CHAPTER FOUR - BLESSING AND A CURSE
There should have been pain. Endless amounts of it. Agony really. Julian had crazily slammed his hand into a flower made up of knives.
But there wasn’t.
There was no pain at all, but a sort of slithering pleasure that corkscrewed from his hand up into his body. It flowed down his spine and bloomed in his belly.
And then there was the presence.
The voice that had been in his mind before was suddenly reaching into the very core of him. Almost like a caress, the Immortal brushed his mind against Julian’s. The thought that he should protect himself–somehow–from this floated through Julian’s brain, but it was too late. The Immortal was already there. Already seeing. Already knowing. In those few fractions of a moment, Julian was laid bare.
Julian had the impression of the Immortal–looking just like the statue, swathed in a cloak–standing atop a cliff and staring down at a sea of trees and that sea of trees was Julian. More than his mind, but his soul. All of him was spread out for the Immortal to sift through. The Immortal could pluck at any memory, any feeling, any desire and Julian would be unable to stop him.
What are you doing?! Julian finally managed to cry out.
Knowing you, was the answer.
Betrayal swam through Julian. He’d thought to just give his blood. Not his mind. Not his soul.
You didn’t tell me that it would be like this! Julian shouted. You’re just supposed to take my blood and save my friend!
In his mind, the Immortal’s lips quirked into a smile. Those plush lips that Julian could imagine–perhaps had imagined–at his throat were pulled back to reveal white, sharp teeth that glinted in the moonlight.
You did not ask. And you would not have cared, the Immortal answered. You want to save your friend and this is the only way.
That was true. He would have agreed to do this. He would have agreed to much more to save Christian. The other young man was his best friend and he had dragged him into this mess.
But you don’t have to do this! Julian realized as the knowing continued. You don’t have to know me to drink my blood!
You are becoming a part of me, the Immortal explained. I would know who it is that has woken me.
After you save us from these crazy vampires, we can have a drink! Julian laughed hysterically. Shoot the shit! You can ask me about myself. But you have no right to this!
There was a pause before the Immortal responded to him, a sense that perhaps he had gone too far, that perhaps Julian had a point. But then the Immortal said, That would only reveal your surface. I would know more.
You have no right to more!
I am king. I have the right to all I conquer, the Immortal responded.
Julian felt prickles of heated pleasure start to bloom in his hand. He looked down at where it was attached to the flower. That was when the flower started to move. It started to grow. The leaves twisted up into Julian’s palm. Thin tendrils slipped into his veins and arteries. He could feel them moving up inside of his arm. Then he could see them gliding underneath his skin, following the hidden pathways of his body.
He let out a startled cry and tried to pull back, but more tendrils, clear like flexible tubing tipped with silver, wrapped around his fingers and then around his wrist and then up and around his forearm. The barbed ends sliced into his skin. Again, there was no pain, but more pleasure. Julian let out an unwanted moan and pressed his free hand against his crotch as his cock became hard in his pants. Sweat broke out across his upper lip and forehead. The clear tendrils turned red and began to pulse as they drew out more of his blood. They pulsed like a heart would beat.
What is this? Julian gasped. What–
My mouth cannot be at your throat, beautiful boy. I am not yet free, but when I am, the Immortal murmured, I will fulfill your wish and kiss you. I slide my fangs into the soft flesh of your throat. Let my tongue linger on your pulse point.
I don’t want that!
Liar, came the haunting voice that echoed through his mind.
Julian felt his blood being drawn through the tendrils into the statue. He could almost feel that blood igniting the long dead flesh of the Immortal. It was causing the Immortal to come alive again. But how much blood would it take to accomplish this? All of him? Every last drop?
I am not going to kill you, the Immortal assured him, the voice gauzy with desire now as the blood warmed the long cold flesh.
The tone reminded Julian of a lover who was drunk on wine and passion. But it was his blood that was entrancing this creature. Terror flooded Julian. Would the Immortal let him go before all of his blood was gone?
I did promise, the Immortal whispered.
