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Among The Dead (Part 1)
Darkness and shadows enveloped him, swaddling him in their quiet bliss. The cold earth beneath him was solid, a comforting reminder of stability. The air about him smelled of it, and carried the chill of the ground so deep beneath the surface. He liked being so far removed from the world above, far enough to find solace in the quiet. That separation was a severing of the ties that kept him alive in a world that kept him from knowing peace. So he had gone underground, to the ancient crypt buried beneath miles of dirt and stone. Here, among the dead, he had slept the sleep of the ancients.
But while the world above could no longer disturb him, the memories of his past found their way into his dreams. It was a subtle intrusion at first…memories of his mortal life, of his time as a hunter, of learning the craft with his father and wooing the woman that would become his wife. For the briefest of moments, he was back there, five hundred years in the past, with the woman he loved and a family of hunters as strong as there had ever been.
The dream turned darker, then, as his memories played out once more, like a macabre performance by traveling gypsy thespians. The vampires had come, the Coven Syn, their number intent on destroying the threat to their dark ways. In his dreams, the cries of his family filled his ears as they fell, one by one, to the monstrous onslaught of so many undead. He fought valiantly, and desperately, to protect himself and his kin, but in the end, he knew how it would end. He had seen the way it would end, and reliving it now would change nothing.
In his nightmare, he watched his father fall to the hunger of the vampires. He heard his wife scream, and he felt his heart beating as he ran through the long hallway toward their room. But his legs could not carry him fast enough. Even as he burst through the door, it was too late. She was gone. The curtains still billowed from the open window, and the balcony still held him there, trapped and helpless, as he watched his wife and the vampire carrying her fade off into the darkness.
In his slumber, the vampire stirred.
The cry that passed from his lips was full of anguish and pain and was echoed by the crumbling walls of the manor around him. The fiends had set fire to his ancestral home, seeking to burn out the remaining hunters that they might finish their grisly task. His rage fueling him, he had gone to meet them, his father’s longsword in hand. The vampire hunters of his family were stronger and faster than mortal men, but even they were weak compared to the most timid of the undead. Against one, a group of hunters prospered and came away victorious. Against a pair, their task was more difficult. As the number of undead increased, the number of hunters had to multiply as well, as one hunter against an undead horde could only mean certain death.
But the vampires didn’t want him dead. They toyed with him, letting his rage and adrenalin play out. Exhaustion and fatigue began to creep into his arms, and his strikes were less fluid and powerful. But he pressed on, eager for vengeance, knowing that if he faltered, even for a moment, the vampires would kill him. But despite his determination, he did falter, and one of the undead moved towards him so fast that he seemed a blur. The creature struck him, the blow solid as stone, and sent him reeling. The world had gone dark, and the young noble knew that death was coming.
He knew what was coming next. In his dream, he knew what was going to happen. A low growl slipped past his lips, rumbling throughout the old crypt. How many times had that horrible night played out in his thoughts? How many times would he be forced to relive it, to watch as everything he knew crumbled around him? He wanted nothing more than to wake at that moment, to return to the world above and avoid the tragedy of his past. But the sleep of the dead was powerful, and would only release him when it was time. For now, he was its captive, a slave to the sleep of the ancients and the nightmares that came with it.
He had awoken in a cell, deep beneath the earth. There was no light but the faint glow of torches along walls outside of his prison. There was no warmth but that coming from his body, and even that had been stolen by the cold ground he had awakened upon. Forcing himself to rise, he realized that his armor had been stripped from his body, and that his father’s longsword was gone, nowhere in sight. He wore only the tunic and breeches he had worn beneath his armor, and they were cold and wet. His long dark hair was matted with mud, and not even the burning rage in his heart could warm him.
He sat in silence for a long while before they came for him. They had said nothing, these vampires with their monstrous glowing eyes. They had descended upon him, biting him, holding him down as they feasted on his blood. He gasped, and cried out, but their hands were cruel and strong and held him fast. He had felt himself growing weaker and weaker, and once the fiends were done with him, she came into the cell.
