“Tea and Antipathy”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

Content Warning: HOMOPHOBIA, GORE

“So what I’m getting from all this is,” said Caren, “if these motherfuckers decide we’re food not friends, we’re fucked.”

“Vampires are dangerous, to say the least. The older ones, anyway.” Ash closed his laptop, stored it in his satchel. Stifled a wracking yawn. “To the point that,” he went on mid-yawn, “even the Auctoritas Magicae are scared to make trouble with them. Which is why, as a Martial Magus, I’m not officially authorized to interfere with them unless they: one, attack me personally; two, attack another faction-affiliated mage; or, three, violate the Occultation Protocols—which in their case means failing to make their kills appear to have a mundane cause of death, or failing to keep their thralls mum. Basically, in the event one of them attacks one of you three but doesn’t bother me, I’ll end up in deep shit with the A.M. if I try to help you.”

“Lucky for us Greek fire isn’t one of the best known ways to take them down,” said Caren, sarcastically. “Fucking Auctoritas Magicae Old World bureaucrat heads-up-their-asses privileged fascist racist motherfucking pieces of shit—no offense.”

Ash waved his hand, None taken.

“And you said if they drink a mage’s blood, they can use the mage’s powers?” said Nathaniel.

“According to a couple of these sources”—Ash indicated his stack of old books—“yes, for as long as the mage’s blood remains in the vampire’s system. But only innate powers, not learned skills or powers that rely on the use of magical tools. For instance, if a vampire drank my blood, they wouldn’t be able to use my combat alchemy powers, because they wouldn’t have either my tattoos or the know-how to use them. If they drank Caren’s blood, they wouldn’t be able to use any powers related to her implanted amulets. But if they drank Vernon’s blood…well, that would probably be pretty bad news for all of us.”

Sicko Mode smiled beatifically.

“Also,” Ash went on through another bracing yawn, “if the vampire has learned any magic skills of their own, theoretically they could use any mage’s mana as fuel for any spells they happen to know. This combined with the lack of Auctoritas Magicae protection would ostensibly make any factionless mage a pretty tempting snack. Long story short, you three especially might want to be careful about letting the Leeches know you’re mages till we’ve assessed the situation and determined whether it’s worth the risk.”

“Well, it’s only the older vampires we really have to worry about, right?” said Nathaniel.

“The younger ones do sound a lot less scary,” agreed Ash. “They’re basically like superpowered humans who don’t age, so still vulnerable to all the same violent causes of death that humans are. And by all accounts they’re easy to outsmart, because they tend to be kind of not-all-there. The older ones, though…”

“…There’s seriously no documented way to kill them?” said Caren.

“Like I said before, the prevailing consensus seems to be: cut them into tiny pieces, put each piece in a sealed adamantine container, and bury them all miles apart. Even then, there are two separate accounts of this protocol being followed and the vampire somehow returning. Which is why most of the advice I’ve found concerning vampires is: Stay the fuck away from the old ones.”

“There aren’t that many old ones, though, right?” said Caren.

“They are said to be”—another mighty yawn— “exceedingly rare.”

“You getting sleepy there, Killer?” Caren furrowed her brow. “It’s only like six o’ clock.”

“I didn’t sleep last night.” Ash blinked fiercely, forced his eyes open wide. “I have something I can take for it if it gets too bad.”

“So when it comes to identifying the vampires,” said Nathaniel.

“Yeah. When they haven’t eaten in a while, they can look pretty pale or gray. Other than that, we’re probably looking for people who in some way or another appear kind of…anachronistic, I guess, at least in the case of all but the youngest vampires. Vampires tend to stay stuck in the past, in their mortal lifetimes, and may have a hard time keeping up with changes in fashion, dialect, mannerisms. Though that’s apparently not the case across the board.” Through another yawn: “Any other questions?”

Sicko Mode placed his big puppy hand on Ash’s skull, jiggled the alchemist’s head around. “Pidge, wake uuuuuuppp!” he intoned.

Ash made a low sound in his throat like an angry cat. “I’ll take that as a no.”

“TBH, this is the most prepared I’ve felt for a job in a while,” said Caren. “Thanks for doing all the research, Killer.”

“Yeah, thanks so much, dude. This was super informative.” Nathaniel waved his phone. “Should we go grab some dinner? I made us a reservation at Barclay Prime.”

