I was living that sweet college-kid life of attending more parties than classes and drinking more beer than water until my flatmate Saul returned from his weekend celebrations of pubs and clubs and found me on the floor with a bullet-sized hole in my forehead and bunch of blood all around me.
Obviously, I was hardcore out and wasn't there to witness whatever face Saul made and hear whatever ideas ran through his drunken mind when he saw me on that carpet, but the conclusion to that horror was that he fed me his blood, and in doing so, pulled me back into the world of the living.
As I shook and coughed myself awake, I couldn't have cared less about my miraculous rebirth (waking on the floor was a ritual to my style of partying). I rolled on the carpet (blindly, in my blood) wondering whether I should run for the toilet or just give up and puke out my insides right then and there. I felt sick and drowsy, hot and cold, and somewhat still trapped between reality and nightmare.
Begging God to let that wetness under my hands be just a spilled beer, I opened my eyes to a sight that replaced the twirling in my gut with annoyance and a desire to punch something.
Saul was right there, staring me down like some pretend dentist showcasing what a white smile was really ought to look like. That grin was the cornerstone of our tomfoolery. Whenever one of us did something embarrassing (remembering it or not) the other was sure to show up grinning like that to rub it in. It was a disgusting tradition, one that never made sense when hungover.
And on that night, Saul looked even more amused than usual.
I blinked a couple of times, dreading whatever story I was about to hear and sighed deeply from my lungs - hoping that my beer-breath would force Saul to retreat. But he stood quite immune.
“Well, morning, sleepy-head!” He all but shouted, so annoyingly chipper. Strangulation was what I was considering right then. “Or, you know...? Night, I guess.”
I rolled toward the window and back. It was indeed dark outside.
“What time is it?”
I tried to get up, but the dizziness slammed me right back down.
“It'll get better in a moment,” Saul said in an unusually wise tone.
“Like hell it does...” I growled back. When it came to hangovers, I was at least as knowledgeable as he was.
He smirked and backed away. I could hear him land onto our sofa.
As he was keeping me wondering, instead of just telling me what I had been up to (for I had no memory of the night) I lifted my hands to my face with the plan to smell the liquid. But my muscles hard-stopped as my eyesight focused. I could see red, and I could also smell it. There was no doubt, it was blood.
A jilt of fear slashed through my organs, and my frightened brain made my hands test my gut and limbs for injuries. For a moment I even forgot that Saul was there.
“You're fine!” He called carelessly, dragging the “fine” as if it was his catchphrase to a new sitcom he starred in. “It's just the transition.”
“Transition to what?” I asked off-hand, focusing more on getting to my feet. I was certain he was setting up for a joke.
“To a vampire.”
I looked at him, blank-faced. “Vampire, huh?” The punch-line did not impress me. It was actually surprisingly unfunny.
But my lack of laughter didn't make him try to explain the joke. Instead, he threw me a mirror.
“Check your forehead.”
That request made me sigh. There was no doubt in my mind that Saul had returned to the High School level of pranks and written something “clever” on my passed-out body.
But he hadn't.
For a moment, I froze. And then I touched it (the bullet wound) and felt such pain I had to pull my fingers back. My wheels started spinning but my brain never got the chance to reason it out.
“And your teeth,” Saul called.
Slowly, I moved the mirror down. And... I could see nothing weird at all.
“Boo!” Saul appeared right behind me. And as the fear of the surprise ran through me, I could see my teeth turn into fangs.
Saul chuckled, his mascaraed eyes and slightly made up face appearing next to my deadly-pale one in the reflection.
“Don't overthink it.” He spoke into my ear, “just say thank you!”
I pushed him the hell away and kept looking into the mirror. The fangs were there! Also, the wound.
As my mind offered me no answers, I was forced to turn back to Saul. He was again on the sofa, still enjoying the show.
“Say thank you... To you? Why?”
He rolled his eyes. “Well, because I turned you. Didn't I?”
“And you could turn me because you're a vampire?”
“A bloodsucking, killing and all that, vampire?”
He shrugged. “If you'd like to put it that way.”
“And you turned me into one as well?”
Saul got up, kind of grumpy but still smiling.
“You're a lot whinier than I thought you'd be.”
“Well excuse me! I want to know what the hell's going on!”
He parted his hands dramatically and hammered me with his words like I was some stupid kid. “You were human, right? Now you're a vamp. It happens. This is life. You need a guidebook or something?”
I don't know why, but I smiled. Shock, perhaps? Or still drunk?
“It happens, yeah?”
I surrendered, putting my hands up.
“Alright! It happens. What happens next?”
“Next?” He checked his watch. “Next, you're gonna go wash your face, and then we'll go get a drink.”
It being very early on a Sunday, we did not cruise the bars but docked at the closest one. “Harriet” as it was called, was a “last resort” kind of an establishment, filled with only the drunkest and least attractive of the party-doers. We rejected the advances of some of them and landed our asses at a faraway table.
“Guidebook?” I started the conversation “I think I'd actually take one. You got it... the vampire I've been living with for half a year?”
Saul smiled, waving us a couple of whiskeys.
“Well fine, what do you want to know?”
“Hmm,” I sipped on my drink, trying to figure out where to start. “So, I'm a vampire?”
Saul sighed, visibly bored. “Yes. Obviously. Didn't we cover this already?” He rolled his eyes and then moved them to wink at a dead-drunk girl at the bar. That was Saul for you.
“What does that mean?”
“What does anything mean? It's just stuff that happens. I'm not gonna sit here and waste my life pondering the reasons of existence.”
I was growing tired of his evasiveness.
“Freaking tell me what the hell I am!”
That got his attention. From the way he looked at me, with that little grin, he might have been waiting for me to get angry.
“Alright. Well, most of the stuff you already know... From the movies and books and things. You died, were brought back and now need blood to survive. Human blood that is. And you're pretty much immortal.”
“But not all the way?”
Saul shrugged, oddly uncertain. “Well, no. I guess there are some ways you could die.”
“Like a stake to the heart?”
He shook his head, firmly.
“No. That is fiction crap. Or, you know, technically a stake could kill you, as could a sword or a bullet, but only if you haven't fed for a while. Keep your belly full and shouldn't be a problem.” He paused, drinking. “And, I guess some vamps are probably strong enough to rip your head off... But that hardly ever happens. We're a friendly bunch.” He winked.
“How many are there...? Of you?”
“You mean us?” He winked, “not sure. But the numbers are kept under control.”
“The government, or whatever. Not human though. Vamps.”
“Yeah. And they're not a fun bunch, mind you. Might bore you to death.” Some lighting struck in his head. “You'll see. We got to go there and register that I turned you. It's the law.”
“Yeah. It's a drag. But it has its benefits. For you as well. You should get your documents, so to speak, in order. You don't really have to, but otherwise, the law won't affect you.”
My head was about ready to spin, but I wasn't going to stop Saul from talking. That stuff was new and freaking mysterious.
“...That other vamps can't kill you, and you them. Like the human laws for humans. These ones are just for vampires.”
The vampire life felt stranger by the moment. Strange in a way that it didn't appear strange at all. It sounded, dared I think it, boring.
“So, you can't kill me then?”
Saul parted his hands. “Hey! I'm the one who brought you back... Throwing around such accusations. To think of it... I'm still waiting for the thank you.”
I mustered some sincerity. “Thank you, Saul!”
He chuckled and we clinked our glasses. “Don't mention it.”
I tried to come up with the next question, but he beat me to it.
“By the way, who killed you?”
I leaned back, curious to why I hadn't wondered about that earlier. “I don't know. I can't remember. Is that a vampire thing?”
“Nah, I think that's a booze thing. It'll come to you... And then you can, you know, erase her number from your phone.”
“As if...? You're the one who likes the crazies.”
He did not deny, but smiled and waved for a refill.
“Why did you bring me back?”
“Well, you're my bud, aren't you? Who would I drink with?”
“No vampire friends?”
Saul shifted in his chair.
“They can be kind of hard to get along with. You should know this. Vampires aren't like people. I mean, I like hanging out with you, but most only think of people as prey. We, as a species, are a predatory one, no point in sugar coating that. You'll feel it soon. Humans are okay, but vamps are better. Kind of an ego thing, I think.” He grinned. “Just feel a stronger connection to your own kind.”
