At the north west corner of Western Avenue and 5th Street stood a two story building that bore a blue neon bird flying with the words: THE RAVEN. An old sign above the door mimicked this title, showing that the establishment had weathered the test of time and the recession of the early 90’s. The red brick exterior was still damp from the recent rain of the season and covered with the faded paint from years of artists and taggers. All the windows were tinted and covered with a reflective layer. From the outside very little could be seen at night. On a busy night, all that could be seen was an ambient purple light with the occasional beam of color. Once through the double doors, the house lights were on and the disc changer was still. It was on this night that the open sign remained unplugged. Cleaned up rabble and the cities ritzy high lifers filed into the building and took their seats at designated tables on the ground floor. Tucked beside the stairs was a modest stage adorned with crimson red curtains and a cherry wood podium. Folding chairs lined the back of the stage and the spot lighting was gradually being tested. Up the first set of stairs led to a raised balcony within the building, offering more seating that was currently unused as well as a single table, dressed in cloth and adorned with a single rose centerpiece. Leading up the second set of stairs where the private rooms. Each numbered and named except for room 202. This room was always open for guests and potential victims.
Raziel stepped out of the shadows in the alley that opened up to 5th Street. With a deep breath, he tasted the air, finding it humid and stale. No witness to his unnatural entrance existed on either side of the alley yet the rear door security camera was trained on him. Looks like she finally upgraded, he thought to himself. Flashing a swift and aggressive knuckle front two fingered salute the camera, He slipped through the parking lot and onto Western Avenue. The two doors were almost closed to keep them from locking before the meeting commenced. With a lazy tug, one of the front doors swung open and Raziel took his first step in. This place felt warm like a loving embrace. Memories echoed in his minds eye though he refused to look.
Another step further, taking in all the tables filled with night life’s heavy hitters. Each table was filled another brand of hell. All separated with their own kind, the artists, the rabble, the insane, These groups were all ones he felt comfortable with yet he never belonged. Even the outcasts had their own table but it wasn’t for him. He had his own special table, a place for the rebels. He started for his designated seat alone when he was stopped by a weasel of a doorman.
“Nice to see you join us, Mr. Alexander. I hope it won’t be a trouble to grace our guest book with your John Hancock, would it?” The grinning, pale faced gentleman handed over a fancy quill pen and a tiny jar of ink.
“Oh piss off to your fox hole, Todd!” Raziel pushed the book against the man offering it to him and took another step before being caught by the same man.
“I insist, Raziel. You wouldn’t want to cause a scene so soon into the night. I’m sure we can find plenty of reasons for you to be indebted to me without creating some new ones. Why don’t you just sign and call it a day?” The fox faced man offered the book once more, following up with the ink dipped quill.
Raziel could only swallow his pride in the face of the doorman. You’re nothing more than a two faced harpy. Just you wait, you will get yours. It’s coming and I swear it. With a quick scribble, his signature barely made out the initials R. A. A. Seeing the new ink on the page, the door man took a step back, allowing Raziel to find his seat at the vacant table far removed from all the others.
The table was old and uncovered like the rest. The main cluster were front and center of the stage while Raziel was pushed back by the DJ booth. They might as well have labeled this one quarantine, he thought. The room as well as the tables filled with a crowd, finding seats with their designated parties. Raziel couldn’t help but find it humorously similar to politicians huddling with the rest of their party affiliations. That’s when she stepped on stage.
A dark beauty, looking twenty-three at the most, stepped on stage with heeled Chelsea boots that contoured to delicate feet. Her face was of a vixen in dark makeup, reds and blues made up most of her pallet. Calculated steps approached the podium, ever careful not to step or snag on her draped skirt. A black and red corset held her posture straight and gave an air of confidence that mostly the men would notice. “My fellow Kindred,” her sweet and smooth voice veiled the cautious etiquette of her tone. “I thank you for attending tonight. As many of you may know, my name is Prissilla Von Alexander and I’m the owner of this establishment. As Keeper of Elysium, it is my duty to remind you all of our code of conduct. While you are allowed to keep any weapons you have, there will be no physical conflict in this building and any use of Disciplines are forbidden. If you have any questions, please direct them to your Sire or find me after Court. Finally, we ask that you do not visit the upstairs hall between the hours of midnight and 1:00 am.” She gave pause and drew an unnecessary breath. “Now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll turn the podium over to Prince Marianne Belle.” Prissilla gave a modest curtsy before stepping back to on of the seats further upstage.
The crowd was unimpressed with the beauty of the previous speaker. Yet as the Prince stepped up, vixen would not be an accurate description. She appeared to be at least sixteen in an off white lolita dress and thigh high stockings. Quietly she swayed in front of the microphone as feedback gave ringing burst from the speakers. The petite girl’s head perked, startled by the sudden screech. Fumbling with one of the oversized pockets of her dress, she managed to fish out a small bundle of cards. These were her speech notes, each written with flawless penmanship in crayola crayon. Meekly she started to read as she untangled the bright pink band around the cards. “Greetings to you all, my friends and neighbors.” She glanced about, lost again in a sea of people and cue cards.
