Monday, April 1, 2013

Station House Six: Chapter Nine

My father’s blood, like the blood of all vampires, contained memories. In this case, those memories were ones I wished I didn’t have to see. But my anger at Jonah Swift brought them to the surface more sharply than any other, and in turn, sent me spiraling into my own recollections as the ritual continued around me.

1694 – Pisa
We stayed in an estate on the edge of cliffs overlooking the dark gray ocean. I could always smell the ocean. The sun was nearing to set, and Father was resting inside with Aramis. Aramis, who had become so distant since he Changed.
“Caspian! I found a crab,” Briony shouted.
My fair-haired sister stood ankle deep in the surf of the gravel and sand beach we walked across. I smiled. “Find more, I’m hungry,” I called back.
She made a face. Briony was the only one of us that didn’t look much at all like Father. She was beautiful, her golden hair catching the sun light, freckles sprayed across her nose and cheeks. She had a rounder face than me, with soft rosy cheeks and a small chin like her mother. She was taller than I was, just shorter than Aramis, and had a figure that had gone out of fashion this century. All curves and soft lines.
She shook her head and smiled, flashing dimples. “We should return soon. Father will awaken in an hour or so, you see the sun.”
“I see it well enough, Briony. I am hungry though. I hate to eat in front of him.”
She wrinkled her pert nose. “I suppose we could go hunting.”
“I do not want to hunt. I want to fish,” I replied.
Briony shook her head. “And what will you fish with brother?”
I held up my hands. “These.”
She rolled her shoulders, setting a glare on me with those bright amber eyes. “Caspian…”
“I bet I can catch a fish with my hands.”
“I will not take that bet.”
“Fine, then watch and be amazed.” I stripped off to my trousers and undershirt before heading into the surf, determined to catch a fish for supper. The tide was on its way out at this hour, and the bay was safe enough. The men of the nearby village fished here on occasion, there was no reason I could not catch one little fish. I was dhampir, I could do anything I set my mind to.
I extended the claws of my hands, hidden typically, and swam down into the depths with the agility of an eel. Briony shared my love of the water, but Aramis and Father were like cats. The only thing that could get them in was a fire, and Father might just prefer to burn.
In spite of many setbacks and lost fish, I kept at it well longer than I ought have, finally succumbing to Briony’s demands that we return home with the sun perilously close to setting. Father would not be pleased. He did not like us out after sunset without him or Aramis. It wasn’t safe, he always said, though I thought he was overcautious.
I could not have been more wrong.
We arrived on the estate grounds with the sun properly set. With dhampir eyes, the lack of sun was no trouble. I laughed off Briony’s worry as we entered the gate. I was pulling the wrought iron edifice closed when a hand gripped it, stopping me cold.
That hand, thin long fingers, tan and strong, was attached to an average looking man with dark hair and eyes. He could have been from the Americas, but I wasn’t sure, I hadn’t yet been. Father kept us to the Continent for centuries. Kept us innocent. Kept us young.
I grew up so fast.
The man smiled at me. “Hello, my name is Jonah. You must be Marek’s boy. Caspian?”
Briony put a hand on my shoulder. “We have to go, Caspian.” She looked Jonah in the eye. “You should leave.”
Something in her voice alerted me to a problem, but I couldn’t pinpoint it myself. The man was a vampire, that I knew, but Father had vampire friends. We’d met them. This man—I did not know. I swallowed. “You should leave,” I repeated Briony’s warning.
But by then, it was too late.

