I never expected him to show up.
It has probably been almost five decades since I last saw my old friend and mentor, Don Remigio Antares. He was one of the few vampires who offered a helping hand when I was still starting out, and I will always be forever in his debt. I know that he’s one of the highest-ranking members of the Association, but I’ve never seen him appear at the Gathering in person. It was always through a human representative with a very monotonous voice, but recently, his servant has been using video chat through a tablet.
“My dear Minggoy!” Don Antares says my old nickname affectionately as he gives me a hug. I am normally averse to hugs, but my old mentor is an exception as I reciprocate the gesture. “You have changed so much since I last saw you in person, no? I like your hair. And is that a Diaboli suit you’re wearing?”
“Why, yes it is, old friend. Only the finest garments for the Gathering!” I say with pride, knowing that I picked the right suit for the night. “And I see that you have shaved your beard, which gives you a more charming look.” I compliment him with a smile.
“So I have, my dear Minggoy! So I have!” the Don laughs heartily while stroking his chin with his right hand. “The ladies do love men with this kind of shave. It makes it easier to drink from them.” he leans in closely to whisper the last sentence as he laughs again.
I laugh along with the Don, and I notice that I haven’t introduced Antonio yet. How rude of me.
“Old friend, I’d like to introduce to you my pupil, Ramon Antonio. I have followed your example by taking in a student, like what you did with me in the past.” I give the introduction as Antonio presents himself to the Don.
“A pleasure to meet you, sir.” Antonio says politely.
“Likewise.” my mentor acknowledges his presence flatly and just stares at him for a few seconds, which I find a bit strange.
“Oh, excuse me. A sudden thought entered my mind.” the Don laughs again as I smile, knowing that he has always been like this when he has random musings. I then tell Antonio to get us a table in the hall where the sound of classical Windenburger music can be heard playing.
As Antonio goes off to find a table, the Don speaks to me again.
“Lively young man, isn’t he?” he says as I turn to see Antonio looking around the hall for a proper table.
“He saved my life.” I tell my mentor, remembering the night I was ambushed in an alley near the hideout by a skilled Guild assassin. “We also share the same blood type and have the highest blood compatibility.”
“Isn’t it a bit too hasty for you to give someone the gift of undeath?” the Don questions me with an almost disapproving look. “Human thralls normally take years to earn the gift. You of all people should know that.”
“I am aware of that, teacher.” I reply, believing that what I did was a smart move. “I do not regret my decision for Antonio is a valuable asset. He is my eyes and ears in Northern Newcrest and a better minion than my incompetent ghost underling.”
“Ah, you must mean that bag of air that has been following you around for more than a century. What was his name? Presto, no?” the Don mispronounces the ghost’s name like Park.
“It’s Preston. I’ve demoted him to doing domestic duties around the hideout, but he accompanies me and my other subordinate on operations sometimes.”
“Interesting. So you still keep the old ghost around. What use is he to you if you already have someone more competent around?”
“He runs errands during the day, keeps the hideout clean, and makes an excellent punching bag when I get angry.”
The Don chuckles at the last one. “I do remember your anger fits back when you were learning medicine under me.”
“True.” I chuckle at the thought. I admit that I do have an anger management problem, and the therapist told me to have some form of release, hence beating up Preston whenever he’s available. I look back at the hall and see that Antonio has secured a table. “Shall we take a seat?”
“Yes, we should. I’d like to sit down and get myself a glass of plasma juice while we catch up on more things.” the Don says as he goes toward the far end of the hall. But before that, he whispers something into my ear.
“This is just a feeling, but he might go feral if you’re not careful.” the Don tells me as I slightly frown at his statement. It was good that he whispered the word “feral” for the mention of the word itself might trigger panic in the hall.
“I assure you, Don. I’ve taken all the necessary steps to make sure he doesn’t devolve into a beast, just like with my other henchmen.” I reply, remembering the monthly check-ups I personally perform on all of my henchmen and the plasma juice/blood allowance they receive every month. Something humans would consider as benefits in their places of work.
