Analise's suffering escalates as she endures her vampiric curse
Analise could not dream. Day after day, after nights spent traveling, she would devote herself to slumber in whatever shelter Dorian and the others had chosen. Sometimes it was in a forest cave, other times it was in an abandoned cabin or ruined fort. Regardless of the surroundings, dreams were found perpetually elusive, dangling on the very edge of her sleep vision as if in mockery of her inability to reach. Try as she might, all she could grasp were vague memories of the life she had lost. And the memories were always so much worse than the teasing flicker of dreams.
She could remember running across meadows and slopes around Suttonsville during her youth. She could recall the feel of breathable air rushing into her lungs in great heaps, the sweet scent of grass and wilderness, of teeming life. She remembered the warmth of the sun, now full of wrath and vengeance, flooding her in the golden halo she would come to yearn for in the remainder of her damned days.
Memory has become such terrible a creature to bear, she reflected as she spent another night walking alongside Dorian and his brood. There never was any loving kiss of sunlight to welcome her flesh now, no gentle fingers of wind inviting her into nature’s embrace. She was condemned to march quietly beneath the pale glow of the moon and stars, doomed to walk forever in air that would never dare fill her lungs with its pure scent.
When first she had left the tower with Dorian, she had relished in the sheer strength and speed of what she had become. To run endlessly without lungs burning, without legs and joints aching—to be like the wind! But that joy, like all others, had been an ephemeral mockery of what she had lost. Now she walked several steps behind Dorian and the others, silent and in mourning of a life with breath and sensation.
The world itself has turned against me, and even the gods refuse me the slightest touch or regard. She folded her arms around herself, feeling that it was the only embrace she would ever again know.
“We are not alone.” The words whispered into her thoughts, coming as a bold, unwelcome intrusion that drew her back into the misery of reality. She lifted her gaze and saw that Belial had stopped before a set of tracks in the snow. Belial! As much as she loathed him, still her gaze found unbidden desire when he filled her view, and she loathed him all the more for it.
“Travelers,” he mused, excitement subtly singing in his voice, “a merchant caravan, perhaps.”
Analise fought against a grimace. She knew of a few merchants in particular who regularly traveled along this path. Their faces were almost as familiar to her as those of her own neighbors in Suttonsville. She beheld with horror the wicked smile that played along Belial’s lips as he no doubt considered what evils he intended to visit upon the poor people ahead.
Had I the strength, I would tear that smile from his lips and leave in its place a bloody mess so that none shall ever again look at him with desire! She shuddered in her anger but deliberately kept her face hidden in the shadow of her hood, unwilling to invite attention.
To her relief, and as if in answer to her unspoken hopes, Dorian did not share the other man’s lust for chaos. “We will continue through the forest,” he said with a gesture away from the road and to the wall of trees looming nearby.
She caught sight of the brief irritation that flickered across Belial’s face, but he was careful to hide it from Dorian. The night women similarly hesitated at the command, all but crying out in their desire to proceed along the path and towards mayhem and murder. Yet Dorian started on towards the woods, and none would dare show him disobedience.
They had walked for hours in the thickening dark when the golden-haired woman suddenly dove to the ground, her hands clawing into the snow. There was a brief squeal of some rodent before her teeth tore into its furry flesh, ripping out its blood in the futile attempt to sate the everlasting hunger.
Analise turned away from the scene and continued in Dorian’s footsteps. Once she had asked him of such means for satisfying the awful craving, and he explained to her in his patient way that the pleasure of animal flesh would never fulfill them. He had said that the gods were cruel in how they demanded that the Eternal turn to cannibalism in order to survive, that they further mark themselves in sin and monstrosity and thereby add more grief to their tortured souls.
Only the blood of our own can ever come near to giving us contentment, giving to us the ephemeral gift of humanity’s fading memory. Analise felt sudden sympathy for her fellow night sister. The rodent would prove a futile effort at best, and at worse it would infuriate her with even greater hunger.
She noticed that Dorian had stopped and was now looking up, peering through the forest canopy above them. She strained to follow his gaze until at last she saw that the colors in the sky were changing. The sun! It comes upon us!
“There is a cave not far from here,” he calmly murmured into the surrounding darkness. It never ceased to amaze her how he always knew where to go, where to flee and hide from nature’s wrath. Sure enough, as she knew would be so, they came upon a cave within the next few moments.
She fell into the currents of sleep without difficulty, her mind and body ever-eager to rejoin the dead and never rise again. As always, her sleep was deep and dreamless, provoked only by the ghosts of obscure memories. When she woke, it was to find herself alone.
