I hope you have enjoyed reading A Ritual Of Fire! Even if you haven’t read it yet, you can still read these bonus chapters without any spoilers!
Originally, this was Chapters 1 & 2. During the editing process, it was decided these didn’t offer a good enough intro to the story so we axed them and re-wrote the current first chapter. Just keep in mind since we cut these 2 chapters, there could be spelling or grammar issues. This was not edited or proofread by anyone.
A Ritual of Fire Bonus Chapters:
“Mrs. Munson. My name is Alyson Andrews, I’m the Special Agent In Charge. This is my partner, Vladimir Konstinov. The FBI has asked us to investigate the death of your neighbor. Can you please tell us what happened?” I showed the small, frail, and elderly woman my badge.
Her eyes widened when she got a good look at my partner, Vlad. He’s a very handsome man. Not that I would ever mention it to him. He’s pretty stuck on himself. We’ve only been partnered for about six months, albeit a very intense six months.
Vlad was about six feet four inches, but if you asked him, he was six feet five inches. I knew the truth, it was just easier to let his ego believe the lie. His olive complexion complemented his dark, brown hair with a few auburn highlights. If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed he died his hair because it’s too perfect. He would never go gray, so no need to mess with his color.
My sexy partner had a very unique scent, one I wouldn’t have expected from his species. He smelled like red hots, those little cinnamon candies, mixed with a spice that was all him. His scent drew everyone in. Most women licked their lips when they got close enough to smell him. Shoot, I did a few times when I first met him. Until I knew him better.
“Yyyyess. Why don’t yyyou pppplease come in?” Mrs. Munson ended her request with a bit of a screech. Usually, Vlad made women swoon in lust, not fear. The woman’s eyes were huge, practically coming out of her sockets.
Did she know?
I walked through the door of her small home. Well, it was small to me. I prefer much larger homes, at least three to four thousand square feet. This home was maybe fifteen hundred square feet. All one floor with the typical nine-foot ceilings. It was cozy.
The lady liked her dolls. Everywhere I could see were collectible dolls on stands.
She was a widow. The local cop told me her husband died over ten years ago. She must have spent her past decade buying and collecting dolls from around the world. It was a bit unsettling having so many eyes trained on me at once. I tended to stay away from attention. Even though they were fake eyes, it felt real. Or at least eerie.
Next to the sofa where she motioned for us to sit, stood a doll on a stand in a typical Russian costume. It was cute. Vlad just arched an eyebrow when he noticed it. I think he left Russia for a reason, but he hasn’t told me why, yet. One of these days he would tell me his story. Hopefully, before I went digging.
I tended to not be very patient. When I wanted an answer, I got it. No matter what.
“I understand you were home when your neighbor, Ms. Hudson, was attacked. Did you see anyone? Or hear anything?” I received the report from the first police officer on the scene. However, I found it much more helpful when I could get a witness to tell me her version.
Usually, the locals only put a small amount of information in the report they handed to me when I arrived. Not that they purposely tried to derail my investigations, they just didn’t have time to type up anything worthwhile. I usually received a handwritten page, or two, with their notes. Besides, for this crime scene, we arrived before they had much time to collect any real evidence.
“Um, of course. I live alone and don’t go out much. My dolls keep me busy. You see, I’m a collector of rare dolls from around the world. CVQ had a special episode tonight, they were supposed to have the rare African Safari dolls listed. I’m only missing three dolls from the entire collection.” Her eyes sparkled as she spoke about her dolls.
“Instead, they aired a special about diamonds mined properly from Africa. You’ve heard of blood diamonds, right?” She looked at me expectantly and I nodded.
“Well, these diamonds were mined by adults and overseen by DeBeers personnel. I wasn’t really into the show, and since there wasn’t anything else to do I listened to it while I fluffed my girls’ skirts around the room. Even though they are dolls, they need to look their best at all times. That was when I heard some noise.” Mrs. Munson shook her head and looked away from me.
“What was the noise?” It felt like pulling teeth, trying to get information from this woman and we just started.
She fiddled with her hands and refused to look at me or my partner for a minute. I cleared my throat, hoping she would get the clue.
“It sounded like a wolf howling. I know we don’t get wolves this far into town, so I thought it was the neighbor’s TV. Then I heard a growl, like a tiger or a lion. I figured Nelly, my neighbor, was watching the nature channel up full blast, again. On occasion, I hear growls come from her house. She told me she loves the big cat specials on The Nature Channel.” She sighed and looked out the window overlooking the neighbor’s house. Mrs. Munson’s face turned down, as though she just realized she would never get to speak to Nelly again.
