Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Ebony Lord Returns - Part 1

“There are few things in this life that worry me.” the vampire said, his lavender eyes staring out over the vast ocean, only just changing hue with the rising of the sun.  His pale hands rested on the hilts of Dawn and Dusk, the twin blades given to him by the sister deities of light and dark.  Their true names were Diluculo and Crepesculum, and they were powerful weapons indeed.  His grip on the Dawnblade, even slight as it was, kept him shielded from the dawn’s burning rays even as they began to fill the sky with their brilliance. 

                “What worries you, my love?” the woman beside him asked.  He turned to meet her gaze, her bright blue eyes glistening in the morning light.  She was Delilah, a priestess of the Songsisters of Seelia, a group of priestesses granted the divine vocal prowess of their god, Achelous.  Through him, they channel his voice and project such raw power as to calm dragons and crush mountains.  For the vampire, though, she reserved her calmest, most quiet tones best spoken in the hush of night.

                 “Morganna is dead.” he replied, turning his gaze back out over the rolling sea.  “The Coven Syn is likely still reeling from the shock of losing their leader and the blow of losing so many of their number.  But it will not last long.  Her death has created an opening for some cunning and crafty creature to assume power, and vampires are nothing if not cunning.”

                “The Coven Syn?” she asked, her eyes widening in alarm.  “The coven that…turned…you?”

                “The same.” he answered with a nod.  “I killed their leader. Without her, they’re dangerous,      more chaotic.”

                “Morganna was not one known to keep the peace.” Delilah replied, scoffing as she, too, turned her gaze once more upon the sea.  “I can recall the many times she threatened retaliation on my sisters for meddling in the affairs of her kind.  I am glad she is no more.  The murderous witch killed far too many good people for me to ever have tolerated her like you did.”

                Euliclese could hear the anger simmering in her words, and he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.  He squeezed her delicately, and smiled, trying to calm her.

                “We had a pact.” he said.  “Granted, it was not one that kept everyone safe.  But in return for leaving her alone, she would keep the coven out of Gothis and its countryside.  I knew she would turn her attention elsewhere, but I had no idea it would threaten you and your people, my love.”

                “You should destroy them all,” she said coldly, her blue eyes narrowing dangerously, as though focusing her hatred on some distant shore.  “That they may never harm another innocent again.  Why you have not already is a mystery to me, Euliclese.  They are evil and should be dealt with.  Would that I could convince the Ivory Council to a call for war so that I could lead my sisters against them and let them taste of our voices.”

                “Delilah.” Euliclese said, squeezing her shoulder and turning her to face him.  “The Ivory Aerie is a peaceful place, and I would have thought their priestesses were just as peaceful.”

                “Have you ever buried friends?” she retorted, her anger now focused on him.  “Have you ever watched those you love died because you failed to act?”

                “Yes.” he replied, his expression calm and restrained, though she could see the pain in his eyes.

                “I am sorry,” she said, lowering her gaze.  “Of course you have.  You would have to, I suppose, being the only vampire that does not hunt innocents.  Forgive me.  Having such a strong connection to Achelous brings with it a sense of divine purpose, and the power to enact his judgment on the evil in this world.  It can be difficult to maintain the focus needed not to let it overwhelm me.”

                Euliclese nodded, and lifted his arms, pulling her close to him.  She nestled her cheek against his armored chest, feeling the cool metal on her skin and the warmth of the rising sun growing on her back.  She sighed softly, reveling in the security and comfort the vampire offered, before pulling back and looking up into his lavender eyes.

                “So what will you do?” she asked, her bright blue eyes meeting his.  He held her gaze for a long moment, unsure of just how to answer her question.  He knew the most obvious answer, but the thought of it made him cringe, and violated everything he believed in.  When they had murdered his family and turned him into a vampire, they had kept him locked away without sustenance, until the bloodlust was so powerful and overwhelming that he didn’t even realize the victim they had given him was his wife until after he had already drained her dry.  The Coven represented everything that he had spent five hundred years fighting against, and now, leaderless and lost, the only way to keep their remaining members from spreading like a plague across the countryside was to give them something more to fear than their former leader.

                “I will have to destroy them.”
*                 *                     *                    *                *

“We should be out feeding!” the vampire cried, his fist crashing into the old stone wall of the crypt behind him.  The mortar and stone crumbled beneath the weight of the blow, dust falling from the ceiling, but the vampire didn’t seem to notice, the thought of a cave-in much more appealing than going without blood for one more moment.  “Morganna is gone, and the foolish deal she had with her bastard childe is no more.  We can do whatever we want!”

“Be not a fool, Nicodemus!” another vampire replied, a tall being with long, white hair and piercing silver eyes.  His fair features and pointed ears spoke of an elven heritage, but whatever his origins, he was only a vampire now, the tips of his fangs showing from beneath his upper lip.  “Morganna is gone, but her former childe remains.  Do you not think that he will be watching, especially now that he knows we are leaderless?  He is no stranger to watching our actions!”

“Do you fear him, Alwynn?” Nicodemus retorted, smirking even as the words left his mouth.  “He is but one vampire.  He cannot possibly stand against a coven united.”

“We are not united, Nicodemus.” a voice called from the darkness, and both vampires turned to see Celeste emerge from the shadows, wearing a long black gown, her pale face framed by her raven locks.  “Far from it.  That is a weakness that Euliclese is cunning enough to exploit.  And do not be naïve enough to think that we are a match for the likes of that one.  He is five centuries old, and the last one to have partaken of Morganna’s blood.  She sired no other after him, and none have tasted her blood since.  He is as powerful as she, perhaps even moreso.”

Nicodemus growled and shook his head, slumping against the catacomb wall, his face forming a silent scowl.  Celeste smirked, then turned her gaze to Alwynn.  The silver haired creature met her gaze and smiled, then nodded after she inclined her head back, indicating that he should follow her.  The two slowly left the chamber, leaving their errant kinsman to silently brood.

“He is impetuous and rash.” Celeste said, once they were alone.  Alwynn nodded and stood before the door after shutting it behind him.  “It is surprising that Morganna never disposed of him.”
“You know well the coven’s rule against slaughtering our own kind.” he replied.  “Not even she could so easily break one of the Twelve Tenants.”

“And yet she alone had the Right of Destruction over every one of us.” Celeste answered.  “Perhaps that was her failing, Alwynn, hoarding the power of leadership.  Surely, her advisors had her ear, but not even their counsel was enough to stop her from being turned to ash by her own childe.  And yet, he remains. He is a persistent threat, regardless of how many number our ranks.”

Alwynn remained silent, staring at her.  Celeste smiled, and crossed the room, pressing herself up against him.  Her hands rose, and she cupped his cheeks, pressing her lips to his own in a lingering kiss.  Alwynn eagerly returned the embrace, his lithe body melding against her own, the two having long been lovers as well as sire and childe. 

“He is powerful. But we can be more powerful. We just need to reclaim that power. Morganna is gone, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others like her. Others with the power to stand against him, and keep him at bay. But we must remain wary, and cloaked in shadow. I trust that you will keep Nicodemus under control, at least for the time being. We cannot allow him to risk us all.”

