CHAPTER FIVE - ABANDONED
A drop of blood hung from Daemon’s bitten wrist. It was so dark red that it almost looked black. Time slowed as it fell down between Julian’s parted lips. It landed on his tongue, thick and hot, like warm honey. Julian had tasted his own blood before. It was all salt and copper. But Daemon’s blood was sweet. Like melted dulce de leche ice cream.
What poison tastes so good? His mind wondered. For it was poison. Daemon had told him so. It would kill him. But first it would make him strong.
The drop slid over his tongue and down his throat. He could feel every millimeter of its passage. Daemon lowered his wrist to Julian’s lips while he cradled Julian’s head with his other hand. The Immortal’s own lips opened as if he were anticipating the blood himself. As if tasting it. As if savoring it.
Drink, my fierce fighter, Daemon urged.
This is going to kill me, Julian thought. Fear gripped him for a moment. He was young. He still thought he was immortal. But I’m going to die. I’m going to die today.
Daemon’s mouth tightened, but then he tenderly ran a hand through Julian’s hair. It was the gentlest caress from hands that had ruthlessly killed two other vampires. Julian doubted that Daemon thought of those two others he’d turned to dust. He likely had forgotten them moments after draining them dry. He could feel that about the Immortal.
Yet his voice was so… gentle as he said, Yes, but you will save your friend and I will remember you. Always.
Immortality of a sort. Julian found himself giving a shaky smile. I don’t know if I can do this.
But then he caught sight of Christian’s drained and gray body. Guilt slammed into him. He had no right to live when Christian was going to die. He’d brought his best friend here. This was his responsibility. He’d been so busy trying to chase the dead that he hadn’t considered the ones that were still alive.
There will be no pain. Not now, Daemon assured him.
But later? Julian’s gaze flickered back to Daemon’s hooded face for confirmation. The tightening of the Immortal’s jaw answered his question. He found himself reaching up with shaking arms to the hood that still obscured his features. You told me that I would get to judge for myself if you were beautiful or not. I want to see your face.
Those lips quirked into a half smile, which quickly died. The face of the one who killed you?
The face of the one who saved my best friend.
Daemon looked away from him. If I had been stronger both of you would have lived through this. I do not understand why they abandoned me here.
Curiosity plucked at Julian even now. Who abandoned you?
It does not matter. Daemon looked back at him. You’ve already taken one drop of my blood into your body. That’s not enough to give you strength, but it is enough to steal your life. We must complete this, Julian. Your time is already counting down.
Julian’s fingers were at the edges of the hood and they twitched at Daemon’s words. Just let me see your face. I have to see your face.
Drink and I’ll show you.
Julian opened his mouth and Daemon pressed his wrist against it. Blood flowed into his mouth in warm, sweet waves. Julian found himself swallowing the liquid down in great gulps as Daemon petted his hair and this humming filled his head. It was like a lullaby. And all the fear drained away. But then his vision immediately started to blacken around the edges. He reached up towards Daemon’s face, trying to reach out to the Immortal, to anchor himself.
You promised! Show me your face! Please!
Daemon pulled the hood back and Julian forgot to breathe and the darkness retreated as if Daemon brought his own light to the dark.
The teenage vampires had been attractive, but not stunning. They were beautiful, but not otherworldly. Their silver eyes and fangs marked them as vampires. The way they moved had been fast and dangerous and preternatural. But Julian could still see the humanity in them, if only the remnants of it. Daemon though was something else entirely.
Black curls surrounded a face that could have been sculpted by the ancient Greeks. His cheekbones were high. His jaw was strong. His lips were plush. His nose was aristocratic. His forehead was wide and sensitive. His eyebrows were elegantly arched, giving him a searching expression. His skin was mostly cream with a touch of coffee color in it.
But then there were his eyes.
They were red. Not an ugly blood red. But the color of banked coals in the dark on a windy fjord. They were the essence of fire. He could see the color in the irises moving, flowing, igniting like the sun. Gold flecks danced within them. They were utterly beautiful. They were completely unearthly.
Daemon was not human. Julian didn’t think he ever had been.
