When I heaved, spasmed, coughed, gasped and spit my way back to life, the moon was brighter than I’d ever seen, the stars pristine like precious gems, faceted and flawless in the silvered sky.
I could hear my heartbeat in my ears like the echo of a kettledrum covered with a soft cloth.
My maker smiled down at me. “And now, my friend?”
The punctures on my neck sent warm pulses deep into me; that would fade over time, when my body was fully informed that it was filled with a dead thing’s blood.
“It feels….” I had no words to do it justice.
He helped me stand while he watched me discover my newfound nocturnal powers.
I scented blood in a cacophony of scents and flavors; my very presence here seemed to radiate, alerting the dark spirits to the fact that there were now two of us. I could feel them leaving, but it didn’t matter.
Tonight, we’d hunt in the town proper, hiding in plain sight.
“Are you ready?”
His voice was a hook around my ribs; he could summon me at will, but he would not, at least in the beginning.
“No.” I smiled at him, my lengthened incisors keeping me from saying more.
He chuckled. “Good.”
I was truly grateful for his presence; I’d never been to the city, and though I had new skills, their unfamiliarity had me at a disadvantage. He understood that, so tonight he’d be there for my first kill.
The silence between us was comfortable, and as we kicked fresh corpses into shallow graves of alley garbage, I felt my body adjusting to what it had become. He watched the advancing swell of wonder at my awakening, but as it beset me something else was manifesting, sharper than that of an undead newborn; the blood smell was magnified. I’d be able to tell if what I drank was corrupt, diseased, laced with any trace of death.
Some of these had been sick, and though I wouldn’t die, it was still unpleasant.
I could scent these husks we so unceremoniously buried; beneath the coppery tang was rot, a scent so strong that it drove me to distraction. Decay was accelerated in those we slew.
My maker saw my face change. His savage biting left his mouth with bloody drops falling from his short beard as he smiled at me. The city night contained the shifting, indigent colors of peacock feathers playing hide-and-seek with shadows, and flickering in my peripheral vision.
I spat, made a lemon-eating face, and he laughed.
“Ah, it begins. These unfortunates were sacrificed to sharpen your technique. We had to avoid witnesses, so I’m sorry such as these were your first. If you’re still thirsty, we can go down to the Bride’s Blood Inn; it’s full of undesirables no one will miss. There, you can drink your fill.”
Bride’s Blood Inn was by the harbor.
“Very well,” I said, giving him a single nod. “Is it always this intense at first?”
“It’s greater in some than others. The trick is to be careful; don’t take too many at one time.”
I put a hand over my stomach, the aftertaste of wretches’ blood still lingering.
We made our way down to the harbor. The moon was past its zenith, and Bride’s Blood had thinning trade at this hour, as last call loomed like a pirate ship closing fast on a slow-moving merchant vessel.
We took a moment to scan the bleary-eyed, besotted prospects.
“Good.” My maker looked at me. “Not too many, but enough.”
“No more drunks’ blood after tonight.”
The odors of sweat, piss, cheap ale and bad cooking assailed us at once.
“Kitchen’s closing; if y’ want somethin,’ best tell it quick.”
My maker chuckled. “I think we’ll thank the gods for their mercy, and leave it at that.”
Her brow wrinkled in confusion, not sure of the levity in his remark. “Drinkin,’ then?”
“A cup of piss, since we’re not buying a plate of shit? All right.”
She seemed to want to be angry, but couldn’t quite pull it off; when she looked at us again, she didn’t bother to try, just twirled away from us with an indecipherable muttering that could have been anything from ‘Be right back’ to ‘Drop dead.’
“Stop being mean. It’s not her fault the place is a dump.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is.” He sighed. “Choose quickly, though. This place depresses me.”
“Depresses you? We just drank blood and left a bunch of wretches under mounds of trash.”
“We left them in their shells; what made them people left long ago. I’ve had enough, and dawn is coming.”
He sounded testy, so I didn’t push the issue. “All right. What about the serving girl?”
