Violet and Will’s adventures are only just beginning as they make their way to the home of Will’s Blood Guardian, Caleb Stewart. There they learn of those who seek their family and of mysterious rumors floating out of the west concerning an ailment which only afflicts vampires. Their questions lead them to New York City and the Council of vampires, where they must decide where their course lays and who they can trust.
The second part to the four-part Young Adult paranormal adventure Blood Guardians series. The second book is set in the eastern United States of the 1830s.
During the day, the port of Albany, New York teemed with workers loading and unloading the packet boats. Passengers and crewmen alike came and went, a small part in the much larger wave of humanity in the world. These people hurried along through their concerns and daily lives, eking out a living along the wide, slow Hudson River. They toiled the day away and went home for a night’s repast in their beds.
However, the night was for different creatures. There were those who stalked the old roads looking for some fun in one of the taverns and others who were looking to make an easy cent of those poor souls unfamiliar with the area. Those people were preyed on by the fiends who spoke in sweet tones, and carried knives and revolvers beneath their coats. Two of the more harmless creatures, were standing on the peer close to the river. Night had set a few minutes before, and they were safe to step out of their carriage.
They were Violet and Will, fledgling and guardian vampires. The pair were in front of their carriage along the road beside the canal while Captain Johnny and his crew stood opposite them. This large town was where the companions would go their separate ways. The captain was obligated to take on cargo at the port, and the distance to Caleb’s estate was close enough it would hardly be worth the journey to pull the packet boat up the Hudson. Besides, the Erie Canal did not extend that far up the river, but rather branched off to Lake Champlain at the center of the state.
“You two best keep out of trouble,” Captain Johnny playfully ordered his two departing passengers. Though used to separations such as these, the weather-worn man felt himself well up inside. The weeks they had spent with the pair of vampires, and even their cat, had been enjoyable. The crew would most especially miss Violet and her smiling, cheerful face every night. “And you take care of this girl here, Will. She’s too nice to be with you, and deserves better.” His eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth twitched up, all to show he was in jest.
“I’ll be careful to do that,” Will gladly accepted, though he took the duty with a little more seriousness. After all, she was his charge, and they had run into enough danger to show his life as a guardian would not be easy. Besides, he had other worries on his mind. “And I want you to keep your ears and eyes open for news of our attackers.” In their long journey they had not met with any more trouble, but Will was still troubled. Their inquiries into the assassins had come up empty, and without knowing their enemy their foe would retain the element of surprise.
“I will certainly do that. Might save me some trouble in the future if I took care of them now,” Captain Johnny replied, and he held up his flask. The man took a hearty drink and smacked his lips together. Blood mixed with whiskey made for a potent flavor. “After all, I’ll be a member of the family in a few months myself.”
Will wasn’t sure what to think about this way of phrasing their future relationship. He respected the ragged captain, but having the man as a relation was an odd change. However, Violet covered her mouth to hide her smile. She had been without her last family member for so many few years that she was glad to have a new relation who was as amusing as Captain Johnny Johnson.
“Yes, well, if you should find something, send the message along to Caleb’s address.” Will wasn’t sure how long they’d be staying at the estate, but even if it was a short while it would be a reliable location to send any information.
“Can do,” the captain agreed with a nod. “Now you two had better get along. The night isn’t gonna wait for you, you know.”
The pair gave their farewells and Will assisted Violet into the carriage. He then jumped up into the box and took the reins in hand. With one last nod to the captain and his loyal crew, Will cracked the reins and once more they were off on the road.
Violet watched the scenery from the windows. On both sides thickly treed woods crowded around the road. Over the tops of the trees numerous mountains and hills dotted the sky here and there, but overall the weather was very hospitable. There had been some rain recently, though, as the carriages kicked up mud from the wheels. Violet had been told the journey was hardly over seventy miles, a short distance compared to what they had already traversed, but the rain would bog their efforts to get to the estate in a single night.
