence of killing humans, because more often than not, such animals shied away from our kind—they can sense the predatory nature of vampires, and as such instinctively want to run away from the danger. But being half human helped me a great deal in that respect, in that while they knew I was dangerous, I still smelled human. It seemed to confuse them as to whether they should trust me or not, though I’m fairly certain my calm, gentle nature had won them over.

The farm was also how I obtained most of my own blood supply. I’d taken some veterinary training when I first set up this farm back in 1846, and I kept up with the advances in the field so that I could take care of my own animals. Being trained in veterinary medicine meant I could tap an animal’s vein (only the cows and pigs, as the chickens I used for their eggs and my horses had never been a food source) without having to bite it when I needed blood, and I had a supply stocked in the deep freezer in my house. Of course, there were also times when I needed to feel the thrill of the hunt, so I occasionally went into the woods that bordered my land and hunted game there. Usually it was just deer or rabbits, sometimes the occasional fox or wolf, or any variety of forest creatures with a decent blood supply. If I wanted a real challenge, I went to the places where predatory animals such as bears and mountain lions dwelled.

Running a farm single-handedly, even if one is preternaturally fast and strong, can get tiresome. So when a car pulled up in my driveway and I sensed the presence of an immortal (one of the few benefits of being a dhampyr is that I can “feel” the presence of other supernatural beings, such as vampires and shapeshifters), I was rather annoyed, as I was not exactly in the mood to receive company. I had horse hooves to trim and stalls to muck out still.

My annoyance ratcheted up a level when the uninvited guest got out of the car and my dogs started barking in their pen—it was Evangeline, my “sister.” She’d been turned into a vampire by my sire the same year I’d bought my farmland, and though I associated with Diarmid as little as I could get away with, he still favored me because I was his child by blood. Vangie didn’t like that. She’d always wanted to be his favorite, and could not understand why he didn’t simply disown me as I had disowned him.

She was covered head to toe and wore a scarf and a pair of large, dark sunglasses. This made no sense to me as it wasn’t cold outside, and it’s not as if vampires actually burst into flames and turned into piles of ash when exposed to sunlight. That was all a bunch of hooey perpetuated by religious orders centuries ago when humans began to notice that certain people only went outside at night—because only the damned would avoid the sun, which was metaphorically “the light of God.” Nowadays it was the basis of the reason “pretenders” could only work after nightfall. Most vampires who made their living among humans claimed to suffer from solar urticaria, a genuine illness in which exposure to UV radiation and even visible light (notably sunlight) caused severe, painful hives on exposed and sometimes even unexposed skin. Though I’d read that persons suffering from SU lead difficult, isolated lives due to their inability to go outside during the day, it was a convenient excuse to have handy when your neighbors took note of your unusual habits.

Vangie sprinted into the shade of the open barn and the horses reacted immediately, shying away and whinnying in fear, their eyes going wide. I grabbed Hasufeld’s halter and held onto it, murmuring soothingly—he was the only one of the four I’d gotten done.

“Can’t you quiet these beasts down?” Vangie complained as she whipped off the scarf and sunglasses.

I narrowed my eyes as I looked at her over my shoulder. “They’re afraid of you, Vangie.”

She snickered. “They should be. I could snap their sweaty necks with one hand.”

Hasufeld and his brother, Brego, as well as their parents Herugrim and Hadhafang, all continued to whinny, stamping their feet restlessly. I could hear Moe and Cissy still barking incessantly from the kennel, and I was suddenly glad the cows were already out to pasture and that the pig pen and chicken coop were separate constructs on the outside of the barn at the far end—the birds and pigs wouldn’t react unless she came near them. I was never going to get the horses calmed while she was standing there, and certainly wouldn’t be able to get them out of their stalls. “Could you please go back out to your car so I can get them to settle down?”

She looked at me with no small amount of incredulity. “Are you kidding me? You know what will happen to me out there,” she whined.