“And then I'll start hunting?”
“Yeah. It's not really a big deal. It gets easier with every kill. Natural, really. But, best to stay away from those who enjoy killing a bit too much. They are always trouble.”
“If you say so.”
He leaned forward, more serious.
“Other things. Mind control – it's real. I can teach you. They should go over this at the embassy, but the short of it is that you can't go overboard. The government has it all set up, so you can't go around and like start a nuclear war... And you'll regret trying. And, as I said, you can't kill vamps, and they can't kill you.”
Saul paused, looking both ways. He continued with a hush. “And, currently we have a no aggression pact with the witches. So, they are off-limits as well.”
“Witches?” My voice went high like a child's.
“Yeah. You do not want to mess with the witches.” He shook his head dramatically. “Never mess with the witches. Vamp life is great. A lot more fun and loving than what you'd see on the telly. But witches, they are dark. Deeply black-dark. Very dangerous.”
To be honest, I wasn't too frightened. I had me a new kind of boldness, and it felt great.
“Alright! But how do I know who's a witch, who's a vampire?”
“You can sense them, vamps. The closer the blood-connection the stronger the sense. But witches, them you can't sense. But they'll recognize you like THAT,” he snapped his fingers, “so, as per the treaty, it's their job to get out of the way and make sure you don't eat them.”
“Okay. Makes sense.” I didn't really think it did though. But I was feeling fantastic. All that mystery and the supernatural, it was like a drug.
I went down the list. “Vampires, witches... How about werewolves? They real as well?”
Saul turned a bit sourer, I could tell. But he did continue.
“Kind of, yeah. A while back, when we were at war with the witches. The way they say, werewolves were the weapons they used against us. Basically, when they got tired of fighting in the front lines themselves, they poisoned humans with their magic and made them lethal to vamps... Turned them into monsters really. But they aren't around anymore. The treaty forced them to get rid of the wolves. Just vamps and witches now... And with any luck, you'll never meet the latter.”
I nodded, going over all the new information.
Saul finished his drink and got up.
“Let's go now.”
“Already?” I wasn't feeling like going home or to bed. The excitement of my new self was tingling every one of my nerves.
“Yeah. We got to go register you.”
“Within twenty-four hours. And the lines can be long.”
I finished my drink, excited by the idea of checking out the vampire embassy.
“Alright! Let's go!” I jumped up, almost euphoric.
Saul looked at me, chuckling. “Boy, aren't you in for a disappointment.”
In my imagination, the vampire embassy was a medieval castle with sharp towers, blood-red flags and a fairytale-like moon behind it, on which you could see the shapes of bats. But in this darn sad reality of ours, Saul walked me into center town and pointed to a commercial building that also housed an electric store and a pet shop.
“There it is,” he spoke like some kind of a guide for my tourist, “on the third floor.”
I stood there, the kind of disappointment on my face you can't hide.
“Not goth enough?” He asked with a grin.
“It's a freaking pet shop.”
“Well, you know... With the real estate prices being what they are.”
And it wasn't any better on that third floor. We walked straight from the elevator into an accounting firm type of a waiting room. It had mostly white or glass walls, and there was a receptionist there sitting behind her desk boringly, more focused on the computer screen than our late-night arrival.
I was ready to just turn around and go do anything else; at that point, even bowling seemed like a more vampire thing to do, but Saul wasn't discouraged at all, and he marched toward that receptionist's desk like he owned the place.
And as wasn't unusual, his presence caught the lady's eye.
“It's you.” She said, tone similar to that of a scorned lover. “I don't even want to know...”
Saul showcased his brilliant teeth and reached over the counter, so close as to give the girl a kiss. But she only gave him dead eyes.
“Becky,” Saul grinned, “as cold as usual. I tell you, you got the get out of this place.”
She did not smile but put her eyes on me.
“If this one is turned by you, I'd say it's you who has to run.”
I did not appreciate being called “this one”, and stepped forward despite her aura of ice. “I'm Thomas,” I said, putting on something like a smile as well. But I had no more luck in warming her up. If anything, she looked disgusted. That kind of hurt.
She combed her hand through her blond hair, but not in a flirtatious way. It was more of an “I can't freaking believe this” kind of move.
Saul explained, as careless as usual.
“Hey. I'm a loving guy. What can I do?”
“You can follow the law!” The passion (and perhaps concern) in her voice made it almost certain that they had had a romantic history. Which wasn't that hard to see, to be honest. She was gosh darn pretty, even when as bitter and stuck-up as an ice-queen.
Saul didn't let his positivism break. “I follow a more universal law. Don't let your buddies die...” he winked, “You would have done the same.”
Becky smiled coldly.
“You really don't know me at all, do you?”
She pressed an intercom button and spoke into the mic. “Tambino's back with another one.”
No response came, but Becky pointed to one of the non-glass doors.
Saul tapped on the counter as “thank you” and gestured me to follow. I did so, but not before exchanging another look with the frozen receptionist. There was no mistaking it; to her, I was dirt.
The room we headed into was just as boring as everything else in the pet-shop slash vampire-embassy building, gray walls and what have you, but the man sitting across the table looked like a rather formidable one, and much more supernatural. He had a certain dignity about him that came with age (which, in his case, may have been in the hundreds) and a cool set of long silver hair with a matching silver beard. He may have made a better wizard than vampire, but at that point, I was joyed by any hint to the supernatural.
Like a disappointed father to Saul, he shook his head right away and mumbled something disproving. Whatever it was, he did get Saul to stop smiling. After a moment, he continued more audibly.
“This can't be Saul. Rules are rules.”
“I need an exception, Bart.”
Bart kept shaking his old and wise head. “I can't...”
“It was an emergency, I'm sure they will...”
“No, Saul! Not any more. They are cracking down on numbers. We are on the verge of breaking the treaty! They will not!”
Saul glanced at me. There wasn't any real concern on his face yet. “Treaty with the witches,” he told me, “we're supposed to keep our numbers at a certain level...”
“Yes!” The old man called. “You DO know about that! You have heard and you understand. Still, you go and do this.”
“Seriously, Bart. It's one guy.”
Bart shook his head, pulled out a quill (not a pen; I got quite the supernatural kick out of seeing that) and started marking a paper. “I have to punish you. No more special treatment.”
Saul sighed, but his dropping mood went ignored. Instead, the old man turned to me. “Name?”
It kind of shook me to be addressed so suddenly, but I gathered my thought quick enough.
Hearing that, his quill-hand froze and his eyes moved upward, but about as slowly as the trees grow.
“What did you say?” He finally got out.
“Stoifeld! S, T, O...”
He turned in his seat (it had been a rolling chair) and started opening metal drawers.
I looked at Saul and he looked back. He seemed about as aware of what was happening as I was.
“What's up, Bart?” Saul asked, some concern breaking into his tone.
But the old man just kept searching for something.
It was about a minute later when he stopped and pulled out a large (A3 size) file folder. He scanned it with shaky fingers and called out to me.
“Edison Stoifeld? Do you know him?”
Hearing the name was certainly strange and surprising, it got me to pull back in my chair.
“Edison? Yes. He's my uncle. What's he got to do...”
Bart jumped up as if having sat on some magical thumbtack. Crazy eyes, he looked at me and then to Saul, and then back to me.
“With me, if you will, Mr. Stoifeld?” He said, walking to the door. “Saul will stay here.”
There was no longer a joke on Saul's face. His lips only mimicked the word “Go.”
It was pretty clear that whatever was happening wasn't to the norm. But, for some reason, I was still far from being frightened. If anything, it felt like things were finally starting to get interesting. So, I did follow; out the door, through the waiting room and down a long, dimly lit hallway. In the end, we reached a much more vampire-ish room. It was dark and humid, and it's stone walls gave it the look of a cave.
Bart sat on a bench and gestured me to join him.
By that point, his madness had lessened, and he spoke in an almost childish voice.
“What a night, eh? To you, and to us all, really.”
“If you say so.”
He tapped some rhythm on his old knees before continuing.
“This turning of yours... It was voluntary, yes?”
“I guess. I mean, I wasn't exactly aware of it. I was dead. But yeah, I'm glad he did it.”
“That's good. Saul's a good guy. Rash sometimes, but good.”
“So, you were dead? An accident, perhaps?”
