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Master of Insanity: Chapter 1 – Dunstan

February 9, 2016

Disclaimer:  The plot, setting, characters, and everything therein belong to me.  ©Michael Robertson, February 4 2016

 

1731 – Crowe Academy

 

The air was still, quiet as it chilled the atmosphere of the grounds.  Crowe academy covered an expansive amount of land.  It was quiet, serene, isolated, remote.  It was a place where praeternatural creatures came to learn coexistence, with each other, and most importantly, with naturals – creatures without magical or mystical abilities.  Most notably, humans.

All though it was a school which all manner of monstrous beings would attend, these were monsters that would be expected to live and interact within human society.  A society which was, and would forever remain ignorant to the praeternatural beings’ true nature, their very existence.

Because of the secretive nature of the school’s purpose, it had to be somewhere out of the way, somewhere reclusive where nobody would stumble upon it.  For this reason, the school existed within its own realm, within its own dimension, separate from where humans resided, and independent from the political schemes of the vampires and other powerful races.

Praeternatural parents from all over the world would send their children to learn the skills they would need to live and work in the human world, amongst the local population without drawing suspicion.  This was why the astounding space it occupied was necessary.  Being one of only two schools of its kind, Crowe Academy attracted a vast number of students; certainly more than any human school.

The cold morning air filled the grounds: From the massive fortress that made up the school, to the courtyard, to the lake, to the endless field, to the creaky gate, to the ghostly road beyond that lead to the school’s exit, the road to nowhere.

School was out for the day, so the large grounds were filled with students.  Being the school’s day off, residents were not required to wear their uniforms, though it was a requirement to remain disguised in human form when on the school grounds.  It was forbidden for any creature to reveal their true form.  Such was good practice for the real world.  After all, the school was a buffer, a simulation for the human world, where breaking out of one’s disguise and blowing their cover would have severe repercussions.

The seemingly endless school field was located at the back of the school, behind the massive castle that served as the main structure for the school.

Upon the tall, unkempt grass of the field, many teenage Praeternaturals could be found frolicking like herds.  Most students tended to gather in groups, just like grazing animals.

Most students could be found sitting in the grass, or playing athletic games, or lazing about.

Most students… not all.

One student sat up in the branch of a tree, alone, watching the herd, watching the grazing herbivores like a hungry predator.  This one was not a part of them, he was not like them, he was… different, excluded, avoided, detached, hated… feared.

The boy sat upon a branch, legs dangling over the side.  The boy was dressed all in black, from the tight, leather pants, to the heavy boots, to the short sleeved shirt – the buttons of which remained open, revealing the pale skin of his flat, smooth, hairless chest and stomach.

The boy’s face was similarly pale, white as the snow in winter.

Pale lips peeked out from the frozen field of a barren visage.  A mess of black hair fell down to the boy’s shoulder, obscuring his face.  Hidden within the shadow of the ebony field gleamed a set of emeralds.

Most prominent of all however, was the chain he wore around his neck.  Silver, with a large loop on each end.  The chain was threaded through one of the loops to create a ring which the boy wore around his neck.

Bizarrely, the chain was not worn as a necklace.  Instead, it was unbalanced.  One end of the chain was attached to a pendant, which weighed it down, causing the ring to close in around the boy’s neck to form a choker.  The chain resembled the collar and leash of a slave, a pet, a dog.

The long chain ran from the boy’s neck, all the way down past his waist, at which was attached a most curious artefact.

The pendant itself was nothing less than a large, silver, inverted crucifix, large enough to be comfortably held in the palm of one’s hand.  Embedded in the centre was a large, onyx gemstone.  The brilliant, black stone; cut in a diamond shape with rough, sharp edges; shone in the cool sunlight, brilliantly contrasting the pale silver metal.

The boy leaned forward over the branch on which he was perched.  The inverted cross, suspended from his neck, dangled below him, swinging slightly from the new position.

 

The boy’s cold, pale lips curled into an incredulous, bitter shadow of a smirk at the sight.  This was perfect.  Why were they approaching again?

Most of the school had the right idea in avoiding him, why couldn’t this guy understand the message?  How much longer would he have to tolerate this motherless menace?  It would be so easy to end his torment prematurely, to simply snap the bastard’s neck, to sink teeth into the thick cartilage carrying that obtuse head and drain the annoyance’s liquid life, consume it until it ran dry, until there was nothing left but an arid, depleted corpse.  Unfortunately, it had been made extremely clear what would happen to him, were he to give in to such a base craving and begin murdering or feeding from his fellow students.

No, he’d have to endure this Cretan, but for how long?  About two more years, he supposed.  Then the bastard would be gone from the school, and gone from his life.

“Oi, get down here!” the approaching boy demanded.

The black haired boy simply watched the newcomer from above.

“I said get down here!”

“Why?” the boy asked, contempt for the interloper dripping from his voice like oil from the annoyance’s greasy hair, slick and black with the substance.

“Because I want to fight you, obviously, so get down here!  What’s your stupid name again, Dunstan or something?”

“Stupid name?”  The newcomer was aggravating, and he wouldn’t leave until he got what he wanted. Still, he had a point.  Even the boy above thought the name was stupid.  Still, it could be worse.  With a sigh, he supposed he might as well get the inevitable over with… again.  What a waste of time.

He jumped down from his perch and landed on his feet before the would-be school bully.  “Better to have a stupid name, than a stupid brain, wouldn’t you say?”

“What was that?”

“You’re an idiot.  What’s wrong, meatball head?  Am I talking too fast for you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The slim boy gave a weary sigh.  “Since your ears don’t work right, I’ll say it again, slowly.  I’m calling you stupid, but since you want to fight me…” Dunstan’s smirk returned, “that’s a given.”

“Tough talk for the headmasters bitch.”

“I’m the headmaster’s bitch now am I?  So I should watch what I say?  Will you put me in my place?”

“That’s right, bitch.  I’m sick of you acting so superior.  I’ll put you back where you belong.”

“Interesting, so the headmaster’s dog’s position on the food chain is lower than that of the school dunce?  If I truly belong to the headmaster of this school, clearly a man of great wisdom and power, wouldn’t attacking me be a source of great risk and trouble for you and your peers?  If anything should happen to me, surely he would send another of his pets to ensure you learn the appropriate lessons.

“If I truly belong to the headmaster, isn’t it you who should watch what you say?”

“You don’t threaten me, dog.  Why don’t you take that chain off so we can fight properly?”

“I don’t think so.  Who knows what might happen if I reveal my true self.  It’s not a pretty sight, believe me.”

“Can’t be any worse than the face I’m looking at now.”

“Really?  I can be quite scary, I assure you.  I wouldn’t want you to piss yourself.  Besides, I don’t need to unseal my true power to deal with the likes of you.”

“Stop sucking your own blood, vampire!”

“Oh my, you have done your homework.  I’m afraid I don’t know what you are.  I’m going to guess you’re a troll, based on your apparent level of intelligence… and the smell.”

The boy before him snarled through grit teeth.  His blue eyes narrowed. “I’m no troll.” The larger boy yanked the silver ring from his middle finger.  The moment he did, his body began changing, morphing, mutating.

