Dying Bites

The Bloodhound Files

The Bloodhound Files (Volume 1)

DD Barant

St. Martin's Paperbacks

I think about monsters a lot.

            Real ones, I mean, not Frankenstein or Dracula or Godzilla.  I work for the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit, where I use my degree in Criminal Psychology to help profile offenders; my area of expertise is homicide-fixated non-standard patterning. It’s my job to figure out why the crazy ones do what they do, and who they’re going to do it to next.  This makes me Miss Popular at cocktail parties--until my third tequila, when certain details that really shouldn’t be heard on a full stomach somehow become the punchlines to jokes of incredibly bad taste.

            I usually don’t get invited back.

            Which is why I’m home alone, again, nursing a throbbing hangover and trying to get back to sleep.  I’ve got a bad case of the 3 AM guilts—you know, when you lie in bed awake and replay all those things you didn’t do right?  Because, as we all know, nothing solves insomnia like a nice warm glass of regret, depression, and self-loathing.

            Okay, I don’t really hate myself.  But I do piss myself off—quite a bit, actually—and sometimes I need a good, stern talking to about important elements in my life.  I think I was criticizing my own taste in clothes when I finally fell asleep.

            It’s funny.  Dreams can be intimately revealing, or incomprehensible.  They can be ridiculous or terrifying, deeply significant or inconsequential. 

I find other people’s dreams intriguing, because extracting meaning from the psychological jumble of a healthy mind is similar in many ways to finding coherence in the fractured mindscape of a psychotic.

But no matter what they represent or how scrambled they are, dreams are just that—dreams.  They aren’t real.  But to those whose grasp on reality isn’t quite as solid, a dream can be a message from another dimension, a psychic telegram from their own personal God.  It can change their entire life.

            I guess that makes me crazy, too.

            The dream starts simply enough. It’s not unusual to dream about your work—I know a shoe salesman who kept having nightmares about ogres who came in demanding sandals—so for me, a dream about catching a killer can be pretty mundane.  I’m sitting at my desk doing paperwork, when a colleague walks in and tells me I’m wanted in the Director’s office.  I get up, walk down a hall, and knock on the Director’s door.  A voice I don’t recognize tells me to come in.

            On the other side of the door is my bedroom.  That’s okay, because I’m wearing my nightshirt.  There are two men sitting on my bed, quite formally, backs straight and their legs together.  The one on the left is my boss; his name is Robert Miller and he’s spoken to me maybe three times in my entire career.  He looks vaguely annoyed—but then, that’s the only expression I’ve ever seen on his face.

            The other man is a stranger.  He’s dressed much like the Director, in a plain black business suit, but I can tell at a glance there’s something very unusual about him.  Sharp eyes, hooked nose, dark hair slicked back, bony, angular features.  I have the immediate, strong feeling that he’s an undertaker from another country—somewhere in Eastern Europe, maybe, or some corner of Mongolia.

            “Agent Valchek,” says Miller.  “You’re being reassigned, effective immediately.  This is your liaison.  He’ll get you settled.”  He doesn’t introduce the man, and I don’t ask.

            “You can bring three things with you,” the man says.  He has no accent, but somehow that just reinforces the idea that he’s a foreigner.  In fact, I’m sure this is the first time he’s ever been to my country.  “The three things you feel are most instrumental to you doing your job.  Choose carefully.”

            I’m pretty straightforward. I grab my handgun, my laptop, and the carton of ammunition I keep under my bed.  In typical dream fashion, the undertaker is now standing beside a door in my bedroom wall that wasn’t there before.  The Director has vanished.  The undertaker opens the door and motions me to step through, cautioning me to close my eyes for my own safety. 

            “Of course, yeah,” I say.  “Thanks.” 

            The first sensation I’m aware of after stepping through the doorway is the cold wooden floor under my bare feet.  There’s a strange noise behind me, like a recording of an explosion being played backward.  I open my eyes.

            I’m standing in an office, one very much like the Director’s.  The blinds are drawn.  A green-shaded lamp throws a pool of light on the desk, and leaning against the front of the desk, arms crossed in front of him, is a young man.  He’s dressed in standard FBI-wear, black business suit and polished Oxford loafers.  He appears to be around eighteen, handsome in an innocent kind of way, and has curly blond hair that makes him look more like a surfer than a Federal agent.

