Two nights later, Kathleen Innisfree moved into her new home. She would start her job next week. For now, as Prudence had said, she had earned some time off. Kian could observe the light on in her place and the flicker of a television set. The question being, does he observe this lion-haired beauty for a time, or present himself right away?
Kian finally decided to watch for just a while. The nights were lengthening as the season progressed toward winter and he felt comfortable gazing up there from his dark refuge in the shadow of a tree. He thought he might enter with a grand gesture of supernatural power and mystery, but he rejected the idea. No, she had been face to face with the unknown for weeks — no months now. And she’d had to do it alone. When he first crossed paths with her, it was under the guise of a mysterious but mundane person. It would be best to reintroduce himself that way again. There was no good reason to panic her, after all.
He made his way past the tall, dark hedge that framed the property, and up the short, steep steps to the front door. Feeling slightly awkward, he simply rang the bell.
A moment passed, and Kian heard sounds of a person approaching the entrance. Kian briefly saw the shadow of a form gaze from the peep hole of the door. After a short pause, the door was unlocked and opened. Kathleen stood there, dressed upscale casual, her long tresses gliding down from her head and gently sweeping over both sides of her shoulders. Kian noted no surprise in her look, in fact quite the opposite, it was like an old friend coming to visit after a long absence. She said, “Kian. Your name is Kian.” Completely unafraid, she gestured for him to come in, “Please enter. I’m afraid I haven’t yet gotten the place ready for visitors; so please excuse the mess.”
He smiled faintly and nodded. “Ms. Innisfree,” he greeted her. He stepped inside and paused to look around. “I apologize for my unannounced visit. I know you must still be settling in.”
Kian turned to look at her. A hint of sadness touched his eyes. “It’s just that I think we need to talk and I don’t think it can wait.”
“Of course, can I get you anything? Is there something wrong? I’m sorry if I called you Kian, it simply felt right and I thought you would like it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“No, nothing thank you,” he said. “I’d just like to sit and talk a while. And it’s okay if you would like to call me Kian. Everyone does.” He looked about for a place to sit, then took a seat at a table.
“You’ve had some things on your mind lately,” Kian began. “I thought I might be able to help you put them in … context.” He used the word carefully and with intent. He wasn’t there to grant perspective or to try to control how she felt about it. The term, ‘context’ also insinuated some tentative knowledge of what she might have witnessed in her mind’s eye and that was meant to inspire a sense of informal confidentiality.
“You know? Well, that makes sense that you should know. I took your advice and tried to leave this all behind me, but it has been nagging at me ever since. It’s been, well, strange to say the least. But inspiring and scary at the same time. I’ve tried to be rational about it. How have these feelings and visions come to be, and how do they relate to you? In context of course.”
He paused. “Before I get into all of that, I have another question, if you’ll indulge me. Have you continued to have these images and dreams even when you were away?”
“Yes I have. During the evening usually and most intensely but more rarely during the day. But those are different. And other things have happened, strange whispers.”
Real emotion, sadness and regret, poured forth from him for a moment, before he returned his face to a calm, neutral expression. “To be honest I had hoped it would all go away, that the thing that bound us together would fade away. I see it was entirely a vain hope. I didn’t want you to be pulled into all of this.
“I don’t know what all you saw, how much was true and how much of it was distorted. The people who made this bond are likely dust now; but their power can’t be undone so easily. What was forged between us — against our wills — was a kind of psychic bond, as near as I can figure. It used a sort of sympathetic connection, through my blood, to connect to you. It sounds impossible, but it is true. Their purpose, I’ve discovered was to create a tool they could use to track and destroy me.”
Kathleen replied, “Last year I would never have believed such things, such as psychic powers, were true. But after seeing what I saw, I can see that they may just be. Who are they? I was told terrorists, but I’m not so sure now. To be honest, I was not sure what I was feeling was simply hysteria or madness. But they didn’t effect me emotionally, just like they were memories or dreams. Echos from a life long gone. Except most of them included you.”
He nodded. “We’ll want to address the things you might have felt during the day as well as the strange whispers you spoke of, but that can wait for now. I think you realize now that there is another world in addition to the one commonly known. It is full of danger and it’s hard to know who is enemy and who is friend. But there are certain laws that this other world operates by. They are few, I admit, but they are ironclad. More importantly, these laws protect humankind from the supernatural world, and the supernatural from humankind. Any breech, be it done by human or inhuman or more than human, can cause a terrible flood of violence and disaster.
“With that in mind, it is of the greatest irony that you have been bound to see into my world. You see, it is my… profession to ensure those laws hold for the protection of my kind — and yours.
“You may have seen me do terrible things in your mind’s eye. I don’t know what you saw, not exactly. I’ve been harsh when acting in my given role. But I’m not without compassion. What has been done to you is not your fault. I had hoped it would fade — yet a small, dark part of me, a selfish part, hoped it would not.
“You are in danger now, Miss Innisfree. You see into a world you weren’t meant to see — and do not doubt that it likewise now stares back at you. If the others knew how much you have been exposed to, they would no doubt order me to … take action.
“I won’t let that happen.
“I stood outside your place for a little while tonight trying to figure out why. I’m not sure I understand, but I think that somehow… I need your help.”
She looked a bit surprised, “You need my help? You just confirmed for me that there is more to this world than what I see on BBC or experience in my job; something terrible and wonderful. You say that by knowing this I could be in danger, but you won’t let that happen. I appreciate that, and I felt that you would always help me. I don’t know why. It’s not romantic, or a crush, its simply something I…know. But, how can I help you?”
