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Iron Night

A Generation V Novel

M.L. Brennan - Author

Paperback: Mass Market | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780451418418 | 320 pages | 07 Jan 2014 | Roc | 6.49 x 4.29in | 18 - AND UP
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Underemployed by day. Undead by night.
 
Underachieving film theory graduate and vampire Fortitude Scott may be waiting tables at a snooty restaurant run by a tyrannical chef who hates him, but the other parts of his life finally seem to be stabilizing. He's learning how to rule the Scott family territory, hanging out more with his shapeshifting friend Suzume Hollis, and has actually found a decent roommate for once.

Until he finds his roommate’s dead body.

The Scott family cover-up machine swings into gear, but Fort is the only person trying to figure out who (or what) actually killed his friend. His hunt for a murderer leads to a creature that scares even his sociopathic family, and puts them all in deadly peril. 

Keeping secrets, killing monsters, and still having to make it to work on time? Sometimes being a vampire really sucks.
 


There are a lot of things wrong with being awake at four in the morning. I once spent two months working in a bakery, so I’d thought I knew them all.

I’d been so wrong.

“Stop dawdling, Fortitude! We have much to accomplish today!” My brother, Chivalry’s, voice blasted in my ear, unnaturally chipper for someone who hadn’t even had coffee. I blinked at him through bleary eyes, unwilling to move from my current position of being huddled in the passenger’s seat of his Bentley. That part wasn’t entirely due to the time— Chivalry’s Bentley, with the best springs, ergonomics, built-in ass warmers, and buttery leather seats that money could buy, was actually more comfortable than my bed at home.

Beside me, Chivalry did not look like a guy up and about before the crack of dawn. He was impeccably and expensively dressed as always, with his chestnut hair achieving the level of coif that most men experience only when the subject of a GQ photo shoot. His face, with chiseled good looks that made Brad Pitt look homely, was freshly shaven, and he had even splashed on some aftershave. He looked like a guy in his early thirties with that most desirable trifecta of traits: money, looks, and taste.

Some people would’ve assumed that as a vampire, Chivalry’s ability to look perfectly turned out on third-shift hours was some kind of inborn trait. However, my very existence put that particular theory to rest.

I’m very aware that the genes that make Chivalry look like he should be posing for magazine covers completely passed me by, but even by my own significantly relaxed sartorial standards, this was a rough morning for me. Because I’d skipped shaving yesterday, I was now sporting a level of stubble that, combined with the rather ragged jeans and sweatshirt that I’d scored at Ocean State Job Lot (where people shopped who couldn’t afford Walmart) three years ago, made me look like I made a living Dumpster diving for recyclable bottles. My hair is a few shades darker than Chivalry’s, and anyone who glanced at it would clearly be able to discern that last night I’d slept on my left side. I had managed to brush my teeth, though, and I was feeling somewhat proud about that.

No, I definitely wasn’t anyone’s vision of a vampire. That did make a little sense, of course—I wasn’t entirely a vampire.

Yet.

I’m closer than I used to be, though. Four months ago I’d started the transition into vampire adulthood, but instead of a cake or some bar mitzvah bonds, I’d gotten an increased role in the family business of keeping a solid chunk of the Eastern seaboard thoroughly under the control of our mother, Madeline Scott. This had resulted in the kind of ride-alongs with my brother that, like this morning, led us to weird and unsavory places to deal with the kinds of creatures that most people are happy to convince themselves are nothing more than fairy tales.

Today, that also involved livestock and the Claiborne Pell Bridge, just a few miles from my mother’s mansion in the charming coastal town of Newport, in the mighty state of Rhode Island, best known for our feature of being completely drivable in any direction in less than two hours.

