Chapter One – The First Death
The full moon shone in a bright circle of silver spreading a dim light throughout the night. On the ground below, hushed footsteps hurried along the forest ground, crushing dried leaves and twigs beneath their weight. Both men, draped in dark cloaks, walked along without speaking a word. Only the sound of broken twigs destroyed the steady silence that passed between them. The taller man spotted it first: wispy, gray smoke drifted lazily into the dark air from a stone chimney attached to a shabby cabin.
One removed his hood, his narrowed eyes upon the old wood ahead of them, his long black hair and equally black traveling cloak trailing on the slight breeze. “This is it?” he asked the other whose hood still rested low over his face, casting it in deep shadow.
The second man stood silently, his gaze on the cabin, deep thought tilting his chin upward, for the smell of Lycan was thick on the air. There was no denying it. The scent filled his nose freely.
“Are we going to speak to her or not, brother?” the other said. “I don’t see the reason for coming all this way just to stare at a diseased cabin!”
How can he not smell it? the second man wondered, seeing the Vampire’s black eyes glisten with hunger. Hunger, he knew, begets impatience.
“Christian,” he said smoothly, releasing his hood from his face as to better see the Vampire’s hunger. Yes, the eyes were shifting slightly, a red hue beginning to cover the black. “There are matters...that must be taken into account before one can go barging into a rundown cabin.”
“Like what?” Christian said dryly. “Checking the wind for specks of Lycan stench?”
Ah, good. His senses weren’t all devoid of danger. “Something of the sort,” he said quietly, and after a short pause, “have you fed for the night?”
His red eyes appeared to shine with sudden intrigue. “I haven’t,” he admitted, staring upon the second man suspiciously then, “why do you ask?”
The thick scent of Lycan filled his nose with greater presence, now, and as he stared at his brother through the gloom, he wondered how on Earth the Vampire could not smell it. “No matter,” he said, “I just think it foolish for you to accompany me when you have not fed. It would be most...bothersome for you, I imagine, if you...ran into...misfortune or some other matter and you were most...ill-equipped to deal with it....”
“Xavier,” he said sternly, and the stare was full of incredulity, “if you think me to wander off for my fix of blood and miss whatever Dracula has sent us here for—”
“I shall inform you of whatever you believe you may have missed,” he said, his voice deadly serious. “It is my duty.”
His eyes seemed to lessen in their shine although they remained quite hidden from light, shrouded in the dark protection of trees whose trunks twisted darkly and whose branches hung low, brandishing black leaves. Xavier hoped the Vampire would take the hint and leave, for something was very strange here and he would not see his only brother harmed because of it....
“Very well, Xavier,” Christian said at last, and Xavier could not help but feel the Vampire was most relieved to tend to his nourishment. “Thank you.” He turned, stepping swiftly through the trees, his quickly lost in the overwhelming darkness of the woods.
Xavier’s mind not able to venture far from the guilt the younger Vampire must have been feeling, for it was Christian’s doing, after all, that they were the Creatures they were—
He smelled her. The rich scent of lilac and freshly drawn blood reached his nose in the cold air, the ever lingering scent of putrid beast... He turned just in time to see the door swing open, and there she stood, a hand wrapped lightly around the old handle, a strange dark blue cloak over her shoulders. She stared through the night, and her brown eyes found him the smile slow to grace her lips. “Alone?” she whispered, her voice reaching his ears quite easily as he stepped into the clearing.
Her beauty, her hunger...yes, she was quite the formidable Vampire, Eleanor Black.
Xavier understood immediately why Dracula had sent them to her. “I believe so,” he said softly, stepping forward into the cabin as she turned and walked toward two tattered armchairs that faced a small fireplace, the fire burning low within its grate.
He watched as she took a seat in one farthest from the door and closed her eyes. She waved a hand, allowing the door to close behind him, but how curious it was that the smell of the cold night air dispersed as she did this, but the horrid stench of Lycan did not.
“Xavier... Christian wished to feed?” she whispered, bringing his mind back to the here and now.
He gazed upon her, seeing her closed eyes, her long wavy black hair resting against her shoulders and chest as her head remained back against the chair, exhaustion radiating off every pore. What on Earth had she been doing to cause such utter depletion? Did she not acquire blood?
