Chapter 13: Back in Style


This was the only question Marcus could pose in response to Ian’s request, which he both expected and simply circumvented answering. His thin face had worn an expression of anguish and befuddlement, scrunching up his nose as if he had been told a joke in such bad taste that simulated an odor. In truth, Ian didn’t possess one sufficient answer he could provide Marcus, but instead he had many small reasons that all coalesced together. Perhaps that was a red flag. It had been drilled into his head more times than he could count that strigoi had many ways to distort your desires against you, to seduce you into their clutches without ever laying a hand on you. Some of the classics included mesmerism, mind control, invading your dreams, poisoning your food, and planting worms in your brain. As far as he could tell, though, Marcus was only the second vampire he had ever encountered, and he did not seem eager about the prospect of turning him under any circumstances. Thus, Ian opted to speak his mind and say that the reason wasn’t really any of Marcus’ business. The fact that it was what he wanted should have been enough.

Marcus had emphatically refused.

Of course, Ian didn’t just leave him high and dry, the deal wasn’t all that mattered here, and at the very least he owed the guy some fighting chance to escape on his own. There may have been a slight hope at the back of his mind that this would also prove his vital utility, but that was neither here nor there. He had convinced Marcus to come with him back to the mausoleum to get something important. Marcus was reticent to the idea for various reasons, but Ian made the point that Josephine had no reason to suspect he could make it there in the daylight. He wasn’t entirely sure of that, but he couldn’t remember reading any papers on, uh, shadow surfing. Maybe that was just another thing to add onto the pile of what they were hiding from them, but he didn’t want to dwell on that now. As long as Josephine had no reason to suspect Ian a turncoat, then they were probably okay. He had constructed the ingenious plan to hold out his messenger bag in front of him and let Marcus ride on the patch of shadow it created. Of course, he had no way to check Marcus was still there, and halfway through he realized Marcus could’ve just ridden Ian’s own shadow, but hindsight was 20/20. He had already taken the liberty of lifting the key off the kind professor while she was distracted earlier, before he knew how Marcus would factor into his plans. He turned the key in the silver padlock and prayed that she would be too caught up in searching for Marcus at the West Memorial building to consider the mausoleum.

So what do we need from here?” Marcus was pulling himself out of the stairs once Ian fully closed the stone doors.

This is where we keep some of the oldest artifacts,” Ian once again assisted in plucking Marcus up, getting him to his feet. “There should be something here that’ll make it simpler for you to get around, and something I need in order to test my theory.

And what theory is that?

That the seal has been broken.

I mean, I only just learned about all this, but from the way Josie was talking about it, seems like that thing has stuck pretty fast up to now.

She told you the basics, right?” Ian began the trek down the stairs with his hand against the wall, “I doubt she explained all the anomalous phenomena we’ve seen that seems to indicate the seal ain’t long for this world. The fact that black sabbaths have been coming closer and closer to one another, the fact that a queen we thought long dead has revealed herself again, or that so many hunters have given up on the old vows of secrecy for the sake of personal enrichment. They’ve all grown complacent because their ancestors found the means to kill off the most powerful covens, so they’ve become mercenaries and racketeers rather than righteous paladins. We’re honestly far too spread thin and disorganized to deal with the resurgence that I’ve projected.

But you can put a stop to things, right?” Marcus stared down at his own hands.

I’m not a hunter, Marcus. Even disregarding all the hereditary bullshit, I never really had a chance. They took me in as a kid ‘cause my family was murdered, but they never saw me as one of them. I’ve always been stuck in this limbo where I know that this world exists, but no one trusts me enough to let me be a real part of it. They gave me a scholarship here, just enough to let me know that they intend to keep me on a short leash with student debt. If it weren’t for you, I’d never ever get a chance to see a vampire, and I’m on track for a life of endless adjuncting for the fraternity crowd.

Your-” Ian couldn’t make out Marcus’ features in the dark, but he could tell from his breathless voice that he was mortified, “your parents were murdered?