He shrugged, watching her move through the furniture, both wood and human: “Pretty enough, and fairly daft. Looks sober, and competent at her menial job. She hasn’t been drinking, so she might put up a fight. Makes the blood hot, and fright will push it out faster; you’ll have to gulp for the first few spurts. After that, you’ll settle into it. Over time, you’ll find your pace; it’s different for every one of us.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You didn’t know a lot of things, and now,” he spread his arms, “You have only to discover it all.”
She came back with slopping tankards.
He paid, and she made change from her cleavage. He rubbed the money between his thumb and index finger as if rubbing a nipple, looking at her.
She caught herself watching and broke away, blushing furiously.
I shook my head at him while he laughed.
The beer tasted every bit like horse piss, so we left it unfinished. He gave her a tip well over what she and the beer deserved, and we waited for the place to close, keeping to the shadows.
My eyes widened at the taste; her blood was virgin.
I moaned with unexpected delight and pulled her closer, widening the holes in her vein, her hands slipping from my arms, spending what little strength there’d been in a futile effort to rebuff me.
She sagged against me, her sighing spirit leaving behind her unclean soul; I laid her down like a memorial wreath on a beloved’s grave. We left then, letting the feral urchins, cats, and vermin do what they would to her.
As if the gods were opening a sleepy eye, the sky pinkened, and false dawn began to give way to true.
My maker smiled at me. “We must part ways. It was a wonderful night for you.”
“It was, and I have you to thank.”
“Until tonight.” He left me there, his footsteps softened on the salted, sodden planks of rotting wood.
I was still thrumming with a gradually fading high.
Virgin’s blood. I am blessed even in damnation.
I heard multiple people walking quickly behind me, the resolve in them unmistakable; they were in pursuit.
Alley urchins silently surrounded me, cutting off my path. I was more curious than scared.
“You foul thing!” The voice of the girl I killed. Ignoring the urchins, I turned to see the waitress standing there, pale and violated, streamlets of crimson running down her neck where I thought I’d left nothing.
“What is this?”
She strode through the urchins’ circle, her dead eyes teary. “You took my blood; it was meant for another.”
“But I killed—”
She seized me by the throat and bore me to my knees, and though I didn’t need to breathe, her intention to kill me was a quiet fire in her eyes. The sky grew a little brighter; the sun god rolling over in his bed to have a better look.
The urchins tightened their circle, whispering.
I felt my eyes widen, and I struggled against her unrelenting grip, my nails scoring her pale arms.
She hissed with the pain but couldn’t bleed; she flexed and bore down harder.
In desperation I tried to break her wrists, but whatever the urchins were saying was draining me of strength.
She allowed herself a smile as she bent me backward, my legs trapped beneath me. I couldn’t kick out, but I felt the strain of my heels pressing into my spine.
“You killed me, love, but m’ sisters came to help, told me to take m’ revenge.”
I was weakening. She was telling me she was a witch, had been sworn into a coven.
Virgin blood. Bride’s Blood…
“Ah, now y’ get it.”
I was contorted, getting weaker by the second as she pressed, my head now almost touching the ground.
“Witchery’s older than yer damnation, love. Man gets…” she searched for the word, “dominion… over earth, but th’ women-folk took another.”
My spine snapped as she straddled me now, her eyes wild, and the dead, dry vein in her neck pulsing as she gritted red teeth.
“The dominion of spirits. N’ spirits, y’see, spirits can’t die.”
The urchins added their hands to hers, and I felt more vertebrae give way; I was paralyzed, and though I could heal, the relentless pressure made sure it would not be fast enough, or complete.
The sun god was up, and my skin began to smolder.
“N’ maybe, jus’ maybe, love,” she tilted my neck so I looked right into the rising sun, “our spirits’ll walk th’ land together. Wouldja like that?”
I closed my eyes, but it was useless. I felt them begin to burn.
She said her last words into my ear. “N’ then we’ll visit y’ maker. He’s next.”
The urchins’ hands tore hot, soft skin from my face, and she laughed until I stopped screaming.