It’s about time he arrived.
The door to the side of the meeting hall opens, and the Grand Archon enters, wearing something that looks more normal for the occasion. The expression on his face seems to have changed, which tells me that this is the Grand Archon I genuinely respect. All of us stand up, place a right hand over our chest, and recite the Archon’s pledge.
Children of the dark we are
Our eternal night begins once more
We stand together at night
United in blood and might
After reciting the cheesy and archaic pledge, we all sit down. The Grand Archon speaks, but with a more dignified voice befitting a leader this time.
“Good evening, Archons!” the Grand Archon speaks without the falsetto tone that he spoke with earlier, as if every word weighed a lot of respect. “Tonight marks the 738th Gathering of the Newcrest Vampires’ Association, and let me begin by saying that all of you are doing a wonderful job.”
We all applaud softly as the Grand Archon raises his right hand, indicating that he will speak again. He continues to speak by talking about the Association’s history, the selfless deeds of the first Grand Archon, and our advocacy to the Canned Plasma Fruit Fund for Fledgling Vampires. Then he goes on to describe the purpose of the Association: to serve as a united front for vampires in Newcrest to protect them from dangers, like vampire hunters, werewolves, and other supernaturals who dare threaten us. Countess Malefica told me before that the Association was also formed to prevent vampire clans from killing each other. Friendly rivalries are encouraged, however. And as I think about that, the weasel Valmonte is nodding his head in agreement at the Grand Archon’s every word.
“As you all know,” the Grand Archon gets everyone’s attention again. “Archon Philips was ambushed in an attack by the Guild and has unfortunately perished. He was a great vampire who managed all of our expenditures, balanced our books, and donated generously to the Share-A-Plasma Fruit Fund. His 400 glorious years of existence shall never be forgotten. A moment of silence, for our fallen brother.” Everyone at the Table goes silent but I cannot help but look at Valmonte glancing at the empty seat beside Archon Salazar. Is he aiming to become closer to the flamboyant windbag?
“And finally, let us discuss matters.” the Grand Archon says as the last word brought me to attention. “Deputy Antares. What is our agenda for tonight?”
“Seigneur.” the Don clears his throat. “We are to discuss the funding for the latest underground shelter for fledglings, plasma fruit production reports, and the negotiations with the Grand Wolfssegner of Newcrest regarding a non-aggression pact, for the Guild has also been targeting werewolves lately.” he states as Archon Salazar in the red suit takes down minutes in his phone, for he serves as Association Secretary and Acting Treasurer. Count Philips was our treasurer, and his seat remains empty beside Archon Salazar’s.
But something’s off. I was expecting the Don to at least suggest countermeasures to respond to the Guild’s attacks lately. The attacks on my House and Cunningham’s should have been mentioned because they involved direct encounters with guildspawn.
“Thank you, Don Antares. Salazar!” Leclerc speaks with a tone of authority.
“Yes, Grand Archon.” the elderly vampire in the red suit stops taking minutes to listen.
“How many simoleons are currently in our treasury?”
“According to the records left behind by Count Philips, we currently have 6,354,789 simoleons on hand. These are the funds collected from the businesses we own, donations from members, and other illegal activities. I will be instructing my corporate accountant to help us manage our books.” Salazar tells the Don as he opened a file in his phone.
“Excellent!” Grand Archon Leclerc says with a tone of elation. “We can allocate a portion of that money to fund the new shelter. I’m placing you in charge of this project, Salazar. Tell your human servants to get the papers and other permits ready. It should be easy to get approval because the current mayor still owes us.”
“Yes, rigging the elections years ago with all those names from the graveyards helped him win.” the Don adds and laughs heartily.
Leclerc chuckles. “These human politicians will do anything to extend their term in office. Even if it means putting the lives of their family on the line.” As the Grand Archon said that, I remembered from the last Gathering that the mayor of Newcrest offered to pay us a weekly tribute of 10,000 simoleons, his elegant mansion in Southern Newcrest, and his state-of-the-art Asahinian toilet just to win the elections. If he fails at least one payment, his family members will be sucked dry of their blood.
The Grand Archon discusses the other issues while I impatiently wait for the turn of the minor Houses like mine to appeal. My foot gets fidgety every minute.
“…and a new chewing toy for the Wolfssegner.” Salazar says while typing on the phone. “Do we give a specific brand?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just give the old fleabag whatever is available, non?” Leclerc speaks with a tone of disdain, given his bad history with the werewolves. He then clears his throat. “Now that that is done with, is there anyone else who has a pressing concern that we do not know of?”
“I have a concern.” I speak as all eyes on the Table turn their attention to me. It is my time to shine. “Around eight months ago, I was ambushed by a Guild assassin that almost managed to slay me. I survived the encounter thanks to a human, whom I gave the Gift as a reward.” As soon as I described how Antonio helped save my life, a few of the higher Archons raised an eyebrow.
“And just recently, my hideout was attacked by the Guild. However, this attack was not a usual ambush done by pairs but a large-scale operation, like the one where we lost our dear Count Philips.”
“I still feel sorry for your loss, Agatha.” the alluring Countess Malefica addresses Countess Cunningham by her first name. “Derek was a very charming man.”
“Thank you, Madame Margaret.” Miss Cunningham replies as I continue my appeal.
“Moving on, due to the recent attacks of the guildspawn and their growing strength, I am requesting assistance for the protection of the minor Houses in Northern and Western Newcrest, where majority of the attacks are concentrated.” As soon as I said the word “assistance,” a few of the Archons raised an eyebrow or crossed their arms, especially that weasel Valmonte.
And then the Don laughs.