His already bulky size grew three times over, his blue eyes turned black, his tough skin turned a sickly shade of green, and his teeth grew, canines protruding over his lips like some kind of prehistoric monster.  He glared down at the vampire.  “I’m an ogre!”

“And I’m unimpressed,” Dunstan replied in a bored tone.  “You still think like a troll, you act like a troll, you smell like a troll, and you’re as ugly as one… but trolls are bigger.  Trolls are stronger.”  His lip curled into a smirk.  “Trolls are better.”

“I’m bigger’n you!”

“True… but this is no dick measuring contest.  Size alone doesn’t count for much here.  Unlike the extended goblin family, I don’t rely on my stature or crude, brute strength to overwhelm people.  As a vampire, I prefer to fight with a little style, a little elegance, a little finesse.”  The ogre looked down at the dark haired youth as though he’d started speaking another language.  “Sorry, too many big words?  I forgot, your race has a head like a colander.”

“Eh?”

“It’s full of tiny holes.  Sure, you can hold on to the large, obnoxious concepts:  Such as eating, breeding, and bashing things with a club; but the finer things, the intricate things; the long words, the beauty and grace; the intricacies of technical fighting styles for example; they pass through you like water.  Let me put it into words you can understand.”  Dunstan stared up into the perplexed eyes of the hulking, green monstrosity towering over him.  “You.  Can’t.  Beat.  Me.”

The ogre glared down at the wee vampire.  “You bloodsuckers think you’re so superior.  You’re so arrogant, so high and mighty.  You’re parasites, feeding off of others to live.”

“Ooh, nice try, but you’re wrong.  You see, parasites attach themselves to the body of their host, feeding off it, and living on, or in it until either it, or they, die.  Vampires are… different.  We’re predators.  We stalk our prey, we attack, and we feed upon their essence, the crimson life force, the liquid currency of the soul.”

“You drink their blood.”

“That’s what I just said.”

“No you didn’t.”

Dunstan sighed.  Such an intolerable idiot.  “Can we dispense with the posturing now?  I think it’s giving me a rash.  Come on already.  Let’s get this over with.”

The ogre grinned, mouth agape.  Did he actually believe he stood a chance?  Such an idiot, such a total waste of thought, just like the rest of his kind.  He never listened.  Dunstan could thrash him to within an inch of his life, again and again; yet the fool would never learn the lesson.  He’d still come out and challenge him face to face.

The ogre swung his massive boulder-like fist toward his target, which Dunstan easily dodged.

So pathetic.

The ogre put his fists together and swung down like a sledgehammer, ready to smash the little vampire into the ground… but he missed.  Again.

So repetitive.

The next attack was a simple jab.

So boring.

“Have we started fighting yet, or are you just stretching?”

The ogre opened his mouth wide and released an almighty roar.  It might have scared some people, but the vampire was far from intimidated.

 

The ogre charged, ready to bash the vampire.  He was so close… so close… so—“Where did he go?”

“You’re too slow,” the mocking voice came from behind him.  “You’re all muscle, all power, but no agility, no speed.  Why don’t you give up and we’ll pretend this never happened.”

The ogre growled.  Was the puny vampire taunting him?  How dare he?!  He charged again, arms flailing wildly, erratically.  This time, he’d hit him.  This time, he’d kill him.  This time—

This time, the vampire jumped over him, leaping up into the air.

Twisting and turning mid-jump, Dunstan positioned himself and delivered a powerful kick to the side of the ogre’s head.  Everything after that was a blur.  He couldn’t hear, his vision was fuzzy, he couldn’t even feel the pain from the blows.

Dunstan appeared below him and delivered an uppercut strong enough to pop even the ogre’s tremendous weight into the air.

The big, green monster sailed through the air, hurtling toward the ground, head first.

He was about to land, his neck taking the bulk of his weight.

Suddenly, the vampire appeared behind him once again.  He moved so fast, catching him in the gut… with his fist.

The ogre coughed up a mouthful of thick, green phlegm which landed at the vampire’s feet.

With a look of pure disgust, Dunstan tossed the ogre to the ground and stepped around his body.

 

Dunstan looked around.  Out in the distance, he could see crowds of people, watching the fight.  Wise enough to know not to challenge him themselves, they were probably still naïve enough to desire his defeat at the rash ogre’s hands.  They could wish all they wanted, but they didn’t have a hope in the world.

He looked in another direction, and saw them approach.

Hooded figures, dressed in black.  Around their necks, an inverted cross on a chain.  Similar, yet different to Dunstan’s.  They resembled more of a necklace, less of a collar and chain; and theirs lacked the black gem in the centre.

They were the headmaster’s personal security force, enlisted to ensure that the regulations were adhered to, and that none of the student officials abused their power.  Student formed committees carried out most of the disciplinary and administrative duties of the school, so the hooded figures were a rare sight.  They usually never ventured out into the school grounds… except to escort people to the headmaster’s office.

 

Dunstan let out an exasperated sigh.  Great, this day just kept getting better and better.

 

X

 

The young vampire walked, flanked on either side by the tall, hooded figures in black.  Surrounded, Dunstan made the slow journey to the Headmaster’s office.

As they headed toward the castle’s inner wall, they passed various students wearing smug, self-satisfied smirks.  They looked as though they had just accomplished something, like the cat that had got the cream… in which was a drowned canary.  It was as though they thought they had actually done something, like they were the ones responsible for this escort.

Dunstan knew what they were thinking.  He’d attacked one of them.  How dare he defend himself?  Now he was being sent to the headmaster’s office.  Now he would get what was coming to him, he’d be disciplined for attacking a fellow student.

Fucking morons, even if the omniscient headmaster had known what was happening, which was likely, why would Dunstan be disciplined for defending himself?  He’d warned the oaf, even given him a fair chance to back off.

Pacifists didn’t last too long in this place, it was a literal den of monsters.  It was hell on earth.  What else was the vampire supposed to do?  As long as he didn’t actually kill or draw blood, the headmaster didn’t give a shit about what he did.  And Dunstan knew that.

Hell, that had been the figures’ first concern, the first words out of their mouths.

 

“Another fight, Dunstan?” the first cloaked figure said.  It wasn’t a question.

“What can I say, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“He’s unconscious,” another observed, crouching over the ogre, placing a hand upon his chest.  Dunstan could feel the figure’s magical aura spike.  It swelled and flowed into the green monstrosity.  “He’s still alive.”

“He’s fine.  If I wanted him dead, I could have torn open his throat.”

“You wanted his blood?” the first asked, concern tainting his formal tone.  “You’re not having… urges, are you?”

“No,” the vampire smirked.  “Do you have that little faith in me? C’mon, I know the rules, I’ll settle for the blood packs.  They’re all I’ve ever known, so why would I have urges?  Why would I have cravings for something I’ve never experienced?   Besides, I may not be a connoisseur, but the blood packs you provide have a better vintage than a Goblin’s larger cousin.  It’s about quality, not quantity.  Even I know that, and from what I’ve heard, ogre blood goes down like a mixture of mud and shit.”

