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The sun dipped below the horizon, and Lance rose to light the lamp. As he shook out the match and replaced the glass chimney, he heard the front door open. “Raoul? Is that you?” He turned just as his twin entered the room.

Raoul’s eyes were bright and feverish, and his face was ashen. He seemed to hold himself in check, as if his body wished to leap and run about, and his hands were constantly clenching and unclenching at his sides.

“Are you all right?” Lance took a step forward. “Where have you been?”

Raoul laughed and there was an edge there that his brother had not heard before — it gave him chills. “I’m better than I’ve ever been,” he proclaimed. “I’ve discovered the Fountain of Youth, Lance, and I’ve come to share it with you.”

It was Lance’s turn to laugh. Raoul was often absurd, but this was a new one, even for him. “You’re not serious?” He looked closer at his brother’s face. “What have you been drinking?”

“Only the Elixir of Life, dear brother.” He grinned, showing his teeth. There was something wrong with them.

Lance lifted the lamp to see better — and gasped, drawing back. “No.” His heart was hammering in his ears. But he wasn’t mistaken. Raoul had fangs — like a snake… or a vampire.

Raoul waved his hand carelessly. “Oh, that’s right — the teeth. It’s not what you think — it’s not like the stories. I’m still me.”

“That’s exactly what a demon masquerading as my brother would say.”

“Ever so trusting, aren’t you, Lance?” There was that edge again — as if he were not quite sane. He turned away and ran his finger lightly over the books on the shelves lining the wall. “Do you remember when Mother used to read to us? And then we would act out our favourite parts?”

Lance made no reply, but Raoul continued undaunted. “Do you remember the plans we made? What we promised each other?”

Lance went very still. Oh yes, he remembered. Several seconds ticked by in silence. Finally, he whispered, “We planned to live forever.”

“It’s time to begin living forever, brother.” Raoul turned around to face his twin.

“Not this way.” Lance’s voice sounded almost peevish to his ears.

“There’s no turning back,” Raoul said quietly. “Either you join me or I must leave and we will never see each other again.”

For a moment, he considered it; but life without his brother would be empty and meaningless. His shoulders slumped in defeat. “What must I do?” His voice was almost inaudible.

Raoul reached out. “Give me your hand.” Bending over his brother’s wrist, he broke the skin with his teeth.

It was the strangest sensation. Lance felt as if he stood outside of himself, watching his brother drink his blood. The room began to spin slowly and his vision narrowed and blurred. Then Raoul straightened and, through the mist, Lance watched as he brought his own wrist to his mouth. The room made another uneven revolution, and Raoul’s wrist was at Lance’s lips. He stared at the blood oozing from the veins, fascinated by the colour. Raoul’s voice came as if from far away: “Drink.”

Closing his eyes, Lance put his lips to the seeping wound. It tasted strange — when he had tasted his own blood before, from a cut lip or bitten tongue, it was raw and coppery — this was rich and sweet like coffee and chocolate or wine and cheese. More like wine the effects — in minutes, the spinning had intensified and he could no longer keep his balance. It didn’t matter if he was falling, though, for the world had disappeared around him, and all was black.

When Lance awoke, he was in his bedroom, which was lit only faintly by a sliver of moonlight that slipped through the heavy drapes. He felt as if a vise were squeezing his temples, trying to crush his skull. He was thankful for the darkness, as even the tiny shred of light cut into his eyes like a knife. He sat up — and the room spun and swung around him like a pendulum. An involuntary groan escaped his lips as he let his head fall into his hands.

The creak of the door opening was unnaturally loud, assaulting his ears, and he groaned again.

“Lance?”

He raised his head to meet his brother’s concerned eyes. “Is it supposed to feel this awful?” he asked hoarsely.

“I’m sorry. I should have warned you.” Pushing the door closed, Raoul crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Your body is being transformed — the pain and queasiness are part of that and unfortunately must be endured.”

Lance fell back against his pillows with a sigh. “I imagine this was nothing to you.”

Raoul’s laugh beat against Lance’s head like a hammer on his skull. “I’ve never had a hangover as bad as that. Although, some have come close.” He pulled the sheets and blankets straight, and tucked them in around Lance. “And I often regret what I did the night before. You won’t regret this.”