            I note three things in quick succession:

            One—I’m still in my nightshirt.

            Two—I have a loaded gun in my hand.

            Three—I’m not asleep

            I file number one as embarrassing but not vital, double-check number three and confirm my first impression, and bring point number two to Mr. Surfer’s immediate attention by aiming it at his chest. 

            “Where the hell am I?” I snarl.  

            “In my office,” he says. “My name is David Cassius.  We’re going to be working together, Jace.”

            The gun doesn’t seem to impress him.  It’s a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan, a short-barrelled revolver chambered with .454 ammunition—it packs a bigger wallop than a Magnum .44, and is sometimes even used for big-game hunting.  It can take down a grizzly or a bull moose, and it took me every day for six months at the firing range to learn how to handle the recoil.  Cassius looks at it like it’s a toy. 

            “I understand your confusion,” he says.  His voice is strong, deep, confident, not the voice of a young man at all.  I have a good ear for accents and I’m trained to identify over a hundred regional differences, but his escapes me. 

“Actually,” he continues, “you’re not supposed to be fully cognizant yet.  I don’t suppose I can convince you you’re still dreaming?”

            “Only if you turn into my father and tell me you’re disappointed in my grades.”  I half-expect exactly that to happen, but Cassius only smiles.  It’s a boyish, engaging smile, and I bet it makes the sorority girls go all weak and giggly.  I seriously consider putting a big hole in it. 

            “No, I didn’t think so.  All right, let’s take this one step at a time.  How do you think you got here?”

            “Where I come from, the one with the gun asks the questions,” I snap.       

“Where’s your partner?” The undertaker is nowhere in sight.

            “You probably mean the—one who brought you here.  He’s at another location; I elected to be the one to officially greet you, but I was told you’d be in a more receptive state.”

            I’m getting it now.  “Okay.  So someone drugged me at the party, I was scooped from my apartment, and you expected a little more drool and a lot less firepower.  Are we up to speed?”

            “Getting there.”  His smile widens, going from gee-aren’t-I-cute to something approaching genuine amusement.  “Keep going—I want to see where you end up.”

            “You’re a government spook,” I say flatly.  “The Bureau doesn’t play games like this.  CIA, NSA, one of the black-ops outfits that doesn’t show up in the budget.  You drugged me, hauled me out here . . .”

            I stop.  He waits. 

            “Oh, crap,” I say.  “My gun isn’t loaded, is it.”

            “See for yourself.”

            I do.  All six chambers are full.  I snap the cylinder back into place and look up, more confused than ever—and starting to be scared.  Scenarios involving me being turned into a brainwashed assassin start to percolate in my brain.  I level the gun at him again and say, “Full explanation.  Now.”  I’m close to convincing myself he’ll say “Kumquat,” and I’ll turn into a glassy-eyed zombie. 

            “You haven’t been drugged.  I am, as you thought, a government operative—NSA, in fact.  You’ve been brought here because we need someone in your field of expertise—the tracking and apprehension of mentally-fractured killers.” 

            It’s an odd way to put it, but I guess “mentally-fractured” is as accurate as “psychotic”.  “What’s the matter with your own specialists?” I ask.  “Or do you just need someone disposable?”  I have visions of me tracking down some Senator’s son who’s gone off his meds, only to wind up in a shallow grave myself once I’ve caught him.

            “You’re far from disposable,” he says mildly.  “As a matter of fact, at the moment you possess one of the most valuable minds on the planet.  We’re hoping you’ll use it to help us.  Now ask the important question.”

            Which one? I want to scream.  Am I about to die?  Have all those years of making myself think like a psychotic finally turned me into one?  Why are you so calm with a loaded revolver held by an extremely stressed FBI agent pointed at your heart?

            No. 

            “If I wasn’t drugged,” I say, “then how did I get here?”

            “Through that,” Cassius says, and glances behind me.