Alwynn nodded, and looked back at the doorway that led to the other end of the crypt. He sighed, knowing that he had his work cut out for him. But Celeste would accept nothing short of absolute devotion, so he merely nodded again.               
*                       *                        *                          *                         *

“Tis a foolish idea, Euliclese.” Adoria said, a few nights later. She stood with her long, cream-colored arms folded over the chest of her crimson gown, her simmering anger hard to ignore.  Her long auburn hair was pleated and artfully woven atop her head, and her fingernails were colored the same red as her gown.  Her role as courtesan to the senator of Albinus, a merchant city at the center of Seelia, had given her power and had increased her already substantial wealth, but it had also apparently given her a sense of entitlement to address her sire so boldly. 

Though, if he were honest with himself, she had always had no fear of speaking to him so boldly.

“The coven is a danger to Gothis and every outlying town between it and Seelia.  If they are not controlled, their numbers will spread, and the death toll will grow with every mortal turned.        They cannot be allowed to threaten everything we have worked so hard to achieve.”

“Everything you worked to achieve, you mean.” she replied, shaking her head.  “I never believed in your foolish quest for repentance.  Surely, your code to drink only from the evildoer is a just one, and I practice it to this very night.  Albinus is overflowing with evil men.  But while my hands are clean of the blood of the innocent, I am still a vampire, Euliclese.  As are you. Yet you would continue a war that has already cost so much?”

“You were not there to see the depths of horror that unchecked vampiric power can achieve.” he answered angrily.  “The original members murdered my entire family, Adoria.  They turned me and waited until I was mad with hunger to feed my own wife to the beast.  That was what they did to those who were powerful enough to threaten them.  What might they do to those too weak to defend themselves?  No, I cannot allow such a threat to come to fruition again.  I will destroy them, with or without you.”

“Your choice is made, then.” she replied.  “I know full well that I cannot sway you from your decision.  I never could.  But consider this…why would you walk a path that you have tread before?  Is this some attempt at absolving your guilt at being unable to save your family from the coven’s attack?  You were only mortal, Euliclese.  You could not have stopped what happened, even with the skills of a vampire hunter at your disposal.  None of the hunters that came for us at the manor were ever a threat unless they were many in number.”

“You could never understand my desire to protect humanity from our kind, could you?” he asked, his lavender eyes staring hard at her.  “It was never about trying to absolve myself the guilt of being a monster.  It was about protecting those who could not protect themselves.  It was about maintaining the nobility that my father showed me as a boy.  It was about being better than what was forced upon me.  I tried to show you that.”

“And yet I became a monster, regardless.” she said, her voice soft but her gaze hard as stone.  “I never wanted this.  But that did not matter to the great and noble Lord Blackthorne, did it?  For all your talk of nobility and being better than those who turned you, you still forced this upon me.  I have never had a child, damn you. I have never had a man to truly love for more than his blood.  You took my life from me, and what have you given me in return?  A cause that was your own and a reason to want to destroy you every time we meet.”

The venom in her words stung him, but he remained still, his face an expressionless mask.  The two immortals stared at one another for a long, quiet moment, before Adoria sighed and reached behind her, pulling her shawl tightly about her shoulders.  Without another word, she turned, and began walking the long path down the hill that led to Albinus’ southern gate.  He watched her go, silent as the grave, his heart heavy with the truth in her words.  He had foolishly believed that he could immortalize everything about her that had been so alluring, only to see it wither and die the longer she remained immortal.  She was right…he had taken everything from her, and what he had to give in return had not been anywhere near enough. 

Sighing, the vampire turned, and walked away.

*                           *                               *                          *                     *
Seelia stood a hundred leagues or more from Gothis’ southern tip, across the Barren Sea and many miles inland across a great desert. It had been a trip that the vampire had not undertaken lightly. But Delilah’s presence had been soothing and comforting, and her counsel was often exactly what he needed to hear. Adoria was aware of the Songsisters, and of his relationship with the woman. She did not approve, but that mattered little to him. It had been a long time since he had loved anyone like he loved Delilah, and being away from his ancestral homeland was a small price to pay to be with his beloved.

And while thoughts of her often elevated his mood, Adoria’s bitter words still lingered in his mind. He had thought that her time in Seelia had helped mend the divide between them, but it was still as great as ever. But perhaps what hurt the most was that her words were entirely true. He had done all those things to her. He had robbed her of so much life yet to live, and had given her damnation instead. Perhaps he was the monster she thought him to be after all. He sighed, turning the corner to move through the town’s southern gate, and back to the Ivory Aerie, where Delilah called home.

The Ivory Aerie was a soaring monolith that defied the skies and reached for the heavens.  Made of alabaster and ironwood, the Aerie was a magical construction as well as physical, its wide sweeping arches and immaculate masonry making such a grand structure seem alarmingly delicate.  The Aerie had stood for hundreds of years, though, with hardly a scratch or breach to show for it.  Never in the recorded history of the grand structure had its walls been breached or its defenses bested.  Nestled on the seaside cliffs of southern Seelia, the Aerie was a bastion of hope for sailors and fishermen, the beacon at its highest point always lit, guiding the lost back to land.

Within the Aerie were the Songsisters of Seelia.  To the goodly folk of the land, they were healers and curse-breakers, counselors and peace keepers.  To the bandits and marauders that always plagued the countryside, they were terrors in white, their namesake ability to channel the divine voice of their god through their own vocal chords making them powerful priestesses of good and defenders of justice.  The Songsisters were often nicknamed Lovely Doves, both for their simple beauty and their divine vocal ability. 

It was to the head of their order, Delilah the Pure, that he had sought what would be the greatest aid of his existence.  He was leery at first…how would she and the other Songsisters react to having an undead creature of the night within their midst, let alone the heart of their Holy Order?  He had thought that surely his reputation had grown, passing through the land as tales of the vampire whom only fed from the wicked, of which there were plenty.  He had thought that surely his name had passed along the lips of those that he had saved, but to what extent? He had no way of knowing if his name reached the southern shores, or if the Songsisters would allow him entry.

But they had. And when he was ushered to Delilah, her warm smile and bright, blue eyes were a balm to his fears. She had welcomed him, wanting to know all about him and his vampiric ways. She had put him at ease, and he had welcomed such companionship. It was not much longer before  he began to feel affection toward her, and her toward him, and once again, the vampire had fallen in love with a mortal.

His trek through the outlying desert was long but quiet, and the night wasn’t half gone before he saw the Aerie on the seaside cliff, a large fire lit at its peak as a landmark for any vessels sailing at night. He smiled, and quickened his pace, eager to be with his beloved once more. But as he did, he felt a presence nearby. Someone was watching him. He continued walking, not wanting to alert his observer that he had been sensed, and let his lavender gaze look about carefully.

The desert wasn’t only barren sand, but had many craggy slabs of rock and slate that dotted the landscape. There were many places to set an ambush, though Euliclese didn’t sense more than one person watching him. He was surprised that he had sensed the figure at all. His keen hearing heard no heartbeat, and his sense of smell caught no lingering odor of sweat or life, which could only mean one thing. Whatever was watching him was not human.