“Yes,” he said after a time of staring, knowing full well she could have heard their entire conversation if she so chose.
“It’s for the best…he would not take kindly to the news I have prepared....”
“And that would be?”
She opened her eyes, and yes, even against the small light of the fire, the weakness within them could not be denied: she was starving. “What we need to fight these beasts that threaten our quiet existence with the human world,” she answered.
He stepped forward, stopping just beside the vacant armchair, mind rapt with just what that would be, when she said, “Forgive me...I haven’t fed all night, I am feeling…a bit out of sorts.”
“A Lycan... Did you fight one, Eleanor?” he asked. Surely, a Lycan had remained here—the smell was quite overpowering now.
She stared at him, the disbelief within her eyes quite apparent as she sat up in the old chair. “No,” she breathed, “no, I didn’t – I just... I haven’t fed, that is all.”
Xavier’s his mind rang with her words, before he decided that she had to have been telling the truth; Eleanor Black never lied. “Very well,” he said. He moved to sit in the free armchair beside her, pulling back the sleeves of his cloak and white shirt. The pale of his skin illuminated further by the orange light of the low fire, he rested it over the chair for her to see. “Take my blood.”
A slightly shaking hand flew to her mouth, and she stared at his arm, the veins quite clear under the skin, and said, “You know I can’t. I can’t. Not anymore.” But she could not look away.
He stared at her, taking in her eyes, the tremble of her hand... Even famished she still held her beauty. But of course she would—all that had changed was their title. Yet how drastic a change it proved to be.
Turning his mind from disturbing thoughts, he raised his arm off the chair. “Please,” he said, and raised his wrist slightly. For no matter their standing now, he would not allow her a permanent death.
And the hand was lowered from her lips as the stark desire to taste him overwhelmed her. Her eyes had slowly begun to change their color, going from a soothingly cold brown to a most mesmerized red. “Are you sure?” she whispered, her voice thick with hunger.
“By all means,” he answered, having no time at all to realize it before a hand had reached forth, settling his wrist before her lips. She opened her mouth, the fangs there gleaming in the light of the fire as shadows danced across her pale face.
Before he could say another word, she had bit down across a vein. The blood leaving him in earnest. He fought back a wave of pleasure the more she drank, knowing he should not feel it, not the exact desire filling his dead heart, for they were over—there was nothing there, nothing there at all.
So why do I love this so?
He managed to stare at her as she drank. She could know nothing of his pleasure, know nothing of his desire, for hers was being fulfilled. And to a Vampire so lost in their bloodlust, that was all that mattered.
She drank for moments more, and when the wind outside the old cabin made the wooden walls to groan, she released his arm. His blood spilled down the sides of her mouth with her greed. She had taken far too much, far too much, indeed, but he had been far too preoccupied to care.
He stared at her closely now, rubbing a hand over his closing wound, noticing the way she would not reach his eyes. Of course, he thought simply, racked with guilt. She always was one for rules. “Eleanor?” he said, watching as she blinked, her eyes returning to their regular state, and the smile was slow to grow upon her face, but there it was.
“Yes?” she whispered absently.
“What news have you for me?”
He blinked incoherently and then dawning realization found her eyes. She stood with swiftness from the old armchair and turned, stepping into the darker reaches of the cabin where the low fire’s light could not reach.
He stared after her, bemused, prepared to open his mouth once more, when she said, “Dracula has told me he long ago fathered a child…the daughter of whom has had a child of her own. He has watched this family closely in the hopes that one of their offspring will possess his blood, undiluted by the blood of humans.”
Xavier heard her footsteps as she moved along the old floorboards. Her sudden silence allowed him to assess what words just left her lips.
She continued after several minutes:
“He has finally come across one such offspring: A girl…well a woman. Her name is Alexandria Stone. She has shown considerable…‘talent’ is what he said, although he wouldn’t expand on what that talent happened to be. He himself has kept his eye on her for the past twenty or so years, watched afar as she’s grown, and for whatever reason, he has finally decided to tell us about her. He needs her, as her blood is his, and as we know, any human with the blood of a Vampire in their veins must be turned before they suffer a most unsightly death. She is nearing this state, Xavier, and he wants you to find her and bite her. Give her your blood and she will help stop the Lycans, once and for all.”
