By Matthew D Ryan
We vampires do not make easy prey. Our weaknesses are few, our strengths many. Fear is something we do not know, and death but a distant memory. So tread softly, pray to your god, and gird yourself with silver when the moons arise and night’s dark prince awakens. We fear not the wizard, nor the warrior, neither rogue, nor priest; our strength is timeless, drawn from darkness and we know no master save the hot lust of our unending hunger. We long for blood, your blood and no blade, nor spell, nor clever artifice, can keep us long from our prize. Feel our teeth at your throat, your life ebb from you, and know as darkness comes to claim you that the price of your folly is your everlasting soul.
About the AuthorMatthew D. Ryan is a published author living in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Champlain. He has a background in philosophy, mathematics, and computer science. He also has a black belt in the martial arts and studies yoga. He has been deeply involved in the fantasy genre for most of his life as a reader, writer, and game designer. He believes he saw the legendary Lake Champlain Monster (a.k.a Champy) once and he has a cat named Confucius.
There’s a woman in chain mail standing across the room from me; her sword is leveled at my chest. I can smell the enchantment on the blade, it’s a strong one; maybe even strong enough to cause me harm. Still, I’m not too concerned; it’s at least a ten foot lunge and I know I move faster than she does. Indeed, she’s the one who is looking worried. My display of strength and the death of her comrade have shaken her resolve.
She’s got a pretty face, flushed with excitement but strong and in control. It is her neck that really draws me, though, so soft and inviting, filled with the warm blood I desire. The curve of her flesh glistens, waiting for a well-placed gentle kiss.
She’s breathing rapidly now, her breath coming in shallow gasps. Her trek up through the castle has sapped much of her strength. And the fear she feels is naked in her eyes. Now, she’s getting ready to pounce, just a little too much tension in her stance, her eyes just a little too focused. She couldn’t give me more warning if she were to ask my permission first.
She moves in with remarkable speed, her blade striking out like a serpent’s tongue. Even winded, she still manages to cut my cape, then prances away with her back toward the wall, ready for anything. Anything, except me.
I close the distance and with a clean sweep of my hand knock her sword clattering across the room. Stepping forward, I place myself between her and her weapon. What will she do now, I wonder? Oh, the dagger. That’s good. There’s no enchantment on that one. Not much good that, even if she could grip it well in her bloodied hand.
I laugh a little, loud enough so she can hear me, exulting in the terror I see contorting her features. She’s backing toward the door, looking for escape.
I move toward her with the speed of my kind. My hand closes over her wrist and with a quick snap, the bones are shattered and the useless dagger is sent to the floor. Vainly she flails at me with her other hand. Despite the pain in her wrist she is trying to pull free. In desperation, she brings her knee upward in a fierce jab. If I were a man, I’m sure I’d be on the ground right now. Unfortunately for her, I am no longer a man.
Her struggles are growing weaker. Perhaps the pain or the fear is wearing her down. She collapses on the ground. Her helm falls to the floor with a loud metallic clang and her long, golden tresses drape down to shroud her face. Reaching down with a lover’s touch, I cup her chin and raise her eyes to mine. Tears stream down her cheeks, sparkling in the moonlight. She’s really quite beautiful with a face befitting an angel; it is a great irony that she should fall to a devil such as I.
For the first time this evening, I speak. “Well, intruder, did you not know there is a penalty for trespassing in my lair?”
“Please, please, let me go,” she begs. “I’ll never come back, I’ll do anything you want.”
“Then tell me why you are here. Who sent you?”
“We came for the sceptre.” She glances askance at the crumpled ruin that was once her companion.
I nod in the dead man’s direction. “Yes, perhaps you can reach him. Perhaps you can take the wooden stake from his chest and drive it through my heart, thus ridding this pestilent world of my accursed presence... and perhaps I will rip your arm off if you try. Now answer the question, my dear. Who sent you?”
The naked terror in her face highlights her beauty. For a fleeting moment, I am loathe to wreck such a delicate flower. Indeed, it is the irony of her reply that seals my decision.
“It was Arcalian... the mage. Please... I don’t want to die.”
A warm, almost human smile crawls across my lips. “Don’t worry, my dear, you won’t.”
A brief flash of relief evaporates from her face changing into the gruesome horror of realization as I lunge for her throat. My teeth pierce her neck, freeing a flow of warm, sweet blood. As I feed her body goes limp in my arms and her struggles cease.
She is very nearly drained and quite ready. A quick movement of my hand and my left breast is exposed. Another slash and a gentle trickle of rapidly cooling blood is flowing down my chest. I gaze at my victim. Her breath is coming in ragged gasps; a moment more and she will expire. Ever so slowly I pull her to her knees before me. With my hand behind her head I pull her up and force her lips to my breast. She murmurs a weak protest, but her will, as her blood, is all but gone.