A twelve-minute walk and a short wait later, Caren was sitting in hands-down the fanciest restaurant she’d ever been to in her life, drumming nervously on a marble tabletop while gazing up at a crystal chandelier. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant while sitting in a fucking armchair. I feel like a Bond villain.”

Nathaniel grinned. “You’ve never been here before?”

“Dude. Don’t pretend you can’t tell from looking at me that I’m a poor.”

“Well, order whatever you want, my treat. I highly recommend the cheesesteak.”

“Haha, very funny, you bougie fuck.”

“I’m serious!” He slid a menu in front of her, pointed out an item:

Barclay Prime Cheesesteak $120

Caren’s jaw dropped. “A hundred-and-twenty-dollar cheesesteak? That’s an affront to God.”

“Get it. You won’t regret it.”

Ash, who declined to order anything because he said he’d already eaten at FUEL, was soon conked out in his armchair. Sicko Mode kept tickling his nose with the corner of his napkin till Nathaniel took him to task for it a few times, then finally gave him his iPhone with Cat Fishing 2 on it to keep him occupied.

Not too long after, the food arrived: a Kobe beef steak for Sicko Mode, and Caren and Nathaniel’s Wagyu cheesesteaks, cut and arranged neatly on their plates and pierced through with toothpicks, accompanied by a bottle of champagne.

“Here goes like five dollars.” Caren took her first bite of the sandwich. “Holy shit.”

“You can really tashte the truffle, right?” said Nathaniel, around a big bite of his own cheesesteak. “Sho earthy.”

Caren sank back in her chair with a moan, glanced around the room. “I could get used to this life.”

“Right?” Nathaniel took a sip of his champagne. “I acclimated to it very quickly.”

“So you didn’t grow up fancy either.”

“Hell, no. When Soren found me, I was a literal street urchin.”

“You mean homeless?”


“Shit. No family, I guess?”

“Not one that was cool with me being distinctly bisexual.”


“My folks found out I had a boyfriend in high school. Called his parents—they pulled him out of school and refused to let him ever see me again. My dad called me a ‘fucking faggot’ and threatened me with a hunting knife.” Nathaniel shrugged. “So I packed up and hit the road.”

Caren stared at her plate. “Man. Fuck that.”

Nathaniel smiled at her. “It all worked out. I have a real family now.” Took another bite of his cheesesteak.

“Meillassoux’s Boys,” said Caren.

“We just call ourselves the Boys.”

“Right. So, what, does Soren just go around scooping up castaway queer mage boys off the street?”

“This was like eight years go. He was still just an up-and-comer himself, doesn’t do any of his own recruiting anymore. But yeah, at the time, I guess that’s pretty much what he did. I was a teenager getting by doing petty magic crimes, not being all that discreet about it. I probably would’ve ended up getting put away by a ratcatcher—like yourself—if Soren hadn’t found me and taken me under his wing.”

Caren again stared at her plate. Ground her teeth. “Ratcatching… It’s…a job. You know?”

“Hey, I get it. I don’t always feel so great about mine either. But I do like my boss.”


“Soren treats us like family. Of course it’s not perfect, of course there are compromises. He still calls all the shots at the end of the day. But he listens to us and considers our points of view.”

“What more can you ask for, I guess.”

“Yeah.” They both fell silent a moment. Nathaniel forked another bite of his cheesesteak. “Do you celebrate Christmas?”

Caren frowned, ran some calculations in her head. “Holy shit. It’s fucking Christmas Eve, isn’t it?”

Nathaniel chuckled around his bite.

“Fuck. I mean.” Caren looked off, shrugged. “I guess I’ll call my fucking dad. Maybe not, what’s the point—he won’t know who I am. And fuck him anyway.”

Nathaniel raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“He’s in a nursing home,” Caren explained. “Brain damage, from drugs. Thinks I’m my mom more than half the time.”

“And your mom?”

“She fucked off a long time ago. No warning.”

She felt Nathaniel looking at the side of her face with sympathy in his eyes, which she found kind of annoying. “Nobody left to do Christmas with, I take it?” he said.

Caren had a flashback: cuddling up to Luke under the stairs during a family Christmas Eve party. Rubbed furiously at her chest. “Nope.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s whatever. Christmas is stupid.” Caren picked up her fork, stabbed her sandwich.