I rolled my eyes at her melodramatic performance. “Vangie, I’m just going to put them outside, but I can’t do that with you standing there.”

It occurred to me that I could just leave them in their stalls and take her into the house, then come back out to them when she had left, but I was already annoyed just by the fact that she was here. Making her wait for me was a little bit of revenge for her interruption of my routine, even if it was a bit juvenile.

Vangie growled, shoving the sunglasses on and jerking the scarf back into place on her head. “Fine, but don’t be too long. I’d like to go home sometime today.”

I shook my head as she sprinted back out to her car and got in—like I was going to be taking orders from her. Still, I did make quick work of getting my four beauties out of their stalls and out the other end of the barn into the pasture. Not because I was doing it for her, but because I was doing it for them…and because I wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible. I hurried back through the barn after closing the gate behind the last of the horses and knocked on the driver’s side window of her Lexus. Vangie didn’t respond so I knocked again, this time with more force just in case she was ignoring me on purpose. When she didn’t respond to that, I reached for the handle and jerked the door open.

“Shit,” I muttered, then reached in to grab her. Vangie had fallen asleep—and I was surprised by how quickly she had done so, as I couldn’t have been more than ten minutes at my task. This was the real reason vampires didn’t venture out during the day much: RMPC, or Reversed Melatonin Production Cycle. In normal humans, melatonin was a major component of regulating the biological clock; light inhibited production and darkness permitted it, and because increased amounts of melatonin in the system promoted sleepiness, it was known in the human scientific community as the “hormone of darkness.”

In vampires however, the pineal gland—where the hormone was produced—worked backwards, producing more melatonin in the light and less of it in the dark. Medical science eventually revealed the cause of vampires’ nocturnal nature early in the 20 century; our doctors had discovered that not only was melatonin production reversed, but also that a vampire’s pineal gland produced so much of the hormone during daylight hours he could become all but comatose. As many of my father’s kind had found to his or her detriment over the millennia, this deep sleep was a risk to their continued health and safety because it made one vulnerable to all methods of attack. A vampire could be burned alive if caught unawares in the middle of the day, and history showed that humans had pulled that trick more than once on suspected vampires, until they began convincing themselves they weren’t real after all…

…or were beguiled into forgetting.

Grabbing my sister under the arms, I hauled her out of the driver’s seat and threw her over my shoulder. I kicked the door shut, leaving a dusty footprint she was likely to bitch about later, and hurried into the house. Laying Vangie down on the couch, I quickly removed the scarf, gloves and jacket she was wearing and then went into the kitchen. I pulled a bottle of pig’s blood out of the fridge and poured some into a mug, then put that in the microwave and heated it for about a minute. When the microwave dinged, I grabbed a plastic spoon from the silverware drawer and stirred it, then carried it out to the living room. Perching on the edge of the couch, I took Vangie’s head in my free hand and, holding the cup to her slightly parted lips, tipped it and slowly poured some of the hot liquid into her mouth.

Almost immediately she began to swallow, and after a moment or so she opened her eyes. I pulled the cup away and stared down at the frown she was wearing with a raised eyebrow.

“What is that awful stuff?” she asked.

“Pig’s blood. From one of my own animals here on the farm,” I replied, holding the cup out to her as I stood.

She waved it away. “No thank you, it’s disgusting.”

I rolled my eyes as I picked up a limp arm and placed the cup in her hand. “Deal with it. Pig and cow is all I have, and you obviously need the nutrition. When was the last time you fed?”

Drinking blood regularly instead of only when they needed to feed boosted a vampire’s resistance to the backward cycle of their melatonin production, a lot like a human taking caffeine pills to stay up at night. Evangeline knew this as well as I did.

Though she continued to make a sour face, Vangie nevertheless put the mug back to her lips and drank as she slowly sat up. “How can you drink this muck?” she asked me after taking a swallow.

