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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude

Wednesday morning, 11 November 2009, AM

Ayame: Triangles appear everywhere in nature. Pyramids, mountains, even trees—maybe they’re not perfect triangles, but they’re triangles all the same. It’s a solid unit: wider at the base, narrower at the top. The base gives the triangle its foundation. Strong. Spread out.

Many.

There’s only room for one at the top, right? The higher you go the narrower it gets until there’s just one person perched at the pinnacle. The man in charge. President, CEO, king.

Or prince, if you’re a lick.

Orders, like shit, flow downhill. It starts at the top. The prince shits on the people below him, those people shit on the people below them, those people smear that brown shit all over the people below them, too. Everyone is trying to climb the pyramid to get to that top spot, or at least to a spot where they’re not being shit on by quite as many people. Their eyes are all skyward. Heaven-bound. Climbing, hand over fist, to reach the top. A top they’ll never get to. Try to move above your station and there’s always someone there willing to cut you back down to size.

Some people get halfway up and they freeze. They look back to see how far they’ve come and they don’t want to fall. Falling from here means starting over, after all; why would anyone want to go back to being the base?

Some ancient civilizations put their slaves on the bottom rung, no better than the animals they fed from. Licks do it, too. Any lick worth their salt will tell you that their ghouls—their renfields—are below even the kine. Below the literal animals from which they feed. Nothing. Disposable. Expendable.

Problem is, you’ve got so many of them down there at the bottom, and some have been around longer than the licks that raise a hand against them. So they keep ‘em bound with the blood, like a pimp who gets his hookers hooked on heroin. Anything for a fix, right? Sure, she’ll lay on her back, suck a few dicks, let her pimp beat her black and blue—so long as she gets that next hit she doesn’t give much of a fuck. And that hit they get is better than the purest, cleanest heroin, better than all the coke some drug-addled alley-dweller could shove up his nose, better than the oldest, finest cognac from a glass snifter. When that blood hits their tongue… well, there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for it, let’s just leave it at that.

All this to say that the ghouls, the revenants, the thralls, whatever you want to call them, they’re all just junkies of varying loyalty, and once that collar is snapped into place there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for their domitor. So all those numbers at the bottom of the pyramid? The licks keep ‘em there with blood.

Nice to know there’s always someone beneath you, right?

Ghouls got their own pyramids, though. Their own hierarchy. You know what’s worse than being collared by a lick? Being at the bottom of the ghoul pile. No one gives a fuck what happens to the best ghouls; imagine how much less they care when it’s a literal nobody.

So ghouls scrape and claw and fight their way to the top, too. Only sometimes it don’t matter if you’re good as a ghoul because your domitor is a fucking nobody, and if you’re the property of a nobody then you’re a nobody too. Whatever name you’re trying to make for yourself doesn’t mean shit if your domitor gets their head lopped off for violating whatever bullshit rules, maybe lookin’ at someone the wrong way, ‘cause chances are pretty solid that you’re going to be next. Even if they don’t mean to hurt you—rare, by the way—they might just lose their temper. Give in to that Beast inside of them.

“Sorry, babe,” they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, really. It was the Beast.” Domestic assault on steroids.

Us ghouls? We take it.

Like the bitch in the white nightie who tells the nurse she fell down the stairs. Ran into the wall. Cut herself shaving. Burned herself on a hot pan.

That last one is even true—they just don’t mention it was their domitor who held them there, screaming, while their flesh sizzled and bubbled and the smell of searing meat hit their nose and, worst of all, it just makes them fucking hungry for something.

Yeah, I know all about that.

There’s a reason I don’t go anywhere without these fucking gloves. You think you got scars? You think someone Embraced you when you weren’t ready? How about the mangled skin on my palms, the nerve endings that were shot after a few seconds of exposure, that gave in and fucking died rather than continue to send that message of agony to my brain. Told I couldn’t mend it, couldn’t use an ointment, and every night he’d peel back the skin and pop the blisters and let that fluid run down my arms instead of fix it. All those wasted white blood cells. Flesh doesn’t come back from that kind of abuse. Fingers don’t bend right. Sense of touch is vague at best. But the way it looks… that might be worst of all. Pink. Shiny. Hairless. Thick fibrous waves of tissue where it should be smooth skin. Like a wave that’s constantly cresting.