“It was louder than usual. As I was about to go over there and ask her to turn it down, I heard her scream. Well, at least I think it was her screaming.” A tear dropped down Mrs. Munson’s face when she ceased telling me her story.
Vlad stayed quiet and sat on the couch next to me. I was sitting at the end, next to the chair Mrs. Munson was in. I reached over to hold her hand and comfort her as she attempted to pull herself together.
“Can you tell me what happened next?” I softly prompted.
“I turned off my TV and all of the lights before calling the police and hiding in my bedroom.” Her shoulders were shaking.
“I am so sorry you had to hear it all. I hate to ask, but did you see anyone enter or leave her house tonight? Please, it will help us to find her killers.” I only hoped someone on this street got a good look, or their home security system caught something on tape.
“I did see three men leave by her backdoor when I went into the kitchen to call the police. It was too dark to get a good look and I was too frightened to try. They were all wearing dark clothes and those hooded jackets kids today liked to wear. It was probably a home invasion gone wrong. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.” Mrs. Munson straightened her back and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Why do you think it was a home invasion?” Vlad spoke for the first time using his sexy, Russian accent.
Mrs. Munson startled when he spoke and she quickly shot him a glance. When her eyes went back to mine, I could see something besides sadness, longing maybe? It was as though Vlad reminded her of someone from her past.
“Is he…” she pointed at my partner, “is he one of them?” She whispered.
I looked at Vlad and tried not to laugh as he rolled his eyes.
“One of who?” I wondered if she was afraid of Russians. She did come from the cold war era. Most elderly still held a fear of Russians, even though it wasn’t warranted.
“The vampires.” She almost hissed out.
I couldn’t believe it. This woman knew about vamps. Not many did. Not anymore anyway. There was a time when some people knew, but the vampire community did everything they could to hush up any rumors or speculation about them over the past fifty years. Mrs. Munson was only sixty-five. I sure as hell hoped she hadn’t had an experience with one when she was a teenager.
Anyone who spoke about vampires today was labeled a kook or accused of too much fantasy reading. Thanks to Hollywood, vampires are mostly seen as romantic, and not the scary creatures they can be.
“Why would you think he was a vampire?” I did my best to keep a straight face.
“I’m old, not senile. I have met a few in my day. Almost gave in to one, once.” She had a dreamy-eyed looked for a few seconds and snapped herself out of it when I cleared my throat.
“Well, if he is, I wouldn’t worry about him. Let’s focus back on your neighbor. Why did you think it was a home invasion?” I needed her focused on tonight, not fifty years ago.
“Because, if it wasn’t burglars then I’m in trouble. I would have sworn they had long teeth, like a vampire. One turned back and smiled at me before I went running and hid in my bedroom.” She shivered as though she was reliving the event.
She got a better look than she realizes if she saw elongated teeth on men in the dark. Or, her imagination was running wild. Either way, I was pretty sure this was going to be a paranormal case.
Nelly made my eleventh paranormal victim if she was killed by the same perps. We hadn’t confirmed Nelly was a paranormal, but if it’s the same killers, then she most likely wasn’t human.
Just what I needed, a witness who might be the next victim. I was going to have to ask the locals to keep someone here to protect her. Or…
“Mrs. Munson, do you have somewhere you can go for a few days, maybe a week? It might be a good idea to get away from here while the team works the investigation. It will be loud, lots of lights on the victim’s house. You probably won’t sleep well.” I didn’t want to frighten her away.
“Are you afraid the killers might come back for me?” Her shoulders slumped and she fiddled with the hem of her shirt. It wasn’t so much fear I sensed in her, it was more an acceptance of her fate. She seemed to believe she was next.
“Yes. I know they are. I’m a witness to their crime. If they are just regular hoodlums, then they will come back for me eventually. If it was vampires, there is nowhere I can hide. I learned the hard way.” She had a story to tell. I hoped she lived through this. I would like to hear her story, one day.
“Is there anything else you can tell me about the screams or the men? Did Ms. Hudson say anything?”
“She screamed out, ‘I won’t do it’ before her screams ended. I heard a boom, and then lights flared in the house. That’s when I ran to call the cops. I wasn’t sure if they had set the house on fire, or not. The light seemed more like a flame, then something from a bulb.” She turned her head back to the window overlooking Nelly’s house.
“Do you know if Ms. Hudson had a boyfriend?” Sometimes it was domestic assault, but this one had the feel of something else.
“Yes, I think so. Lately, she had a male visitor at all hours of the day and night.” Mrs. Munson’s cheeks turned pink.
