The smell of dead blood assailed his nose. The stench was so thick it hurt, and choked him momentarily. He held the baby as close to his chest as he could without smothering her. The baby's mother, a child herself, clutched his arm desperately. She pulled herself as close to him as she could as they both pressed against the cold wall of the dank, dark, seeping stone castle. He held a finger to his lips when he thought the girl was going to say something. He took a deep breath of the air around them, trying not to choke on the blood and to find out if their hunters were anywhere nearby.

He got nothing but a lungful of filth, and tried not to cough it out. He pointed down the hall and motioned for her to follow. He looked down at the little girl in his arms. Her eyes were wide and it seemed that even at only 4 months old she knew there was danger and it was important she stay quite.

They made it to another cross passage and he pressed them against the wall once more. Down this hall, he could smell the evil he knew to be the baby's father. He pressed his finger to his lips again, and listened.

"Where is the bitch?" came the unkind tones.

"We are searching the whole castle, father," came a weak answer.

"You are poor excuse for a son." The statement was followed by the crack of a hand against skin. "Take the guards and surround the castle. You will NOT let the bitch and her child out of this castle. If they escape, I will rip your heart from your chest."

"Yes, father." The voice barked a few commands and they could hear the small contingent of guards marched down a different corridor. Vincent looked carefully down the hall and could see that the door at the end of the hall was slightly ajar to let the voices out, but not wide enough for those inside to see down the hall to where they stood.

He looked at the continuing corridor on the other side of the passage. He knew that would lead them to the way out, and he fairly certain he could them out safely before the son managed to surround the building. He motioned the girl forward quietly—but not two steps out of the shelter of their passage, there was someone standing in the corridor to their right.

"Did you really think you could outwit us in our own home?" the newcomer said.

The girl screeched and ducked behind Vincent. Vincent looked at the man. "I wasn't trying to outwit you, just out-maneuver you."

The door at the end of the corridor swung open, and a dark, cruel presence seem to roil down the hall and extinguish any happiness left in such a horrible place. Vincent turned to look; he knew what to expect and steel himself against it. The man glided unnaturally down the hall way to meet up with the other who had appeared in the hall. The first man walked around them, and went to stand with the dark man.

"You really are a fool," said the dark man. "A fool, Vincent Morchause. Give me my granddaughters and I promise that your death will be quick."

"Because you've kept all your other promises so well," Vincent said.

The girl stepped out from behind him. "You won't have me and you won't have my daughter. You can just go ahead and kill me now."

The arrow came from the left and landed itself with grandiose 'thwump' in the back of the younger man. Vincent looked to the left, and saw---

Element: Vincent

-- He shot up in bed. He was panting and drenched in his own sweat.

Well, that was a different dream, Vincent thought, starting to climb out of the bed. He didn't like it nearly as much as the other about the castle where there were nice people and friends, and warm tea and chocolate chip cookies. And Alia. This dream-castle was cold and indifferent and dangerous.

Vin put his feet on the floor and padded into the bathroom. He turned on the shower and looked in the mirror. He found his hair had assumed its usual bed-head style, and was starting to look a little scruffy. He pulled off the sweaty pajama bottoms, and made quick use of the toilet. He jumped in the shower forgetting he had turned on only the hot water. He screamed and jumped back, and proceeded to swear under his breath until the cold water started to come up.

There was a knock on the door. "Vin?! Are you ok?" It was his mother. He could swear she was the one with supernatural hearing.

"I'm fine," he sighed at her. "I forgot to turn on the cold water."

"Again?" she asked, through the door. "I'm surprised you're not a mass of skin grafts at this point. Why don't you put up a sign?"

" A sign? In the bathroom?" Vin rolled his eyes. "What the hell would I put on it? Hey stupid the water's hot?"

"That would work," his mother said. "Just be careful."

"Yes, Mother."

Vincent pounded down the stairs about 20 minutes later, backpack in tow to get some breakfast before Coray was supposed to pick him up. He wasn't paying attention and plowed right into someone at the bottom of the stairs.

"Ah, jeeze, sorry," he said, looking up. "NATHAN!? Dude, what are you doing here?!"

Vincent gave his older brother an enthusiastic masculine hug. Nathan returned it in kind. "Hey, Vin. I got some business up in Burlington that has to be taken care of on Friday, so I thought I might come up for the day and get going tomorrow morning."

"Burlington? What the hell's up there?"

"Some railroad tycoon is suing one of our clients," he answered as they walked into the kitchen.

"I didn't even know there were railroad tycoons anymore," Vin said.

"Yeah, there're a few of them left. Still one of the cheapest ways to ship freight," Nathan said. "Not like you care."

"I do," Vincent said. "I've been thinking about asking dad to tell me what his business is all about and taking over when he retires."

"Man, you're seventeen. You shouldn't be thinking about shit like that."

"Mouth, Nathan, please," Vin's mother said.

"Sorry, Sharon," he apologized as the phone rang.

Vin walked over to and picked it up. "Hello, Morchause residence."