You’re not… not like the others, Julian found himself saying.
No, I am not. Was the answer he got, but he felt there was so much more here. He couldn’t believe he wouldn’t be able to explore the mystery of Daemon. He just couldn’t.
Julian touched Daemon’s skin. It was like living silk. The Immortal tensed for a moment. Then he let Julian’s fingers glide over his cheek, forehead, nose, lips and chin. The darkness was returning. Julian felt the blood–Daemon’s Immortal, inhuman blood–surging through his body. He imagined it entering his cells and going straight for his DNA and rewriting it. Rewriting him.
And it will kill me in the end. But what things I’ll see before then!
The blackness was pounding down on him now. All he could see were Daemon’s eyes. Glowing like twin embers in the dark. Like magma flowing slowly, but sure towards the sea.
Well? What do you think, Julian? Am I beautiful? Daemon’s voice was teasing.
You are so much more than that, I think, Julian struggled to get out. Those eyes hardly looked like eyes anymore. They were faint sparks of light that were fading and fading and fading. An Immortal Vampire King who should exist only in dreams…
Dream now, Julian. Dream of me...
Then blackness devoured everything.
Julian wasn’t aware of anything, but the dark. He didn’t have a body. He wasn’t even sure he had a mind. He was nothing. And then… then there was a chink of light. He blinked his eyes–for they were back and, seemingly under his control–as if he could clear the darkness away physically. It actually seemed to work. With every blink, the darkness receded, his sense of himself, of having a body, came back.
But something was strange. Off.
He was standing for one, not lying down on the ground. He felt no pain or exhaustion. He was still in Nightvallen. He recognized the architecture and the sheer presence of the city. But he was not by the golden domed tomb. Instead, he was in a circular room, three stories tall, that was lined with books with gold-etched spines.
The scent of parchment and ink and that indescribable fresh scent of trees filled his nostrils. He could smell other scents, too. So many. The dry scent of linen, the bitter bite of sweat, the sweetness of incense, the waxy scent of flame. He’d never experienced so much before.
He blinked and realized that more things were different.
He was facing a semi-circle of ten people who wore cloaks of twilight blue-black. One of them, a woman with platinum hair that hung to her waist in a shining braid, was smiling at him with affection and respect. She had clear features and skin like pure cream. Though a cloak hid her body, Julian sensed that she was slender, almost willowy.
She stepped forward and took hold of his hands in hers. He did not physically start even though he was mentally alarmed by her sudden closeness. Her hands were cool and smooth. When he looked down at hers in his, Julian realized that these weren’t his hands. He recognized them though. They were Daemon’s hands. Long fingered. Elegant. Sensual. So unlike his own that were callused from rock climbing and constantly smeared with ink with fingernails bitten to the quick.
Daemon told me to dream of him. This isn’t a dream though. This is a memory, Julian realized. Shock and wonder filled him. Did he mean for me to see this? It’s part of the answer I’m searching for about him.
My king, the platinum blonde woman said. Are you certain of this course?
Daemon looked up from their clasped hands, but not at her. His eyes slid to a doorway to his left. In the next room was a sarcophagus surrounded by delicate white taper candles and strewn with white flowers that reminded Julian of stars.
He could not feel Daemon’s emotions seeing this aspect of death. He had no way of knowing whether the sight of that sarcophagus and the person inside hurt the Immortal. Unlike the teenage vampires he had killed without a seeming second thought, this person must have been favored somehow to have a resting place.
Another vampire needing to wake from the grave? Julian wondered, but he felt it was wrong almost immediately. The sarcophagus did not have a figure on the top like Daemon’s had - or rather, the figure had been Daemon. Instead, there was just a plain, white marble lid. Maybe someone really dead? Vampires clearly die. I think...
Then Daemon turned back to the woman. Julian realized that her eyes were silver, like liquid mercury that moved within her irises. There was a sense of otherness about her, too, that clung to Daemon like a cloak. But he felt that while she was closer to what Daemon was, she wasn’t altogether the same.
I am certain, Daemon’s voice rolled between them.