I whisper softly in the woman’s ear, “Drink, my love, and the pain and the weariness shall pass from you forever. I know you are thirsty, my love, I know you hunger. I can ease your suffering, your unendurable torments. Drink, and you shall cast off this paltry existence, this mortal shell of such feeble constitution and you shall become as I: strong, immortal, invincible.”
A moment passes before she begins to suck on the wound. I feel the blood flowing from my chest. As time slips away her strength begins to return. The flow from my chest grows stronger and I am forced to restrain her. At long last, she is finished and I lift her in my arms. Several long strides take me to the old bedchamber. She can rest here for the remainder of the evening. It may be several nights before she can hunt on her own, and I have other business to attend to.
Arcalian the mage. I had so hoped our dealings would have been more profitable, but it seems the allure of the sceptre proved too strong for him. I should have known better than to grant a wizard mercy. I should have killed him outright when he first turned up snooping around my lair. But no, I listened to that whining old man beg for his life in exchange for what? the promise of young fresh victims? An apprentice here and there plucked from the guild at the appointed times. No one misses the occasional apprentice. Wizards’ apprentices run away or die all the time. Very few survive to become a true mage. It was a brilliant plan; diabolical in every detail, sadistic in every nuance. It impressed even me with the depths of its perversity. Perhaps, after I dispense with Arcalian I can induce another member of his sorcerous guild to go along with a similar plan. After all, my newfound love may need a little practice before she starts hunting on her own. I’ll have to be more careful, though. No one can be allowed even a hint of where my lair is; that is one mistake which will never be repeated. In the mean time, I believe it’s time I paid Arcalian a visit.
A quick glance assures me my love still lies upon the bed as if fast asleep. The room is dark, the windows shuttered with the curtains drawn; the Sun shall not touch her when He rises. Silent as death I move through the chambers and halls of the long abandoned keep. Nothing stirs save the wind outside and the rats dining on my newfound bride’s late companion. Irritated with the mess, I throw his carcass to the courtyard below and look out into the night.
Silgaren, the great moon, hangs in the sky, full and bright. Its smaller companion, Neerie, is not yet visible, although a golden glow limns the clouds far to the southeast. Spread beneath the greater moon, the Forest of Shrouding Mists fills the valley brim to brim. It is an old and ancient woodland whose unnamed horrors have always been sufficient guard to keep my castle safe—that is, until that treacherous wizard sent those assassins into my keep. Arcalian must die, as must all others who know of my existence. I’ll wring his foul neck for names.
I change shape and take to the air. It is a clear, cold night, with no clouds to hinder my vision. Below me, the dark canopy of the forest bears an even darker scar; the trail of the old river and its sister road to town and Arcalian.
Despite my near limitless power, I am cautious about openly wandering in a human city on a clear night. I have had run-ins with them before and I have no wish to draw undue notice. I soar in a long gliding circle to free my mind for concentration.
It takes but a moment.
Then the storm begins to build, drawing in clouds from the distant sea. They roil and churn in the darkening night, reaching forth with long writhing tendrils as if to grasp the town with a shadowy hand. A chilling gust of wind sweeps through the forest trees and the mists boil forth from the valley floor. All told, I spend an hour circling the town while the storm gathers its strength. Then, as the first lightnings begin to flash and the rains begin to fall, I descend on shadowy wings into the heart of Drisdak, the city on the Sea of Sorrows.
The mages guild is easy to find; its rancid stench of magic can be smelled from blocks away. It’s a tall building, made of stone, looking more like a miniature keep than a guild house. Five circular towers loom up from a central stone edifice. I have no doubt that Arcalian can be found in the highest tower in the room of the guild master, undoubtedly basking in the luxuries my services provided.
At the gate of the guild house, two armored men, spears at the ready, stand sheltered in an alcove as the rain begins to pour. I take a moment to consider my options, then wrap my dark cape about myself to hide my current attire. As I approach the guards, their spears lower to bar my way. I could kill them, of course, but that would not help me get inside.
“Oh please, sirs.” My voice takes on a pitiful, pleading tone. “I know it’s past curfew, but I was resolving some important business for my master on the far side of town and I got held up... and then the storm came... Now I’m all soaked-through without the coin to get a room.”
One guard snorts disgustedly. “So what? You know the rules. Spend the night in the gutter for all I care.”
The other man is somewhat more inquisitive. “Business? Who’s your master?”
“Why it’s the guild master Arcalian, sir.”
They exchange glances, and the first guard snorts again. “You, you’re always looking for favors, you make me sick.”
The second guard smiles. “Of course, my friend, we’ll be happy to let you in. Ignore my rude comrade here, I’ll let you in the gate myself. Just remember ol’ Peredrin, and I’ll be happy to help you anytime.” Not a noble invitation, but it will appease the ancient stricture.