The horses, well rested after so many long weeks aboard the packet boat and aching for a good run, proved up to the task and a few hours before sunrise found the carriage and its occupants nearing a clearing in the trees. It was the small town of Caldwell, and beyond the few houses lay Lake George. The lake was a drainage basin for the St. Lawrence River, meaning water flowed down from the mountains, filled the lake, and then that same water escaped north into the river. Will had explained to her that the exit far north was through the short La Chute River.
The entire landscape was so interesting to her not only for its natural beauty, but because she hoped to call this lovely place home. The estate of Will’s guardian sounded wonderful and she was both eager and nervous in meeting this Caleb. Everyone had spoken most fondly and reverently of him that she imagined he was a great sight to behold, and very stoic. They passed through the small town without pause, but Violet was able to catch a glimpse of some of the view from the main road.
The main thoroughfare had clapboard houses of one to two stories on both sides of the street. To protect the pedestrians from the deep mud, boardwalks were fitted in front of the homes. Beyond the main road she could see small farms with their chicken coops and gardens. A general store was also along the street, and lanterns lit up the interior. She thought it strange the shop was still open at this hour, but by then they had flown out of the small village and she couldn’t catch a glimpse of the patrons.
Apparently the way up to the estate was less used than the entrance into town, and the carriage bounced around and sloshed through great puddles of mud. Violet pulled back away from the window and held her hand against the side of the vehicle. Her old orange cat mewed its disapproval at the harsh road and stuck its claws into the cushions. Will would not be pleased with the damage when he glimpsed those large holes.
The trip was only about ten miles from Caldwell to the estate, but it took nearly two hours, twice as long as it should have were the road in better condition. As reliable as the horses were and as sturdy as the carriage had been built, on the steepest part of the road the wheels slipped off into mud a foot deep. Will was forced to get down off the box and Violet, with her cat, glanced out the window to see what was the matter. Will stood at the front passenger wheel, the one which had sunk down, and found it needed only a few rocks and a push by the horses to get unstuck. The delay was minor, though Will came out quite muddy, and they were out of the hole in a few minutes. However, by the time the road smoothed out and the trees departed from the edges of the travel way, they had less than an hour left until the sun rose. With the road less jolting Violet again risked looking out the window. What she saw dazzled her eyes.
Nestled in the center of a clearing atop one of the smaller mountains sat the estate of Caleb Stewart. The house was made in the Dutch colonial style which showed off a double-pitched roof and earthen walls. The home was two stories tall and appeared to have a full attic beneath the roof, and the length was a good one hundred feet compared to its width of fifty feet. Because the building had been set on the slope of a hill, the side away from the driveway showed a daylight basement, making the home quite large and full of space. The walls had been white-washed with care and stood out amongst the green of the trees as Violet imagined a fairy would shine in the forest. The windows were few, as they had been placed several yards apart along the walls, but the clapboard shutters added a quaintness she did not expect. There was also two panes side by side and each opened in, so there was still much natural light allowed to shine inside the home. Two chimneys, made of the same rough rock as the walls, stuck out from the center of the home as though the entire building had been split into two living compartments.
Out in front of the wonderful home lay green glass cut short to avoid the mess of weeds and fires. At the very base of the house were rows of wonderful wild flowers, nurtured by superb gardeners to grow and thrive under their care. The drive was composed of gravel dug from the surrounding hills and crushed by hand. It ran around the front of the home and turned in a loop in front of the entrance doors. Steps led up to those fine, thick wooden doors, of which the material no doubt was found in the very trees around them.
Violet was startled when a large beast ran up to her side of the carriage. The hound was a mastiff, as tall as her on its hind legs and with a jaw that could snap bone. The ugly brute followed them down the road barking all the way, which greatly upset her cat. The feline pushed Violet out of the way and swiped at the beast whenever it grew close enough to be almost within reach.