When I was seven, it happened while I was staying over at a friend’s house. I didn’t see who did it… just some of the aftermath. No one came to pick me up and so I just walked home, discovered that the door was propped open, and this horrible feeling washed over me. My sister, who was only a few years older than me, was completely naked and sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. There was blood dripping from the upstairs bannister, and she must have heard me take the first step because she held me from behind and told me I couldn’t go, that I had to stay with her, that I couldn’t see. I tried to fight my way out of her grip, because I didn’t know any better, but I couldn’t slip out of her warm, damp arms. The hunters showed up a few hours later, dressed as cops, and they separated the two of us. I never saw her again.

All I wanted for the longest time was the chance to see her again, but eventually I had to accept that it would never happen. The few other kids they had to look after told me as much, that if she wasn’t already with us then she was gone. They all left, but I stuck around, because I wanted to be a hunter. I thought I would someday get the chance to avenge my family. My caretakers had no intention of letting that happen, and they refused to give me any evidence of who did it in case I wanted to take matters into my own hands. They just keep me around ‘cause I’m smart and black, and they aren’t exactly the most diverse secret order. The more and more I learned about who the hunters actually are, the more disillusioned I became. Now I just want a chance to start over again, to try out a different life.

And to do that you have to become one of the monsters responsible for killing your parents?

Well, if I can’t track down the fuckers as a vampire hunter, then I can at least kill them as a vampire.” Ian scoffed, “like I said, I have my reasons, and they aren’t really any of your business.

Alright.” Marcus dropped the subject as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

Ian could count the times he’d been inside the mausoleum on one hand, and two of those fingers came within a 24 hours of each other. He knew at least half of everything kept there by memory, since he’d been put to work double-checking the catalog when new acquisitions came in. Josephine had brought him down earlier, when they had their first encounter with Marcus, in order to replace a specimen. A 2500 year old vertebrae that still oozed with a pale yellow mucus from a crack in the bone. The professor had wanted to check if the substance resembled another bile from a more recent acquisition, but the two had distinct viscosity and molecular construction. Officially speaking, both Ian and Dr. Helsin had forensic archeology degrees, but most people in the know had to wear many hats. He felt he had been a bit harsh talking about her to Marcus, but Josephine was probably the most decent hunter he had ever encountered. Brusque, condescending, and a little racist sometimes, but considerate enough to treat him as something other than a nuisance. It did make him a bit sad that, if he ever saw her again, she would probably want to decapitate him.

Though it was a mausoleum, only two or three of the coffins contained actual remains, while the rest were “cultural artifacts.” In particular, cultural artifacts that could be reversed engineered for the purposes of killing. Many weapons forged from silver and iron, rifles and staves and halberds and swords, as well as many pieces of clothing sewn with blood red thread into pitch black fabric. Ian picked out one of those coffins containing those adornments, shining his flashlight inside to pull out an obsidian baseball cap.

Is that a snapback?” Marcus was incredulous as he turned the hat over in his hands, staring at an angular black and purple logo stitched into the fabric, “a bat, seriously?

Yeah, the bats, it’s a minor league team.” Ian pulled out a jacket and parasol made of the same material, “these clothes were taken from dead vampires. They look like normal clothes, but they’re said to be made from the silk of spiders fed the blood of lambs and the jelly of a black goat’s eye so that it emerges from their spinnerette dark as coal. We haven’t been able to recreate the process, but that’s how the ritual is said to work. Whatever it is, it has some property that allows it to absorb U.V. rays that would otherwise burn you. They can only last about 32 hours in direct sunlight before disintegrating, but that’s still better than bursting into flames in a matter of minutes.

Won’t it be sorta conspicuous if I’m walking around looking like an extra from Blade?” He settled the cap over his mop of hair, “the shadow thing has been working alright so far, yeah? Let’s just stick to that.

You do realize that requires me coming along with you, right?” Ian kept the parasol at his side, “I’m more than happy to play it that way, if you want, but I will expect you to hold up your end of the bargain.

