Chapter 6: Out of the Dark

~ Cor ~

This is how my life will end.

There is a certain insanity that builds when a person is locked away in solitude for long enough. It grows out of one’s soul and wraps around all the little details that makes up a human, tightening ever so slightly, inexplicably. Until it strangles the mind out of a body and leaves nothing but pain behind.

I am animal when I hear the scrape of the latch to my eternal prison.

Just that little loosening of the lid allows me to hear more, to smell more, to breathe in single molecules of fresh, unsoiled air. I snort in the whiff of life like a madman, scent the breeze like a wolf. It makes me want to weep, want to claw at my prison like I did so long ago. But I don’t. I wait. Bide my time.

I am pain when the lid flips open and I jump out.

Every muscle in my body is screaming, tendons ripping even as they stitch themselves up, just to rip again when I catch my keeper and bring him down. His face looks so surprised, his skin so clean, I want to bite his face off. I would have, some years ago, when I was still clinging to the idea that one day, I might be free again, my punishment might find its end, my master might find a shred of forgiveness in his cold chest. To be let out one last time, not to maim, kill, rip apart on my master’s command, but to run, hide, lick my wounds, and be happy to be free.

Now, I just want to watch the world burn and eat my fill of roasted meat.

This creature beneath me is such a frail, fragile little thing, I wonder who had the idea to turn him. Finding someone like him, someone so obviously not big, muscled, brutish, in my master’s entourage is shocking, but I don’t question it. He’s just the first to die, the first of many. My fingers touch his throat, grasping the soft flesh—

A pulse. He has a pulse. I lean forward and sniff to make sure, but yes, he’s not my kind. He smells like fear and panic and rage, so much rage, he almost feels like kin, but he isn’t. A mortal, one stupid enough to let me out. What has the world come to? Or maybe he isn’t with my master? That would make him moronic.
Then I hear the other one. Smell him. Sickly sweet, his personal scent all but indistinguishable from the stink of rot seeping from his flesh, but I would know him anywhere, no matter his shape. Isegrim.

I am rage when he slithers through the gaping door, his eyes widening when he recognizes me.

Muscle memory is taking over as I rush him. He doesn’t look like himself anymore, not like the memories I have of him. He was a pretty man, if stupid and barbaric. Now he is but a corpse, covered in broils that should not be there, dissolving ever so slowly before my eyes. I don’t feel pity for him. He locked me in here, again and again, at our master’s bidding. He let me out, whenever our maker decided to make an example of someone. My keeper.

Isegrim held the key to my chain for so long, he thinks I’ve become his and that he’s loaning me to our master. For years, I have dreamed how I would kill him, my tormentor, how I would drag it out and make him suffer, but I am no more. I am a crippled, grotesque thing, barely holding on to a faint picture of who I was a long time ago. I don’t care for seeing him squirm and hearing him wail. I care for him not being anymore. Not here, not anywhere. The shadow in me agrees, purring deeply.

When I rush him, he tries to dodge, to flee. I don’t let him. My heart sings at the simple pleasure of touching his rotting body. I have dreamed of it for so long, the ease with which I manage it surprises me. Delights me. There was a time when he could match my speed, if not my strength and cunning, but that time is over.
I grab his frail, sickly body and rip him apart. It’s over so quickly, I wonder if I’m still dreaming, still locked in my prison, tormenting myself because there is nothing else to do and I’ve been listening to the shadows for way too long. For a moment, I am afraid. So afraid of the illusions the shadows play out for me, so afraid that I’m falling into their one, final, trap. But no. The shadows don’t know how air smells, how it feels, the little nuances one only learns to cherish when they’ve been gone for way too long.

I take a deep breath. This is what freedom smells like.

I am free.

Or am I?

A gasp behind me startles the shadows in me. Ah, yes. Unfinished business is still to be had. I look over my shoulder to scan the mortal I almost forgot about. Athletic in a way that goes beyond a duelists arrogance. Pale like a royal, but too scarred to be one. Dirtied, bloodied, hurt, wide-eyed in his panic, wrapped in strange garments I can’t begin to understand beyond what goes on the chest and what on the legs. Each time I’ve been let out, the way to dress changed rapidly, and I’ve learned to not be surprised by surprises anymore. But is he my master’s pet?

