Photo by Little Visuals
CHAPTER 4: THE DEVOTEES
The path continues through deep and impenetrable shadows for what feels like hours. Every now and again, I hear movement from either side of me, but when I look over, I can’t see anything. Each time I look, I feel the knot in my head tighten, as though I were using shadows.
“What family are you from, newbie?” asks Charlotte suddenly.
“Um,” I said. “I…”
“Orphan,” says Briella. “Found her in the forest.”
“Oh?” asks Charlotte. She turns, walking backwards and staring at me before smiling broadly yet again. “Orphans get special treatment here. At least, until we figure out what your family is. I’m going to bring you to the Leader.”
“What?” snaps Briella, hurrying to catch up to Charlotte. “Even orphans go through initiation first.”
“New protocol,” Charlotte says. “The Leader is sure she has seen the All, and she knows the All to be an orphan. All Orphans are to be sent to the Leader when they arrive.”
“Oh,” Briella says, falling back to me.
I hear a voice in my ear, as though Montero is whispering to me. “I don’t like this.”
“I’m not the goddamn All,” I whisper, hoping that Charlotte won’t hear me. “It’ll be fine.”
“Did you say something?” Charlotte asks.
I jump, looking up at her. “Um. I was just wondering… what are the All and the None?”
“Oh, you didn’t tell her?” Charlotte asks, staring reproachfully at Briella.
“I tried,” Briella says, smiling broadly. I notice again the purplish stains on her teeth. “She didn’t understand. If she is Mad, she hasn’t changed yet.”
“Hmph,” Charlotte says, rolling her eyes. “Ignore the Madmen. You’ll get used to them. The None is a vampire, born as an orphan, who doesn’t belong to a family. And the All belongs to all three families. When the two work together, they will have the power to bring down the Dynasty and free vampirekind to rule the world once more.”
I heard Montero’s voice in my ear again. “Shit.”
“How does that work?” I ask.
“Questions of how are stupid,” Briella says airily, waving her hand. “And pointless.”
“The All was born of a parent who had taken in the blood of other families,” says Charlotte. “Enough that their blood mixed with that of the other families when they Raised the All. The None… none know of their origin, except for they themself.” Charlotte sighs. “We have yet to find either.”
“Oh,” I say.
We walk the rest of the way in a dead silence broken only by the soft rustlings from the trees around us.
It’s nearly dawn by the time we arrive at the main body of the camp. It looks like a village; there are homes and little shops scattered about, varying in quality from beat-up shacks to lovely little cottages. People are wandering around between the buildings, buying clothing and decorations and various other knick-knacks. Some have the shadowed visages of vampires, and others have the colourless pallor of the Enchanted, humans who have become addicted to the thrill of vampire feedings, and as such will serve their vampire masters in order to experience it again. At one point, I even saw a flash of salt-and-pepper fur that looked like a werewolf. All of them smile and wave at Briella, Charlotte, and I as we pass. In the centre of the village, there’s a building that looks to be four or five stories tall that towers over the little single-level homes and shops around it.
“Hidden this one well,” Briella says.
“We didn’t want another Veracruz,” Charlotte explains.
I try to hide my flinch at the mention of Veracruz.
“Speaking of which,” Charlotte says, turning to look at me, “the Leader says that the perpetrator of the massacre was likely to be the All.”
“Pity no one who saw it survived,” Briella says. I try to ignore the way she glances over at me as she speaks.
“Pity,” Charlotte replies.
I chew on the inside of my lip as the knot in my head grows. They think I’m the All? What would that even mean?
What if I am the All?
“What can the All and the None do?” I ask, stepping towards Charlotte. “Like, why are they special?”
“My, Briella has done an awful job of teaching you, hasn’t she?” asks Charlotte. Briella scoffs, but Charlotte ignores her and continues. “The All has the powers of all of the families. Saviour telepathy, the shadow manipulation of the Damned, and the Madmen’s precognition. The None… well, again, not much is known about them. It is said that they have their own power, a power more intense than that of all of the families combined. No one knows what it is.”
I don’t know how to respond. I can manipulate shadows. I have telepathy, though it’s not as strong as Montero’s. The only thing I don’t have is precognition, but… if Briella was right this morning…
“Child?” Charlotte’s voice startles me out of my reverie. “Are you alright?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “And I’m not a child. Don’t call me that.”