The guard pulls out a key and unlocks the gate. Within moments I am inside a dry hall lit by an oil lamp hanging on the wall. If the guards were truly observant, they might notice that I cast no shadow. But guards being guards, they notice not. As they start to swing the gate shut, I turn and face them.
The door swings inward. A grey haired man in pale yellow robes stands in the doorway, one hand on the handle the other on the doorframe. “The master wishes not to be distur—”
Stepping forward with hands extended, I snap the man’s neck with a violent twist, then turn toward Arcalian. “Greetings, wizard.” The body drops to the floor.
With a startled yelp, Arcalian leaps back from his desk. “Lucian, you’re ali—”
“My dear friend, I have not been alive for a thousand years. You of all people should be aware of that.” I step slowly and deliberately past the robed man’s body.
With obvious effort, Arcalian regains his composure. He sinks slowly back into his chair and rests his elbows on the oak desk, his hands folded beneath his chin. The tome splayed out before him is thick and leather-bound. The oil lamp flickers in a draft and the mage’s shadow dances across the wall. “You have killed Aristoceles.”
My hand motions to the doorway. “And your guard. Their deaths amused me.”
“The guard will be easy to replace, but Aristoceles may prove more difficult.”
“Oh really, why is that? He didn’t smell particularly strong.” I fold my arms across my chest; there is no rush to kill this man. Indeed, it is enjoyable watching his discomfort grow. “What use was he to you?”
The wizard makes an explanatory gesture with his left hand. “Very little in the magical sense, he was always more interested in philosophy than the true arts of sorcery. But he was naive enough to be considerably loyal to me, and he had a knack for many things others might find difficult.”
I glance down at the crumpled body. “Philosophy? If I had known, I could have made him immortal. Many a lonely night have I spent pondering the mysteries of the universe. It might prove amusing to have someone who thinks he is learned in such affairs to talk to. Could you imagine, though, an immortal vampire wandering the world spending half his time drinking blood and the other half trying to justify his existence as a murderer of men? I’m sure the emotional turmoil would be agonizing, far more so than any caused by any one of his ridiculous paradoxes, be it on place, motion, or the meaning of time.”
“Lucian, my friend,” Arcalian says, leaning back in his chair, “you always seem to amaze me with your knowledge of things both common and obscure. Are you truly as well-read as you seem?” He masks his fear well, but the smell of magic has a new companion, the odor of human sweat. A lonely bead of perspiration dripping from the wizard’s brow betrays the man’s true feelings.
“A thousand years leaves one ample time to read.”
“I suppose it does. I am curious, however. Something you suggested intrigues me. If you were to change my friend into a vampire—”
“It is too late. He is dead and I didn’t even bite him.”
“Yes, but if he were to become a vampire would he retain that much of his original identity? Would he still be a philosopher in mind, yet a vampire in body?”
“I’m not really sure. It’s been so long since I was mortal, I truly don’t remember.”
“It’s a shame that you killed him so quickly, perhaps if you had been more patient.”
This discussion is growing tedious. It will be best if I end it. “It doesn’t matter, I can always find another philosopher if I become overly curious. Perhaps even a mage.”
Arcalian’s lips thin and his complexion pales. Nevertheless, he still tries to continue the charade. “A mage? What an interesting idea. Imagine, a vampire with the power of magic at his beck and call...”
“Don’t worry. It won’t be you. I intend to kill you outright. I don’t like you enough to give you that much power. The woman you sent to destroy me, though, she, I intend to keep.”
Arcalian looks at me with a forcibly puzzled expression on his face. There is a hint of panic in his eyes. “The woman I sent… I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Come now, don't you remember? She had blond hair, blue eyes, and a magical sword capable of severing my head. And I mustn’t forget her companion—the small dark-haired fellow with the wooden stakes—awfully handy to have around when you’re hunting vampires. They almost succeeded too, but tragically, they were running just a little late. Imagine my surprise this evening when I awoke to the grating sound of my own coffin being opened. Well, the rogue now wears his favorite stake, and the woman... she is now my bride! Do you remember now?”
“You are mistaken. I... have no knowledge of these... things.” He makes a furtive glance toward the wand lying beside the book on his desk, within easy reach if I moved as slowly as a mortal.
“Mistaken? I think not. ‘Lucian, you’re alive!’ Your performance at my entrance has already convicted you of your crime.” I place both my hands on his desk and lean toward him, snarling. “And with no court at hand, I am forced to pass judgment myself.” I straighten locking my eyes with his.
With human slowness, he makes a lunge for his wand. I too lunge, hurling his desk aside like a desiccated leaf in the autumn wind. My left hand clasps his right and twists it back almost to the point of breaking but not quite, not yet. He gasps in pain and a bolt of energy unleashed from the wand goes awry to reduce a far bookshelf to a smoking ruin.
“Before I send you to the grave, old friend, I need to know one thing. Who else amongst your scholarly kindred have you told of my existence? Answer me!”