“I already do.” Lance covered his eyes with his arm, attempting to ease the headache by blocking the light. Surprisingly, it worked. His head still felt afire, but it was not nearly so terrible.

“Soon you’ll feel better, and we’ll go hunting to regain your strength.”

“Hunting?” Lance’s voice was fading — his throat a desert of dryness.

“I know it feels as if you’ll never be strong again, but you will. You’ll be stronger than ever.”

Raoul’s voice slipped away. Lance welcomed the oblivion of sleep.

The sun had set and the moon risen again, bathing the city with silvery light. Lance stood at the window, lost in thought. This was the only natural light his eyes could now look upon — the sun would set him aflame if he was fool enough to go out before it set.

He became aware of a burning sensation in his fingertips and looked down to discover that he was flipping a silver coin between his fingers and thumb, a habit he had picked up long ago from his father. Strange. The coin was cool, and yet it burned.

Placing it carefully on the windowsill, he examined his fingertips. The skin was red and angry, but as he watched, the pain eased and the redness faded — the burns were healing right before his eyes!

Curious, he picked up the coin again — and quickly dropped it. Ouch! There must be something in silver that reacted badly with his new physiology.

Turning away from the window, he approached the mirror on the wall. His image gazed back at him, pale yet recognizable. Well, the legend of no reflection was proven false. He smiled wryly at himself. With his dark hair and black suit, all he needed was a long black cape to complete the picture of Dracula.

Her dusky hair had shone almost blue in the moonlight, falling in waves around her face and over her shoulders; her eyes were deep pools of darkness; her scarlet lips curved in a smile that held such promise; and her shapely body was draped in a crimson dress that hugged her curves and dipped low at the throat to display a hint of cleavage.

She stepped toward him, offering her hand. Bending, he brushed his lips across her knuckles. “Your hands are cold, my lady,” he said as he straightened and reluctantly released her hand.

Her smile deepened. “You know what they say about cold hands and warm hearts?” Her voice was rich and throaty — it made delicious tremors race up and down his spine.

He nodded, unable to trust his voice to speak.

She leaned forward, almost touching him, until her lips were at his ear. “They weren’t talking about me,” she whispered. She straightened and laughed softly. Her laugh, like her voice, was rich and beguiling and he couldn’t help smiling.

“How cold is your heart, my lady?” he teased.

“As cold as death.” Still smiling invitingly, she took his hand. “See for yourself.” And she placed his hand over her heart.

Her skin surprised him — soft and smooth as satin, yet cold as ice. And there was something else passing strange beyond the unnatural cold. For a moment, he was puzzled, then he realized — her chest was still. She did not breathe.

He lifted his head and met her eyes. Fear held him frozen, confusion tied his tongue, and yet — God help him! — it was her beauty that truly held him captive.

“Yes,” she said softly. “I’m not quite human.” She stroked his cheek with the fingertips of her free hand. “I would like to give you the gift of immortality, Raoul. Will you accept my offer?”

He nodded, willing to agree to anything she asked of him.

She stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his neck, and he reflexively put his arms around her waist. She was of a height with him and she met his eyes and smiled before she bent her head to brush her lips against his neck. He shivered — as much from the chill in her skin as from reaction to her touch.

A sharp pain pricked his throat and he stiffened, but forced himself to relax. He closed his eyes, and her lips fastened on his skin, sending a thrill of euphoria through his body, weakening his knees. Hours passed — or maybe minutes, or years — he neither knew nor cared. When her lips released him, he felt bereft, and almost cried out in protest. His body swayed, following her as she straightened, and the world spun in crazy spirals around him. She caught his arm, steadying him, and her perfect face swam through his vision.

Then she was drawing him close again, bringing his head down upon her chest, guiding his lips to the swell where a breast began and he was vaguely disquieted at the blood.

“Drink,” she murmured and he drank. And it was unlike anything in the vast varieties of alcohol he had ever sampled, while at the same time it was like all of them together.

Raoul slowly became aware of his body — and wished he hadn’t. His head was a block of pain, and every muscle ached. Even his bones hurt. He attempted to sit up and his stomach tried to turn inside out and empty itself, but apparently it was already empty. He ended halfway on his side, leaning over the edge of the bed, retching vainly. Every heave sent waves of pain through his body, but he couldn’t stop.

