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The Sanguine Girls - The Core Three
A long, sleek jet black car sped down the narrow road and three vampires sat inside. The driver was a boy of about eighteen, with straight black hair that matched the car’s exterior and dark, sparkling eyes. He was dressed in dark-wash jeans and a tight red T-shirt that revealed his impressive muscles. Both of the girls were about fifteen, with pale skin. The one in the passenger seat had dark blond hair that fell in waves to just past her shoulders and bright hazel eyes that shined even in the darkness. She had ringed them in red eyeliner and mascara, and wore a black tank top with a silver rose stitched into it and red jeans with a black studded belt. The other vampire girl sat behind the two, leaning forward with her chin resting in her palm. Her brown hair came to her elbow in a loose braid that fell across her shoulder and her chocolate brown eyes popped with bright purple liner and black mascara. She wore a simple off-the-shoulder top paired with skinny gray jeans and knee-high boots. All three were silent as they drove through the moonlit night.
The boy, Kamal, switched his half-smiling gaze from the blonde vampire, Scarlett, to the dark road ahead. The moon was high in the sky, illuminating his face. A moment later he turned back to look at her, his eyes sparkling brighter. He looked almost as if he were in pain.
“What?” she exclaimed. The last vampire, Erin, nudged Scarlett’s arm and mouthed, “He likes you.” Scarlett turned quickly away from her.
“Nothing, it’s just,” he said, switching his gaze to the road again, “I mean, do you know how it feels to die?” His face was impassive, keeping Scarlett from reading his emotions in his countenance.
“No, I don’t! How would I know how it feels to die? Am I really dead?” She was aggravated; it felt as though they had had this conversation time and time again. She didn’t want to discuss it again. She exchanged a glance with Erin, who looked bored rather than annoyed. She had heard this same conversation as many times as Scarlett had talked through it.
“Yes,” Kamal answered simply.
Scarlett waited, fuming. She could tell he was pleased; there was triumph in his face as she glared at him. Her glare was icy. Slowly, the glower melted into misery and her shoulders slumped.
“I didn’t want to die,” she said softly. The edge of fear was easy to detect if you knew it well enough. Kamal made an annoyed sound in his throat and twisted to look at her.
“I know, Scarlett, but you did. Get over it.”
Scarlett folded her arms tightly across her chest. She hated when he used that voice and attitude with her. He forced her into the full reality of life, always straight-up fact. He couldn’t let her live in a fantasy world, not even for a little while.
“But I’m here, in this world, in human flesh. Well, aren’t I?” she retorted bitterly. She just barely heard Erin mutter something like, “Well, not quite human….” Scarlett cast her a dirty look and turned back to Kamal.
“Yes,” he said shortly, jerking his head toward Erin. She shrugged apologetically to Scarlett, her face pleading. But she was still frustrated with Kamal; one word, that was all she got.
“Stop with the one-syllable thing. You know I hate that!” she complained. She slid down in her seat and stared grumpily out the windshield. She wished that she could think of something to annoy him the same as he annoyed her. Maybe she could….
“Sure,” Kamal said, tauntingly now. Scarlett closed her eyes, willing her fangs to stay hidden. She opened her eyes very slowly, breathing deeply through her nose. Her eyes shot needles at Kamal as she glowered icily at him.
“Stop. That. Right. Now!” she commanded, hissing the words one breath at a time. She heard him chuckle, low and long, and then growing louder. All of a sudden, the car tires screeched as he slammed the steering wheel to one side. Scarlett and Erin were thrown to the right as he pulled a sharp U-turn in the narrow road.
“Scarlett! You made me miss the turn. You were supposed to be telling me when to turn!” he raged at her. Her face lit up as an idea struck her. She scooted toward him in the seat and leaned on the center console in a way that put her shoulder only a half-inch from his. She smiled sweetly as he eyed her suspiciously.
“So…are you saying I’m not in charge anymore?” she asked innocently, sounding like a small girl. She had become playful and teasing in seconds, her bottom lip jutting out the smallest amount. She wanted to play with his mind, to annoy him the way he had annoyed her. She was bored with his constant calm; she needed to have a little fun with him. His expression was hard, his jaw tense and his eyes fixed straight ahead.
“Yes. That is exactly what I’m saying,” he replied stiffly, barely moving his lips as he spoke. Scarlett grinned.
