Chapter 2: Someone Like You

My basement room was sparse, and cool. He bought me leather bound journals with ornate, lovely covers so I could write out my memories and feelings when he was unavailable to speak with me.
We were friends, after a fashion, and spent long hours sipping wine as he showed me something of the world, and I grew to love the sound of classical music on rainy days, and was glad to clean and organize things to release the boredom of waiting for his experiments with my blood to bear fruit.
One winter night, he brought in a fresh victim: a boy, close to my age, and slight of build like me. He looked more angry than frightened, and I recognized the urchin in him. The ‘good’ doctor was nothing if not selective.
“Zurie, this is Nelo.”
He gripped Nelo by the upper arm, and though the boy’s head was down, I could see a palm print on his cheek.
“Nelo, this is Zurie. Say hello.” He pulled the boy’s hair until his head came up, and Nelo gurgled something from a split lip.
“Nelo tried to rob me, Zurie. I did to him what I did to you at first, and like you, he’s just eaten at my table. Unlike you, he tried to steal again. I thought it best you speak to him; his defiance made me lose decorum, and I thought maybe you’d like some company.”
Nelo couldn’t take his eyes off me. His aura was dark; he seemed more shadow than boy, and though he was frightened, I fascinated him. He almost forgot the doctor was holding him until he was shoved toward me.
I reached out to balance him as he almost tumbled to the floor, and he came up looking right into my eyes, our faces close enough to kiss.
“Hello, Nelo.”
He composed himself as I helped him gain his balance before he stepped back.
“Hello, Zurie.”
It seemed stupid to shake hands.
I looked at the doctor. “Did you bring him here for me to…?”
“Yes, of course.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a vial of new blood he’d reworked.
There’d been many failed trials before, and I’d stopped getting my hopes up. The doctor was incompetent, a pretender to the field, with delusions of grandeur and ‘One day’s’ that never came. Now, his home was shelter from the storms of life and nature, but I was growing discontent with crumbs.
The others I’d known, neither friends nor family, never looked for me. It was just as well; I wouldn’t have gone back.
“Brought me here to do what?” Nelo asked, looking back and forth between me and the doctor. “To what?”
I smiled, letting my fangs grow. He recoiled and backed away as I drank the vial. Nelo ran into the girth of the doctor, who now had a knife. He turned him toward me and put the blade to Nelo’s throat, pressing, but not breaking the skin.
“Stand still,” he said in the boy’s ear.
The knife helped with that. I bit my wrist and came toward Nelo.
His eyes roamed me, and with my heightened senses I could hear his heart, and smell the fear which became visible as he wet himself.
“Give me your hand, Nelo.”
He held it out, against his will. I cut it, and rubbed the wound across my wrist.
The doctor was watching, eyes wide, breathing shallow, hoping against hope.
Nelo’s hand began to steam, and he cried out. Tilting the blade, the doctor silently warned him again to stay still. He began to whimper and beg, wanting to be let go, swearing he’d tell no one.
I smiled at him again: “But Nelo, this is something you’ll want everyone to know.”
His body twitched, spasmed, and the doctor and I lowered him the floor, watching. Screaming and wretched, Nelo rolled over onto his stomach, blood in his mouth, and went still.
The doctor looked on, worry bordering on despair.
“Give it time,” I said.
He looked at me, nodded, not yet realizing his predicament if this was successful.
Steam rose from Nelo’s body, but moments later he still didn’t move.
“It didn’t—“ the doctor started to say.
Nelo coughed up more blood, moaned, and rested his cheek in the puddle, too weak yet to stand.
From the expression on the doctor’s face, I think he surprised himself.
I was beyond pleased, and my happiness would now extend and manifest itself into the world outside this room, and onto my former tormentors.
I looked at the doctor, now beaming at me with a full-on smile. “I did it, Zurie. I did it.”
“Congratulations, doctor. You did very well.”
Nelo was trying to get up, and once again I helped him.
“What happened to me? What did you do to me?”
“He,” I pointed to the doctor, “made you like me.”
“Like you?”
His eyes roamed over me once more, taking their time; I smiled and let him see my fangs.
“Welcome to our family.” The smell of his blood was pungent; I wanted to kiss him, but I walked toward the door. “You have to feed now, Nelo.” He made you like me. Like me, he beat you. Like me, he fed you. And soon, you will be like me.
He was still confused, looking at himself, at the doctor, at me. “I… I don’t know how.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, locking us in as I smiled at the doctor, who now realized his predicament.
“I’ll show you.”