How much do you have to take? Julian gripped the wrist of his bound hand with his free one. He tried to pull himself off the flower, but it did not even budge. He would not be able to break the connection.
Enough. But not enough. Never enough. So hungry. Starving. Too long have I been without. Too long, too long, too long, the voice whispered and he heard the hunger in it.
You need too much. I can feel it. The pleasure was nearly sickening now as Julien could feel the being he was connected to. He could feel the Immortal’s hunger. He had not been fed in too long and the need to drink was so strong that it felt like a tidal wave was bearing down upon Julian. He tugged at his hand again. You have to stop.
Not enough. Not enough. I need more of you. I will not let you go until I have more of you, the Immortal’s voice coiled in his mind like a serpent.
How much more? Julian demanded.
Comfort yourself with the knowledge that even if I betray you, you would have made no other choice, the Immortal told him.
That’s not comforting! Julian was starting to feel lightheaded. His legs seemed to ooze out from underneath him and he found himself half lying on the figure.
Fate never is to a fighter. And you are a fighter. I admire that.
I don’t care what you admire!
He was getting tired. So tired. He wanted to close his eyes and abandon himself to the sliding, warm pleasure that weighed down his limbs. But he forced them to stay open. He was a fighter just as the Immortal had said. He would not die. Not without a fight anyways.
You are fierce, too. That seemed to delight the Immortal. I see you want me to earn your respect. I wonder if I will have the time to do so.
What do you mean? You’re eternal… unless you mean… I won’t be around... you must let me go!
I need you, Julian.
It was the first time the Immortal had said his name. It sank into Julian’s bones. He stilled and closed his eyes. Julian. Julian. Julian. Had his parents heard another vampire whisper their names before killing them?
I did not kill your kin. You should hope their deaths were like this and not in confusion and fear, the Immortal pointed out.
Who are you? Julian found himself asking back. Tell me the name of the being I’m bringing back to life!
There was a pause, a long pause, as if imparting a name was incredibly fraught, but finally the Immortal answered, Daemon. That is what your people called me. That is the name I give to you.
The Immortal pronounced it “Damon”, but Julian somehow knew it was spelled “Daemon” and meant “demon”.
You’re going to kill me if you keep going, Julian found himself saying, almost softly.
No, no, no, my fierce warrior. Daemon’s voice though was slurred almost like a man drunk. Halfway back will not do you or Christian any good. I still need more.
You’re too far gone to stop, Julian feared. You won’t stop in time. I’m going to die. Promise me you’ll still save Christian.
Just a little more, Julian.
The lack of a promise had strength flooding Julian’s limbs and he scrambled to his feet again though he was still leaning heavily on the statue. He yanked again and again and again on his bound hand. No movement. Panic had his heart triphammering in his chest. That was the only thing he could hear. He let out a scream of frustration and that caused the gun to shift against his back. He stilled.
Maybe I could shoot the statue. Break the connection between me and Daemon.
He reached around and grabbed the gun. He brought it around. The matte finish and the weight of it in his hand were somehow comforting. He could smell the hint of gun oil. He slid off the safety and tried slipping it beneath the hand that was attached to the statue. He knew he might blow his own hand off when he pulled the trigger, but it was that or death. Daemon was lost to the need to feed. Already, Julian’s burst of strength had waned to almost nothing. Daemon wanted to drag him into darkness. It was taking all of his willpower to keep going.
I just have to pull the trigger. Easy, right? Easy…
Julian looked at the statue’s hooded face as he took in a deep breath. A spray of his blood from the initial placement of his hand on the flower dotted the chest of the stone figure. One drop had caught on the statue’s chin. It lay there, glittering like a ruby. That chin and those lips were gorgeous. Inviting to be kissed. Hiding fangs, he imagined. Suddenly, the single ruby red drop of blood moved of its own accord. It traveled up to the lips and sank between them like it had been sipped up.
Julian stared at where it had disappeared dumbly. And then something else impossible happened. Flakes of stone began to rise up in the air as if the top layer of the statue was peeling away. This material was as thin as a single piece of paper. The flakes rose up to the top of the golden dome before they shimmered out of existence.