“So, this man stayed the night on occasion with Nelly?” I had to be sure I was reading her blush correctly. A woman her age probably didn’t condone gentleman callers staying the night.
“Nelly was a good girl. I know kids today do things differently than my generation, but if she let him sleep over, he had to be a good, young man. She had a very level head on her. Did you know she was going back to college to get her degree in business administration? She wanted to work in the city for one of those big companies in the high rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles. She was halfway through.” Mrs. Munson sighed and looked next door again.
She seemed to have taken a liking to our victim. This was going to be hard for her.
“Do you happen to know his name? Or a description?” I needed her back on task. I only had a few more questions for her.
“Yes, I think his name was Jason. Sorry, I don’t remember his last name. Something Italian I think? He drove one of those sports cars young men love so much today.” She chuckled.
“Do you know the make and model of the car? What about color?” Vlad spoke up again and it seemed to unsettle our witness.
Mrs. Munson moved around in her seat and stared at me. “Yes, it was black with those new-fangled lights. I think they call them LED? The car was like the muscle cars of my youth. A Dodge, I think?”
“Thank you. This information will help us to find him.” I continued to write some notes in my little notebook.
“Do you think Jason had anything to do with her murder?” Mrs. Munson shivered and her eyes widened.
“I don’t really know. We just have to ask him if he knew who could have done this. It’s standard procedure to question the boyfriend of the victim. Now, about somewhere to stay. Where can you go for the next few days?” If this was part of my ongoing investigation into the supernatural serial killer, it would be best for her to leave town.
The killers usually came back a few days later and killed any witnesses, unless they left town. So far, I had a dozen witnesses still alive in other parts of the country. I also had six dead witnesses.
“Yes, I can go visit my daughter. She’s always trying to get me to come visit and help with her three kids. It’s time I saw them all. Maybe I’ll stay for a couple of weeks. I think Mary would like it if I did.” A small smile graced her face when she mentioned her grandkids.
“Sounds perfect. Where do they live?”
“Mary lives with her husband and children in Kansas.”
“Please send me your daughter’s contact information. Also, have one of the police officers drive you to the airport. How soon can you leave?” The sooner the better, I thought.
“Tomorrow? Is that okay?” She stood up and walked to a small desk in the corner. It reminded me of my grandmother’s old phone desk. Where she kept the corded phone along with the local yellow pages and her handwritten phone book. Mrs. Munson had a similar set-up, without the corded phone.
She opened up her telephone book and wrote something down on a sticky note. “Here, this is my daughter’s contact information.”
“Perfect. Here’s my card in case you remember something. It’s quite common to remember details a few days after an incident like this. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.” I handed her my card with my office number and email address. Hopefully, she would remember more.
Vlad and I said our goodbyes, Mrs. Munson kept her distance from my partner. She gave him a nervous glance as he walked out the door.
“What was that all about?” I eyed my partner as we walked next door to the crime scene.
“She was probably stalked by a Russian vampire when she was young. Back then, a lot of Russians preferred living in America to Mother-Russia. The American blood was much healthier than the Russian. I emigrated here during the fifties. I should have stayed in Russia.” He laughed, which made me wonder what he was hiding.
“Care to share?” I wished he would open up to me a bit more.
“Hmm. The Americans and their hippy movement was interesting. I do not believe their blood was any healthier than the Russian’s during the sixties. Too many drugs back then. Although, it did make it much easier to get women to agree to whatever I wanted from them.” His cocky smile sent a chill through my body.
I knew vampires equated drinking blood with sex. Women in the sixties were as promiscuous then as they are today. He most likely spent every night in the arms of a different woman.
I shook my head and wondered how we were ever paired up as partners. Vlad and I are so different, like night and day.
My partner was a prude. She never let loose and had fun. I loved provoking her with my wild stories. I didn’t share much with her, she usually clammed up like she’s doing now, whenever I shared my past with her. I’m a vampire, so sue me. I have to drink blood to live. Who cares if I extract my dinner while enjoying the woman who offered herself up on a platter? I never kill them. They always leave so happy.
Part of their happiness comes from the dopamine high they receive when I pierce their skin. The rest, well, let’s just say I don’t have to bite a woman for her to enjoy my company.
“Alright, let’s focus on the case before us. Let me know if you sense anything similar to the other murders. I hope this isn’t going to be the same, but from the description I received from command, this is most likely the same perps.” Alyson stopped and looked at me a moment.
She continued, “When was the last time you fed?”
“Why? Are you offering?” I winked, knowing it would rile her up. While I wanted nothing more than to taste her, I also knew she had no desire to let any vampire touch her neck. I respected her for it.