            I’m not stupid.  I keep the gun on him and move my body to the side, so I can flick my own glance from him to what’s behind me.  I’d come through some kind of door, so that’s what I expect—but what I see instead is a blank white wall, with some kind of arcane designs scrawled on it in reddish-brown.  The designs are outlined in a rough semi-circle around six feet in diameter—

            I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. 

            It’s still a stupid thing to do.   It’s virtually impossible to take a gun away from the person who’s holding it on you as long as the shooter follows one simple rule: don’t get too close to your target.

            I haven’t.

            Cassius actually manages to grab the barrel of the Ruger before I pull the trigger.  The first bullet takes him in the sternum, and the next three are placed within inches of that.  I’m a very good shot.

            The sheer kinetic energy throws him backward across the room.  He lands on his back on the desk, arms thrown to either side.

            “Damn,” I whisper. “Just another crazy—“

            And then he sits up. 

There’s no blood on him, but his shirt and jacket have ragged, gaping holes--and all I can see through those holes is pale, unmarked skin.  No body armor, no bulletproof vest.  No way. 

He looks more annoyed than anything. Thinking back on it later, I’m pretty sure that’s the real reason I put the next two shots into his face.

I can actually see the impacts this time.  His skin dimples like an invisible finger just poked him—once in the cheek, once in the forehead—and then the flattened remains of the slugs fall onto the carpet.  I wonder why the force didn’t drive him backward like the first time, and then I realize he’s braced himself by holding onto the edges of the desk.  The desk is large and solid, unlike my present grasp of reality.

The gun is empty, but I’ve got a carton of ammunition in my other hand.  And a laptop tucked under my arm.  Right now, they both seem pretty useless.

Cassius gets off the desk.  He sighs.  “If I was going to hurt you,” he says reasonably, “Now would be the time, wouldn’t it?”

He looks down at the shredded remains of his tie.  He sighs again.  “Please,” he says, and motions to a leather sofa along one wall.  “Sit.  Or perhaps you’d like to discharge your weapon again?” 

My mind is desperately trying to find some explanation that fits the facts, but it’s not doing so good.  In fact, the idea that I’m still dreaming is looking better and better.  I stride over to the sofa, toss down my gun, put down the laptop and place the ammo on top of it.  Then I sit down, cross my arms, try to ignore the fact that the only thing I’m wearing is an oversize t-shirt with a picture of a panda on it, and glare at Cassius.  “Okay.  Talk.”

“I apologize for trying to disarm you.  It was rude of me.”

“If you’re looking for an apology in return, you’re not going to get one.”

“What a surprise.  This isn’t your world, Agent Valchek.”  His tone is suddenly noticeably colder—I think I finally managed to piss him off.  “I realize that in your world, magic is something only children believe in.  Here, it is real.  You were brought through an interdimensional portal by extremely powerful sorcery, and it was not done lightly.  We need your help.”

I smile, and shake my head.  “Okay, now you’ve gone too far.  Some kind of covert spy operation I might have bought, but this?  Over the top.  So now I’m thinking practical joke, with really excellent special effects.  New TV show, maybe?  Special blanks in my gun, maybe hypnosis—“

And then he moves again, in that ultrafast way only animals can, and his face is about a foot away from mine.

“Does this look like special effects?” he says, and grins.

The grin isn’t meant to be friendly.  He’s showing me his teeth.

His incisors are sharp--and as I watch, they get longer.  His eyes—a very startling blue—turn blood-red. 

I swallow.  “Kind of,” I say.  “But only when I’m on the other side of the screen.”

“Welcome to this side,” he says.  “I’m a vampire.  Not a demon, not a creature of pure evil, not a figment of some writer’s imagination.  I drink blood, I’m extremely allergic to sunlight, I’m effectively immortal.  I’m a supernatural creature, not a natural one, and if you’re going to survive here you’re going to have to learn how to deal with beings like me--because I’m far from the only one.”

And, just like that, I believe him.  The human mind always searches for order, no matter how chaotic or insane events become—we want to believe in a pattern, any pattern, and when somebody offers you one in the middle of a storm of craziness, you grab it and hang on until something better comes along. 

“Vampires,” I say calmly.  “Lots?”

“Thirty-seven percent of the population.  Worldwide.”