I scan him surreptitiously. In turn, he points a gun at me, his hand shaking so hard I’m surprised the muzzle doesn’t waver more. It does shiver, but it stays on mark. He’s not battle-hardened, but he is not a soft creature. A few breathless moments later, he lowers the gun and something flits through his eyes. Worry maybe, or remorse, I’m not sure. My shadows tell me that he is food and I should eat him, but they sometimes forget that I’m not allowed to. That I can’t. Not with the bane locket around my neck. It would be a wonderful—if stupid—way to die, fangs buried in soft, hot meat. I haven’t tasted human in more than three centuries. The idea alone makes me salivate. I want to touch him, crawl inside of him, build a nest there in his warmth. I forgot how warm the mortals are, how alive.

Too tempting. I snarl and shake off the shadows’ whispers, gnashing my teeth against the urge to stay. If this is my last night on earth—and now that Isegrim is dead, it definitely is—I want to enjoy it. See the outside, breathe in the wind and the rain, feel their cool touches on my skin, eat a vampire or two. Meet the sun and let it burn me to a crisp before the amulet around my neck can do its evil deed.

The human behind me makes a soft sound, beckoning me to turn back to him, to forget my plans. He is like a siren, his pulse sings to me. He is the most luscious trap imaginable. And suddenly I am afraid I will give in and I can’t get out there fast enough.

But fast I am.

As if the heavens heard my wishes, it starts to rain as soon as I fly out of whatever hell-hole I have been kept in. Wild bushes surround the grassy space in front of the stairs, wild and unkempt and prettier than anything I have ever seen. The scent of lilacs, rushes, ivy, and something heavier, sharper, fill the wet, humid air. I breathe it in deeply, fill my lungs with it and let the taste of nature dance across my tongue as I trot through the underbrush. A spider gets caught in my knotty hair, dangling in front of my eye until I scoop it up by its thread. Such a busy little creature, hanging on by a hair’s breadth and still thriving.

I leave the spider on a twig and stop at the edge of the garden. The stench of chemicals is stronger here, accompanied by a dull thrum that grows louder and lower ever so often. A metal beast howls by and I startle back into the greenery, breathing heavily as I scan the street behind the metal fence for threats. Was that an automobile? The last time I saw one of those, they were hardly faster than a horse, nothing like the speed of this one. But if they are simple automobiles, I am in no immediate danger.

My shadows whisper to me as I sneak to the fence and peer through the wild vines, swallowing saliva. They hear the heartbeats in the distance, the sounds of living things breathing, talking, laughing, and they hunger. They yearn for blood. We have been without nourishment for too long. I have weathered longer famine, but without Isegrim to hold me back, yank my chain when I spiral, I will become unhinged. A bloodbath will mean my death, and despite the knowledge that I will die at sunup anyway, something inside me cringes at the thought of taking innocents with me.

The street stays quiet. The bushes behind me don’t. I can hear the mortal sneak through the thicket, his breath heavy and quick. Soon he will have reached me and I am very aware of the gun he is carrying. I could be less lucky when we meet again.

I jump up the fence, perching on the decorative upper edge for a moment as I take another look left and right. Another car passes an intersection to my right, startling me again, but beside that, this city seems to be as dead as the building I was kept in. I swoop down the other side and land soundlessly in a crouch, just as the human slides out of the bushes, gun drawn but pointing down.

Our eyes meet. He twitches when he realizes I am right there, but he doesn’t raise his gun. Instead, he talks. I cock my head, idly trying to understand him even though I know full well that I won’t ever, that the amulet around my throat makes it impossible for me to hear anyone’s voice but that of the keyholder. I can hear the melodic ups and downs in his tone of voice. Something about it makes me want to find out what he is saying. But no matter how curious he makes me, I don’t trust him. I have been betrayed before, toyed with cruelly, and curiosity isn’t worth another eternity of torture. If he wants to recapture me, he will have to try hard. Very hard.

He doesn’t seem to notice my lack of understanding. Still talking, he takes one hand off the gun and holds it out to me, taking a step closer.

Too close. I snarl at him viciously and bound away, using all four limbs to propel myself forward, down the street, towards the flickering lights to my left. Away from my prison. Away from temptation.