She glanced through the doorway then, too, and her lips pressed together as bright tears flashed for a moment in her eyes. The day will come when a human will be strong enough to survive the turning. You will have a fledgling that will make your heart soar.
The candles danced around the sarcophagus in the other room as if in answer to her words.
Oh, man, they died from drinking Daemon’s blood. Julian felt nausea bubble up inside of him. A chill dread fluttered down his spine at the same time. Just like I’ll be… but I’ll save Christian first. I can do that. And if vampires are real then maybe–just maybe–there’s something after this life. Maybe I’ll find my parents.
Daemon’s body stiffened at her words and, again, Julian wondered what the Immortal felt. Grief? Guilt? Love? Daemon’s voice was slightly chilly as he asked, Is that a prediction, Seeyr?
Her silver eyes went unfocused for a moment as if looking into the far distance. Daemon was utterly still as she stared. Then she was looking up at him again. Her lips were wreathed in a warm smile. Yes, my king, it is.
I hope you are right, Daemon answered her, but his tone was flat and unbelieving. It spoke of disappointment, or rather, despair.
Your gift of seeing is as strong as mine. Stronger most times, she said, with an affectionate tilt of her head. You must see it, too.
I can see nothing on this point. Everytime I look it is as if the future disappears altogether. Daemon’s hands clenched at his sides.
She gestured back towards the other nine figures who remained still and silent as statues. We will ensure it. Fate will have a helping hand. We will bring you offerings. And when the one is ready for you, we will wake you to rule us once more.
It was then that Julian thought he saw at least one of the nine figures stir behind her as if they couldn’t quite hide their disagreement with that last statement. But Daemon did not look up to see who it was that perhaps didn’t want him to rule them, who was maybe eager to keep him sleeping forever more…
None of them were here to wake him. He was weak from not being fed, Julian realized. The offerings weren’t made. What happened? Where are these ten? Did they decide they didn’t want a king any longer? Did they enjoy ruling themselves? Or did they go to sleep themselves? Or were they killed?
A wind suddenly started to blow. The candles surrounding the sarcophagus flickered out one by one. And darkness fell once more just like it had before. Julian though had no fear. He knew he was going to see something else from Daemon’s memories. Something he wanted to see just like he had wanted to see this.
Again, it began with the ability to blink. The darkness retreated and was replaced by the luminous light from the two moons of Ever Dark. He wasn’t standing any longer. He wasn’t lying down. He had no sense of having a body absent from the blinking. He felt like a spirit, an astral form, flying through the night.
He looked down and realized he was hovering above the city of Nightvallen. It was far larger than even he had realized from the road and his and Christian’s mad dash through the city. There were miles and miles of it. It stretched out to the horizon and beyond. His heart soared at the beauty of the city of pale stone. It was the essence of adventure. He longed to practice urban exploring here and climb every building, go inside every doorway, see what was beyond every balcony.
That’s when the voices came, voices he recognized. They were his parents’ voices! Julian’s heart leaped again. He started to drift down towards them, slowly, languidly, as if not quite awake or aware. As if only half interested. But Julian was desperate. So this was definitely Daemon’s memory. He heard a rustling, a flapping, and out of the corner of his eyes he saw wings. Black wings. A bird’s wings. Perhaps a raven?
I’m in the body of a bird? Or is this Daemon as a bird? Maybe vampires really can turn into animals?
He soared down in an ever narrowing spiral towards one of the curving streets that snaked through the city’s center. He saw two figures, small as ants, at first, standing in the street. The raven swooped lower and then perched on a high windowsill, just out of his parents’ sight, but giving him a clear view of them.
A wave of emotion–grief, love, longing–went through Julian as he looked at his parents for the first time in over a decade. He would have said that he had not forgotten a thing about them. But he saw that he had. He had lost the aliveness of them. They had been just still images in his mind. Just fractured parts of a whole. But now… now… there they were. Alive and whole.
He drank in the sight of them. The sound of them. The smell of them.