“I don’t think any of us needed to hear that,” spoke the second figure, still standing over the ogre.  “This one should recover, but did you have to hit him so hard?”

“He started it, he got what he deserved,” Dunstan replied.  “it’s not my fault he chose a dance partner he couldn’t handle.  Besides, I already told you he’s fine.  I actually saved him… well,” the vampire’s mouth turned up in a smirk, “mostly.”

“Sure you did.”

“It’s true.  I could have let the brute land on his head, break his neck, but I didn’t.”

“Somehow, I don’t think he’ll appreciate that fact once he regains consciousness.”

“You’re right about that.  So let’s get going before he wakes up and wants another round.  Where’re we going anyway, someplace sunny?”

“Cute,” the first figure remarked.  “You know the drill.  The headmaster wishes to see you.”

“So not someplace sunny then.  What’s he want this time?  Anything new?”

“That’s for him to tell.  We’re just here to make sure you listen.”

“To make sure I show up, you mean.  Fine, lead on.”  He gave one last look at the smug faces surrounding him off in the distance, shaking his head.  “Let’s get going, it’s not as though I had anything better to do today, nobody wants me around here, that’s for fuckin’ sure.”

The hooded figures exchanged a glance before leading the juvenile vampire off in the direction of the headmaster’s office.

 

Dunstan made his way down the dark passages of the dungeon, accompanied with his dark escort.  The figures continued to flank him, shepherding him toward the headmaster’s office, secure in the deepest, darkest chamber of the dungeon.

The journey was a quiet, solemn one; as it always was.  The hooded figures never talked much.  The headmaster didn’t keep them for the company.  They were a loosely veiled threat aimed at any who might conspire to disrupt the order of the school; from outside its stone walls, or even within.  It was unknown what kind of creatures resided beneath the robes.  The dark material billowed about them, obscuring all.  Even their faces remained hidden, invisible to the eye.  It gave them an eerie appearance.  Some even theorised that they might be ghosts.  Dunstan had no idea one way or the other.  They certainly looked the part, but perhaps that was the intent, to evoke a sense of fear and despair, to make them all the more threatening.  Were their rosaries real?  Were they for purpose, or show?  Perhaps they were celestial beings or spirits, tied down and bound to earthly bodies.

On the other hand, the robes could be there to shield the students from their grotesque appearances.  Perhaps their bodies were mutilated and decomposing.  They could have been ghosts, or ghouls, or even zombies.

 

The vampire felt a chill run over him as he traversed the dark, damp dungeon.  He swore there was something haunting this place, like a spirit or poltergeist.  Then again, it could just be a spell.  The headmaster had a taste for the theatrical.  Present company was proof of that.

Why did he have to have his office in such an out of the way place?

 

Dunstan made his way through a long tunnel, lit with magical torches, finally emerging at a large, mahogany door.  His six figure escort stood directly behind him.

The vampire rapped on the door with the brass doorknocker in the shape of a large, black demon.  It’s horned, dome of a head and proud, gaunt features looked upon the newcomer.  Its eyes, exquisite red rubies the exact colour of blood, seemed to glisten and twinkle, reflecting the magical, everlasting torchlight from the claustrophobic walls that enclosed around them.

The massive, ebony, double doors opened inward of their own accord, giving an eerie creak that echoed through the long, dank tunnel.  “Enter,” called a disembodied voice that likewise echoed around them.

Dunstan stepped over the threshold and into the massive, circular office.  The six robed figures followed, and the doors swung gently shut behind them, bolting.  For a new student, it might have been impressive, even chilling or wondrous, but having spent his entire life within the school’s curtain wall, and in the care of its headmaster, Dunstan was used to it.

The large, round office enveloped them like a massive orb.  The open space went up three floors.  A long staircase slithered along the perimeter of the office like a snake, ready to carry anyone who wished it up or down.  Standing in the centre, and looking up, Dunstan could see all the way to the top.  The floors of the above storeys spiralled up, surrounding, but not completely covering the centre.

On the bottom floor, the young vampire looked ahead.  At the back of the room sat the headmaster’s desk, large, and polished mahogany.  Like the door, but without the black stain to colour it.  It was instead a rich, deep brown.

The headmaster sat behind the massive desk, elbows resting upon its polished surface, fingers tented before his face.  The man was a mystery, from his origins, to his motives, to even his personality.  Officially, this man existed to bring order to the chaos, to keep the wild beasts in check.  He was tasked with keeping all praeternaturals under control, and assisting the integration of those who wished it from one realm to another, specifically the human-occupied ones.  It was his job to ensure that coexistence with humans remained a viable option, now and forever.

That was what Dunstan had been told, but he had his suspicions.  Though the man had raised him, though he was the only parental figure the vampire had ever known, Dunstan couldn’t bring himself to completely trust the man.  He was too secretive, too mysterious.  He had other agendas, other goals. Dunstan was sure of it.

The headmaster peered over his pale fingers with white, luminous eyes.  He was covered head to toe in a black, hooded robe, just like those worn by his personal security force; and just like them, he also wore an inverted cross on a silver chain around his neck.

The hood obscured his face in shadow, but those ominous, glowing eyes stood out.  They bore through the dark haired youth, piercing the shackled darkness of his cursed, vampiric soul.  They were the other reason Dunstan couldn’t let down his guard around this man.

“Dunstan… do you know why you are here?”

Why did he always start like that?  Every time, the same thing.  Every time, the same goddamned meaningless questions.  Couldn’t he just get on with it?  What did it matter if Dunstan knew the reason?  He’d find out soon enough.  The vampire made sure to calm himself before he spoke, lest his impatience seep out in his words.  “Why do you ask?”

“For the same reason you answer with that very question.”

“But you ask every time.”

“And you refuse to answer every time.  I wish to judge your perception.”

“Well, if I had to guess, it’s because I knocked out that stupid ogre who kept goading me to fight him.  He got what he wanted.”  The headmaster said nothing, just stared silently through him.  “Don’t ask me to apologise,” the boy added.

The headmaster leaned forward in his seat.  “You need to control yourself.  That student may well have been asking for a fight, but that is no excuse for you to give it to him.  What would you do in the human world if somebody were to provoke you?  Would you give in?  Humans are soft, weak.  A simple punch or kick might be enough to kill.  Would you commit murder because of a simple annoyance?”

“From an annoyance?  Probably not, but if the situation calls for it, If I have to kill, maybe…”

“And then what?  How will you hide the body, take care of the witnesses?  Keep in mind that you must always keep your true nature hidden.  It is difficult to keep a low profile while killing people on sight, not to mention the moral implications of mass murder.  The humans are sentient beings.  They have families, lives, minds, souls.  You may have the power to take all that away from them, but you will never have the right.  To end a life, any life, is not something to be taken lightly.”

“With all due respect, there are so many humans.  They outnumber us.  Would it really matter if one or two were to disappear?  Would they really be missed?”

The headmaster’s eyes peered into him, through him as he spoke.  His voice was deep, but it was also eerie.  When he spoke, it was as though he threw his voice about the room.  It seemed to come from all directions, surrounding the vampire.