“So your family did celebrate?”

“Yeah. Though Christmas Eve was more the main event than Christmas Day.”

“Really?” Nathaniel pointed his fork at himself. “Us too!”


“Yeah, we’d have this huge family party every Christmas Eve. It’s called Nochebuena.”

“Word? We always just called it Christmas Eve, I think. But yeah, it’s a Filipino thing. Christmas Eve’s huge for us.”

“Maybe it’s like a Hispanic thing? I’m Cuban.”



“Dude.” Caren started laughing. “We’d roast a whole fucking pig every year.”

“No way! We did too. Called it lechón.”

“Whaaat, y’all also had lechón?”

“Y’all called it lechón too?!”

“Did y’all have adobo?”

“I don’t remember ever having adobo on Nochebuena. We’d have lechón, yuca, plantains…”

“Did you have pancit?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a noodle dish.”

“That might just be a Filipino thing. I do love noodles, though.”

“Oh my God. All my aunts and uncles would get sooo drunk.”

“Hey, um.” Nathaniel put his fork down, looked at Caren. “This is out of left field maybe, but…none of the other Boys celebrate Nochebuena obviously, or Christmas at all, actually, and…I mean, the memories sure as hell weren’t all good growing up, but I always kinda liked the whole home-cooked feast, gathering around the fireplace with family, opening presents kinda deal. Would you, uh, wanna do something like that later tonight?”

Caren blinked at him. “Uh…”

“I get it if that’s, like, weird to ask someone you just met. And I promise I’m not creeping on you.”

“No, no…uh…we could do that.”

Nathaniel grinned, wrinkled his nose. “You…don’t look enthused. Really, it’s, like, okay if you’re not feeling it.”

“No, I mean, yeah, no, I think…you know. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.”

Nathaniel chuckled. “Hey, I’ll take it. And you don’t have to bring anything. Soren’s kitchen is always fucking stocked.”

Sicko Mode, without looking up from Cat Fishing 2, sang softly: “Caren and Natey-boy, sittin’ in a—”

“Vernon,” said Nathaniel, in a withering tone of voice.

Sicko Mode made an exaggerated pouty face, shrank in his seat.

“Sorry about him,” said Nathaniel to Caren. “It’s not—you know. Friends first is good. I mean—not ‘first.’ Like…just friends is good. I mean—not ‘just.’ Although ‘just’ is also…uhh… Friendship is—”

“No worries, I feel you,” Caren cut him off. He looked grateful, started picking intently at his cheesesteak.

“I should get this boxed up,” he mumbled eventually. Flashed a possibly-nervous smile. “You know, since we’re gonna feast tonight!”

Caren poked her own sandwich with her fork.

Did I just agree to a fucking date?

She felt kind of distracted for the rest of the dinner, and afterward, during the walk across Center City to Tea at Dominique. Nathaniel, fortunately, was talkative enough to keep the conversation going all by himself, and Caren managed to supply enough well-timed grunts to (hopefully) seem like she was paying attention. The whole time, though, her thoughts kept chasing each other in circles in her head—first as to whether their plans for the evening qualified as a date, then as to whether a date with a guy she was working with was a good idea, and finally as to whether a date with Nathaniel was a good idea, regardless of the professional relationship.

He’s nice.

…Too nice.

He’s into family and Christmas and shit. I hate all that shit.

He’s kind of a warm-fuzzy-type guy. Might be looking for a relationship. I don’t do that shit.

He’s into cars. I don’t know jack-shit about cars.

She’d housed a couple of Marlboro Reds by the time they walked up outside Tea at Dominique. Caren gave the attendant at the door the fake name she’d used for the online reservation.

Once inside—

“This is hell, I think,” muttered Caren, looking around at the kitschy holiday decor, the servers dressed as Santa’s elves. “I can totally believe a bunch of sicko vampires hang out here.”

Ash touched her arm, lifted a warning forefinger to his lips.

The host seated the four of them at a mission-style table near a roaring fake fireplace.

“This place is cute!” said Sicko Mode. “I love exposed brick! Hey, why didn’t we reserve the papasan chairs? Or those down mattresses on the floor next to all the cool plants?”

“Because we’re not perverts,” said Caren. She realized the host was standing next to her trying to hand her a menu. Gave him a What? look.