She looked down again at her notes and strived to remember her place. Her knees started to buckle from all the leering eyes upon her. Doe eyes looked out upon her audience like a small kitten to a wake of vultures. Her nerves rattled, she glanced behind her to the seated members of her Court. As a few nodded in encouragement, she forced herself into a determined calm and faced the crowd yet again.
“Right, will all new attendees please stand and be accounted.” All eyes wandered around the room to only settle on Raziel who kept his seat. The Prince continued on despite the lack of compliance. “Moving on, I asked you all here this afternoon to discuss something that was brought to my attention just moments ago.” It was night and she discovered it yesterday. “Someone has been roaming our playground! This vigilante has interrupting the cats of the internet with all caps of monsters. Can you believe he said vampires are real?” One of the men behind her, tall and broad shouldered, moved to her side and whispered in her ear. “What! They are real!?” The man gave her another hushed mumble. “Oh, that’s right. Don’t panic, everyone, we assuredly exist. Yet, as your Prince, I’m working diligently to resolve this issue. If you all will send your best representative, I shall speak with them after Court. Until then, the meeting is adjourned.” With a swift nod she skipped to the back and let gravity ease her into her chair.
Prissilla quickly took the microphone again. “Thank you all for coming. Please feel free to stay and mingle as your night allows.” A nervous chuckle reverberated through the speakers and the tables began their intense deliberations. The row of figureheads at the back of the stage stood and joined the Court’s Keeper in conversation away from the podium, leaving the prince in pristine dress all to her own devices.
This is what I came for? An internet looney? I don’t think I’ve ever had to suffer such a pointless waste of my time, Raziel pondered as he stood. A smile crept across his lips as visions of pulling the harvested organs of the previous night entered his head. What sweet music they’ll make. Chills of excitement flowed through his body as he found the Prince before him. In his private musings he’d subconsciously walked on stage and further more before the Court. Bollocks! It was too late to simply leave. He had to find some excuse for approaching the Prince.
The Court put its private discussion on hold as they turned to face him. Raziel would be in a cold sweat if he could perspire as the fox faced suit broke away from the pack. “So kind of you to volunteer, dear boy. It’s always a wonder seeing the young blood such as yourself participating in our community. Keep this up and you just might be promoted from that dreadful seat all alone.” He laid down his ponderous, leather bound collection of scribbled on parchment. Many times Raziel had wondered which was the more likely culprit, the pages or the ink. Turning bookmark after dog ear after brightly colored plastic tab, the man thumbed through the book and seemingly through time itself. Stopping exactly where he meant to and found his fountain pen in the breast pocket of a sharp lined jacket.
“Mr. Todd, I thank you for the opportunity, bu-”
“No need for thanks. Your good deed is on the record in ink. We shall not forget this.”
Great! The royal WE, Raziel thought. “I intended to state that I simply came to seek audience with our most respectful Prince.” He spoke with a slight bow and a wide gesture of the arms toward the young woman in the off white dress. It would be an easy assumption that with the girl present, she could speak for herself. Yet this was not one of those occasions.
“I’m sorry, the Prince is currently indisposed right now. I’m sure she’ll have all the time in the world for you once you return. Miss Belle always has time for her fellow Kindred, even the foreign and downtrodden.” The permanent smirk on the historian’s face stretched another mile to display the supremely polished pearls in his viscous maw.
Marianne looked to her sly companion and her face contorted with a lost confusion as to her current availability. She looked among the other members of the Court to become distracted by the broad shouldered wall of muscle. He had a strong jaw and a pale dark grey skin with eyes that burned of hot coals. Standing with the rest of the Court, he looked down to his Prince yet made no change in expression. Quietly, Marianne retreated behind him and reallocated her attention to the stage floor which seemed a lot more interesting than a floor should be.
Raziel knew what Mr. Todd was doing, but he accepted it none the less. “So what’s the actual details about these ‘Monster Reports?’” Raziel tried not to visibly chuckle about the title. His hands slipped behind his back and his chest quivered before his lungs drew a forced intake of calming air. “What makes this one any different than any other crackpot paranormal investigators?” He still fought the smirk that threatened to curl his lips.
“The difference is that this crackpot has proof. His name is Lance Dietrich. Our good friend, Mr. Dietrich, seems to have a number of photographs, video and even audio recordings of some of the more careless members in our society including you.” Mr. Todd stretched as his chest puffed out in a boisterous display of pride. “Yesterday, some of the underground boys tapped into his camera feeds and witnessed your little display for a young woman at the airport. It’s not my place to judge but I doubt you need a reminder what any hint of our existence could mean, do you?” Raziel cleared his throat and directed his attention to the stage in response. “So wonderful to know we are crystal clear.”
