Chapter 1

Corbin Allender awoke with a mighty yawn. Stretching his body awake beneath the sheets he glanced around at the pitch black surroundings of his basement dwelling. Having living quarters impervious to daylight was a necessity since Amanda, the love of his life laying next to him, was a vampire. Once his preternatural eyesight adjusted, and the purple irises of his eyes shone with a faint glow in the dark, he propped himself up on one elbow next to his love.

Amanda lay peacefully on her side, half curled where she'd been snuggled up to Corbin when the slumber of her vampiric nature overtook her. The thin sheets covering her from the neck down draped her body in a such a way that the luscious lines of her womanly allure were outlined just enough to tease Corbin's gaze as his eyes swept over her. Roving his eyes back up to where her head was nestled comfortably on a large plush pillow, Corbin's stare turned to one of doting as he looked upon her. She was a lifeless prisoner to the slumber of day, a pale beauty with ebony locks of cascading hair draped around her moonlight complexion. Though she was nearing a thousand years in age, she herself was ageless, a gorgeous vision etched in womanhood. A beautiful rose with deadly thorns. Corbin lowered himself gently down to place a tender, lingering kiss upon her exposed cheek.

Slipping out from under the covers Corbin left the bed and made for the bathroom where he slipped into a heavy robe. Securing the robe with the thick belt at his waist, he welcomed the warmth it wrapped his bare body in by pulling it tight against him. Flipping on the lights above the bathroom mirror he filled the sink with warm water next. He bent over to splash his face, wiping away the last remnants of sleep before reaching for a hand towel to dry himself off. Looking at his reflection in the mirror he marveled. Here he was, technically a fifty-something year old man although the image in the mirror was that of his twenty-five year old self. He wasn't a vampire, or immortal, but thanks to a powerful spell cast upon him, his three sisters, and one brother-in-law decades ago, he never aged. Those affected by the spell were frozen in time, never to age beyond the moment the spell was cast and never to die unless they suffered mortal injuries. To say the effects of the spell were surreal would be a gross understatement.

Corbin wiggled his feet into a pair of cozy slippers before strolling through his bedroom and into the basement corridor. Heading for the stairs which ascended to the sprawling manor above he stopped at a robust steel door securely bolted from the inside, identical to the one he'd just closed upon leaving his bedroom. This door was the entrance to the living quarters of the manor's other vampire resident, Gideon. At five centuries old Gideon was Amanda's vampire progeny, having been turned by her against both their wills. Upon meeting Corbin's mother Emma when she was but a young child, Gideon became the benefactor of her family and later the patriarch of the Allender clan when both Corbin's parents died tragically, first his mother and later his father.

Corbin waited patiently at the door until the clanging of its sturdy bolts opening from the inside sounded forth. The heavy door eased open just far enough for the lithe figure of a raven-haired woman to slip through, floating through the gap like mist upon a soft current of air. She looked up at Corbin with dark eyes and the warmest of smiles. She was a mesmerizing beauty to behold. Her complexion was like the glow of moonlight and her body seemed spectral in essence though her touch was very real when she raised a hand to stroke Corbin's cheek with the backside of her delicate fingers.

"Good morning mother," Corbin cordially greeted.

"Good morning my son," Emma lovingly returned.

An ornate ring adorned with a sparkling gem worn on her ring finger was the key to her posthumous presence. It's an enchanted ring given to the family by an allied mage. Emma herself had found a way to return from beyond the grave in a ghostly form, visiting her family and Gideon, her once forbidden love; but only during the full moon. By the powerful magic of her enchanted ring she is allowed to remain in corporeal form, but she cannot leave the estate grounds of Allender Manor. Such is the limitation of spells and enchantments used on souls from the afterlife. Those affected are usually tethered to worldly anchors of some sort.

Corbin and his mother strolled together towards the stairs leading out of the basement level. He cherished these kinds of moments. A simple stroll with one's mother might seem trivial to most, but not to someone who never knew his mother until adulthood. Her absence in his life was always keenly felt, and though she'd been back with her family for well over two decades now, her presence served as a stark reminder of all that he missed in her absence. Having been a kidnapped orphan reunited with his family by Fate, he wasn't about to be taking his current life for granted any time soon.

Corbin and Emma reached the stairs at the end of the basement corridor with Corbin ascending first to open the door above for his mother. The basement entrance was located in the back of a spacious pantry filled with shelves and stocked with several months worth of essentials for the Allender household. Upon entering the pantry Corbin's heightened sense of smell was engulfed by the nearby aroma of freshly brewed coffee. He took a deep breath of the heavenly smell and followed it, along with his mother, into the large restaurant-like kitchen of the manor. There they found Corbin's oldest sister Gale along with her bespectacled husband Ethan both propped over a counter with steaming hot cups of coffee nestled in their hands.

Gale was the very vision of a glorious morning herself, with blond hair as radiant as a sunny dawn and eyes as blue as any clear spring sky. At forty years old when the anti-aging spell froze her in time, Gale was a few years older than Emma had been when she died. It was clearly evident when Emma floated over to greet her eldest daughter with the familial gesture of a loving brush of a hand across the cheek that Gale's features were more from her father Hayden's side than Emma's. Observing them side-by-side was like recognizing the beauty of both day and night. Though they favored very little in regards to appearance, they were both carbon copies of warmth and grace. It was as if the Allender clan had two loving matriarchs.

