Brothers to the Death (The Saga of Larten Crepsley)

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For:

those I have lost on this journey–Granny, Grandad, Martha

OBE (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

Eliza Segal–Australia’s #1 vampire!

Tiffany McCall–parting is such sweet sorrow!

fraternally edited by Nick Lake

agent to the death–Christopher Little

Part One

“This is what happens to lovers of vampires.”

Chapter
One

On a grassy bank in a park on the outskirts of Paris, a young man lay beside a middle-aged woman, holding her hand. They were talking softly, shielded from the setting evening sun by a large umbrella. Those passing by thought they were perhaps a mother and son. None suspected that the orange-haired gentleman in the blood-red suit was more than twice the age of the woman.

“What do you think people would say if I kissed you?” Larten murmured.

Alicia giggled. “There would be a scandal.” Much about her had changed over the years, but her giggle was the same as ever.

“I relish a juicy scandal,” Larten said, leaning closer towards her.

“Don’t!” Alicia laughed, pushing him away. “You know I don’t like it when you tease me.”

“What if I was not teasing?” Larten asked with a smile. But the smile was for Alicia’s benefit. He was serious—he
did
want to kiss her.

“That’s sweet of you,” Alicia said. “But I’m an old woman. You can’t have any real interest in me after all these decades. I’m a wrinkly hag!”

“Hardly,” Larten snorted. Alicia looked much older than him now, but in his eyes she was as beautiful as when they’d first met almost thirty years earlier.

Alicia rolled away from him, into the sunlight, where she stretched and lazily studied the clouds. Larten’s smile never faltered, but inside he felt sad. It had been a decade and a half since his reunion with Alicia. They had met often over the course of those years. Each time he hoped she’d kiss him, declare her love for him, accept him as her husband. He wanted things to be like they were in 1906, when they were engaged and madly in love.

But Alicia felt that she was too old to marry again, and if she ever did give her hand to another man, she
wanted to give it to a man her own age. It didn’t matter that Larten had been born almost eighty years before her. He looked like he was in his twenties and that was how she thought of him. To Alicia he could never be more than a friend. Larten had accepted that—he had no choice—but he couldn’t help wishing he was more.

“The children are having fun,” Alicia noted, nodding at a boy and girl playing by the edge of a small pond.

The girl was almost eighteen, a young woman who would probably marry soon and have children of her own. But Larten still thought of her as little Sylva. She was a tall, slim, pretty maid, but to him she would always be a cute, chubby baby.

The
boy
was in his thirties but didn’t look much older than Sylva. He was a vampire like Larten, aging only one year for every ten that passed. He was of medium height, but broad, built like a wrestler. He could have thrown Sylva to the far side of the pond, but he always handled her gently, as Larten had taught him, careful never to squeeze too hard when he was holding her hand, knowing he could shatter every bone in her fingers if he did.

Gavner hadn’t wanted to return to Paris. He had left under a cloud, swearing loyalty to Tanish Eul, a weak, selfish vampire who had killed an innocent woman to save his own thickly layered neck. When Larten caught up with them and herded the killer to his execution, Gavner thought his world had ended. He hated the man whom he’d known since childhood as Vur Horston, and yearned to strike him dead.

Larten had granted him that opportunity. Handing Gavner a knife, the General told him that he had killed Gavner’s parents. He said that Gavner had every right to exact revenge, and he offered himself to the bewildered teenager.

Gavner would never forget how close he’d come to stabbing Larten. His mind was in a whirl. Tanish Eul’s sudden death had shocked him. When he learned that Larten had killed his parents too, it seemed like the only way to end the madness was to murder the orange-haired vampire. His fingers tightened and he tried to drive the knife forward into Larten’s heart, stopping it forever.

But something held him back. He still wasn’t sure why he hadn’t struck. Maybe it had been the calm acceptance in Larten’s eyes, the fact that he wasn’t
afraid of death, that he felt like he deserved to die. Perhaps it was because the vampire had been true to him for the first time in his life, and Gavner couldn’t kill a man for telling the truth. Or maybe he just didn’t have a killer’s instinct.

Whatever the reason, Gavner had let the knife drop, collapsed in a weeping huddle, and given himself over to confusion and grief.

“I wish you could spend more time with us,” Alicia sighed as Gavner chased Sylva around the pond, threatening to throw her in. “Sylva misses you when you’re not here.”

“I suspect she misses Gavner more,” Larten remarked wryly. He had never been much of a father figure. He’d always been distant with Sylva, and especially with Gavner. It was a mystery to him why the pair liked him so much.

“Gavner’s like a brother to her,” Alicia admitted, “but she’s fond of you too. She thinks of you as an uncle.”