No, not alone. She saw Dorian lying still in the far corner of the cave. But where are the others? She picked herself up to her feet, brushing grass and dust from her woolen cloak and dress. Her eyes searched the surrounding darkness without reward.
She frowned in thought. It was unusual for the others to rise before Dorian. Unless they had plotted to resist full sleep and stir when they knew Dorian would be still in slumber!
Panic gripped her. Belial and the night women would not resist the sanctuary of sleep unless they meant to bask in the glory of a bloody feast. Fresh lifeblood would prove a more desirable and invigorating thing than sleep, she knew.
She swung her gaze to Dorian but hesitated. Though terrified of what the others may have plotted, she dare not disturb his rest. Steadying herself, she moved to the cave’s entrance and out into the night.
Fresh flakes of snow fell lazily from the dark sky above, painting a layer of cold white over the frozen ground and burying prints from her wandering eyes. Determined, she continued nonetheless, moving from the forest and back towards the main trail. She walked only for a short while until she heard sounds from the foliage up ahead. Quickening her pace, she went through a cluster of bushes and came upon a small, limping deer. One if its back legs was bent awkwardly, as though it had fallen through a treacherous patch of snow.
She moved from the bush and stepped into the clearing, and the creature instantly turned to look at her, its eyes wide and fearful. She cooed soft sounds of comfort as she carefully continued her approach. “Be still, little one. I will help you, I promise.”
When she had come almost within reach of the beast, its head perked up and its entire body stiffened. It stared at her in renewed horror, as though it looked not at a woman but at some terrifying beast. Notwithstanding its lame leg, such was its terror that it sprang away from her and darted into the forest.
“No!” she cried, fearful that it might further harm itself. She ran after it, following until it scrambled across a narrow creek of rushing water. She was about to give chase through the water when a strong set of arms grabbed her from behind, pulling her back from the splashing waters.
She collapsed to the snow, on her knees, crying while still staring after the injured animal. “I wanted only to help it!” she wailed, sorrow blurring her vision with tears. The gods have taken everything from me but these tears, she thought bitterly, finding new pain in the discovery that though she was unable to breathe or feel she could still weep real tears.
“I know.” The voice was a soft murmur from behind her head, and she became aware of Dorian’s embrace around her. For some reason, she had thought the gods themselves had reached out to grab her away from their beautiful creature.
In Dorian’s arms, her entire body trembled with sobs she couldn’t stop, and her eyes clung to the sight of the fleeing deer until at last it vanished into the thicket. Such was its fear of me that it sooner chose a fate against hungry wolves than risk my help. She felt so filthy just then, so unnatural and wretched that she wanted to beg of the heavens to deliver her actual death. Such was her grief that the tears continued to pour from her eyes as if leaking from a bottomless well.
And still Dorian held her.
When finally she began to regain control over herself, he made a gesture to indicate the creek before them. “You must be more careful, Analise. You must remember that we have become the enemy of all things pure in this world.”
She sniffed and looked over her shoulder at him. “What…what do you mean?”
“Tell me,” he murmured, his eyes shadowed beneath a veil of dark hair, “were you religious in life?”
A shudder ran through her. I believed…oh, how I believed! And now the very gods I praised and prayed to have turned against me! Through her agony, she managed a quiet, “Yes. I prayed to Heaven every night.”
“What was required of you before you prayed to your gods, Analise?”
Realization sparked within her and she turned to again look at the rushing water. “It was said that we must first cleanse ourselves in running water before we can present ourselves to the gods.”
“Running water is thought to be clean and pure, Analise, thereby making it a burning poison to our wretched flesh, sullied as we are with alleged sin.” She could hear the bitterness in his voice, the quiet anger he seemed to harbor against all things godly. “Still, unmoving water is seen by those pious and devoted to the gods as something that collects dirt and filth. It is only this water which we may touch without harm.”
She stared at the creek with its splashing, ice cold water, and a new longing came upon her. I shall never again taste clean water. Even such simple a thing has been made forbidden to me. Despite herself, she wanted to reach a hand into that water, to dare it to burn her instead of refresh her. But she felt too weak to move, to do anything more than remain defeated in the freezing snow. Yet a frightening thought occurred to her, and she swung her gaze back to Dorian.
“Where are Belial and the others?”
Even in the darkness, she could see Dorian’s eyes flicker with silent rage. “Come,” he said in a voice as controlled and soft as before. He offered her his hand and, together, they walked from the creek and back to the trail.
A cry split the uneasy silence, and up ahead Analise could see the glow of distant campfires. Panic overtook her, and she burst into a run, desperate to save those poor merchants from Belial’s wickedness.