Emma turned from Gale to greet her son-in-law Ethan with the same warm gesture of her affection. Corbin made his way past them with cordial greetings to them both, taking in another deep breath of the coffee aroma permeating the kitchen air and exhaling an audible moan of approval over the delightful smell.

"Would you like a cup?" Gale offered, lifting up off the counter to direct herself in Corbin's direction.

"As soon as I get back, I'd love one," Corbin returned, opening a cabinet to retrieve a small metal can of cat food.

"Still feedin' those two stray cats, huh?" Ethan remarked.

"Yep," Corbin chirped as he fumbled through a drawer for a can opener.

"You know, as long as you feed 'em they're gonna keep coming around," Ethan said as he sipped his coffee.

Corbin grinned as he turned towards his brother-in-law while twisting the can opener around the can of food. "That's the point," he replied with a wink.

Ethan nodded with an amused grin as he took another sip of his warm brew.

Corbin collected a small saucer and a spoon from his kitchen surroundings after placing the can opener and cat food on a counter. As he went to pry the lid of the cat food open his thumb slipped, raking across the jagged edge of the thin metal lid and slicing a gash in his flesh. He winced sharply, dropping the can as he drew his wounded thumb away with a gasp. The commotion caught everyone's attention.

"I'm fine," he assured, nursing his thumb by clenching his hand into a tight fist as he searched the counters for a towel to wrap his wound in. "Just a little cut," he assured further.

Gale left her coffee and skirted the island counter separating her from Corbin to reach for his hand. "Let me take care of that," she offered, beaming the same warm smile Corbin recognized on his mother too.

"Thanks sis," he answered, stretching out his hand to her.

Everyone watched as Gale held Corbin's bloody hand in hers, cupping it gently as she closed her eyes to focus her power. With a gentle hum emanating from her throat she remained focused, channeling her healing energy into Corbin. The thin cut along his thumb closed up like a zipper without a seam. The bleeding stopped. The pain was gone.

"Good as new," Corbin boasted, aiming his praise at his sister.

Gale opened her eyes with a smile, releasing his hand.

A quick trip to the kitchen sink where they both washed the blood from their hands saw the only evidence of a wound get rinsed away down the drain. Corbin scooped the mushy cat food onto the saucer and quickly resumed his morning mission of feeding the strays. Leaving the kitchen with saucer in hand he entered the grand dining hall, a cavernous room fit for a royal feast. It was often used for family meetings as well as family dinners. It's spacious accommodations made it ideal for any kind of gathering, and its medieval grandeur made anyone who entered feel like royalty.

Corbin was just stepping through the wide open entrance to the dining hall when a raven-haired teenage girl collided with him at high speed. She went tumbling to the floor one way, Corbin the other, and the saucer of cat food was launched high into the air. Landing with a grunt on his rear, Corbin quickly eyed the spiraling saucer that was surely going to make a legendary mess when it landed. A split second before it impacted the hardwood floor it stopped in mid air, along with all the chunks of cat food which had been slung free. It all remained in suspended animation for a moment before Corbin witnessed the wayward chunks of cat food return to the saucer as it lowered itself to the floor, reassembled and ready to be served.

Corbin looked over at the teenage girl in time to see her lower her outstretched hand. Her big brown eyes returned from the saucer to lock onto Corbin's. Her telekinetic abilities had averted disaster, but her impish grin was lacking in remorse. She only appeared to be a teenager. Chronologically she was more than twice the age of her outward appearance, but that didn't mean she all grown up.

"Lydia...what did you do now?" Corbin accused knowingly, as he got up from the floor and retrieved the saucer of food. His youngest sister had a fondness for pranks. He'd been on the receiving end of too many not to know this.

"Oh, you know me...", she answered coyly as she dusted herself off after standing.

Indeed he did. They shared an intimate bond like no other, as well as a mental link with each another that could span any distance. So long as both were conscious they could communicate telepathically thanks to her gift and the immense strength afforded by his own gift which she could tap into in order to amplify her own abilities.

"Exactly," Corbin smirked. "That's why I'm asking," he chuckled.

"There you are!" A youthful, but somewhat agitated voice called out from the dining hall entrance.

Corbin and Lydia snapped their attention towards the voice. There stood Axel, an android creation made in the likeness of an angelic teenage boy. He was girded with nothing but a bath towel around his waist while the floor at his bare feet pooled with murky water dripping from his body. One look at his perfectly sculpted face revealed Lydia's most recent crime. Axel's thick bangs drooped heavily across his brow, their once golden hue mired with lime green hair dye. Lydia couldn't restrain a snicker as she playfully cowered behind her big brother.

"The ole hair dye in the shower head prank, huh?" Corbin confirmed.

Lydia covered her mouth to hide another snicker as she nodded against Corbin's back.