After what felt like eons, the retching finally came to an end. He fell limply back onto the pillows and closed his eyes to block out the soft candlelight that assaulted him like brilliant knives. He had no memory of what had occurred to bring him to this. He usually didn’t drink enough to be this sick the next day.

That was a mystery for later, though — after his head no longer felt as if it were splitting in two. Now, he only wished the oblivion of sleep would return; but now that he was conscious, the pain and nausea kept him awake.

A squeaking of hinges assaulted his ears, and he reluctantly opened his eyes. The door swung open, and she stood framed for an instant — a glorious apparition of danger — then she stepped forward. He found he couldn’t take his eyes from her. “You’re awake.” Her voice was thrilling, evoking memories of pain and pleasure. “I know you feel terrible right now, but that will soon pass.” There was something about her that made him uneasy, even frightened him. Why couldn’t he remember?

She put a slender hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry for the pain and discomfort, but it is necessary for the transformation. One day, you will look back on this time with fondness.”

He snorted in disbelief and she laughed.

“I know you don’t believe me now, but it’s true,” she insisted, squeezing his shoulder. “I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain, but it must be endured. There is no medicine for this.”

“And what is ‘this’?” His voice was raw, and it cracked on the last word.

“You are being transformed, my sweet boy. You are becoming something greater.”

Raoul attempted to clear his throat, but there was nothing to clear away: the raspiness was extreme dryness. “I need water.”

“Water won’t help.” Her eyes were soft and compassionate. “I’m truly sorry. Nothing will help — not yet. Soon. Soon we can quench your thirst.”

He sighed and closed his eyes, fatigue washing over him. Something in her touch seemed to soothe his pain.

She stroked his hair back from his brow. “Sleep, sweet boy. Sleep and dream good dreams.”

“Raoul, what have you done?” Lance watched in horror as his brother raised his head and tossed the body of the thief into the gutter.

Raoul laughed. “Ah, Lance. He was a criminal. I’ve done the world a favour.”

Lance tried to find the words to express the wrongness he felt, but failed. “Murder is murder.”

Raoul sighed dramatically and shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder how it is possible that I could be related to such a stuck-up Puritan. If we didn’t look so much alike I’d think you were a changeling.”

Lance tried, but he couldn’t suppress a smile at that.

Raoul spotted the smile, and a huge grin lit up his face. “Aha! You are my brother after all!” He grabbed Lance’s arm and pulled him along, striding out of the dank alley and down the street, ducking carriages and other pedestrians.

Lance wasn’t about to let it go, though. “Raoul, we can’t just go about killing people. Besides the moral problem, someone will notice.”

“You may be right at that.” Raoul tapped his forefinger against his lips. “Okay, Lance. We’ll try it your way. No killing. Not even murderers. What do we eat now?”

Lance smiled. “Animals, of course.”

Raoul shuddered dramatically. “Oh, Lance. We’ll get fur in our teeth.” He made a moué of distaste.

“And what have you been getting in your teeth from the drunks?”

“Well. You’ve got me there. Animals it is, then.”

They had entered a stand of trees while they conversed, and were so intent on the discussion that they didn’t notice anything until the attack came. The humans were well-prepared, and apparently knew what they were doing — the older man carried a silver-bladed sword while the younger wielded a crossbow.

The older one engaged Lance so quickly he was only just able to get his own sword drawn in time to parry a blow meant to take his head off. He gained the upper hand in minutes though — his opponent was strong and a good fighter, but still human. He disarmed him, then struck him in the temple with the hilt of his sword, rendering him unconscious.

He turned away just in time to see the younger hunter shoot Raoul in the heart with a wooden bolt. Raoul’s eyes widened and he looked down at his chest in disbelief. “No!” Lance felt the scream rip from his throat as he leapt forward, catching his brother as he fell. He snatched the quarrel out, praying it hadn’t hit the heart. Raoul’s eyes met Lance’s, and his body disintegrated, falling through his fingers like sand. Something inside Lance also crumbled, leaving an empty, gaping wound.