“My dear Domingo, do you really think that these attacks of the guildspawn are of great importance?” my mentor gives me a smug look. “This is not a new issue. We have bigger concerns, like the pilfering of plasma fruit in Southern Newcrest, the territorial disputes with the werewolves, and the lack of shelters for destitute vampires who have no proper shelter from daylight. I would expect a House like yours to easily take care of some ragtag group of guildspawn.”
“The Guild is stepping up its game, Don Antares.” I address my mentor with his last name, which I only do when I am being confrontational. “The Pastor leading these attacks bears immense power, and they are now armed with better silver weapons, armor, and plumbers.” The Grand Archon and the Archons of the major Houses laugh at the last word. And I see that the rat Valmonte is laughing the loudest.
“Plumbers!” the Grand Archon wipes a tear from his eye. “Monsieur de Guzman, are you serious? You are appealing for help against a band of plumbers that hunt vampires?”
“I am very serious, Grand Archon.” I say with a straight face. “The Guild employs plumbers for their plumbing company, and the plumbers that I have encountered are out of the ordinary, bearing inhuman strength, pipe wrenches made of silver, and armpit stench that can wake up the dead from their eternal rest. With all due respect, Seigneur, we must not leave this matter unchecked before the Houses of Northern Newcrest fa–”
“That will be enough, Minggoy.” the Don interrupts me and uses his nickname to address me, which is embarrassing in front of the Archons. “You have wasted enough of the Association’s time. If these guildspawn who fix people’s pipes are giving you so much trouble, perhaps you should distract them with a few clogged up commodes.” the Table roars with laughter as I try to say more in this uphill battle of words.
“Are a couple of large-scale attacks by the Guild not enough to merit the Association’s attention? Do we have to wait until many of our fellow vampires get slain before we act?”
“Isn’t the Association supposed to protect its members?”
“Sit down. You have been warned.”
“Don Antares, Seigneur, at least let me finish my appeal!” I continue to protest.
“Sit down, and shut up. Minor Archon.” the Don says coldly while putting emphasis on the last two words. Feeling defeated, I sit down and bring out a little stress ball from my pocket and start squeezing it. The Don then quickly tells Archon Salazar to impose a sanction on me.
“Well then, that was a good jest about plumbers, Monsieur de Guzman.” the Grand Archon steeples his hands. “I haven’t heard about such a ridiculous thing in a century, but I will be taking the attacks of the Guild into consideration. No more appeals tonight. There are more important things to discuss while the night is still young, non?” Leclerc speaks as he looks at the Don and the major Archons. Something is really off about the Don; he has never openly opposed me in this way before.
Eventually, the meeting adjourns as it is almost 4:00 a.m., and every vampire needs to get home before the sun comes up. The Grand Archon leaves first before the major Houses and the minor ones. Don Antares completely ignores me as he leaves the hall.
Once I leave the meeting hall, I slam my fist on a stone wall in frustration. I sigh deeply but not loud enough to be heard by anyone. It looks like we’ll be facing the Pastor’s faction on our own. Before I can even think of contacting Antonio and Preston on my phone, someone gets my attention.
“At least y-you tried, Doctor.” the wiry Archon Rembrandt approaches me with a stutter. “I was hoping that you would be able to appeal for help because El-Hashem and I have been attacked by the Guild recently, too. Now that the Grand Archon has decided not hear any appeals from us tonight, w-what are we going to do now?”
“We just crush them, fate willing.” Archon El-Hashem appears and makes a fist with his teeth clenched. “Like the heads of those gangsters.”
“You’re right, Mahmoud.” I address the gym buff with his Hilali first name. “I guess it will just be Northern Newcrest on its own again.” I look at the two minor Archons. “I hope that I can count on both of you for support.”
“O-of course, Doctor. You perform discounted check-ups on my henchmen and I every month, so I’ll always be there for you.” Rembrandt states with a tone of gratitude even if I am just using him as a buffer against the encroaching werewolves in our neighborhood.
“I’m in it too, Doc. I still owe you for curing the muscle pains that smoking shisha can’t fix.” El-Hashem says as he flexes a bicep.
“I am grateful.” I sincerely thank the two Archons who have pledged their support. I thought that they would not give me their support, especially with what happened earlier. At least my appeal for help wasn’t a total failure. “I guess I will be owing you two gentlemen free medical check-ups and treatments for a while.” I tell both Archons as they decline politely. I go back to the dance hall where I had conversations with the Don and the Grand Archon earlier and find it almost empty, with a few human servants cleaning up the mess and some vampires who have passed out on the couches naked.
I bring out my phone and call Antonio so that we may go home.
He is not answering.
I look around the hall and ask the few remaining vampires and human servants if they have seen my student. No luck. Before I bring out my phone to call Preston, I see Archon Rembrandt heading for the exit with a few baskets of plasma fruit.
“Rembrandt. Have you seen my pupil Antonio around?” I ask him as he tells his human servant to go ahead with the baskets.
“Ah, the fledgling with glasses, right? I t-think I saw him leave early.”
“Leave?” I ask with a tone of disbelief. It isn’t like Antonio to suddenly leave without permission. He always asks permission. “Did you see him leave on his own or with someone?”
“Hmm, I’m not really sure, but before that, he was definitely talking with someone. Maybe he hitched a ride with them?”
“He shouldn’t be doing that because he is my driver for tonight.” I say with frustration and lament at the fact that I don’t know how to drive. “Did you at least recognize who he was talking to?”
“Yes, of course! S-Silly me.” Rembrandt realizes his own stupidity.
“Who is it then?” I grow impatient as the cowardly Archon scratches his head.
After a short pause, the foolish Rembrandt manages to remember.
“I think I saw him leave with Don Antares.”