“I doubt it. I don't really remember.”
Bart nodded so much it felt like he didn't agree after all.
“It would be very good if we knew.”
“I second that.”
“I can show you, you know? I could make you see.”
“Do you want to see?”
“Sure, I mean...” But I could not say the rest. The old man pressed his index finger onto my forehead (about where the bullet had hit) and I was suddenly back in my apartment.
I could see myself messing with the keys, which never seemed to fit into the lock when dunk, enter the corridor, kick off my shoes, and then zigzag my way toward the kitchen.
But then, out of nowhere, my way was blocked by a mountain of a man. He was in a dark overcoat and had a watermelon of a face covered in scars. And he was holding a gun to my face.
And before I could react in any way, he spoke. “Find the red cove.”
And that was it. He had most likely pulled the trigger right after, for I returned into the embassy-room.
Bart was already on his feet, heading toward the door.
“Who the hell was that!?” I called to his backside.
He stopped for a moment, not turning around. “Don't worry about that. Your uncle will be here soon.”
And I could ask no more before he was gone.
I was left sitting, wondering what the hell did my uncle have to do with anything? In that deep thought, I checked the door to see if it was locked (which it wasn't) and walked back and forth in the room trying to decide if I should make a run for it, or if that could be considered an overreaction.
Before I could decide, the door reopened, and from it, I could see the silhouette of my (who I had always thought to be crazy) uncle. He didn't appear as mad then. Hair combed over his head and dressed in a nice suit, he looked pretty bad-ass, like a mafioso.
“ Come, Thomas!” He called, very serious and maybe even concerned. And he started walking.
But I started to get dizzy. And sick. And angry. It was like I was returning to the hangover of the transition into a vampire.
I followed my uncle shakily as everything started to hum and turn foggy, and I grabbed from my head as an ache similar to an ice-pick stabbing punctured my skull. Thoughts and ideas seemed to run from me. So, by the time we reached the waiting room, I had to keep repeating to myself the name “Saul”, just so not to forget about him.
As I stood there, trying to maintain control, my uncle was pointing his finger at Bart. “You'll be hearing from us.”
But that didn't really matter to me. Between all the pains, I managed to open my mouth. And I was as loud as one can be.
“Where's Saul?” I demanded.
That got some eyes on me, but not Saul back.
“I'm not leaving without him!” I cried again.
Everyone looked at my uncle. He sighed and shrugged like “whatever”.
And then Saul appeared, whiter than I had ever seen him, and more humble-looking.
He didn't say a word to me but rushed toward the elevator.
The ride down was a silent one, if not counting the rumble in my chest. My heart was pounding like a freaking war-drum. And there was a wild desire inside me growing stronger by the second - a need to rip and slash, to play and kill – to feed.
As we got to the street, I could only see as much as through a needle pin, the rest of me was prepping to do its own thing.
Saul and uncle were facing each other.
“I'm so sorry, sir!” Saul pleaded, terrified.
“Save it! This is your end, you cancer of nature!”
And then I was an animal. A strong and fast one. The most determined and target minded monster on the planet. I slammed into my uncle, digging my fangs into his neck (in so deep they might as well have exited from the other side) and sucked with all I had. And I ripped and I clawed, breaking his bones and tearing him apart.
And then, suddenly I was again my fun-loving self. I dropped his depleted body on the asphalt and looked at Saul with the most sincere smile. I felt freaking great. I was as light as a feather and as mighty as a sword. Stars in the sky and souls in hell, they were all mine to be played with.
But Saul was much more gloomy – annoyingly so. He was kind of ruining my high.
“What THE HELL did you do?” He screamed, pointing at the messy carcass. I looked at my uncle. He was like an empty box of cookies. Who cares about an empty box?
Saul shook his head, looking up (probably to the windows of the embassy) and then stepped over the guts to right beside me. He put his hand on my shoulder and spoke, almost breathlessly. “We have to get out of here.”
And as he desired, happened. Suddenly we were like the wind - fast and invisible, blowing down the street and all the way out of town.
CABIN IN THE WOOD
Faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, Saul pulled me over highways and through trees until the Sun came up. We stopped before a forsaken-looking “cabin in the woods” and I couldn't help but shout out, for traveling that way had been rather exciting.
But Saul was not down for it at all. He looked at me kind of like the receptionist had - like I was some stupid bug in people's way.
“What?” I demanded, not grasping whatever Saul was so upset about. There was still some of my uncle's blood on my lips, and licking it gave me one burst of joy after another.
Saul just shook his head like he couldn't believe what I had turned into, and continued on, into the cabin (which was unlocked). Still quite happy, I followed.
The insides of the cabin looked no better than its outsides. There was some old furniture in there and some tacky art, and it all was covered in dust.
Saul walked right through the living room.
“I need to think.” Was all he could bitter out before slamming a bedroom door shut.
Fine with giving him his special time, I walked right back out and gave our surroundings a more throughout look. Sadly, there wasn't much to observe. The cabin was surrounded by trees in every direction and the only break in that wilderness was a set of overgrown car tracks that seemed to continue endlessly into the forest.
And that boring sight made me realize that I was looking for a distraction. I NEEDED a distraction. My muscles were all amped-up like there were narcotic ants in my veins demanding war on contentment. Any battle seemed better than no battle at all.
A large, mighty oak caught my eye, big-timing me with its presence; standing there all strong and better than me. I walked to it like some buff soldier about to teach someone a lesson, war-minded and strike-ready.
I pulled up my sleeves and started punching. At first, I couldn't even feel anything. I knew I made contact but no pain reached my brain. That only encouraged me to go harder and harder, and soon the bark was all bloody and red. But my hands, which kept healing, remained fine enough to model for magazines.
And in that stupor, time did not exist. So it might have been minutes or might have been hours before my battle was paused.
“Having fun?” Saul called.
I looked at him and was glad to see the smiling buddy I was used to, not the grumpy, cowardly old man from the embassy.
“Trying to.” I put my eyes back on the tree. It had taken damage but was far from falling. “I thought vamps would be stronger.”
“Generalize much?” Saul walked straight past me, and with no effort at all, landed the oak with a single punch that blasted its trunk into dust and needles and made the whole thing come crashing down on top of us.
Spreading the branches, I looked at the show off with bitter annoyance. “Well, I softened it up!”
“Whatever macho-man...” He got out of the splintery mess, turning again more serious. “Let's get back inside. We need to talk.”
As Saul took a seat in the dusty armchair, I let myself fall flat down on the even more dusty sofa. And then we coughed for a while, for vampires turned out to have noses even more sensitive than humans. In the end, we did settle down, and as quiet fell, Saul interlocked his fingers like some therapist about to attempt to undo my crazy.
“So, we have a problem.” He started wisely. “Actually, we have many problems. But they all seem to lead us to the same place – an early grave.”
For all I knew, Saul might have just been joking, so I kept eyeing him carelessly, amused by his doctor-like attitude.
“I for one would like to avoid that,” he continued, “so what we need is a plan.”
I got up to sitting, studying Saul and finding him quite sincere. “Alright! Let's pretend that everything is the worst and we're, as you said, heading to our graves... So now I think is the time for you to tell me everything. No jokes. No evasiveness. ...Or I'm just gonna start humming the anthem and you can come up with the plans on your lonesome.”
Saul looked surprised, but also kind of disappointed. He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “Well it's pretty obvious, isn't it? Pardon me for thinking you can keep up.”
I was to interject, but he put up his hand as if demanding silence.
“Once more then, from the beginning.” He collected his thoughts and then ran a verbal sprint. “I got home, you were dead. Being a vampire, I fed you my blood and you came back to life – a vampire. We went to the embassy to register that I turned you, where we found out that your uncle is a warlock – witch means you are as well... or were, that is.”
I could not just let that slide past.
“Warlock? My uncle?”
“Yeah! Most definitely.”
“...And I am...?”
“Had I known that, I obviously should have not turned you. But I didn't. So, here we are!”
At that point, I felt a bit hurt.
“You should have let me die?”
“You do not understand the seriousness of this! I knew that turning you, a human, would get me in trouble, as I had already turned too many. But turning a warlock? Holy hell! There's literally nothing more forbidden. It's a death sentence. For the both of us.”
Saul rolled his eyes. “Why? How the hell would I know why? You think I was there when they signed the treaty? You think I have correspondence with the witches? It's a no-no because they say so!”