“What should I call you instead?” asks Charlotte.
“Ava,” I say.
“Very well, then, Ava,” she says. By now, we’ve arrived at the building in the centre of town. Charlotte gestures to the door, reaching out with her other hand and grabbing Briella by the wrist. “The Leader is up on the top floor. You will not have trouble finding her. I wish you luck.”
“Why do I need luck?” I ask.
Charlotte only smiles and opens the door.
I close my eyes, steel myself, and then walk inside. The building is dark, dark enough that I have to widely expand my senses to see well enough to walk around. The sounds of the village clamour even through the stone walls, and I shudder as the knot in my head pulses and throbs.
Directly ahead of me, there is a spiral staircase leading up into the darkness above. I walk towards it, painfully aware of the echoing thuds of my feet on the stone, and climb upwards.
The fifth floor is just as dark as the first. I narrow my eyes, the shapes around me coming slowly into focus. Ahead of me, there is a long hallway that leads to a broad, thick wooden door. I reach my mind out, searching for anyone else on this floor. In this building. There, beyond the door, is one mind. The only one in the entire building. They are… she is excited. And a little bit afraid.
I start down the hallway, letting my senses dull so that my footsteps no long echo quite so loudly and neither do the conversations below me, and knock on the door. There is a brief silence, and then a soft, high-pitched, and oddly familiar voice calls, “Come in.”
I open the door, stepping into the room beyond and blinking in the sudden brightness, dulling my senses and feeling the knot in my head recede simultaneously. The room is still dim, lit only by the flickering glow of a half a dozen candles sitting on a desk across from me. In front of the desk is a broad, high-backed chair that hides the mind sitting within it from my view.
“Leader,” I say. “I’m an orphan… a new recruit. I was sent to see you–”
The chair spins, and I freeze. The smooth, amber skin, black eyes, chocolate hair, the marks of the Shadows running down from her severe centre part and down her nose and spreading around her neck, that knowing smile… I know that face. I know that woman.
My mind flies back in time, to a moment just like this one. I stood in front of this woman, in front of Dania Alvarez, the founder and leader of the Devotees, inside the Devotees headquarters in the centre of Veracruz. Just before I blew the city to hell and back.
I hear Montero’s voice, screaming in my ear, but I shut him out. I have to know how she survived. I have to make sure she stays dead this time.
“You died,” I stammer. “You died in Veracruz. I watched you die, and stay dead.”
“Ava Manolakos,” Dania says, her voice just as silkily smooth as it always had been, and her slight, perpetual smile widening. “I’ve been looking for you for a long time, now.”
“What the hell are you doing here? How did you live?” I snap.
“I am here because this is where my people are,” says Dania. “And because you would never return to Veracruz again. And I survived because a little spat from a youngling such as yourself would never have been enough to kill me.”
“A little–” I began, stepping towards her.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Dania says. “I’m willing to go along with your little scheme, Ava. I’m willing to let you stay, to let you report back to your Dynasty pigs about the activities of my followers, under one condition.”
“Why would I take conditions from you?”
“Because you other option is to be taken captive and forced to my side against your will,” says Dania.
“Take me captive? You and your followers can’t hold me,” I say. “You discovered that the hard way. I’ve killed you all before, and–”
“And look at how well it worked,” Dania interrupts. “Nearly a million innocents, mortals and magickal, dead forever, and me still alive. No, you won’t break again as you did in Veracruz.”
“What do you want with me?” I snap.
“Oh, come on, you’re smart, girl. You’ve surely figured it out by now.”
“Don’t call me ‘girl.’ I’m over a hundred years old–”
“And I’m several thousand.” Dania doesn’t seem to be much for letting others finish their sentences. “I will call you whatever I want. You know why we want you with us, Ava.”
I don’t want to say it. I won’t say it.
It’s the only choice. “I’m the All.”
Dania’s face breaks into a smile. “See, I knew you’d catch on. You’re our leader. You’re the one who is to lead us out of the captivity of the Dynasty and into a new era of freedom for all magickal folk. Not just vampires, but lycans and Fay and mages and ghouls and–”
“No,” I say, interrupting Dania’s tirade. “No. I’m not bringing down the Dynasty. They’re the only thing keeping the mortal world safe from us.”
