Stanley arrives an eternity and forty minutes later, jogging up the steps with casual worry. I hear him more than I get a look at him, and I only turn when he knocks at the steel door behind me. I open it and he weasels inside, muttering a jovial, “—so what was so urgent you had me come all the way out her—”
His eyes meet the vampire’s and he stumbles back, gasping, “holy shit on a cracker!”
I frown, closing the door before I look from the hyperventilating vampire to the statuesque one. Only my friend isn’t so statuesque anymore. Quite contrary, he is now cowering, growling, eyes fixated on Stanley as the younger one squeezes himself into the corner next to the door. Stanley even tries to open it, but a sharp, teeth-baring bark has him swiftly jerk back his hand.
All color drains out of Stanleys face. I thought he was near fainting back at the café, but this is something else. This is like staring at the devil himself and realizing there is nothing, no wall, no bars, between you and a gruesome death. Stanley’s voice becomes a high pitched whimper. “What the fuck are you doing here, with him? Are you completely mad? Gideon, do you even know who that is?”
It’s a weird feeling, finally not being the one about to pee themselves. I’m not half as freaked out as Stanley, but to answer his question, no I don’t. My vampire does look like some kind of gaelic or norse warrior, but he could very well be a knight, or a world war two hero. Who am I to know? I shrug and step away, placing myself roughly in the way of my growling savior, who at least stays put, if crouching and ready to pounce. “I just know that he saved my life and needed help,” I say, scratching my cheek. “I kinda hoped you’d help him, but going by your reaction, that’s a no. You know who he is?”
Stanley cackles, still trying his best to meld into the corner. “You don’t even know, that’s hilarious,” he squeaks, muttering lower, “standing there like it’s a petting zoo.” It takes him a while—and a pointed cough on my part—to get him to talk again, still half laughing, either at me or at the situation as a whole.
“Gideon, that is Cor. The Cor. The lone surviving Strigoi.”
Speaking the name out loud does something to my vampire. His growl gets quieter, even more threatening, and he leans forward on one hand. I get the eerie feeling he is getting ready for something, I just don’t know for what. I keep an eye on Cor—finally a name to the face—, frowning at the unknown word. “What’s a strigoi?”
The fear in Stanley’s eyes is real, his face ashen and shiny with panic sweat. He looks like he has been forced face to face with his worst nightmare. I don’t understand. Yet.
“A Strigoi— He,— is to us what we are to humans. He can live off vampire blood and he can, uh, ensnare vampires, make them his thralls, control their emotions. Some six-hundred years ago, some big-shot vampire warlord killed the whole bloodline except for him. Kept him like a pet. But that one, he is mad. They made him mad. There are stories about how they did it, stories that would make your skin crawl. I used to feel bad for him, until I saw what he can do. What he does. Nothing but animal left inside of him,” Stanley finally whispers. “I have no idea how you are still alive. I’ve seen him being let out once, forty years ago.” He swallows forcedly and his eyes finally find mine. “It was a massacre, Gideon. I’ve never seen anything like it. Friends, enemies, he mowed through everything that moved, no hesitation. The Norseman himself had to go down into the arena and force him back into his prison. I thought they finally put him down after that. Seems I was wrong.” A pause, then he whispers urgently, “you’ve got to kill him as long as he’s weak. Do it now, there’s still time!”
I take a breath to reply and Stanley’s eyes go wide as saucers, staring at something behind me. I feel it then, a sudden presence, like static crackling along my skin, a brush of hot and cold pushing against my back. Something wild, unknown, other. He is behind me. Close. Very close. The rabbit inside me tries to make a run for it, but strong arms wrap around me in a flash, pull me against a way too hot, way too hard chest. A scent cloud of salty pain, blood, sweat, and something muskier, washes over me and drives the fight right out of my limbs. My heart becomes a throbbing, squirming thing in my chest, slippery and feeble. Teeth rip at the skin-colored bandage on my neck, tearing it from my skin, and then sharp, long fangs sink into my flesh at the exact spot I’ve been bitten before. I yelp at the pain and try to scream, but my throat won’t let me.
So this is how it ends. Seems my luck finally ran out.
Only he doesn’t drink. And his teeth burn in my skin, but nowhere near as painful as the bite of Stanley’s babysittee. I don’t dare to move, gasping short little breaths to keep myself from hyperventilating as my heart struggles against its confines. This is not like they told me. This is not something my training could help me solve. I am a puppet in the arms of a creature that could grind me down to a shivering pulp and not break a sweat. And yet, he doesn’t.
The vampire keeps me pressed tightly against his chest, growling softly, but I’m not dead. Not even dying. And even the bite stops to hurt and changes into something warm, prickly, relaxing. This strange thing is too weak to be more than a vague tingle, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. And it grows, slowly, steadily, cancerous.
Stanley watches all of this with a kind of death grimace on his face. Something like recognition flits over his face and he quickly turns his eyes away. “Oh,” he mutters breathlessly.
My body is chaos. My mind is drowning in fear and whatever strange cloud of pain-induced trance I’m in, so it latches on to the one real thing. Stanley. I try talking, because it’s not like Cor couldn’t have killed me a hundred times over by this point. And I can’t stand there like this forever, my adrenaline will run out at some point. The bite will start to hurt. The vampire will change his mind and eat me, like he is supposed to. I just hope I pass out when it happens. “Oh, what? What is he doing? What’s going on?”
“He’s not draining you, so there’s that,” Stanley says hesitantly, relaxing a little. He keeps his eyes firmly turned away though. “And I’m not an expert for wild vampire behavior, but what he’s doing there, that looks a lot like a claim. Some of the old ones do it with their children.” He falls quiet, squirming a little as if embarrassed, then clears his throat and adds, “I think he thinks I left that mark on your neck. And he doesn’t like it. Looks like he sees you as his. He’s staring me down as if he’s challenging me.”
I suck in a shaky breath and force myself to relax. It’s frighteningly easy, my mind wrapping itself in the growing tide of warm, fuzzy ecstasy his bite pumps into my body. I’ve heard of vampires possessing the ability to make their bite a pleasant, even orgasmic thing. ‘Venom’, they call it. But I couldn’t have imagined a feeling like this, not even in my wildest dreams. It’s like my thoughts float away before I’ve finished thinking them. It makes me hold on to my mind even harder. “How do I tell him that it wasn’t you? He doesn’t seem to understand me.” If he even speaks. I’ve heard nothing but growls as of yet.
“I don’t think he cares,” Stanley retorts. “I should leave. Calmly. And then run like hell. It’ll give you a chance of survival, I think. But you,…” He looks up at last, inching his hand towards the door knob. Cor doesn’t growl this time, he just stares, teeth buried in my neck. His hot breath wafts along my neck, calm and immovable. Stanley twists the knob and opens the door a few inches, then he looks at me. “You should kill him.”
And then he’s gone.