Turning to climb a short hill between two jagged bits of rock, he stopped, his gaze falling on a shadowy figure at the top of the hill. The figure seemed a man, with wide shoulders and a bald head that glistened in the moonlight. But as the moon was behind him, his face was buried in shadow, and Euliclese sensed that some magical enhancement kept him shrouded from his own vampiric vision.

The two stared at one another for a long moment, before the figure spoke.

“You are the vampire, Lord Blackthorne.” The figure spoke, a frank statement rather than  a question.

Euliclese nodded. “I am.”

“Why are you here?” the figure asked.

“That is none of your concern.” Euliclese retorted, his hands going to the hilts of his twin blades.

The figure laughed, a deep, sinister laugh that lingered in the darkness for a moment after he fell silent. Euliclese felt a shudder move through him, though he was sure to remain still, lest he show any weakness to this man. He was growing more and more certain that the figure was a vampire, though he showed none of the traits of one. His eyes were dark, not reflective in the darkness, and he had no scent whatsoever, where most immortals either smelled of the grave or of whatever fancy oils or perfumes they preferred to appear more human.

“You trifle with these Songsisters, seeking solace, and of all things, love. You think that such a thing is important, even though you have been dead far longer than most of your kind. But you should know well the deviousness of mortals. Even now, your beloved Delilah lies entwined in the arms of another.”

“Lies.” Euliclese retorted, drawing the blades of Dusk and Dawn from their hilts. The twin blades flared angrily, the Dawnblade’s light penetrating the magical darkness that hid the figure’s face. As it did, the figure growled, and turned, as if flinching. Instead, he simply vanished, as though he had never been there to begin with. Stunned, the vampire cautiously moved closer, his glowing blades at the ready, but there was no trace of the figure. He let his senses open, his preternatural mind searching for any sign of the man, but there was none.

Sheathing his blades, his lavender gaze lifted to the Aerie, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

*                            *                             *                             *                              *
The fire was low in the hearth in Delilah’s room when he climbed through the window, having levitated the side of the Aerie so as to remain unseen. It was dark, but there was enough light for him to see the figures in the bed, bodies draped over one another in slumber. He did not recognize the man that was half-covered by the bed’s drapery, but he knew all too well the figure of Delilah, his precious Delilah. The figure’s words were true.

Euliclese stood absolutely still, unable to believe the scene before him. The figure had been right. He had never considered that she would so blatantly betray him. Yes, all mortals were devious in their own way, but she was the head of a goodly order. She was Delilah the Pure! But there was nothing pure about the scene before him, about the way that she stank of this mortal man, the scent of their love making still lingering in the air. The memory of their own flashed through his mind, as did the memory of every gentle touch, of every smile, of every song she had sung while tending to the wounded of Seelia. His mind was overwhelmed with every emotion he had ever felt for the woman, only to have all of it crushed by this heavy, heavy betrayal.

Picking up a thick tome on a nearby table, he flung it across the room and into the hearth, where it landed with a loud crash, scattering hot coals and ashes into the air. The commotion made them both stir, and Delilah sat upright with a start, her blue eyes wide with shock and fear. He briefly thought about how he had stared so lovingly into her eyes, but cast it aside as his rage-filled gaze fell to her lover.

The man stood, wearing only a simple pair of white breeches. He immediately reached for his sword, and as he drew it, Euliclese remained still, his face a mask of fury, showing no fear whatsoever. Delilah stood, covering herself with a blanket from the bed, as though she preferred modesty despite her flagrant disregard for loyalty.

“Please…” she said. “Don’t do anything rash.”

The vampire ignored her, staring hard at her lover. He waved the sword threateningly at him, but still Euliclese didn’t move. Slowly, his gaze fell to her, and he growled, his rage rising, threatening to consume him. He hadn’t felt that rage for quite some time, and it took much to bring it forth. The thought that he had battled that rage for so long in order to remain human almost made him laugh. He wanted nothing more at that moment then to unleash the monster within him, to tear her lover limb from limb while she watched.

“Why?” he managed to ask, his voice a sinister hiss.

“Because you are dead.” She snapped. “You are not alive. Your cold skin was no comfort. Your heart was still and not beating when I laid my head on your chest. I needed life. I needed warmth, and heat, and passion. You could only mimic those things.”

Euliclese stepped forward, ready to unleash his outrage, when her lover decided that he had had enough. He thrust forward, and truly, his speed was enough to catch many a mortal man unaware. It would likely have been the death of any man, but Euliclese was no man. He turned to the side, letting the sword move just inches from his flesh, and with one mighty blow, sent the man careening backwards toward the open window. Stumbling, reeling from the impact, the fool lost his footing and tumbled backwards, over the windowsill and out the window, falling to his death.

“No!” Delilah cried, her face contorting with rage and grief. Her angry gaze turned to the vampire, and with a short intake of breath, she screamed, unleashing a powerful cry that overwhelmed his senses. He collapsed to one knee, his hands falling to the floor to steady himself, the incredible agony of her divinely-enhanced vocal chords making his ears bleed. He cried out, his hands moving to cover his ears, his vampire senses making the assault only more painful. She continued the assault, magically carrying the same pitch to keep him at bay and helpless.

Euliclese tried to stand, but the sound was just too overpowering. He felt himself begin to collapse, his senses spinning. He grew dizzy, and his vision was a blur. He couldn’t stand, even if he wanted to, much less launch an attack against her. Again, the visions of their time together moved through his thoughts, of every quiet moment, every soft touch, every gentle kiss…how had all of that led to this, he wondered?

Suddenly, the room went silent. His ears ringing, the vampire could only remain on the floor, trying desperately to regain his senses. Though his body was already beginning to repair the damage done to his hearing, he was still at the mercy of vertigo, and he shook his head, trying to clear his vision. One hand weakly moved to one of his swords, only to miss and nearly make him fall over.

“Rise,” a voice said, and through the din, he recognized it as the voice of the figure that had told him of this very betrayal. “Rise and look at what you have wrought.”

Groaning, the vampire stood, his legs shaky but growing stronger as his senses cleared. He looked up, only to see the figure holding Delilah tightly, one hand over her mouth, his other arm wrapped tightly around her naked body. Her eyes were wide with fear, and tears stained her cheeks. She silently begged him for help, knowing that she was entirely helpless. The irony of that moment would have made him laugh if it weren’t for the foolish, lingering affection he had for her that hadn’t yet turned to hate.

“Please…” he said. “Let her go.”

“Why? She has betrayed you. She attacked you after you killed her lover, showing that you        mean nothing to her.”

“She’s only mortal…they make mistakes.” He began, though his words sounded hollow even as they passed his lips. What suitable defense could he give when he knew that she had willingly turned against him?

“You struggle to appeal for her life, and yet you know she deserves to die.” The figure replied. From below, Euliclese could hear commotion, the sound of cries of anger and fear and of booted feet coming to see what had occurred.

“The Songsisters gather to protect her.” Euliclese warned. “They are powerful.”

“They will not arrive in time to save her.”

“Who are you?” Euliclese asked, hands on the hilts of his swords, though he didn’t draw them.

The figure laughed, and it was that same, mocking laughter from earlier.