After he left, Caren continued to survey the room, looking for anyone who seemed either washed-out or “anachronistic.” Ash and Nathaniel appeared to be doing the same.

“Don’t think I see any vamps,” Caren whispered finally to the others. “Just a bunch of fucking hippies.”

Ash again shushed her, then picked up his phone and started typing. 

Seconds later, Caren, Nathaniel, and Sicko Mode received a group text:

Remember some of them have super hearing

fine, Caren replied to the whole group. if anyone sees a possible vamp we text

“Welcome to Santa’s workshop!” exclaimed a familiar voice.

Caren glanced up at the server-in-elf-costume standing beside their table.

Felt her jaw drop.

The girl made a Vanna-White gesture toward the nametag on her green velour jacket. “My name is Satya, and this”—she raised the arm that served as perch for the bright-green snake—“is Snakey, and we’ll be serving you this evening. Won’t we, Snakey?” The snake looked at her, bobbed its head. She gave it a tiny peck on the nose.

Sicko Mode squealed in delight.

“What the fucking fuck…?” muttered Caren.

Satya placed her hand on her hip, arched her eyebrows. “So! Have you all been good boys, girls, and enbies this year?”

“I’ve been a really good girl!” Sicko Mode clasped his hands, gave a wiggle.

“Then I’ll put in a good word for you with Santa, young lady!” Satya ruffled his hair; he beamed. She then turned to Caren. “What about you? Have you been a good girl this year?”

Caren glared daggers at her.

Satya’s bright-eyed gaze didn’t budge. “Naughty or nice, little girl? Honor system! What do you get in your stocking this year: sweet, sweet candy…or a bundle of switches?”

Caren had a snarky reply on the tip of her tongue, but something about Nathaniel watching with that stupid puppy smile of his made her swallow it.

Satya (and the snake) leaned in closer. “It’s entirely up to you.”

Sicko Mode’s hand shot up. “I want Twizzlers!”

Satya smiled at him beneficently. “Good girls get alllll the Twizzlers they can eat!” She stole another glance at Caren, narrowed her eyes.

“I’d like to order the plain organic white tea,” said Ash, who’d had his eyes glued to the menu throughout her performance.

“Have you been a good boy this year?” Satya asked him.

“That’s subjective,” he replied.

Satya looked satisfied with this, mimed scribbling vigorously on the empty palm of her hand. “One organic white tea, coming up! What tasty goodies can I get for the rest of you dear little children?”

When she’d finally taken their orders and gone, Caren expelled a sigh of relief. Fucking sicko… What the hell does she want with me?

Her phone gave a buzz—another group text from Ash:

At the bar

Caren, Nathaniel, and Sicko Mode’s heads all swiveled in the direction of the bar.

Another group text from Ash:

Y’all are being really obvious

They all faced forward again. Caren stole another glance at the bar, this time from the corner of her eye.

A group that had just come in were settling onto barstools. The women wore corsets and long skirts, the men ascots and coats with tails.

anachronistic, Caren texted to the group.

wibbly wobbly timey wimey, replied Sicko Mode.

They continued to furtively watch the group at the bar. Caren saw one of the men, a dude with huge mutton chops and a bowler hat, look one of the passing server-elves, a petite blond girl, over slowly from head to toe, then lick his chops.

did y’all see that? she texted the group.

Yep, replied Ash. Better keep an eye on them

Caren was relieved when the table’s orders were delivered by a different, way less talkative member of the waitstaff…until she picked up her mug to take a sip, and noticed an unidentified object in it.

With the help of her spoon, she extracted the object. Laid it on her saucer, identified it:

It was a bundle of dirty twigs tied together with a piece of string. Pieces of dirt from it were still floating in her mug of cocoa.

…What the actual fuck.

maybe we should be careful about eating or drinking here, she texted to the group.

Ash frowned, placed the palm of his left hand over his teacup. Caren noticed a faint red glow emanating from his sleeve. Mine’s fine, he texted back. Want me to scan yours too?

ooh do mine!!!! Sicko Mode pushed his saucer toward Ash, tore a ravenous bite off the Twizzler that had come in his teacup. Ash scanned the beverage, gave him a thumbs-up.

Caren rolled her eyes, pushed her saucer away.

