1. Anticipation


Birds migrate south when the winter's chilling breath enters the air, as life begins to whither away, and the land turns brown. And with them, the small society resting just outside the town of Longyearbyen, migrate with them. The steady approach of the Wiccan holiday, Samhain - better known as "Halloween" in pop culture - brought a veil of dread to the humans of the "Blood Alliance", as they miserably packed their belongings, and lives, as they had done every early Autumn for the past two decades.

The rhythmic daily routine shifted slowly but steadily as the days of the midnight sun began to shorten. Chores were subsided, the responsibility of livestock dropped. The soft, pleading mews of thinning cows, horses, and sheep were like the desperate wails of a banshee - frightening, saddening, and unbearable. Most livestock was left to graze on what little patches of browning grass broke through the layers of new and old snow, still herded in the outside, wooden pens.

When the migration back north was made, the humans residing in the small farmland society would replace their livestock from Longyearbyen, with the money earned from the south, in Denmark. Paying someone in Longyearbyen to tend to the domestic animals would be much more costly than buying new livestock altogether.

The cycle would continue from year to year, as it had in the past twenty. There was no change in the small society's lifestyle. It was a depressing, subconscious routine Ryan Bedford grew accustomed to, as every person born into the society before him had. He had known no other way since his birth, when his parents had experienced the trip for the first time, when he was naught but an infant. Ryan had never known Colten and Felicia Bedford personally. Raised by his older sister, Sara, Ryan was informed - with very few, strict details - that the first trip from the Svalbard archipelago had been a treacherous journey, resulting in many unavoidable, and unexpected, casualties.

But even as he slowly packed his duffle bag with his few personal belongings and warm clothes, Ryan tried to recall his childhood years - as far back to toddler days - when the exchange of societies was a fresh, daring, and even terrifying, experience - when all the steps of the journey hadn't been carefully planned.

Particularly terrifying, Ryan reminded himself as he stuffed a folded shirt atop a pair of thick, wool pants, crinkling them both. The only clothes that remained, rested in the drawers of his bureau were for his last days in Home, and would remain in his small, shabby bedroom when he left Svalbard.

The attempt to depict the dangers of his earliest journeys to Norway proved effortless, and he plopped himself on the edge of his bed with a dejected sigh. It slumped under his weight with a whiny creek, but the metal frame held solidly. He half expected he would have to buy a new bed once he returned, five months from now. The Bloodbrothers that would be resting in his home, were no doubt going to be young and vigorous - recovering from lengthy anxiety and anticipation.

The Bloodbrothers' journey would be safer, and their minds would be filled with plans, and a hunger that flowed so deeply in their instincts, that they couldn't imagine knowing anything else. Most of their kind reviled humans, especially those who were "blessed" to live in almost pure darkness for four to five months. Their envy formed the glares the humans would receive when they returned Home as the polar night drew to an end.

The tension would always rest between the two sides. One would always be happy with their departure to one landmark, while the other was miserable, even loathing. It was a strange balance that held strong through the nineteen years the alliance had survived thus far. Who knew how long it would be before the Bloodbrothers decided it would be simpler to just take the village outcrop?

A flare of anger suddenly rose in Ryan's chest, and his thick brow knotted together as he thought of the angry, pale faces of the Bloodbrothers. He refused to entitle them as the rest of his society did. They were not their equals, and there was nothing from experience or stories, to convince Ryan otherwise.

Grasping the thick strap of his duffle bag in one strong hand, he swung it over his shoulder and pushed open the wooden door of his room with an almost inaudible creak. The constant roar of the kitchen fire casting a warm glow over the worn, stone walls, was a comforting reminder that this home - this pitiful structure he had lived in half of his life - was indeed his.

The tall woman standing at the counter, with her head bowed and red-haired pulled back in a loose bun, cutting away the fat of dinner's fish, belonged here as well. Ryan didn't believe the humans should give up their home for six months for Nightwalkers, and he was deadest on saying so - as he had every year that passed just before the journey began.

Peering up as the wooden door slammed shut behind the youth, Sara offered a small smile to her younger brother that lit up her pale and worn features. There were sagging lines beneath her eyes, and dimples at the corner of her mouth. A strain in her face to hold the expression at the sight of his hard look was evident, and Ryan immediately dropped the glare. There was no point in making things difficult for Sara all the time. Without her decision to raise him when he was lying in the snow, wailing the cries of an orphaned newborn, Ryan would have perished that same winter their parents did.

With a soft sigh, Ryan stepped towards Sara as she prompted, "Still packing?"

Pausing momentarily to kiss her leaning in cheek, Ryan strode to the metal table to drop the duffle bag against one wall, replying without looking up, "Just finished." He took a seat, letting himself drop onto the torn cushion heavily. There hadn't been much to pack, and the choice in what clothing was being left behind had been a thirty second struggle.