His father’s tall, muscular form hadn’t come from hours in the gym each week but from being out in the world, exploring and conquering it. There was stubble on his strong jaw and cheeks just starting to go gray. There were strong lines around his eyes and mouth from smiling and being out in the hot desert sun.
He was wearing what Julian always thought of as his “adventure gear” which was a pair of tough cargo pants in tan, tucked into lace-up, steel-toed boots, a white, v-necked t-shirt, which exposed powerful forearms and clung to large biceps, and a matching tan vest that had straps and pockets to carry everything from a notebook to a flashlight to extra rations. Whatever they would need if they got caught in a cave-in or had to travel through trackless desert.
In addition to the normal tools his father usually carried, this time, his father had a crowbar with him. He was trying to wedge the end of it between one of the closed and sealed doors of Nightvallen and the jam, but he was having little success. The door resisted all of his efforts to crack it, even as his powerful muscles strained.
“Jack! You’ve got to see this! More writing,” Joanna Harrow exclaimed. Her voice held a tint of the British accent from her youth in England. She’d moved to the United States when she was ten, but when she was excited she reverted to her native accent.
“Hold on! Just trying to get this door open,” Jack responded as he tried again to slam the end of the crowbar into the edge of the door.
Mom! Dad! He called to them, but, of course, they couldn’t hear him. This was a memory. They were dead. They would never hear him again unless there was an after life.
His mother had long dark hair that was tucked through the back of a baseball cap. She wore a dark blue tank top. A soft gray hoodie was tied around her waist, and a pair of black cargo pants also tucked into nearly identical boots as her husband. Her arms were muscled and her shoulders broad. She had been a swimmer during high school and her adventurous life with Jack Harrow had made her strong and lean.
She wasn’t beautiful in any conventional sense. Her features were too fox-like. Her nose too broad. Her jaw too firm. But she was stunning. She seemed to exude strength and wellness. She brought some of the mysterious outdoors with her wherever she went. And her eyes–the same as his–arrested people’s attention the moment they saw them.
Both of his parents had been smart and intuitive. They knew over two dozen languages between them. They valued knowledge. It was treasure.
Many people wondered if his parents really could have been a cross between Lara Croft and Indiana Jones. Could they really be that filled with wonder for the world? Did they really believe in the things they sought for? If Julian had ever doubted them, one look into their eyes now, told him that they did believe. They’d found the Ever Dark. They’d discovered Nightvallen. And they’d never seemed more alive than in this moment.
“What are you doing, Jack?” His mother glanced over at his father. Her face took on a hint of alarm when realized his intent to break the door down.
“Damn!” His father sighed and let out a laugh. He dropped his arms down to his sides and wiped sweat from his brow “I can’t even chip the damned thing. Makes me feel old.”
“That’s what you deserve for using a crowbar. Jack, we can’t damage this place! That’s not our way. That’s not good archeology,” she chastised him.
“I know. I know!” His father hefted the crowbar with a look of disatisfaction. “I just want to get inside, Joanna. There are even greater wonders there. I’m sure that’s true.”
“We’ll get inside, Jack. But we aren’t tomb raiders. No matter what the others say about us.” She shook her head and then turned her head to look at the wall she’d been studying before. “There are wonders outside, too.”
His father went to his mother’s side. He put an arm around her trim waist. She was peering at the writing that was engraved into the mansion’s wall. Her fingers trailed over the words and her mouth moved as if she was trying to sound them out. But the language had a pictogram aspect, which would defy such understanding. Yet the intensity on her face made Julian think that she almost could read it. His father was looking at her with intensity, too. An intense love.
“Why would they abandon this place?” his father asked, as he looked around at the graceful buildings and wide boulevards.
“I don’t think it was abandoned,” his mother said, even as frown lines formed on her forehead.
“Why do you say that?” His father looked at her with interest. Though they never mentioned it in their programs or books, both of them trusted his mother’s intuition. There was almost a mystical quality about her abilities. Likely not wanting to be mocked more than they already were, this was never revealed.
“I feel.” His mother reached out into the air, actually towards Julian–or rather to the raven, which flittered slightly backwards, out of sight–and continued, “I feel like the city is waiting. It’s waiting to be woken up again. Notice that there’s no signs of age damage to the buildings and the plants are just so perfect.”