“A human woman commands such power?” he asked, disbelieving.
Her brown eyes gleamed at him from the darkness of the cabin and he could see the faint glint of the silver necklaces she kept around her neck. “Apparently,” she answered him, the note of contempt just hidden beneath the word.
He narrowed his eyes. It was highly uncommon for Eleanor Black to disagree with Dracula. “And you? What do you think of this woman?”
“I don’t know what to think, Xavier,” she admitted. “He has not told me what she must do to save us from the Lycans, only that she must be tracked down and turned into a Vampire.”
He folded his arms, brow furrowed as he thought. “If he has watched her, why can he not turn her himself?” he asked after a time.
“Marvelous question. I asked this myself when he informed me of what he wished for me to tell you.”
“And what did he say?”
“He didn’t…well not exactly, anyway.” The glint of the many rings upon her fingers caught his eye through the darkness, and he knew she was interlacing her fingers, thinking deeply, just as he was. “He only told me he would not be here for long to continuously watch over the human as he has done before. Something about journeying elsewhere, for what he would not say.”
“How odd,” he whispered, rising to stand, not understanding what would cause the Vampire to leave them to their own devices. Dracula was never known for secrets; of this much, Xavier was aware.
Eleanor stepped forward into the light of the fire, but remained quite a distance from him the armchairs he now stood by. “He...has been acting strangely as of late. Surely, you’ve noticed it.”
He thought of anything strange he’d noticed from the Great Vampire, but could not pinpoint a precise thing. However, he’d never before sent him, Xavier, to gather information from another Order Member instead of telling him, himself. It was strange, but it was hardly enough of a strange request to warrant any feelings of distrust toward the Vampire, Xavier thought.
“No,” he said simply.
Eleanor stepped an inch closer to him, the back of her still caught in darkness, her front only grazed by the light of the fire, giving her an ethereal glow. “I have,” she said at last.
“What have you noticed?”
She merely stared at him, not a word leaving her lips.
“Eleanor,” he tried again, staring upon her curiously, “what have you noticed?”
His eyes narrowed. He noticed now that her eyes appeared glazed, her lips trembling with what had to be fear. “Eleanor, what’s wrong?” he asked.
She stood as still as stone, seemingly glued to the weak flooring. When she did not respond for moments more, the air inside the cabin beginning to crawl, he moved a hand to the sheath settled on his waist, sure to exhale what little air remained in his lungs, and squeezed the hilt of the sword. “Eleanor.”
The figure in front of him did not move or make a sound.
Xavier drew the Ascalon. The long sword shone in the light of the fire. A deep line ran along its center—one that carried straight down to the tip, the silver hilt gleaming underneath his hand. As he kept his eyes on her, he tapped the blade of the sword to the cabin floor, pressing a thumb against the sharpened edge, allowing the blood to spill into the groove with ease. Yes, before he knew it, he felt his blood burn with preparation, his gaze turning a deep red. He allowed the cold cabin air to fill his lungs, his dead heart pressing against its cage with his apprehension, for he knew something was gravely wrong here. He had smelled beasts, and a number of them, and now Eleanor...she was...what? What was wrong with her?
Steeling himself, he took a single step toward her before it hit him, causing him cease his movement.
There it was: the putrid scent of Lycan once again. Much more concentrated, much stronger. It made no sense. He half expected an overgrown dog to appear at the cabin’s door, the smell was so intense...
And then the blood spilled from her lips, a fountain, falling all over her front and splattering onto the old floor as she lifted an arm and stretched her fingers toward him, as though accusing him of some great wrong. The low, rough voice issued past her blood-drenched lips. It was mangled, as if forced to sound against a throat that did not want it to speak. The sound made his skin crawl: “Xavier.”
He stared in disbelief, rooted to the spot by her deep dark eyes. They were completely black now. And it was a long time before he lifted the sword, it was a long time before he allowed thought to break his transfixion: He knew he would have to harm her, for the smell of Lycan grew stronger, stifling his every sense.