All Things Made New (1)

I will admit that I like to hear it, even though he wakes me up; he praises me with exclamatory phrases, so much so that if I were capable of it, I would blush.
“If you attack her, one drop will turn you; she doesn’t have to bite you at all!”
I have yet to find out, but if what he says is true, I will get better.
Among my kind, I was a runt; weak, ugly, and thin, to the point of the others making a scavenger of me, drinking cooling, coagulated leftovers, like alcoholics drinking from bottles they find in the trash. It seemed I was never to experience the sweet, heady rush of red hot fluid fresh from a living artery.
I made myself content with my lot, rationalizing that at least they hadn’t killed me outright, though I knew they kept me alive merely to mock and beat me. Many times, in the lonely dark of my sparse room, I thought of suicide, death as a more desired state than being undead.
Other times, I pictured my fangs ripping out their throats, and those of their friends and children too.
They even laughed at my anger knowing it for the impotent force it always became, a hurricane breaking apart over mountains, turning to nothing more than a light spring shower.
One sultry night, I slipped away from them to hunt on my own, and found him, this mortal to whom I owe my new existence. He was old, voluminous in both girth and voice, and walked with a cane to keep him from tilting over to the right.
It was raining lightly, like my anger, and the others walking ahead of me lost sight of me, bored for the moment with their taunts; they neither heard nor scented him nearby.
But I did.
I attacked, but what he lacked in youth he made up for in girth; I underestimated how wide he was, and he struck me repeatedly; his cane was bejeweled, the gem ensorcelled with something that cut, flaring and burning each time it struck my porcelain flesh.
He expected to be hunted; he knew we were here.
His will to live was stronger than my hunger, and as I lay on the ground, a crushing wave of despair overwhelmed me.
Red tears leaked, and the coppery smell of curdled blood was bitter in my nostrils.
He didn’t run away, and stopped hitting me.
“Fascinating,” he said, lumbering to kneel beside me like a mother elephant, leaning forward for a better look at my downturned face.
“You’re hungry,” he said.
I sobbed, wiping red tears away with my pale fingers.
He folded the cuff of his shirtsleeve back, and offered me his wrist. “Here.”
I looked at him, astonished.
He lifted it slightly, like he was handing me a cup of tea. “Go on.”
Hesitant, I reached out, still looking in his eyes.
He winced at how cold my touch was. “You haven’t eaten in a while.”
I nodded, swallowed. “Days.”
My voice was a file on glass, scratchy and wrong.
I pulled his wrist to my lips, and my fangs were barely strong enough to break the skin.
I almost swooned, and he reeled from the intensity.
“Easy, now. Easy,” he coaxed.
As I eased off, wanting to savor my first taste of live blood, I also wanted to drain him. I guess it showed in my eyes.
“I understand,” he said. “But I won’t allow it.”
He pulled his wrist away, and I was too overcome to seize it back. I was so grateful for what he’d provided, that I felt ashamed for thinking it.
Runts, you see, are grateful for crumbs.
I licked my lips as he leaned forward again, his hazel-blue eyes boring into mine.
“I believe I can help you. Come home with me.”



Arch Enemies

Jullandro closed and locked the door, a foolish gesture against those who were coming; it was more of an act of misplaced faith than protective.
“It’s Archmage Irhan and his men.They’re hunting you, Aleina.”
She only smiled. “Let them come.”
“You can’t defeat them.”
“How do you know?”
Jullandro swallowed, not wanting to say, though not saying it would mean the death of the only friend he ever made.
“Better than you have fought against them, and none survived.”
“Did any of them possess this sword?” She placed the blade under his neck and lifted his chin on the point, making it pucker.
Jullandro swallowed again, eyes fixed on the blade, making him almost cross-eyed.
It was a scarlet metal, rare, with a dark beauty to it that held the eyes. The name Soul Reaver was engraved into it in elegant script that belied bloody intentions.
“Then we don’t know if I can’t defeat them.”
Jullandro allowed himself an angry breath as she lowered the blade, putting it back in its sheathe. To him, fighting with a sword full of power wasn’t the same as fighting with skills against other men.
To be fair, however, she wasn’t fighting men; they merely looked the part.
They were dark mages who dealt in summoning, arrogant in their abilities despite countless tales about those who’d lost control of the summoned.
As they grew in power, they stole land and wealth, snatched women and children for slavery, slaughtered by magic the men who could fight, and the old people who could do neither, they cut down like wheat and burned in pyres.
Her grandparents had been in one of those.
He shook his head. Her own arrogance may actually make the difference.
Outside he heard them say, “She’s in here.”
“Run, Aleina. They know you’re here.”
She tied her hair back, and went out to meet them.