Candles blazed in most of the windows as they drove up to the front. Will stopped the carriage and alighted just as a servant came out to grab the reins. Another came to restrain the dog, but the beast, seeing there was nothing to fear, galloped off into the night.
“Good evening, Master Will,” the first man, an older gentleman with an old-fashioned powdered wig, greeted. He glanced down at the young man’s muddy clothing. “The Master has your rooms prepared and hot water for your bath after your delay.”
“Has he, Collins? That’s very precise of him,” Will wondered. He opened the carriage door and helped Violet alight from the vehicle. The old cat jumped down itself and sat on the bottom step to preen itself. It had mastered the dog, for it believed its enemy had run off.
“What a wonderful place.” Her voice was hardly above a whisper, for she feared the beautiful view would fade away if she spoke too loud. Her eyes couldn’t stop wandering over the lovely grounds and the magnificent home.
“Yes, and quite large. Caleb purchased many acres in the area when we first arrived, so he owns a great deal of the woods you saw around Caldwell as well as around the manor.”
“And such a large home for only you two?” she wondered. Will led her up the stone steps and through the open front doors.
“Well, Caleb doesn’t care to appear rich by building such a large house. Rather, it’s to hold all the items he’s acquired over the years.” Will sighed and shook his head. “He’s very sentimental.”
Violet could easily see what Will meant in regards to items. The entrance hall was spacious, but every inch was covered in ancient trinkets of war and peace. Weapons such as sharp battle axes and broadswords were cluttered along the walls while fine furniture, which included horsehair sitting chairs and a mahogany side table, sat against the walls. A simple, wide staircase lay on their right and part of the hallway to the second floor was open to the entrance hall. There were entrance ways on both the right and left sides the lobby in which there were no doubt more rooms filled with more fantastic and wonderful things to see.
“Finally back, Will?” a loud, delighted voice called out from the room to their right. Out of the area stepped a man, slim and tall with a pale complexion. He had black hair sprinkled with gray, and long, thin hands. His face had a short, neatly kept beard that was as black as his hair, and his movements were fluid and most elegant. His age was about forty, but she could see in the man’s eyes that he was much older than he appeared. He smiled at the two of them, and particularly laid keen, mischievous eyes on the young woman. She wondered how terrible he would look if that smile was ever to change into a frown.
“This must be the fine young woman you’ve brought to comfort this old man in his great age,” Caleb spoke, for he was indeed the master of the estate. He stepped over to her and held out his hands for her to take. She smiled and took the invitation, and he had another, closer glance over her small frame. He must have seen something which greatly pleased him, because he nodded his head and his eyes twinkled. “Yes, I don’t believe you could have chosen a better companion. She’s a wonderful addition to the family.” Violet profusely blushed at the compliment, and she was glad when he released her hands so she could press them against herself
Will appeared honored by the man’s kind appraisal, and he respectfully bowed. There was a stiffness to his posture which did not please Caleb, though, and the man noted it.
“You’re worrying about those troubles?” he asked, and Will nodded. Caleb smiled and shook his head. Then he wrapped an arm around Will’s shoulders and led him toward the stairs. “Perhaps a nice, soothing bath would clear your mind some. I’m sure Collins could fix you up a dunk in a minute, he’s so impossibly reliable.”
“I would rather we speak about the pressing matters first,” Will argued. The mud did not bother him and he had several questions on his mind that he wished his guardian to answer.
“Well, I suppose I could let you into the drawing room, but be mindful not to get mud on the furniture and carpets,” Caleb teased. He steered his companions into the room he had just exited. “Through Captain Johnny I was informed of what had taken place on the Ohio River and your parting at Albany, but perhaps you could give me your take on the situation.” Here Violet recalled that because the captain had partaken of Caleb’s blood, there was some visual connection between them. Caleb was essentially able to look through Captain Johnny’s eyes and know what he had seen.
“You were not worried about the remainder of our journey?” Will asked him. Violet wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard some suspicion in her guardian’s voice.