As if from a great distance, he heard the creak and groan as his brother’s murderer reloaded the crossbow. For a fleeting second, he considered just sitting there and letting him end it. But then he was on his feet, ripping the crossbow out of the hunter’s hands — snapping it in half and flinging it against a nearby tree trunk.. He stepped forward, already imagining the feeling of the boy’s spine cracking between his fingers, his life slipping away like Raoul’s had.

The older hunter was beginning to come around. “Peter?” he groaned. “Son?”

“Dad!” Peter backed up, shooting glances at his father, clearly terrified.

Clenching his fists until his nails cut his palms, Lance regained control of himself, and then he was running. Running from the pile of dust that had been his twin, running from the rage and pain that held his heart in a vise.

He stumbled to a stop not far from where he had started. Why was he running? Because he was afraid — of himself. Of what he would do to Raoul’s killer. But why shouldn’t he have revenge? Why shouldn’t the murderer pay? He turned around and purposefully returned to the clearing. The humans had left, but their tracks were easy to follow.

Out of the forest and into a nearby village he stalked them. Their trail ended at a small log house on the edge of the treeline. Lance mounted the front porch, and turned the knob — it was locked, of course. Most villagers wouldn’t bother, but these were different — they knew what lurked out there in the night. Still, a lock was nothing to him. In a breath, it was broken, and Lance walked into the house. The narrow front hall was empty, but he heard voices from deeper within. Closing the door without a sound, he went to investigate.

He passed an empty sitting room, and then came upon a well-lit kitchen. There was a woman sitting at a table knitting while a man he recognized as the older hunter — the father — banked the fire in the hearth. Peter was not there. But wouldn’t it be even more apropos if he took Peter’s family just as Peter had taken his? Besides, these people had raised him, taught him to kill — they were just as guilty as he was.

He stepped into the light, and the woman looked up, a smile of greeting on her face, her lips forming the name “Peter.” The smile faded as she met his eyes, the greeting dying half-formed on her lips. Her husband turned and, recognizing Lance from earlier, reached for his sword. It was the last thing he ever did.

The night was no longer young when Peter returned home from celebrating with his friends. A brilliant full moon cast its light over the countryside, a light that obscured rather than revealing. Familiar trees and rocks took on a sinister aspect. He hardly noticed any of this, however — he was still on a high earlier, for tonight he had become a man. He replayed the scene in his head over and over, revelling in the rush he’d felt when he’d pulled the trigger on his crossbow, relishing the memory of the look on the vampire’s face when the wooden bolt had pierced his heart. Truly, it had been a good night.

He did feel a twinge of chagrin when he recalled how the other one had taken his crossbow and torn it in half as if it were wet paper. Peter had been sure his own life was over for the endless seconds he had stood unarmed before the furious vampire before it turned and ran away. He still couldn’t figure that one out.

He was jolted out of his thoughts by the realization that the house was too dark and quiet. His mouth went dry. Something was wrong. He pushed the door open — the lock was broken — and entered the house. The darkness was so deep he had to search for the matches and candles on the hall table by memory and feel. He struck a match and held the tiny flame to the candlewick until it caught. Shaking out the match, he turned, holding the candle up to light his way down the narrow hall to the sitting room. The light flickered madly and he realized his hands were shaking.

The sitting room was empty and his dread grew. His mother usually sat in here knitting or sewing well past sunset. The dark shadows in the corners mocked him, and he fled.

The kitchen door creaked as it always did — he really should fix that — and he stepped through, the candle held before him like a sword — or a shield. The circle of light fell over the worn wooden floor, the table and chairs… and the bodies of his mother and father. They lay on the floor near the table upon which they had eaten so many meals — where she had baked bread and where Peter had learned to take apart and rebuild a crossbow — their limbs limp and their eyes open and staring. The candlelight fluttered over them, giving the illusion of movement, of life, but he knew it was a lie. The pairs of small round holes in their throats told him what had done it. The icy burning in his heart told him who had done it.

Stooping over his mother’s body, Peter held the candle’s flame to her long dark hair, trying vainly to steady his hands. Despite the wavering, the fire caught, and he moved to his father, trying not to see the bodies as people, as loved ones — not allowing himself to think beyond what was necessary.

When the fire was well begun, he left the house without looking back. He took with him only the clothes on his back, his father’s sword, and a raging thirst for revenge.