“I am Magnus. I am the ancestor through blood and death of Morganna the Dread. You killed    her. And while I mourn her loss, what is more important is that the creature that slew her take up her legacy. But you are not worthy. You are a mewling coward that plays at being human              when he is clearly so much more.”

The commotion from below grew louder, and it would only be a matter of time before the other Songsisters forced their way through. They were already chanting to their god Achelous, gathering power to their voices through a prayerful melody that would grant them his divine magic. Euliclese remained still, however, uncertain that even their aid would be enough to save Delilah.

“You cannot save her…” Magnus said, having read his thoughts. “And why would you want to? Her disloyalty is a truth you must accept…you are not alive. You are a vampire. And the more you trifle with these weak and pathetic mortals, the weaker you become. I will not have you weak, Euliclese. I will not accept the bearer of Morganna’s legacy, of my legacy, to be a fool such as this.”

Before he could react, before he could even move, Magnus wrenched his arm back, turning her head with it. A loud, wet snap ushered forth, and she immediately collapsed. Euliclese watched in horror as she fell to the floor, and with a rage that he hadn’t felt in nearly a century, he launched himself at Magnus, drawing his blades, his fangs bared and ready to eviscerate him where he stood.

And then he was flying, crashing through the stone wall of the Aerie and out into the night, his blades tumbling into the sands below. He hadn’t even seen the blow that had hit him; Magnus had moved so fast! He had never felt power like that before, and try as he might, he couldn’t reverse his ascent, struggling to summon the vampiric blood within him to allow him to fly. He crashed into the ocean, the impact breaking his ribs, legs, and arms. The pain was agonizing, and his world went dark. He could feel himself descend into the murky darkness of the sea, and before the darkness claimed him, he felt more than heard Magnus’ words in his mind.

“Become the creature you were meant to be. Summon others to your side. The house of Magnus will rise again, with you as my harbinger.”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Only The Gods Rise So High - My Creative Writing Final Project

This one's a doozy, folks!  At 20 pages (double-spaced, thankfully), it might be best to read this one in increments.  But it entails the creation, and subsequent separation, of my vampire's first childe, Adoria.  Read on!

I am alive.  Yet I do not live.
                The seeming insanity of that statement has made me wonder at my own mindset over the years since my creation.  My birth to darkness was one of fire and blood and the death of everything I had ever known.  And while those responsible are long dead, destroyed by mine own hand, I cannot help but still harbor resentment at them for what they had done.  It seems as though not even their death, the normal recompense of a life for a life, is enough to repay that which has been done to me.
                But I digress.  I am not here to dwell on past horrors, no matter how much they still haunt me.  No, I have come to you tonight with a tale.  It is a tale of death and of life, of the end and the beginning, where creation stands defiant in the face of the end of all things.  And, quite possibly, it is a tale of my own morality, or what yet remains of it.