“Ugh, get over yourself. That’s never going to happen.” Alyson rolled her eyes and shook her head.
She may think it won’t, but I can sense her heartbeat elevate around me at times as well as her excitement. She wants me, she’s just trying to play hard to get.
“I asked because this crime scene is very bloody. I don’t need you going all Nosferatu on the local police.” She turned around and pointed her finger in my face.
“If you even get close to my neck, I’ll drop you. I’m not kidding either. NO taking a bite out of me if you can’t keep yourself in check.” Her eyes narrowed and dared me to cross her.
I chuckled, which just got me a frown in response. Sometimes she was fun to rile up. I would never, ever in a million years take her blood without her consent. Well, as long as I was in control of myself.
My partner, Alyson, was tough. Probably the toughest partner I’ve ever had. If I upset her too much, her inner strength came out and she could kick my butt from here to kingdom come. I know because the first time I met her, she did.
If my inner demon were to ever take control, well… let’s just say she wouldn’t be happy with me. I have never shown her that side of myself, and I hope she never sees it. In all of my days, it has only happened a handful of times since I decided to be a civilized vampire.
Alyson was beautiful. I doubt she even realized how the men all lusted for her. She didn’t even have to try. She had long, black eyelashes and I know for a fact she didn’t wear any make-up. She was tall for a woman, just over six feet. Her brown hair had these red and gold highlights and it was soft as silk.
She had the most intoxicating scent I’ve ever come across, and that’s saying a lot. Her natural scent reminds me of a winter wonderland. It’s a cross between a wintergreen aroma mixed with snow and the smell of freshness in the open air. Alyson’s scent still excites me to this day. Any man would be lucky to make her his.
Not many people knew who she really was. Only a handful at the Bureau knew she was the rarest of shifters, a dragon. If she shifted, you were in serious trouble. No one could know what she really was. It’s believed all of the dragons were extinct. Keeping her secret is important not only to her, but to the Bureau, and to me.
To help keep her secret, her file said she was a saber-toothed tiger shifter. No one wanted to see them shift, so when she refused to shift in front of people, they didn’t question it.
She almost killed me the first time I saw her shift. That was when I was assigned to be her partner. Our Section Chief figured if I was her partner, then she would accept I knew the truth and really was there to help keep her secret.
“Come on. Let’s do this.” She walked up the front steps and I followed behind.
I could smell the blood before I took two steps. She wasn’t kidding, this was going to be a very bloody scene. Before I stepped into the house, I wiped my upper lip with menthol. She was right. If I didn’t feed regularly, my basic instincts could take over. I tried to keep to a regular schedule like most humans did. I fed before meeting up with her.
Still, a bloody crime scene would make it almost impossible for me to focus. So, I kept a bottle of menthol to use when the blood was overwhelming. I could still smell it, which meant this was going to be a tough scene.
“The victim was a shifter. I can smell it from here.” A shifter had a unique scent. Each breed had a different scent. This one smelled like sunshine and pine. It reminded me of a cat. She was probably some sort of large cat shifter. I couldn’t say for certain just from her scent. A taste might help me to know more, but drinking the blood of a dead shifter wasn’t something I enjoyed. Not that I really enjoyed drinking shifters blood when they were alive either.
Human blood was much more enticing, but blood was blood. Unless it was from an animal. I never drank animal blood, if I could help it.
Alyson was the only shifter I ever desired. That’s not to say I haven’t had my share of shifter women. I just prefer humans. Well, until I met a dragon shifter. She once told me it would be a cold day in hell before she let me take her blood.
As I walked into the room, I noticed a local crime scene guy puking into a bucket. It brought me back to the present. There were several buckets around the room. This was the most gruesome crime scene I had ever seen.
Blood covered all of the walls and much was on the floor, too. The victim must have been drained dry from the various cuts all over her body, and then they used her blood to cover their tracks…or something even worse.
Alyson stopped in the middle of the door after putting on the blue booties, to keep our feet from tracking in contaminants.
“What? What do you see?” I knew she sensed something with the way her body tensed and her eyes glassed over. I sensed a shimmer around her. She was about to shift. I had to stop her. She couldn’t let anyone see her dragon form.
The night we met she shifted on accident in front of a group of humans. Before we met, I was assigned to trail her and erase the memories of anyone who ever saw her shift. She didn’t know what I did as I hung back and waited for her to leave before I stepped in.
Then one night she came back to a crime scene, something she hadn’t done for the two years I watched out for her. Our Section Chief had hired me to be a sort of bodyguard for her. It had worked out well until she caught me.