“That is exactly the kind of sentiment I would expect from a vampire of the thirteen houses, and not an attitude I find encouraging from a subordinate I was considering to send out among humans.”

“You… what?”

“I know it’s frustrating, being cooped up here.  Most students spend four years in this realm, and then settle into a peaceful life of coexistence in the human world.  You, on the other hand, have lived on these grounds for your entire life, and you will not be leaving once you graduate.  I know it has gotten you down.  I can sense it in you.  Agitation, restlessness.  And with your Lycanthropic blood, you must feel it even worse.

“I’ve been meaning to send you out for a while now, I’ve just been waiting for the right time.”

“And that time is now?”

“Something has come up, an anomaly in one of the human realms.  I need someone to gather information before we can decide on a course of action.”

“An anomaly?  What do you mean by that?”

“The word is self-explanatory.  We keep balance in the world because monsters and humans are able to live in a tense peace with one another.  For the most part, they don’t know that we exist, and I intend to keep it that way.

“If the human world were to discover the existence of monsters, the most likely outcome would be open war.  I will not allow this world to slip back into that level of chaos.  Not after the desperate measures we were forced to take to attain peace last time.”

“So… are we getting to the point soon?”

“You should be more interested in your own history, Dunstan Blackfire.  Being half vampire, you carry blood that was partly responsible.  The vampire queen Lilith passed her mantle onto the first of the thirteen lords and disappeared.  From that moment, the world slipped deeper and deeper into the quagmire of chaos and war.

“The Puritan crusade of Adam’s paladin army against the vampire king Dracula’s unholy union of the dark, the demonic, and the feral.  The human’s genocidal campaign against our kind threatened to end all life.  We were forced to break the world up into the different realms, segregating the humans and sheltering them from the various praeternatural beings.

“If anything worked in our favour, it was the human’s arrogance and ambition.  They are predictable.  They can always be relied upon to put their faith in science and advancement.  They are always so quick to disregard the dogmas and lessons of the past.  So quick to file pagan beliefs away as mere nonsense.  Naturally, their ancestors must have been fools.  Naturally, what they now believe must be the truth.  Of course it is, because they believe it.

“It is because of this arrogance that vampires, werewolves, and all the other various ‘monsters’ as they would label us, have been able to lurk in the shadows.  As far as the humans are concerned, we exist only as legend and folklore.  Mere fantasies to entertain men and scare children.”

“Enough with the exposition,” Dunstan remarked, a dull edge to his voice.  “You mentioned something about an assignment.  Where am I going, and when can I leave.”

“You seem very eager.  Almost too eager.”

“Can you blame me?  You said it yourself. I’ve been cooped up here my entire life.  Of course I’m eager.  I’m eager for a holiday, even a working one.  I’m eager for reprieve.  I’m eager to leave this wondrous, stone prison you’ve constructed.”

“I think you’ll find that everything up ‘till now has been the holiday, and this prison from which you so wish release has been your haven, your sanctuary.  Things are only going to get harder from here on out, so you shouldn’t rush off recklessly.  Always consider the consequences of your actions.”

“Okay, I get it.  I’ll think more about what I’m doing, about what could result from my movements.  Whatever happens, I’ll have to take responsibility and deal with it.  Now can you tell me what the situation is?”

The figure watched Dunstan over his indented fingertips, not speaking.  The juvenile vampire distinctly thought he heard the old man chuckle.  Was that even possible?  Did he even have a sense of humour?  Did he even have emotions?

“Very well,” the headmaster finally answered.  “I’m sending you to the human world.  Specifically, to a city in Human realm IV.”

“Catchy name… what’s going on over there?”

“We have received disturbing reports.  The populace is under attack.”

“By what?”

“Hordes of the undead.”

“Walking corpses?  You mean zombies?  What are we dealing with exactly, some necromancer with a grudge against humanity?”

“Possibly, we don’t know for sure.  It could be that someone has raised the dead, but we don’t know who or why.  We don’t even know that they are zombies.  They could be anything, even ghouls.”

“Ghouls… humans under the thrall of a vampire?”

“Not necessarily.  Do not confuse a Ghoul with a Familiar.  A ghoul is simply a name for any being without a soul.  They are most commonly created when a being, generally human, consumes vampiric blood.  They become addicted, and the blood corrupts their soul, corroding it, destroying it.  Eventually, the transformation into a ghoul becomes permanent and the continued consumption of vampire blood is the only way they can cling to their humanity, lest they become consumed by their primal hunger and surrender their mind and soul to the madness:  A fate worse than death.  That’s why they tend to be subservient to vampires.  In exchange for their services, the vampires give their pet ghoul some of their own blood on which to feed, on which to sate their addiction.  This too though, has a price.  After a time of relying on vampiric blood, especially from the same vampire, or even the same bloodline; the ghoul becomes enslaved by the vampire, nothing more than a servant to the house of the elder lord.  The power of the blood compels them to carry out any order, regardless of morality or cost, even at the expense of self-preservation.  Once reaching that stage, it is impossible for the ghoul to refuse their master anything.”

“I take it there’s no cure?  No going back?”

“It takes time for the cursed blood to work its way out of one’s system.  As a rule of thumb, I’d allow one month to dispel an average dose.  More than two doses within that timeframe, and the soul won’t be able to cope.  If used sparingly, Vampiric blood has a powerful stimulant effect, increasing strength, speed, perception, regeneration… recovery is possible, given enough time, but long term damage is also possible though sustained use or abuse of the blood, and once the soul is damaged beyond repair, they can never become human again.  There are charms that can suspend the degradation of their soul, but the only way to completely cure them of the curse of being a ghoul is to imbue them with another, more powerful curse.”

“You mean…”

“Turn them into a vampire.  Of course, the thirteen look down on the practice of creating new vampires without authorisation.”

Dunstan sneered.  “So the lords like to dictate when and how their underlings can build a family, do they like to watch the conception too?”

“The policy is in place largely to restrict and prevent the unauthorised creation of secondbornes and half breeds, neither of which they tolerate under most normal circumstances.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you.”

“Yeah, I know that better than anybody.  It’s why I’m here after all…” the young vampire paused.  He’d always been curious, but…

“Something on your mind, Dunstan?  Speak freely.”

Was the headmaster reading the young vampire’s thoughts?   He peered into the shadow obscuring the mysterious being’s face, but it was unreadable, nothing but a void.  In the end, Dunstan supposed it couldn’t hurt to ask.  He’d only regret it otherwise.  “Did… The lords and their underlings, did they kill my parents?  Was it the vampires?  Or…”

“This has weighed on you for some time, hasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Remember my council, young Blackfire.  Do not act rashly.  Your actions, whatever they may be, could carry dire consequences.”

“Is that a yes?”

“A blood hunt was put out on your parents by the house of Bathory.  Many vampires were sent to find and take your mother back alive.  Your father was to be killed on sight.”

“My mother was taken alive?  Did she go with them?”