She was unearthly beauty and grace, her skin pale as cream and her raven hair long and satiny. He knew what she was, her glowing eyes and glistening fangs making her vampirism obvious, but even knowing that, he was still drawn to her. She beckoned to him, a siren in the night, and as the others released him, he found himself struggling to go to her, even though his mind had screamed at him not to. He was under her spell, and wanted nothing more than to feel her caress before he died.
But she didn’t kill him. This one, she had more in store for him than he could ever imagine. The vein of cruelty that ran through her was so deep that not even he could begin to understand her plan. She cut her wrist, and fed him from her, and as her dark blood had touched his lips, he was suddenly possessed of a new vigor and vitality. He drank, deeply and greedily, and once he had taken enough, she released him, to die and to be born anew.
The pain had been indescribable. Even in his slumber, as the dream agony overcame him, his body spasmed and shook. It had felt like a hundred daggers were tearing him apart, cutting into him slowly and deliberately. It felt like the Devil himself was devouring him from within, and nothing in all the world could stop the pain from coursing through him.
As suddenly as it had begun, the pain stopped. His body died, and he drew new breath once more. His eyes opened, piercing the darkness, and he had slowly sat up. Where he had fallen as a man, he now rose as a vampire. The feeling of being born again was the best way to describe it. His senses had sharpened, his body was filled with renewed vigor. His muscles were strong, and his mind was clear. He was no longer alive, and he knew that everything he had been in life was gone. The vampire hunter had become a vampire.
“Welcome to the darkness, noble son…” a voice had said, and he turned to see the woman that had turned him. She stood with those who had feasted on him, and their quiet, mocking laughter made him bear his newly formed fangs threateningly. “Be at ease. The curse you fought so valiantly against is now your own to bear. The hunger will come soon, and when it does, we will return.”
He had demanded they release him, beating on the walls with his fists and pulling on the bars of his cell with all his newfound might, all to no avail. Soon enough, he was alone again, his body full of newfound power but helpless to use it to escape. And what had become of Delaley, his wife? Was she still alive? The matron of the clan hadn’t mentioned her. Had she been turned as well? Or had these fiends drained her dry as they had done with him?
In his slumber, he knew the answer, but the dream would not let him move ahead. It all had to unfold in his mind, piece by piece, like some great theater drama. It was one that he had been forced to watch many times before, as if the laws of spiritual judgment wanted to punish him for being the creature he was.
The hunger had overtaken him soon thereafter. It had started slowly but had grown increasingly demanding over the next few hours. It wasn’t long before he was growling like a savage beast, the monster within demanding to be fed. At first he had tried to keep his wits about him, to resist the need, but not even that had helped him remain in control. So it was that when his captors returned, a bound woman in their company, that he had leapt at the bars of his cage, ready to tear them asunder.
The door opened, and the woman was pushed into his cell. The door of his cage slammed shut, echoing throughout the underground dungeon. At the bars, the others watched as he leapt upon the helpless woman and sank his fangs hungrily into her flesh. She had screamed and begged for mercy, but in his bloodlust, the newly formed vampire hadn’t heard a word of it.
In his slumber, the vampire’s heart sank.
For it was only when his bloodlust was sated and his mind had returned that he had realized the horror of his actions. The crumpled and lifeless body on the floor of his cell was none other than his beloved wife, his Delaley. Her lifeless eyes stared up at him in horror, her mouth open in a silent scream. He cried out in rage and grief, and collapsed at her side, his trembling hands moving slowly to take her into his arms. Dark tears of blood fell down his cheeks, and the anguished, mournful cry that passed from his lips was not human.
From the front of his cell, the same mocking laughter came from the vampires that had watched his greatest moment of weakness. He had stared at them with murderous, hate-filled eyes, and had vowed a vengeance on them so terrible as to make the Gods weep. At the time, the vampires had simply laughed all the more and left him to wallow in his misery and guilt, to cradle the lifeless body of the wife that had died by his own hands.
In his slumber, the vampire stirred.