After hauling myself reluctantly out of the comfort of Chivalry’s car and into the chill of the early-October predawn morning, which was exacerbated by the icy wind currently whipping in our faces from over Narragansett Bay, I devoted some attention to what I’d been too sleepy to look at when Chivalry had first pushed me into the car. A little animal trailer stuffed with fifteen goats had been attached to the back of Chivalry’s immaculate Bentley. It should’ve looked weirder than it did, but somehow Chivalry had located an animal trailer of such sleek chrome construction that it actually managed to work with his charcoal gray, twice-weekly waxed car.

“Fort, stop petting the goats.”

Chivalry was born just around the time that the Civil War was heating up, and sometimes I think he spent all that time honing his ability to be a bossy big brother. He had a lot of time to do that, since I wasn’t born until hair bands were topping music charts. So he has some well-crafted skills of bossiness, which he’d been deploying regularly on my every move all summer.

“Why can’t I pet them? They like it.” I gave the little black goat I was currently rubbing an extra scratch around its horns, and it closed its little goaty eyes in bliss. “I think I’m going to name this one Titus,” I said. “Doesn’t he look like a Titus Andgoaticus?” At this point I was just yanking Chivalry’s chain, but the look on his face as he stood there in a black suit that probably would’ve cost me six months’ worth of rent was too perfect.

“Fort . . .” Chivalry shook his head helplessly. “Don’t name the goats.”

I’d let my petting hand go slack, and Titus nudged it impatiently. I was standing on the tailgate of the trailer, and a few more of the goats were getting curious and nudging closer. I could feel a few bumping their heads against my stomach. Clearly I was handing out some grade-A head rubs.

“Did you buy these guys from a petting zoo or something?” I asked.

There was a huge sigh, and I glanced over to see Chivalry rubbing his face with his hands. I could almost hear him mentally counting to ten.

“Fort,” he said, clearly reaching hard for patience. “Please get down from there.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one, the goats are eating your sweatshirt.”

I glanced down at my stomach, and, sure enough, all of Titus’s friends who I had thought were going for nuzzles had actually been getting mouthfuls of fabric. I pulled back fast and jumped down, then looked at the damage more closely. In a surprisingly fast amount of time, the goats had managed to make me a belly shirt. I looked up at Chivalry, whose thinned mouth and twitching left jaw muscle were hinting at some displeasure.

“So . . . are we meeting up with anyone particularly important today?” I asked, somewhat belatedly.

Chivalry made a very disgusted sound, then whooshed out a deep breath and visibly collected himself. “I’ll get you my spare coat,” he muttered, stalking back to the Bentley.

There was a sad little bleating sound from the trailer, and I looked back to see Titus hanging his head over the side.

“Don’t try that with me,” I warned. “I see your plan now. You were just distracting me with your soft fur while your buddies got some piranha action on my clothes. Well, I’m not going to fall for it again.”

Titus bleated again, even sadder this time.

I probably would’ve fallen for it again if Chivalry hadn’t come back and shoved a knee- length brown suede coat at me. Only my brother would not only carry a spare coat in the car, but have his spare be something like this. Not that I could really picture him toting around a wadded-up Windbreaker, but it was the principle of the thing.

I slid the coat on. It had probably been made to be put on over silk shirts, but it did cover up my goat-gnawed sweatshirt and at least the upper half of my jeans—which had definitely seen better days. Chivalry and I are the same height, both clocking in at six feet, but the coat probably wouldn’t have fit as well a few months ago, when I was significantly scrawnier than my brother. Four months of weight lifting, working out, and protein shakes had made it clear that I’d always be built a bit leaner than Chivalry, who, when he went to the beach, actually had men come up to ask him what gym he used. But my body had finally filled out and lost the half-finished look that I’d had since puberty.

Feeling warmer now, I muttered a thank-you, then asked, “So, who are we meeting?”

Chivalry gave me a very deadpan look. “Look at where we are.”

I did. At four in the morning with no moon in autumn, with a lot of fog on the bay, it should’ve all been a big black blur to me, but my night vision had significantly improved lately. I wasn’t as good as Chivalry, who used his car headlights more out of courtesy for fellow drivers than actual need, but I was better than the average human.

