Mace

Chapter One
Ava

“This is a dangerous day and age; if anyone tells you any different, they are trying to brainwash you against the truth. Much like the government that tries to brainwash us and sell us the fake ideal that humans, that anyone, can have peace with the vampires. Don’t make the mistake of calling vampires vangers. This is a racial slur that anyone pro-vamp will use against us and our cause. This is not a racial issue or fight. This is a matter of survival. The drug they say doesn’t exist is called Anamorphia. A drug created by vampires to get high, feel good, and experience out of this world hallucinations.

The distorted voice on the big screen is ominous, meant to get the hair on the back of your neck to stand up and let fear stir in your blood. Drawing in a deep breath, I focus on the pixel blurred face of the person speaking. Fucking coward. If you’re going to spread disinformation, segregation and hatred, at least have the balls to show your face instead of hiding behind a distorted screen concealing your identity.

A snicker escapes me, and nearly every head turns in my direction. Coughing quickly in a bad attempt to cover it, I shrug one shoulder and mouth sorry. Everyone in here needs to lighten up a bit. I mean, sure, we’re all vampires, and this could potentially become a real threat. But it’s not like it’s the first ‘domestic terrorism’ we’ve faced since humans discovered our existence, and we managed to gain equal rights. There’ve been so many terrorist acts. Too many. Just a couple of years ago, there was one in New York City. A car bomb exploded in front of a vampire apartment building and nearly killed every vampire on the first floor and quite a few on the second. After the initial attacks had failed to hurt a significant number of vampires, the terrorist had gotten creative and developed silver shrapnel bombs. The slivers of silver shot outward when the bomb exploded. Those small pieces could pierce any vital organ on a vampire, and it could cause any number of injuries from bleeding out to anaphylactic shock or killing them instantly.

Bureaucracy dictated the Marshal's office could only gather information and hope to prevent future bombings. This new situation we’re facing isn’t the same thing. Sure, it’s talking about a drug that vampires harvest from humans, but I mean, come on, people should look at the facts. Google could show them the theory is not scientifically sound. Humans have got to question the accuracy of this video. The way the drug is harvested is wrong based on the unarguable fact that the anatomy is totally wrong.

My smile slips. Don’t they?

If you see proof that there’s no way something this outlandish could possibly be true, that it’s scientifically impossible, you have to realize it’s false. Don’t you? How can someone deny science? The more I’m thinking about it, the more I’m losing confidence. Also, herd mentality is usually dictated by emotions and fear-mongering, so racism tends to flourish. The anonymous vigilante’s claim is 100% false. But does that even matter? The longer I sit here watching this video, the more dangerous it seems.

The lights in the room flip on, and I blink rapidly at the sudden brightness. John Cannon, a social media psychology expert, clears his throat as he turns off the video. “Uploaded over the weekend, this video has already gone viral with over fifty million views.” He pushes up the glasses perched on his nose as he flips through the papers on the podium in front of him.

John’s pretty cute in a nerdy, buff kind of way. He’s super smart and totally has the nerdy doctor look down. The body he’s hiding under those starched shirts, though, wow. Hard, contoured, and rippling in all the right places. The package between his legs does not disappoint. He’s pretty kinky for someone so conservative and quiet. Then again, any human looking for sex with a vampire could be viewed as kinky. We had a fling about a year ago for a hot minute. Burned up the bedroom and any other convenient surface, but for me, the fire burned out quickly. The way it always does. My walls are just built up too high. There is too much hurt, too much pain swirling inside me to let anyone in again.

“You all have a packet.” John holds up the thick bundle of papers that were passed around at the beginning of the meeting. “It will explain everything you need to know about The Vrungashire Theory. It’s the idea that vampires are systematically harvesting humans for their adrenal glands to create a recreational drug. Read it, get familiar with it, and I suggest you all do your own research about it. This theory is linked to the supporters of Prop 111. As you know, Prop 111 would force vampires to register their home address, along with other personal information, in a national database which they must update wherever they move.”

I swallow. The current law protects a vampire’s private information such as their address, what counties they reside in, and things like that to safeguard them from anti-vampire extremists. Prop 111 didn’t pass, and a lot of people are pissed off about that.

John’s voice gets louder, “Proponents claim they are tired of the government and law enforcement’s compliance with vampires and their crimes against society. They are speaking out to save the people who are losing their lives every day to the demented, depraved, and sadistic pleasures of vampires.”

I whistle low, looking down at the stapled stack of papers in my hand. There’s too much information on these pages for our office to handle this as an FYI kind of thing.

