Vampires and Vanishings
Magic & Mystery: Book Six
Chapter 1 Preview
For the first time since my election to Head Witch, I took my place in one of thirteen high-backed chairs on a raised dais. The twelve other witches and warlocks who made up Moon Grove’s Council fanned out to my left and right, shuffling papers and getting themselves ready for our impromptu meeting. Even as I sat among them, my victory still didn’t feel real.
Heath Highmore, the Head Warlock, turned to me with his eyes sparkling. “I’ve never been more proud of you, Zoe.”
I scoffed. “For what? I’m just sitting here.”
Heath shook his head. “You know what I meant. It’s been a long time since someone has occupied that chair, and I can’t imagine anyone better suited than you. Wherever Claudette Riddle is now, I have a feeling she’s smiling.”
“If you say so.” I didn’t have the slightest clue what the previous Head Witch might’ve thought of me; I’d never had the chance to meet her because she’d died before I moved to Moon Grove.
“Are you nervous?”
I shrugged. “How couldn’t I be? No one has ever trusted me with this much responsibility before.”
“You’ll be fine. I’m sure of it.”
“I’m glad you have so much confidence in me. Maybe it’ll rub off.”
Heath smiled, his crows’ feet crinkling. “Give it a week or two, you’ll be an old pro just like the rest of us.”
“I hope you’re right.” Somehow, as I glanced at the rest of the Council, each of them accomplished magicians and politicians in their own right, I doubted it. A few of them had served Moon Grove longer than I’d been alive — a fact they hadn’t been afraid to share.
In my prior life as a journalist, I could write stories about public servants like them all day long, but since becoming one myself, I’d quickly realized I didn’t know my broom from my wand with politics.
“Zoe, the people wouldn’t have elected you if they thought you weren’t capable. Whether or not you realize it, you’ve already been serving them for quite a while anyway,” Heath said.
The faces of all the various criminals I’d put behind bars flashed in my mind’s eye. Heath wasn’t wrong, as uncomfortable as it was to admit.
He reached over to pat my hand. “What I’m trying to say is that you’ve earned this. Don’t let anyone or anything take that away from you. I trust you, and I trust your leadership. We’re all better for your presence.”
“He’s right, you know. I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for you,” said Grace Magnus, the Councilwoman I’d saved from a murderous vampire months ago. Thanks to the maze of thoughts that had trapped me, I hadn’t heard her approach.
“No, no. It’s me who should thank you, for the rest of my days.” She smiled and rested her hand on my shoulder. “I still remember the first day I saw you. You walked into this very chamber with Mitch Harris, jumpy as a stray animal. Well, now look at you!”
“That’s not a very flattering memory,” I laughed.
“No, but it serves as a reminder of how far you’ve come since then,” Heath said. “Could you imagine if one of us had told you back then you’d be Head Witch a few months later?”
I vigorously shook my head. “No way. I would’ve called you crazy. Actually, I’m still having trouble believing it, even though I’m sitting here with the rest of you.”
“You aren’t the only one,” Grace said. “Anyway, I just snuck over to tell you I’m glad it happened. Like Heath said, I’m looking forward to the new energy you’ll bring to this dusty old Council. Lilith knows we could use some new blood around here.”
“Thanks again, I needed that,” I said, and Grace squeezed my shoulder before returning to her chair. I turned to Heath. “What is this meeting even about, anyway?”
He chuckled. “Good question. It seems we aren’t the only ones who’ve had an election recently.”
“What do you mean?”
“While we were so consumed with our own business, the vampires in town have undergone something of a structural reorganization, so to speak.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Well, wait until you hear the rest,” he said and reached for the gavel lying by his right hand. He lifted it up and hammered it repeatedly against the carved wooden table we all sat behind. Each of the members snapped to attention, dropping their conversations and busywork.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Council, I apologize for calling a meeting on such short notice. However, it was urgent, as I’m sure you’ll soon agree,” Heath said to no reply. “Now that we’re all settled and situated, let’s begin. We have much to cover.”
He shuffled the small stack of papers on the table in front of him and cleared his throat.
