I stirred the soup I'd been warming in a tin can over a can of Sterno as the girl woke up. She started to kick, weakly, and struggle against her bonds.
“Easy. It's okay. The vampires who had you are dead.” I looked over my shoulder at her, though I suppose the sight of me in my scratched and battered mask wasn't particularly comforting. Better than if I showed her my face, though. Better than that.
Her eyes darted around the room, but there wasn't much to see. It was a concrete room, under the ruins of what had been a Soviet-era apartment bloc. I'd blocked off the stairwell with broken furniture and wooden pallets, and I'd scrounged a pair of folding chairs and some blankets. I sat in one of chairs, and the girl was lying on the blankets. I had a few candles going, and the Sterno gave off a bit of warmth and light, but all in all it was almost like being entombed.
“There are more vampires above us," I said. It wasn't likely - I'd already swept the building. But better safe than sorry. "If we stay quiet, they won't notice us. I have some soup here, and bottled water. You're probably hungry and dehydrated. If I remove your gag, and untie you, can you be quiet? It's only a few hours until dawn, and then we can move.” She nodded at me, and I was grateful for whatever quirk of Anima allowed me to overcome language barriers. Moving carefully, slowly, I loosened her bonds. I didn't want to spook her, and I didn't want to reopen her wounds.
She had been bound to a stake when I found her. Trussed up like a side of beef, for the vampires to feed on should a fit of the munchies strike. Or if they were under attack.
The attack had been too quick for them to stop and feed, this time. The girl had dozens of bites when I cut her down from the stake. I'd healed most of them. I could probably have healed her completely, but... well. I decided it might not be a bad thing if I left her somewhat weakened.
I backed away, and took the far chair while she finished freeing herself. Her hair was long and fair, though caked with dried mud and blood. She was young. Old enough to drive, but probably not old enough to buy a beer. It was hard to pin it down. “Who are you?” she asked. “Why are you hiding your face?”
I touched the battered and scratched mask I wore. “This? My face is... I'm scarred. Badly. I didn't want to frighten you. I thought you'd probably seen enough monsters already.” I set the can of soup down, and nudged it closer to the chair opposite the Sterno fire with the toe of my shoe. “Eat up. It's chicken noodle, good for the soul.” She wrapped herself in one of the blankets – her clothes were tattered and ripped. Enough remained to protect her modesty, but they couldn't have been very warm. She took a seat, holding the warm can in both hands and watching me with wide eyes.
“You are a monster, then?”
I chuckled at that. “I kill monsters. Maybe that means I am just a scarier monster than they are? Who can say? What is your name?”
She sipped at the soup, cautiously. It was fine, I'd been careful to not let it get too hot. “Aya,” she said. “My name is Aya. I don't understand. What happened? How did you get to me? Is this a trick? Are you one of them?” She scanned the room, noting the lack of exits with a frown.
“Aya's a nice name. I like that,” I said, sitting back and keeping my hands where she could see them. “You remind me of a girl I knew when I was a younger man, back in America. Her name was Erin.”
“You're American? What's an American doing here?”
I spread my hands, and leaned forward in my chair, giving a little bow. “Killing monsters, Aya. It's what I do. But I didn't always. I was a minister, once.”
She sipped some more at the soup, and there, almost a smile. “You're a priest?”
I waved my hand dismissively. “Goodness no. Priests are Catholic. I was raised a Methodist.” At her blank stare, I clarified, “A Protestant.”
“Do you remember anything?” I asked. She looked at the bare concrete floor, and shuffled her bare feet. “The vampires had you, Aya. They were eating you, bit by bit.”
“I... no, not really,” she lied. My eyes narrowed, but behind the mask, she probably couldn't have seen it.
“What's the last thing you do remember?”
“I don't want to say,” she whispered. “Tell me something about Erin. The American me.”
A long moment stretched out in silence. “Okay,” I nodded. “Sure. I was fresh out of Seminary, and I had just started at her church, in Vermont. Do you know Vermont?” She shook her head. “It has the most lovely forests. In the fall, the colors are beautiful. Like the hills are painted in reds and golds. Like a sunrise that lasts all day. I wasn't the senior minister at the church. That was her father, Reverend Cooper. He was my boss, and I was the youth pastor.”
“Did you fall in love with Erin?” She asked, watching me from behind her hair.
I shrugged. “Maybe a little bit. But she was younger than I was, and I wasn't all that old. She was funny, and smart, and pretty, and I admired her from a distance. I watched her graduate. I watched her come home from college on holidays, and over the summers. When she married, I performed the ceremony so her father could give her away.”
“That's a little bit sad.”
“Do you think so?” I shrugged. “She wasn't the love of my life. She was just a beautiful girl I knew, and admired. Like the autumn colors of the trees, she was a part of what made the world wonderful, and like the colors of the trees she was a fleeting joy, not to be owned.”
“Were you handsome?”
“I wasn't bad.”
“You should have made her yours. You were like her father, a spiritual leader. But younger, and handsome. Virile, and attainable. I bet she admired you, too. You could have had her, if you tried.”
“How's that soup?”
“It's good. Thank you.” She set the can down behind her chair, and I tossed her a bottle of water. She caught it one-handed, and put it in her lap.
“Your turn. How did you end up as a side dish for the undead?”
She hung her head again, toying with the bottle. “Did you really kill them?”
“How? Are you a sorcerer?”
I tapped a finger against my mask thoughtfully. “'You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood.' Leviticus 17:14. The vampires know this, and crave that life. For me, the Blood is awake. Alive. I use it to heal myself, and to harm my foes. I used the blood in their own bodies against them. I used the lives they took to destroy them.”
