Gregg was long gone by the time Selina awoke from her day's slumber to greet the night. But he had left her explicit instructions chores that she was required to accomplish by the time he returned later. Having discovered the note, written carelessly on a sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper, Selina could only sigh at what had to be done. But having noticed how he ended the note, she blushed and quickly stuffed the note into her pants pocket, donned her beloved red sweater, and ascended the stairs.
In the kitchen, Selina found Liz sitting at the dining table, staring blankly at the pages of some book. Her eyes darted carelessly across the page. Selina gently floated over to the table and gave it a good slam, waking Liz from her literature-bound stupor.
"Alright, listen up, freak," Selina began, her voice already tinged in sour grapes, "I've been told to teach you some junk."
"I do like learning," Liz smiled, closing her book with a cheer that made Selina roll her eyes in annoyance. It was much too early in the night for Selina to deal with optimism.
"Good," Selina replied pulling out the chair across the table from Liz. "So let's get down to the nitty-gritty. You're a daywalker."
"And you're a nightwalker," came Liz's happy, clueless response.
"Right. I walk the night, you walk the day. Simple stuff. We're similar, but different. Still with me?"
Liz nodded. A vibrant colour had returned to her face, in sheer defiance of the malnourished thing she had been only a week ago. It was an amazing sight to see a girl come back to full health from a life of near-death.
"We're both vampires. Gah, I hate that word. But like it or not, we're the same type of thing. Faster and stronger than regular people. We can walk on the walls, float around. But you know all this."
Liz nodded again. She knew all this already, but Selina felt the need to remind her. Liz was an absent-minded sort of person, and she had to start from zero.
"One thing you probably don't realize is that you're completely blood-starved."
"Blood-starved?" asked Liz innocently, her bright eyes scanning Selina for some sort of empathy. But there was none to be found in Selina's darker eyes. There was only annoyance and cynicism.
Carefully, Selina pushed herself back from the table and strolled over to the fridge. After opening it, she began shuffling around some things, and eventually emerged with a mason jar filled with a familiar crimson liquid. She hurriedly made her way back to the table, but fumbled around with the jar in her hands. There was an almost loving touch to the way she ran her fingertips across the glass surface, and her eyes revealed some sort of cherished nature relating to the liquid within. With a light sigh, she placed the jar on the table in front of Liz.
"This is what you need to stay strong," Selina explained, taking her place at the table opposite Liz. "It'll keep you healthy. There are alternatives to it that might settle your hunger for a little while, like milk or red meat, but this is what you need to be at your prime. It's what's accelerated your recovery. When you fed off Cooper and that psycho Langley, you got a healthy dose. But you need to keep it up, or else you'll start to deteriorate again."
"I know about feeding," Liz said, eyeing the jar. "But I don't really like it. It involves hurting someone else."
"Hey, if you choose the right person, sometimes they like it," Selina said, shrugging. "Some people find it really pleasurable to be fed on."
There was an awkward pause before Liz responded. Selina could feel herself becoming more uncomfortable as the lesson unwound.
"Like Gregg?" she asked with wide eyes. Selina could only shrink back in embarrassment and anger. What went on between them was none of Liz's business. How dare she -
"I mean, I've seen those cute looks you shoot each other from time to time, and I just figured -"
"Shut up and drink," Selina interrupted, opening the top of the mason jar. "This is prime quality blood here, and I don't want it going to waste."
"Where did it come from?" asked Liz as she lifted the jar and sniffed it. As she did so, the aroma beckoned her head forward, like a natural instinct of a child nursing. Hesitantly, she gave the jar a quick sip. Her pupils widened at how good it tasted, and she couldn't help herself. In one fell swoop, she drained the entire jar and smacked it back down on the table, as though it were the most refreshing beer on a hot day.
"None of your business," Selina responded, but only after Liz had drank the entire thing. Upon taking the jar back into her own hands, Selina inspected the few drops that remained inside. "Damn, you drank it all. Now I have to either go out or wait til Gregg comes home."
"That blood was his?" asked Liz, smirking. She knew exactly what was going on between them now. While innocent by nature, Liz was beginning to pick up on social cues and clues. Though neglected, she was not a dull person by any measure.
"Alright, lesson over, then," Selina muttered, tossing the jar in the kitchen sink. "If you keep making these little assumptions, these lessons will be damn quick."