Night had only just fallen when Lance heard the footsteps outside the rundown hunting cabin in which he had taken refuge from the sun that morning. He knew immediately who it was, and he welcomed the confrontation. He hadn’t hidden his trail very well, hoping that Peter would track him down. Rage still boiled within him, unquenched by the killings the night before. Yet now it was icy rather than blazing, and he no longer planned to kill the boy — he had a much more fitting fate for him in mind. Drawing his sword, he tossed the leather sheath on the bed. Naked blade in hand, he stood in the middle of the small room, patiently waiting.

The front steps creaked loudly, announcing that Peter didn’t care if Lance heard him coming — that, or he was so angry he was careless. Lance smiled grimly. Usually a human would have little chance against him — unless he had a really good reason to fight. And what better reason than revenge?

The door opened with a squeaking of ancient wood and Peter entered, carrying a silver-bladed sword before him. When he spotted Lance, his face contorted with rage, and he immediately attacked. Lance easily parried the none-too-skillful strokes, disappointed. It seemed revenge wasn’t a strong enough motivator to make this human more than an annoyance. Bored, he switched from defense to attack. He twisted his wrist just so, and Peter lost his grip on the hilt as the sword was torn from his hand. Lance plunged his blade into his opponent’s midsection, and Raoul’s murderer fell to his knees, fingers convulsively closing on the blade where it entered him. His grey eyes burned with rage and agony. Releasing the hilt, Lance brought his wrist to his mouth and broke his skin with his teeth.

Those grey eyes widened in horror when Lance pressed his bleeding wrist to Peter’s lips. He tried to pull back, but Lance grabbed the back of his head with his other hand and held him still. Peter pressed his lips tightly closed, fighting the inevitable, but Lance used both hands, squeezing Peter’s head as if in a vise, and his lips gave way and parted, allowing the vampire’s blood to enter.

Gagging, Peter clawed at Lance’s arm in a futile attempt to push him away. His lips and teeth were now slick with a mixture of his own and Lance’s blood.

Never having done this before, Lance was unsure how much of his blood a human would have to ingest. To be certain it was enough, he waited until Peter ceased struggling and lost consciousness. Only then did he release Peter’s dead weight and withdraw his sword from the limp body. He found a handkerchief in his pocket, and carefully cleaned the blade. Without a backward glance, he retrieved his scabbard and left the cabin.

Peter gradually became aware of pain — pain everywhere. Was there a part of his body that didn’t hurt? Not that he was surprised to be in pain, since the last thing he remembered was losing miserably to that smug vampire. He bolted upright into a sitting position, his fists clenched, as he recalled the aftermath of the battle. How had he survived? Or was he — ? No. He shied away from the thought.

A glance around advised him that he was still in the old cabin where he had ultimately confronted his parents’ murderer. The metallic, almost sweet, scent of blood filled his nostrils. He closed his eyes, unwilling to check the wound he had received, afraid that it would no longer be there.

Pushing himself to his feet, he surveyed the room. It had clearly been abandoned for a long time. The ancient mattress in the corner was surely crawling with insects, and the only other piece of furniture was a chair that had collapsed, probably from rot. He blinked, surprised, when his eyes caught a gleam of silver on the floor and he realized that his sword was still here. But then, that did make sense after all, for the blade was silver-plated, and vampires were allergic to silver, so the fiend would have avoided touching it.

Peter slowly stepped forward, carefully testing himself. Finding that moving didn’t exacerbate his aches — in fact, he was starting to feel better now — he walked over and picked up his sword. Terrified, yet somehow compelled, he placed the flat of the blade against his palm. Nothing happened, and he sighed in relief. Then his palm began to burn as if he held it against a flame. He snatched it away from the silver blade, and stared in horror at the angry red welts that immediately began to fade.

Unable to stop himself now, he looked down at the bloodstained hole in his shirt where the vampire had stabbed him through. Dried blood crusted on his stomach, but there was no other sign that he had been injured. His flesh was unmarred, perfect.

With a strangled cry, he fell to his knees, gripping the sword hilt so tightly his knuckles would have turned white if he were still human. Staring at his reflection in the blade, he slowly raised it, then stopped. First, he would find the one who had done this to him and destroy him, and — while he was at it — every other vampire he could find. Then, he would end his own unnatural existence.

Poet, lover, thinker, human. https://thewordartist.net

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