His father looked at the pristine buildings. The edges of the stone were as sharp as if they had been freshly quarried the day before. There were no crumbling columns or collapsed roofs. The vines that flowed down the sides of buildings like waterfalls were neat, as if pruned. The flowers in the stone pots appeared tended. These were things that Julian hadn’t noticed himself, but he had been running for his life.
“I agree that this place looks as new as when it was built,” his father answered.
“It must be magic of some sort keeping things up,” she said.
“Or the vampires are hiding from us and tending it when we’re not here.” His father flashed her a grin.
“So they are coming out to quickly prune and do some stone masonry? But hiding from two humans otherwise?” She lifted a delicate eyebrow. But then her expression grew serious again. “Assuming that there are no vampires taking care of the city when we’re not here, it must be magic. It feels like magic.” Julian could almost hear Christian groaning at her use of that term. She turned in a circle, her hands drifting through the air. “You wouldn’t expend energy like this to keep a city pristine that you aren’t coming back to.”
“Good point.” His father’s handsome face turned thoughtful. “I’m just surprised that there’s no one watching this place. No guards. No other magical wards. Nothing.”
His mother’s mouth opened then shut as if she was going to say something but thought better of it. His father didn’t catch that. Otherwise, Julian was certain he would have questioned her.
And if he had? If he’d seen her hesitation? Would they have lived?
“Julian would love it here,” his mother said and he was startled hearing his name on her lips. It had been so long since he’d heard her say it. She looked almost wistful as she gazed down the street.
His father put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her tight to him. He looked thoughtful, too. “I know. Sometimes I feel…”
“What?” She turned to look up at him, interest written large on her face, as if she wanted him to confirm something she was feeling, too.
“That we should bring him here.” His father pressed his lips together. “The feeling is so strong sometimes that I’ve almost found myself heading towards the octagon building to go get him.”
“I’ve felt the same way,” she admitted and there was a slight look of alarm in her eyes.
“Then it’s not in my head. Not if it's in yours, too.” A muscle in his father’s jaw twitched.
“We likely shouldn’t bring him here, Jack. Not until we know why we both feel like we must,” his mother’s voice was firm.
His father nodded. “We shouldn’t even tell him about it. We need to keep him safe.”
“Julian will never come here until we’re sure that there’s nothing in this place to harm him,” she agreed. Her head suddenly jerked up towards where the raven was perched. One of her hands shot out and pointed at the bird. “Look! There’s something else alive in here other than us!”
“It’s a raven,” his father breathed, but didn’t sound completely certain.
“It can’t be a raven, Jack.” His mother’s expression was a mixture of awe and terror. “It has glowing red eyes.”
The wind blew again and the bird that was and wasn’t a raven rose up and began to fly away. Julian screamed for it to stop, to go back down, to let him see his parents again. But the bird wheeled into the sky. Into the darkness.
And Julian lost a body once more.
He beat against the darkness this time though. He fought it. He wanted to see his parents damnit! Why did the memory have to end so abruptly? Why didn’t Daemon speak to them? Why? Why? Why?
And while he railed, the darkness began to break apart like a cloud skating past the moon. Except it wasn’t a cloud that had been obscuring the moon’s light. It was a flock of ravens. Hundreds of them, pouring down out of the night sky. Julian looked down and he saw that there was a pack of wolves–so many wolves–streaming towards him just as the ravens were.
The animals were all heading to one spot about twenty feet from him on a moonlit lawn. The wolves and the ravens collided and formed a ball of darkness. The darkness stood up and formed the shape of a man wearing a high-collared coat that fell to his ankles. The coat was so black it was almost blue. Paired with it were black pants, black boots, but no shirt.
It was Daemon.
His red eyes burned the night away.
And, though his lips did not move, Julian heard his voice clear as day, You survived.