“As I was just telling Zoe, we witches and warlocks were not the only ones carrying out elections. It seems the vampires, ever active, have elected a new leader themselves.”
I stared over at him, unable to believe my ears. Why hadn’t anyone shared the news with me sooner? Maybe Heath decided it wasn’t worth troubling me with yet, given everything else I had to learn.
“Who is it?” I blurted. The others shifted in their seats and looked away from me, and my face blazed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, go on, please.”
Heath smiled. “No need to apologize, Zoe. You’re new and this is your first meeting with us, so we expected there to be some growing pains. But to answer your question, the newest leader of the vampiric community is none other than Julien Delroy.”
The other council members exchanged concerned looks, but I didn’t recognize the name. Clearly, they knew something about him I didn’t.
“While I’m sure this may come as a surprise to many of you, the surprises don’t stop there, unfortunately. Because of the abuses of power committed by their prior king, Valentine Delacroix, the vampires have collectively abolished their monarchy and elected their first ever president, Mr. Delroy.”
Silence blanketed the room, perforated only by a distant, tinny humming sound coming from elsewhere in the building. Heath smiled and continued, undaunted.
“Since his election, Mr. Delroy has taken it upon himself to court the leaders of other paranormal communities within Moon Grove. They’ve banded together, and they’ve made no secret about their goals. Mr. Delroy and his allies are demanding we expand the Council to include representatives from every paranormal species in town.”
“Oh no, not this again,” groaned Dawn Bloodworth, the eldest and least filtered of the council members. She was a tiny, humpbacked witch, but she more than made up for her size with her personality. She turned to Heath, her small black eyes like coals behind her oversized glasses. “We’ve been down this road before, it doesn’t end well for any of us. The vampires should’ve learned that lesson by now.”
Blaine Rathmore, a warlock with paprika hair and a matching goatee who never missed an opportunity to challenge Dawn, leaned around her to glare at Heath. “Well, they clearly haven’t, so I suppose we’ll just have to beat it into their undead brains, won’t we?”
Heath scowled at him. “I don’t think that’s the right approach.”
“So what then? We just let them strong arm us? Not on my watch,” Blaine said. “If it were up to me, I’d stake this new president before he becomes a real problem.”
“Then thank Lilith it isn’t,” Dawn said, appalled.
“We’d be better off if—”
“We are far from the first community to struggle with representation,” Heath interrupted Blaine, his voice raised. “Starfall Valley, Luna Harbor, and Celestia have all confronted the issue and survived. We won’t be any different.”
I’d always known there were magical communities outside of Moon Grove, but I’d never heard of the places Heath mentioned, so I stored their names away to ask him about them later.
“How do you propose we handle this, Heath?” Dawn asked.
“The same way we’d do anything else. We’ll put it to a vote,” Heath said, and the members erupted.
“Oh, please!” Blaine shouted, disgusted.
This was definitely not how I’d expected my first meeting as Head Witch to go. Heath picked up his gavel and slammed it against the table to regain control over the room, but the members kept talking over it until a thunderous knock on the chamber doors silenced them all.
“Yes?” Heath called. The doors creaked open a centimeter at a time, and a gargoyle’s face appeared, cement-skinned and worried looking.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the gargoyle guard said, the vibration of its voice like stone against stone.
“I told you not to disturb us unless it was absolutely necessary, Vaxis,” Heath said, annoyed.
“I know, and this is. A vampire by the name of Julien Delroy is here with some of his friends. They want to speak with you and the rest of the Council,” Vaxis said.
Blaine pounded his fist against the table and laughed. “Speak of the undead devil!”
“How could he have known we were meeting?” Heath asked.
Vaxis shrugged. “It didn’t leave my lips.”
“Nor any of ours,” Dawn said.
Heath turned to me. “What do you think, Zoe? Should we see them?”
My heart lodged in my throat. “I-I dunno, I mean, why should it be up to me?”
“The girl has a point, Heath. Shouldn’t we put this to a vote too?” Blaine taunted to laughter from the others.
Heath’s cheeks ignited. “Send them in,” he barked, and Blaine’s face twisted.