Ugh, okay,” Marcus gripped onto the rim of the coffin, “I’ll take the stupid hat and umbrella. Probably for the best I don’t over rely on doing that thing anyway, it was honestly starting to make me really dizzy.

Dizzy? Like how?

I was getting this real bad sense of vertigo, I guess, like I knew you were taking me somewhere, but I kept bouncing back and forth between the ground and the underside of your bag faster and faster. I couldn’t tell where we were anymore, and I was panicking a little that I’d somehow slip out of the little space I had and fall straight into the sky. It was like I was just a bug, or a rabbit, or something small, and I was waiting for the firmament to split open and swallow me whole.

That’s…wow,” Ian shifted the firm lid of the coffin back over its contents, “that does sound sickening but, god, I never thought about that possibility. It’s not just the sun, but the whole open sky is your natural predator! That’s why you aren’t affected by any other stars, because our solar system is its territory!”

Um, I guess?” Marcus looked a bit perplexed by the sudden conjecture.

While I’m thinking about it again,” Ian rubbed his head and held his light to Marcus’ chest, “Can I ask you about something else?


You’re wearing glasses, but you don’t actually need them to see, right?

No… I mean, yes, I don’t need them to see.” Marcus adjusted his glasses on his nose.

Then wouldn’t wearing them mess up your vision, since they’re prescription?

I mean,” Marcus lifted his glasses from his eyes, which dilated for a second, before putting them back in place, “it’s fuzzy for a moment when I take ‘em off or put them on, but I guess my eyes can just adjust.

Oh, that’s fascinating… why choose to wear them if you don’t have to?

Ian, I appreciate your sincere interest, but I’ve been like this for less than a full day. Why would I just throw something away that’s been a part of me for more than half of my life? Maybe… maybe I want to imagine that I’ll need them again, someday.

Oh, yeah, I guess… I don’t really know what happened to you…

Marcus recounted his tale to Ian, who was unaware of its further abridgement from the version provided to Josephine. Ian listened intently, taking note of important details unbeknownst to Marcus himself. First, he recognized Laura as the youngest member of the Borgosi family, which explained why they seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. He had actually met her once, during a gala for donors and legacy families that he had volunteered at as extra staff. She certainly left an impression on him. They spent nearly half-an-hour discussing vampiric customs in the Americas and their intersections with folklore before he was pulled away to offer another oil baron a finger sandwich. That had only been little over a year ago, so had she been plotting all the way back then? Second, the Saperavi city library, where this had all gone down, was meant to be under her family’s auspices. No one but the archhunters knew exactly what they kept there, and even all the way in Delaware he heard some pretty stomach-turning rumors about the place. Even though he himself had predicted this, it was hard to believe that everything had really happened under their noses. Fuck. This really was the end of humanity.

I can see… why you would be reluctant to turn me after all that.” Ian sat next to Marcus on the cold, cobblestone floor, his knees clutched to his chest, “but you have to see that it’s not the same thing if I’m asking for it.

It’s killing you.” Marcus’ eyes were as sharp as a steel blade, “I don’t wanna be a part of an assisted suicide. Even if you get back up, even if you’re still mostly yourself, you lose something important… and something else that isn’t you, that shouldn’t be you, takes up residence within the vacancy.

People die and come back with some regularity, whether through overdoses or heart attacks, we have the technology to resurrect people. Though it’s scary to consider, it isn’t unthinkable that it might have happened to me anyway. The biggest difference is, this way, I actually come out the otherside healthier and with a much longer life expectancy.

It’s not the same thing at all!” He bared his fangs for a second, intentionally or otherwise, in a way to underline his point, “Part of me died and it stayed dead, even if I can’t put a name to it. Maybe it was my soul, or maybe it was my life force, or maybe it was my humanity. Whatever it was, it’s gone for good, and everytime I think about what I am, what she made me, I can feel its absence like a phantom limb.

You seem human to me, Marcus.” Ian put his hand on Marcus’ wrist, feeling its warmth and his faint pulse, “even if you aren’t literally human, since you have chromosomes that no other terrestrial organism shares… sorry, that isn’t helping… I mean that you are clearly a decent, thoughtful person, better than many bonafide humans I’ve met, regardless of what Dr. Helsin might think.