Learned my lesson, though, didn’t I?

Never forgot to call him “sir” again.


Monday night, 5 April 2010, PM

Ayame: You hear about that prison break in 2010? Two of ‘em, but I mean the second one. April 5th. Reynosa. Wikipedia says “a convoy of ten trucks packed with gunmen entered the prison grounds without resistance, broke into the cells, and liberated thirteen ‘extremely dangerous’ inmates.” Extremely dangerous. In quotes like that. That’s their code word for what came out of that prison: thirteen licks. Maybe the guys on the ground didn’t know it. Maybe whatever douchebag reported didn’t know. Maybe the guy who edited the Wiki article couldn’t tell his head from his ass, he just wants to load up on Cheeto’s and Mtn. Dew while he builds his editing cred so he can finally put up that fake conspiracy theory that’s been years in the making before it’s torn down within a few hours by the constant vigilance of the rest of the editors, goody-fucking-two-shoes that they are.

Probably a good thing no one knows they’re real. Can’t even handle black versus white, imagine trying to deal with a whole new species. All those people who think aliens coming down to earth will be peaceful are just as delusional as every flat-earther.

Regardless. Those ten trucks, all those guys in the back, they knew what they were coming for. And so, apparently, did the prison guards, or at least some of them. So did the warden. The overseer. Whoever it was. Problem with throwing a lick in jail is that at some point they’re gonna find a window and the sun is gonna ash them. But Reynosa? Oh no. There’s no sun there. The whole compound is nothing but a front. All the good shit is beneath the ground. Those cells down there don’t feel the heat of the sun, don’t catch a breeze. Nothing but metal and more metal. Steel cuffs. Steel doors. Individual cells, sound proof, little torture chambers set up nice and pretty for any lick that’s dumb enough to get caught by the people running the place.

You know why there was no pushback, no resistance to the convoy? Wikipedia won’t tell you, but the guards were already dead. All of them. We’re not amateurs. We got our guys on the inside months ago. This plot isn’t something that someone pulled out of their ass. Got our guys hired in, took on kitchen jobs and cleaning jobs and patrol jobs, and when the time was right they moved real quietly through the whole complex and slit all the throats of the people who weren’t on our side.

You ever see a lick feed from a dead body?

I guess when you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything.

So there we were, my little team and I, sent in to retrieve these ten licks. One by one we took the stakes out of their chests and told them what we were about, who sent us, all that garbage. Had the blood waiting to stave off any hunger. Some of ‘em didn’t wake, so those we just carried back to let the boss sort out.

Except that last guy.

Might’ve been older than the rest. Might’ve heard shit he wasn’t supposed to. Who knows. He asks where we’re gonna put the bodies of the old ones.

That’s what he called them: old ones. Like he wasn’t some ancient dust-ready, half-rotting corpse himself. Team looks at me, I look at them.

“Show me,” I tell him. So he does. He fucking shows me. Takes me down another level like he knows the layout of this place, like he isn’t just guessing. Brought a snack with him, a severed arm that he sucked from like it was a juice box, and I guess it is to them. Left it withered behind him when we hit the stairs. Two flights. Three. Four.

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“How deep does this place go?”

But he just looks at me. I can see his eyes in the dark. Red. Glowing. He can see just as well down here as I can under the noon-day sun, and there I am, shining the flashlight on the end of my gun around so I don’t trip over a fucking rock or something. But there’s no rocks down here. Just smooth concrete. And more security gates than I’ve seen in my life. Row after row after row of them, all set with their own key cards, their own pin codes, easily defend-able from the outside. This lick I’m with, though, he just waves his hand and they all unlock for him, and I wonder sometimes how humans are so fucking stupid. I see the glint of his teeth in the edge of my light, as if he’s inside my head, but when I look over at him he’s working on the last of the gates. A little more effort on his end if the furrowed brows are anything to go by.