And with her parting words, Selina made for the back door, being sure to close it behind her before leaping off into the night sky to try to find a suitable meal, leaving Liz alone in the house. Back by her lonesome, Liz returned to her book, rather full and happy. It had been a quick lesson, but she had learned more than enough for one day, though not particularly about what Selina had intended. After a page or two, a thought occurred to Liz. Selina didn't teach her willingly. She did so because someone had told her to. Liz smiled again at the thought of Selina and Gregg. She had taught Liz because Gregg asked her to. And Selina had done so willingly.
"Maaaaybe for hiiiim," Liz said in a sing-song voice before returning to her book.
With forensics books from his personal library in tow, Gregg pulled into the semi-filled parking lot of The Brick House, parking as close to the spot the van had been parked in about a week prior. As he stepped out into the cold evening air, he shivered a bit and buttoned up his pea coat, hoping the November chill creeping up on Northern Jersey would be merciful this year. But as he sat and examined the scene with a flashlight in hand, he knew it wouldn't pan out that way. His breath emerged from his mouth in a thick fog, making the search for any stray bullet holes in a concrete almost fruitless. Almost.
As he was about ready to give it up, he spotted it: a single small round hole in the parking lot's surface, a few feet away from his car. Gasping a bit in excitement, he pulled a small bit of string from his pocket. Using what he'd read about, he began to scope out a trajectory for the bullet's path. Within the span of about five minutes, he had it: a vague concept of exactly where the gunman must have been standing: the roof of The Brick House itself. Now incredibly excited, Gregg locked his car doors and began circling the building, looking for some sort of access to the roof. He soon found it in the alleyway between The Brick House and some unnamed apartment building: a metal ladder. Taking hold of the cold rungs beneath his palms, he carefully climbed his way up, not stopping for a moment in fear of looking down. He was never one for great heights, even if it was only about three stories to the ground.
As he reached the top, Gregg pulled himself up onto his stomach and quickly scrambled away from the edge, in the process catching a glimpse of the height he had climbed. His heart began to race, but his logical side quickly took him over and he turned his mind back to the matter at hand. Struggling to his feet, there was no denying what lay before him. His breath caught in his throat, he approached something he was hoping not to find: a charred skeleton, lying near the front edge of the rooftop.
"Hello, Mr. Gunman," Gregg said aloud, smirking at how cleverly he had just deduced everything. He felt like a regular Sherlock Holmes. But then the horror of the moment sunk in. A charred skeleton...
"Oh..." Gregg whispered, thinking for a moment. Dead gunman. But why dead? Why burned? Knowing very well what this might entail, Gregg sighed exasperatedly. Demonic creatures. Something with the power of fire burned this gunman right down to his skeleton, leaving absolutely nothing. Utterly ruthless. What other creature could do such a thing without emotion?
Then, he noticed the twinkle of something with a distinct sheen to it, lying in the corner next to a heating grate. Curious, Gregg stepped carefully over the skeleton and reached down to retrieve the object. Much to his chagrin, his hand returned holding a charred revolver. But there was something oddly familiar about this gun. Gregg had never grown up around firearms, and now holding one in his hand was to him like holding a deadly cobra by the tail. He didn't quite know how to hold it, and kept the entire thing at arm's length away from his face. But there was no denying he had seen this gun before. He just couldn't figure out where.
"Damn it," he muttered to himself, pocketing the revolver, despite his own internal protests not to do so. Someone would find the skeleton eventually. And there would be questions. Plucking through his pockets, Gregg found a cruddy old napkin and began wiping his prints from the scene. By the time he had finished, most cars had disappeared from The Brick House parking lot, leaving him to walk back to his car in the dark, guided only by a single light over the kitchen's entrance to the building. After the wobbly climb back down, Gregg quickly sped away from the scene, hoping that nothing had seen him in the dark of the night.
"This is a private meeting," the text had said.
Alex could barely contain himself as he drove out past the rows of housing complexes and onto the back roads of Ganton, where the trees mask the sky, and all turns to darkness, even during the day. It was the shadiest of places perfect for a meeting like this. Alex had grown accustomed to crawling through woodsy brush in order to attend Clarissa's little meetings, and was quite prepared to do some heavy hiking. But when he reached the end of the road, culminating in a barren cul-de-sac, he was a bit confused. He'd never really driven out to this particular area, and he had no idea what to expect. Parking, he made his way out of his sedan and began scouring the woods for some sort of path or entranceway. Finding no apparent entrance, Alex moved for the brush, pushing aside a few branches and plunging foot first into the forest.