She sat in silence for a solid two minutes, fiddling with that bottle in her lap. I let her. I was comfortable with silence.
“Even Milosh?” she asked.
“Is Milosh the one who took you?”
She nodded. “He said he knew a place we could go. Where the upir couldn't follow.” She looked up at me, and I just watched her. My mask gave her nothing. No judgment. No kindness. “He said we would marry, and go away someplace warm and sunny. France, perhaps. Or Portugal.” One of the candles guttered out. In the shifting light, her eyes gleamed briefly. They were dry, though. She wasn't crying. "We went to a house, outside the village. There was food inside, and wine.” She hugged herself, hunching her shoulders and shivering. "It was... nice."
“And when the vampires came?” She shook her head, either in confusion or denial. “What did Milosh do, Aya, when the vampires came?”
“Did you kill him?” she whispered.
“He let them in.” She kicked at the Sterno can, and it scuttled away into a corner, where it lay on its side, the flame guttering and flickering. “He let them in, and showed them where I was hiding!" Now she was shouting. "He demanded his payment! For giving me to them! He wanted money!”
She scanned the ceiling, listening to see if her shouts had attracted any attention. Everything was quiet, though.
I nodded. “How'd that work out for him?”
“Did you kill him?” I didn't answer. Finally, she whispered, “They took us both. After a couple of days being held in a van, with some other girls, they took me to the stake and tied me there. And Milosh was the first to bite me.”
“Was he a slender boy, with freckles and ruddy brown hair?” She nodded. “Then yes, Aya. I killed him.”
She sat in silence, refusing to look at me.
“Aya. Who was Milosh working with?”
“Who helped him? Did he tell you how he learned about this 'safe place' he told you about? The house outside the village? Because Milosh doesn't strike me as a very smart guy.” In the flickering shadows, I saw her look up at me again. She looked... angry. “He got played by the vampires, Aya. But you weren't the only one up on those stakes, were you? You were just the only one I managed to get down in one piece. Milosh didn't provide all those people, did he? I'm thinking he was a helper. An assistant. I'm thinking you were a side job he did, thinking he could get away with not splitting the take.” She shook her head, glaring at me. “Who did he work with? Did he mention anyone? Anyone at all?”
“How did you kill him?”
I sighed. “I shot him, Aya. Five times, in the chest. And then I pulled his heart out and crushed it in my hand. He got to see it before he died. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“You monster!" she screamed, and lunged at me. There was a flash of white light, as my Bridging Device activated, and suddenly I was standing against the basement wall, while Aya rolled on the floor, tangled in the folding chair. The Blood came at my call, and with a dripping hand I traced a hex in the air and sent it flying at her with a flick of my wrist. It hit her in the back, and the hex ate its way into her flesh, sending her into a screaming fury.
Aya ripped the chair apart, and lunged at me again. I dodged, rolling to the side, and sent a bullet into each of her knees. She crawled at me, her long talons carving gouges in the cement floor. She was still screaming, but nothing coherent. I put two more bullets into her shoulders, as the hex I'd cast exploded, raising her screams to a higher pitch. But the fight was over at that point.
When Aya came back to her senses, I was kneeling on the back of her neck, and her wrists and ankles were bound again. “Kill me, you motherfucker,” she hissed. “You killed my Milosh! He was my everything! I can't go on without him...” and now she was finally crying. “Not like this.” The tears were red.
I had my gun held to her temple, my free hand shining with crimson light. With her head twisted to the side like this, she could see it quite clearly, and the ruddy glow made my blank mask look all the more sinister. “Aya, do you remember I said I could heal?”
“Mine is the power of the blood, Aya. Vampires use blood, they crave it, but they can't do what I can do. I can heal you.”
“I can fix this. What Milosh did to you. I can undo it. Just give me the name.”
“I need to know who Milosh was working with. Who is supplying blood donors to the vampires. Because I'm going to kill them, Aya. For what they did to all those poor people. For what they did to you.” She struggled, but I held her down. She looked around for a way to escape, but the room remained barricaded and there was no way out. “For what they did to Milosh, Aya.”
That did it. “He said... he said the safehouse belonged to his uncle.”
“Who is that?”
“His Uncle Mihai.”
I opened my glowing hand, palm up, and a flare of crimson light flashed up to the ceiling. A moment later, it came flashing down again and hit Aya in the back. I stood up and backed away, as luminous runes spun around her and she wasted away. In just a few seconds, nothing remained but bones and shreds of skin. Her face, missing eyes and with a fanged, skeletal grin seemed to laugh silently at me, before even those remains crumbled to dust.
I'd lied to her, of course. There's no undoing what had been done to her. She was just a monster at that point. The only use I had for her had been to get that name. I still had about half an hour before dawn, when I could go out and see about tracking down Uncle Mihai. If I couldn't track him down alone, I was sure a few of the Swords might have a useful contact or two to help. Aldric, maybe, or Pilgrim? Until then, I figured I had some time to kill.
I sat down in the only remaining chair, and picked up the can of soup. The untouched can of soup, that Aya had only pretended to sip at. I'd really hoped she would have eaten. If she'd eaten the soup, there might have been a chance for her. When she didn't, I'd known it was too late.
I removed my mask, and immediately the black, pulsing veins under my skin began to slither and writhe. I sipped at the cold soup, and reflected in silence.
I wonder what ever happened to Erin?
Coffee, cake and a chat. (IC)
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May be posted to by: Applicants +
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