“Well, at my age you tend to take no news as good news,” Caleb returned. “And since I had not heard your carriage had been upset in all this blasted mud, I proposed not to worry.”
“On the matter of the attack, I can give no more information. You know as well as we that nothing was found to point toward the suspect who contrived the attacks.”
Violet followed the two men into the adjoining room, and she was in for another shock. They left the grand old English-style entrance hall and stepped into the world of the Orient. Heavy curtains made from the softest fabric she had ever seen hung about the walls. Their patterns depicted small, intricate lines etched in gold which wound through geometric shapes of squares and triangles. Others were more simple, merely dark colors of blue and red with an extra layer of fabric that ran across the top that symmetrically dipped down over itself. Many of the curtains reached to the floor and edged up against the heavy wooden furniture, and the furniture, too, denoted the region. The designs on the wood were dotted with more geometric shapes, this time with diamonds repeated along the fronts and tops of the tables. The chairs were short and their backs were low enough to wind around to the front and create the arm rests. The dark wood for those pieces had carved, beaded columns which supported the backs, and the legs were thick and sturdy, though they ended in small balls at the bottom.
On the table in the center of the room sat a tall glass object Violet had never seen before. She curiously went over to it while the men seated themselves in the aforementioned chairs. It was much like a stretched oil lamp, about two feet tall, with a small, squat bowl atop it. The glass narrowed in the center and then expanded back out at the top. The center had three separate parts which were squat, curved disks. Out of one side there was a narrow glass pipe which pointed upwards at an angle, and to that was attached a bendable tubing. At the end of the tubing lay a thick piece of glass, and small waves made the glass round rather then rectangular. At the very tip was a smaller metal pipe. Overall it was the strangest object she had ever laid her eyes upon. Caleb couldn’t help but notice her curiosity, and he chuckled.
“It’s quite the complicated machine for merely smoking hashish, isn’t it?” That word was not familiar to her, so he opened a cannister on the table and showed her some type of chopped weed. “It’s a plant which is burned and its fumes are inhaled into the body. An interesting flavor and a habit I’ve found hard to drop. A stronger cousin to tobacco, you see.”
“Oh, very, um, interesting,” Violet complimented. She’d been raised to believe smoking was a weakness, but he took her disapproving expression in stride.
“Any ill effects this causes upon the body are negated by our unique bodies,” Caleb explained. “From the research of Professor Hester, we hardly digest even blood, so that a puff or a dozen on these pipes leaves us only full of smoke.”
“Caleb, I would prefer we focus on the important matters at hand,” Will spoke up. He wanted to steer the conversation back to the attack and gather advice from his old guardian. “What do you make of these vampires?”
“Well, they very much had a grudge against you, at least according to what I discerned through the captain’s eyes from our connection,” Caleb mused. He leaned back and stroked his short beard. “I would say they had offered their services to Hunters, but I cannot imagine any of that group allowing those vampires to toy with you as they did, nor leave such an obvious trail of bodies.”
“Excuse me?” Violet interrupted them. The men glanced at the young woman, and she shrank beneath their gazes. She’d heard the word Hunter before, but no one had explained what that meant. “Are these Hunters very dangerous?”
“Second only to those vampires who break our oath never to hurt one another, and some of them may be as strong as vampires. They’re a society of humans, very old, who have sought the eradication of our species for as long as most of us can recall,” Caleb explained to her. “They show no mercy to our kind, but occasionally I have seen dealings between vampires and the more liberal Hunters where a pact is made to destroy rival groups. A matter of scratching each others’ backs.”
“They hate us that much?” If that were true, they were the epitome of what Violet most feared. She didn’t want to be shunned by humans, for she could not imagine a more lonely existence than one with only vampires as companions. They were few and far between, and would not provide the large circle of companionship she was accustomed to, even living in a small town as she had.