We were parked near the base of the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, the suspension bridge that spanned Narragansett Bay and carried in the majority of the mainland traffic. There are two bridges on the north side of the island, above Portsmouth, but neither of them is as beautiful as this one, the longest suspension bridge in the entirety of New England. It used to be the Newport Bridge, and a lot of the natives still call it that, but it was renamed in 1992 when some of the guys at the state house realized that there was a schmoozing opportunity to be had. We were standing in a dirt turnoff from a side street that gave us a nice view of some of the metal underside and, farther out, the white lights installed along the sides that, against the black of the night and the lapping dark water beneath, gave the bridge itself a glow.

I scuffed my shoe against the dirt. “I think we’re in the local make-out spot.” It didn’t take much effort to dislodge a few condom wrappers from where they’d been ground in. Chivalry glared at me, silent, until I gave in. “Fine. At the Pell. So what?”

“Look at what we brought.”

I looked back at the trailer. “Sweatshirt-eating goats,” I said.

“Put this one together.” Chivalry sounded like a teacher coaxing the paste-eating kid in the back of the room.

I looked from Titus and his buddies over to the massive metal structure that loomed above us. Unwillingly, my brain stopped thinking the way I preferred, which was like a regular human guy, and the pieces fell together. “Holy shit. You’re going to feed Titus to a troll?” I felt appalled.

“This is why we don’t name or pet the goats.” Chivalry said blandly.

We ended up walking a small path that zigzagged down the hill until we were standing on the rocky shore right under the bridge. This close to the bay, with nothing as a windbreak, I was deeply grateful that I was wearing Chivalry’s jacket. Icy winds and exposed bellies weren’t a good combination.

We stood in the dark for a few long minutes, listening to the sounds of lapping water and the occasional early car driving over the bridge. Once something flapped over my head and I thought that I caught sight of a bat, but that was it.

“Chivalry,” I finally whispered.

“What?” His voice was so low that I almost couldn’t hear it.

“Shouldn’t you, you know, call the trolls?” I’d never seen a troll before, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to now, but I also didn’t really want to keep standing around indefinitely on slippery rocks in the dark. My balance had improved somewhat, but I just knew that every additional minute increased the odds that I would somehow end up in the bay.

“They already know we’re here,” he said softly. “They’ve known since we pulled into the parking lot.”

“Really?” I asked. I glanced around us nervously.

“Oh yes,” he continued, his brown eyes boring into the darkness. “In fact, they’re already here.”

I glanced around, still not seeing anything. A low but sharp sound suddenly echoed around us, one that reminded me of being back in Cub Scouts and watching a few of the adults attempt to start a fire using two rocks to strike a spark. Then I finally caught some movement to my left, and I watched as a huge shape, easily nine feet tall and built like a fifties refrigerator, seemed to detach itself from the bridge tower itself and move closer to us. The sharp sound continued as it moved toward us, and I struggled to keep standing right where I was and not look terrified, though I couldn’t help glancing over to Chivalry a few times, who managed to look completely nonchalant as it came over.

It took me a minute to realize what I was seeing, but then I realized what my eyes were actually telling me. Whenever the shape moved a step, I’d lose track of it again until it took another, because in the moment when it was still, it blended perfectly into its background. It was like in Predator, which was not a comforting thought to have.

Eventually it moved until it was just about two feet from us, then came to a halt, disappearing again. I could smell it now that it was close—strong, very salty; not necessarily a bad smell but not a good one either. It was like getting close to the seal exhibit at the aquarium.

There was more movement and then something seemed to shift in the upper part of it, and suddenly, as if some kind of hood had been pushed back, two glowing green eyes came into view, each as big as a golf ball. They were set in a long, inhuman gray slab of a face that looked like it had been chipped out of granite, and a mouth suddenly gaped open below that, huge and black, but with big, long teeth that gleamed like pearls.