I couldn't help myself but grin. “They should put that on a poster.”
“Wow!” Saul shook his head. “You're really loving this, aren't you? I guess I'm learning my lesson about doing good deeds.”
“Alright. I'm sorry.” I paused to realign my thoughts. “Okay, I believe you. We have a problem. How do we solve it? Maybe if I got in contact with my family. It was, after all, me who killed him?”
“No. That's not the problem. Yeah, it doesn't help that you killed a warlock, but the problem is that I turned you.”
“Making me a vampire is a bigger crime than killing a witch?”
“So it is.”
“That doesn't make sense.”
“You can take that up with the witches once they find us. This place is off the grid but nothing remains hidden forever. They might already be on their way.”
“Just so I'm clear. It's the witches that are after us, not vampires?”
“Yeah, but vamps aren't gonna help us. They only care about the treaty. We are as dead with them as we are with witches.”
“But you said we can't die as long as we feed?”
“Under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances.”
“Maybe I could reason with them? I mean, my uncle was a witch, maybe some of my other relatives...?”
Saul laughed out loud.
“Reason with them? You really can't see what you're like right now, can you?”
I took offense.
“What do you mean?”
“You're high, dude. On blood. About as high as I've seen anyone. Which has probably to do with the fact that you're a warlock. ...Now that I think about it.”
But I felt perfectly amazing. And amazingly perfect.
“Just because I don't cry about every little thing...” I tried to retort but Saul put a quick end to it.
“Either way, I can't let you go. For your safety and mine. At the very least we need a plan. Even if it's a diplomatic one.”
Then something so vile got into my nose that it got me ready to throw up right onto that dusty carpet.
“What the hell is that?” I cried, dropping to my knees.
Saul jumped up, fists at the ready. He looked in all directions.
“That smell...? God damn, it stinks.”
Saul sniffed the air, but only sneezed as a result.
“What are you talking about? It's...” He stopped, realizing something. “What does it smell like?”
“I don't know. Like the kind of garbage garbage would produce.”
“We have to go.”
Without any further explanation, he grabbed from my shoulders and turned us again into wind. ...For a moment or so. Between those trees, something slammed into us, bringing us to crash against a large tree-trunk.
Saul was up right away, fists again at the ready, but it took me a moment longer to figure out which way it was to the sky and which to ground.
“Quiet!” A new voice whisper-called. He was looking at the distance, not to me or Saul, but we were certainly staring only at him. He was a tank of a man. Very tall. Very broad. He had long hair and a trimmed beard. All put together, we might have as well been watching a Viking in action.
“It's you!” Saul called, disgust in his voice. “The hell...?”
“Quiet!” The Viking whispered again. He pointed to the trees around us. “They know about the cabin. It's being surrounded.”
“Yeah! I figured that out...”
“Not vampires. Witches. And they brought werewolves.”
That felt like about the right time for me to open my mouth.
“Aren't werewolves supposed to be dead?”
The Viking gave me a pitting look. “This' the one?” He looked at Saul. “We have to ditch him!”
I jumped up, about to give that huge bastard a piece of my mind, but Saul beat me to it.
“If anyone's getting ditched here, it's you, Pierce! What the hell are you doing here anyway?”
Pierce peeked around the tree, answering Saul very matter-of-factly. “Saving your ass... As always. We have to go up.”
And he started climbing the tree before him.
Saul turned to me and took a deep, anger releasing breath.
“Who is he?” I asked, truthfully more concerned about my tree-climbing skills than some random guy's identity.
“My brother in law. It's a long story.” He turned around, sighing. “Come on then! Hop on!”
I couldn't help but laugh.
“You want me to ride on your back?”
“Want is a strong word. But I do want us to live. And what we're about to do, you don't know how!”
I laughed some more and did climb on his back. And up the tree we went like a couple of spiders. And when at the top, we jumped. And for a moment we were the wind, and then we were at the top of another tree.
Getting flashbacks from a childhood trip to an amusement park, I sat back with a smile on my face while Saul groaned a cursed when getting slapped by the branches as we made our way through the forest. I wasn't sure where we were heading to, but I was certainly having a blast getting there.
The end part of our escape was to me a bunch of nonsense. For a moment there I thought I was a bird, and then I was back in my apartment being shot in the face by a watermelon. And then, when we were who knows where, I lived the life of a soldier in the first world war, hard at work digging a bunker.
But, all that done and finished, I woke up in a bed, on top of covers and as dirty as a pig from waist down.
The sun was peeking into my new but familiarly dusty room through a boarded up window and through wooden walls, and I could hear the mumble of a conversation happening somewhere else.
I felt god-awful! It wasn't just the throbbing headache (which I did have) or the thirst, or even hunger; I felt hopeless and alone, just an inch away from full-on crying. Of course, I had no idea why I felt that way – which only served to make me feel worse.
A depressing eternity later, which I spent eyeing that beam of light, hoping that the Sun would burn my vampire body and release me from the torture of living, I finally got out of bed and zombie-walked it to the door and then out of it.
Then a small hallway led me into something like an old cafeteria, which, with its spiderwebs and rotting food could have never passed any health inspection. There were multiple chairs there and tables, and on top of one of them sat three men. Facing me were Saul and his brother in law, Pierce, and looking away was a new, much shorter and slimmer man.
“The hell happened with you?” Saul called, spotting me. The new guy turned to take a look as well. He had this overly friendly, hard to trust way about him.
I didn't feel like answering. Why answer? Why say anything at all?
I living-dead-ed it through the room and dropped onto a bench near them. Looking at any direction felt like such an annoyance and pain, so I just closed my eyes and dwelled in the darkness.
“Not so chipper any more?” Saul couldn't let me just be. I already regretted leaving my bed, but the soft quiet felt too far away now to travel back to.
“Well! Lesson number one. Great highs come with great lows.
I could hear him jump off the table, and, floorboards squeaking, walk to me. For a moment then there was nothing, until – a sound of a slap and pain oozed through the side of my face. I was thrown out of the chair and my head bounced on the floor.
Burning inside, I rose from the earth like a volcano erupting. I looked at Saul, intending to kill. But, he was smiling.
“Better?” He asked.
And the fire eased. Feeling the air around me and the smells, it was like I had been freed from a stone cast I didn't know had trapped me.
I stretched every muscle and yawned like a bear after winter, and I sat back down feeling relieved. “Yeah. Much better.”
The new guy had made his way to me. He was offering his hand. “Oliver! Nice to meet you.”
I shook it. “Thomas. Same!”
There was something a little off about him. Not his looks, maybe not even his personality – but something.
I pushed that feeling aside. Wasn't there something off with all of us?
“Where are we?” I asked instead.
I was looking at Saul, but he didn't appear interested in answering. So, the Viking-looking man, Pierce, spoke up instead.
“These are our old campgrounds. I figure we're safe here for now. Witches never did find this place.”
I turned back to Saul.
“So it's not even the first time you've run from witches?”
Saul shrugged. “I wouldn't say we ran. It was a base of sorts...”
And he stopped talking, reminding me how frustrating he could be with his minimalist explanations. I clasped my hands on my head, pretending insanity. “A base for what? How many half answers do you have?”
“There's nothing to know. It's in the past.”
I shook my head and turned to Oliver. “Were you here in the past?”
“It was a bit before his time,” Saul answered in his place. That seemed to ease Oliver, and he used the opportunity to distance himself from me and my questions, climbing back onto the table he had sat on when I arrived.
“Hiding from it isn't going to change it,” Pierce whispered. And from the look on Saul's face, it was a dig that hurt.
“I'm not hiding! It doesn't matter! Does it? How would talking about it matter now?”
Unlike Saul, Pierce didn't lose his cool at all. He continued in his offensively calm tone. “It would make you less of a coward.”
It was obvious that the two were about to fight. For a split second I weighed stepping between them, but as Saul was my buddy and Pierce was probably the one in the right, I elected to do nothing.
And, to make things even easier, Oliver was already on his way to bring the calm.
“Stop it!” He called to Saul who was trucking it toward his brother in law. “We can't fight among ourselves!”
His mousy voice seemed to draw Saul's anger from Pierce. “And how are you going to stop me?” He demanded, digging his fingers into his chest. I didn't miss the fact that the move pushed Oliver a couple of inches backward.