We reach the table and see that Antonio has not seated yet, politely waiting for us to sit down before he does.
“How thoughtful of you to wait for us, Tonio.” I praise my student as we all sit down. A human waiter comes by and I tell him to get us three glasses of plasma juice. “Did Park teach you that Koguryeon custom?”
“I just thought that it was the polite thing to do.” Antonio replies modestly.
“Your teacher here wasn’t exactly the most polite vampire back then.” the Don jokes as I remember being way more hot-headed and brash more than a century ago. I just laugh at the jest because it’s true.
“Is that true, Doctor?” Antonio asks me.
“Yes, Tonio. I was very reckless back then. That’s why I’m grateful to the Don for teaching me the ways of being a gentleman vampire.”
Antonio beams at the last two words. “A gentleman vampire? That sounds pretty cool!”
The Don laughs and seems interested in my student’s enthusiasm. “It is like the concept of chivalry, no? Being a gentleman vampire means co-existing with human society while not succumbing to your beastly urges and becoming a bloodthirsty monster. We call it The Way. Vampires are not always like how TV shows and movies portray us.” He explains to my student.
“Like the sparkling daywalkers in that one movie?”
“I hated that portrayal. Took out my frustration on some wandering guildspawn.” the Don chuckles as I remember something.
“Which reminds me.” I get Antonio’s attention again. “Once we’ve gotten rid of the guildspawn that threaten us, I shall start teaching you The Way in detail.” I still haven’t forgotten that I came here to appeal for help against the Pastor’s wretched faction.
“The Guild, no?” the Don suddenly becomes interested. “Did you come here to appeal for help against them?”
I did not want to give a direct answer for it might make me appear weak. “I was just thinking that we have the perfect opportunity to eliminate the guildspawn threatening all vampires in Northern Newcrest. The smaller Houses Rembrandt and El-Hashem also operate in my neighborhood, and I am hoping to meet the Archons in person.”
“Interesting.” the Don strokes his chin. “But will those Archons be willing to help you?”
I then remembered that there is a low chance of them helping. “It will take some time to persuade them. Archon Rembrandt is more focused on moving his House to a new hideout at the moment because of a dispute with a few werewolves, and Archon El-Hashem is busy butting heads with the local mafia.”
In other words, Rembrandt is a coward while El-Hashem is too bent on crushing the mafia that is endangering his laundry businesses. I’m rooting for El-Hashem, though. He offers the cheapest laundry and dry cleaning rates in all of Northern Newcrest.
The Don raises an eyebrow. “There’s a human mafia in your part of town?”
“They’re new in town. Leader goes by the nickname ‘Meatball’ or something. Or was it their group that was called ‘Meatballs?'” I just shrug.
“Humans and their strange nicknames, Minggoy.” the Don shakes his head. “And you’re still busy with your art smuggling and museum heists?”
“Of course. But we had to put our operations on hold because the Guild has directly threatened us, and they took away something very important.”
“Now what is this thing that is so important to you?” the Don asks as I become slightly concerned with the many questions. He was not always this… inquisitive. Maybe it’s because we haven’t met in a long time.
When I was about to open my mouth and answer, I hear the sound of trumpets announcing the presence of someone very important. But the shrill, high-pitched giggle that followed after was louder and extremely annoying.
I look back and see a vampire only dressed in a tight grey swimsuit, showing off his average-looking physique as he walks out the door with his head held up high and a gait like a powdered dandy of the old days. I didn’t expect to see him until the meeting. Now Antonio will have a very awkward first impression. The vampires and guests in that part of the hall bow slightly to pay respect to him. I’d compare it to that scene in a children’s cartoon where all the animals bow down to their lion king.
“Who’s that, Doctor?” Antonio asks as I sigh deeply.
“That’s the Grand Archon.” I tell him with a tone of annoyance.
And he’s coming this way.