You say that now,” Marcus turned away, “but what if she is right about me? I might be relatively normal now, but how about when I start getting thirsty? I won’t know until that happens whether I still see you as a person or just another potential meal. I guess you’ll find out if you stick around me long enough, and then you’ll get what you want anyway.

This is a two-way street, Marcus, I don’t want to do it if you’re acting against your own wishes.” Ian swallowed. “I could maybe ask your friends Dove or Audrey if you really don’t want to do it. Honestly, there probably won’t be a shortage of options once we get there.

I don’t want them to do it either, I don’t want any of this… you said the seal’s never been broken before, so maybe there’s a lot of stuff that’s possible that was never attempted. Maybe there’s a way to reverse things to how they were before.

I don’t know, Marcus, things that change tend to stay changed, and trying to put things back to the way they were before can only blind you to the possibilities of the future.

You’re starting to sound like Laura…” Marcus looked back at him, slightly snarling out her name as something dark passed over his eyes, “do you think what she did was a good thing?

No, I… I don’t.

It wasn’t a total lie, just a partial one. Of course he didn’t think what she’d done to Marcus or the way she went about anything was good, but… maybe she was right that the world was in for a change. In so many ways, it was already a bleak place where “hope” was just a thing to get you out of bed and through to the end of the day. What exactly was Ian “hopeful” for? A week ago it might have been finding a boyfriend, finding a genuine tenure-track job, maybe buying a house. Those weren’t “hopes” as much as they were “wants,” and even those were fairly beyond the scope of reality. They were the only hopes he could afford, because to actually hope for something better was to escape at terminal velocity the collective daydream he was only barely allowed to share in. Every summer was getting hotter, and people who looked like him and people who loved like him were the ones dying in the street either from starvation or heatstroke. Massacres were happening every day, everywhere, either active or passive, through the guns of fascists and cops, or through the ever churning mills of institutions. Ian was supposed to be thankful for the scraps, but now they were scraps that had lost whatever luster they once had. Scraps of a daydream that tunnel vision, getting a livable job, having a decent place to stay, constructing a beautiful body, or publishing would take you through to a better time, a better place. The world was already ending in many little ways and many big ways too, just not big enough to threaten the people with the ability to actually do something, because their world was still intact. Ian wasn’t naive. Exposing the world to a vampiric virus wasn’t gonna fix capitalism or colonialism or climate change. But maybe it could at least level the playing field. Maybe it could come on big enough and fast enough that no one could put it on the backburner.

Since I, um, got you that stuff,” Ian steadied himself as he rose from the floor. “Do you think you could get something for me too?

Why do you need me for that?

Because it’s up there.” Ian pointed at a coffin in the third row down, eye level with the angel—if she had eyes.


You can get up there, right?

Yeah, I think I can, you just want me to set it down for you?” Marcus stood up with his back pressed against the wall.

That’d be fine.” Ian nodded.

Well, um, be prepared, ‘cause this might look awkward.

Stumbling on his feet and stepping away from the wall, Marcus stood staring up at the spot he had to reach. He splayed his arms and legs out in an A post, wiggling his fingers in a way that reminded Ian of a carpal tunnel exercise. He stayed like this for a few moments, his brow cinched in concentration. Then, as if taken by an invisible shepherd's hook, his limbs slackened help limp at his side while his center of gravity remained stable and set. Ian imagined a mathematically perfect y-axis as he watched Marcus gradually rise straight up, seemingly magnetized to the ceiling rather than hovering over the floor. Whenever Ian read about vampires floating through the air, he had always imagined something like Peter Pan, coasting on wind gusts with arms extended. What he observed here, though, was genuinely unearthly. Gravity lost all meaning to Marcus, for his body moved as it were generating his own discreet fields of electromagnetism. He didn’t glide or fly through the air, he slid against it, and once he reached the coffin at chest height he slid towards it on an x-axis. His hands jittered for a moment, but he wrested back control over them and scooted the coffin along the shelf with a heavy, grating scrap of stone against steel. About three quarters of the way through, he suddenly pulled his hands away from it.