Then he’s reaching for me, reaching past the gun to wrap his long, spindly fingers around my arm, and I know better than to pull away from him even though I want to press my back into the wall or bring the gun to bare. I’m still instead, even when he yanks me almost off my feet, even when I see those fangs distend past his lips, when his face, lit from below by that light so I can see him for the monster he is, comes towards me.

When his mouth comes towards me.

Then two pinpricks of pain in my shoulder, daggers sliding into my skin, and by the time the sound of slurping hits me I’m rolling on the best molly in the world. Bliss. Pure bliss. Nothing matters, not my dead hands, not that I’m seven stories deep in some crazy bunker, not this thing in front of me that’s slowly draining my life force, and I wonder why he brought me all the way down here to do it when he coulda just drained me up top, and maybe I make a sound, maybe I ask him that very question, because then it’s his tongue on my neck and he’s letting go, pulling back, and he’s smiling at me in a way I should recognize but my head’s a little fuzzy, so it makes sense when he tells me that he just needed a hit to get past this last barrier, that he’d rather do it now instead of after just in case he can’t control himself, and he gives my head a little pat.

Like a dog.

I lean against the wall when he opens that final gate, then we’re at the end of a hallway with a handful of steel doors, but he knows exactly which ones to open because the three that he picks all have bodies inside of them. Old, old bodies. Corpses. With little stakes sticking out of their hearts. Two men and a woman, all of them with marble white skin that looks like it might be even thinner than paper, but I don’t test that theory by trying to touch them. Mostly I think I might have been brought down here as some sort of offering to get them to wake up and I wonder how far my blood will actually go to fill the three of them, but the thought doesn’t bother me as much as it maybe should.

Until my companion pulls the stake from the lick all the way at the end. Then it bothers me. It bothers me a lot because the thing that sits up on the table isn’t like any lick I’ve seen before, and before I can do so much as part my lips to scream he’s off the table and coming right at me.

Only it’s not me he’s after.

It’s the lick that brought me down here, the guy that thought he was safe. The old one grabs him right by the shoulder, slams him bodily against the wall, and rips out his throat in a spray of blood that splatters all over me, the floor, the stone table. He drinks. He drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and I watch the little guy struggle and fight and scream, and maybe I drop that gun and back into a corner and make myself as small as possible, but the light’s enough to watch the color bleed from his prey, transferring from one body to the other, and there’s finally just a wet gurgle and… and maybe a flash of light, something silvery that slides out of his neck and into the waiting maw of the old one, then the lick who brought me down here is nothing but a pile of ash.

Now it’s another pair of red eyes that are looking at me, taking me in where I’m huddled behind the table as if that will keep me safe from him, and all I’m thinking is of course I die down here, and he reaches for me. To grab me, I think, but he just holds his hand there in front of my face, and I realize that he wants me to take it.

So I do.


Saturday night, 10 April 2010, PM

Ayame: Angel.

Maybe that was his name when he was still alive. “Angel,” soft G, the way the Mexicans say it. Like how they say “Hey-Seuss” for Jesus. Or how the name “Maria,” in English, is a long R sound like you’d get in “rat,” and in Spanish you tap your tongue against the roof of your mouth to make that hard R and cut it off before it rolls too much.

But when he came up out of that tomb and took his place at the head of the organization that was the only name I ever knew him by. Angel. Maybe the “Jesus” from the example would have been a better moniker, rose from the dead and all, and maybe he caught me thinking that once because he drilled it into me that his name is Angel. Sir Angel. Master Angel. Lord Angel. Not Arch Angel—he’d caught me thinking that, too, and it had been another lesson in titles.

When I say “drilled it into me,” I mean that in a literal sense. A power tool. Screws. He told me to sit still while he did it, while he lifted my skirt to find that inner spot on my thigh, the soft, sensitive skin that no one touches. Had me spread my legs over the sides of the chair so he could access the white flesh, clamp my fingers around the edge of the seat. Don’t move, he told me, so I didn’t. Even when the tip of the screw bit into my flesh. Even when I felt it go deeper, so much deeper, past the layers of fat and muscle and slide right into my femur, when blood pooled and dripped out of me and onto the wooden seat, and the lick that he made watch—my domitor—used his tongue to lap it up later, after Angel finished.