But he was not prepared for what happened next, indeed:
Her black, curly hair fell from her head, the skin from her face beginning to peel, revealing not the bloody skull underneath, but thick, bloody fur. He lowered his sword as astonishment captured his hand.
Beady black eyes appeared over the long snout that had now formed, pushing the rest of her skin from her face where it fell to the floor just as loudly as her blood had spilled. It was a sound that echoed on in his ears, even when he lifted the sword at last, trying his best to keep his eyes from the bloody pile of skin at her feet as the rest of her was removed. The large, overgrown dog, shaking impatiently from her skin. Her many necklaces had fallen to the floor some moments before, not able to withstand the strain of the beast’s large neck as it stared down at him from its hind legs, its large head bumping against the cabin’s ceiling.
Before he could say a word, it bared its three rows of long sharp teeth; its entire mouth filled with saliva, which now dripped down the sides of its open mouth, the smell of its horrid breath brushing past his face.
He chose not to inhale.
He turned his gaze to its long black nails as it lifted a massive paw, prepared to bring it down upon his head. He moved swiftly, avoiding the attack, the long claws slashing against air.
He squeezed the sword, the shock dispersing as he knew Eleanor was no more now. It was a beast before him, a damned bloody dog and nothing more. He would have to strike it down. But how was any of this possible at all?
The Lycan lunged forward. It ripped up the old floor of the cabin. Great snarls left its throat as large drops of saliva flew from its mouth—
He lifted the sword in one swift movement, the blade striking it dead in its large, thundering heart: The fur began to wither, a sound much like a mixture of panic and pain left its mouth, and Xavier turned his head, knowing what would happen next. The beast melded into thick, black ash. All of it dropped abruptly atop the pile of skin and blood, the necklaces atop them.
He reached a hand inside his cloak despite its unsteady tremor to pull forth a small white cloth, wiping the sword of remaining blood before inhaling deeply. The thing that had stifled his senses since he had arrived was gone and so was she. But it made no sense. How could a Lycan burst through a Vampire’s skin?
Tearing himself from the sight of the ash and blood, he turned toward the door, sliding the Ascalon into its sheath, his mind unable to form anything more than the question: How?
And he smelled it, the calm scent of the wise Vampire, it was the smell of cold wind and fresh blood.
He placed a hand on the knob of the door, wondering just what the Vampire was doing here, and turned. Cold, crisp air greeted him as he left the cabin and closed the door softly behind him, canceling the heavy scent of Lycan and blood, the lingering, faint scent of the Vampire that was Eleanor Black.
The light of the moon illuminated the clearing and he thought of Christian, how the Vampire was fairing with his quarry... How right he was in telling the Vampire to leave...
“That was no normal inquiry, was it, Xavier?” the smooth voice asked, then.
Xavier looked up between the trees and watched as the tall Vampire appeared from behind one, the silver cloak shimmering in the moonlight as he took a silent step forward with polished black boots. With his appearance, the wind picked up ever the slightest and it sent his long, pale, equally-silver hair across his charming face. One violet eye stared at Xavier calmly, knowingly, and he made no attempt to allow both eyes to be seen, but rather allowed his hands to wave softly through the air: The wind ceased before he took another step toward the Vampire.
“It wasn’t, no,” Xavier responded quietly, allowing his joy at seeing the Vampire again to dissipate with the wind. He turned his thoughts to what he’d just left, his dead heart sinking further. “Something...terrible has happened.”
The Vampire stepped forward silently, his steps making no sound against the dry leaves, the twigs beneath his feet. “It smells of beast...”
He knew his gaze to turn to the ground as his voice found itself stuck hard in his throat.
“Xavier?” the Vampire asked, the voice much closer now, causing him to look up, to see that the Vampire had indeed stepped across the rest of the clearing and stood just before him.
“Victor,” he whispered, barely able to allow the thoughts to rise to his mind, for how could he tell anyone, how could he begin to explain what he, himself, could not fathom? “Eleanor is dead.” And with the words uttered plainly, he found he could not match the gaze, could not see the look of disbelief that would surely be etched upon that face. “Before she died she spoke to me…a name. The name of a woman. Alexandria Stone.”