She ran as the wind, her legs pumping through snow even under the weight of her skirts. It was only a matter of minutes before she came upon the first of many bodies. A young woman lay in the snow, her dress ripped open at the breast, her neck bleeding crimson into the snow by her side. She stared up at the stars with silent, dead eyes.
Too late! I’ve come too late to stop the mayhem! Tears in her eyes, Analise continued towards the glow of the campfires. Merchant wagons had been arranged in a circle around the camp, but the horses were all gone. Bodies littered the snow with their lifeblood leaking into the immaculate whiteness, perverting what was once pure with something macabre.
There were still cries coming from within the wagon circle as some men continued to fight, as women screamed and tried to flee. She moved around one wagon and came into the dancing light to find the golden-haired woman biting deeply into the throat of a young sellsword. The man was still writhing in her grasp when she lifted her head to look upon Analise.
“Sister,” she purred, her lips unfurling into a fiendish smile made all the more vile by the blood staining it. “Come, sate yourself.” She flung the man towards her, but Analise held out her hands and caught him.
His body was trembling as he gasped for breath that would not come. Horrified, she lowered him down to the snow and knelt over him. She looked over his face and held back a cry. Gods above! I know this man! He bought boots from Garrett not more than a month ago!
Panic began to make way for anger as Analise turned towards the night woman. But she was gone, already delving into the warm flesh of new prey. Climbing back to her feet, Analise marched deeper into the camp.
She caught sight of the raven-haired woman feasting upon a young boy. The other woman, feeling that she was being watched, lifted her head and looked at Analise. There was a faint trace of guilt in her face, but she quietly said: “Eat, sister.” She held out the boy in her grasp invitingly. “You will want the blood of the young; theirs is the most rich.”
Analise turned away in disgust and that was when she saw Belial. He was moving towards her, a swagger in his step as he held a woman in his arms. Analise saw that her neck was torn open, dripping blood onto the snow.
Belial’s auburn hair fell neatly around his pretty face, and such was the smile he flashed her that she felt guilty with unbidden desire. “Ah, my sweet. I see that you have found your way to sense.”
Somehow, she found the strength to stand her ground and glare at him. “I know these people! They are good men and women!” She clenched her hands into fists at her sides, feeling her nails digging into her palms. “You leave them alone!”
His smile twisted into one full of ridicule and something dangerous danced within his eyes. “No one should deserve to be left alone, my darling. I create for us on this night a new family to surround ourselves with. Admit to me, Analise, do you not yearn for greater companionship, to rid yourself of the empty loneliness?” He held the woman out towards her, and the sight of flowing blood made her knees tremble with desire.
Gods, how I want this! The hunger was as intense as the sudden craving she felt between her legs. She wanted to know his pleasure again, wanted to bathe in the warmth of spilled blood and sexual ecstasy. Before she could completely break down before him and succumb again to his delicious will, she heard the crunch of footsteps behind her.
“You disappoint me, Belial.”
Her eyes widened and she swung around to see Dorian approaching. He stepped over one man crawling in the snow, still clinging to fading life. The monster king hardly seemed to take note of their grisly surroundings as he devoted his focus solely upon Belial.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the golden-haired woman silently stalking Dorian under a blanket of shadows. The raven-haired woman, however, remained in place, nervously glancing between Dorian and Belial. Those few people who still had strength in their bodies tried desperately to crawl and scramble away, fleeing from the hell that had descended upon them.
Belial dropped his victim to the snow, and Analise saw him exchange a glance with the golden-haired woman before offering a smile to Dorian. “My lord, it feeds me pleasure to see you arrive in time to enjoy this banquet.” He waved a hand in a gesture that encompassed the camp and the chaos he had unleashed within it.
Dorian’s face was calm and without expression, but the blue of his eyes seemed so terrifyingly cold. “The massacre of an entire merchant caravan will not go unnoticed, Belial,” he said as though explaining something to a child. “You would invite doom upon yourself through such carelessness.”
Belial held Dorian’s gaze and merely shrugged. “Let any who dare come do so, and we shall have ourselves a second feast in honor of their stupidity!” He smiled, baring his bloody teeth. “Can you not see, Dorian? We shall raise from these the beginnings of a legion worthy of Panerka’s legend!”
He speaks without reverence now, as though he has been elevated to equal footing. Analise felt anger at Belial’s arrogance, but she was shocked to see that Dorian’s calm remained unbreakable, unwavering.
“A legion sired by and loyal solely to you, Belial?” Dorian questioned with an arched brow.