Those orders they give you, when they put you under the Imperius (Sorry J.K.), they don’t care how much it hurts. They hold you still no matter what your body really wants to do, especially when it’s someone as old as him issuing the command. His order was a knife to my brain, cutting through what I thought to do and replacing it with his will. I was just a puppet. So even though I screamed, even though my entire body started trembling from the searing agony of a literal screw being carved into my fucking leg, even though I knew I’d eventually black out from the pain, I held still. At least there wasn’t the smell of burning flesh this time, right?

Thirteen screws in my leg to make the “A.”

He asked me, when he was finished with the first letter, if I would ever make the mistake again. He said he had more screws if I felt like I needed another lesson. And I told him—I told him if he wanted me to remember he should finish the job so that I never forget, because what else am I supposed to say in that situation? Beg him not to hurt me? Maybe he’d have liked that.

But he liked my willingness to suffer, too. Said it spoke to fire inside of me. So he put that fire outside of me. Carved his name with a red hot iron across my thigh, right over those screws he’d drilled into me.

And then he let me drink.

I heard some licks say once that they remember every sip of blood they’ve ever taken. That we’ve got a resonance, a unique taste, and if they taste the blood of other licks they can tell you all sorts of facts about them. My human tongue is hardly as advanced as all that, but I can tell you this: he didn’t taste like anyone I’d had before, and when that first drop hit my lips I knew that this was something different, something special. Thick. Heady. Just a drop, just a taste, and it was enough to have me hooked. That collar my domitor put on me? Snapped. Like it was nothing.

Maybe that’s on account of the head that rolled across the floor, though. Right before it crumbled into ash.


Tuesday night, 13 April 2010, PM

Ayame: It’s like this: a childe is the weakest point in the armor of a more important monster. You know who said that? Yeah, me neither, but it’s a real fuckin’ thing. You got all these old ones who are super important, lots of power, blood so thick that mortals don’t do it anymore, prince of the city, king of the gang—whatever the fuck they are, and then they decide to Embrace someone. And that someone is just a little baby neonate. Doesn’t know enough about the life to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And if they show any sort of affection or deference to that childe—if they’re even capable of such things, the twisted fucks—then everyone knows where to hit.

You hear all these stories about people being Embraced by accident, and sure maybe that’s a real thing out with the wild ones in the middle of fuckin’ Mexico, but up here we’re a more civilized people. Don’t just take people all willy-nilly like that. Especially those Sanctified licks, there’s a whole song and dance they do, and woe be to you if you got a fuckin’ sire who wants you to prove yourself and jump through the god damned hoops because you didn’t say enough “Hail Marys” when you were still breathin’.

Maybe that’s just another punishment for calling him Jesus that one time.

Huh.

Anyway, it’s like this.

There’s a church. The lick who wants to bring his childe into the fold approaches said childe, says something like “join me or I’ll kill you,” and the would-be childe just kinda goggles at them, all wide-eyed, and maybe some stupid ones opt for death, I’ve heard that happens sometimes, but mostly we just kind of nod and smile and go along with it because really what the fuck else are we supposed to say?

“Sorry dude immortality doesn’t sound fun.”

Right.

Lotta times they take a normal breather, the kind of innocent fucks that don’t actually know what’s going on, got no experience with this sort of stuff. Somethin’ about the bond of a ghoul and not a good childe and blah blah blah. But for every rule there’s an exception—like how when two vowels go walkin’ the first one does the talkin’ but then you got words like neighbor and friend that just toss up two middle fingers toward that rule—and I guess I was this year’s exception or whatever, because Angel sat me down and said, “you’ve got a choice to make.”

And the choice wasn’t whether I wanted to live or not. It was how I wanted to die.