“The mortal world?” Dania scoffs. “The mortal world means nothing to people such as us. How many years has it been since you’ve seen mortals as more than Enchanted servants? How long has it been since you cared for one of them?”
“That’s irrelevant,” I say. “Just because I personally don’t care for them doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be protected.”
“This is your destiny!” Dania says, her voice rising angrily. “All of our Madmen have seen it. The All will bring freedom to our kind. Go on. You are still resisting the changing of the Mad. Let yourself fall. Let your mind fall into the darkness and madness. That is the one ability you still lack. Become mad, and you will see your destiny as well.”
I hear footsteps behind me, and I whirl around to see three people– Enchanted, mortals– standing in front of the door with weapons in their hands. If I lash out, if I attack at all, they’ll die. The Enchanted are weak from their addiction.
I can’t kill any more.
“You will be allowed to leave,” says Dania. “But only once you have let yourself go mad. Once you see your destiny, the way it lays out before you, the beauty of it, then you will be allowed to go. And then you can begin to fulfill it, with me and my Devotees behind you.”
I don’t have a choice. I have to listen. To do what she wants me to.
I remember Briella and my conversation this evening.
“It’s like there’s a knot in the middle of your brain, pulling all of your thoughts into it and sending them through a strainer to the other side until this is that and that is this and wrong is right and right is wrong… My advice? Stop pulling at the knot gently. Just take a sword through it. Saves you a lot of trouble.”
I close my eyes, seeing the knot, pulsing and pounding and growing ever larger as it drags my thoughts into its pull, only to distort the world until nothing makes sense. It’s grown since this evening, grown tenfold, and it’s black and red and veined and revolting. Just looking at it makes me sick. It’s as though I’m staring into the very heart of evil. The very core of everything that’s wrong with the world, of everything that’s ever been wrong with the world. If I can untangle the knot– if I can destroy it– the world will be right. Everything will be right.
I visualize a sword materializing in my hand. At the sight of it, the knot quivers, almost in fear, and I feel a perverse thrill shoot through me. I raise the sword, charging at the knot. It pulses, growing more and more, darker and darker, and I bring the blade down with a yell and–
The knot dissolves. My eyes fly open. The world is glimmering, shining in a way that it never has before. Everything is clear. Everything makes sense. I see the future, stretched out before me, and I see what I want and what I need and how to make it happen. I see a way to never kill again. And then I realize. I realize the truth.
“Well?” asks Dania, staring at me expectantly. My eyes focus on her, narrowing like a hawk that has seen its prey, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Well what?” I ask.
“Do you see it? Do you see your future?”
I smile. “Yes. I do. I see the truth, Dania.”
“I knew it!” she shouts, jumping up and pumping her fists into the air. “I knew it, I knew it! I knew you were the one, I knew–”
“But you were wrong,” I say.
Dania falls still, her head turning to look at me. “No… no, I wasn’t wrong. I saw your power at Veracruz. I saw it firsthand. You… you’re more powerful than any vampire I’ve ever seen. You’re the All. You have to be!”
“You’re correct about my power,” I say. “You’re correct about my destiny, at least in part. But I am not the All.” I reach up, and a shockwave pulses out of my hand, like it did at Veracruz, except that this one is made out of pure light instead of pure shadow. It is more concentrated, more focused; meant to break through matter, not souls. Meant to leave my victims alive. The wave smacks into the ceiling, and the rocks above us shatter, falling onto the ground. The orange light of dawn blazes into the room, and Dania screams as her hands, the only part of her not protected by the fallen rocks, shrivel and crumble to dust.
“No,” she yells. “No!”
“I am not the All,” I say. “I’m the None.” And with that, I shoot myself upwards on beams of pure light, using my power– a power no vampire possesses, the power of the sun– to fly over the commune. I land in front of a house, feeling Briella’s mind within, and bang on the door.
“What’s up?” Briella’s voice calls sleepily. “You’ve gotta be crazy to wake me up at this hour–”
The door opens, and I throw a shadow over it to protect Briella from the sun as she blinks out at me.
“Ava,” she says. “Whoa…”
“Grab Stabby,” I say. “We have work to do. And I need your help.”
“What’s going on?” she asks. Then her eyes widen, and she looks me up and down. “You found out. You did it. You know…”
“I’m the None,” I say. “And we’re going to take over the Dynasty.”