Jesus fucking christ!?” Marcus shouted and shot backward a yard.

Ian hopped away too as the coffin dropped from its perch and fell hard to the floor, its top already ajar as it cracked into the cobblestone at half-tilted angle. The sound of metal pulverizing rock rang through the acoustic chamber of the mausoleum, even causing the brass angel to shiver as if there was a sudden chill breeze. Ian stumbled back, just barely catching himself against the pedestal in the center of the room.

There was… er… there was meat in there?” Marcus tried to explain as he lowered himself down to the floor again.


Ian stepped gingerly towards the crash site which, as the dust cleared, had a pool of water slowly forming beneath it. Neither “meat” nor water should have been in there, or in any of the coffins, for that matter. What he had wanted from the coffin was a peculiar astrolabe that was used to track the alignment of certain celestial bodies to predict the next sabbath night. The tool hadn’t been used for centuries because other, easier methods had been discovered, but Ian had a feeling that there would be something important to track in the stars. Instead of that, behind the huge gash in the coffin lid was what looked to be a pulsating mass of bloodied ground beef. Opening up his bag, Ian brought out a cheap bic lighter with a flaming skull on its plastic casing. He spun and clicked the igniter, holding the flame out in front of him as he used other hand to pry open the lid. Just barely managing to prop it open, the lid fell forward and a red mass cascaded around the coffin. Terrified, he fell back onto his ass and swung the lighter around to prevent any slithering things from touching him.

Shit! Shit! Shit! Fucking worms!” Ian cried.

Marcus grabbed Ian by the shoulders and pulled him back as more and more of the worms spilled out. The huge red pulp filled up most of the puddle, small tails writhing along its edges. A few mounds at the top of its mass sprung up and deflated continuously, as if it were breathing. The whole thing made him think of a disgusting, gigantic slug made up of muscles and tendons.

Why are these here?” Marcus crouched next to him, holding one of the worms between his fingers as it squirmed and curled.

Don’t hold that up in my face!” Ian recoiled while Marcus tried to drop the worm, but even as he shook his finger it stuck fast to his skin. “I don’t know why they would be here, but I know they’re bad news!

It’s, uh, it’s not getting off!” Marcus scratched at his skin as the worm made its way like a crawling blood drop to just below his wrist, “Oh my God, it’s biting me!

Improvising, Ian brought his lighter up to Marcus’ arm and lit it again. The idea popped into his head from someone telling him that you could get rid of ticks by burning them off. This seemed like the same principle. The thing writhed and spasmed as the flame tickled it, its flesh quickly blackening like burnt paper before stiffening and dropping to the ground. Ian watched as it fell, forgetting the flame that was now singeing Marcus a similar charcoal hue.

Ah!” Marcus snatched his arm back and nursed it in the crook of his elbow, “be careful, please!

Sorry, I-

Before Ian could apologize, he was caught off-guard by a buzzing noise accompanied with the song Blue Danube. Both of them looked left and right, dumbfounded, until a look of recognition dawned on Marcus.

That’s my phone!

The tiny obelisk with a lighted screen out from the innards of the coffin along a wave of tiny intestines. It crested one hump and then trailed down a sloping tail that came to the edge of the pool before depositing it onto the dry stone. With trepidation, Marcus approached where it lay before swiftly plucking it up. Putting the phone up to his ear, a single tone sounded and Marcus looked down at the screen.

Unknown number… why is this here?

Well, I guess it is confiscated vampire property.” Marcus narrowed his eyes in annoyance, “Is there anything strange on it?

Marcus swiped through a few apps, criticizing each until he came upon something that captured his attention.

Someone used it to send a message to Dove. Whoever it was told them to meet up with me at somewhere called Blackbird state forest.

I know where that is.” Ian returned his gaze to the horrible, trembling pile, “you wanna walk into a bear trap?

I’m not gonna let Dove show up there alone.

Yeah, I thought so.

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