Smoke from strange herbs coiled around me. I felt slick with sweat, fevered. Tobias’ hand was tight in mine, cool and dry. I focused on that to keep from dropping back into that memory. I did not have the strength to relive what had happened next. What that monster did to my sister. Because of me.
I could not. I tightened my grip on Tobias.
My father held up the final ingredient in ritual, a wooden stake, carved from a hawthorn tree. I took a deep breath and nodded to him. I focused my mind. Focused on the cool hand in mine, and on Briony, on Jonah Swift’s unassuming face and the boiling pit in the depths of me that was my rage. My father’s blood was working its way through me. The herbs and talismans forcing the strange magic that sparked to create the dhampir from the flesh of a dying man, to blend life and death in one form, was changing in me.
The true test of my transformation was in my father’s hand. Now, I just had to survive it. If the ritual succeeded, I would not die, I would heal. I would heal as vampires healed. I closed my eyes and nodded. The next sensation is not something I ever thought I would experience. The driving, all encompassing pain of a stake driven through bone and muscle to the heart.
My heart exploded. My chest was on fire. I couldn’t breathe. My fingers went cold first, and then my toes and the tip of my nose. Father pulled out the stake. It made a horrible sucking sound as it left my chest in ruins. There was blood in my mouth, hot and sour. My father took my free hand in his and gripped tight.
In Bulgarian he said, “I love you.”
I couldn’t reply, but I hoped he knew the sentiment was mutual once more.
Lightning flashed through my skull, more pain than I had ever felt in my life. More pain than I thought anyone could feel. I saw Jonah’s face as he cut Briony apart. I felt his hot breath on my neck as he sliced me open. The lash of a whip. The force of a cudgel. The tearing…
I will not die. I will not die. I will NOT die.
And Tobias squeezed my hand.  He was praying, in Hebrew. I felt my body start to shake. I tried to focus on healing, tried to think of them as anything but death throes. Did dying usually take this long? I didn’t think it did. I had to be healing. I had to. I still had so much to do. I had to kill Jonah, I had to finish reconciling with my family.
I had to have a relationship that lasted longer than three days.
I gripped Tobias’ hand so tight my nails dug into his skin. I could feel the heat from the blood I drew against my skin. I cannot say what instinct prompted him, but he leaned over me and pressed his lips to my bloody mouth.  My response was all primal—I bit down on his lip and tasted his blood. I’d refrained from it during sex but now—it might be my only chance.
He tasted like hot sunny days and sweet like sticky dried fruit. He was rich and warm. He pulled away from me, and I took a breath. I wanted more. That was—unusual. It was also a sign that was ascending. As master, I would not have to be nearly so careful about whom I fed from.
“He’s healing…” Tobias said. “He’s actually healing.”
I was healing. My heart, which had stopped for a painful moment that seemed to last an eternity, started beating again. There was a very particular, indescribable, sensation that went along with flesh and bone knitting at such a speed one could feel it. It was almost like being jerked across a polyester carpet buck-naked. Except on the inside of your skin. And the carpet is made of needles.
I would like to say I was stoic in the face of pain, an example to dhampir everywhere—but that’s just not my style. I swore, I screamed, I cried and through it all Tobias gripped my hand.
And then, just when I was wondering if it was possible to be killed from healing to quickly, it stopped. The pain faded away like it had never been there at all. I could hear my heart beating in my ears like the drummer of a metal band. It was a bit catchy. I took a very deep breath and looked around the room. My father looked relieved, and Tobias didn’t seem to know if he should be happy or not.
I didn’t know either. I didn’t exactly know what had happened to me—not completely. I knew I was healing faster, and from the grating on my ears of the couple four floors below us, my hearing was sharper. I didn’t try playing with vision, there wasn’t much to see right then. Though, I had to admit the pulse of Tobias’ veins against his skin was distracting me.
My father grabbed my chin and tugged my gaze to him. “You need to feed.”
“Not from him,” I croaked.
Father nodded. “I have some on ice, but fresh would be better. You will need food as well. Should I order a porterhouse?”
I concentrated on my stomach for a moment. “Make it two.”
Tobias stayed with me while I consumed the contents of two blood bags with the same finesse I showed eating anything else. I never did pick up table manners.
Blood in me, I managed to sit up without the urge to maim, and looked Tobias in the eyes. “Well, how do I look?”