“Alexandria Stone?” Victor repeated, and as Xavier stared back upon him with his words, he saw the violet eyes darken slightly as the subtle hint of deep thought lined the slightly aged face. “How did Eleanor die?”
“I cannot...I cannot say.”
“Xavier, what do you mean you ‘cannot say’? If she died by the hands of a beast, where is it? Did you kill it?” Victor’s were wide as he searched the cabin for any sign of forced entry, or perhaps, any remnants of brown fur that may have flown from the Lycan before it was sliced by Xavier’s sword.
“It was inside,” Xavier said, watching as Victor turned his gaze back upon him.
“Inside? How on Earth is that possible? It does not look as though there were any Lycan Creature in there—was it in human form?”
Xavier painfully recalled the all-too-fresh sight of Eleanor’s skin falling from bone. Stalling the shudder that arose, he locked his eyes on Victor. “No…it was Eleanor.”
The shock on his face was paramount: The spark of bewilderment in Victor’s eyes would not be swept away. “What?”
“Not here,” he decided aloud, not wishing to be near the place that still held miniscule traces of her scent. “Another time.”
“Xavier—” Victor started, but Xavier could take no more, he had to clear his head, he had to figure out just what had happened. He had to see Dracula. He did not eye the Vampire as he stepped past him into the woods once more, doing his best to ignore the Vampire’s voice as he continued to call: “Xavier! Xavier, wait! What is this?”
What is this? he thought, stopping near a tree, the stretching trunk of it twisting as to cover his back in black leaves, casting him further in shadow of the wood. I hardly know.
He turned back to eye him, his thoughts turning to a most dismal reality. As he continued to stare from between the black leaves, Victor took his chance to ask, “What of this name? Alexandria Stone?”
“Consult Dracula, Victor,” he said quietly. “He was the one who sent me here. He was the one who could not tell me face-to-face that a mere woman must be looked after.”
Victor pulled the hood over his head, still staring incredulously after him. “But Xavier, who is this person? What of Eleanor Black?”
His red sight returned before he could stop it: the scene unfurling endlessly within his mind. He had felt an unease near the the cabin, that was true, but he had not sensed anyone else but Eleanor inside so how was it possible that a Lycan resided inside her?
“I don’t know who the woman is, Victor,” he said at last, “but I am quite sure Eleanor is dead.”
The complete realization of this seemed to hit the silver-haired Vampire at last, and he did not speak again. Using this time to gather his thoughts, Xavier said the only thing he knew would equal sense, the only thing right for a Vampire to do. “We must go to Dracula.”
Victor nodded, seemingly resigned to the lack of answers now. “I shall get the others—”
Victor watched him, nonplussed.
“Don’t call them,” he said quickly, and as the Vampire scrutinized his expression, he quickly covered with, “I wish to speak to Dracula on the matter privately before the entire Order is involved.”
“But that is not done!” he told him, brow furrowed in question.
Xavier stepped into the light of the moon once more, his red eyes placed carefully upon Victor Vonderheide. He stopped just before the Vampire and said, “I need time to figure out what just happened. I am not sure, myself.”
Silence dressed the night. Victor said no more, merely staring at him through the darkness of his hood. After a long while, the hood nodded. “Of course, my friend. I will still my tongue.”
The red hue left his sight. His mind traveling to the thought he had held whilst within the woods, the thought that had meant he would be acknowledging what he secretly knew when she had descended into a Lycan Creature.
Victor nodded to him curtly, sending the wind to stir once more as he disappeared from the clearing.
His gaze fell upon the old door of the cabin, the scent of the beast’s blood filling his nose once more. He knew, as he stared at its peeling, cracked wood—remembering the sight of her, remembering the sound of her blood hitting the floor, the sight of her favorite silver necklaces falling atop the pile of her skin—that nothing would ever be the same. And whatever had happened to her was only the beginning of more absolute strangeness.
Letting a slow, cold sigh leave his lungs, he turned his thoughts to the Vampire City before anymore thoughts could disturb him further, and disappeared into the night, leaving the pale moonlight to shine upon untouched ground.