Ordinarily, see, they just drain you. Lick it all up, take all that warmth inside of you into themselves. Only Angel ain’t into that kind of thing because he didn’t wanna do it that way, or maybe he just liked the idea of making me choose how he was going to murder me so he could see what sort of twisted shit I’d come up with—like that time he made me light the barrel of oil on fire after he stuffed someone inside who’d pissed him off—but when you’re faced with that choice it’s like…

Like what do you say to that?

Is there a pleasant way to die? After all the shit I’ve seen in this life I don’t really think there is, at least not with these people.


Friday night, 16 April 2010, PM

Ayame: A lotta people wonder how they’re gonna die. Keeps ‘em up at night, thinkin’ about how they’ll go, what sort of circumstances is gonna take ‘em outta this life, what’s waiting on the other side. Most people say they wanna go quietly, in their sleep, glass a wine, maybe during sex, who knows.

Look at all the people who kill themselves with somethin’ simple and painless, like an overdose. Or quick, like a gun. No one wants to lay there in agony. No one wants to lose their mind. Like all those old people you see just kind of takin’ up space, sometimes you think somethin’ like “yeah I hope I never get so old that I’ve got to shit in a bag or can’t remember my grandkids.”

Or licks. Right. So there’s only a few ways to kill a lick, and anything involving fire is pretty damn painful—did I tell you about that time they put that guy in a box and shoved him into one of those crematorium ovens? The howling was unreal. You get to be a lick and you think maybe if you gotta die you want your head taken clean off because fuck burning.

Fuck burning.

I’ll just say that again, really hammer it in: fuck. burning.

So when Angel summons me and he says, “how do you want to die?” I think maybe it’s some sort of weird test, and I tell him I might like to be ripped apart by his own hands, and he just kind of looks at me and then it hits me that he’s actually asking me, and then there’s a little bit of panic, right, because what the fuck did I do that he’s going to kill me for that another punishment won’t suffice, and then I start thinking about all the shit I didn’t get to do, and maybe I think about my family a little bit, and the kids I can’t have now, and the books I won’t write and the places I won’t get to see.

But really what I’m thinking about is that he’s going to have to replace me and what if he doesn’t find someone good enough to do so? What if his next servant girl doesn’t do things the right way, or doesn’t know her way around a smart phone, or won’t sit still so he can write his name in her flesh, and won’t light the fire for the burning oil barrels when people piss him off? How’s he gonna get on without that, right?

But I can’t say anything like this to him because you just don’t question a lick like Angel. You just don’t. So I tell him I’m not sure and ask if I could have a little bit of time to think about it, and he says that I got until Friday and it’s already Tuesday now and I only got three days and nights to get all my affairs in order.

There’s a lot of ways to die. Most of ‘em involve the same sort of things, you know. Killing the brain. Stopping the heart. Brings up a whole question of if you’re dead once your heart stops or if you’re dead once your brain stops, but in three days time I don’t really think I’ve got enough time to find out because I’m busy looking into all the other ways that I can die and trying to figure out if there’s any way to salvage this situation or not. And there’s probably not, since once Angel makes up his mind about somethin’ there isn’t much swaying it, so mostly… mostly I’m just trying to think of a good way to die.

Lotta people who do the suicide thing look for a way to make it painless, right. But I think Angel is lookin’ for a show. And these fucks got a thing for blood, so maybe I could just bleed myself out. Or I could let someone choke me. Or let the guy with those big fuckin’ tigers of his feed me to his pets. You ever hear that call recording of that girl being eaten alive by a bear? Yeah, I bet being eaten by a tiger will be pretty similar. Maybe I can strap on some armor and a sword and can go down gladiator style, but then I think maybe that lick will be mad if I hurt one of his pets.

And, absurdly, I just keep thinking about the little picture on my drivers license that says I’m an organ donor, and that’s what I just keep coming back to.

So on Thursday I tell him I’ve decided, and on Friday he sends these three ladies he says are going to be my “handmaidens” and they’re going to make me ready for it. If I weren’t about to die I might have even enjoyed their attention, little like a spa day with all the primping and waxing and exfoliating, and I guess he took me seriously because I’m reminded of all those surgeons who have to shave their patients before they operate. I mostly wonder if they’re going to give me anesthesia, but of course they won’t. Eventually these girls put me in a white shift and I get a little flower crown because I asked for it—listen I’ve kind of always wanted to wear one and I figured if I’m gonna die I might as well die in style—and they take me to the cathedral.

