We were in the middle of drafting up plans for our training sessions almost a week later – discussing what we would teach in what order, how we would break down each lesson, and so on – when a knock sounded at our door late one night.
We all looked at each other, somewhat confused and then alarmed when we realized none of us were expecting company. Gil would never visit us at our apartment without calling first, and we didn’t have other friends who stopped by.
Which most likely meant our unexpected visitor was here either by mistake or wasn’t friendly.
We had a quick wordless conversation to figure out who should open the door and then Cynthia headed over. She looked fairly harmless and normal to most humans and interacted more with the humans nearby than the rest of us anyway, so chances were she might recognize whoever was there or be able to send them off to the right place if they were mistakenly at our door.
But as it turned out, they were not mistakenly at our door, but neither were they unfriendly. Well, not exactly.
Instead, Cynthia stared at the person for a moment, then groaned, stepped back, and opened the door to let the person in.
I didn’t recognize the man who came in, but his eyes flitted around at us jerkily and he looked so jumpy I wondered if he would literally jump if any of us spoke.
“What are you doing here and how did you even find me? Wait, why are you even looking for me?” Cynthia didn’t bother to introduce him, just frowned at him, her hands on her hips, looking like she wanted to give him a serious lecture.
“I – I n-need your help,” he began, looking nervously around, his eyes going to me more than once. “Jean gave me y-your location when s-she found out what was going on.”
Cynthia started a bit. “Jean? How do you even know her? And she told you where I was?”
“S-s-she said you could help. That you d-deal with, um,” he looked at me again, then back at Cynthia blankly.
Cynthia heaved a huge, clearly annoyed sigh. “Everyone, this is Ian. I know Ian from several decades ago, when we were involved in a conflict – on opposite sides. Let’s just say we didn’t part on good terms and I’d honestly hoped to never see him again. Ian, this is George, Jo, Lynn, and August. And yes, August is human, and yes, he knows all about supernaturals and Hunters, and yes, he doesn’t have a protection mark, but no, I am not explaining that to you of all people.”
“And who is Jean?” George’s rumbled question was probably on all of our group’s minds. We’d never heard Cynthia mention a Jean before, yet it kind of sounded like Jean knew about us and what we did.
To our surprise, Cynthia winced a bit. “Jean is…my daughter.” Seeing our outright stunned expressions, she frowned defensively. “She’s a techno vampire, okay? I couldn’t raise her in the coven, they’d never have been okay with it. But she was my daughter and I loved her, even if witches aren’t normally fans of hybrid children. So I kept her secretly elsewhere but raised her alone the best I knew how. That’s how come she avoided dying when Hunters attacked my coven. And…she’s been helping us over the years, just without your knowledge. She’s the reason I know so much about computers to begin with, but whenever I ran into a dead end, I reached out to her. Techno vampires can do more with electronics than anyone else on the planet. I’ve asked her to come officially join or meet you, but she’s like a lot of techno vampires – transient. She doesn’t like staying in one place for long. It’s complicated, but basically she just – she just wants to live her life on her terms.” A brief flash of sadness came across her face, but she shook her head a visibly tried to clear that from her mind. Sadness because her daughter didn’t want to be with her or sadness over something else? “Point is, she knows about us, about what we do, and even has helped us do it on occasion – even if all of you weren’t aware of it. However,” she turned back to Ian with a frown, “I’m surprised she sent you in our direction because she knows about you. I once gave her the names and pictures of anyone in my past, particularly if I wanted to avoid them, and you were on that list. So, explain.”
She looked tough as she glared at him expectantly, but somehow I had a feeling that if her daughter had sent him to her, Cynthia would probably want to help him regardless of his reasons, just because her daughter indirectly asked her to.
The man – whose species I couldn’t identify – gave one last glance at me and then focused on her as he began his story.
“About seven m-months ago I started to get the impression that s-someone was following me. Not even the same person, but there was this constant f-feeling that someone was there. I tend to be a little more…neurotic…than a lot of s-supernaturals, so the first hint I had that something was g-going on, my response was to retreat into my home and not come out.” He ran a shaky hand through his hair. “I have more than the average p-protections in place and I thought – I mean, it should be safe, it always has b-been, and people can’t just – just get in.”