It’s beautiful. Why does it have to be beautiful? Julian’s now near-constant refrain about vampires went through his mind even as wonder blocked out the fact that he was being drained dry.
Beneath the layer of stone that was rising up and disappearing was not more stone, but flesh. Julian watched as the statue’s plush lips that had been still and incapable of movement suddenly parted and the statue took his first breath in who knew how long. The cloak that had looked so real captured in marble suddenly shifted against his skin as it became cloth. Julian could feel stone limbs suddenly become soft and supple beneath him.
Daemon? Daemon, can you hear me?
Julian’s gaze went to Christian and Selene to see if they were seeing this, too, as if to confirm his own senses. His eyes met his best friend’s. There was no fear in his best friend’s gaze. Instead, there was only wonder. Selene, however, was looking on with horrified fascination as if she just couldn’t believe her eyes. Julian was reminded of a child looking under the bed for a monster–not really thinking it was going to be there, because one never had been, and monsters weren’t real, right?–but finding herself face to face with a particularly nasty specimen.
Who are you, Daemon, that your own kind doesn’t know you?
Then black spots suddenly started appearing before his vision and Julian knew he had to pull the trigger or he was going to die. Yet he wasn’t shooting a statue now, but a person. Sickness rose up in the back of his throat as he saw those plush lips go from pale to pink as color flooded them. The skin, too, took on a warmer glow. The glow of life.
Daemon! You have to let me go! I’m going to shoot you if you don’t! And that will be bad! Julian cried. His legs completely slipped out from underneath him now. His head was so light that he felt it might float away. A gray haze was settling over his vision as well as the black spots now. He wasn’t sure if he could aim the gun properly. Daemon, please… please stop… I’m dying…
Never, Daemon whispered and, suddenly, he was sitting up and holding Julian up as well. The statue was a man. A vampire. An Immortal.
Daemon took the gun from him as if he were a child and threw it somewhere with a flicker of disgust on those plush lips. Julian’s head was bobbing like a heavy flower and he couldn’t focus on where it had gone. The tendrils that had sunk deep into his body were withdrawing though and he could feel that intensely. He felt their loss with the keenness of a blade against his throat. He saw the flower was no longer metal and stone, but a living bloom with petals as red as blood. His blood.
Thank you, Julian, Daemon murmured.
The Immortal’s hooded head leaned closer to Julian. With a shaking hand–the one that had connected them, but showed no damage now–Julian found himself reaching for that hood. He had to see Daemon’s face. He had to. He needed to know. But Daemon was suddenly whipping his head to the side to where Selene still held Christian. Except she wasn’t just holding him. She’d sunk her fangs into his throat.
“No!” Julian wailed.
Too weak. Too slow, these thoughts from Daemon slipped over to Julian and he wondered if the Immortal had meant them to. There was disgust in the Immortal’s voice towards himself.
“Selene, what are you doing?!” The teenage, male vampire shouted, clearly shocked at her behavior.
Christian’s eyes went unfocused and then started to darken with death. Julian screamed his best friend’s name but his voice was hollow.
You promised! You have to save him! Julian yelled even as his body slumped.
And then Daemon was gently, but swiftly lowering him to the floor of the tomb. Julian lay there like a dead thing, unable to even speak now. He could only watch. And he watched as Selene dropped his friend to the floor like he was a juice drink package that had been finished.
Christian looked gray and his eyes were closed. She then dropped into a fighting stance, bobbing and weaving on her feet, fingers outstretched at her sides like claws, and fangs bared. She hissed at Daemon. The teenage, male vampire–whatever objections he’d had to her draining Christian–was at her side. Clearly, he valued whatever connection was between them over her hurting Christian.
Daemon didn’t open the doors and step out to face her. No, he burst through the “glass” and “stone” that had broken Selene’s hands with a simple punch. Except there were no marks on the cloaked and hooded figure at all. Julian saw a spark of fear enter Selene’s eyes as she realized this, too. But it was too late.