“We have many enemies,” Oliver reasoned. Apparently, he was braver than I thought. Raging Saul didn't seem to frighten him at all. “And about as many friends as there are faces in this room.”
Saul turned on his heel, hiding his face.
Pierce clapped his hands thrice. “Well put! You truly have the soul of a poet.”
Oliver grinned. “At least I have a soul!”
Pierce put his hand over his heart, dramatically hurt by those words. And then he looked at me.
“If you haven't put it together, Oliver's a human.”
That made his bravery even more impressive. And, maybe that was the thing I felt off about him?
“So, I take it you're not one of those vampires who hunts for fun?”
Pierce sighed. “I don't really have time for fun.”
“Yeah, yeah yeah!” Saul interjected. “We know. You're very noble and busy. A savior among us vamps.”
Pierce didn't take the bait. “Whatever.” And he walked out of the room, letting in some sunlight as he did.
“So,” I started a few moments later, “werewolves are back in play? I thought you said they were killed?”
Saul shrugged, leaning against a table. “When I turned you, I didn't know any of this would happen. I thought we'd drink for a while and part ways... Didn't feel like you need to know things most vamps don't.”
“So, they weren't killed?”
“Nah. Official, yes. But no. Witches have never stopped using them. But, you know, whenever they do, it's a vamps word against theirs, and witches word tends to win out... And, as I said, most vamps really want the treaty to hold.”
“What I'm curious about,” Oliver stepped in, “Is how you could smell them before Saul?”
Oliver nodded a bunch of times. “Yes. That smell of garbage. That's werewolves.”
“Oh?” Of course, I had no answer. “I guess I have a good nose.”
Oliver stepped closer. “You know... It's possible that you can do magic still, even as a vampire.”
That thought had not occurred to me. But it certainly got me curious.
“You think so?”
“I think it's at least worth a try. Wouldn't hurt our chances of survival, to have a warlock with us.”
“I don't even know. My uncle never told me anything about this. Is that usual?”
“I don't know. But as far as I know witches, everything they do or do not is part of some plan. Most likely, you were as well. Stoifeld, you said your name was?”
“Yeah. Does that mean anything?”
Oliver scratched his chin.
“I've heard that name before. In whispers, mostly. But you know. The few who dare to discuss witches, they tend to whisper.”
“You know a lot about this stuff?”
Saul laughed, cutting into our conversation. “Nobody knows a lot about witches.”
I ignored him.
“Do you think you could show me the ropes? Teach me some spells or whatever?”
“Well... I have... looked into it. No guarantees though.”
“I take it.”
I got up. There was still some sad weight on me, but I forced myself through it – keeping to the positive.
“Oh!” A memory popped into my head. I turned to the sulking Saul, “I remembered who killed me.”
“You first. Why were the witches after you the first time?”
This time the question made Saul smile. The change in his demeanor might have had something to do with the lack of Pierce in the room.
“Well. We had a little bit of a rebellion going. Not successful, ultimately, but we did make some big enemies.”
“And let me guess. You were the leader?”
“I was the loudest, yes.”
Oliver's gaze hopped between me and Saul, and he seemed to be biting his lip.
“I think you're a bit underselling it. I mean, from what I heard, the witches had never been more scared.”
Saul stretched himself lazily. “I don't know what you've heard, but witches rule the world and we're the ones on the run... Your turn. Who killed you?”
I recalled the memory.
“It was some random guy with a huge head. He was camping at the apartment, and the moment I got home, he put a bullet in my head.”
Saul's eyebrows raised. “That's... strange.”
“You tell me. Oh, but he did say something.”
Saul lifted his hand like an eager student. “Let me guess. What he said was: this is for screwing my wife.”
I couldn't help but laugh. Whatever tension the day had brought - it was broken.
“No. Nothing so loving, or so easy to translate. What the bloke said was: Find the red cove.”
Both Saul and Oliver froze like the time had stopped. I had to wave just to check that it hadn't.
“What did you say?” Saul was again fully up, eyes about as large as they could get.
“Red cove? What is that?” I demanded, getting contact-surprised.
Saul's and Oliver's eyes pulled together like magnetically bound.
And it was Oliver, his voice almost dreamy, who answered the question.
“Red cove is THE mystery.”
By high noon our little crew was back together and Pierce had been brought into the fold about the details of my early demise. Being your generic tough guy, the words red and cove didn't pull from him as large of a reaction as it did the others, but we were all sat down and ideas were flying left and right. Being the newbie of the group, it fell on me to interrupt those untranslatable half-sentences and mind-linked exchanges. It was a task not well received.
“Could you just dumb it down for me?” I asked, furious, unable to connect the dots. “Why does this red cove matter?”
A game of looks was played, and Saul seemed to have lost it, for he was the one to explain.
“Because it might help us. If we can get to it. And we can figure out what it is.”
“And how do you know it will help.”
Saul opened his mouth, but Pierce interrupted. “We don't know. Not for sure.”
Saul leaned back. “You explain then. You are the only one of us ancient enough to have been around back then.”
Whether the comment was an insult to his age or not, Pierce ignored it and folded his hands on the table. “Alright. Back when we were at war with the witches, openly so, it's like two hundred years ago now, and we were getting our asses kicked due to that new invention - the werewolves, a rumor started to spread. Red cove. A combination of words that frightened the witches. Some kind of a weapon they did not want vampires to know about. At least that's what we thought it was. But it was a desperate time. We were grasping for some deus ex machina to save our kind.
“It might have been a fairy tale spread by some faction of our kind to improve the general mood, so we wouldn't give up. Or, it could have been a lie from the witches to get us to spend our resources on chasing for something that didn't exist...”
“Or it could have been the real thing!” Saul interrupted.
“Saul here is a big believer in the Red Cove. He pretty much built the rebellion on this delusion.”
“You know that it's a delusion about as much as I know it's real.”
“Haven't found it, have you? Because, as long as it's out of reach, it might as well not exist at all.”
There was clearly more on Saul's mind about the subject, but he decided to pull back, only rolling his eyes.
“Either way,” Pierce continued, “we did look for it, for almost a year. And, as far as I know, nobody made any progress. And then, out of nowhere, the war was over. Witches came to the table and a treaty was hacked out. I don't know why. I don't think our leaders know why. They are just thankful it happened. It was a crappy deal though.”
“And then people stopped looking?”
“I guess, for a while. Saul did restart the search.”
I turned to him. “Why did you stop?”
He scratched his forehead, clearly uncomfortable. “I had my reasons.”
I accepted the lousy answer for the time being.
“We got to start looking again, right? This red cove has to be something.”
But my excitement didn't earn any jubilant agreements, only silence.
Oliver broke it a few moments later.
“This could be some trick. A trap. Maybe the witches are trying to end the treaty? First killing a warlock, then turning him, and then sending him to search for the red cove. This could be a linchpin.”
“Or maybe it's the humans?” Pierce retorted. “I'm sure they'd be happy if the war restarted.”
That didn't make too much sense to me.
“You really think that turning me could start a war? I'm no princess of Troy, you know?”
My humor was not well received.
“There are any number of ways this could turn bad.” Pierce said, “but we seem to only have bad options. Locating Red Cove might be worth a try.”
As if deliberately defiant, it was now Saul who wasn't ready to jump on board. “We need more information. Running around looking under rocks, it doesn't work. I've tried.”
That felt hard to argue with. “Who could we talk to?” I asked. “Are there any witches...?”
All the heads started shaking.
“No. Not witches,” Pierce said, “but there is someone.”
That seemed to surprise Saul. He studied his brother in law curiously. But the man with Viking build seemed to hide from his gaze. “I haven't told you everything, Saul,” he said, some obvious guilt in his voice. And he took a deep breath. “I got her back.”
Saul stared at Pierce dumbly, piecing something together. But whatever picture he formed, he didn't want to believe it.
“Got who back?”
Pierce continued to hide his eyes.
“Margaret. I got her back.”
Saul looked like a ghost who had just seen an even bigger and scarier ghost.
“Wha wha what?” He stuttered, almost falling out of his seat. “Margaret? What? How? How could you not tell me?”
“You were... gone.”
Saul jumped out of his seat, furious.