Beside me, Chivalry nodded once. “Good morning, Brynja.”

The glowing eyes focused on my brother, and, in a voice that was so low and grinding I could feel it rumble in my feet, like a Leonard Cohen CD with the bass turned way up, it said, “Velkommen, son of Scott.”

“Has everything gone well this month?” Chivalry was as polite as last week, when the seventy-five-year-old head of the historical society, Mrs. Forbes, had stopped by for a lunch-and-gossip date with my mother.

“Ja, ja. My family and I have been very comfortable this month.” Brynja’s big eyes almost closed, leaving two long, glowing slits watching us out of the darkness.

“And have those humans who live and travel around you also been comfortable?” Under the extreme politeness in Chivalry’s tone was something very sharp, and the troll dropped its mouth open very wide and made that rough rock sound again, which I was starting to guess was its version of laughter. Its eyes rounded out again, the glow as brilliant as what was coming from the bridge.

“You have so little trust in my family, Chivalry,” the troll said, sounding amused. “Nei, we have not been naughty, as you fear. The little goats keep us quite full, and we are content to watch the birds and the waves and the boats that pass us by.”

“I am glad to hear that. I have brought this month’s goats.”

“Ja, we smelled them as you arrived.” The troll’s voice dropped even further, becoming hungry and possessive. “We smelled their hot blood, their fat little bodies; felt their tame, content little minds. Ja, we are always pleased when you visit our home, vampire.” Those big eyes shifted then and focused on me. The troll’s voice changed again, becoming almost curious. “But not alone this time. Kva er dette? Not in half a century have you brought someone down to us.” Ten feet from us, closer to the shore, another pair of glowing green eyes suddenly appeared. Then another, huddled among the rocks.

“This is my brother, Fortitude,” Chivalry said, dropping a hand on my shoulder. I was glad he did it, because I’d just glanced at the underside of the bridge and seen a sea of those glowing eyes staring down from the metal trusses. It was not a comforting sight.

“Ahhhh . . .” the troll’s sigh was grinding on my eardrum. “Another son of Madeline Scott. But very young, very young. He does not smell as you do, Chivalry.” The green eyes drifted closer, and that large mouth was working, and I could hear a low sound like bellows being pumped at an old-fashioned forge. I realized that it was tasting my scent, bringing the air to sample in that massive maw. “He smells more human, this one. Smells like fear.”

“Your fealty to him is equal to what you owe me,” Chivalry said, and now his voice was complete steel. His hand still gripping my shoulder, he took a step forward, toward Brynja, and dragged me along for the ride. Immediately the troll backed up, and around us those other glowing eyes disappeared, leaving only Brynja. Chivalry continued pulling me forward, advancing on the troll, who kept moving backward. “My brother will be delivering next month’s goats without me, and the next.” That was certainly news to me, but I didn’t let it show on my face. “But”—and Chivalry’s voice became silky here—“if my brother is not treated with the same respect I receive, I would become quite angry. As would my sister. Perhaps Prudence would feel the need to express her displeasure in person.”

“Nei, nei,” the troll said immediately, ducking down and lowering himself almost to the ground, judging by those glowing eyes. “Unnsklyd. My apologies. There will be no insults to your brother. No need for your sister to trouble herself with us.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Chivalry said coldly. “My brother will see you next month, and we will both be keeping an eye on your activities. Enjoy the goats, Brynja.”

All the eyes opened again, and there was a chorus of whispering, grinding voices all around us in the darkness. “Takk for maten, Chivalry. Takk for maten, Fortitude, brother of Chivalry, son of Madeline Scott. Takk for maten.”

Chivalry’s arm propelled me as we turned around and headed back up the path. It was extremely creepy to turn my back on all those eyes, knowing what huge bodies and shiny teeth they were attached to, but I did my best not to hurry away. Clearly the monthly feeding was combined with a monthly intimidation routine, and I didn’t want to mess up all of Chivalry’s work. Particularly since I had suddenly been volunteered for two months’ of goat delivery.