A smile flickered but then disappeared. “Hm. That’s hard to explain, and harder to admit. For now, do you have questions about what you’ve seen that you’d like me to answer?”
She walked around the apartment, “Well, you have to understand. All of this is both strange to me and to a degree familiar. The things I’ve envisioned and dreamt about are so wild and vivid that I really can’t believe it, but for some reason, I do. Sometimes I remember details, other times it is vague and I don’t remember it all. I guess I should start with the big question and go on from there. Are you, and those you fight, vampire-like? I don’t mean like the bad sci-fi or horror movies, nor the silly romantic women’s fiction, but something real, supernatural but part of the natural world all the same. Is this you? And do you work for the government of a secret society?” The intelligence in her eyes was unlike anything Kian has ever encountered. She was confident, unafraid, and seemed genuinly curious even though this knowledge could threaten her.
He’d already decided to take a chance. It was a huge risk, telling her this, but his presence here already proved he was prepared to take the risk of breaking the very laws he was charged to uphold. It was his secret that drove him forward even now; it truly was a great challenge to undertake what he was about to do — and survive. He stood and left the table, then approached her.
“I was born, lived, and died like any other person would. As you are destined to. But my death was … different. Something took mercy upon me that night, if you can call it mercy. And so now, yes I am dead, but not passed on. That fate is gone from my own destiny. In its place I was given only a hunger for the living, that which must sustain me or I shall sleep forever, unable to die.
“But at least I have been given a purpose. They call me Guardian of the City now. So yes, in a sense I am a part of that government you speak of. My duty is to root out those who break our ruler’s peace, those who threaten my city. ”
“You are very ambulatory for a dead man,” she smiled, coyly walking past him. She turned toward him, asking, “How much of the Troubles were caused by these…haunts. Yes, I’ve heard the urban legends of late night Belfast. Are they the reason Ulster stays violent and no peace ever truly holds? Somehow I think not. Perhaps they hide in our wars? Am I right?
“The troubles have human causes, human hatreds. But there are also wars in my world. There have been times when the violence has been hidden within the mask of confusion and violence the people of Northern Ireland have caused on their own. Other times, the waking world never knows — or it shouldn’t. There are those humans,” Kian said with a hint of bitterness, “who think they are Van Helsing. Most often we simply disappear and wait for them to go away. But when these humans meet those of my kind who are… criminal — like those who assaulted you and jacked your car — then we all have big problems.”
Kian paused and looked at her intently. “Too many people get killed when that happens. And this is one area you may be able to help me.”
“How can I help?”
“Sometimes there are resources that I need that I just don’t have. It’s not like I can hold down a day-job,” Kian gave her a wry smile. “Or do much of anything during the day. And, while my position puts me in a good place to deal with criminal underworld elements, I don’t have the kind of contacts that would help me shield the common person from what goes on down here.
“Oh, there are some other of my people that do. But they aren’t the Guardian of Belfast. I am.
“I would never ask you to do something that would get you in trouble with anyone, and if I do by accident, then I’d expect you to tell me. Usually it’s just very simple things, and it’s rare. I do have others that help me, after all. And they really can’t help me the way I need the most. That secret thing I mentioned? The thing that’s hard for me to admit? It’s just this.
“Perspective. Sometimes I just need to talk to someone who’s seen what I’ve seen.” He sighed. “That’s what’s so embarrassing for me,” he admitted. “I barely even know you and I’m asking if I can dump on you. It’s just that you’re not supposed to know any of this stuff. But you do. It makes you utterly… unique.”
“I can help you Kian. Yet, haven’t you ever met a normal person who would keep your secrets? I’m sure you see dozens of vampire want-to-be’s in nightclubs or on campus. How am I different than them?”
Kian explained, “The laws that are held to keep the boundary between the supernatural and humanity forbid that humanity know what we truly are. We call it the Masquerade and breaching this law bring heavy penalties. Only those who’ve been brought into our society — the Renfields, so to speak, are permitted to know even a little.
“By the letter of the law, in order to preserve the Masquerade, I would normally be charged with making you… disappear. Or, perhaps employing mind erasure techniques to make you forget all that you know. The route I’ve chosen is dangerous precisely because I am defying this law, the very law I must uphold. But your situation is different — you never tried to discover all this on your own. You never meant to harm anyone at all. This isn’t your fault. So if I tried to protect this Masquerade we have then I would be guilty of harming an innocent person. I’m a monster, but I’m not so far gone as to know that’s just as wrong as breaking our own laws. You don’t deserve it.” His tone hinted at something, some buried emotion, but even he wasn’t sure what it was.
“So I’m trying a new route,” he continued. “Instead of causing damage to cover up damage, I want to mend the breach with honesty and clarity. If you understand why we exist and why we must have rules, I believe that you will help me keep these secrets. No one else in the mortal world can know what you know. And no one from my world can know that you know these things. Do you understand?” Kian looked at her hopefully.
“I do.”, she answered. “I find that I am a font of secrets, and I know how to protect them. This is just another one. I’m fairly certain the Prime Minister and MI-5 has suspicions of your kind; they do so much to cover things up and deny things that they must be in the know. Just my suspicion.” She looked at him thoughtfully and then slowly without malice she asked, “Do you love her?”