“You knew exactly where I was. You're the one who sent me there.” He paused, something new occurring to him, “You wanted to get rid of me! You... you!”
And then the door opened... And Pierce was gone. Gone like the wind. Gone like my plans of becoming a dentist. Gone so quickly even Saul could not see it happen. He remained standing, staring at the open door.
I did not dare to speak. This, I knew, was not a Saul who would answer questions. Nor was he one who cared about the Red Cove, no matter how important finding it could have been.
“Saul,” Oliver broke the silence. His voice woke Saul from some dream. But instead of answering, he marched right out of the room.
Alone with Oliver, I could not stop myself.
“Who is Margaret?”
Oliver stood up, fists on the table.
“Margaret's his sister. Come on! They need time. Let us see if we can get you to do magic.”
It was only then, after having spent a half-day indoors, that I got a better look at the former vampire rebellion stronghold, which was a series of forsaken cabins surrounding a lake. Between them lay the rusty poles of long-ago volleyball fields, and in the water there were anchored halves of wooden boats.
Not much was needed to imagine that place as one of those summer camp kids visited before the era of social media. But what did set it a bit apart were the extremist-training type monkey bars which hung everywhere, and, for some reason, lines of trenches dug all around the campground. Questions were plenty, but at least one answer was given freely: the answer to why I had dreamed of world war one when arriving the night before – it was a true battleground. Also, the mud, which had dried on my clothes but not disappeared, was no longer a mystery – the first step out of the cabin (the largest one) landed me ankle deep in stickiness.
I contemplated cursing, but as my once white sneakers were brown already, I let it slide and continued after Oliver (who was faster than he looked) as he headed toward the lake.
He started his lessons on the way, looking more practiced in hopping the trenches than I was.
“Elements like fire and water have played a part in magic since the dawn of time.” he said, maneuvering a wooden beam to cross one of those ditches, “So, I think that's a good place to start. And water feels safer than fire.”
I just shrugged, willing to take his word for it.
“Of course, it's impossible to say how your magic, if you have any, would differ from the magic of a non-vampire warlock. It'll be guesswork.”
“Well. I can guess, at least.”
He did not seem to hear my mumble, and we didn't talk again until we reached the lake.
Feeling still somewhat frigid and depressed, the lake looked quite appetizing. But I pushed the idea of a swim from my mind. Survival first, swimming second!
Oliver knelt, ankles in water and cupped a palmful. He looked at it kind of dreamily, maybe seeing something there I could not.
“Any magic in there?” I called jokingly.
Oliver turned abruptly, the stolen water dripping to re-join its brethren. My presence there seemed to surprise him, but he collected himself quickly.
“As I was saying... Elements. Come!” He waved me closer.
I got there and hunched over him.
He continued. “From what I've learned, magic isn't about saying spells, per se, it's more about connecting with what's around you.” He stirred the water before him. “I think that's why one would think that vampires can not do magic. Because they are even further away from nature than humans.”
“But you don't agree?”
“Hmm, I don't think it's only the nature that can give one power. Perhaps, one would just need to find the right things to focus on.” He got back up. “But still, let's start with water. Kneel and put your hands in it.”
I didn't really buy into that mambo-jumbo at all. Connecting with inanimate objects had never been something on my bucket list. But, it being too early to give up, I did follow the instructions.
“And now focus your mind on it. Try to look PAST the water.”
I chuckled. “Really? Past it? That sounds like the stuff con artists say.”
“They're bound to get some things right.”
I sighed. “Alright.”
And I did actually try to look past the water. I gave it quite the try. But even my desired for boundless magical power couldn't change the fact that the only thing PAST the water was dirt.
“Do you hear it?” Oliver asked, unaware of the comedy show he was putting on. “The water...? Does it speak to you?”
“Oh yeah! Big time.”
Oliver missed my obvious sarcasm. “Good! Now, imagine yourself one with it.”
“One as in...?”
“One with it. Imagine no skin and no mind. Connected. Unified. A force that controls and offers control.”
I pulled my hand out of the water and stretched back up. “Yeah. I don't think this is happening.”
Oliver looked confused. “But you hear it...?”
“I didn't hear jack. Have YOU heard of sarcasm?”
Oliver looked at me like a disappointed teacher would a student who never believed in himself. “Mm... I thought we were getting somewhere. You did try to look PAST the water?”
“Never tried harder at anything.”
“Well, maybe water isn't the right element.”
He walked out of the lake and I followed. We started heading somewhere else, but now Oliver matched my tempo instead of leading from far ahead.
“You are serious about this, aren't you? To learn witchcraft. So many would kill to even have a chance.”
The question kind of stung. I hadn't been serious at all. Was I high again?
“I guess I expected this to be different.” I glanced around the campsite, thinking through my experience. “This has all be unlike one would expect. And just two days ago I was a college student. Didn't know my uncle was a warlock, or that there were vampires or werewolves. Or that I would become one.”
“This could be overwhelming, yes.”
For a little while, we walked in silence. We seemed to be heading into the woods.
“Why do you think that is, that your family never told you about your heritage?” He asked as the cabins disappeared behind some thick bushes.
“Hell if I know... Do you really think it's all of them who are witches? Not just my uncle?”
“That's how I believe it to be. I could be mistaken.”
I thought about my nephew Stephen and how he had been picking his nose (publicly) all through his teen years. That bastard was a warlock?
“Your parents,” Oliver continued, “you don't know them?”
“Nope. Never seen them. Either one...”
Questions started to squeeze my brain.
“Do you think that's why they are dead? Some witch things?”
“I couldn't know.”
The answer was kind of disappointing. For a moment there Oliver had started to look like a fountain of knowledge.
“How do you know so much about this stuff anyway?”
He shrugged. “I always wanted to be one, I guess. The supernatural draws me.”
“But I'm sure Saul would turn you into a vampire if you wanted.”
“Perhaps. But I don't think I'm ready to give up on the witchcraft yet.” He stopped and smiled at me. “Prove to me that vamps can do magic, and I'll reconsider.”
We had reached a small kumbaya campsite. In the center of it, there were moss covered rocks set in a circle and around them large logs half-rotten into the ground.
“I think this will be a good place to practice. It's known a lot of fire. Come on.”
And Oliver knelt next to the ring and grabbed a handful of ashes. But instead of getting lost in them, as he had in the water, he let the ash blow out of his palm only a moment later.
I knelt next to him, intending to take this lesson a bit more seriously. “Don't we need fire to do fire magic?”
“Not if you can conjure one. Go ahead, grab the ash...”
“...And look through it.” I mumbled the most likely conclusion to his sentence.
He backed away, but his eyes almost scratched my body.
“Try to understand it.” He mumbled. “Learn where it comes from and watch where it leaves to.”
Staring at the ash, slowly, his words grew more windy-like and distant: he was like a voice at the back of my mind. “Look through it,” he whispered, “discover it's secrets.”
And then the ash in my hand started to glow. Quietly, it breathed itself more and more deep red. But I didn't feel alarmed. The fire was a presence. It was something that was separate from me, but also an integral part of my existence.
“Look into its heart,” I could still hear Oliver, but he was so far away he might as well have not been around at all. “And show it yours...”
And the ash in my hand burst into flames. It cracked on my skin but did not hurt. And it pulled my eyes and let my mind sink. I was free-falling through eternity, but I was also carried and cared for.
And then I was behind glass. The campgrounds were just a memory. The trees and the dirt and the wind, they were no more.
And behind the glass, there was a woman. She had snow-white hair and ice-blue skin. Attached to her face she had golden rings and around her neck a bronze medallion. She was looking right at me, but through. And then she lifted her hand and her fingers touched the barrier between us. And with her fingers, she drew, gracefully and artistically, a horizontal line that was colored like the stars. And then a triangle, straight through the middle of the line.
Her work finished to perfection, she pulled her hand back, to her mouth, and blew toward the symbol a breath of diamond air. The lines started to multiply, crossing through and over each other, covering the invisible canvas with the deepest shades of light. And I could feel it: the heat of the mark she drew. It came closer, pulling toward me like iron to a magnet. And like melting metal, it burst into my face. The agony of the burn demanded from me shouts and screams, but I could not vocalize the pain. The hurt was contained within me and the exits were sealed. I was in darkness. Lost, never to be recovered.