The obvious distress on his face as he paused made Cynthia shrug slightly as she noticed our confusion.
“Ian’s a necromancer. Almost entirely extinct, they were mostly killed off by their own devices centuries ago or would have likely been forcibly erased if they hadn’t been – too many bad calls by too many people that resulted in massive destruction, wars, and deaths. Ian’s family was somewhat of an exception – they were involved in research at Rosen Library and rarely even used their magic. Everyone pretty much ignored them as a result. Technically Ian’s family means there are a handful of necromancers left, but for all practical purposes, they’re extinct. That said, because they’re extremely rare, they tend to be a little more wary of even other supernaturals off the library grounds. Ian here made a choice to leave a while back for field research, but just because he’s jumpy, don’t underestimate him. Necromancer hearth spells are some of the most powerful out there.”
I wondered if that was because necromancers had more than average need to keep people out of what they were doing, but decided not to ask. I couldn’t really go with the idea of reanimating corpses who lost their free will and usually their identity as well, but then, there were probably times an army of dead people could be useful in the proper context. It just…seemed like a very limited context.
“B-but they got past it,” Ian’s wild eyes seemed borderline hysterical. “I don’t know how. No one’s ever g-gotten past before! I w-woke up to find this.” He placed a small card on the coffee table. It was about the size of a business card, only square instead of rectangular, and it was printed with a symbol I didn’t recognize.
Looking around at the others, I could tell they didn’t recognize it, either.
“It was inside m-my house,” Ian shuddered. “B-but all my protections were in place. I-I don’t know how. I’ve looked for gaps. I c-can’t find any.” He shook his head a little, trying to clear his mind. “I hired some b-bodyguards and made plans to return to Rosen. I th-thought it would be safer there. But then – I saw someone following me again. And they left the c-card where I could see it. Deliberately.” He placed another identical card on the table.
“I got w-worried that I shouldn’t lead them back to the library, s-so I started researching, trying to find out who they were and what they w-wanted. At first, I didn’t find anything, but then, t-two things. They left a n-new card, in my bedroom while I slept.” The terror at that thought was obvious all across his face. As he placed this card on the table beside the other two, I saw it had a website link at the bottom.
Ian took a moment to try to contain himself before continuing. “The w-website is strange and ambiguous, but it l-lists some names and locations and dates. And it has p-pictures of what looks like blood and things. N-normal in my line of work, so at f-first I thought maybe someone saw me at a graveyard and th-thought I was into something else? But when I searched the n-names, places, and dates on the internet, I found they were all d-dead. They were all murdered.” His brow furrowed. “It s-seemed more sinister than just i-interest in the dead, so I-I looked on the super web.”
It was my turned to be confused, but when I turned in Cynthia’s direction, she explained.
“The supernatural web, or super web, is a network run by techno vampires. Extremely exclusive and hard to get into, even for supernaturals. They want to make sure someone is a supernatural and isn’t working for Hunters and that that never changes. Basically to get in, you have to be vetted and vouched for by several different supernaturals in different geographical regions. A lot of supernaturals are frustrated with how hard it is to get in, and I can’t say they’re wrong, but it’s designed to be a safe place for online sharing of supernatural information, and obviously we have to be extremely careful with that.”
Ian nodded, taking a few gulps of air. “Th-the super web had a forum. It talked about people who’d b-been hunted by a particular Hunter c-clan and…all the names matched. The dates, the locations. This clan, they h-hunt specific targets. Not just any supernatural, they p-pick one and ‘enjoy the Hunt,’ as it were. They pick hard t-targets deliberately, and they want the target to know they’re being h-hunted. They tell us. They – they want us t-to realize we can’t get away.” The frenzied look came back in his eyes, but he managed to force it down.
“N-none of their targets have e-ever escaped. They all died. One did k-kill themselves in an attempt to kill the Hunters, t-too, but the Hunters escaped. And every single other target has died. They’ve t-tried moving countries, changing names, e-even plastic surgery. But n-none of them ever get away. Not p-permanently.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and set it down on the coffee table, too. None of us picked it up, but we could see from here that it included a list of around three dozen names along with dates and locations.