Given their reaction to the thought of getting a visit from Prudence, though, I probably didn’t have too much to worry about. Not that I blamed them. Chivalry can be pretty scary when he wants to be, but Prudence is a century older than he is and has a violent streak. Like the trolls, I avoided her as much as possible.

Back where we’d parked the car, which I now recognized as the worst make-out spot ever chosen, Chivalry leaned down and silently unhitched the trailer. He motioned me to the car, and I hesitated.

“You’re just going to leave everything?” I asked.

“I’ll send James down in a few hours to pick up the trailer.” James was one of my mother’s household staff. Like the rest of the staff, who were all human, he made great money and benefits from never asking any questions or showing any curiosity about any tasks he was asked to perform.

I tried not to look at Titus as we drove off. As a vegetarian, I usually don’t have to deal with this kind of guilt.

“So . . .” I said as we drove through the streets of Newport. The sky had lightened to a very pale gray when we reached the car, but it was still too early for many other cars to be around. “Trolls, huh?”

Chivalry nodded. “Norwegian imports. They like rocky shorelines, and bridges give them extra coverage. They’re big, and their skin folds work even better than a chameleon’s for blending in. Stealth hunters for the most part, but they can be about as fast as a running crocodile when they really need to move. They’re not very active, but at your age it wouldn’t be a good idea to get in a fight with them on your own, since they are almost always in a group.”

“And the goat deal?” I’d spent almost all my life trying to pretend that I was a regular human guy, and that included not learning anything about trolls or other critters that crept around in the dark. There were a few things I hadn’t been able to completely ignore, like my need to feed off of my mother’s blood every few months, but I’d tried to treat those instances as flukes in my otherwise normal life of post–college graduation underemployment. But I’d had to give up my state of willful ignorance, and now I spent a lot of my time with Chivalry, trying to catch up on the things I should’ve been learning for years.

“Their low activity level and something kind of reptilian about their metabolism means that they don’t have to eat much. Most of the time they like to grab stray dogs and that kind of thing, but they won’t turn up their noses at the occasional wandering toddler or solitary boater. A lot of times humans are even easier to catch than animals, so when the troll colony first moved in there were a bunch of disappearances. All you need is one person to see a troll grab a kid and you get the kind of publicity that no one around here wants, so Mother sent Prudence down here to teach them some manners.” A lifted eyebrow was enough for Chivalry to convey the level of destruction Prudence probably delivered. “After she’d made an impression, I sorted out an agreement. We provide small farm animals every month, enough to keep them fed and content, and in return they control their predations and occasionally do a service for the family.”

“That sounded a little Mafia there,” I pointed out.

Chivalry shrugged as he turned the Bentley off of Thames Street and down the long white gravel driveway that led to the mansion. With almost thirty acres of land, all of it immaculately landscaped by Madeline’s team of full-time gardeners, it’s a long driveway. “They are very good at hiding, not unintelligent, and are good at disposing of bodies without leaving much evidence behind. It’s a fact of the world that those qualities can be very useful.” We pulled into Chivalry’s parking space, which was between Madeline’s gleaming silver Mercedes and my decaying yet faithful Ford Fiesta. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, shading the sky with little orange and pink layers. My mother’s mansion is a huge two-story white marble structure with an unimpeded view of the ocean, and it was considered an exceptionally beautiful house even in the heyday of the Gilded Age, when Madeline’s neighbors were having entire rooms from French châteaus or Italian villas stripped down, boxed up, and shipped across the Atlantic to be recreated in their second drawing rooms. It’s the kind of house that you can never really get used to, and Chivalry and I both paused to give it a moment of appreciation as the sunrise hit it.

After a second, Chivalry checked the car clock and said, “Okay, five a.m. We have time to eat breakfast, then fit in a quick three-hour training session.”

There is nothing good about being awake at five in the morning. Especially when it’s in the company of my brother.


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