                There are things that remind me of the man I once was.  When I spy a nobleman offering his gloved hand to his wife, escorting her from their coach, I cannot help but smile at such gentility and know that chivalry is not yet dead.  When I watch two lovers embrace, lost in their own little world of passion and desire, my mind wanders back to the woman that warmed my own bed, in those days when I yet numbered among the living.  When a father reassures his young son that the noise he heard outside his window was not a monster (or perhaps it was, but he need not know I was there), my mind wonders back to my own father, and the comfort that knowing he was there offered to my young mind.
                But there have been no such reminders for me so powerful as the pale flesh and scarlet hair of the woman who would become my second childe, my second progeny, born to darkness as I was.  I remember the first time my dark eyes fell upon her, and how everything seemed to stand still.  There was no hunger then, for I had been out seeking blood, seeking to sustain my monstrous existence.  It altogether faded as I looked upon her, like her very image was a balm to the horrific bloodlust that dwelled within me.  There had been no bustling docks on the port of Gull Harbor, where ships of trade and merchants come to dock and hock their wares.  It was as though everything came to a stand-still, and there were only the two of us…the dark creature of the night and the fair maiden, timid and unsure, come from a far-away land to a world she had only read about in books.
                Gull Harbor was only one port of entry of many throughout the eastern coast of Gothis, the kingdom of my ancestors.  I would only learn much later that she had traveled from Seelia, a land across the sea, a land of senators and slaves, of diplomats and dignitaries, where those with wealth were catered to hand and foot by those without.  How odd it must have seemed to arrive in a feudal land, where barons and nobles still paid homage to their regional king, and he to the king of the country?
                I could sense her confusion immediately.  She wore a soft crimson shawl atop a white, flowing gown, the hem of her dress marred by the filthy ship and the murky sea.  Her scarlet hair was in a loose bun at the back of her head, the loose tendrils framing her pale face and indicative of her distress.  I watched as she timidly disembarked the wooden vessel, her well-manicured nails dirty and stained and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at her disheveled appearance.  Much as she had been mortified at how she looked, I could not take my eyes off of her.  I knew then that she and I were linked, somehow, though I had not yet realized the depth of that bondage, or of my own intentions.
                Of course, a part of me knew that my adoration for her was likely because of her shared features with my mortal wife, the pale flesh and scarlet locks of my long lost Delaley, and the sight of those remarkably distinguishing features had been a shock, I will admit.  But while there were similarities, and while my dark heart ached for something, anything, to rekindle the love of my past, there was something else about this woman that I could not ignore.
                I went to her, leaping from my rooftop vantage point to the alleyway below, my preternatural form absorbing the impact of the fall.  I emerged from the shadowed walkway a nobleman, my dark frock coat smoothed to my dark shirt, the silver cufflinks at each wrist gleaming like stars in the darkness.  My long, dark hair was loose over my shoulders, framing my own pale features. And my most distinguishing feature, my lavender eyes, were both clear and calm, thanks to the blood of the sleeping vagrant in the alleyway.  I had been sure to spill not a drop, not wanting my crimson addiction to frighten away this remarkable woman.
                “You seem lost…” I said, moving to stand before her on the docks.  She was seated on a wooden chest with her belongings within, and when I approached, she stood quickly, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment at her haggard appearance.  I smiled, and bowed slightly, which seemed to put her at ease.  “I am Euliclese.  Where are you from?”
                “Adoria…” she replied, then added, “I mean, Seelia.  My name is Adoria.  And yes, I am lost, I’m afraid.  This land is so very different than what I am accustomed to.  Might you know of a place I might rent for the evening, some place to rest and refresh myself?”
                “I do…” I replied, offering her my hand.  She stared at it for a long moment, then smiled, and slid her hand in my own. 
                “But my things!” she started, and I squeezed her hand gently, smiling to calm her.
                “I will make sure they are taken care of…” I reassured her, and turned, my lavender eyes catching the gaze of a passing dock worker.  I reached into my pocket and pulled a handful of gold coins, holding them out for him to see.  As he drew near, I pressed them into his palm.  “Take this chest and the lady’s things to The Ivory Mare.  More coin will await you there.”
                The man stared at the coins, then lifted his gaze to my own, and nodded eagerly.  I turned back to Adoria, and she eyed the man warily. 
                “Your items will be safe, I assure you…” I said, squeezing her hand again.  “Come.  Let me escort you to your accommodations.”
                She seemed to calm then, and nodded, walking with me.  As we walked, I could sense her surprise at the scale of the buildings in the city, at how high the cathedrals loomed and how small she seemed in comparison. 
                “There are no buildings so high in all of Seelia…” she murmured.  “Only the gods rise so high.”
                I laughed at her words, and she looked at me, her brows narrowing, as though she had taken offense to my words.   I smiled, disarming her anger before it could grow any further.
                “In this land, the gods are but myth and legend, my dear…” I said, doing my best to explain to her how man had progressed into reasoning and study and had put aside their humble origins of superstition.  “Here, they venerate one god, an almighty figure, who is said to have created all the world.”
                “One god?” she asked, her gaze rising to the soaring steeple of the cathedral.  She staggered a bit then, clinging to my arm to keep her balance, before she lowered her gaze back to the street, and exhaled the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding.  “I think I need some wine.”
                I chuckled again, and turned, leading her down another side street.  Ahead, a painted wooden plaque proclaimed the establishment The Ivory Mare, and I led her there, opening the door for her to enter once we arrived.  The inn was quiet, with only a few patrons milling about, eating a late meal or enjoying one last glass of wine before retiring for the evening.  We moved toward a pair of high-backed leather chairs near the hearth, and I waited for her to sit before seating myself.  Within a moment, a young serving girl came to us, carrying a silver tray with two silver goblets and a bottle of red wine.  She poured the wine and handed a goblet to us both, before retreating back to the kitchen.  She returned again, minutes later, with another tray, piled high with fruits and cheeses and cuts of cured meat for us to enjoy.  As she retreated, I lifted my goblet to Adoria, and smiled, my lavender eyes staring into her own.
                “A toast of celebration is in order, I believe…” I said, and she smiled, touching her goblet to mine.  “To new beginnings!”
                Her smile faded slightly at that, and I winced, wondering at what sore memory I had inadvertently stumbled upon.  She sipped her wine, though, and settled back, her emerald eyes looking into mine.  I held her gaze for a long moment, then smiled.
                “What is it?” I asked.
                “Your eyes…they are…strange…” she replied, then her eyes widened in alarm.  “I’m sorry!  I meant no offense.”  I raised a hand to wave away the notion that she had offended me.
                “They are.” I answered.  “My mother often hinted that my eyes were the result of an ancient tie in blood to the feyfolk that once ruled this land.  Of course, my father said it was rubbish, that my eyes were just an odd chance of birth, though I always fancied the idea of being part of a mysterious lineage.”
                She chuckled at my jest, and seemed all at once to become more comfortable with this stranger she had only just met.  Perhaps it was the wine, or my charm coupled with it, but whatever the reason, she calmed considerably, and became more cordial a guest to her vampire host.
                “I can boast no such magical lineage…” she said, smiling brightly.  “In Seelia, it matters simply that your family line is loyal to the emperor, and that your wealth is loyal to him, as well.”
                “Seelia is a grand empire.” I said.  “That they have not brought their armies to Gothis is a surprise to most.  We have a large army of our own, but even then, Seelia isn’t known to be intimidated by anyone.”
                She nodded at that and sipped her wine, thinking for a long moment.
                “My father believes that the emperor will not risk a campaign across the sea.  It would only weaken his hold over the senate and even his loyalists.  Such an expensive war would surely be his downfall, even if it were successful.”
                I nodded, glad that the matter had been determined too high a risk, at least.  After all, Gothis was my home, and had been so for centuries.  Even if I were an undead monster that thrived only on blood, I was still a Gothisian at heart, and my country was as dear to me as the memories forged within it.
                Just then, I was reminded that the vagrant’s blood had not been enough.  I felt that familiar ache within me, that need for more.  A vampire’s hunger was never truly sated, only abated, temporarily bought off with the promise that more would come.  As I sat there, conversing with her, I could feel the hunger rising within me, and I knew that if I did not feed again, and soon, she would be in very real danger of becoming my next victim.
                As soon as that thought crossed my mind, so too did the image of my dead wife’s face.  I shuddered, the silver goblet shaking in my hand, making Adoria pause and look at me, her emerald eyes full of concern. 
                “Are you alright?” she asked, leaning forward, her empty hand lying atop my own.  I stared at her hand, at her slender fingers and soft knuckles.  I could see the veins beneath her skin, pale and barely visible, the slightest twitch of her flesh revealing the blood pumping beneath.  I could almost imagine the taste of her blood, strong and sweet, full of the mystery and intrigue of her homeland.  My hand slid atop hers, and as my fingers curled around hers, I could see what would happen.  I knew that I would pull her to me, making her spill her wine in the sudden jolt, and I would wrap her in my arms, crushing her to me, while I sank my fangs into her slender neck and drank her hot, spiced blood, gorging myself on her life.
                I shuddered again, and she sat back, setting her goblet aside.  I stared at her for a long moment, then rose, and bowed rigidly.
                “Forgive me…” I said.  “I should be going.  There are matters I must attend to, the least of which is your belongings and their safe delivery.  Will you be staying here, at this inn?”
                “I…I suppose so.” She replied, looking up at me. “Are you okay?  You seem flustered.”
                I smiled, doing my best to bite back the growl that wanted to come forth, right before I would spring upon her and sate this horrid need for blood.  Instead, I straightened, and nodded.
                “Yes.  It’s late, and I fear I’m growing tired.  But I will come to you again, Adoria, if you will have me.”
                She smiled then, and nodded, despite her worry.
                “I would like that very much, Euliclese…” she said.  “Thank you for being so kind to a stranger.”
                “Of course, my dear.” I replied, and bowed again.  I hurriedly turned and exited the inn, nearly bursting out the front door in my haste.  I rushed down the street, taking care to move only as fast as a mortal might if they somewhere to be.  The hunger was rising in me, climbing to dangerous heights, and I knew that had I stayed any longer, Adoria would have been dangerously close to becoming but another corpse, another mysterious death in a city full of unexplainable ends.  And how I would have hated myself had I succumbed to my desire!  It had been five centuries since my death, and yet, for all that time, the hunger was as powerful as ever.  Perhaps, even more so.
                So lost was I in my trek to put as much distance between her and I, that I didn’t recognize the voice of the man calling to me, demanding his payment.  I stopped, my head turning slowly, trying to clear my thoughts.  I recalled the face of the man from the docks, and his words began to reach my addled mind.  He had delivered the items to the inn, and wanted his payment of gold that I had promised him he would receive upon completion.
                “Come then...” I said, motioning him to join me.  “I have more coin in my townhouse nearby.  I’m afraid I spent what I had on the fair lady you saw me with.”
                “She was a looker, she was…” he replied, and I turned my gaze to see him grinning, lustful thoughts moving through his mind.  I could read them if I had wanted to, but the look on his face was more than enough to make me comfortable in my decision to kill him.
                Moments later, we had arrived at my rented townhouse.  I led him into the place, paying no mind to the fact that his muddied boots were leaving tracks across the carefully carved marble floor, or that his stink was settling into the tapestries along the wall.  The only thing that mattered was the scent of his blood, almost overwhelming, and it was all I could do to close the door and lock it.  I turned to face him, only to see him sneer and wave his knife at me threateningly.
                “I’ll be taking more than your coin, your grace…” he said.  “While I certainly thank you for the chance at an honest wage, I like to get more than what’s owed me.”
                “You’re threatening me?” I asked, scoffing at the very notion.  Of course, he had no idea that death stood before him, that he would be earning no more than a painful end for his endeavor. 
                “You nobles are all the same, thinking your coin will protect you…” he replied, but before he could say anymore, I rushed at him, a burst of supernatural speed propelling me against him and slamming him against the wall.  The tapestries shook with the impact, and the knife fell from his hand, clattering on the marble floor.  I growled, and my lavender eyes burned brightly in the darkness.  He saw them, and his mouth opened to scream.  But before he uttered a sound, I sank my fangs into his throat, tearing open his flesh, his thick blood pouring into my hungry mouth.  I held him there, his struggles insignificant against my preternatural strength, until he was dead, and his blood coursed through my veins.  When I could draw no more, I let him drop, his body landing in a broken heap on the marble floor.
                “Your payment is made in full.”