“You okay?” Nathaniel asked her quietly, and smiled, stirring his tea with the small candy cane that had come hooked over the edge of his teacup.

“Yeah, fine,” said Caren. She glanced over at the bar—saw that Bowler Hat was now chatting up the blond server. Shuddered at his creepy grin, the way he kept looking at the girl’s body. She was way too young for him and miles out of his league, but she seemed to hang on his every word, like she was already taken with him. Caren wondered if he was using some kind of vampiric mesmerism.

mutton chops might be on the hunt, she texted the team.

Roger that, replied Ash.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and a hush fell over the teahouse. Patrons’ heads swiveled curiously as a spotlight appeared and traveled across the room to illuminate a stage overhanging the bar, on which Satya stood in her elf costume, backed by a full jazz band.

“What. The. Fuck,” said Caren.

“…Am I the only one who didn’t see them come in?” said Ash.

“Hit it,” Satya exhaled into a microphone on a stand, and both girl and snake started swaying sensuously as the band launched into a slinky, brassy accompaniment for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

She sang the whole song passionately, directly to Caren.

Sicko Mode undulated enthusiastically in his seat; started clapping on the twos and fours, and soon most of the tea room’s occupants had joined in.

Nathaniel leaned over to Caren, indicated Satya. “Do you two know each other?”

“No! I don’t fucking know that bitch.”

“Are you sure?” Ash tilted his head. “Her performance seems targeted specifically at you.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Caren slumped forward onto her elbows with her fingers steepled in front of her face.

Satya belted out the last notes of the song to uproarious applause, then gave a flourishing bow, stuck out her tongue at Caren, and pranced offstage.

Sicko Mode pumped his fist, made enthusiastic woofing sounds.

“She has an incredible voice,” said Ash.

Nathaniel politely joined in the applause, but kept looking at Caren with a question in his eyes.

The house lights came back up as the band started packing up their instruments, stands, and sheet music.

Where the fuck did I pick up this clown-ass stalker? Caren rubbed at her temples. If I pissed somebody off that bad why don’t they just fucking fight me?

“Heads up,” hissed Ash.

Caren looked up, followed the direction of his gaze—saw Bowler Hat heading for the side exit door with his arm around the blond server’s waist.

“Shit,” she muttered.

“We have to do something.” Nathaniel got up, waved for Sicko Mode to follow.

“Like what?” Caren hissed, also following as he started across the tea room. “I thought your ‘mon Capitaine’ wanted an alliance with these motherfuckers.”

Ash wasn’t far behind them. “Do we have a plan here?” Caren heard him say.

Nathaniel didn’t answer. Just continued on his beeline toward the exit.

The four of them filed out into the poorly lit alley, looked this way and that.

Heard groaning, scuffling, blood-curdling wet sounds in the darkness nearby.

Nathaniel turned on the flashlight on his phone, scanned their surroundings. The sounds seemed to be coming from behind a nearby dumpster.

Sicko Mode hurried forward to walk shoulder to shoulder with Nathaniel as he led the way around. Caren and Ash followed closely.

The whole group stopped short at what they saw.

On the other side of the dumpster, the mutton-chop man lay lifeless on the ground, his throat ripped to shreds. The little blond server crouched low over him—snapped her head up, fixed Caren and the rest with a milky-white stare, blood streaming down her chin and neck.

“Oops,” she murmured, in a gentle singsong. “You’ve seen something you’re not supposed to see…”

The next moment, she was a blur racing toward them.

Just as Caren was starting to fire up her super-speed agimat, Sicko Mode snapped his fingers.

The vampire went rigid mid-dash, tottered marionette-like on her feet. Her limbs were now twisted grotesquely, bone shards protruding at strange angles, head lolling forward on a broken neck. Her childish face was obscured by the bloodstained platinum curtains of her hair. 

She gave a violent shudder, then powered down like a robot, motionless.

“Is she…?” whispered Caren.

Suddenly, the vampire’s head flopped back on her shoulders, bringing her mangled, bleeding face into view.

Within seconds, every bone in her body had popped back into place, every laceration healed.

“Ouch.” She fixed Sicko Mode with a round-eyed stare, smiled a pointy smile. “That…hurt.”

The next instant, she had his muscular frame pinned fast against the brick wall, her fangs poised to pierce his neck.


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