“This could very well shape up to be the biggest anti-vampire movement that we’ve seen in modern times,” John continues. “Our Louisiana politics are involved from local towns all the way to the state government. Governor Harris is running for re-election, and he’s a vocal supporter of the Vampire Registration Bill. Abigail Greene, a major pro-vampire activist, who has tightened her protective detail to keep her safe, is running against Harris. Let’s just say that with this theory gaining traction and the elections coming up, we’re expecting and preparing for a lot of shit to go down.”

“Governor Harris is vocally prejudiced and discriminatory toward vampires,” a coworker says begrudgingly. Murmurs of agreement fill the room. “I hear his protective detail has been increased as well. Looks like crazy shit is expected by both sides.”

“Yeah, and with Harris encouraging hatred of our kind and violent action against us, I bet you shit will kick off soon,” I offer.

“And how is he encouraging hate?” Martin, a complete and utter asshole who is a vampire hybrid, asks, turning his head to me from where he sits in the front row.

This douche canoe gets under my skin every time he opens his fucking mouth. Years ago, hybrids of vampire/shifter or vampire/human origin kept their identities hidden for fear of rejection; rightly so because let’s face it, people who are different have always been feared. New prejudices pop up everywhere. Fifty years ago, no one knew that humans and vampires were compatible to reproduce because only 5% of the human female population has a mutation in their genes that makes reproduction possible. Martin’s human mother was bitter toward vampires after a romance went sour, and she passed her anger onto him. It completely dumbfounds me how he’s working here.

“Since you haven’t written him off completely,” I say, the suggestion that he supports our current governor is heavy in my disgusted tone. “I’m assuming that you watched his interview with CNN.”

Martin nods. “What does that have to do with him encouraging violence against vampires? Those words never came out of his mouth.”

“True, but when asked about his thoughts on the arson fire in Tennessee last month that killed eight vampires, three of them young children, and the men who intentionally set the fire, he simply stated, ‘no comment’.”

Martin shrugs. “So?”

“So?” I snort. “He had the chance to condemn them for the intentional murder of a family of vampires, and he chose to sit back and say nothing!”

“That’s enough,” Adam Marques, our unit chief, says, authority lacing his tone. “We’re not here to talk about Governor Harris, or what new fucked up thing he’s up to.” He looks pointedly at Martin. “We all need to focus on The Vrungashire conspiracy theory taking the internet by storm. This unfounded theory is dangerous and has the potential to cost not only vampire lives but humans who stand with us. Anyone who disagrees with taking action against this shit needs to walk out that door and resign.” He pauses, mouth pressed into a thin white line as he looks around the room. “This is your one and only chance to walk away with no questions asked. If you continue with the Marshals, you fight against anyone who supports or pushes this theory. You protect the innocent and uphold the law, pushing your own beliefs aside. That’s your fucking job.” He leans down, practically in Martin’s face. Guess I’m not the only one aware of his undercover support for Governor Harris. “Understand?”

Martin nods his head stiffly. “Good.” He straightens. “Take these papers and study everything you can about this shit. I want everyone walking back through those doors on Monday morning an expert on Vrungashire bullshit. Dismissed.”

Something about this is really biting the Chief’s ass, and that’s not good. That speech was very emotional; he never gets emotional talking to us. He’s always straight to the point, not feeling words or even any encouragement. I’m beginning to think this shit is going to take the highest level of priority in our unit.

Getting to my feet, I gather my things. I’m spending the weekend out at my brother’s house with him and his new mate, Zoey, a tiger shifter. Markus and Zoey took the unprecedented step to mate. It has only been a few months, and they’re happier than any couple I’ve ever met. The wild thing about their love story is their kindred mates. Honest to god, chosen by destiny, twin flames, soul mates, the other half of each other’s soul, can’t live without you kind of mates. The perfect match.

It threw me for a loop and her shifter family too. Vampires and shifters never mix. We’re like oil and vinegar, or however that saying goes. I’ve never heard of a vampire and shifter mating. It works because they’re great together, complimenting each other perfectly. I’ve only ever wanted my brother to be happy, and he is happier than I’ve ever seen him. He’s actually got stars in his eyes. It’s kind of pathetic. Not really. I only tease because I’m jealous. The kind of jealousy that makes me smile, and gives me hope that the same thing could happen to me one day.

And Zoey is freaking amazing. The best sister-in-law in the whole world, I think that’s the human term for it. Sounds right. I never figured I would like her as much as I do. Me, a vampire, best friends, and now family with a shifter. Life’s a funny thing. Can’t say it’s not interesting, that’s for damn sure.

This weekend is supposed to be a BBQ hang out while I get to know her brothers. A couple of them are not excited that their baby sister mated a vamp. Their mating ceremony is in less than a month. Zoey and I are going to plan, shop for decorations, and buy a dress. In short, it’s going to be a blast. Except now it looks like I’m going to have homework. Great.