                I had visited her many more times, the two of us discussing the poets and artists of the time, and traveling the city, visiting the old cathedrals and halls of study where monks quietly researched the past, seeking answers to the future.  I was careful to gorge myself on blood before seeing her, to keep at bay the constant hunger for more.  Those that had died had been like the man who had assaulted me in my own home: drifters, predators of their own kind, who thought nothing of killing for coin.  I necessitated their deaths, their blood feeding the predator within me, and I took comfort in the knowledge that I had saved many more from these killers, just as I always had.  One month became two, and she became ever more enamored of me, and I her.  But I knew all of this was temporary. 
                “You look stunning…” I said as she descended the carpeted stairs at The Ivory Mare.  She wore a long green gown, the same color as her eyes, with lime colored gloves that reached her upper arms and her long, auburn hair hanging loosely about her shoulders.  Her lips were rubies, and her emerald eyes gleamed in appreciation of my words.  Obviously, she had taken care in her appearance, wanting to make a lasting impression on her nobleman caller.
                “Thank you, Euliclese.” She replied.  “You are too kind.  And you are rather distinguished yourself, I see.  This must be a special occasion.”
                I chuckled and took her hand, leading her through the inn and outside, to the waiting coach.  The driver held the door open for us, and I held her hand, aiding her as she climbed in.  I joined her, and nodded to the driver, who closed the door and climbed onto his bench.  The horses lurched forward, and we were soon off, heading out of the city.
                “Where are we going?” she asked, her emerald eyes watching the passing streets and buildings grow smaller the farther we got outside of the city. 
                “We travel to Blackthorne Manor.” I replied.  “It’s the ancestral home of my family, having lain empty for many years now.  I find that there are…old ghosts there, that I don’t wish to disturb.  I keep it in repairs, however.  It is a part of my family’s history, after all.”
                She studied me as I spoke, and I could feel her uncertainty rising.  She had seen me as a regional noble, one who could be her gateway into this strange new land she found herself in.  But I was rather eccentric, only coming to her at night, never revealing where I was headed before dawn and never returning to her before sunset.  And though our conversations were full of jest and gentle teasing and a growing adoration for one another, there was always that question lingering in her eyes, that suspicion that there was something I was keeping from her.  And she knew it was something important.
                “Why does it sit empty?” she asked.  “Have you no family to share such a large manor with?”
                “Alas, I do not.  They all live many miles from here, having traveled the kingdom to find their own lands to rule.” I lied, the words coming surprisingly easy to me.  “Ah, here we are.”
                She looked out of the door’s window, and her green eyes lit up at the sight of the looming manor.  I had taken care to light torches along the long path that led to the front gates, as well as along the borders of the house, where iron sconces hung at regular intervals along the grounds.  The hedges and gardens were overgrown, and the voices of chirping frogs echoed into the night, making the whole area seem teeming with life.  The coach drove through the open gates, and rode directly to the house, only stopping at the entrance, the looming stone pillars like a giant’s causeway into a home just as large.
                The driver stopped the horses and climbed from his perch to open the door for us to exit.  I stepped out and led Adoria down as well, before handing the driver a small bag of coins.  He nodded, tucking the pouch away into his coat, and climbed back atop his bench.  He led the team back down the drive, and I turned, leading her to the double oak doors, carved in swirling, circular releifs and stained mahogany.  I turned back, smiling at her, and I could see the worry in her features.
                “What is wrong?” I asked. 
                “I…nothing.” She replied.  “I’ve just never seen a home so large before!  The emperor’s estate isn’t so grand!   It’s all a bit overwhelming.”
                “It is impressive.” I replied.  “Come, let me show you the interior.”
                I led her within, and lit a small candelabra, the tiny flames illuminating the great entry hall.  On either side were large paintings, portraits of the men who came before me, from my father and grandfather, back to the original founder of my familial line.  Of course, I only told her that these were ancestors, that I could hardly recall their names, and that they were almost as old as the house itself.  We ventured further within, our quiet footfalls echoing throughout the looming hall, making us seem trespassers in a tomb.
                My mind raced back to the moment when the manor had been a tomb, when it had been the final resting place for many of my family.  I could smell the burning rafters and the blood spilled in the attack on my family.  We had been hunters, a clan of them, and far and wide, vampires and werewolves and other dangerous supernatural creatures knew of us, and the danger we represented.  It was a matter of duty to the men in my family, and even those who wanted no part of the life were always drawn in.  Once your eyes were open to the dark secrets of the world, they could never be closed again.  I was brought into the truth of my family’s path when I was young, and had been trained to fight the evil things that haunted the darkness.  But even all that training had not been enough when the attack had come.
                “Euliclese?” Adoria asked, drawing me from my memory.  “Are you alright?”
                “Yes…my apologies.” I replied.  “Old ghosts, as I said.”
                “This manor is incredibly large…I can only imagine how many people must have lived here to necessitate it being so big!  There must have been hundreds!”
                “Indeed.  There was my family, but beyond them, there were always servants and the soldiers that were loyal to the family.  And there were always rooms kept ready for traveling nobles and family that was visiting.”
                I led her through the entryway and into the grand hall, where my father had attended the business of his land.  Everything seemed so very empty now, so lifeless, so much like a shell of its former glory.  From there, we moved to the curving stairs that led to the second floor, and I led her to the manor’s grand library, a favorite place of mind that I still frequented on those occasions when the manor called me home. 
                I heard her gasp, and watched as she moved toward the center of the library.  There, covered in a white linen sheet, was a large harp, the bend carved in the shape of a soaring angel.  She slowly removed the sheet, and gently ran her fingers over the instrument.  Plucking one of the strings, she smiled, and looked back at me, her green eyes bright in the darkness.
                “May I?” she asked, and I could sense her eagerness.  I nodded, and began moving about the room, lighting more candles from my candelabra.  Soon, the room was bathed in a warm light, and as I finished, the first few notes of the harp began to dance through the air.
                I laid the candelabra atop a small desk and turned to watch her.  Her eyes slid closed, and a faint smile pursed her ruby lips.  Her fingers slid across the strings, her arms moving in and out like a mermaid beckoning a sailor to shore.  I watched transfixed by the pure serenity on her features, lost in the melody of the harp, and the swirling sweet sounds that she seemed to draw out of the instrument, as though only her hands could bring forth such beauty.  She was an angel to me then, an angel of music and beauty, and it was at that moment, that I knew I had to have her.  I knew then that I would bring her into eternity, by my side, to forever preserve such beauty, such creativity, and such grace.  It was a purely selfish want, but like any vampire, I was convinced that it was my duty, my responsibility, to ensure that the world would never lose her, would never lose such passion and talent as this.
                Slowly, her song faded, and I opened my eyes.  I had not realized they were closed, that I had been so powerfully drawn into the sweet melody.  She was looking at me, smiling brightly, her emerald eyes rimmed with sweet tears, the music having touched her as powerfully as it had me.  I pushed away from the desk then, and moved to her.  She rose, and without a word, we fell into one another’s arms.  Our lips met, our tongues danced together, and we reveled in the pure beauty of the moment.  I felt a happiness at that moment that I had not felt in a very long time.  There was love in my heart for her, or what could pass for love with a vampire, and I could feel that emotion returned in every caress of her hands, in every touch of her lips.  Slowly, we fell to the floor, exploring one another, a passionate hunger growing in both of us.