The air was awash in power as she faced their assembly, and a small flash of doubt darted through her like a minnow in shallow surf.
The men before her had robes of red gold, tied with black silk; there were orbs of eldritch light full of arcane power around their hands.
Aleina took a deep breath to calm herself. She would give them no fear to feed on.
In the depth of his cruelty, Archmage Irhan appeared to her in the shape of her grandfather.
“What sick madness is this?” she hissed, charging the man, only to find him not there, and behind her.
He dropped the form, his alternative human shape standing there, chuckling.
“Are you so easily baited, child? Fortunately for you, we’re as ancient as we are. If we were so impetuous as to attack as soon as possible, we’d be extinct.”
He sighed, even though he didn’t breathe; the illusion was quite masterful. “But these are things you learn in time, with every foe you face.”
His broadsword cleared its sheathe. He lifted it as if it weighed no more than a feather.
“Sometimes, you learn too late.” With no further hesitation, he came at her, fast and swinging.
“Like when I twist this blade in your heart!” He lunged at her, almost knocking the parrying blade from her grip. He kept her backing away, and off balance, not allowing her to establish a rhythm of her own, or set up a counter.
She’d relied too much on the blade’s power, but didn’t know if they’d been able to counter it.
Speed was her only ally. His swings were wide and powerful, and if he connected, or knocked Soul Reaver from her hand, she was dead. As she struggled to find a way to sidestep him and get inside, she noticed the lights around the hands of the mages intensifying.
Their hands were raised toward the battle, and their eyes were closed in serene concentration, confident in Irhan’s ability to defeat the child.
Several thoughts flashed through her mind: they were countering her sword’s magic, or feeding him energy, or weakening her, or all three. Her arms were already beginning to tire, and her breathing was growing jagged. She trained hard, and knew that shouldn’t be this early in the fight.
With nothing to lose she made a desperate choice, ran toward the cluster of men.
Caught off guard, before he realized what she was going to do, the Archmage stood there as she closed the distance and severed the right hand off the nearest mage to them.
Blood spurted, and his scream of pain rent the air.
The lights around all their hands went out, and whatever link there’d been was severed too as the hand fell, twitching on the ground.
She ran back to the Archmage, and engaged him anew.
Her strikes proved too fast with his connection broken, and lifting the sword in his own strength became a task he wasn’t up for, backpedaling until he was against the wall of the house.
As the mages crashed from the broken link, they began to run toward her to physically kill her.
The point of Soul Reaver made the skin on the Archmage’s neck pucker.
“It’s a good thing I’m not as ancient as you; you see, there’s a place for impetuosity.”
He shuddered and thrashed as the sword pierced his throat, and his human form began to recede as he tried to escape.
The wave of mages cresting toward her crashed and collapsed inside their robes, piles of bone burning like embers, quickly crumbling to ash.
Aleina was overcome by how close she’d come to dying, and fell to her knees beside the dead demon.
Holding onto the pommel of the sword, she lifted her eyes as dim scarlet light emanated from the blade, and the blood she’d drawn seeped into it.
Did I imagine that? So tired…
Jullandro was there beside her, his hand on her shoulder, which he snatched away when she looked up.
“What’s wrong, Jullandro?” Her eyes felt hot, but not from tears. She used Soul Reaver’s pommel for support as she moved to stand.
“Come, let’s get inside.” He helped her to her feet, and kept his arm around her shoulder, taking the weight as she hobbled, weakened from the draining pace of the fight and the magic they used to attack her.
Reaching the house, he guided her to the looking glass. “Steady, now…”
Spots of blood dotted her flesh, and her hair drooped damp and lanky over her forehead, but her eyes were alight with a dull scarlet glow.
“I’m not sure, Aleina, but I think you’ve just become the Archmage.”
The sword fell from her grip, but her eyes were still shining.
    The sword…I didn’t know. The air around them grew charged with power.
All Jullandro could do was hold her as she turned from the mirror and cried.



Midnight Son (3) Seeking Answers

Among the upper shelves, the library had a chilly draft from a vent somewhere; it helped preserve the older works, though given the right conditions they’d also turn to kindling.
It was after midnight when I found the book; it had a plain, black leather binding with no lettering on it that I could see. I couldn’t open it, but the vibrations of dark energy it sent through me made me eager to be rid of it.
Fortunately, it wasn’t large and unwieldy. I managed to carry it down the ladder and keep my balance. Seleme lit lanterns instead of candles to prevent any accidents from sparks, and took them to the large table.
She looked hopefully at the book in my hand and stood beside me eagerly as I spoke the spell that opened it. She gave it her best effort, but her eating had burdened her and made her sleepy. Her head rested against my arm, so I moved it gently when I had to turn the pages.
I woke her with a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Get up, little girl. Your big head is hurting my arm.”
She smiled up at me, and sat up, rubbing at her eyes. “I’m sorry, Ingrum.”
“It’s all right. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night.”
“Good night.”
The blood smell on her clothes was less than before, but still strong.
“Bathe, Semele.”
“I will,” she said, not turning around.
   She’ll have nightmares. She always does after a kill. The victims scream at her, and tonight it will be Cassis.
I moved her lantern to the other side of me, to illuminate the book better, but the angle wasn’t good, so I blew it out and kept the one.
The remaining light seemed more intimate, and helped me focus.
In a few minutes Seleme came back with a goblet and tray and put them on the table.
“For your troubles.”
“Thank you. Now bathe and go to bed.”
She kissed my cheek. “All right, grumpy. You’re welcome. Good night.”
“Good night.”
Before she walked out, she turned back again. “Ingrum?”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Bury Cassis. We shouldn’t leave him like that. It’ll be worse for me if you don’t, and he’ll grant me no sleep at all. They scream at me, Ingrum. Why do they scream?”
I sighed again, but different this time. She sounded so lost.
“I don’t know. I’ll see to Cassis, don’t worry.”
“Thank you.”