The other man shrugged again. “Why should it be that you alone must be lord of us all? You lead us to nothing but misery and darkness. Your time is long expired, Dorian, and imagination has taken its leave of you. You have grown complacent in weakness, in hiding like some shadow among people we should rightfully rule! You have forgotten the feel of power whereas I—I can taste its juices hanging before us!”
Dorian said nothing, but the look in his eyes spoke of certain death. “Stupidity is no longer something I care to tolerate, Belial.” He moved a step forward, and that was when the golden-haired woman leapt from the shadows.
Analise cried out, but Dorian was already moving, effortlessly grabbing onto the woman and hurling her to the side. And then he was upon Belial in a blur too quick to see. Belial was knocked to the ground, but he rolled and hurriedly climbed back to his feet. From a scabbard at his side, he drew a long, slender sword.
“I was a master duelist in life, Dorian; you shall meet your end this night,” he hissed as he lunged forward.
Dorian easily sidestepped away from the strike and neatly unsheathed his own blade in the same instant. His sword descended upon Belial’s in a loud screech before darting up to prick the other man in the cheek.
“You forget your place, Belial. Ambition has left you blind and dumb.” Dorian’s lips curled into a sneer full of disdain, tempting Belial to an anger he was all too eager to express. The other man came at him again and again, thrusting and slashing at abandon while Dorian smoothly dodged and parried.
Analise knew little of fighting, but from simply watching the elegance and fluidity with which Dorian moved, she knew that he was no simple neophyte with the blade. He moves as a master, a consummate dancer arranging the steps to a masterpiece performance. But even in her awe, she caught sight of the golden-haired woman about to leap at Dorian from behind.
“No!” She flung herself into the air and crashed into the other woman, rolling with her on the snow. The two of them scrambled about, and Analise tried with all her might to keep the other woman pinned beneath her. But the other’s strength was incredible, and she was thrown aside like a ragged doll.
“Fool!” the night woman snarled, standing with her fingers poised like claws. Rage had given her eyes a hellish glow. “You are of weakness and despair, child! You have not even yet feasted on the blood of life! How dare you think to overpower me?”
Analise climbed onto wobbly feet and met the other’s gaze. She leapt again, relying on the speed and strength Dorian had shown to her. But the night woman was faster, grabbing onto her arm and slashing long nails into her breast and stomach. Pain exploded throughout her body even as she felt her flesh struggle to seal itself.
She cried out and tried to pry her arm free, but the other woman held on with so strong a grasp that Analise felt her bones were being crushed. Then a fist slammed into her face, and nails again dug into her flesh, shredding the skin under her arm.
She screamed and was lifted from the ground. The next she knew, she was in the air, flying towards a wagon. She closed her eyes as her body collided with wooden side. Such was the force of the impact that the wagon toppled over, and Analise rolled down into a bank of snow.
Fresh pain weighed down on her, filling her entire being with fire. In the back of her mind, she could hear the vague sounds of clashing steel. Dorian! She groaned and forced her eyes open. The snow around her was red with blood, but not all of it was her own. Her eyes followed a trail of crimson to a body robed in deep blue. The man across from her was motionless, his wrinkled face turned towards her so that she could see the pale death written in his eyes.
She gasped. She knew him from Suttonsville as a kind, religious man. Though not a follower of her own gods, she knew he styled himself a Sage, which was the title given to those devoted to the old Fates.
“Come, sister!” she heard the night woman calling from the other side of the wagon. “Let us finish our play!”
With desperate effort, Analise crawled towards the dead man. His neck had been torn and blood was still spilling from the wound. He was not yet dry, and the sight of the gushing crimson brought upon her a hunger too profound to ignore any longer.
May Heaven forgive me! She put her mouth over the man’s throat and tasted sweet warmth. She drank and swallowed, filling her belly with heat and pleasure. She felt the wounds in her side and breast begin to heal, the ache fading to nothing. She continued to drink, craving more and needing to feel herself saturated in the strength of dying life.
In her heightened awareness, she heard the crunch of snow as the night sister started to walk around the wagon. Her eyes widened and she pulled back from the dead man’s throat. She caught the glimmer of moonlight reflecting off something on his chest. Hastily pulling back his robes, she saw that it was a pendant bearing the holy symbol of the Fates, a downwards-pointing sword whose blade was wrapped in vines, its crosspiece flared like an eagle’s wings.
Please, let the gods of old at least be with me! She reached for it and felt her fingers begin to burn. Clenching her teeth, she forced her hand around the chain from which the symbol dangled and plucked it from around the man’s neck.