“You can’t be serious with—” Blaine started, but stopped when Heath held up a hand. Vaxis pushed the chamber doors open and stepped aside. A vampire wearing a crisp navy suit entered, followed by a werewolf, shifter, and a wheelchair-bound fairy pushed by another.
The vampire beamed as he approached the dais, his short, luscious black hair perfectly styled, his bloody eyes flashing. His friends stopped at his sides, and he straightened his bright red tie and cleared his throat.
“Thank you, Head Warlock, for your time,” he said, his voice flavored by a French accent as smooth and alluring as night. “I apologize for showing up unannounced like this, but it seemed like our best opportunity to address you all as fellow representatives.”
“You could start by telling us who you are,” Blaine snapped.
The vampire nodded. “Yes, of course. My name is Julien Delroy, and these are my friends, Dante Luca, Sam Duncan, Willow Whitesage, and her assistant, Rose Silverblossom,” he said, gesturing to each of them as he spoke their names.
I perked up at the surname Duncan. Was Sam related to my boyfriend, Beau? They had the same warm smile and inviting eyes, and they were both shifters — too many similarities to be a coincidence.
“Welcome. We’re happy to have you,” Heath said, his anger immediately under control as if it’d never existed; a kind of political skill I needed to master fast.
“Thank you,” Julien said with a small bow.
“How can we help you and your friends, Mr. Delroy?” Heath asked.
Julien chuckled. “We’re all colleagues here. Please, call me Julien.”
“Okay, then how can we help you, Julien?”
“I stand before you as the first ever elected president of the vampires of Moon Grove,” he said, his voice flooding the chamber and bouncing off its walls. He fixed his eyes on me and smiled, and I shuddered. “I understand my people aren’t the only ones who’ve recently voted for change, as evidenced by our new Head Witch.”
I tried to sit up straight and resolute, but knew the blush tearing across my face gave me away.
“Change is certainly in the air lately,” Heath agreed cautiously.
“Yes, that’s why we’ve come. We’d like to ask you to consider expanding the Council to include members of all the races it represents,” Julien said.
Silence fell over the chamber. No one dared speak until Blaine leaned forward with a scowl.
“Meaning the four of you?” he asked.
Julien threw his arms wide. “Who better than the chosen leaders of our respective communities?”
Blaine scoffed and opened his mouth to speak, but Heath beat him to the punch.
“That’s no small request,” he said.
Julien nodded. “It may seem sudden and radical but, with all due respect, some of us have waited hundreds of years for access to the same rights and protections that witches and warlocks have enjoyed since Moon Grove’s founding.” His expression darkened. “We’ve waited long enough.”
Heath cleared his throat. “I understand, but I’m afraid your wait isn’t over yet. The Council would need time to discuss, deliberate, and seek feedback from the public on an issue like this before we could put it to a vote.”
“You have one week,” Julien said to gasps. The vampire was bold; I had to give him that.
“Excuse me?” Heath asked.
“That should be more than enough time to consult each other and the rest of the witches and warlocks in town. We’ve all sent announcements of a vote next Monday to our people. They wouldn’t be happy if you missed the deadline,” Julien said.
Blaine burst out laughing. “Who do you think you are, fangs? You don’t run the Council and you darn sure don’t get to dictate when we do things.”
“Enough, Blaine,” Heath snapped. He straightened his face and returned to Julien. “Some issues move faster than others out of necessity. We’ll vote in a week, Julien, you have my word.”
“Excellent,” Julien said, beaming.
Blaine jumped from his seat. “This is outrageous! How dare you let some vampire and his band of misfits storm in here and tell us what to do?!”
Heath reached for his gavel and bashed it against the table. “Sit down!”
Dawn reached up to tug at Blaine’s sleeve, and he sank reluctantly into his chair, his face flushed and blotchy.
Julien locked eyes with me. “Change is coming, council members, as sure as the rising sun. If you want to find yourselves on the right side of history, I suggest you vote appropriately next Monday. We’ll see you then,” he said and escorted his friends out of the chamber without another word, leaving me with a sick feeling writhing in the pit of my stomach.
When they were gone, Blaine shoved back from the table. “I told you we should’ve staked him,” he snapped and left in a huff.