He touched my face with a very warm hand. “Different.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I need a shower.” I pulled away from Tobias and got up off the bed. I felt a touch unsteady for a moment and then walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I wanted to be alone for a moment, to acknowledge the changes I could feel in my limbs, in my veins. I felt stronger. I had always been strong but this was different. I could feel the muscles in my legs stretch as I’d walked and knew there was something there that hadn’t been before.
I flexed my arms, touched my toes and stretched myself backwards. Everything felt—sharper. Easier.
And the sweaty, bloody lipped man looking at me in the mirror looked more like my father than I ever remembered. My eyes had always looked like my father’s, if he’d been human. I hadn’t ever seen the silver trace of vampirism in my eyes—until now. My skin looked cleaner, whiter. I felt power in the back of my mind.
I took a breath and turned away from the mirror, turning on the shower and stripping out of my jeans and boxers. I washed the sweat and blood off me with the air of a person being baptized. But that’s what this was. I had come into this hotel room one thing, I was leaving it something else entirely. I’d been reborn.
In a far more profound sense, I think, then a born again Christian hoping to put down demon drink. Sure, I was cynical, but I hadn’t been raised with a strong maternal figure. I’d blame that, my therapists always did.
I dried off and put my pants on before heading back into the room for my shirt. Room service wasn’t here yet, so I settled into a plush armchair.
“How do you feel?” Daddy asked.
“Different.” I wasn’t sure how I felt just yet. Certainly I had improved physically, and it was likely the mental acuity of my hypnotic gaze was stronger, but there was still one thing I couldn’t be sure of. Master vampires, like my father, had gifts. Master dhampirs would be the same. The older the vampire, the stronger, but when they took mastery it meant more. It was like magic. A special gift that varied vampire to vampire.
With my father, that gift was transformation. Not a bat or a wolf, no, Daddy didn’t like convention. His other self, when he chose to utilize it, was the scariest fucking horse I’d ever seen in my life. He still had fangs, after all. Vampire horse. Not something you’d think of being scary until you saw it.
I couldn’t know what my mastery would bring me in the way of special gifts until an occasion drew it out of me. Tobias was still watching me. It was the way you watched a stray dog, hoping it wasn’t rabid. There was a knock at the door, room service. Father let them in and then looked at me. He looked at me for a very long, quiet, moment.
“I’ll leave you be. Come see me before you go.”
I nodded. I watched him leave the room before I stood and went for the room service cart.
“You walk differently,” Tobias said.
“I’m not trying to pretend I’m human,” I replied. I looked at him. “It’s harder at the moment.”
“You pretend to be clumsy? Well, not clumsy but…”
“Yes. I pretend to be less graceful. I pretend to be a lot of things I’m not. But mostly, I pretend that every day I don’t wish I was back in the dirty brothel where I was born, that my mother was still alive—and that my sister was sane.” I looked down at the floor. “Jonah Swift took my sister and broke her. He tried to break me. Now,” I made a fist, “now I might be able to do something about him. If that means not hiding any more. Well, so be it.” I was still riding high on the emotions I’d felt from my father’s blood. From the memories.
I put a hand on the cart to steady myself, but it rolled away. I fell, pulling the cart down on top of myself in a crash.
“Caspian?” Tobias knelt down next to me, panicked.
“It’s—okay.” I wasn’t hurt, I was just—
“You’re crying.”
“No shit.” I wiped the tears away. “This sort of thing—it screws with your head. My father’s blood. I knew it would tap into old memories. Bad memories.”
Tobias picked up the things from the tray and sat down on the corner of the bed closest to me. He didn’t touch me. That was smart. I took a breath and stripped off my shirt, which was covered in meat juice, and then looked at him. Really looked. He was handsome, but I’d already known that. He had power, the power I hadn’t looked for. Maybe I didn’t want to, but I could see it now. A deep, deep well of strength in the core of him. That’s where he drew his power from. The power to shape clay, to bring life to things without life.
He brought me to life.
I put my hands on his shoulders and kissed him.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“For staying.” I kissed him again, deeper. “For being so…annoying.” I straddled him. “Thank you.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome.”
I pushed him, gently, down onto the bed. “Let me thank you properly.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Look at you, being so forceful.”
“I am a master, now.” I grinned. “I should be forceful.”
“Master?” He grabbed my shoulders and flipped me over, taking the dominant position. “I’ll show you who’s the ‘master’ in this relationship.”
I couldn’t help it, I started laughing.
Tobias took that as a challenge, and I didn’t mind, not one bit.

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