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Because why not go out in the place that closest to God, I guess.

The altar has been cleared off, for me I suspect, and I kind of hate that I’m right when these handmaidens take me up the stairs to stand in front of the altar. Room isn’t as full as it has been for an open mass so I suppose it’s just some small ceremony that Angel has gathered people together for, and there’s a guy in a priest outfit that I assume is going to read me my last rites. And that’s… well that’s kind of nice, I guess.

So there’s some stuff that the priest says, but I’ll be honest I’m not really listening because, y’know, I’m about to die. Some words about sacrifice, honoring God, that kind of stuff. It must be pretty moving because all of a sudden I’ve got tears running down my cheeks and the church is pretty cold and drafty because I’m shivering, but I don’t make a sound. I won’t go out screaming, that’s what my rule is, I won’t scream no matter what they do to me, and that thought’s pretty comforting at least because a lot of the anxiety and fear about dying just kind of seep out of me. I chose this. I’m in charge.

Then it’s time.

I climb onto the altar after the priest anoints my brow in the sign of the cross and I lay back, staring up at the ceiling as if I’m not about to die, like this is just a game.

But it’s not a game.

Angel’s there, standing over me, his hands on my shoulders. And he’s cold. So cold. A shiver runs down my spine when I meet his eyes because they don’t hold anything resembling mercy or pity or anything soft, and I’m reminded of the day we met in that tomb when the lick pulled the stake from him, and I think how fitting it is that I was there for his beginning and he’ll be here for my end and maybe… maybe he’ll slide a stake into me too, when he’s done with the rest of it, and that’ll be what takes my life.

And all of a sudden I’m wishing that I’d asked him to drain me instead because then, at least, I’d be part of him, and as far as dying goes the Kiss is pretty mild. And when I think that word—Kiss, capital K—I can’t help but look at his lips and wonder what it would be like to kiss him, if his mouth is as cold as the rest of him is now, and I know I’m not supposed to but I sit up on that table and I reach for him.

I do it.

I kiss him.

Right on the mouth.

His lips are softer than they should be. I don’t get fancy with it, I don’t try to slip my tongue into his mouth or anything crazy, just a long, lingering kiss that takes the breath from my body so that when I pull away I can’t even form words—not that I can even think of what I would say if I could—and so I just lie back down real quietly and keep my eyes on him as he lifts the knife.

And when the blade comes down I can’t help but think that I’m glad it’s him, even if it hurts, even if the fire starts at the point of insertion and spreads through the rest of me and I open my mouth maybe to scream but I keep that down inside of me, the pain buried so deep that no one will ever be able to find it again, and there’s just this sense of freedom, like this life of slavery down at the bottom of the pyramid is over, like my soul maybe finally has wings or something, and I just look into his eyes and as the edges of my vision start to go black I whisper his name.

“Angel.”


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Ayame: People say that death changes you. They mean that when someone else dies the people who are left behind are irrevocably altered by the experience of losing a loved one. The trauma of losing someone who meant the world to you. The anger at their selfishness if they took their own life. The grief of a long, drawn out battle with some disease while you sat idly by while they wasted away in a hospital bed, more tube than human. The hole in your life they left behind—it changes you. That’s what they mean.

I guess none of the experts ever head of the undead, though, ‘cause I tell you what—good luck lookin’ for a fuckin’ therapist to talk to about being a blood sucking monster, our bodies twisted by whatever mystical properties of the blood that keep us animated when we are, by all rights, nothing but corpses.

How do you even start that conversation? “Say, Doc, you got a prescription for this kind of shit?”

There’s no pearly gates waiting for us on the other side. Even if our souls were to pass on now apparently we’re just gonna fuckin’ burn for all eternity for a choice that often had nothing to do with us, and what kind of old world bullshit is that? “Thanks for playing. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.”