Daemon grabbed her by the shoulders and brought his mouth to her throat. She struggled, but it was like a kitten in the hands of a giant. She could do nothing. He crushed her resistance and he tore the front of her neck open and began to drink. The spray of blood soaked his chin and lips, but it just as quickly was absorbed into Daemon’s body like the single drop of blood had been. Nothing wasted and no mess.
The teenage, male vampire–stunned into immobility for a moment–finally gathered himself together again and launched himself at Daemon. The Immortal’s left hand shot out and grasped him around the neck and held him a foot above the ground while he continued to feast on Selene. The teenage, male vampire thrashed and raked his fingers over the hand that held him, but it was no good. He might as well have been petting Daemon for all the harm it did.
Selene’s eyes were fixed on Julian as she died for the second time. He watched as her skin went pale and then started to crack. It was as if she was turning to stone. Daemon removed his fangs from her and tossed her body aside. When it struck the ground it shattered, turning to dust and immediately was caught by an invisible wind that dispersed it. Daemon though was, evidently, still hungry.
He brought the teenage, male vampire’s throat to his mouth and began to drain him. Julian watched as the teenager’s eyes fluttered shut for the last time. He watched as he turned to stone. He watched as he drifted away in the breeze.
Daemon stood there, unmoving for long moments, still cloaked and hooded, still hidden. But then he swung around and crouched by Christian’s side. Julian let out a croaked, “no” fearing that Daemon intended to finish what Selene had started.
If Christian isn’t already dead…
That thought could not stand. That thought could not exist. Tears slid down Julian’s face even as he raged inside. He wanted to be the one that touched Christian’s throat and checked for a pulse. He willed his body to move, but it would not. His fingers flexed slightly against the stone floor. That was all that moved.
Daemon tenderly lifted Christian and brought him to Julian’s side. He laid Julian’s best friend down beside him and put Christian’s hand in his. Christian’s eyes were closed. He was still breathing. But barely. Julian squeezed that hand with as much strength that he had left.
“C-Christian,” Julian breathed. “I–I’m so sorry.”
Julian, I have hard things to tell you, Daemon’s voice was almost kind, but also very definite. Christian is going to die.
Julian’s eyes widened and a thin wail came out of his mouth that sounded more like a whisper. No! That can’t be!
There is nothing to stop it. He will die. Selene not only took too much blood, but infected him with a disease that will end his life, Daemon’s tone brooked no argument, but more than that, his thoughts showed no lies. The only way he can be saved is for him to be turned.
Turned? Into a vampire? That’s what you mean, isn’t it? Julian realized even as his insides felt coated with ice. He and Christian had come here to prove vampires existed, to out them to the world, not to become one of them.
Yes. Definite. Fact. Unchangeable.
Julian’s heart fluttered. By you?
No, that was just as definite as the fact that Christian would die.
I don’t understand, Julian confessed.
There was one of those pregnant pauses that boded some important information was going to be imparted, which Daemon didn’t wish to tell him.
I have no fledglings, Daemon said with bitterness laced through every word. Every person I tried to turn has died. My blood is too potent and is toxic to your kind. It is one of the reasons I... It does not matter. What does is that I am unable to help your friend.
But then why didn’t you leave one of the others alive? Julian cried. Didn’t you realize what had happened to Christian? If you’d left the boy alive instead of drinking him dry –
Daemon held up a long-fingered, elegant hand. They were too young to turn others.
Are there other vampires in this city–
Nightvallen, Daemon murmured.
The name was beautiful. Again, beauty in the horror. But anger lit inside of Julian and he shot back, I don’t care what your goddamned city is called! Are there any vampires here that can save Christian?
No… Julian felt the world open up beneath him and his body to start to slip into the abyss.
But where you come from there are, Daemon quickly added. Ones there that could help him.
Can you contact them? Can you bring Christian to them?
Why not? You failed in your promise! I heard you curse yourself! Too weak. Too slow. I heard you! Julian raged, even as only his fingers could twitch. You failed. You have to make this right!