"HI VINNY!" came the piercing shriek from the other end. Vin held the phone away from his ear as the screeching tirade continued. "I MISSED YOU LAST NIGHT." His mother, brother, and sister looked at him as he rolled his eyes and put the phone to his ear. "Hi, Stacey. Could you not do that anymore? I think you broke my eardrum. You know I have really sensitive hearing."

"Oh, you're such a baby," she giggled. "Gonna come pick me up this morning?"

"I told you two days ago Coray and I have some stuff to do this morning."


"Stacey, no," Vin said. "I told you I couldn't. I don't even have my car right now, and you know Coray won't go out of his way."

"I don't like Coray. I don't want you to hang around with him anymore."

"Man, again Stacey? You've tried that before," Vin said. "You are not going to tell me I can't hang out with him anymore. I told you that. I don't stop you from hanging out with those other friends of yours."

"I want you to hang out with them, too!"

"Stacey, we've been over this before," Vincent said, with a sigh. "I don't like them, they don't like me. It's just better if we stay away from each other. I'm not going to sit here and argue with you while my toast gets cold. I'll see you in first period. Ok?"

She sighed. "Ok, Vinny. Loves you."

He rolled his eyes even further back in his head. "Yeap. Ditto. Bye." He hung up the phone before she could get in another good-bye or 'I love you.'

Nathan raised an eyebrow. "Are you STILL seeing that Spacey chick?"

Vin raised his eyebrow back at him. "Yeah."


Vin paused. "I don't know. Because there's no one else right now? Because I've already forked out the money for the junior prom tux and limo?"

"What about Alia?"

"She's been going out with Mike for a year now. She's got no interest in me."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "Sharon, you've raised him to be far too much of a gentleman."

Sharon glanced over her shoulder at Nathan. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"You know," Ellen said, matter-of-factly from her place at the table. "One of my friend's said that her brother's friend's sister was invited to a sabbat at Stacey's house, and she had the inverted cross, black candles and everything. They were chanting in Latin and just doing all kinds of evil things."

Sharon looked at her youngest daughter sitting at the table. "Let's see, that's fourth degree rumor about your brother's girlfriend. Do you really think it's true?"

"She showed us the bloody chicken feathers," Ellen answered.

"What?!" Sharon exclaimed, dropping the plate she was hold onto the counter. "Bloody chicken feathers in an eighth grade classroom!?"

"Yeah, they were really gross and they really smelled like blood and incense."

Sharon raised her eyebrow in disapproval. "Did anyone bother to tell the principal she had these?"

"Nope," Ellen said, placing a square of Eggo in her mouth. "She threw them out."

Sharon looked at Vincent. "Do you know anything about this?" She picked up the dish and started to put some of the toast she had just pulled out of the toaster on it.

"Ma, I'm trying to break up with her," Vincent said. "I don't want to know anything about it."

"Just watch your ass, young man. You have enough trouble as it is," Sharon said.

Ellen howled at the table, and Vincent laughed. "Oh yeah right, El, you're one to talk. You're going to pop any month now."

"Maybe I won't," Ellen said.

"You go right ahead and think that," Vin said, folding the toast in half and shoving it in his mouth.

"Tell anyone yet?" Nathan asked, leaning against the counter top, snagging a piece of toast of his own from the dish the pile was sitting on.

Vin choked on the toast, and then swallowed it in one gulp. "No."

Sharon dropped the same dish onto the counter again. "You mean Coray STILL doesn't know?" she asked.

"Ma," Vincent said, "how the hell do you tell someone something like that?"

"He's your best friend, Vin," Nathan said. "You can't keep it a secret from everyone for the rest of your life."

"Yeah, sure," Vin said. "Hey, Coray, guess what? I'm a werewolf."

Sharon smiled. "Again, the obvious usually works."

"You've managed to keep it a secret from Coray for 3 years?" Nathan asked.

"I thought you said you were going to tell him," came Vincent's father's voice from the doorway. Richard walked into the room. "You told me you were."

"I decided against it," Vin said, buttering another piece of toast. "I mean what if he tells Coleen?"

"Coray has been your best friend since you were seven years old," Richard said. "If you tell him it's a secret, he's going to keep it a secret. I really don't think there's much that either of you have kept from each other except this. Why don't you just tell him and show him at the next moon?"

Vincent shook his head. "It's too weird for someone as normal as Coray Logan."

Sharon sighed, after putting the toast plate on the table and turned back to her counter full of dough. "It's your decision, of course Vin. But I think you'd be surprised how much easier life is when you have someone to talk to this about."

"He'd rather tell Aaaaaaaaliaaaaaaah," Ellen teased.

Vincent tossed a pat of butter at his sister as a horn sounded from the driveway. He looked at the clock, and swore under his breath. "Ridesheregottago."

"You've got an HOUR before school!" Nathan said. "Where are you going?"

"Baseball meeting," Vin said.

"You made Coray get up early to drive you to a meeting?" Nathan said.