The vision cut off just as quickly as it came. Julian shot upwards. He was sitting up, gasping for air. His mouth tasted of metal and sweetness. He wrenched in one breath after another. His right hand went to his chest and he could feel his heart battering inside of him like it wanted to get out. He touched his mouth with his other hand. His lips were clean. There was no sticky blood smeared over them. They felt soft and smooth as if scrubbed clean.
Had he imagined the whole thing?
“Daemon?! Christian?!” he called out mentally and physically.
No one answered him.
He looked around. He recognized the space immediately though he had never been there before, but his parents’ journal had been crystal clear about its appearance. He was in the octagon building and one of the doors was open. A gate between the Ever Dark and Earth. He could see a familiar street–Main Street–right near the hospital in his and Christian’s hometown through the doorway. On Earth, it was still night, but there was a grayness appearing in the East. It would be dawn soon.
And that thought filled him with dread though he did not know why.
The light burns…
He blinked. He wasn’t sure where that thought came from.
“Daemon?!” he called again.
He jerked his head to the right when he thought he heard a faint sigh. Christian was lying on his side facing Julian. He was still and deathly pale. Julian jumped to his side. Literally jumped. Julian’s limbs quivered. Not from weakness. But from strength. Energy. Too much energy. He ignored it. He had to see if Christian was all right.
Yet he knew he was not. But he also knew he was still alive. He could hear Christian’s heart now. A slowing thump, thump, thump. The sound was almost mesmerising. Julian pressed his ear to Christian’s chest and found himself listening to it. Suddenly, he could hear more than just his best friend’s heart, but also the whoosh and shush of his blood. He swore he could almost trace the blood’s path through Christian’s still form.
Sweat prickled on his scalp as he realized he was thirsty. He yanked himself away from Christian and stared at his best friend with a mixture of horror, longing and love.
I want his blood. What little there is let of it. Oh, God, no…
Julian shook his head and dug his fingernails into his palms until he felt in control of himself again. The thirst abated nearly as quickly as it had come. But he didn’t wonder if he had imagined it.
“Daemon?! Daemon, where are you?” Julian called.
There was no answer back. The city of Nightvallen seemed deserted once more. But Julian knew that Daemon was still there. But he was staying out of sight. He was ignoring Julian’s calls. And, for one moment, a pit of despair opened in Julian. He felt abandoned. Like a child left at the side of the road after falling asleep, safe and sound, in the back of his parents’ car, only to awake and find them and the car long gone. Betrayal clawed up Julian’s throat.
The image of the sarcophagus from the memory came to Julian then.
He thinks I’m going to die like all the others he’s tried to turn. He doesn’t want to get attached to me. He doesn’t want to care that I’m going to leave him, Julian realized.
Those thoughts were leaden weights on his soul. But then he shook himself. He didn’t need Daemon. The Immortal had failed to save Christian. Yes, he was responsible for bringing Christian to this place, but if Daemon had only been stronger and faster he could have saved them both.
And now he’s abandoned me to die in the streets. Alone and unwanted.
He twitched. The energy urged him to move. The coming dawn told him he had to move. Christian’s slowing heart begged him to move. He could not stay here. He had to leave. He had to save his best friend and then… then he was supposed to die.
Those words, that last vision he’d had before waking, were not from a memory. It was a vision of something that had not yet occurred.
Wishful thinking? Or real?
Whichever it was wouldn’t change this present moment. With surprising ease, Julian picked up his best friend and cradled Christian against his chest. He was as light as a feather. Literally, it seemed that Christian weighed nothing.
“It’s all right, Christian. I promise. I’m going to save you,” Julian promised and kissed his best friend’s temple, quickly withdrawing his lips as he felt heat radiate from Christian’s skin.
They’d begun that night determined to prove that vampires existed and to expose them. Now, he needed the vampires’ help to save his best friend. They’d sent two of their kind to kill him and Christian. Who would he be able to trust among the Vampire kind? Would any of the vampires help them? Julian knew he had less than 48-hours to find out.
Julian carried Christian through the doorway to Earth. Though he did not turn around, nor call out Daemon’s name again, he felt the Immortal Vampire King’s fiery gaze on his back. He ignored it. He would not spend whatever time he had left thinking about the being who had abandoned him.