He knew where he needed to go, but the journey was nevertheless perilous. It was way past dusk now, and maneuvering the dark woods was quite a daunting task. Alex had always been wary of local wildlife. There were two venomous snakes native to New Jersey, and one of Alex's worst nightmares was to step on a snake nest. So naturally, he took to his trek carefully, being sure each step was sound. In the gloom of the night, he could see his target in the distance: the old town reservoir, now left to stagnate and collect excess rainwater dripping down from the hills.
As he approached the gray brick of the reservoir, he noticed, among the glow of the reservoir in the full moon's light, a female figure waiting for him. As he stumbled out of the woods and onto the brick, Clarissa turned to greet him.
"I'm glad you came," she said, devoid of any emotion. Alex had been anticipating a bit of a warmer welcome.
"Yeah, fun walk in the woods," replied Alex, pulling a twig out of his hair and tossing it into the rancid green water nearby. "So... private meeting?"
"Get your brain out of the gutter," snarled Clarissa. This was clearly not what Alex had been hoping for, but he had to be honest with himself. He actually expected this hostility.
"Sorry," Alex sighed, rubbing the back of his head, if for no other reason than to find something to do with his hands. "So just you and me?"
"You're the only one I figured this was worth telling to," Clarissa responded, turning to face him. "The others wouldn't understand."
"They've found out what I'm doing," Clarissa said, tears beginning to well up in her bright eyes. Sniffling, she wiped them away, hoping to keep some demeanor of strength in front of Alex. "They know I'm helping you. I have to run. I have to go. Get as far away as possible."
"What? No!" Alex cried, approaching her and placing a hand on her shoulder in a vain attempt to comfort her. "We need you."
"Oh, so that's it?" Clarissa asked, a new anger brewing in her voice. "That's what I am to you? Just something to use so you can stay alive? F--k you. Do you know what helping you has cost me? I've been outcasted. I'm not welcome in my own family."
"Your family?" Replied Alex, reeling back in disgust. "Can you call a legion of demons a family? That's not a family."
"What would you know about me? About my kind?" Clarissa shot back, pushing his hand off her shoulder and stepping back into a defensive position. "I gave up everything for you, and all you can say is that I don't know what family means. I know what it means. I know what it means to lose a family now, thanks to you!"
"I didn't ask you to help us!" Alex fired at her, glaring. "That was your decision! You could have easily just accomplished your little mission, done me raw, and killed me. Simple. But you decided to help instead. I don't know what goes through your pretty little head, but this is your fault in the end. This is on your shoulders. Your decision."
For a moment, Clarissa stood in defiance, absorbing his words. They stung like a thousand needles in her skin. They crawled around in her stomach, and slowly made her sick. But what he was saying was true. It was her decision to defy orders. Now came the consequences. But as right as Alex was, she would never admit it. This was her pain, and it needed an outlet.
"You and your friends can go right to hell," Clarissa finally mumbled, crossing her arms to feel secure again.
"We will if you run away," Alex sighed, finally giving up on his own anger. There was no point in fighting this. Clarissa had already made up her mind about who to blame and what had to be done. Alex gave a hard shrug.
"I'll be lost when you're gone," he admitted, hoping this might have some effect on her. But it was a pointless endeavor. Clarissa looked back to him with blank eyes. There was nothing left that could be said to change her mind. This was it.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, just audibly enough for Alex to hear. As he took the words in, he witnessed something he thought he never would. Clarissa began to change. Taking a careful step backwards, Alex watched in awe as Clarissa fell to a crouched position. From her pores came an ethereal black smoke, which wrapped around her like a ribbon. As it touched certain parts of her skin, patches of scales emerged. Her face began morphing into only a dire simulation of the beauty it once was. Her teeth were almost instantaneously sharpened to rows of razor-sharp fangs, accenting her still rather pretty face. He hands scrunched up, and when she released her muscles, the bones in her fingers extended into horrid claws. Before long, she had taken up her true succubus form.
For one instant, Alex caught the demonic Clarissa's gaze. There was something there an ominous feeling of loss and hurt. Like turning a switch, Alex felt his disdain for her decisions immediately melt away to empathy and regret. In those eyes were the thousand words the two had never had the opportunity to say. They had met under evil circumstances, and were now parting under different ones. There was never a moment in time this could have been avoided. Fate had conspired against them. Two different creatures, lost in a tale not of their making.
Clarissa looked away from Alex and leapt from the reservoir, disappearing into the inky black of the woods below. Long after she had gone, Alex sat on the edge of the reservoir, wringing his hands together, unable to overcome the feeling that he had just lost one of the most important parts of his life.
"Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment."
- William Shakespeare.
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act III, Scene I