There was another of those pregnant pauses that made Julian want to rip his hair out. But then an answer, I cannot contact them. Their minds are closed to me until I come to your world.
Then come to my world! The octagon building–
I cannot leave Nightvallen yet. I am too weak. I cannot pass. The city will not let me, Daemon interrupted smoothly. But you… you can.
Julian felt a choking sob rising up within him. He could only twitch his fingers. Nothing more. He couldn’t even sit up! Daemon knew this.
You took too much, Julian’s voice held the accusation.
I took what I needed and what you offered, Daemon’s voice was not censorious, but it held truth.
I can’t get him back. I’d have to carry him and I can’t even stand, Julian said. You know that!
Daemon carefully responded, There is a way to give you the strength you need. For a time.
But there is a price.
Julian saw Daemon’s lips press together as if holding back a tsunami of emotions. He realized then that they were still speaking mind to mind though Daemon was alive again. And the damned hood still obscured most of his face. The need to see that face was almost overwhelming, even with the horror of Christian’s death looming ahead of him.
What price? I’ll pay it! Julian recklessly promised. You were right before. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. I have to save Christian. I’ll do it no matter what it is. He’s only here, because of me!
Julian swallowed, but guilty bile still rose up in his stomach. Christian had wanted to wait and investigate cautiously. Christian had urged Julian to bring more people, more protection, more everything. But he’d been determined to go then and there. What a fool he had been! And Christian was now paying the price for it.
Daemon did not move nor speak. He seemed like a statue again. But, finally, he nodded. I am glad I know you. I am glad I looked. That I violated your privacy while I could.
Uhm, why? I can’t see--
Because I know that you mean what you say, Daemon answered. I will give you some of my blood. That will restore not only the strength you lost from giving me your blood, but grant you far more. Christian will feel light as a feather in your arms.
That’s fantastic! But Julian knew there had to be a catch. Daemon had already told him that his blood was toxic to humans. How toxic?
Those lips pressed together again. It will give you not only the strength to get Christian from here, but will show you the vampire world as well once you return to your world.
You mean there’s a world other than here? Than the Ever Dark?
In a way. In your world, there are areas that only vampires can access. Humans are blind to these places even though they are out in the open. But you will be able to see the runes that hide them, Daemon explained. You will know them when you see them.
Okay, so I’ll be able to find the vampires. Good, that’s really good, Julian answered, realizing that this sounded insane. But he had to save Christian. Yet would he be saving his friend by turning him into a vampire? Without his consent? So how long do I have before Christian… before Christian… He couldn’t say the words.
Two rotations of your world, but that will not matter, Daemon answered.
Of course it matters! I mean–
You will not last that long, Daemon’s tone was final.
If you do not take my blood, you will recover in a few days, Julian, Daemon explained. But Christian will die. But IF you take my blood, you WILL die. Unless you are extraordinary, different from everyone before you… you will not survive. The reality is that you will fall into darkness as they did.
I understand. I’m not that special or lucky. Julian was able to form a faint smile. You already know that I’m going to choose to drink your blood. Take comfort in that.
I am not comforted, Daemon admitted and there was true sadness in those words. He stroked a hand over Julian’s cheek and into his hair. It was the barest brush of fingers. An almost caress. And then it was gone. You are brave and beautiful. I am sorry for your fall into darkness. I would have liked more time with you.
Me, too, Julian answered him with a broken laugh. But I wouldn’t survive losing Christian anyways. So there’s no other choice, you know? I brought him here. I have to save him.
Daemon said nothing. He slid the robe back from his left wrist. He then brought that wrist up to his mouth. Those plush lips finally parted and Julian saw the fangs. They looked sharper than razors. Daemon bit into his wrist and when he drew his mouth away. Rich, red, blood was on his lips, staining them a deeper pink. More red dripped along his opened wrist. He lowered that wrist to Julian’s lips.
Drink of my blood, Julian, Daemon intoned. Receive my blessing… and my curse.