Hell ain’t some physical place. It ain’t some metaphysical place. Hell is here. Now. Earth. Demons in Hell? Ha. They’re the people who turned you into what you are. They’re the people who turned me into what I am. They’re the people who ask you how you want to fuckin’ die and then give it to you just like that, and when it’s all said and done with they go, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Billy Fuckin’ Mays here with another exciting product from Eternal Damnation.”

I don’t remember my time between worlds. That’s what people always ask, isn’t it, if I saw the white light or my withered old grandmother or if I saw the face of God and the truth is no—there’s none of that. No out of body experience. No learning the secrets of the universe. Nothing but drowning in a sea of darkness until the ritual that twisted my blood brings me back into my body, until that heady red fount hits my lips, my tongue, so much sweeter now than it ever was when I was mortal.

And his arms are around me. Angel’s. Holding me flush against him, cradling my body with his, and maybe I might think it’s sweet but I am busy lapping at the wrist he holds to my mouth because I know that I never want it to end. Never. And he’s making these noises at me, these encouraging noises, telling me to drink up, that I need my strength, that I have such a ways to go yet, and I’m thinking why would I ever leave this, but then honestly it kind of all flies out the window when two little points of pain hit my neck. Because I know it’s his teeth at my throat. I know that the ecstasy that’s flowing through me is him, that the burning in my loins and the tightening of my nipples is some remnants of what came over from human me—it’ll fade quickly, that’s what he says—but right now all I can think about is how much I want him, and how with him feeding from me and me feeding from him it’s pretty much the most exquisite experience you can imagine.

Whatever you’re thinking? Yeah. Double it. Triple it. You could hundred times it and it still ain’t enough, because I’m literally in the arms of an angel.

My Angel.

Then—

Something inside me. Snarling. Rampaging. It comes roaring to the surface. Pain like you couldn’t imagine, like you wouldn’t believe. Burning? Oh no, this is worse than burning. This is worse than fire, worse than screws in my leg, worse than the smell of my own flesh sizzling. This is standing on the surface of the sun. This is a hundred, thousand, million knives in every available surface of my body. This is being flayed alive. Gutted. Torn apart by hands that don’t care how much I scream because we’re all just monsters here, fighting to survive.

Tight arms around me. Yelling. Someone screaming. Pressure in my chest. Gnashing fangs. Chanting. Fire in my back, my belly, my wrists, my thighs.

Nirvana.

The complete annihilation of the self.


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Ayame: I wake to the sound of chanting.

I think I might be in a dream because this is not the place I died, and I can hear Angel’s voice beyond the murky fog that obscures the stone altar upon which my body lies. I cannot see beyond it. Just a world of gray mist. No stars twinkle above, no moon illuminates the sky and ground. Nothing. I call out for Angel and my voice is not my own: a strangled cry leaves my throat. A moment of silence and then a guttural howl is torn from me, racing up from my withered lungs to sound its displeasure to the world. Drums sound in the distance. They beat in time with what might have once been my heart. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I am in white. White gown, white sandals, and atop my head a crown of white flowers, the same that I died in. My fingers brush against the petals of the lilies and they shake free of the vine, shrunken and decayed by the time they hit my lap.

I have no time to wonder at this before the haze parts. The form that steps toward me is like no man or Kindred I have ever seen. Black robes obscure his form, hide whatever horror has come to welcome me to this new Hell that is my existence. The robes do not billow with his steps, there is no wind that lifts them in some affectation of drama, and yet I am chilled to my very core. His face is shrouded in shadows that even my new vision will not penetrate, but even so I can see his eyes. Yellow eyes, slitted like a cats.

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Power radiates from him. It ensnares me in its grasp. I seek to swing my legs from the altar, to drop to my knees and worship this dark god as he should so be worshiped, but my body does not obey my commands. I look down to see chains that bind me fast to the altar, steel cuffs around my wrists and ankles, and even as I take notice of them I hear the hiss of steel on stone. The chains retract, pulling my limbs taut until I am flat on my back, my chest rising and falling as I take breaths I do not need. The drums that have become my heartbeat echo the spiraling sentiments inside of me. I am stuck. I strain against the bindings until my wrists ache with the effort, every moment stretching on into infinity. His slow, unhurried steps draw him near, all the while those drums increasing their tempo, their sound thrumming through my veins until it is my own body that keeps the rhythm, the trembling of my limbs and thus the chains a melodic chime accompanying the percussion.