                But there was a darker hunger growing within me, spurred on by the passion between us.  I urged it back, fighting it, willing it to be gone!  But it continued to grow, to rise inside of me, like a beast slowly awakening from some hidden depth to haunt me once more.  Silently, I begged the beast to go away, to leave me be just this once, but it was useless.  I could no more fight the hunger than I could fight against the affection I had for Adoria.  As our bodies connected, our passion turning to physical need, I fell into her arms, losing myself in her soft skin and her hungry kisses.  We reveled in the moment, in the total loss of control, so freely given to one another.  But she could not have known what would happen next, no more than I could have prevented it from happening.
                Some things are just fated to be, it seems.
                At the moment of her climax, as her lips parted in a soft moan, I pressed my fangs into her neck.  A vampire’s bite is often referred to as the kiss, because it overwhelms the victim, filling them with pleasure, masking the pain of our fangs sinking into their flesh.  When I bit into her, she gasped in ecstasy, her body still writhing along my own.  I wrapped my arms around her, holding her against me, her rich blood filling my mouth.  Again and again I swallowed, drinking more and more, until she collapsed against me, unable to hold herself upright any longer.
                I pulled back then, and gasped, the sound of her beating heart still echoing in my mind.  I turned, rolling her onto her back, her eyes half lidded and her breathing shallow.  I knew she was near death, and if I did not act quickly, she surely would perish.  But I no intentions of letting her go, and would not allow her to slip from my grasp.  I bit my wrist, tearing my pale flesh, my thick blood slowly pooling at the wound.  I looked down at her, and she stared weakly back at me, trying to breathe more deeply, trying to fight the dying of her heart.  Silently, I pressed my torn wrist to her lips, my dark blood smearing across her ruby lips, and slowly, she began to drink.  I watched her eyes, seeing the mixture of fear and hunger there.  She knew she didn’t want to die, but she also knew that what she was doing was wrong, that somehow it was an abomination against life and nature.  But like a man drunk on wine, she wanted more, needed more, and would not surrender until she had her fill.
                Finally, when I was certain that she could take no more, I pulled my wrist back, and she moved to lunge after it, anger flashing across her face at having the blood taken away.  But she fell back just as quickly, then lurched in pain, my dark blood moving through her veins and replacing that which had been taken.  This was always the hardest part for any new vampire.  Her body was dying, and the agony of it was the most intense pain she had ever experienced in her mortal life.  I moved away from her, giving her room to thrash about.  I knew that she wanted my comfort then, but I also knew that she had to fight this battle alone.  There had been one other before her, a man named Derrien.  I had been young then, and had waited too long to give him back the blood I had taken.  He had died, but I was certain that Adoria would survive.  She just had to push through this pain!
                Suddenly, her body went still, and she exhaled, her last breath leaving her.  Her green eyes grew clouded, and she seemed entirely lifeless, void of hope.  I stared at her, my mouth agape, my fears mounting.  Had I failed again?  Had I doomed another to death while intending to give them eternal life?  Slowly, I sank to my knees, my hands at my sides, desperation building within me as I watched her lie motionless on the floor.
                “No.” I whispered, the pain of failure too great for me to endure.  “Not again.” 
My eyes darkened with tears of blood that slowly began to dim my vision. The weight of failure fell upon my shoulders, and I felt my shoulders slump in defeat.  How could I have done this again?  How could I have thought this time would be different? 
                What kind of monster was I?
                Suddenly, her eyes opened, and she gasped for air.  She rose from the floor, rising to her elbows, her eyes wide with fright and her mouth open wide as she struggled for breath.  She breathed quickly and heavily, panicking, her mind struggling with what had just been done to her.  I cried out in relief, and she turned to look at me, her eyes studying me, her mind trying to work out what it was that I had done to her.
                I moved toward her, and she scrambled backwards, knocking the harp onto its side, the shrill sound of the instrument colliding with the floor sending shivers down my spine.  She winced at the noise, and her eyes seemed to dim in sadness.  But they hardened again, and she swung her gaze toward me, her lips curling in a sneer.
                “What did you do to me?” she cried, and I stopped, staring at her and seeing the viciousness in her eyes.
                “Try to be calm…” I said, although I knew that she was anything but.  “Let me explain.”
                “You’re a monster!” she shouted, and quickly stood, pulling her gown up with her to hide her nakedness.  She turned to go, to flee the room, but I moved quickly, blocking the doorway.  To her eyes, the movement was a blur, and she stumbled backwards in shock.
                “I am a monster.” I replied, looking at her, my lavender eyes glistening in the candlelight.  “But I am not without a heart.  Why else would you have come here tonight?”
                “You tricked me…” she retorted, falling to the divan, holding her gown up to her shoulders like a blanket that would protect her from her nightmares.  “Lured me here!”
                “Maybe.” I replied. “But here you sit.  And it was not because you were afraid of me.  And I don’t think you’re afraid of me now.”
                She seemed to calm then, somewhat, but she still stared at me with open suspicion, as though she were afraid that I would lunge at her at any moment and kill her.  I moved across the room and slid back into my own clothing, and she did likewise, though she turned her back to me as she did so, as though her modesty was all that mattered.  I would have laughed at the thought if it had not been so poignant in marking just what had been lost between us.
“You’re a vampire, now.” I said, and she turned then, her eyes wide and her mouth open to protest.  She remained silent, though, and I continued.  “That is what I have made you, Adoria.  You will not die from age, or sickness.  Death may yet come, but it will take much to end this new life.  You will need to drink blood, and I will show you how.”
                “Blood?” she asked, suddenly growing very fearful.  She stiffened, and I knew then that she could hear the heartbeat of the young farm girl in the next room, the one I had stolen for just this purpose.  I watched as she turned, slowly, scenting the air, the blood calling to her.  Like a wraith, she moved silently through the room, and out into the hallway.  She only paused to look back at me once, and I nodded, urging her forward.  It would be better if she did this now, and of her own free will.
                She moved into the adjoining room, the old door creaking on its hinges as it slid inward.  Lying there, curled into the fetal position, was the young farm girl, wearing a tattered brown dress and wool socks.  She was sleeping peacefully, despite the threat to her life, though she knew little as to the truth of what would happen to her.  But my childe knew what would happen, and even as she moved to kneel beside the sleeping girl, I could sense her hesitation.
                “Drink.” I whispered, urging her on.  She turned her gaze back to look up at me, and her eyes were wet with tears.  She didn’t want to do this, I knew that immediately.  I had not wanted to do it, either.  But fate often puts us into situations that we are forced to deal with, no matter how much we don’t want to.  I watched as she slowly turned back to the young girl, and bent, her lips moving to the girl’s throat.
                The young girl only winced a little as her neck was bitten.  I smiled despite myself, and stood there quietly, overseeing her first feeding.  A mixture of emotions welled within me at that moment.  I had taken this beautiful young woman from her regular, ordinary life and had brought her over into something dark and terrible, but capable of exquisite beauty.  Everything a vampire sees is accented by a vision much like a hawk’s own, sharp and focused and clear.  Works of art and colors were rich and vibrant to the newly dead, and we never really stopped being amazed by the clarity with which we saw the world.  The same was true for a vampire’s other senses.  The music of her harp reached my ears in a way that no human might hear it, and now she would hear that lovely melody as well.
                When she pulled back, the young girl was dead.  Adoria slid backwards, and stood, turning to face me.  She slid her tongue over her lips, and slowly raised her gaze to my own.  I saw many things in her eyes then, but nothing quite so powerful as the loathing within them.  She was well aware of her new senses, and the vibrancy of the world around her.  But she was also quite aware of what she had just done, and of what she had lost in leaving her mortal life behind her.
                “You didn’t give me a choice.” she said.
                “Would you have chosen death?” I retorted, irritated by her insolent tone.
                “I wouldn’t have chosen this.” she replied, and brushed past me.