“So now you’re in charge?” she teased. She was having fun, and was so excited that she had found out how to annoy him that she had forgotten she was supposed to be mad at him. In the back, Erin pressed a hand to her mouth, stifling her giggle.
“Yes.” Kamal’s voice was deflated. Scarlett knew she had won; she also knew he would never admit it, even deny it. Her fun was hardly over, however.
“So, what now? You’re going to get us killed or something?” She smiled again as he struggled for words.
“Shut up!” he said eventually. He was really furious now, but neither Scarlett nor Erin were exactly sure why. Scarlett was about to speak when Erin laid a hand on her shoulder, a silent command to wait until Kamal had calmed slightly. Scarlett acquiesced and waited until his breathing was back to normal.
“So, why do you want to know how it feels…to die?” she asked. Kamal turned his head slowly to look at her, his eyes cast into shadow despite the bright moon. Something in his expression told the girls that they weren’t ready for the answer.
The car turned suddenly onto a dirt road hardly ten feet wide and closely lined on either side by dead trees overgrown by barbed wire vine. Another plant grew intertwined with the vine. This one had dark purple leaves, and snow white blooms streaked with blood red in the petals. The dead branches overhead cast sickly shadows in the bright moonlight. Kamal slowed the car to a crawl and when he spoke, his voice was a whisper.
“Keep a sharp look-out. I’ve dealt with these people before, and they can be…difficult, for lack of a better term. They’ve any number of brutish creatures and minions at their command. One good thing is that they won’t attack without undeniable reason.” All three of them were constantly scanning the thick undergrowth with searching eyes. Erin thought she saw something move in the trees to her left and turned quickly. Scarlett turned with her and saw it too. It was a large, hulking creature with a height of at least ten feet. It stayed several feet back from the car, the shadows hiding its greater detail. Kamal glanced in the rearview mirror and nodded grimly.
“What is it?” Scarlett asked, her voice half horrified and half intrigued.
“A member of the Shin-tor clan. Huge, ugly things and hard to debate with unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Excellent warriors and guards. Their best trait is their fur coat; it’s a soft as velvet when it’s cared for well. Catches a pretty good price as well. There are more in the woods around us,” Kamal told the girls, scanning the plants again.
“But why send only one out?” Erin queried, glancing at Kamal then quickly back at the Shin-tor.
“Because if you’re an enemy, then you would challenge just one. It’s a way of finding out if the intruder is malicious or not.”
Scarlett opened her mouth, but Kamal guessed her next question and answered before she could speak. “There are probably about five hundred Shin-tor every hundred yards or so. I’ve not heard of one person who meant harm to the rulers of this place that got past the first of their guards. Even an incredibly powerful magician would be overcome by sheer numbers,” he explained.
Erin and Scarlett caught each others gaze and mouthed at the same time, “Wow.” When they looked to the front again, they saw two small rectangles of light about fifty yards ahead. Kamal’s gazed was fixed on the glowing light, his expression drained of emotion.
“Listen closely, you two. These people are generally peaceful, but they are proud beyond measure. You would be lucky to insult them and live through it, even if the slight was accidental. They also charge high prices for favors, and give hardly any payment for jobs done for them,” he warned.
“We don’t have any money,” Scarlett replied. Kamal chuckled and shook his head.
“Alas, if only money were what they asked,” he said wishfully. They were almost to the two glowing rectangles that were now shown as windows in a tall, thin house. The structure was of gray marble and the door was made of cherry wood. Three Shin-tor approached the car with long, rolling steps. They were hunched, but still stood at twice Scarlett’s height. They wore only leather loincloths and carried long javelins and heavy hammers at their waist. Their huge shaggy heads held large pink noses, small eyes in proportion, and snouts that jutted out so that long white fangs rose up from their lower jaw. The largest of the three approached the driver window and Kamal lowered it slowly. He pressed a finger to his lips before turning to the beast outside the car. It crouched down to his level and peered into the car at Scarlett and Erin.
“Name?” he grunted and his breath, instead of being the horrid stench they had imagined, smelled of pine and fresh fish.
“Kamal, of the North,” Kamal said steadily.
“Trusted friends. We mean no harm.”