Between my sipping and snacking, the light of false dawn brightened the window a few shades when I finally found what I needed, and of course, it wasn’t good news.
The beast thing that infected my sister was a ghoul. Not as mindless as zombies, but equally terrible in their cravings. Semele was of the vampiric variety, craving blood, but also flesh.
Semele wanted me to kill her, or break the curse.
To break the curse, I had to find the one who cursed her.
To find her, we’d have to leave home.
The light in the remaining lantern sputtered out for lack of oil.
I closed the book, found myself in the window, goblet in hand, staring at the brightening sky, ruminating on the possibilities of where such a band could have gone in ten years, and I had to consider Semele.
It would be faster if I didn’t take her, but there was no telling what would become of her if I didn’t.
I’d let her sleep, but not too long.
Every minute we delayed would mean a longer hunt for our quarry, and I’d grown impatient with a restless anger; seeing my sister helpless and disgusted with what she was now kindled in me a desire for revenge.
I emptied the goblet, and calmed myself.
All I have is time.
A sad, bitter laugh came out of me, echoing in the high ceiling as I left the goblet on the windowsill, and went to put Cassis in the ground.

Come Play

I decided to run from my parents that day, wanting to explore the mist inside the forest, tendrils hovering over the leaves and branches, like arms waiting to catch something.

I bolted.

My mother gasped, and called my name.

My father cursed and gave chase, so I went into the underbrush where he would stumble and thrash.

The thorns and branches snagged my clothes and nicked my skin with small cuts, but I ignored the pain.

The mist came slowly down to shroud me, concealing me from my father’s sight.

He called, and threatened, but his voice held a note of desperation and fear. A pang of guilt interrupted my guilty pleasure, and I started back.

It was after some moments that though I heard his voice, I couldn’t tell what direction it came from.

I was now as lost as he, and when I went to call him, the mist muffled my voice. It came back to me as if I’d put my hands over my ears; it was dull and flat, lacking resonance, little more than a croak.

I kept calling, my own voice giving rise to my own fear.

“Hush, boy. Come play.”

I whirled to see who’d come so silently behind me.

A girl, leached of all color, but pretty all the same, was looking at me with a pleased fascination, as if she’d found something shiny and new.

“Where am I? Can you take me to my dad?”

She giggled. “You’re in the mist, silly. There’s no returning from it.”

“What do you mean? That’s stupid. I know this forest–” I turned, looking into it, but there was nothing to see but grey-white vapor, slowly roiling through the air.

“Then find your own way, boy. But if you like, you can come play.”

“Play? Play where? Play what? Why do you have no colors at all?”

She laughed again. “So many questions…”

I grew angry. “Take me back.”

She grew serious. “There is no going back. Can you hear?”

“I heard you just fine, but I don’t believe you.” I didn’t hear my dad calling anymore, but I could hear my mother crying.

I smothered my anger. “Please, you have to take me back. They’re worried.”

“You were the one who ran away.”

“I was only joking with them; I didn’t know all…this …would happen.”

“But now it has, boy. And there is no going back. Come play.”

“Stop saying that!”

She stared at me in patient silence; I turned and stared some more into the forest.

The mist grew thicker, and soon the sound of my mother’s crying was gone too.

When I turned back, she was standing closer. “Come play.”

I tried to hit her with everything I had, to knock her flat. To knock her out.

But my hand ended up holding hers, and I saw the color begin to fade, no sign of blood or pigment.

I felt my veins harden, my heart slow to almost nothing, and it seemed that the mist slipped into my nostrils when I remembered to breathe again.

I heard the sound of children singing a rhyming song.

There was laughter, and music, and all hue was drained from me as she smiled, looking at me with those shadowy, beautiful, colorless eyes.

“Come play.” She caressed my face with her pale, bloodless hand.

“Let’s go,” I said, following her through the mist we breathed, the sound of children’s laughter echoing in my ears.