I shrugged as I moved to sit on the other end of the couch. “You get used to it. Better to drink animal blood than be a murderer.”

Vangie narrowed her eyes at me. “Humans murder animals to feed, Saphrona. You murder them to feed.”

I sighed. I’d already had this discussion with her, and it looked like I was going to have to have it yet again. “First of all, certain animals were put on this planet by God specifically to be consumed—”

“If I believed in God, I might say that humans were put here to feed us vampires.”

“—and second,” I went on, ignoring her remark, “I don’t kill my animals. I draw their blood and store it. And you didn’t answer my question: When was the last time you fed? You should have had something before coming out here, at least.”

“I was planning on going out tonight, Mom,” she said snidely. “Been thinking of acquiring myself a vessel.”

Vessels were humans who were regularly used as donors. A vampire could bite a human without injecting draculin and making another vampire, but so few of us had the discipline to keep from killing even to do that. Once we tasted blood during feeding, especially human blood, we almost never stopped.

I refrained from lecturing Vangie on why I thought making some poor human a vessel was wrong. If a vampire was actually strong enough to bite but not kill—and didn’t turn the human—then he or she created what was known as a blood bond with that human. The vampire was connected to the human by a form of extrasensory perception, through which he or she could then find their vessel anywhere the human was. The bond’s strength faded over time to the point of dissolving completely, so the vampire would have to feed from the human regularly to maintain it. To me, this was a practice that was much akin to slavery, and I hated it.

Instead of the tirade I so wanted to fire at her, I swallowed my displeasure and asked her, “What are you doing here, anyway?”

Vangie had made it clear countless times that I was not on her list of favorite people, so despite my annoyance at her arrival, I was, of course, more than a little curious as to why she had shown up on my doorstep. Then again, her coming to see me when she disliked me so much meant that she hadn’t done so of her own accord. Diarmid had probably sent her.

“Father wants to see you,” she said, and I could see the words sat as bitterly on her tongue as the pig’s blood.

“Diarmid could have called,” I replied, even though Vangie probably knew that if he had, I’d have ignored the phone—thank goodness for caller I.D. I also had a cell phone like most people did nowadays, but he had yet to get hold of that number because it was unlisted.

As if reading my thoughts, Vangie frowned. “Father knows you won’t answer if he calls,” she said. “So he asked me to come and plead his case for him.”

And I bet you just loved being made his errand girl, I thought but managed to refrain from saying. “What does he want to see me for?” I asked instead.

Vangie downed the last swallow of pig’s blood, grimaced, and set the mug down on the coffee table. She then gestured toward the copy of Vampire I’d been reading last night. “I believe he wants you to track down that Vivian Drake bitch.”

It was a good thing I’d had more than two hundred years to practice my poker face, otherwise I’d have probably burst out laughing. “Vivian Drake? Why does he want me to find her, so he can kill her? No thank you. Diarmid ought to know damn well I’ll never do that.”

Vangie groaned. “Saphrona, come on. She knows too much about us, which means that someone has been feeding her information. That person can only be a vampire. Now, while killing her would certainly satisfy any number of our people, including me, the problem with that is that no one can find her. She’s too carefully guarded.”

My Vivian Drake identity was indeed a very carefully crafted secret. My manuscripts—I’d written three phenomenally successful vampire novels—and my articles in Vampire were all sent in via e-mail. No one connected with publishing my work, not even my literary agent, had ever seen my face. It was for their protection as well as my own, which was why it was so difficult for anyone to find Vivian—no one knew what she looked like or where she lived. Obviously someone had tried to find her, though, given what Evangeline had just told me.

“Vangie, what good would killing her really do at this point? The damage has been done,” I said carefully.

“Unfortunately, Father agrees with you,” my sister said. “But he still wants you to find her so that we can learn who her source is.”

“And what good will that do?”

“The bastard will be killed for betraying vampire kind,” she replied simply. “If not by one of us, certainly the Ancients will take care of him.”