Ian swallowed hard. “I d-don’t know how to escape them. But J-Jean, she found me on the super web, s-she said to talk to you. She s-said you d-deal with Hunters.” His case finally finished, he looked around at us pleadingly, his eyes stopping on Cynthia.
She sighed deeply, uncrossing her arms. “We do deal with Hunters, yes, but this clan, it sounds like something special. They get off on literally turning it into a hunt? That sounds – ” She stopped, her expression turning troubled. “We can’t deal with them in our normal way. They’re going to be more cautious than most clans and being able to follow someone out of the country, across name changes and even facial changes? At minimum they have someone tech-savvy, but we could even be looking at a techno vampire helping them.” She looked really troubled by this idea. “Point is, this is not going to be our regular gig.”
Ian’s entire demeanor fell. I hadn’t realized that he was holding onto hope when he walked in here, but now that Cynthia had practically told him we didn’t know how to help, all that hope vanished, replaced by pure terror.
“You c-can’t help?” His voice got high and squeaky. “I-I’m just – they’re g-going to get me?”
Jo stirred abruptly. “No, we’ll help.” She gave Cynthia a sour look. “Yeah, it’s different, but we’ll figure out how to deal with it. Look, you tell us everything you know, then you go home and stay safe, okay? Hire bodyguards you trust, make some minions or something, I don’t know – hold tight there, where it’s safest. Yes,” she cut him off before he could protest, “they got the cards in, and we don’t know how, but maybe they have a way to get small objects in past your protections but not humans, okay? Believe it or not, your house is still the safest place for you. Just make sure anyone you let inside your barriers is someone you can trust.”
“Cynthia should check out his house just to see if she notices anything,” George mused out loud, ignoring Cynthia’s put-out expression. “Maybe a second pair of eyes would help.”
“And we’ll come up with a battle plan,” I wrapped up for the others. “I know it’s scary and we don’t exactly have answers yet, but we’ll come up with something, okay?”
He looked around at us with such obvious relief that even Cynthia couldn’t remain unmoved.
Reluctantly, she sighed and got out her laptop. “Okay, let’s get started. Tell us everything you can – from the first date you saw them, what you thought you saw, everything.”
It took some time, but once we were satisfied that we had dragged everything last bit of info from Ian, Cynthia and George took him home while Jo and I started looking over what we had, Lynn hanging out curiously nearby.
“We could always just serve as his bodyguards,” Jo murmured. “The problem with that is we have no idea how long it could take and how many there are. My guess is it’s not a huge clan and it doesn’t need to be, but there’s nothing in here about how many.”
Because all the witnesses died. Which was problematic.
My mind was focused on something else, however. “How likely is it that a techno vampire really could be working for them? And how big of a problem is it if one is?”
Jo hesitated, then sat back. “Look, there’s some parts of the supernatural word that are kept secret even from other supernaturals, and not everyone knows everything, but since Cynthia’s got a techno vampire kid, it’s going to come up eventually. So you might as well know.
“Techno vampires are a rare hybrid from witches and vampires. They feed off energy, mostly electronic, and give luck back in return, basically. I don’t really know how the luck thing works, but the point is, techno vampires are your sci-fi technopaths. Anything electronic, they can read and get into. They can hack supercomputers in minutes if they’re going slow and basically nothing can keep them out. Except other techno vampires. They don’t like to trespass on other techno vampire territory. But these vampires,” she grimaced, “they all die young. From what I understand, it’s a genetic thing, and they keep it a secret. They don’t tell people they’re dying and then one day, they just disappear. The only reason I know is my sister knew one and it disappeared like that, and she was looking into what happened and found out it almost certainly meant it just died. Chelsea was heartbroken and never really got over it.”
Now I understood the sadness in Cynthia’s eyes when she talked about Jean. She knew her daughter was dying and there was nothing she could do about it. Maybe that also explained why she let Jean do whatever she wanted, wandering around if she liked – because she felt bad trying to prohibit her from living what life she had.