Sara winced slightly at the heavy thud of Ryan's boots dropping onto the tabletop. He rocked his metal chair on its hind legs as he stared ahead at the blank wall across from him, with clear boredom. Returning her gaze to the raw fish meat she was delicately and tediously cutting apart into smaller chunks, Sara's smile held, and her expression eased.

Dressed in wool pants and a thick, padded shirt, she felt a little warm, pressed against the stove with the fire lit safely behind a grate at her feet. Sara picked up a light hum upon the spot, with no set tune to identify it.

Noticing his sister's indifferent mood this morning, Ryan gave her a befuddled and accusing look. Pausing in his rocking, with one foot pressed against the table's rim now, and the other dangling over the chair, he prompted more venomously than he meant, "What're you so cheerful about? I thought you hated gutting fish."

Without acknowledging his daring tone for an argument, Sara replied in a sing-song tone, as she dropped a thick slice of fish meat into the waiting pan on the stove, "I do."

Raising a single, thick eyebrow at her, Ryan let his chair slump forward on all four legs as he rolled his foot to the hard packed, dirt floor. Peering at her curiously now, he gestured with a wave of his hand, he asked impatiently, "And? You're cheerful why?"

Flashing him a knowing smile as she paused in her work, Sara replied, "Because it's one of the last times I'll be doing it."

This drew a scowl of disgust from Ryan, drawing back a reminder of why he had left his room - of his earlier intentions to step outside the pathetic structure that was his home every six months, and beyond the village limits. Glancing back at his pitiful, green-leathered bag resting out of place against the wall, and the few belongings that barely made a bulge within it, he shook his head. The smile faltered on Sara's face, her lips twitching, but it miraculously held. She had promised herself that she wouldn't let her brother's moodiness ruin her own spark of happiness at the thought that she wouldn't have to gut fish anymore. There was a prospect of an easier life waiting with the Nightwalkers. It was really just the thick smell of the sea wafting off the meat that Sara didn't like. After spending hours gutting fish, eel, and even seal sometimes, it made her stomach queasy, and Sara often didn't eat until long after she had served Ryan his own helping.

Sara returned slowly to her task, asking in an even tone, "Have you tended to the livestock today?" Her smile was gone now that her attention was on her tedious, nauseating task again. Ryan though, noticed the edge her in voice, the cheerful mood clearly swept in exchange to favor a resentful one.

With an unseen shake of his head, Ryan muttered, resting his chin in a curled fist, "What's the bother? They'll be here in just days, and the livestock will be gone probably before the jet even takes off."

The youth's words stung. Not just because of the harsh, cold way he had said them, but because of the truth Sara couldn't delude herself from. For two weeks now, she had replaced dread with tedious tasks. Ones she even loathed like prepping fish, were more appealing than the thoughts and fears resting in the back of her mind. The same fears that dwelt with doubt, in everyone's minds.

Sometimes it's just easier to gut fish, Sara thought with definite dislike, a grimace passing over her face.

Oblivious to the torn confusion his sister was suffering from, Ryan pushed his chair out after a few minutes of silence, and headed for the door. Sara peered back at him, still slowly cutting off a chunk of the fish meat, but kept her mouth firmly shut. Picking up his parka and pulling it on as he left, Ryan closed the door quietly behind him.

There was a noticeable, steady change on the villagers' faces, as gloominess drifted into uneasiness, and then anticipation. There was always a solitary plan of caution set into play, and beneath their thick, woolen clothes and padded parkas, every villager - down to the carefully instructed toddlers - was armed ruthlessly. If the exchange came to dispute, the humans would put up a strong front.

It would still amount to nothing, Ryan realized as his glance swept the patted down, frozen pathways separating the identical metal structures. The roofs were wrought with rusted shingles that hung in a threatening manner. A light snowfall accompanied a permanent fog that blurred the borders of Ryan's vision. Humans passed like wraiths - dark, luminous, and unrecognizable - in and out of the youth's line of vision.

Padded boots carrying him further from the border of the village where his own home lay, Ryan had no real notion where his feet directed him. He had passed into a phase of subconscious routine, his actions focused solely on preparation work for the coming migration, while his mind remained blank. Ryan's frustration had hardened his thoughts, and numbed his heart. Within his body there raged a deep loathing that shook his hands, and empowered his every stride. The despise wasn't directed specifically towards the Bloodbrothers of the alliance - for he had no reasoning cause to hate someone he never met - but rather for the humans who had allowed themselves to be sauntered into surrendering their homes to these monstrous beings.