“What are you?” the Shin-tor asked. Scarlett, affronted, was about to ask what he was when Kamal rested his hand on hers for a brief moment to silence her. She felt her cheeks grow warm and slid down in the seat. She saw Erin grinning widely and stuck her tongue out at her.
“Vampires, all of us,” Kamal told him. The creature nodded and stood up for a brief moment before crouching down again.
“Are you expected, or’ve you come for a favor?”
“We’ve come to ask assistance from your mistresses. I am a well-known friend to the Council. They will know me,” Kamal replied smoothly.
“Come,” the Shin-tor commanded. Kamal undid his seatbelt and slid out of the car. A moment later, Scarlett and Erin followed suit more slowly. They stayed close together and trailed right behind Kamal, unwilling to allow much space between them. The Shin-tor lumbered ahead and lead them up to the door of cherry wood. The girls noticed that the other two Shin-tor were following uncomfortably close behind them. They were herded into the house and down a wide hallway with white walls and light-colored wooden floors. The walls were bare save the oil lamps that hung on hooks every yard or so along the corridor. The group came upon a pair of double doors with mirrors instead of wood or glass.
“Why are there mirrors?” Scarlett whispered to Erin, eyeing the doors warily.
“Probably double-sided glass. You know the kind that is a mirror on one side and see-through on the other. The stuff they have in police departments,” Erin replied softly. Scarlett nodded and watched as the leading Shin-tor produced a ring of keys from some hidden pocket. It had about five dozen keys on it, but he seemed to know exactly which one to find. Mere seconds later, the doors swung wide to reveal a large room that didn’t look as if it could fit in the house. This one was well-lit by a huge crystal chandelier that hung majestically from the ceiling. The small, multi-colored gems threw rainbows across the walls, which were white just like the hallway. The floors were of the same wood, but a long purple rug ran up the center of the room, leading to a circular table. Around the table sat ten well-dressed figures, each in a different color. One thing that Erin noticed was that they were each dressed in different styles and time frames; none were dressed the same as another. They were all women, as they all wore a dress of gown of some kind.
The one farthest from the guests wore a dark gray gown and her white hair was pulled back severely into a bun at the back of her head. To her left sat a younger woman with pale skin and cropped black hair who wore a dress of deep green. The next was between the ages of the first two; she wore a high-necked, pink blouse with a long skirt several shades lighter. Following her was a very old, wrinkled lady with gray hair and a billowing, blue-and-black gown. The next lady looked like her granddaughter. She had tumbling blonde hair and wore a sky blue cocktail dress with embroidery of white spirals. The sixth of the women was middle-aged and sat with her back very straight. She was dressed in a light green gown strung with delicate silver chains. The next was a twin to the woman before her, though her eyes seemed happier and she wore a long chocolate-colored dress with wide sleeves and a white knitted shawl. The next two were twins as well, and looked to be in their mid-twenties and had dark brown skin. The first of the two had slightly darker skin, and wore a knee-length strapless dress the same color as a tangerine. The second looked sad, her eyes staring at her lap. She was dressed in a long-sleeved red gown that looked at though it would sweep the floor when she stood. The tenth lady was middle-aged, with light brown hair that reached her shoulders. She was dressed in a simple purple gown with sleeves that settled just bellow her shoulders. All ten of them surveyed the three guests silently and impassively, except for the twin dressed in red. Kamal waited at the Shin-tor stepped back to the glass doors as guards.
Minutes later, the white-haired woman smiled, revealing perfectly straight teeth. She rose smoothly from her chair and strode around the table, followed quickly by the one in dark green. The pair approached Kamal and seemed not to notice Scarlett or Erin. The elder of the two looked him up and down, as though she were judging damage.
“Well, well. Kamal, you look almost the same as our last encounter. I trust you are doing well?” she said politely. Kamal inclined his head, but did not return her smile.
“Indeed, ma’am, your trust is well set. I hope the same for you, of course,” he replied. The lady smiled and turned to whisper in the younger woman’s ear. She nodded and returned to her seat.
“Please, Kamal, you pain us all with your mystery. You must introduce your lovely friends,” the lady requested. She turned and went back to sit at the table, and then snapped loudly. The table and chairs rose into the air, and then the table split cleanly in two with five of the women on each half. When the tables settled again they formed a V, into which Kamal stepped and the girls followed reluctantly.