A presence floods my mind.

All at once the sounds of my belabored breathing, the faint chanting in the background, the whisper of steel on stone and muscle against bone wink out of existence. Fingers comb through the soft folds of my brain, a tantalizing touch that I both feel and don’t. Caught as I am—physically, mentally, emotionally—I do not resist his perusal. I know that, should he choose it, he could crush me, that with a mere thought I, too, would be gone from this place, that indeed my very body, my soul, my essence—whatever it is that makes me me —would vanish. I would become another Damned soul caught in the mist. Formless.

Words form inside my head. His voice, both old and young, rasping and dulcet, echoing and infinitesimal.

You are not the usual sacrifice.

I do not need to speak for him to pull the answer from me, the resounding No that dwells within my very bones.

His fingers probe deeper into the abyss inside my mind. Physical sensations fade away. Only he and I remain in the universe. I see what he sees: the memories of long-ago, the suggestions of what might have been. I see my sire’s face. Smell the charred remains of flesh set to boil. Writhe in agony and ecstasy upon an altar that is a crude facsimile of what I lay on now.

You are not a sacrifice. His laughter reverberates through my body, forcing it to twitch and dance to his tone. Your master sends a fledgling to treat with the gods. Tell me, little baby Cainite, did he tell you what waits for you beyond the fog?

Ignorance stills my tongue.

It will destroy you. Go back to the land of the unliving. Your kind has no place in this realm.

My lips part. My mouth forms the words, though not a whisper of breath passes from me.

I am strong, he hears me say.

You are nothing.

He stands before me. His gaze travels from my eyes to my chest, where inside my ribcage my heart remembers how it feels to beat. Blood pumps through my body, spurred along with every pulse. My lungs fill, drawing in the wet air around us; they spasm on the exhale and a cloud of dust expels from within.

You are a puppet with a hand inside of you. Another pulls your strings. Would you like me to pull your strings, little Cainite? Shall I show you how to dance?

Bones crack beneath the pressure of his hands upon my chest. My sternum shatters at his touch. A skeletal finger cuts a blazing line of white fire from throat to groin. He need only flick my ribs and one by one they splinter and crack, spine bowing in half. A touch on my brow lays me out again, panting, and then his hand is inside of me.

Shall I show you your heart, child? He rips it from my chest. My screams do not make it past my throat. The muscle is tiny in his hands, throbbing away as if it has not realized that it is dead, that it is no longer a part of me. His jaws gape open, rows and rows and rows of teeth inside of his mouth that can’t possibly be real, and yet…

And yet when he bites down it rattles me to my core. My psyche splits, rent and torn. Someone far away screams as sanguine drops drip from his masticating jaw. Blood oozes from my open chest cavity. I watch my heart continue to beat inside his mouth and hear his laughter in my head.

Severed.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The drums that sound again make mockery of my lost heart. The mist swirls around us and the dark god fades into its depths as chanting touches my ears.

Hands pull me from the table. I am wet. I can smell blood, my blood, and look down to see that the front of my white shift is saturated. Nothing beats inside my chest. The monster who takes me into his arms is familiar, but there are mountains and trenches between us when once there was nothing. His eyes take me in, mouth descending towards the blood on my chest, and when he tastes it he knows. His echoing howl is twisted in dismay, grief… and rage. Rage that makes his entire body tremble. Rage that crushes my arms where he grips me. Rage that sends fangs plunging into my shoulder, claws into my sides. My Angel has become a nightmare.

Smoke wafts toward us. Burning wood. Embers. I see the reflection of the fire in his eyes and it halts whatever madness has taken hold of him, rooting him to the spot for the instant it takes me to break free. My Beast shoulders me aside and takes the reins, fleeing into the night.

Somewhere in the distance sounds cold laughter and the beating of the drums.


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