"He volunteered.," Vin answered, grabbing his backpack and heading for the door. "See you tonight!"

"Eight o'clock!" Sharon yelled after him. "I need you home to keep on eye on Olivia and help her with her homework!"

"OKBye!" Vin called and slammed out the front door. He went running down the stairs to where Coray's car was waiting in the driveway, and yanked the door open. "Hey," Vin said by way of greeting.

"Hey," Coray answered. "Why the hell am I going to this damn meeting with you? I don't want to play baseball. I can't play baseball. I suck. I can't even hit the broad side of barn with this car."

"Because Coleen is going to be there because Alia is going to be there," Vincent said. Coray pulled down the street. "And the more time you get with Coleen the better mood your in, and the more it pisses off your mother. For some reason you get a kick out of pissing off your mother. How is Yvette?"

Coray took a hand of the wheel long enough to give Vincent the middle finger. "She called dad last night and just got him all riled up." He turned on the blinker to make the right onto the main road. He sighed. "I know it's wrong but I really wish dad would just pay her off and make her go away. I'm nothing but a problem for her and she's nothing but a pain to dad."

"She still your mother," Vincent said, digging through his backpack.

"I don't care," he sighed. "She just always upsets the balance when she calls."

Vin stared out the window watching the slowly decaying center of town pass them by on the way to school. He saw that Mr. Heeley's hardware store, that he remembered always being packed from floor to ceiling with anything and everything you could need to fix anything in your house, now had a 'going out of business' sign in the front window. He knew Mr. Heeley was probably older than dirt, but he also knew Heeley would have worked that store until the day he died if it weren't for the giant hardware stores that were opening everywhere.

The town was starting to look more and more worn down. The facades were fading, the window were slightly grimy, there seemed to be more dirt in the streets than he remembered when he was little. There were more empty store fronts, and several more the stores had clearance signs in the windows. The cars on the streets were looking older and more rusty every time he noticed them.

"Do you want to live here?" he asked, mumbling the poorly formed question.


He cleared his throat and looked over at Coray in the driver's seat. "Do you think that you'll end up living here forever?"

"I have absolutely no intentions of staying here," Coray said. "I'm getting my ass into a college and I'm getting the hell way from here. Why?"

"I guess…" Vincent began, and glanced back out the window again. "I guess I never really gave it any thought. I always just guessed I would go to Community and--"

"Woah," Coray said. "Hang on. Community?"

"Yeah," Vincent said. "I put in my application already."

"And where else are you applying?"

"Um," Vincent paused. "Nowhere."

"Just community?" Coray was clearly surprised.

"Yeah," Vincent said.

"What did you get on your SATs?"

"Thirteen sixty," he said.

"Ok," Coray said, turning onto the main road to the school. "Let me explain this to you. You are the son of a very powerful Wall Street tycoon. You could get into any school you wanted to get into. But, you are also the smart son of a Wall Street Tycoon, and there will be colleges clamoring for you. You have got to look at more schools than just community. Even if all you do is get a 4 year liberal arts degree, look at other schools. Don't just go to Community with all the idiots in our class."

"I didn't really think about it," Vin said.

"Do you want to go to thirteenth grade?" Coray asked. "Dude, trust me, I don't really want to think about the rest of my life yet, but I am not staying here and I'm not going to community with the rest of those bozos."

Vin nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I guess I should think about it."

"Yeah," Coray said, turning down the road that lead to the high school. "You should. And think hard and fast. You only have one more shot to take the SATs and get those scores out."

Vincent nodded and watched at the school appeared on the left of the car: UGRHS. It was a less than impressive main entrance if he was being kind. Most of the kids called the school Ugly Regional High School, but it was officially known as Ulysses Grant Regional High School. Even the austere name really didn't do much for the building. It was a relic from the late sixties and showed it's age. There was some talk around the town about building a new high school, but Vincent didn't think he was going to see that happen anytime soon.

Coray parked the car in the student lot, which was of course the furthest from any of the entrances to the school, front or other. The kids who still took the bus were dropped off at the West Entrance to the school, but if you were lucky enough to have your own car you still wound up having to walk a solid half mile to the building and then try to find a door.

Vin and Coray climbed out of his car and started the trek to the building in the just breaking dawn of what he considered a ridiculously early start to a school day. Of course, he had made it worse by dragging himself to Coach Robinson's meeting before classes. There were only a few other cars around, and most of them he identified as teachers cars. There were a few students, but mostly the froshes were being dropped off by their parents.

From any distance, he would have recognized Alia's dad's car.

"Hey!" Coray said a second later, and twenty feet ahead of him. "What's… Oh." He walked back to where Vincent had stopped and grabbed his arm "Come on man. She'll be inside in a few minutes."

"With Mike no doubt," he mumbled.

"Ugh, come on," Coray said, dragging him toward the school. "You need to ditch Spacey first before you even thing about Alia. Since you're taking Stacey to the prom, clearly this isn't going to happen right now. Straighten yourself out first."

Vincent sighed and followed after Coray.