Ryan supposed he had a biased opinion, when his parents' deaths were implanted into the equation. Though he had never known them, Ryan felt an undying loyalty to Colten and Patricia Bedford still. They hadn't deserved to make the harsh choice between taking a difficult, perilous trip south, or guaranteed, painful death. The latter might have resulted in his own death, Ryan knew, so maybe that's why the humans didn't fight the Nightwalker - to give future generations their chance for a somewhat peaceful, and promising life.

Feet hesitating at the cliff edge curved to overlook the city of Longyearbyen, Ryan hissed in a disgusted scowl, "Vampires," using the common, informal name of the "others". The word was distasteful, like spoiled meat that clung disgustingly to his tongue. As a child, Ryan had never known the blatant term for the Bloodbrothers, the Nightwalkers - whatever anyone wished to call them - and didn't fully comprehend their vile nature. It wasn't until his first trip into Longyearbyen, when his youthful tongue had let slip information about the vampires, that the fear of the Bloodbrothers swept all previous awe surrounding the cold beings, from his mind.

Ryan recalled straying from the merchant party, still bobbing with excitement at having just returned from Denmark. His pudgy legs had carried him down unfamiliar streets until he paused to stare in wonder at the most ancient looking person he had ever seen. The woman had peered at him beneath a low hanging brow, with eyes squinted almost completely shut. With a trembling, bony arm, she called little Ryan forward, giving him a lopsided smile that brought light to her naturally gray complexion. There were thin white hairs where her eyebrows had once been thick and bushy, but long, mangled hair still swept over her shoulders and down her curved back, where she sat propped in a stuffed chair to overlook the street activity.

"Come child, I see a story dancing in your eyes," she had told him, in a kindly voice that didn't shake with her limbs.

Hands fumbling over one another as he stepped eagerly forward, Ryan had been itching to share his adventure and wonders with someone who hadn't experienced them. When he paused closely before her beneath the canvas shielding the ancient woman from the light snowfall, she rested a comforting hand on the youth's shoulder, prompting, "So what then, is this fascinating tale?"

The words fumbled from Ryan's mouth, lapsing over one another as he started in an excited tone, "It happened! I saw the big city!" There was a knowing, appreciative twinkle in the woman's elderly eyes that encouraged the toddler further. "And I didn't see de Walkers close, cause theys don' come out when it shines, but I saw one! She was white and scary, and-" Ryan paused in his babbling once he had realized the smile slipped from the elderly woman's face. Her eyes were now almost completely hidden as her brow drew together and lowered over them.

Now she scrutinized Ryan with a hard look, demanding in a serious, unwavering voice, "You have seen theseā€¦'Nightwalkers'?" There had been a light probing into his subconscious that Ryan had grown aware of. The feeling had made his shift uneasily, wishing to release himself from the woman's surprisingly strong hold on his shoulder.

It had been the first time Ryan had heard that term - 'Nightwalker' - so being only three, he was thoroughly confused by the woman's choice of title. Seeming to understand this, the woman warned in a harsh undertone, grip tightening painfully on his shoulder as she leaned closer to him, "Do as I say, and never trust the vampires. They would sooner slaughter you child, than let you speak freely of them. Hold your tongue and return home." The crooked finger of her free hand, traced strange patterns in the air before him, and then a cross. At last, she released her hold on Ryan, saying in an unsteady voice as she settled back amongst the pillows of her chair, "I pray the heavens smile upon your village's choice, in these years to come."

Nearly sixteen years had passed since that interaction, but standing and overlooking Longyearbyen, Ryan recalled it vividly still. He had walked away from the woman, back towards his anxiously searching sister, with a perplexed feeling he didn't understand. Despite the woman's words, he mentioned nothing of the conversation, and still held his tongue to this day. Though Ryan had scanned the streets several times through the years following, he never found the woman again. He was aware that most of the world remained peacefully oblivious to vampires' existence, with only tales to hold their interest.

Ryan had never known vampires as a myth - a folklore played in movies and written in books to both entice and scare people - and so was unable to comprehend what someone who had always believed them unreal, would think if they discovered the truth. Ryan had of course, talked with his sister about outsiders to their lifestule, and she had nothing to add to his train of thought. The people in Longyearbyen were strangers, even when lying just miles away. From atop the cliff face, Home acted as the city's guardian. Without the small, farm society, the vampires would have invaded Longyearbyen twenty years ago - taking no prisoners, and feeding until no witnesses remained. There would have been no pity, and no remorse.

The village Elders who had proposed the treaty to the vampires, had decided as one, to keep the Blood Alliance a profound secret, and withhold any plans of breaking the oaths made. If the humans' faces were to betray their true emotions, then the village was doomed regardless. Sometimes Ryan forgot this.

And now, standing in the midst of the light, steady snowfall - neither warmed by the wool and cotton, nor chilled by the harsh wind and cold weather - Ryan felt at a loss. All there was left to do, was to sit and wait for his Bloodbrothers, and the trip to his new, familiar life.