“I am familiar to all of you, I am sure,” Kamal began, and looked at each of them in turn. None of them moved. “This is Scarlett of the South-east, and this is Erin of the South-east as well. They are trusted friends of mine, and we have come to ask a favor of you.”
Kamal waited and clasped his hands behind his back, his feet spread shoulder-width apart. The woman in gray stood again, but stayed where she was this time.
“Welcome, Scarlett and Erin. We trust Kamal quite well; we are old friends, in fact. And a friend of a friend is our friend, as well,” she decreed. “I am Onyx.” She sat and looked to her left.
“Emerald,” said the lady in dark green.
“Rose,” stated the next.
“Sapphire.” This woman wore the blue-and-black.
“Sky.” This was Sapphire’s granddaughter that wore the light blue. On the other tip of the V, the sixth woman continued.
“Cocoa,” said the next, smiling warmly at the trio.
“Pumpkin.” This was the first of the brown-skinned twins.
“Ruby,” the sad-looking woman said quietly, still not meeting the gaze of anyone in the room.
“Violet,” stated the last of the women. Erin and Scarlett watched Kamal closely, trying to figure out if they were supposed to speak or not.
“It is a pleasure to see you again, my ladies. And it is the pleasure of my companions to make your acquaintance. The highest of pleasures, of course,” Kamal said steadily, but despite his words, he still did not smile.
“Oh, why won’t you do away with the formalities, Kamal? It’s been decades since last we met. Haven’t you any tales of bravery to tell us?” Sky complained, her face morphing into a pout.
“Ladies of the Council,” Kamal began, ignoring Sky, “I have come to you with a large request. My companions and I have been traveling now for nearly two years without rest, and we are truly exhausted. I ask that you assist us, that you harbor us here. It would not be for long, I assure you, a month perhaps. We merely need time to recuperate, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“Well, of course!” Sky burst out, clapping her hands together. “It is done. I shall have some of the help arrange rooms for you immediately.”
As she started to get to her feet, Onyx stood, her chair falling to the floor behind her. She stormed around the table to Kamal, pushing Sky back into her seat as she went. Kamal pushed Scarlett and Erin behind him protectively as Onyx approached.
“You have an objection, my Lady?” he said carefully.
“I do, Kamal! You expect us to simply accept your terms? You and your…friends stay here for a month, and then you leave?” Onyx said furiously. Erin and Scarlett exchanged a glanced behind Kamal.
“I hardly expect to give you nothing in return. We are fully capable of performing tasks here during are stay,” he replied.
“You ought to know better, Kamal. We have known these girls all of ten minutes. There is no way we can trust them with even the smallest task, much less the honor of staying here a night.”
“Lady Onyx, you trust me. I promise you that these girls are the most trustworthy and honest and courageous vampires you have ever met. They are quite extraordinary,” Kamal replied. Behind him, Scarlett’s jaw dropped in shock. Kamal had never said anything so kind about either of them before.
“You dare,” Onyx said, her voice low and seething. “You dare to question my word; you dare to challenge your opinion against mine. You insubordinate child, you know nothing! My word is law in this council! Mine!” Her voice had risen to a scream and she pulled her hand back. She let his snap forward, slapping Kamal across the face with the back of her hand. He yelled shortly and fell to the floor, his hands pressed to his cheek. Erin fell to her knees beside him, while Scarlett turned on Onyx.
“What the hell was that?” she shouted.
“He only got what he deserved, you idiot girl,” Onyx said calmly, wrinkling her nose as she looked Scarlett up and down.
“He didn’t deserve that! If anyone does, it’s you, you miserable old hag!” Scarlett replied scathingly. She turned and knelt down beside Erin, who had Kamal propped up against her knees. Where Onyx’s ring had struck him there was a long, deep gash, bleeding steadily.
“You don’t turn your back on me! My word is law!” Onyx screamed furiously. The moment she finished speaking, a small door in the corner started rattling and shaking on its hinges. Onyx whirled in its direction, her face suddenly terrified. Erin looked up at the door, curious and afraid. She rose to her feet, gently moving Kamal into Scarlett’s lap, who gazed at him worriedly. His eyelids fluttered and opened, and he smiled.
“You okay?” Scarlett asked quietly.