I suppressed a shudder. The Council of Ancients, generally referred to as the Ancients (all of them vampires who were a thousand or more years old), was the equivalent of a governing body in the vampire world. They made—and enforced—all the laws of our society. We weren’t supposed to kill conspicuously, make immortal children, or tell a human the truth about our kind. Anyone who learned vampires were real either had to be made a vampire or made vampire food. Ask a vampire and he’d probably deny it, but I knew my people feared the persecution that would likely follow being exposed, so I understood why some of them might be incensed by my books. My stories were fiction laced with a liberal dose of the truth, and the most recent article in Vampire, written specifically for the October edition because of Halloween on the 31, pretty much spelled it all out.

“Again, I have to wonder what good it will do when the damage has already been done,” I said. “Besides, has anyone ever stopped to think that maybe this Vivian Drake person is simply really imaginative? I mean, for goodness’ sake, she’s a writer—coming up with incredible stories is part of her job description, and as far as humans are concerned, that’s all her books are. Just incredible stories.”

Vangie scoffed. “Are you actually defending the traitor who is feeding her information?” she asked.

“Of course not,” I said, grabbing the coffee mug from the table as I stood. “I just don’t see the point of raising such a fuss. Going after Vivian Drake is sure to draw the kind of attention none of our people want.”

“Which is precisely why we’re not going to kill her,” Vangie said. “But we do need her to tell us who she’s getting her information from, so the traitor can be dealt with.”

“Fine, whatever,” I muttered, walking into the kitchen and over to the sink, where I rinsed out the mug. I noticed I had left the bottle of blood on the counter and grabbed it, putting it back in the fridge.

Vangie had risen and followed me, so I turned to her and asked, “What does hunting down Vivian Drake have to do with me, anyway?”

She rolled her eyes at me as she crossed her arms under her ample breasts. “Surely you can figure that one out for yourself, dear sister. You’re the only person we know of who is even remotely capable of moving around during the daytime safely.”

Actually, that was only partially true. While my human genetics had gifted me with a normal pineal gland, thus allowing me to follow a human sleep cycle, even a full vampire could be up during the day as long as he was well fed and kept blood on hand for when he felt tired. But a little known secret amongst vampires was that they were notorious procrastinators when it came to feeding; a vampire could go as many days as years he’d been turned without blood—not that anyone ever went to that extreme, because a vampire who’d gone even a month without feeding was as ravenous as a newborn. Going an extended period without blood weakened a vampire physically and mentally, so to purposely abstain for years was something I couldn’t even imagine—it would take incredible discipline. Most of the vampires I’d known in my time would never wait longer than two weeks between feedings, and it was foolish to wait even that long in my opinion. While I didn’t have to consume blood nearly as often as vamps did, I’d long ago made a practice of having at least one mug full every morning with breakfast because drinking a little blood every day gave me extra energy. Dhunphyr, of course, had escaped the crutch of backward melatonin production as completely as they had the thirst for blood. They got some of the benefits and none of the weaknesses of becoming a vampire.

But we didn’t know any immortal humans.

This, in turn, explained why Diarmid wanted me to be the one to try and locate Vivian Drake’s whereabouts—because there were so few of my kind, too.

I sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but tell him I’ll think about it. That’s as much as I can give you right now. I’m not sure I really like the idea of leading him to her informant, either. I’d as much as be killing him or her myself.”

Vangie emitted a disgusted noise as she turned back for the living room. “Please spare me your self-righteous bullshit, Saphrona. If you’d get over yourself and accept what you really are, you wouldn’t have that problem, now would you?”

As she spoke, she picked up her jacket and put it on, wrapped the scarf around her head, and picked up her gloves and oversized sunglasses. Turning to where I now stood in the arched doorway to the kitchen, she queried, “Should I give Father and Lochlan your love? Or should I give them your usual sentiments and tell them you said go to hell?”