“Barely a third.  How’s the war going?”

His eyes fade to normal.  His fangs recede.  “It was over a long time ago,” he says.  He straightens up from his feral crouch, seems almost embarrassed.  “You lost.”

“So the other sixty or so percent is what—livestock?”

“Forty-three are lycanthropes.  Nineteen are golems.”

“Werewolves and living clay.  How’s that work? The bloodsuckers and werewolves take turns biting each other while the Jewish statues referee?” 

“We aren’t monsters, Jace.  We drink the blood of animals, not men.  We shop in supermarkets, we drive cars.  This world isn’t so different from your own.”

Why am I here?” I shout.  Bulletproof vampire or not, I’m about ready to rip the truth out of him with my bare hands.

“Because one of the ways this world is different from yours is in the sickness you call insanity.  Most supernatural creatures are immune to disease—our minds as well as our bodies.  Only human beings are experienced in dealing with madness, and—well . . .”

“We’re hard to come by?”  I’ve already done the math.  “One percent.  That’s all that’s left of us, you bastard?  One percent?”

“Less than that,” he says quietly.  “Your species numbers under a million.  And one of them is slaughtering my people.”

“Why should I care?”

“Because catching this madman,” Cassius replies, “is the only hope you have of ever seeing your home again.”

Suddenly I don’t feel so well.  Nauseous, dizzy, one step removed from reality.  Which is exactly right, I think and a huge wave of relief surges through me.  This can’t be real, because I feel like I’m about to throw up and I never, ever do the Technicolor yawn.  Not when I saw my first floater, not when they hazed me at the Academy, not when we opened that root cellar outside of Augusta.  Therefore, this is something simple—a brain tumor, maybe—and not the horrifying predicament the Vampire Surfer just described.

I sigh happily, throw up all over my panda, and pass out.

 

*

 

I wake up in a hospital bed.  I put a checkmark in the Brain Tumor column and look around for professional corroboration.

No one in the room but me.  Vomit-stained panda shirt replaced by standard-issue green hospital gown.  No plastic ID band on my wrist, though.  Odd.

Also, I’m strapped to the bed.  Maybe I should have mentioned that first.

The door opens and a doctor walks in.  He looks like a doctor, anyway, white coat over blue scrubs, with a stethoscope slung around his neck and a clipboard in his hands.  He’s in his thirties, clean-shaven, with shaggy brown hair and a face that reminds me a little of a young Harrison Ford. 

“Ms. Valchek,” he says, smiling at me.  “I’m Dr. Adams.  Sorry about the restraints--you were convulsing when you were first brought here, and we didn’t want you to hurt yourself.”  He starts undoing buckles.

“Where am I?” I ask, resisting the urge to grab him by the throat.  Ask questions, then shoot.  As soon I find out where my gun is.

“St. Francis Infirmary.”  He finishes unbuckling the straps and steps back.  “How are you feeling?”

I lift my hand and put it to my forehead.  “My head hurts.  I’m a little queasy.  And I think I may have had some kind of hallucinatory episode.”

He nods.  “The nausea and headache are common in cases of RDT—though there aren’t that many case histories to study.  Hallucinations are a more severe symptom, though; they usually only manifest in the later stages of the syndrome.”

“So I guess my RDT is pretty bad.  What’s that stand for—Raging Doom Tumor?”

“Reality Dislocation Trauma.  To put things simply, Ms. Valchek, you come from another universe, with a different set of physical laws.  Your body doesn’t like it.  It’s trying to reject what it’s being told on a very basic level, but there’s nowhere to go.”

I stare at him.  I like to think I’m adaptable, but I kind of had my heart set on the whole brain cancer thing.  Rational, tragic, possibly fixable—all I had to do was pick out some fashionable head scarves for my post-operative look.  And now?

            Now I don’t have to worry about any of that.  Just vampires, werewolves, and being allergic to existing. 

            “I know it’s a big shock,” Dr. Adams says.  “But it’s not as bad as it sounds.  There is a treatment available, it’s effective and non-invasive.  I was just waiting for you to wake up before administering it.”