“And leave you behind?  No.  Your mother didn’t abandon you, if that’s what you were thinking.  It was ordered that she be returned alive if possible, but she resisted.  Her pursuers had no choice but to subdue her with force.  Also, some of the hunters did not respect that particular order.  There were some who believed that she didn’t deserve the option of surrender.  It wasn’t just vampires, the werewolves, specifically your father’s pack, fully complied with the hunt and sent warriors of their own to appease the vampire’s ire.  I can’t say for sure which side takes responsibility for their deaths.  All I know is that when your mother came to me, she was alone, and close to dying.  She pledged to me her own life, as well as that of her offspring in exchange for her survival.  I kept her safe while she birthed you, and intended to place you both under my protection, in exchange for your loyalty and service.  Your father was already dead by then, and your mother died soon after.  If they’d accepted my offer sooner, they might both be alive today.  In the end, she had no choice.  She agreed to my terms and placed you in my care, but she did it for you.  Never forget that.

“So… you don’t know who killed them.  You don’t really know anything,” Dunstan replied.  It was a rare occurrence for an omniscient to claim ignorance, unless he was holding something back.  “There was more to the story, there had to be.

“Do not think I withhold this information from you out of malice or spite.”

“I have a right to know.”

“And when the time is right, you shall.  But for now, I have told you all that I can.  You will know more when you are ready.”

The reasoning was obvious.  The spectre didn’t trust him to keep his cool.  Did he think the young vampire would declare a one-man war against his mother’s clan the moment his leash was slackened?  Why, out of some reckless quest for vengeance?  The vampires controlled the largest chunk of the world, and to attack one was to attack them all.  Only the therian clans came close to matching their territory, and they weren’t nearly so likely to band together and cooperate with one another.  They weren’t even officially allies.  It would be suicide.  If Dunstan were to attack the vampires, he’d only get himself killed.  He had no chance, even with an army.  Besides, revenge didn’t interest him.  Slaying their killers wouldn’t give him back the parents, the freedom, or even the life that he’d never known.  All the same, a small part of him burned, ached for the knowledge, for the closure.  He had to know the truth.

He glanced once more at the headmaster.  This wasn’t important.  There would be time, later, but for now:  “About this assignment.  What exactly do you want from me?”

“I want you to gather information.  Go to the human world, track the undead to their source, and find out who, or what is causing them to rise.  Chances are, it’s most likely a witch or a vampire.”

“So wade through the zombie horde, find whoever’s behind it all, and kill him.  That about it?”

“You don’t need to fight, I only mean for you to observe.  Find out what’s going on, and report your findings back to me.”

“And if I’m attacked, can I at least defend myself?”

“Of course.  Just be careful.  I don’t want any human casualties, and try not to be seen.  Nobody must suspect that you are anything other than human.  So no showboating, and no feeding frenzies.  Stick to the blood packs.  I’m cutting you loose for the time being, but I expect you to behave yourself.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to act like a rabid dog the second my leash is cut.”

“That reminds me.  I expect you’ll be back before this becomes an issue, but be wary of the full moon.  You’re not purely werewolf, but never forget that you possess the trait of Lycanthropy.  I know that you still can’t control your feral state.”

“So take the appropriate precautions?”

“Exactly.”

“Yeah, I’ll lose myself in a forest or something.”

“You’ll be in the middle of an industrial wasteland.  I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a dense enough forest in which you can hide.”

“Then I’ll barricade myself inside an abandoned warehouse.”

“Just be sure that you don’t come into contact with the human populace.  If your feral state takes over during a full moon, you likely won’t be able to control your actions until you wake up the next morning.”

The headmaster was right.  When the wolf took over, Dunstan lost control completely.  It was a total blackout, he wasn’t even aware of his actions until he woke up, naked, alone, and surrounded by the evident destruction wrought by his subconscious actions during the night.  “And actions have consequences…”

“Exactly.  Good to see you’ve been listening.”

“Right… so when do I leave?”

“Head back to your dormitory for now.  Pack your things and gather your supplies, and don’t forget to take an adequate supply of blood with you.  The blood packs we provide are specially treated, so won’t need to be chilled.”

“Wait… the blood packs don’t have to be kept on ice?  Then why must I drink them when they’re so damn cold?”

“Honestly… I always thought you preferred them that way.”  Dunstan narrowed his eyes in mild annoyance.  “Regardless, be prepared.  I’ll have a car ready to take you to your destination five hours past noon.  Do not be late.  You’re free until then.”

“Uh, right… and thanks.”

“No need to thank me.  Just don’t disappoint me.”

Dunstan bowed before his master, and backed out of the office.  The large doors opened for him, and abruptly closed in his face once he was out of the room.

Back in the dungeonesque corridor, the young vampire felt a chill.  This place was always so cold.

 

X

 

The girl held herself in a feeble embrace as she tried to keep out the chill.  The thick, white jacket she wore did little to protect her from the cold.  The jacket went down to her waist, where it met a dark skirt that flowed down her legs like the trunk of a tree, strong, supporting her, holding her up despite the otherwise frail appearance of her freezing, shivering form.

Her blue eyes roamed the empty street.  Where was he?  Where was her escort for the night?  His letter had told her to meet him around here, but why?  There was nothing of note nearby, only warehouses and factories.  At this time of night, this part of the city was dead.  There were no furnaces, no people, and little light. There was nothing.

The girl’s milk white skin stood in stark contrast to the blackened sky above her, through which not even the twinkling stars could shine.  The long, silky strands of platinum blonde hair lay level and flat in a straight fringe against her forehead, and ran down her back, all the way to her waist, down to where her white coat met her black skirt.

 

Willow hoped that her look would be enough to please him, whoever he was.  Given the nature of society, it was difficult to strike a balance between looking desirable to her clients, yet also appearing decent and respectable in the eyes of any who might see them together.  After all, nobody would be paying her to make them look bad.

They all wanted her body, she had no illusions to the contrary, but they also wanted her to appear worthy of them.  Her clients didn’t want anyone to see her and think they were out with some cheap tart after all, regardless of whether or not that may have been the case.

Willow wrapped her arms around herself, shivering in the nippy night air.  The bulky white coat she wore may not have been flattering, but it did keep out the cold… or at least most of it.  The blonde shuddered to think what she’d be facing without it.

It wasn’t normal for someone to keep her waiting this long.  Maybe they weren’t coming.  How long should she stay?  She couldn’t wait out in this cold all night, but if she returned home empty handed?  Her pale face blanched at what would happen to her.

No, she had to earn her keep, and this was the only way she could do it.  She had no skills, it was unlikely she’d even make a half decent wife.  That was the only reason she forced herself to perform these unsavoury, late-night escapades.  It was the only thing she could do.  It was all she was good for.

The girl’s flawless brow wrinkled and her eyes shut tight.  Long tresses of smooth silk flourished about her as she expelled the destructive, yet sadly true thoughts. Willow felt the dark revelation willingly release her as it loosened its clammy grasp… at least for the moment.  The dark thoughts wouldn’t help her here, she had to be strong.  Willow was a good time girl, not a denizen of despair.  She had a job to do, and the men liked it when she smiled.