“Thomas?” A distant, lovable voice called. It was a direction. It was a way out. “The hell did you do to him?”
And I opened my eyes. For the second time in two days, I woke up to Saul looking down at me. But this time he wasn't smiling.
“I don't know...” I heard Oliver explain, “I didn't do anything.”
Saul waved him off, “Never mind.”
He pulled me up.
I shook on my feet and I had that sense within me like I had just escaped a great tragedy. The symbol still burnt in my mind, but I was no longer lost. I wasn't part of that dark magic.
“So, did you pass out...? Or did you do magic?” Saul grinned, taking a seat on one of those rotten logs.
I shook my head, trying to rid my mind of the memory.
“I haven't the slightest. But it was weird.”
“So something did happen?”
I shrugged. “Maybe, but I'm not about to repeat it.” I turned to Oliver, finding his eyes intently on me. “What do you think? Maybe we should try a different element? How many more are there anyway?”
Saul interrupted. “That can wait. Pierce is back. I think we should hear what he has to say together... As I might kill him before he gets to repeat it.”
Saul's mood seemed a tad better, but still, we walked back toward the cabin in such eerie silence that the crack of dirt below our feet sounded loud enough to wake the dead.
I was first to smell it, so I stopped abruptly, and Saul stopped a moment after.
“It's the smell,” I urged out of my frightened mouth, and Saul nodded quietly.
“Werewolves.” He whispered, and then Oliver was nailed to the ground as well. Certainly, we were all trying to come up with the optimal way to disappear without being noticed, but we go no time to execute our plans.
The door burst open.
But exiting it was not some beast, but Pierce. He stood with arms on his hips, not curious about our cowardly poses.
“Werewolves?” Oliver squeaked. But Saul seemed to have put two and two together, so he walked right up to Pierce.
“You brought her here?” There was anger, but also something fear-ish in his voice.
“Yes. I thought you'd want to see her.”
As no one seemed to be fearing the wolves any longer (though the smell was still there) I straightened up. “What's going on? The smell...”
Pierce gave me a long look - like I was in the way again.
“Margaret's a werewolf. The witches turned her to punish us...”
“To punish me,” Saul cut in. He was avoiding our eyes.“For my rebellion. They took her... How can you bring her here, isn't she...?”
“I've chained her up. She has better times and worse. It's better at the moment. She's lucid.”
“How long have you...?”
“That's why I sent you away. The witches wanted to see that you're done with the rebellion. Those were the terms.”
Saul turned red in his face. “But still they leave her like that? I'm done! Why not just fix her?” He was shouting now, hands in fists.
Pierce looked at Saul pityingly. “They haven't forgiven us. They never will. And when you see her, you see that they gave her back only to torture us further.”
Saul combed his hand through his hair, so roughly he might have drawn blood.
“They are witches,” Pierce continued. “They couldn't care less about us. Or anyone, really.”
“Fine! But she's...? Still herself?”
“At times. Go. Talk to her. We'll wait here.”
Saul glanced at me, maybe to gain courage. But I was still just trying to deal with the fact that his sister was a werewolf. So, I just kind of stared back with a blank face.
And then Saul entered the cabin, the door shutting behind him.
Pierce took a couple of steps toward me. “You were practicing magic?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“How did it go?”
I shrugged. “Fine, I guess. For the first time.”
“So you CAN do magic? As a vampire?” Pierce looked suddenly very invested. His eyes were digging into mine.
“Does look like that.”
Pierce started pacing, scratching his chin.
“You might be able to help her. Margaret. Magic made her like that. Magic can undo it.”
I put up my arms.
“Literally day one of magic school for me. I really wouldn't know where to start.”
Pierce stopped, staring at Oliver. “Do you know anything about this?”
Oliver shook his head.
Pierce returned to walking back and forth. “Alright. But if I find someone who knows the words or whatever, how to do the spell... Then you can do it?”
At that point, he seemed to be talking mostly to himself. “But who? Who would know? Who would want to help?”
Inside the cabin, loud growls started. They shook Oliver and me, but Pierce didn't seem to even notice.
I wanted to stay close to the door in case Saul needed support or what have you, but the smells hadn't gotten even a bit better. Trying to breathe was plain disgusting.
“Could we move?” I offered, glancing toward the lovely lakeside. “Maybe somewhere with wind?”
Oliver nodded enthusiastically, but Pierce was somewhere inside his mind.
In the end, I just picked up and left, and Oliver followed.
“I don't think it can be done.” He said as we were hoping some trenches. “And trying will slow us down.”
“Well, it's Saul's sister.”
We continued on, already pretty far from the cabin, but the stink stuck with us. So, I just kept pushing toward the lake.
“What happened with the fire?” Oliver asked.
I stopped, turning to him, going through the memory of what I had seen.
“Oh, yeah. It was weird. I was like stuck behind some glass... Or to think of it, it might have been a mirror. Either way, I could see a ´woman. Really blue skin. She had some medallion around her neck. And she was drawling on the mirror. A straight line and a triangle through it. And then it got really drippy. Everything turned bright gold...” I stopped mid-sentence, surprised by the look on Oliver's face. His mouth was literally open and rest of him solid as stone. “Was that something? Was it real magic?” I asked.
“Could you describe her more?”
“The lady? Well, she had rings on her face, nose, and eyebrow. And she had the whitest hair, ridiculous, really.”
I smiled, but Oliver did not. He swallowed nervously.
“Do you know her?” I asked.
He started biting his nails, avoiding answering my question.
“Do you know her?” I asked again, even more demanding.
Oliver was suddenly enraged. “I DON'T UNDERSTAND!” He cried, flailing his arms. I took a step back, but his anger seemed to be aimed at someone in the clouds, not to me. He stared upward, yelling and stomping his feet. “THIS CAN'T BE!”
I matched his volume. “WHAT CAN'T BE?”
His head turned suddenly, entirely serious and cold. “Listen, Thomas! What you saw... Who you saw – it's important. And that it was from the fire...?” He shook his head like that had meant something especially incredible.“ And then his head stopped, aimed at the cabin. “Why does it still smell?”
Slowly, his gaze rushed through the woods around us. “Werewolves,” he whispered ominously.
“What?” I looked around as well. I could not see any movement, but the smell did appear even thicker than it was before.
Immediately, I started back toward the cabin. But Oliver pulled from my elbow.
“I can't stay any longer.” He spoke dead to my eyes.
And I could see some kind of a waving start under the skin on his face.
“What was that?”
Again, he avoided my question. “Doesn't matter. I don't have much time... You can't trust the vampires!”
“You mean Saul...?”
“None of them. They are not your friends. They have their own agendas. Every last one of them! You need to find the red cove, but you cannot, as long as they are with you.”
“How do you...?”
“The woman. You need to hide from her. Do NOT look into the fire again. Under any circumstances.”
By that point, his face was waving like crazy. I wanted to back away from that strangeness, but Oliver had turned so strong that he wasn't far from breaking my vampire's elbow.
“Head North, toward Hailenfall,” Oliver's voice started to weaken, ”and find Krius. He can help you...” And then his grip died, and he fell onto the ground, shaking like he was having a seizure.
Entirely confused, I stood there, wondering if I should drag him back to the cabin, or I should just leave him to the wolves. But then he opened his eyes. And right away, he started to crawl backward. “Who are you?” He demanded. And he seemed genuinely frightened.
And then my vampire senses kicked in, and my eyes were drawn onto movement in the trees. Multiple movements in multiple directions.
The smell of the werewolves more intense than ever, I forgot all about Oliver.
Running toward the Cabin, I could see beasts on four feet, metal chains and collars on, and tall, bear-like monsters behind them, holding their leashes.
And then, as I dashed, the barking and growling started.
I could see Pierce awake from his daydream.
“It's the werewolves!” I called, hoping the trenches like some cartoon bunny. “Run!”
But Pierce was too much a warrior to run. While I was busy putting distance between myself and those gnarly beasts, he scanned the grounds and then started speed-running.
Reaching the cabin, I turned and spotted him at one of the out-most trenches. He was digging for something, throwing dirt and dust into the air, seemingly not alarmed by the fact that those canine bastards were no more than a stone-throw away from his position.