“Yes… crystal” Raziel droned as he brought his attention to the suit. “So where will I find this guy?” While the task wasn’t his, it seemed more appealing as an excuse to leave and the sooner the better.
Mr. Todd offered a slip of paper with the address. It was a Motel 6 in the heart of Hollywood at Whitely Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and Franklin Avenue. Raziel normally didn’t make it a habit of going to Hollyweird, yet it felt like he always made at least one trip in that direction. With great care, the note was folded in half then into quarters before being tucked away into his coat pocket. His hand returned to the forefront before running his fingertips across his black leather belt and finding his thumb hooked into his pants pocket.
Mr. Todd let his book and quill rest on the table as he gave Raziel the last of his attention. “Hurry now, it doesn’t matter what you do with him as long as the evidence is disposed of and completely discredited. I expect we shall not see nor hear from you again until this is done.”
Again with the royal We. Raziel nodded to the suit and glanced to the other court members, lingering on it’s Keeper, Prissilla, before turning away. Her beauty still lingered in his mind as he tried to force it to the background. The youthful Prince waved to his back from behind her stoic guardian. “Bye bye, Razberry!” The large figure in front of her simply watched Raziel walk to the door and adjusted his stance to further separate the young girl from him.
The others continued to mingle, discussing everything between politics to social media, picking them apart and devising ways to exploit all their flaws. The court resumed their hushed meeting on the stage yet one member was far too distracted to participate. Raziel reached the door when a wiry girl no younger than twenty-four leaped upon his back and scrambled to climb him. “Razberry!” The girl flailed further when Raziel cringed at the moniker. Crouching down, he let her feet meet the ground and turned to look upon the ball of energy that clung to him.
“I don’t think that is very becoming of a lady of your position.” A smile parted his lips and the girl hugged him with reckless abound. “It’s a pleasure to see you, Darla.” Darla Mulak, adviser and second to the Prince. She is sweet, energetic and clever. I’d never want to be caught in a room alone with her and her broken mind. Raziel told himself this over and over, reminding himself that while she may be a pretty face, she wasn’t someone to be underestimated.
Discretely she giggled to him, “You weren’t going to leave without saying hi, were you?” She started to smile before the corners of her lips grew heavy. “You weren’t going to ignore me were you?” The suggestion that he could miss noticing her weighed her expression down even more, turning disappointment to sorrow. Raziel had no interest in seeing what gravity could morph her expression into.
“Of course not.” Raziel’s voice was low and quiet but smooth. The purr in his throat gave her some satisfaction and she let up on her overbearing demand. “I’m just heading out to take care of a few things. Shall I get you something while I’m out?” Just like his forced task was a quick jog to the store.
“Thank you, but I’m fishin’.” Her words didn’t exactly make sense but Raziel got the idea. Listening to her was always a treat and a chore, deciphering every other word as if it was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Thankfully she was only speaking like a hearing aid mistranslation. “What did you want with Sister Dearest?”
Raziel assumed she meant the Prince, “Just a simple introduction. Last I checked, it would be rude not to announce my arrival in her city.”
“I’ll make sure she gets the message. Your mother is looking for you.” Darla’s tone quickly changed from having fun to taunting sibling. Gravity’s pull on her lips lessened and she returned to an almost menacing smirk.
“I’ll add that to the laundry list.” Raziel tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice but it was all in vain. Luck would have it that Darla rarely caught onto the delicate art and took him at face value.
Darla adjusted her stance, shifting her weight onto the opposite foot before bringing her hands to her hips. It was hard to take her seriously with her tendency to mix and match words. Dressed in a tattered white dress and heavy black boots littered with buckles and straps, Darla simultaneously gave off an innocent yet intimidating air. Her cherry lips pursed in assistance to draw up thoughts and form them into words. Raziel had become used to this kind of pause with her. She could run her mouth for hours only to stop without a sign or reason. Yet the longer the pause the more ominous he felt.
“You better be careful out there” She finally broke.
“I will, don’t you worry.” Raziel felt a relief wash over him. Such a tense halt in the conversation for a simple well wishing.
“No, you be careful. Mosquito hawks are coming and the hourglass tells the wrong time. Sister Dearest doesn’t know but I know. I can trust you as you trust me? Good! Now run along, places to see and people to go. Out of the fruit basket with you!” She nudged Raziel toward the door.
He wasn’t following her completely and she spoke faster than he could process. Yet, lingering didn’t help his standing with the court. Raziel followed Darla’s order and parted the dual door. On the street he could only move forward now. He had to pay Lance Dietrich a visit and the shadows would carry him there.