Chapter One: First Drink
Jeno led Gertie across the dark night above Athens. Jeno’s father flew close beside them, and a legion of vampires followed. Gertie was barely aware of them all, however. Her thirst for human blood dominated her conscious thought.
Trembling and on the edge of panic, she cried out, the sound of her voice foreign to her. It was more like a strange and desperate bird.
“What is it?” Jeno asked.
“Blood.” She could think of nothing else to say. “Blood!”
Jeno’s eyes widened with shock.
“She’s been drained,” Jeno’s father said, in Greek. “She’ll die if she doesn’t feed.”
They plummeted toward the cityscape and swerved between buildings before entering a balcony window and coming to an abrupt stop. Even though she was barely all there, Gertie recognized the cream-colored walls, gilded mirrors, and mahogany and maroon furnishings of the Hotel Frangelico.
The other surviving vampires soon joined them—Calandra, Jeno’s sister, among them.
With cheeks full of tears, Calandra rushed forward and embraced her father. “I can’t believe you are standing here before me.”
Her father put his arms around his daughter and kissed the top of her curly black hair. “Neither can I.”
They spoke in Greek, but, to Gertie, it may as well have been English. Despite her urgent need for blood and her feelings of disorientation from all that had just happened at the Angelis basement, Gertie was astounded by how easily she understood a language she’d been struggling with since arriving in Greece over four months ago.
The Angelis basement. Hector. The image of him running beneath her, from block to block, his bright blue eyes never leaving her as she flew with the vampires, made her sick. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She hadn’t meant to hurt any of them. None of this was supposed to happen. She’d been a pawn, used by Jeno to save his father.
“Lord Vladimir,” another vampire said, stepping forward with a bow.
Soon all of them showed Jeno’s father their obedience and loyalty by calling him their lord and bowing before him. Some stood, while others hovered in the air, closer to the ceiling, to make room.
Jeno quickly took her in his arms. “I’m so sorry for what has happened to you. I never intended…”
“Jeno,” his father called.
Gertie’s throat felt tight, her lips were parched, and her stomach was burning, but she watched in silence as Jeno stepped forward, too. She could read his thoughts of love, joy, and incredulity. Jeno couldn’t believe he had the opportunity to look upon his father’s face once more.
“Father,” he said.
Equal to his son in height, but with much longer hair, thicker brows, and an older face, his father embraced Jeno and kissed his cheek. Then he pointed to Gertie. “This girl must feed, or she will die. Bring me a human.”
Gertie wanted blood, but the thought of drinking from another person terrified and repulsed her. As many times as she’d been bitten, she’d never experienced this overwhelming and nerve-rattling side effect. Trembling and near hysteria, she cried to Jeno, “What’s happening to me? Why does he keep saying I’m going to die?”
Jeno reached for her hands and pulled her close to him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize how much of your blood I gave to my father.”
“What are you saying?” she asked, afraid of the answer.
“You already know.” He kissed her forehead. “I shouldn’t have allowed myself to drink from you so frequently. My lust for your blood, and your lust for my power…But it doesn’t matter. Now we can be together forever.”
“Are you saying I’m a vampire?” she asked, faltering on her last word and feeling suddenly faint. Everyone in the room was watching her.
Jeno stroked her hair, the blond strands in stark contrast with his dark skin. “Not yet. First you must feed.”
“What?” She couldn’t breathe. The room was spinning. Her knees quivered and barely held her up. “I what?”
Jeno’s father stepped closer to her with the enthusiastic boy she had met two nights ago in the elevator. She recalled how happily he had turned himself invisible and had reminded her of her own excitement over possessing the powers of the vampire.
“When a human is drained by one of us, it dies,” Vladimir explained. “Unless it feeds on human blood. Then it turns.” He moved the boy between them. “You must drink or perish.”
The girl vampire to whom the boy “belonged” stood nearby and said, “Don’t think. Just drink.”
The same vampire had told Gertie when they had met not to think too hard and too deeply. Gertie remembered her exact words. The girl had said, “Life is what it is. Just enjoy it, dearie.”
Calandra, who’d remained at her father’s side during all of this, put an arm around Gertie. “The first time is the most difficult. You want to drink so badly, but you are also repulsed. After this, it will get easier. I promise. Just close your eyes.”
Gertie hadn’t expected such tenderness and compassion from someone who had attacked her the night Jeno had erased her memory.
Calandra lifted the human boy’s wrist, pierced it with her own fangs, and then offered the bleeding limb to Gertie.
Gertie stared at the blood in horror, yet her mouth began to salivate and her stomach to growl. She closed her eyes and fought back tears. She’d never meant to become a vampire. How had this happened? Full of sadness, regret, and a terrible longing for the Angelis family and for Hector, she put her lips to the boy’s wrist and drank.
“Turn me,” the boy pleaded. “I want to be like you.”
Gertie closed her eyes more tightly and gave into the desire to drink as she pressed her lips against his skin and sucked. After at least a dozen or more swallows of the warm, intoxicating liquid, she opened her eyes, refreshed. The room spun and danced for several minutes. She breathed in and out, feeling herself growing stronger. In all the stories she had read, the transformation from human to vampire was usually painful, as the mortal body died away and the immortal one took its place; but, she felt no pain. The warm blood moved through her veins, quenching and pleasing every cell in her body.