Calming her mind, Willow looked around, craning her neck.  Maybe she should search for her prodigal client.  It was better than standing out in the cold all night.

“That was when she noticed the warehouse.  It was just across from her.  The door, it was open.

All the other buildings on the street were locked up tight, safe, secure, empty… but not this one.

Willow ventured inside.  At least it would provide shelter.

The warehouse was no warmer than the still air outside.  Looking around, the young woman saw countless crates stacked up against the walls in rows.  She wondered what could be in them.  How many people worked here during the day?  How much hustle and bustle must this place generate during its waking hours?

It didn’t matter now, in the dead of the night, it was fast asleep, dead to the world.  As dead as—

Willow’s eyes widened.  Her heart jumped into her throat.  Her head turned, deep blue eyes staring fearfully at the source of the scream, of the cry.

She should leave.  She had to get out of here.  The exit was right behind her.  So why didn’t she take it?

Her body had a mind of its own.  It was as though something compelled her.  That sound, it came from the stairway.

Her legs carried her up the stairs, up toward the source of that cry.  The girl felt a chill wash over her, and this time it wasn’t from the cold.

The second floor of the warehouse seemed to be filled with offices.  Slowly, quietly, she moved throughout the empty rooms.

She pushed open a door, and forced herself not to scream.

What she saw beyond was horrifying.  It was impossible.  It just couldn’t be real.  Was this some kind of nightmare, or was she going insane?

There were a few men inside, tied up, chained to a radiator running along the wall.  They were struggling, trying to get free.  One of them spotted her.  His helpless, pleading eyes locked onto hers.  He mouthed something to her.  Was it… she understood his desperate plea.  ‘Get help!’

They weren’t alone in there.  Willow saw others.  A group of men stood around each of the helpless, tied up victims.  They closed in around them, shuffling haphazardly, slowly, clumsily, as though they weren’t all there.  Were these men drugged?  Sedated?  Or was it something more sinister?  Was this the doctor’s cure for Lunacy?  Had he finally done it?  If so, the cure looked to be worse than the ailment.  They didn’t speak, they made no noise.

They closed in around the men and… and…

Willow could scarcely look.

The victims cried out and screamed as their attackers swarmed like a pack of wild predators.  They attacked with their face, their teeth.  They were like rabid dogs, wild wolves.  Tearing, ripping, biting.

They were… They were eating them!  They were eating people!

They were cannibals?!

Willow’s stomach turned.  She raised a hand to her mouth as she lurched.  She felt as though she were about to be sick.

The sudden movement had the unexpected effect of opening the door wider, exposing her hiding place, but also giving her a wider view of the room, and what she saw made everything entirely worse.

There were more dead bodies than Willow could have ever imagined.  Bodies lay, blood stained, chunks missing, but still… they were moving.  They were alive?  How?  How were they still alive?!

Willow’s eyes were drawn to one figure in particular.  Unlike the others who attacked in a horde, he was alone, devouring one of the still bodies.  This one wasn’t kicking and screaming, he was… he was already dead.  He was long dead.  How long had he been lying there, rotting there?

Just how long had this madness been going on, unnoticed within their city?

The lone figure turned around.  Blood oozed from his mouth.  His skin was pale, whiter than the moon.  His clothes were in ruins, tattered, and stained with a mix of blood and dirt.

The worst by far however, the scariest feature about him, had to be his eyes.  They were black.  Where a normal person’s eyes were white, he had nothing.  They were like hollow pits, twin black voids.  They weren’t empty sockets, his eyes were there, but they were black as pitch, definitely not human.  There was no iris, no colour.  In place of a round pupil, there was only a slit, like that of a cat, and blood red in colour.

The blackness spread beyond his eyes, shooting out into the surrounding skin like veins of black mould.  He turned his attention to more of the bodies, untying them.  These had obviously been dead for a while, yet they were moving.  Slowly, clumsily… like the others.

Was the figure, the monster, somehow creating these cannibalistic abominations from the living victims he had tied up?

This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be real.  It was too horrible.

“My children,” the monster drawled.  “You must be hungry.  Go, seek out the flesh of the living, and bring them back here.  Our family must grow larger.”

It was true!  Willow didn’t know how, but it was.  This wide-awake nightmare was actually happening.

Was this cruel fate the one that had befallen her missing client?  Was it destined to befall her as well?

The girl shuddered.  She had to get away.  She had to escape.

Suddenly, the monster turned to her.  Willow froze.  The figure took her in, and his bloody grin turned up in a devilish smirk.

No, no, this couldn’t be happening.  Why was this happening?  Why her?  No, this… this wasn’t just about her.  Why was it happening at all?!  She backed away slowly, hoping she wouldn’t trip and fall over, she didn’t want to provoke those… things.

“My children,” the monster spoke, “we have a guest.”  He gestured to the open door.  “You may Begin…” his voice took on a cruel edge, “with her.”

“No…”  Willow turned and ran, back the way she’d come, down the stairs, taking them as fast as she could.  She had to get away from those demonic, shambling corpses, but she wasn’t fast enough to evade that eerie drawl.  That voice… that thing, that monster.  Whatever he was, he wasn’t human.

“Bring her to me,” she heard him say.  “Let us show our hospitality.  We must ensure that our uninvited guest is made comfortable.”

Willow’s face paled as that helpless, pleading man tied to the radiator entered her mind.

The girl raced down the stairs and made her way to the warehouse exit.

Her legs carried her as fast as they could across the building, to the expansive street beyond its four great walls.

Willow tried to get away as fast as she could, but all those stairs had really taken it out of her.  She wasn’t sure how long she would be able to outrun them.

Her only option was to lose them.

The girl ran from one Side Street to another.  The city was like a labyrinth, and she was trapped within it, with those monstrous beings chasing after her.

How fast were they gaining?  Willow was too terrified to look, and she couldn’t hear them over the percussive drum of her heart, not to mention the pounding of her feet against the ground and her loud, desperate gasps for air as she ran.

Willow desperately needed to lose her pursuers, but in the end, the only one she had managed to lose was herself.

These streets were unfamiliar.  Where… where was she?

Unable to keep her pace, her run shifted down to a walk.

She heard footsteps.  They were close.

Willow broke into a run once again and tried to elude them by slipping down another side street.  She turned a corner, slipped into an alley, and ran into a wall.

A dead end?  No!

Eyes teared as ears told her those bodies were closing in on her.  She turned and ran back the way she had come.  It was all she could do.

Maybe she could sneak past them.  Maybe she could slip by.  Maybe… maybe not.

Running headlong, she hit another wall, slamming full steam into it, but this wall wasn’t made of stone or brick.  It was something far worse.  A wall of bodies.

She felt their clammy hands grab at her.  Willow tried desperately to fight them off.

She struggled against them, but there were so many, and they were surprisingly strong, and soon, she was overwhelmed.

The girl felt her eyes well with overflowing tears as those foul smelling, clumsy beings swarmed over her, pawing at her body, her skin, her clothes.  She heard the material rip.  She felt the sickening warmth of their drool as it slid down her skin.  She let out a scream, but nobody would come to help her.  There was nobody left.