                Despite her anger, she remained with me.  Where could she go?  She had no lodging in the city that would protect her from the burning light of dawn, and she knew no other creatures like us that would offer her succor.  She was only just learning of what it meant to be immortal, and the more she learned, the more she came to accept what she had become.  Over the next few weeks, I tutored her as though she were my pupil.  I taught her the ways of our kind, of being a vampire, and what that meant.  She was curious as to the origins of vampires, and seemed disappointed when I told her that I truly did not know. 
                I told her my own story, and it seemed to quell some of the fires within her.  When she learned that I was not given a choice either, she seemed to come to terms with her own fate.  She even managed a tear when I told her of how I had drained the life-blood of my own wife during my first feeding, though whether it had been genuine or not, I could not tell.  What was important was that she was beginning to understand herself, and to understand me, and the life we might have together, such as it was. 
                “Why me?” she had asked one night, as we reclined in the grand library.  She had taken a liking to the harp, and it seemed the only thing that might comfort her.  I looked up from the tome I had been reading, my eyes focusing on her in the gloom.
                “Why you?” I asked.  “Why not?”  I chuckled at the question, only to have her glare at me, my response obviously not what she had wanted to hear.  I lifted a hand to indicate there was more, and to calm her.  Her temper had been growing since she had become a vampire, and I had often feared it would overcome her judgment.
                “You were…are…exotic and foreign, a stranger in a strange land, as the saying goes.  And you were naïve, and quite unsure of what you had gotten yourself into in coming here.  I could see it in your eyes, that fear, that uncertainty.  But there was something else hiding there, something buried beneath that nervous demeanor.  It was a confidence, Adoria.  A strength of will.  That was why I chose you.  And your beauty and talent with the harp, your ability to create such glorious music needed to be preserved for all eternity.”
                “Not for love?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.
                “Love is…difficult…for our kind.” I explained.  “It is said that love conquers all, but that is not true.  I loved my wife.  But in the end, when the hunger overtook my mind, I killed her nonetheless.”
                “If not for love, then for what?” she asked, her eyes lifting to stare questioningly into my own.
                “For eternity.” I answered.  She stared at me silently for a long moment, then stood from the harp.  I watched as she slowly turned and walked from the room, and I let her go.  She needed time to think through what had been done to her.  I knew that, and I also knew that there was nothing I could do to help her through this time.  She would need to come to terms with this on her own, and nothing I could say would help her. 
                When next we spoke, she was calmer, more somber about her fate.  I did not question her about where she had been, or what she had been doing in the week since last we met.  The manor was quite large, and there were many dark places for a person to find if they truly wanted to be alone.  I left her to her solitude, to her grieving, knowing that she alone could find her way back from the darkness.  But when she did, I had not counted on what would happen next.
                “I’m leaving.” she said flatly, her hands folded behind her, her gaze staring at the wall above me because she could not meet my gaze.  I stood there numbly, feeling the world shift beneath me, as though she had slid it out from under my feet.  I stepped forward to go to her, to comfort her, but her upturned palm stopped me in my tracks, keeping me at bay.
                “You have no idea what you took me from, do you?” she asked. “There was a life for me, if not here, then back in Seelia.  I was only 22, Euliclese.  And now that life is gone.  And I can never get it back…”
                I opened my mouth to speak, but was once again silenced by her upturned palm, but moreso by her emerald eyes, and the tears of blood that rimmed them.
                “I sail for Seelia tomorrow.” she said, and I nearly collapsed then and there.  “I have taken every precaution to ensure safe passage.  My father’s coin has seen to that.  Don’t follow me, Euliclese.  If whatever you feel for me is anything akin to love, do as I ask.  I will return…someday.  But there are things that I am not ready to leave behind me.  You lost everyone that you have ever loved, and you were spared the thought of never being able to see them again while they were alive and you were not.  But my family is alive and well, and I cannot let them think I have died.”
                “They will be in danger with you around.” I said, finally managing to speak.  “You have no control over the hunger, Adoria.”
                “Like you did, Euliclese?” she retorted.  “Your control, or lack thereof, has led to this.  But do not despair, lord vampire.  I am not afraid to admit that I love you.  And my heart will not let me turn away from you.  But you must give me this.  Give me peace to go as I will.  I will return, and when I do, it will be when nothing can keep us apart.”
                I knew she was right.  I had to let her go.  As much as it pained me, she would only grow colder and more distant if I kept her with me, locked in a gilded cage, never to spread her wings and grow.  I moved to her then, and she did not protest.  I pressed my lips to hers, and she kissed me back, our arms entwined about each other.  Only reluctantly did I let her go, and it was with no small amount of grief that I watched her board her vessel the following night.  She stood at the side, watching me, even as the ship began to move out to sea.  I remained at the harbor, watching the ship until it was out of sight.  I stayed even longer, until the night had passed, and dawn threatened to turn me to ashes.  Even then, the thought of meeting with the dawn’s burning light seemed fitting, the rightful penance for my crime.  But her words kept me whole and alive. 
She would return.