“Nikola?” Adam’s deep voice interrupts my thoughts. I look up, gaze connecting with those hard gold eyes. “My office.” Then he turns and walks out. He says it so abruptly with that damn hard look on his face that it makes me feel like I’m in trouble. But for what? I haven’t done anything.

Lately.

“Son of a bitch,” I mutter, slip the folder into my bag, and head out the door. Walking down the hallway feels like a trek to the gallows. One thing that has remained the same since I joined the US Marshals, at the request of the Vampire Guild, is whenever Adam calls me into his office, it’s never good.

Stopping outside his door, I let my head fall back on my shoulders and stare up at the ceiling. It’s something I always do before going in and sitting through whatever fucking lecture he’s going to give me. Come to think about it, I’m pretty sure there’s not another Marshal here that why did Ihas been in this office as many times as me. I might as well set up a cot in the damn corner.

Blowing out a deep breath, I walk into the room.

“Close the door,” he barks.

Rolling my eyes, I close the door and sit down in front of the desk. “I didn’t do anything.” It’s a weak defense and not totally true.

He raises a dark eyebrow. “No. What do you call starting shit with Martin in the conference room?”

“Starting shit with that asshole? You’re kidding, right?” I snorted in disgust. “Come on, we both know Martin is a piece of shit whose loyalty to the Marshals is questionable. The most important thing about our work is to kill rogues and protect the innocent. All species. I’m not tiptoeing around his damn feelings. You know, I know, everyone knows that Martin dislikes vampires. Despite the fact that the douche is half-vampire,” I grumble, “I’m not going to dance around it or pretend like I’m not aware of that fact. Not when we’re discussing something like this.”

“I agree.” He sat back in his desk chair.

“And another thing…wait,” I stop, scarcely believing what I’d just heard. “Did you just agree with me?”

“Yes, but don’t let it go to your head.” Clearing his throat, he grabs a file and slides it across the oak desk to me. “That’s for you. Your assignment.”

Frowning, I pick up the file and flip it open. The moment my gaze focuses on the black and white photo, my stomach turns, the back of my throat burns, and creepy crawlies dance across my skin. The hairs across the back of my neck tingle and stand on end. I’m a seasoned Marshal and a warrior before that, so I’ve seen a lot of mutilated, broken bodies in my time, but the bad ones never fail to turn my gut. They also stick with me for a long time. This is one that’s going to stick with me.

A young woman had been arranged in the dirt with her hands resting in a prayer position over her heart. Her legs are stretched out and crossed at the ankle. What appeared to be dark long locks were shaved from her scalp and fanned out around her head in the dirt. I flipped through all the horrifying pictures.

I swallow hard, slip the photos back into the manilla folder, and close it. There will be plenty of time to look at it later.

“Where?” I ask, tucking the file into my bag.

“Swamps. Bayou, forty-five minutes outside of New Orleans.”

Cocking my head, I thought about the location and what would be in the general vicinity. Then it hit me. “Isn’t that…”

“Sobek land,” he says, interrupting me. Maybe he can feel my reluctance kicking in. A vampire conducting an investigation on shifter land would not go over well. Especially, big scary shifters like Sobeks.

These crocodile shifters are like normal crocodiles on crack. Sobek size is enormous like DAMN and freaking mind-blowing. Rows of sharp teeth and a tail so powerful it just might send you clear out to the ocean.

“Sobek land. Are you fucking kidding me?” I yell, “One of them is the murderer?”

Adam shakes his head. “No. Caleb, the new alpha, assures me his people are not behind this.”

“How can he be so sure of that?” I ask, suspicious that he believed an alpha so quickly.

“Caleb and I go way back, and he’s asked that we come out and take a look into it, as a favor. He would’ve smelled the human blood on the attacker, I believe him.” Adam rests his elbows on the desk. “For him to ask,” he shakes his head. “It’s bad.”

“Okay, so where do we come into this?” I ask, still confused as to our part in all this. “Don’t they have their own police force or brute squad, whatever they call it?” Unlike most shifters who answer to local law enforcement, Sobek’s operate like their own town. At least that’s what’s been said in the past. Personally, with some of the stories I’ve heard about the old alpha, I think they’re more like the Godfather and the Italian Corleone family.

“There are two other bodies. The one you’re holding is human, and her body was claimed by human authorities this morning. She’s also the last one found. They didn’t ask any questions about the other victims or even how this female was found when Caleb tried to explain it to them.”

 

Who would be stupid enough to use Sobek land as their killing ground? Why do I suddenly feel like I’m stepping into some shit that isn’t just bad but epically fucking rotton? And of course, this mother fucker, is giving the case to me.