She was all alone, in this city of the dead.  And soon, she would be as they were.

 

That was the last, desperate, frantic thought to cross her mind before giving in to the cold, dark embrace of unconsciousness.

 

X

 

The strange vehicle appeared out of nowhere.  Sleek, black, metallic, and with four wheels, drawn by two black horses.

If anyone were to see it materialise, they might have found it peculiar to say the least.  But fortunately, there was nobody around.

 

From inside the vehicle, it appeared as though they had just emerged from a long tunnel, pitch black.  Dunstan looked out the window.  It must have been late.  The sky was pretty dark, but it was better than the tunnel.  There was at least some light coming from gas lanterns atop the high poles lining the streets.  Besides, Dunstan had no trouble seeing in the dark, and the city did at least have some kind of view to offer.  In that dark void of a tunnel, there had been nothing.

The black, metallic wagon came to a gradual halt.  “This is it,” spoke the driver.  He, like all of the headmaster’s servants, wore a hooded, black robe, obscuring his face.

Dunstan nodded and gathered the backpack that contained his few possessions:  Mostly clothes that would help him fit into the common society of this realm.  There were a few other things as well, such as his supply of blood packs, specially enchanted to keep the liquid inside fresh.  Dunstan opened the door and made to step out into the unfamiliar world outside.

The young vampire was now dressed in attire more fitting his new surroundings.  A long, white cotton shirt flowed down past his waist, coupled with a similarly coloured pair of breeches covering his legs, until they were swallowed by a hungry pair of black, leather, calf-high boots, matched by the black jacket he wore.  He possessed no hat, but wore his long, black hair in a loose ponytail, neatly tied at the nape of his neck with a black ribbon.  The illusion was somewhat compromised however, by the large silver rosary that hung from his neck on a long chain.

Turning back to the driver, he asked, “How do I contact you to come back?”

The figure stared through the young vampire.  “He will be watching.  He will know when you are ready to return, and you will be summoned to his side at that time, not before.”

Dunstan nodded once more and stepped out of the car, closing the door behind him.

The driver commanded the horses to move on, and the vehicle moved forward along the road, vanishing before the vampire’s keen eyes.

He swung the backpack over his shoulder and looked around.  This place was certainly different from the castle grounds to which he was accustomed.  Whereas the courtyards and fields were open and expansive, this place was like a maze with walls jutting up everywhere, risen from the ground below.

It would be easy to get lost in a place like this, and unlike the grounds back home, he wouldn’t have a massive castle on the horizon with which to gather his bearings.  There would be no such beacon to help him here, only walls and buildings.  There were so many, and all of them looked the same.

He wondered whether the population of this city was much bigger than that of the school.  There were so many students, but the castle was so massive that it was easy to avoid the crowds and simply be on one’s own.

Dunstan doubted that this city would offer the same luxury.

Once the streets were flooded with people, there would be little getting around them, or avoiding them.  That didn’t bode well for the present situation.  These streets were supposedly filled with the living dead.  Once a large enough portion of the population had been turned, it would be impossible to outmanoeuvre and avoid them. 

Add that to the mass hysteria and panic that would no doubt arise in the surviving humans, otherwise ignorant to the mere possibility of such a plague befalling their society, and the only likely result would be that of total annihilation.

The dead would rise and kill the living.  Those who were killed by the dead would rise once more and join their ranks, join the slaughter and kill all who remained.

Unabated, the cycle would continue until there were no live humans left to sustain the zombie horde.  They would then have no choice but to move on in search of a food source elsewhere, or rot away, leaving the city empty, lifeless, purged.  It was a perfect act of biological warfare.

The end result was genocide. 

It couldn’t have been an accident that the zombie uprising had started in a place like this.  It was calculated and deliberate.  It had to be.

Whoever was responsible, their plan was the total destruction and murder of every single human in this city, if not this entire realm.  Could it be an act of war against the human populace?

No, that wasn’t it.  The humans were of no consequence.  They were just collateral damage.  The real target must have been the vampires who controlled them.  The vampires who fed from them.  Take away its food source, and the great beast becomes weak and tired.

After all, the Thirteen were far too powerful to attack head on.  This was an attack on the Vampire lords themselves, but who could be responsible?  A maleficar?  A necromancer?  A ghoul?  Maybe even a rogue vampire.  It could be almost anyone.  Vampires were, after all, the most feared and despised of all the Praeternatural beings.  Especially by those weaker than them, which in all honesty was a just about all of the fractured realms.

That was a lesson Dunstan had learned first-hand during his school life.  The other students all hated him for what he was, but none of them had ever been a threat.  Not really, and even if they had been, Dunstan was under the headmaster’s protection.  This however, was something different.  This was something huge, and it had to be stopped.

Dunstan had no love for the Thirteen, or the human realms over which they presided, but whatever his feelings, Dunstan knew that the humans were innocent.  They were powerless, and they were being decimated just to make their lords vulnerable.  The little people were being made to suffer—no, they were being exterminated wholesale, just for some psychopathic power play.  That made the young vampire sick.  It was disgusting.

Absolutely repugnant.

Dunstan cleared his mind.  It was time to press on.  It would take a while to find the source of this plague, so he might as well get started now.  The first thing he should do would be to take a look around the city.

Securing the pack about his shoulder, he pressed forward.  He wouldn’t unleash his vampiric abilities out in the open, in case there were still humans around, but he still had his senses.  His eyes, his ears, and especially his nose.

If anybody were to be attacked near him, he should be able to close in on it rather quickly.  It was the only chance he had to dig up a lead he could follow to the bold deviant behind this travesty.

With that in mind, the young vampire moved on.

Dunstan moved from Empty Street to Empty Street, keeping a keen eye out for any trace of movement when suddenly, he froze.

He could smell something.

Blood.

He dashed over to the source of the smell, following his nose.  Being descendant of both vampires and werewolves, the young half-breed made an excellent tracker.

Following his senses, they brought him to a dead end.  A dark alley, lined with concrete walls.  A line of crates sat haphazardly against one of the walls.  Among them, lay a body.

A victim?  A corpse?  The young vampire crouched over her.  He touched her, feeling for any sign of life.  She was still warm.

She was breathing.  It was faint, slow, shallow, but it was there.  He wasn’t too late, he could still save her.

She was beaten, broken, bleeding, barely conscious.  She was alive, but only just.  Glazed eyes stared up, not seeing him.

Her clothes were ruined, ripped and torn; clinging to her skin in shreds, like rags.  Long strands of platinum silk were strewn carelessly about her.  She was drenched in sweat and blood.  She had bite wounds here and there, and even seemed to have chunks missing, as though some beast had bitten the meat right out of her, stripped the flesh with its teeth.  It was as though she’d been attacked by some kind of wild animal, but Dunstan knew better.

This young woman, absolutely stunning despite her current wounds and afflictions, tragic though it were, was likely the vampire’s only source of information.  The only potential lead he had to go on.  She’d been attacked and lived.  She must have seen the things that had done this.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking.  After all, it was a long shot.  She may not know anything, but… what if she had discovered whoever… whatever was behind this?