“Better than okay. We’re saved now, Scarlett. Help me up, will you?” he replied. She got to her feet and took his hand, pulling him up. He leaned on her for support, but his eyes were fixed firmly on the rattling door. It had started to glow from behind and, all of a sudden, it exploded from its hinges with a loud bang. A blinding white light shone from the doorway and all of them shielded their eyes from the glow.
“My word is law,” a voice said from within the light. It dimmed down and Scarlett laughed out loud when she saw the source of the voice and glow. It was yet another woman, but she looked to be older than all the rest combined. Her face was lined with wrinkles and she hobbled toward them slowly. All was silent until she stood face-to-face with Onyx, who slowly sank into a curtsy. Scarlett smirked behind her.
“My Lady,” Onyx said politely, not looking the older woman in the face.
“Onyx, you have disgraced this Council. You ought to know better than anyone that it is my word that is law. I’ve half a mind to banish you right this second,” the woman said forcefully.
“I was wrong to speak without thinking first, my Lady. I shan’t do so again,” Onyx replied contritely.
“You have made worse mistakes than that tonight. Our friend Kamal is as worthy as any of us, perhaps more so in come cases. If he says with all his sincerity that his companions are trustworthy, then they are.”
The woman brushed past Onyx to stand in front of Erin, Scarlett, and Kamal. Her expression had shifted from cold and critical to welcoming. She took one of Erin and Scarlett’s hands in each of her own, and planted a small kiss on Kamal’s forehead. He smiled warmly at her and she laughed quietly.
“You haven’t changed a bit, child, in all these years,” she said fondly. “And these lovely girls must be Scarlett and Erin! Oh, you didn’t do them justice in your letter.”
Scarlett looked at Kamal curiously and Erin smiled.
“You wrote about us?” Scarlett said quietly. Kamal shrugged, grinning, and the woman laughed again.
“Oh, do excuse me, I’ve forgotten myself. I am Ivory, the eleventh member of this Council, and—for all relevant purposes—its founder also. Kamal is something of a…son to me, I suppose would be the best term for it,” she said kindly. Then, with a more business-like tone, “I understand that you would like to stay here for a time. That can most certainly be arranged.”
“Lady Ivory, if I may, I would like to withdraw my request,” Kamal said quickly. Erin and Scarlett glanced at each other forebodingly, while Ivory surveyed him for a moment.
“Are you quite sure, Kamal?” she asked.
“Yes, my Lady, I am.”
Ivory sighed and nodded understandingly. “Very well, child. But, please, accept this as a token of my affection,” she replied, pulling an amulet from her pocket. She handed it to Kamal and folded his fingers over it. He nodded, his eyes understanding, slipped the amulet into his pocket, and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“Go now. Go change the world for me,” Ivory replied. Kamal nodded again and turned away from her, leading Scarlett and Erin out of the room. They walked back down the hallway, past the Shin-tor guards, and out to the car. Scarlett climbed into the driver’s seat, for Kamal was looking paler than ever. As they started back down the dirt road, Erin pulled a first aid kit out of her backpack.
“You never know,” she defended herself when Scarlett looked at her with eyebrows raised. She cleaned Kamal’s wound gently and, after dabbing on an ointment, taped a thin bandage over the cut.
“That was some ring,” Scarlett commented as Erin packed up the bandages again.
“Tell me about it! Why would anyone want a ring like that?” Erin asked incredulously. Kamal straightened up in his seat, wincing.
“Only Onyx would. She’s cordial enough most of the time, but there’s an underlying sadist for sure. Ivory’s the only person who has any control over her,” he said. He took the amulet out of his pocket, turning it over in his hands.
“Okay, so what is that thing?” Scarlett asked.
“I’ve no idea. It’s got to have some sort of supernatural power, but I’ve never seen this particular amulet before,” Kamal said, puzzled.
“She has more?”
“Oh, of course. She’s over a thousand years old, so as you can imagine, she’s had some spare time on her hands. She’s used it quite efficiently, too.”
Just as Scarlett was about to reply, there was a loud explosion from the back of the car, followed by a terrible, drawn-out screeching.
“What the—” she began, but Kamal cut her off.
“Damn it! Onyx must have had one of the Shin-tor rig the car so that one of the tires would burst not long after we left,” he exclaimed. “Scarlett, pull over!”