            “Does it involve ruby slippers?”  He gives me the blank look I often get when I’m trying to be funny.  “Never mind.”  A sudden and very nasty thought strikes me.  “Wait a minute.  Does this mean I’m going to be developing a sudden aversion to sunlight and/or silver?”

            Now he’s the one who looks shocked.  “Of course not!  Ms. Valchek, we have something here called the Hippocratic Oath, and we take that very seriously.  Turning a human being against their will is a Federal crime, not to mention extremely rare.  No, the treatment you’re going to receive—“

            The door opens and a nurse enters, holding a white mug with steam rising from it.  She doesn’t seem to have fangs or claws or an excessive amount of body hair, but I study her suspiciously just the same; she’s young, Asian, and has blue streaks in her short dark hair.   She hands the mug to Adams, giving me a curious glance in return. 

            “Ah, thank you,” he says.  I guess in this reality nurses are expected to bring doctors their coffee, or maybe Miss Blue Streaks is just a suck-up. 

            To my surprise, he hands the mug to me.  “And here it is.  Drink up, but be careful—it’s hot.”

            I take the mug and sniff it.  It doesn’t smell that bad, kind of like juniper with a hint of ginger.  “What—you’re going to cure me with tea?”

            “It’s an herbal preparation called Urthbone,  specifically formulated to reinforce your connection to this world.  It’ll help ground you, physically and psychically—basically, a spiritual immunosuppressant.”

            I try a sip.  Bitter, of course.  But if they were trying to poison me, I’d already be dead.  Or undead.  Or hairy. 

            Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I start feeling better immediately.  I take a proper mouthful, ignoring the heat—I like my coffee hot.

            “Oh, God,” I say.

            “What?” He’s closer in an instant, looking concerned.

            “You do have coffee in this world, right?”

            He smiles.  It’s a nice smile, warm, completely unlike Cassius’ relaxed smirk.  “Yes, we have coffee.  I’ll get you some as soon as you finish the Urthbone.  Before you do, though, there are some side-effects you should be aware of.”

            Of course.  I take another swallow anyway—in for a penny, in for a pound.  “Go ahead.”

            “You’ll experience an increase in empathy as your life-force becomes attuned to this plane of reality.  You’ll be able to tell what the people near you are feeling—it may even affect your own emotions.  If so, let me know and I’ll adjust the dosage.”

            I nod.  Compared to seizures and hallucinations, a little sensitivity to the moods of others doesn’t seem so bad.  My colleagues are always telling  me I need to be more sensitive, anyway. 

            “Where’s my handler?” I ask.  “Cassius.”

            “He’s a busy man.  He’ll be by to debrief you eventually, but he thought you needed a little time to acclimatize, first.  I have to apologize for how you’ve been treated, Ms. Valchek—dimensional extractions aren’t done very often, but there are protocols for a new arrival.  You should have been eased into your transition, not yanked fully conscious into the Director’s office.”

            “Call me Jace.  And it’s fine--I’m used to being thown in the deep end of the pool.”  I take a long breath and let it out, trying to shift into Active Case mode.  In abductions or murders, the first forty-eight hours are always the crucial ones; you have to learn to hit the ground running and go full-tilt.  I’d gotten through multiple homicide, rape, and pedophile cases—I could get through this.

            “If you’ve got any questions, Jace, I’d be happy to answer them.  And please, call me Pete.” 

            “Okay.  Pull up a chair—there’s one or two tiny details I might need clarified.”

            He grabs a plastic stool from near the door and sits.  “Go ahead.”

            Where to begin?  I think about it and realize just how big a problem this could be.  It depends not only on how knowledgeable he is about his own world, but mine.  “Let’s start with broad strokes, Dr. Pete.  My world doesn’t have magic, yours does.  What kind of magic are we talking about?  Witchcraft, Voodoo, Gypsy Curses?  Gandalf, Dumbledore, or Aleister Crowley?”

            His face does one of those things where the bottom half smiles and the upper half frowns.  “Most magic is based upon animist principles—the idea that all things, animate and inanimate, have a spirit inside them.  Different cultures interpret this energy in different ways, but the principles remain the same.  The terms witchcraft and voodoo are seldom used, but elements of both approaches still exist.  The two major forms are Japanese Shintoism and African Shamanism, though there are hundreds of different subdisciplines and offshoots within each.  Vampires tend to like the formalism of the Shinto approach, while werekind lean toward the African.”