The vampire sighed.  Was it worth the risk?  He had his doubts as to whether this would work out, or even whether she would be of any use.  Still, a long shot was better than nothing.  Besides, what was the alternative?  Could he just leave her to die… or worse?  No.  He was sure she’d beg for his help if she were able.  He was sure that, given the choice, she’d prefer to live.  Any life, even a cursed life, was better than becoming one of those mindless, undead abominations.

There was only one thing to do.

Dunstan had never attempted this before.  He could only hope that his instincts would fill the void of his ignorance and inexperience.

He leaned over her, taking in the sight of her broken body, her helpless form; her scent, the aroma of her.  She wafted into the vampire’s nasal passages.  He was utterly consumed.  Emerald eyes closed in on the skin of her yet unsullied throat, as though he could actually see the fluid pumping beneath.  Her blood, it called to him, sang his name like a siren song.  His mouth opened, lips parting, teeth bearing.  Slowly, his canines began extending, growing, unsheathing.  They acted of their own accord, their own will, but they weren’t mechanical, rather organic, like the claws of a cat.

Totally possessed, under the spell of this tragic victim’s blood, he lowered himself, hunching over her like a predator ready to strike.  Her scent grew stronger, pouring into him.  It was a strange smell he didn’t recognise, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.  He wanted more.  He inhaled her.  He could taste her.  She was before him, helpless, begging to be his.

His tongue lapped at the nape of her neck, probing her, tasting the soft, supple saltiness of her delicate skin, her vulnerable throat.

He brought his lips to her flesh and bit down.  His teeth sunk into her, met with no resistance, and she eagerly released her sweet, scarlet nectar.  It was as though she were made for him.  Never before had Dunstan tasted anything like her.  She was so warm, so soft, so sweet, and so succulent.

She was his.

The blood packs just didn’t compare.

He savoured her for as long as he dared, before returning the favour.  It was his turn to feed her.  Using his fangs, he injected his own blood directly into the young woman’s jugular as a snake would, venom, directly into her bloodstream.

The vampire pulled back, kissing the young woman’s neck as the twin puncture wounds closed up before his eyes.

Now all he could do was hope that it would work.  Dunstan wasn’t entirely sure how the process was supposed to go.  He knew that he had to inject her with his blood, but he wasn’t sure how much.  Too little and nothing would happen.  Too much and his blood would overpower hers.  She might overdose, maybe even die.  Perhaps it had been a mistake to drink from her first.  He hadn’t meant to, but her blood had compelled him.  It was so good, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it, but what if he had taken too much?

He only wanted to turn her into a ghoul temporarily, just long enough to heal her wounds, and hopefully destroy the virus that was surely coursing through her body before it had a chance to turn her into one of the undead.

Dunstan waited.  As he did, he noticed an idle hand working its way through her soft, smooth hair.

 

Suddenly, her shallow breathing hitched.

Something was happening.

Was it…?

Yes!  It… it was working.  It must have been.  Dunstan could feel it, the darkness coursing through her blood, cursing her, corrupting her, attacking her very soul, choking it.  It was a sacrifice that had to be made.  Though it would damn her spiritually, this curse was the only thing that could save her body, the only thing that could keep her alive.

It was like the headmaster had said.  The only way to rid a victim of a curse, was to inflict them with a more powerful, more desirable one, such as that of a ghoul, vampire, or therian.  It was the only way.

The girl’s body began to heal itself, rapid and autonomous, before the young vampire’s eyes.  As vampires used the blood within their own bodies to heal their wounds and afflictions, so too was this human doing the same with the blood he had given her, albeit subconsciously.

Flesh mended itself.  Cuts stitched themselves up.  Scratches and bruises disappeared.  Even the missing chunks of flesh taken from her grew back in next to no time. And soon, she was as good as new.

No… she was better.

Her eyes darted around, locking onto his.  Her lips moved to form words, but she had hardly breath to speak.  She managed to choke out a wispy “Who…?”

“Who Am I?” the vampire asked.  To her weak nod, he replied, “Call me Stan.”

“Stan… is that… short for something?”

The vampire felt his lip curl.  “Yeah….”  The victimised human tilted her head, feeling the gentle pull of her hair, just noticing his hand still stroking the smooth shoots of her silvery silk, bringing Stan’s attention to the unconscious movements as well.  “Sorry,” he mumbled, moving his hand from her.

The girl looked into his eyes.  His, sharp and green.  Hers, deep blue, like an ocean.  “…’sokay,” she weakly replied.  “Where am I?  What… what happened?”

“You don’t remember?”  She shook her head.  “You were attacked.  I managed to heal you, but you should rest.”

“Attacked?”

“You’re okay now, don’t worry.”

“Why… Why don’t I remember?!”  The weak, shallow breaths increased their pace.  Her delectable eyes grew to the size of saucers.  Stan could smell the fear radiating from her body.  He could taste it.

“Try not to panic, save your energy.”  He picked the girl up, cradling her gently in his arms.  “Get some sleep, it’ll come back to you eventually.  In the meantime… I’ll take you to the hospital.  I think you should make a full recovery, but… you should probably be seen by a doctor.”

“Will you… Will I see you again?”

“I need to track down whoever’s responsible for this mess.  You’re only one of the victims.  Luckily, you were still alive when I found you.”

“So you saved me?”

“I saved you.  I’ll come see you tomorrow, see if you’re doing better.”

“And collect your reward,” the girl supposed, closing her eyes.

“Right.  I may need your help with something.”

“I can imagine.”

“If you remember anything about who did this to you, anything at all…”

The girl looked up at him.  “That’s… that’s what you want in return?”  Stan nodded.  “That’s all?”

“I need your help.  I need to put a stop to this and track down the one responsible.  Right now, you’re the only lead I’ve got.”

The blonde’s eyes closed once more and Stan felt her relax into his hold.  “I don’t know what I could possibly tell you… but if I can help, I will.  I’m Willow.”

“Willow… I like it.”  It was better than Dunstan, anyway.  “That’s enough for now.  Get some rest, you may be in for a rough night.  I’ll come back and see you soon.”

“Promise?”

Stan grinned, holding the girl tightly to his chest.  “I promise.”

 

XX

 

Author’s Notes:  Wow, it’s been a long time.  I’d feel guilty if anyone were actually reading this.  It’s actually a testament to how slow of a writer I am.  I was writing the last chapter on my break last year, and here I am one entire year later on my break again, finishing up the next one.  I can’t leep going at this pace, I’m only writing one chapter a year.  Anyway, as I said in the preview, the prologues are behind us and we finally get to meet the main characters.  I hope you enjoy it.

An interesting note, Willow was originally going to be named Rose, but I changed it because that name is being used in my Lovesick trilogy.  Besides, Willow’s a good enough name, right?  I think it fits better than Rose with the gothic, black metal vibe this series is going for.

Speaking of lovesick, I should have a chapter of that going up soon, so you can decide which you want more of.  I’m going to pick one (whichever turns out to be more popular) and focus on it.  Hopefully that will let me update much more often.  So make sure you support whichever story you like best.

XXX

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