The tension rose by the moment, as the battle seemed imminent. And then, close enough to be touched by teeth, Pierce disappeared. And the dogs, the first ones, were sliced into thirds. I could not see that far away clearly, but from the fact that the rest of the werewolves started jumping high over the spot where their comrades had fallen, I had to believe that Pierce had activated some kind of a wired fence defense.
Saul appeared behind me, apprehensive. “How did they find us?” He demanded, spinning like a carousel. His hands were in fists and his fangs visible.
I touched my teeth. Sadly, my mouth was still fangless.
Saul grabbed me from both of my shoulders.
“Take Margaret into the bunker. We'll hold them off.”
And he disappeared as well.
I had no idea where the bunker might have been, but still, I rushed inside the cabin.
Margaret was in the middle of the cafeteria, on the floor, chained in so much metal that, hadn't she been worming it on the floor, I could have missed her for a giant anvil. Hearing my footsteps, she stopped her try for an escape and rolled to face me.
She didn't look much like Saul. She had blond hair and a much more pointy chin. And she had a larger nose, but I figured that might have had something to do with her being a werewolf.
“Who are you!?” She demanded, behaving rather humanly. She certainly wasn't growling like those things outside (I could hear the roar even from where I stood).
“Friend of Saul's. We are under attack.”
“You have to let me go! I can help! Just...”
I shook my head, looking at the chains, wondering if it was safe to lift her. “No can do. I got orders to take you into the bunker.”
I grabbed her and pulled her onto her feet without any problem. She was staring at me, not an ounce of madness on her face.
“Who are you really? You're not a vampire.”
“What makes you think that?” I was looking around, wondering in which direction I should start nudging her to go.
“The fact that I don't want to kill you. Are you human?”
“If only... You know where the bunker is?”
“What are you then?”
“Half vampire half witch, apparently. The bunker?”
She started hopping on her own.
The roar of the werewolves hadn't come any closer, so I assumed that Saul and Pierce were doing a pretty fine job keeping them at bay. And as we were making our way through the hallways, for a moment there I even wondered what it was that was so frightening about the beasts. We were after all immortal, weren't we?
“So, you want to kill vampires?” I asked, somewhat making small-talk, but also filling in the blanks.
“I don't have an option.”
“Alright. But can you kill vampires? I mean, Saul told me when we fed, nothing can really kill us.”
“Werewolves can. Why do you think the witches created them? Making your food?”
I grunted. The list of things that could kill an immortal being had started to become a rather long one.
She continued. “But I don't feel that way around you. I don't want to kill you.”
“Well, is that strange? Have you met others like me.”
She pointed to a cupboard against the wall, which I opened. Inside there were descending stairs.
“No. I haven't.”
Descending the stairs in darkness, we reached a smaller, muggier room.
“On the wall,” Margaret called.
I did get the lights going after a try or two.
The room was some kind of a headquarter for the rebellion. The roof was poorly supported by medium-sized beams, and the walls, the ones covered in cork-boards, we made of dirt.
I glanced hastily over the floor-plans and pictures that hung all around, and then back toward the stairs we had climbed.
“Do you think they have a chance?” I asked, hearing the growling and wondering if I should have shut the bunker's door.
“Perhaps. Werewolves are human, really. Poisonous, unnatural, yes. But they will break as humans do. It's only their numbers that can really make a difference.”
I did not miss the coldness in her voice. She was far from a loving, worried sister.
A loud bang sounded upstairs, and a moment later Saul and Pierce were on top of the stairs. Pierce was pulling the door shut, but Saul was falling (or rolling) down the stairs, almost lifeless with a huge bite-mark on his shoulder.
I rushed to him, trying to lift him up, but Pierce was shouting. “Open the passage, we have to go now!”
Not clear on what he was talking about, I looked around the room again – and then to Margaret.
She gestured with her eyes toward one of the cork boards. I pulled it off like it was nothing, and could see a tunnel with a light at the end of it.
But then my head started hurting, and an intense hunger filled my guts. Dizzy, I turned on my feet.
The small bunker-room was much more crowded than it had been just a moment ago. Around me, there were six dark-masked, hooded figures. One of them was holding the passed-out Saul, another a struggling Pierce and the third Margaret's chained body. But, at that moment, I didn't really care about any of them – I needed to feast.
Targeting the nearest witch (or perhaps a shorter warlock) I flew toward her without a word or any consideration.
But then something happened.
Suddenly I wasn't hungry or dizzy, and I was also not moving (I was stuck in the air). And the hooded figure I was about to attack had changed appearances: standing before me was the blue-skinned, white-haired, golden-ringed and medallion-ed witch from my magic trick at the camp-site.
And everything had turned quiet. Margaret and Pierce weren't grunting, trying to break free, or cursing their captors. And the witches weren't having a hard time keeping them captive. They were all frozen.
“Thomas,” the blue witch started. She was the only one able to move, as she proved by looking around the room and then to me. “A pleasure. It's an interesting company you keep. Vampires, werewolves, and witches. You must know they can not aid you in your quest?”
To my surprise, I could answer.
“Who are you?”
She waved me off. “Doesn't matter. Call me a guardian angel... Or, perhaps, a messenger.”
“Are you here to help us?” I did remember Oliver's warning about her, but he wasn't around to aid us during our time of need.
“I'm here to help YOU. It's not your time to die.”
“Well, we're kind of a package deal, so...?”
She didn't seem to listen. “It's curious, that you would risk yourself for these... things. You must know they wouldn't do the same?”
“They've helped me more than you have.”
Her eyebrows move dramatically up. “Help you? That's what you think they've done?”
She walked to one of the cork-boards and pulled from it a photo. A moment later, she was holing it in front of my eyes.
“Help, you said? Do you recognize them?”
It was a black and white picture of two friends, probably taken right at those campgrounds above me. The men were laughing, hands over each other's shoulders. One of them was Saul. And the other - the man who had killed me. The over-sized, watermelon-headed piece of trash that had waited in my apartment and put a bullet through my skull.
I had no desire to eat witches, but the picture made the dizziness return.
“What? What are you saying?”
“It was your friends who made you like this. For what purpose? I can't say. But they are not here to aid you.”
I chuckled coldly.
“It's a trick. You're a witch, aren't you? You're probably messing with my head.”
Her face turned pitiful. “Loyalty? What a shame. But I guess I can't say I'm surprised.”
“Well, maybe if you'll unfreeze Saul, we could clear this up.”
She smiled, evilly.
“I'm afraid I can't do that.” She glanced at him. “And by the looks of it, he might not be up to answering questions anyway. A werewolf bite? It must hurt...”
“What do you want from me?” I demanded, too tired for games. “You have me at you will. What do you want?”
“What I want?” She gave me her full attention once more. “I want you to escape. To run away, and to leave the rest behind.”
“If you'd unfreeze me, I could eat all these witches and then we'll all get away...”
She turned serious and business-like. “You can't take on that many at once. They aren't defenseless together. You will be dead in a blink of an eye.”
“Well, then help us!”
“I'm afraid my help cannot extend past words for now. But, my words you should listen to. When I leave, you need to eat, only one, and then use that strength to run. Go south, and do not stop before your feet give in. You CAN get out of here when fully fed.”
“I'm not leaving Saul. And he'd probably wouldn't want to leave his sister... But I guess I could do without the Viking. So, compromise?”
“ENOUGH!” She called, and a fire burned in her sapphire-blue eyes. She managed to actually shock (and frighten) me. “I can not stay forever!” She took a deep breath, trying to re-find her peace. “Saul is dead if he comes with you. He's been bitten by a werewolf. The only thing that can save him now is the witches. The witches who will keep him alive as long as you are at large. They must assume you would try to get him back. So, run and he'll live.”
“And then? Let's say I'll run. What then?”
“Do as I'll say, and we'll talk again. Prove that you're not a child. The stakes are too high to be played around with.” She turned on her feet. “Now, eat!”
And she was gone. I was again in the middle of my hunt, slamming myself into the neck of a hooded witch. I only had that moment, the second it took me to drain the body between my teeth to make a choice. Who will I trust?
The last drop of blood on my tongue, I pulled my fangs from witch-skin, and a moment later I could see the woods blow past me as mere lines of green. Was I going North, as suggested by Oliver, or South, as was demanded by the blue-white witch...? I had no idea. I might have been a vampire, but I wasn't a compass.
Thank you for reading through episode one. I'm already working on the second one.
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