Boy, my sister could be such a bitch, I mused silently. Another sign of my incredible self control was the evenness of my voice as I said, “Like I told you, you may tell Diarmid that I will take his request under consideration. As for our brother, if you speak to him before I do, you can tell him I’m looking forward to Friday night.”

Vangie’s eyebrows winged up. “Oh? You’re actually going to spend time with a member of your family? Doing what, may I ask?”

Lochlan—whom I affectionately called Loch or Loch Ness—was my older “sibling” (older by about a hundred years), and was the only member of the family I still spoke to with any regularity. He didn’t exactly get my lifestyle either (the only time he ever drank animal blood was when he visited me), but he tolerated it as just another of my eccentricities. He liked having a sister who marched to the beat of her own drum, and he understood my need to get away from Diarmid, who was controlling, and Vangie, who was just a bitch.

“If you must know, we’re going to see a movie. Zombieland premieres Friday.”

A love of zombie movies was something Loch and I shared; he didn’t really share any interests with Vangie, which only served as another reason for her hatred of me.

I knew she wasn’t happy by the way she shoved her sunglasses onto her face and marched stiffly over to the front door. Oh well, she was just going to have to get over it.

“Not that my name is Western Union or anything, but I’ll give them the message. Good day, Saphrona.”

With that, Vangie yanked my front door open and walked through it, slamming it shut behind her. Moments later I heard her car start up and back down the driveway. Shaking my head, I turned back for the refrigerator. I might not like my younger sister, but I did hope she made it home before she passed out again—certainly the blood she had ingested would help her with that—because I so did not need Diarmid coming here pissed at me because she’d gotten injured. Not that it would be my fault. Evangeline was the fool who’d gone out during the day without feeding first. I knew our sire kept vessels, so certainly she could have called one of them and fed before leaving home.

With a sigh, I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the bottle of pig’s blood, unscrewing the cap and taking three long swallows. I’d had some that morning and I really didn’t care for it cold, but Vangie’s visit had rattled my nerves more than I realized. I still had three horses’ hooves to trim and stalls to clean out, so I was going to need the extra energy to get through the rest of the day.

Putting the cap back on, I returned the bottle to the fridge and started for the back door. Just as I was about to step outside again, my phone rang. I groaned and turned back around, heading for the cordless unit on the wall next to the refrigerator. The I.D. screen showed me a number I didn’t recognize, so I answered with a wary, “Hello?”

“Is this the Caldwell Farm?” said a husky make voice.

“It is,” I replied.

The caller cleared his throat. “My name’s Mark Singleton, ma’am. May I speak with Saphrona Caldwell please?”

“You are speaking with her, Mr. Singleton. How may I help you?”

“Well, I just read an ad in the Dispatch that you’re looking to hire a hand for your place, Mrs. Caldwell. Ad says to call to schedule an interview,” Mark Singleton said.

I face-palmed into my right hand. Truthfully, I’d forgotten about placing that ad because no one had responded to it. Despite the fact that I’d said salary was negotiable, apparently no one was looking to work on a farm that required him or her to actually live there. Plus, I’d only put it in the newspaper because my publisher was hot for me to write another book, and I thought having some help around the farm, at least for a little while, might free my mind enough to actually come up with another story idea.

“It’s Ms. Caldwell, actually,” I corrected automatically. “When would be a good time for you, Mr. Singleton?”

“Is it alright if I come by today?” he asked.

I turned and looked at the antique clock on the wall, which had just turned to 2:30. Why the hell not? I mused, then said, “Sure,” and gave him the directions. “If I’m not out in the barn when you get here, knock on the back door of the house.”

“Yes ma’am,” Mark replied.

After each of us had said goodbye, I hung up the phone, then reached back into the fridge for the bottle of blood, taking another couple of chugs before heading back outside to reign in the three horses that still needed their hooves trimmed.

First Vangie shows up with that ridiculous request, now I have to interview a potential employee, I thought. This day just keeps getting better and better.