“While we vampires police ourselves and each other, not everyone is pleased to keep in the shadows. Some stalk and attack humans for the thrill of hunting something weaker than themselves, and isolated families have been killed by vampires. If there are any survivors, the Hunters generally scout them out and try to recruit them. Revenge is a very powerful motivator.”
“You cannot expect mercy from them,” Will repeated Caleb’s words. “If you are ever to meet one, you must run as swiftly as you can.” She tried not to shiver at the deep warning in his voice. “It takes many years and much practice to fight one, and even then most vampires may not be able to defeat them.” With that last distraction taken care of, he turned his attention back to his guardian. “Collins mentioned you had been expecting us, and that you knew about the trouble we had on the road. How did you find out this information?” Caleb smiled and glanced down in some embarrassment.
“I see the cat is out of the bag, as they say,” the older gentleman mused. He glanced down at Violet’s feet where her cat lay quietly as though listening to the conversation. “I’m afraid this little cat is not as innocent as he appears.” Will had half a mind to retort that the feline looked not at all innocent, but he had more important focuses.
“You fed this cat some of your blood?” Will asked, and the man shrugged. Violet covered her mouth with one hand in shock and some horror. Her small, old kitty would end its natural life as a creature such as herself, an existence she would not wish upon anyone else. Here Will, too, was not amused. This was the second case in a short matter of time of his guardian freely offering his blood, or in this case forcing his blood, on humans and animals alike. “Do you intend to populate the entirety of New York state with our blood?” he snapped. “Is that your intention while you share your existence with whatever poor or dying creature you find?”
“Jealousy suits no one, my lad,” Caleb countered. His eyes were no longer full of humor, but were rather darker. “Something is coming, and we must be prepared with all the allies we can gather.”
“You believe this cat, this worthless animal, is an ally?” Will gestured to the small feline. At his threatening tone, Violet picked up the cat and protectively held it against her chest. The feline purred at her show of affection, but her arms quivered. She wondered if the cat had any natural attachment to herself, or if it merely stemmed from the blood they shared. “Have you grown senile in your old age?”
“Size is hardly all that matters. The heart can be a greater asset than any physical power,” Caleb replied in a calm voice, but the hand which gripped his chair was tense.
“So you sought to use this creature to follow us? How did you even manage to know where we were, or that such a creature would be useful for our needs?” Will was at a loss here. He could not imagine anything but that complete madness had induced his guardian to conjure up such an outrageous plan.
“The cat was especially shipped to Jim’s home, though without his knowing. I left explicit instructions on the care of the feline, and that it should be released at his home during the day should it not arrive at night. Captain Johnny himself was kind enough to take the cargo as far south as he could manage, and from there it traveled by coach.”
“And if it had not reached his home, and it had turned into a vampire? What then of your plan?” Will shot back. He saw so many holes and so many possibilities for the plan to go awry that he could hardly believe he was having this conversation with his guardian. Here Caleb frowned, and Violet was right to believe the expression was terrifying to behold.
“You know me better than that, William Stewart. I make my plans carefully, and place my trust in only those who most deserve the honor.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” a soft voice interrupted their heated conversation. Both men looked to Violet, who’s eyes were full of tears, proof of her nervousness in this tense situation. She turned them upon Caleb, and the old vampire felt pity for his adopted son’s young charge. “Why so much trouble for this small animal? How could you have known it would take such a liking to me, um, us?” she asked, trying to save face by including Will in the mix. Perhaps the cat was merely attached to both of them equally, and her kindness was all that kept it from going to her guardian.
“You ask some interesting questions, Violet,” Caleb replied in a softer voice. Both he and Will could see their fighting had only worsened Violet’s disappointment toward what she had considered as her own affectionate feline. “To be honest I had sent the cat to Jim’s home at the moment Will was to be there so he would have a good laugh at Jim’s expense, but the feline was intended to stay with Jim. Plans changed when I realized, through the cat’s perception, that Will here had finally made me a grandfather.” Here the aforementioned son rolled his eyes, but that at least lightened the sharp tempers between them. Violet had more questions.