I stepped up behind her and put my hand on her shoulder. “Calm down. This crowd is too large to show yourself in front of. It’ll take me all night to clear all of their memories. Besides I’m full. I don’t need any more blood.”
She elbowed me and stepped to the side. “Thanks.”
In order for me to erase memories, I first had to take a small amount of blood from the human, it gave me a sort of psychic connection with them. Then it was easy to manipulate their memories. I could order them to forget anything to do with Alyson, or just to forget she was a shifter.
The night she first saw me, I was in the middle of taking blood from one of the tech’s she shifted in front of. She almost killed me thinking I was attacking the poor guy. I had to call Steve, our Section Chief, to talk her down.
“Vlad, do you see that?” She pointed to the center of the room.
I turned my focus again to the room. There was a pentagram in the center. It wasn’t very visible, but I could sense the magic coming from it. The circle had been broken, probably the killers broke it when they finished their ritual.
The room smelled of blood, menthol, and something else I couldn’t quite pick up, thanks to the menthol. Alyson would. She didn’t need menthol when we hit these scenes.
“Tell me what you sense,” I whispered to her as I sidled up to her left.
There were only a few places we could stand without ruining the evidence. CSI had already taken their photos, they never let anyone near the room until their photos and video capture was complete. They were still inside the room taking evidence and placing it carefully inside their bags.
No one else would be allowed to walk the room until they were completely finished. This was as close as we were going to get, tonight. We didn’t need to be any closer to sense the true nature of the horror.
“She was tortured in the middle of the room.” Alyson squatted.
“First, they took their time ripping her body open and collecting her blood. I doubt they got near her carotid artery until they were ready for her to die. She slowly bled out while they questioned her. I’m glad Mrs. Munson heard Nelly scream out that she wouldn’t do it. This makes the other scenes make more sense now. I bet all of our victims were tortured for information before they were murdered.” She shook her head and pulled her lower lip into her mouth.
This scene was the freshest we had seen, the blood on the walls wasn’t even dry yet. The murder couldn’t have taken place much more than two hours ago. All of the others were anywhere from eight to seventy-two hours old by the time we arrived on scene.
“What did they need to know? How are all of these victims related? Besides being paranormal creatures?” Alyson was asking herself these questions so softly, I knew no one else could hear.
I could hear because of my preternatural hearing. As a vampire, I could hear a quarter hit the ground next door, if I concentrated.
Most local police didn’t know about the existence of paranormal creatures. Or, if they did, they kept quiet. No one would believe we were real in this day and age, only the kooks.
The FBI put out a bulletin about the type of scene we were investigating and asked any local law enforcement agency who had one something like this to call us in. I would bet the local cop who got here first, took one look and called us in right away. Maybe before he even called for CSI.
This could be the break we were looking for. So far, we knew there were at least two wolf shifters involved. CSI had determined the hair from one crime scene came from two different werewolves. In that scene, it was a vampire who had been dusted right in front of something unidentified. There was a rectangular void in the blood. A pile of dust settled in front of the missing item. One of the local CSI techs found the wolf hairs inside of the dusted vampire remains.
The vampire must have fought back and pulled out hair from his, or her, attackers. There was no way to know who the vampire was. We couldn’t test for DNA on the dust, and it wasn’t like anyone reported vamps missing to the local police or FBI.
The murder took place inside of a large pentagram. Alyson told command this was the work of dark magic, but they wouldn’t listen. The humans who ran our division didn’t believe anyone would practice dark magic in this day and age. Humans could be so stupid.
In the scene with the vamp, we also found a large amount of human blood. It most likely belonged to the vamp’s acolyte. No body was recovered from the scene, so we can’t be sure.
“I’m going to take some of my own photos. You might want to take some notes on what you see and sense.” Alyson suggested as she pulled her cell out of the vest she wore.
Her vest had several pockets which carried her phone, a notepad, money, and ID. She never carried a purse to our crime scenes. She preferred to carry anything she needed on her, inside the vest pockets.
This case was turning into something along the lines of Jack the Ripper. A few of the guys in our unit even called this “The Ripper Case.” There were enough differences to leave the name Jack out of the title.
There are probably more similarities than any human knows. The original case was a human, named Jack, trying to kill all of one vampire’s acolytes. The vampire in question had bled dry the hunter’s entire family right in front of him before releasing him. Jack had only been a teenager when it happened. The reason I know these details is because the vampire was an old acquaintance of mine.
Since we found one scene with a dusted vampire, we have to consider the possibility vampires are involved. Although, Vamps and werewolves don’t generally work together. So, the vamp could have been the victim.