Uncle Larten
,” the vampire chuckled, blushing slightly. “How ridiculous.”

“Don’t be so stuffy,” Alicia growled, pinching his left cheek until his scar burned whitely. Then she smiled and kissed one of her fingers and pressed it to
the scar. “You still haven’t told me how you got that,” she said, changing the subject.

“I will one night,” Larten promised. “When you are old enough.”

The pair laughed. Gavner heard the laughter—his senses were much sharper than a human’s—and he paused to smile in the direction of the couple who had been the only real parents he’d ever known. (He tried not to think about the nights when he had served as Tanish Eul’s surrogate son. While he would never speak ill of Tanish, who had been nothing but loving to Gavner, he was ashamed that he had not seen through the killer’s mask.)

Larten and Vancha March had helped Gavner recover. They’d told him much about the clan, explained Tanish’s bitter history, helped prepare him for life as a creature of the night. When they left Petrograd, Larten urged Gavner to travel with Vancha. He said that the Prince could teach Gavner more than he ever could. But Gavner asked to learn from Larten instead. He had always wanted to get closer to the aloof, tall man with the scar. He saw this as a chance to gain a father. There were no more lies between them. He hoped to build a strong relationship with Larten Crepsley, to earn his respect and love.

Larten did respect Gavner, and loved him in his own strange way. But he never made any open display of affection. He was shy with most people, slow to reveal anything personal. But it went beyond shyness with Gavner. He had orphaned the boy and would never allow himself to forget that. He had told Gavner the whole sad story, how he’d been suffering with a fever, how his young assistant had been killed, the way he’d lost his mind and slaughtered a shipful of humans.

Gavner had forgiven him—he had come close to killing when he lost Tanish Eul, so he could empathize with the older vampire—but Larten still blamed himself, and every time he looked at Gavner he was reminded of that dark day, of the stain on his soul. Though he had spent most of the last fifteen years with the youth, teaching him the ways of the clan, he’d always kept his assistant at arm’s length, insisting Gavner treat him as nothing more than a tutor.

“I will never be a father to you,” he’d declared several years ago, after Gavner had absentmindedly referred to Larten as his father. “I do not deserve such love and I will cast you aside if you ever speak of me in that way again. I will accept your friendship if you feel I am entitled to it, but no more than that.”

Gavner knew that Larten thought of him as more than a mere assistant, just as he thought of Larten as more than a mentor. But he accepted the older vampire’s rules and never again spoke of his true feelings. If this was what Larten needed in order to feel comfortable around his student and would-be son, so be it. He would do anything to please the man who had reluctantly reared him.

While Gavner studied Larten and Alicia, smiling sadly as he thought of the past, Sylva snuck up on him and pushed him hard. Gavner yelped, arms flailing, then fell into the water. He came up spluttering and roaring. He looked for Sylva, to drag her in, but she’d already fled—she knew how swiftly a vampire could react.

“Hide me!” Sylva squealed, seeking shelter behind her mother and Larten.

“If you were my daughter I would spank you,” Larten growled as Gavner hauled himself out of the pond. “You know that sunlight is bad for him. I will have to help him fish his hat out of the pond before his hair catches fire.”

Sylva’s smile faded as she stared at the glowering vampire. But then Larten winked and she knew that everything was fine. She looked on with delight as he
hurried to the shivering Gavner, expressing concern for him—then howled with glee as he shoved his unsuspecting assistant back into the pond.

“Men never grow up,” Alicia tutted, but she was smiling too. She offered Gavner the rug she was sitting on when they returned, and helped him dry his hair. She corrected him when he cursed Larten and Sylva—“Gentlemen do not use such crude words.”—then packed up and led them home.

Gavner and Sylva strayed ahead of their elders, walking arm in arm. Sylva chatted about friends, fashion, and movies, and Gavner pretended to be interested in such things. He had already forgiven her for pushing him into the pond—he’d never been one to hold a grudge. Larten and Alicia followed leisurely, strolling like any ordinary couple.

“How long can you stay this time?” Alicia asked, already knowing the answer. Larten and Gavner had arrived a week earlier, and though nothing had been said, she’d gathered within a few hours that it would be a short visit. Larten always tried to cram in a lot if he wasn’t staying long. When she heard him making plans for all the things that he wanted to do, she knew the pair would be moving on in a matter of days, not weeks or months. From his expression this
afternoon, she realized the time had come for them to leave, so she asked the question at last, the same way she always did. It was a long-established routine of theirs.

“We go tonight,” Larten said. “We have a meeting that we must attend. It is not far from here as vampires measure things, but it will take us most of the night to get there.”

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