            “How about you?”

            “I’m a Shamanist. Guess I like the earthier approach.” 

            “So you’re a . . .”

            “Lycanthrope, yes.” 

            His brown eyes meet mine.  I find it hard to imagine him howling at a full moon—he seems more the milk-and-cookies-before-bedtime type.  “Sorry if I seem skeptical.  But try to see it from my point of view—where I’m from, this is just flat-out impossible.”

            “I get it.  I can give you more immediate proof, of course.”  He raises an eyebrow—a pretty thick eyebrow, actually. 

            “Change, you mean?  Right here, right now? You can do that?”

            “Sure.  All lycanthropes assume were form for three days a month, but we can shift whenever we want.  There are some disadvantages, though—our mouths aren’t properly shaped for speaking, for instance.  But we still have hands, so we use sign language.”

            “Okay, go for it.”

            “Not until you’re finished your tea.  I want you grounded before I inflict further psychic trauma.”  He smiles.  “Ask me another question.”

            “How much do you know about my world?”

            “A little.  I was given a dossier by the NSA when they assigned me to you, with a cultural overview put together by government shamans.  They defined what they call the cusp divergence at sometime in the twelfth century; before that, our worlds were practically identical.  Afterward,       not so much.”

            “So vampires and werewolves showed up here in the twelfth century?”

            He shakes his head, then brushes a shaggy lock of hair back from his eyes.  “No, our kind have been around a lot longer than that—but until then, we’d largely stayed underground.  It was something that happened in your world that caused the divergence.  You developed a technology called firearms.”

            “We—wait.  Are you saying this world doesn’t have guns?”             

            “That’s correct.  We have weapons, of course—just not that particular innovation.  Can’t say I’m sorry--from the description I read, they sound unreliable and potentially lethal to the user as well as the target.”

            I’m not about to waste time arguing the merits of sidearms with a doctor.  “Okay, so we invented guns and you guys stuck with, what, longbows and swords?”

            “Amongst other things.  It was around that time that golems started being used for warfare.”

            “Golems.  Details, please.”

            “A golem is an artificial person, usually man-shaped but sexless.  Basic animist magic: shape a humanoid form and charge it with life force.   Early versions were made of clay and—despite certain legends—usually charged with the essence of some simple but strong animal.  The famous Golem of Prague was powered by the spirit of a bull.”

            “And they were used as soldiers?”

            “Yes, but without much success—they were hard to kill, but moved slowly.  It wasn’t until the Song Dynasty in China began building large golems—fifteen feet tall or so—and using them as a combination battering-ram and mobile catapult that warfare really started to change.”

            I try to wrap my head around that.  “Giants made out of clay.”

            “Fired pottery, actually, filled with pebbles.  The joints were hinged metal.  They were incredibly strong—they’d rain boulders of a hundred pounds or more down on the enemy from half-a-mile away.” 

            I try to imagine what it would have looked like to a fortress under siege: a row of terra-cotta titans standing back and hurling rock after rock, while three or four of them charge at the front gates, a handy redwood tucked under their arms. No wonder these people aren’t impressed by guns; while we were still experimenting with fireworks, they’d invented a tank that could follow orders. 

            “If the Chinese had been able to keep the golem-making process a secret, they might have been able to conquer the world—but it wasn’t their discovery to begin with.  A sorcerer named Ahasuerus claimed to have perfected the ritual, and disseminated the procedure to most of the civilized world. The shift to golem warfare is what eventually led to the supernatural races coming out of the shadows.”

            On my world, we’d started with bottle rockets and wound up with nuclear warheads—I’m almost afraid to ask what golems have evolved into.  “I take it the current models are substantially different?”

            He chuckles.  “Very much.  The standard, mass-produced golem today is basically a human-shaped plastic bag filled with sand—cheaper than clay, and more flexible.  They’re used mainly for manual labor or clerical work, though law enforcement and the military utilize them, too.  They’re animated largely by slaughtered livestock, but not always.”