Something was happening to her bones, muscles, and skin. Gertie believed they had become denser, harder. Her nails, teeth and hair grew maybe a quarter of an inch. In addition to the superior vision and hearing she’d already experienced while infected with the vampire virus, she felt her body become a hardened, invigorated machine. She felt spastic and caged and wanted oh so badly to leap from the building and into the dark night, to be free. But before she could run, Calandra and Jeno had their arms around her, and both kissed her.
“Thank you for saving our father,” Calandra said. “We should all thank her, yes?” she said to the crowd of thirty or more vampires in the room. “Thank her and welcome her to our fold.”
Each of them came to Gertie and kissed her on her cheek or hand, even though she hadn’t saved Jeno’s father willingly. They had used her. Yet, she was moved by their gratitude, and she now realized they had used her out of desperation.
After they had all given Gertie their thanks and welcome, she stood in the center of the group beside Jeno and his family like royalty. The vampires looked to her in deference, because of her sacrifice, and probably, too, because Jeno was the son of their lord and they knew he loved her.
“What now, Lord Vladimir?” one of the vampires asked from across the room.
“My brothers and sisters,” Vladimir said. “I have had centuries to think about what I would do in the event that I was awakened. First, I shall seek counsel with our Lord Dionysus. My hope is that he will agree we should attack the city of Athens—and other cities, if necessary—until the gods of Mount Olympus become willing to hear us.”
No! Gertie thought, as shouts of approval rang throughout the room. Everyone turned their eyes on her and frowned.
“She’s new,” Jeno said in her defense. “Give her time to adjust.”
“We must no longer be treated as the scourge of the human race,” Vladimir said to her. He turned to the others. “For too long, we have suffered. We must be set free to live lives of prosperity, joy, and peace.”
Shouts and applause erupted in the room. Everyone there wore a smile, except Gertie, who wished she could disappear.
Jeno spoke to her telepathically, “Don’t be afraid, and remember that your thoughts are an open book until you learn how to block them.” He squeezed her hand.
She got the message. She focused on how happy Jeno and Calandra were to be reunited with their father, for seeing Jeno’s smile did bring her joy, even if everything else terrified her.
At that moment a dozen more vampires flocked in through the balcony window and hovered there, the leader pointing his finger at Vladimir in the center of the small, crowded room.
“Why should he lead us?” the vampire sneered. “He turned his back on us and has been locked away for over a millennium. What does he know of our suffering?”
Gertie glanced at Jeno, who squeezed her hand with reassurance.
Don’t worry, he said in her mind. I’ll take care of you.
“Believe me, I know of your suffering!” Vladimir said kindly. “Yes, it’s true that I abhorred what I’d—what we’d—become. I turned away from blood and chose nothingness.”
“Exactly!” the intruder said.
“But it was not nothingness I found as I lay there, day after day, year after year, century after century, listening to each and every one of your thoughts.” Vladimir raised his open palms. “I know your suffering. I know it all too well.”
“You were conscious?” a vampire from the crowd asked.
“Aware?” another asked.
“Yes,” Vladimir turned to make eye contact with each one there. “For centuries I have been helpless to respond to your suffering. But no more.”
The crowd hissed in surprise and shock.
The new group of vampires looked down at Jeno’s father with uncertainty. The others in the room became deathly still and quiet.
“Why shouldn’t Homer lead us?” the intruder shouted. “He’s as old as you and has suffered and fought alongside us.”
Jeno telepathically told Gertie that Homer was the leader of another clan, and that the vampires here belonged to his father’s clan.
“Where is Homer?” Vladimir glanced around the room.
“Not here,” another replied.
“I would gladly share his counsel, though perhaps he’s best at telling stories,” Vladimir said.
Laughter and snickering erupted, but Vladimir silenced them all. “That was no insult. Never underestimate the power of the storyteller.” Then he added. “I’m not a tyrant. You have nothing to fear from me. These people look to me to show them the way, but I would be glad to have Homer at my side. And it is Dionysus who shall lead us.”
The newcomers seemed pacified by Vladimir’s words.
“Dawn is about to break,” Vladimir continued, raking his hand through his ancient hair. “Tonight, we should reconvene to discuss our strategies. We should meet in the caves near the temple of our lord. For now, invite everyone you know, then return to your hotel rooms or to your caves, pray to our Lord Dionysus, and be watchful. Stay in groups. Go nowhere alone. Report any suspicious activity directly to me.”
The vampires filed out, like roaches in the Angelis apartment. Some left through the window and others through the door. Soon Gertie was alone in the room with Jeno and his sister and father.
It seemed their first concern was to make sure Gertie was okay, which both surprised and moved her, considering Vladimir had been trapped for centuries in a miserable state of consciousness. She was grateful, but what she really wanted was to be left alone so she could process what had happened to her. It hadn’t sunk in. She could say it over and over in her mind—I am a vampire—but it didn’t seem real.
Oops. She’d forgotten that they could hear her every thought.
“Your feelings are completely understandable,” Vladimir said. “Why don’t you lie down and rest?”
“We’ll talk outside.” Vladimir beckoned his children to follow him to the balcony where the night sky was still untouched by pre-dawn light.
Jeno kissed Gertie’s cheek and followed his father and sister outside.
Gertie lay down on one of the double beds and pulled the thick blankets up to her chin. She closed her eyes and thought that—just maybe—this had all been a bad dream. She would go to sleep and then, when she would awaken, she would find herself back home with the Angelis family. And she would be human.