“And you said you hadn’t told Jim about the cat coming. Why?”
“If he was not informed, than he could hardly refuse the Watcher,” Caleb pointed out.
“And it ended up in the woods how?” Will asked in a challenging tone. That hardly fit with Caleb’s plans.
“Ah, that complication.” Here he sighed, for he found little to compliment himself there. “I hardly imagined the cat itself would be the source of the largest problem, but its curiosity got the better of it. The creature sensed you three were close to the town upon your visit to the tailor’s shop, and escaped from its carriage box when the vehicle was at a nearby way-station. I couldn’t risk controlling the feline without killing it, and could only go along for the adventure.” He gave a wink to the disappointed girl, and she was confused by the gesture. “He must really like you to have been so intent on meeting you.” His words gave Violet some hope that the creature purring softly in her arms did indeed naturally care for her.
“So to shorten your wonderfully naive plan, you sent the cat to watch Jim and it ended up attaching itself to us?” Will paraphrased. His guardian nodded.
“But then why would you go to all the trouble of sending a Watcher to Jim?” That was the heart of Will’s previous question. Watchers were not things and people to be created for any small purpose. “What was your intention in watching Jim?”
“To be honest, I worry for him. His past few letters have shown his hand is failing and his mind is not as sharp as it once was.” Caleb stood from his chair and began to pace the room. “Something is wrong and I sought to obtain more information, whether he agreed to the watching or not.”
“He appeared to be well when we visited him,” Will pointed out, but Caleb shook his head.
“Then he no doubt hid whatever is ailing him quite well. No, none of your words can convince me otherwise,” Caleb professed when Will opened his mouth. He knew his son meant to object, but he would not be moved. “I am firm in my belief that something is not right with him, and my last letter to the captain asked that he check in on Jim when he traveled through that part of the country, and to deliver the cat.”
“What can hurt a vampire and have the symptoms you described?” Violet wondered. She glanced over to her guardian, who’s duty it was to teach her about weaknesses. “I thought only the sun and silver could harm us for any amount of time, not illness.”
“There is no known illness which effects vampires,” Will assured her, but Caleb had a pensive look on his face. The young vampire did not appreciate that expression. “What are you thinking, Caleb?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, just some old rumors I once heard. Long before I met you, of course, so quite a few centuries ago.”
“What rumors?” Will persisted. If his guardian knew something in a matter so dire, he wanted the information. “Are they to do with rumors of an illness, as Violet has supposed?”
“I will not answer a question until I’ve formed my thoughts clearly,” Caleb countered, and he waved his hand in the air to brush aside any further entreaties. “I need a night’s repose to recall what I had heard at that point, and then I will be able to pass that story onto you. For now, perhaps you two should rest for the day, or possibly bathe.” His eyes traveled down Will’s filthy person. “I’m sure Violet won’t appreciate sleeping beside someone so endowed in mud.”
“I won’t have my own coffin?” she asked. She had expected there to be one prepared for her arrival, and she would be separated from Will. It wasn’t what she wanted, but she was willing to take the kindness for what it was worth and accept the new arrangement.
“Nonsense. With so few months of vampiric life under your belt, to our species you’re hardly more than an infant. Even if Will objected, which I don’t believe he will, I would insist on you two sleeping together for at least another decade.” Violet blushed and wondered if the vampire was teasing her. He had such a serious expression and a dead-pan ring to his voice that it was impossible to tell. “You will both occupy Will’s old room on the second floor.” Their host then stretched his long, thin arms and stifled a yawn with a hand. “After only a few minutes around such young and lively company, I believe I’m ready to turn in. I bid you both a good day.”
“Good day,” Violet gave her farewell, but Will merely nodded in a stiff fashion.
Caleb left them to their own desires, but they could partake of those for only a short while. Day was coming.