I wake to the whispering silence of tombs, and the darkness broken by a somnambulant moonbeam through the stained- glass window laced with the rank scent of the long dead; I can almost see their faces floating in its serpentine tendrils.
The black candles are not burning.
I sat up, my eyes adjusting, my ears picking up the subtle sound of slurps.
My little sister was below the dais, feeding on the temple attendant, her mouth and cheeks beslimed with blood and not a little gore.
She didn’t stop eating as she began to cry.
I got up, watched her.
The man was still twitching when she reached in for more.
She stopped eating then, wiped her mouth on the hem of her dress, streaking the blood across her face rather than cleaning it. Swallowing what she had left, she looked at me with such helplessness that I wished I could do what she asked me next.
“Kill me. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to do this…” She began to cry full out.
“Semele, you know—”
“I don’t believe you can’t, I believe you won’t!” She threw herself at me, little bloody fists flailing.
I hugged her against me, taking a few taps on my chest and shoulders as she sobbed.
“Kill me, Ingrum. If you love me, kill me.”
Her breath reeked of the blood of deep organs.
“The curse be damned.”
I chuckled, low against her ear, and when she realized what she said, began to laugh with me.
Wiping her tears, I still held her hand. “I don’t know how.”
She let go of my hand and left the dais before she turned around to face me.
“Then let’s find out. We’ve this vast library, full of dusty old books. There must be something in it somewhere.”
The desperation of her small voice touched me.
I thought about it.
The library was, in fact, vast, stocked floor to ceiling with all manner of literature; my ancestors had been studious men, almost to a fault, and I hadn’t used it in a long time. How it hadn’t been ruined in the enemy’s sprees of looting and burning, I honestly don’t know.
Perhaps it was for this moment.
“Come then, since you’ve eaten.” I held my hand out to her, and she came to me.
“But you haven’t fed.”
“I am older, dear sister; the appetite doesn’t burn nearly as hot as it once did.”
The curse had turned her into a savage hybrid; no longer satisfied with blood, she craved human meat besides, rending rather than drinking, though she was still fanged.
It had to be awful for her, but the curse bound me as well; if I helped her, I would die.
It came down to whether I’d be willing to sacrifice myself, or not.
I’m older, dear sister…
And it was true.
The nightly hunting no longer brought a rushing sense of conquest, a thrill of seeing the quarry frightened, unbelieving, gasping as I seized and sundered them. It was no more satisfying than eating a steak when you’re hungry, and had become about as exciting as hunting rabbits.
She deserved better, since our parents couldn’t protect us.
There’d be one less of us in the world, and I could make a contribution to life not as repentance, but for the purely selfish reason that I wanted my sister to live the life she wanted, and I couldn’t do that if I killed her.
At least not as a first option.
As if she read my mind, as we left the temple she said to me, “Promise me something.”
“If I can.”
“You will make this promise, Ingrum, and fulfill it.”
I stopped, and we faced each other; the fire of determination in her eyes transfixed me.
“Swear it in blood.”
I nodded, defeated by the onslaught of her frantic will to be free of this.
“If we can’t find a way to cure me, then you must find a way to kill me.”
The silence in the dank tomb seemed to thicken; a blood promise was irrevocable, and the price was high beyond damnation.
“I swear, by blood.”
I bit my wrist, sipped, and offered it; I admit I felt no small fear of what she might do, but she restrained herself from biting me, and merely drank.
She offered hers to me, and I sipped. It tasted of gore, thick and meaty like gelid soup, foul and corrupt with mortality.
I didn’t gag, but I must have made a face.
Her smile was grim. “It’s like sludge moving within me all the time.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Just help me.”
I nodded again, still recovering from the strength of her ugly blood.
“The sooner the better.”
The moonlight left the window, the black candles stayed unlit, and the attendant finally stopped breathing.