            Ritual sacrifice, check.  Barnyard-powered robots, check.  Rising sense of unreality . . .hmm.  Actually, that’s subsiding.  I take another long sip of tea.  “So we studied David and built a better slingshot, while you went the new-and-improved Goliath route.  So how do vampires and werewolves figure in all this?”

            “As mercenaries, in the beginning.  Hemovores made excellent assassins, while lycanthropes are natural soldiers—fast, savage, hard to kill.  After a few hundred years the supernatural races were taken for granted, if not accepted as equals.  It culminated in the treaty of 1388, when a universal armistice was declared between the three races—golems weren’t considered people back then.  After that, killing a member of another species—for blood, meat, or any other reason—was declared to be murder.  Except in times of war, of course.”

            “Of course.  So vampires stuck to animal blood, werewolves crossed long pig off the buffet menu, and human beings put away the stakes and silver.  One big happy.  Sure.”

            His smile turns wry.  “I’m not trying to sugarcoat the situation, okay?  But what happened after that wasn’t genocide, it was evolution.  Vampires did what they did best—which is get craftier as they get older—and weres did what they did best, which was breed, hunt and eat.  Hemovores insinuated themselves into hierarchies where they could take control from the top—turn a king and his court and you pretty much have yourselves a country—while weres took a slower but just as effective approach.”

            “Have lots of kids and feed them people?”

            He pauses.  Though his expression doesn’t change, I can feel his reaction—a spike of anger that seems completely at odds with his personality. I almost expect the next thing out of his mouth to be a snarl.  “No,” he says, his voice calm. “They converted.”

            “What, to vampires?”

            “No.  Catholicism.”

            “How did that work?”

            “It was a better fit than you might think.  Werewolves are animals, and animals are creatures of God—that’s the theological argument.  We don’t have a problem with the crucifix--as long as it’s not made of silver--and the Catholic Church has always encouraged procreation.  It took a few generations, but by the end of the Renaissance even the Pope was a lycanthrope.”

        “And most of the royals were vampires—so basically, civilization was being run by the nonhumans by that point.”

            “Not yet.  We were still in the minority, and many countries had instituted laws designed to keep us “nonhumans” in check.  But hemovores and lycanthropes aren’t “nonhuman”; we’re just a different kind of human.  One that’s better suited to survive certain things. . . like the Black Death.”

            I see where this is heading.  “Got it.  Millions died, but not vamps or weres.  I’ll bet recruitment hit a new high, too—better undead than Bubonic, right?  And the fact that plague was carried by fleas would have worked out nicely for the fur-enhanced, too.”

            “Nobody knew that at the time.  But yes, it was no doubt a factor.”

                                 “Let’s skip ahead, okay? I’m guessing that after that, it was pretty much downhill for us non-fanged types.  How long did it take?  Was it a gradual decline, or something more dramatic?”  I try to keep from sounding bitter, but that’s never been a skill I really developed.

            “World War One.  Most people agree that’s when things really changed.”  He sounds different now, less removed; he isn’t discussing history any more, he’s talking about something he has a personal connection to.  I suddenly realize that a werewolf’s lifespan is probably a lot longer than a human’s.

            “The war itself killed millions, but the Spanish Flu pandemic that followed killed even more.  Humans accounted for around fifty percent of the global population before the war, and they were firmly in the minority by the end.  The last human-only government fell in 1918. Over the next twenty years, their numbers plummeted as many chose a new life as a vampire or lycanthrope.”

            “The tipping point,” I say. “A lot of people saw the writing on the wall, and just gave up.”

            “That’s one way to look at it.”

            The last of the tea’s gone cold in my hand.  I slug it back with a grimace, then hand him the mug.  “Rats deserting a sinking ship is another.”

            “Maybe just rats learning how to swim,” he offers.  “But that doesn’t really work, either.  The ship is still here, Jace—“

            “You know, I think I’ll skip that coffee,” I say.  “I’m tired.  Get the light on the way out, will you?”

            He doesn’t argue.  “Sure,” he says.  “I’ll be back after you’ve gotten some sleep.”

            I slide down under the covers and turn my back to him.  A moment later, I’m alone in the dark.

            Really alone.