Axel's digital blue eyes narrowed in on Corbin. "Step aside Corbin. I got no beef with you," he jested.

"No, don't!" Lydia pleaded sharply in a whisper as she gripped the back of Corbin's robe to keep him near.

Corbin sighed thoughtfully before he answered, knowing the anticipation of his answer was keeping Lydia on edge. "You know, I find it to be a good practice never to get involved in lovers' spats. So..."

In a sudden dash Corbin tore away from Lydia's grasp and charged past Axel with the saucer of cat food in hand. He slowed his pace once he was safely in the main hallway of the manor. In his wake he heard Lydia's shriek ring out in the dining hall. Axel was having his revenge, whatever that might be, and he was pretty sure they were both enjoying it. Corbin laughed to himself at the thought as he continued on his was through the manor.

As Corbin made his way through the expansive great house he marveled at its magnificence, its splendor, its stately presence; as he often had a tendency to do. His father Hayden Allender had designed the sprawling manor and personally oversaw every phase of its construction. Corbin couldn't fathom the endless amounts of time and dedication his father sacrificed for the home that would ultimately become his father's legacy. The manor consisted of so many wings and levels, each designed on a grand scale with gothic allure in every detail. During moments of such appreciation for their home Corbin was thankful he had endless decades at his disposal. It was going to take more than one lifetime to discover every nook and cranny of their namesake manor.

Passing through the guest quarters of a specific wing Corbin threw glances into open doorways along the way. The wing was vacant now but for a time it served as home and laboratory for Vincent Walsh and his stunning android creation Sara. They had become both friends and allies with the Allender clan due to common enemies who threatened them both. This particular wing of the manor had served as their sanctuary until those threats were completely eradicated. Corbin missed having them around but he understood their need to go out into the world to make a life for themselves. Of course they kept in touch, returning for a visit every now and then. They were family, and family is what Allender Manor is all about.

As he neared the end of the wing, which led into the generous space of the garage, Corbin heard the all too familiar sounds of an early morning workout. Long ago his middle sister, Shade, had converted a section of the garage into a full gymnasium, complete with a boxing ring for sparring along with every conceivable piece of fitness equipment she could fit into her designated area. To the unassuming it might sound as if there were a whole group of people working out, but Corbin knew there was only one. When he stepped into the garage/gym he paused to take notice of the streaking blur zipping around all the fitness machines. Shade was turbocharged, gifted with superhuman speed that made her skills as a highly trained combatant lethal to say the least. In the blink of an eye she was at the punching bag, landing a hundred blows in a couple of seconds before darting in a blur to the dumbbell rack where she did more curls in a single breath than Corbin could do in a week.

Corbin began his trek through the gym. Shade was not typically a morning person, so her streaking presence meant that she and her on again/ off again boyfriend Liev were probably off again. Liev was another of the manor's vampire residents. He wasn't a vampire when he and Shade first met, but due to some unfortunate life or death circumstances he chose to become a creature of the night rather than fertilizer for daisies. Corbin liked Liev, but for his sister's sake he wished those two could find smoother waters to sail together. Shade was an integral part of his world and her happiness was as important as his.

"Good morning Shade!" Corbin called out as he passed by, knowing that in her flurried state he'd have to yell in order to get her attention.

The streaking blur came to a sudden stop at the weight bench, revealing a dark-eyed beauty sporting a ponytail and wearing a muscle shirt. "Wanna go a few rounds after breakfast?" she yelled back.

"You betcha," Corbin confirmed as he kept walking. He hoped Shade wasn't too angry with Liev or he was going to be in for a serious beat down. Good thing Gale was never far away. Sometimes a brother's love meant absorbing a sister's fury.

The end of his destination was finally in sight: A single door at the far end of the garage that opened up to the vast grounds of the estate behind the manor. Just outside that door would be two stray cats awaiting their mushy breakfast. Corbin opened the door and there they were. An orange tabby he'd named Budro, and a smokey grey tabby with black stripes he called Roscoe, both purring eagerly for their tasty meal. Corbin placed the saucer down between them, watching happily as they began to devour their food. Hunger would not be a concern for them today.

Corbin stuffed his hands in his robe pockets for warmth as he took a deep breath of the outside world. The morning air was brisk, but the sun was blazing over the tree-lined horizon. It was going to be a beautiful day. Corbin lifted his eyes towards Bergstad, the burgeoning metropolis off in the distance. It once brimmed with wonders and excitement to him, but not any longer. The world out there had changed, and so had he, even if his outward appearance debated that fact. The manor was home. The manor was safe. The manor was protected by a magic seal of sorts. No one with evil intentions could pass through any of its entrances, so it was best to enjoy the peace it offered rather than venturing out into the world where a new evil might be inadvertently attracted.

Corbin swept the rolling grounds of the estate as he turned to enter the manor, but something peculiar and out of place caught his eye. He stopped to focus in on a lone figure standing near the edge of the forest at the distant end of the grounds. A hooded figure, who quickly darted into the trees and out of sight upon being detected. Perhaps it wasn't going to be a beautiful day after all. There was only one way to find out. Corbin marched out towards the intruder's location.