Even though she was careful to not touch the symbol itself, incredible pain burned within her hand. Somehow, she managed to climb back to her feet and turn just as the night woman started towards her.
“Poor, weak little creature,” the woman taunted. “Dorian’s pet no more.” And then she pounced.
Analise had kept herself steady, feeling the strength of the man’s blood filling her body. As the other woman sprang forward, she darted to the side and draped the pendant around her enemy’s neck. In the instant she released her hold on it, she felt such tremendous relief that she fell to her knees and briskly shoved her hand in the snow. Tendrils of smoke crept into the air, but nothing as magnificent as what befell the golden-haired woman.
The night sister pitched into the air a horrific scream as her fingers frantically dug at the holy symbol dangling on her bosom. Her nails tore through her dress and flesh alike in her desperate attempt to rip the pendant from around her. Blood sprinkled onto the snow along with shredded skin, for she could not hold onto the pendant for more than meager seconds at a time before the fires of unbearable pain forced her prying fingers away.
“What have you done?” she screeched. “What have you done to me?” Flames sparked to life, leaping from the sword-pendant and onto her gown, spreading throughout her body and wafting into the air the stench of cooking flesh.
Gods! Now I behold the true fury the Heavens have for me and what I’ve become! Analise stared in horror and shock, watching as the other woman’s shrieks broke into frantic sobs as she burned.
When she feared that the night woman’s screams would draw screams from her own throat, if only to drown out the sounds of the other’s agony, she turned away and hurried after the ring of clashing steel.
On the other side of the toppled wagon, Dorian was forcing Belial into the forest, his sword working in a majestic blur. The other man managed to parry a thrust and step in with his own attack, sending the tip of his sword for Dorian’s throat. But Dorian easily twirled aside and used his own blade to slap Belial’s up and away. Before Belial could begin to regain his composure, Dorian sent a heel crashing into his stomach with such force that he went sailing into a tree behind him.
Analise gasped, for in the next instant, Dorian was already upon him, having closed the distance in the blink of an eye. Without pause, he drove his sword deep into Belial’s abdomen, sending the blade through the other’s flesh and spine so that the tip emerged from his back and into the tree, pinning him against the trunk.
Belial’s stifled scream was somehow all the more agonizing because of his effort to keep it inside. She watched with a mix of pity and satisfaction as Belial writhed between tree and sword. To his credit, he eventually forced a smile to his lips and even a laugh as he mustered the strength to look upon Dorian.
“You are my better, my Lord,” he rasped, bowing his head in feigned humility. “Indeed, you have taught me a valuable lesson this night and proven yourself the stronger despite the fresh meal still pulsing within me.”
Dorian said nothing. He merely turned away and started towards where Analise stood watching.
No! She put a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out in defiance. He could not possibly let Belial survive this night without fatal consequence! Anger flared within her, but she shoved it down as Dorian came next to her and the upturned wagon. Without a word or a glance, he grabbed onto one of the wooden spokes of the nearest wheel and ripped it clear. He then turned and started back towards Belial.
Analise’s newfound curiosity was answered when Belial’s eyes widened in fear. “Dorian!” the other man cried, fighting to keep calmness in his panicked voice. “My Lord! I swear to you, I have been humbled before your greatness!”
In the shadow of the forest, Dorian’s eyes glowed with icy menace. “Humility is not enough when what I ask for is the absence of stupidity, Belial.” It was all he said, and all he would tolerate being said. Even as Belial began another objection, Dorian drove the wood deep into the other man’s bosom, into his heart.
The shriek that followed was as ghastly and terrible as those that had come from the night woman only a moment before. Analise turned away, unable to watch as Belial’s flesh began to rot and decay on his very bones.
She looked up only when she felt a presence behind her, and she turned to see Dorian holding his sword out for her. As she nervously reached for it with a trembling hand, she noticed the blood staining her pale skin. Gods in Heaven, the Sage’s blood! What have I done?
Dorian, unconcerned by her look of horror, said, “Take this sword and cut off the heads of all these people—those dead and those still dying.”
She thought she would crumple down into a new fit of sobs, but she managed to lift her gaze to his, tears once more threatening to expose her inner frailty.
To the confusion and terror she revealed to him, his expression softened and he murmured, “It is the only way to ensure that their souls will not endure forever the darkness of our existence.”
She gave a timid nod and took the sword into her shaking grasp. As she turned, however, she saw that the raven-haired woman had come to kneel before Dorian. She kept her head bowed, her eyes staring down at the snow.
“My Lord,” she whispered in a voice thick with quiet fear and anxiousness, “I beg for forgiveness. I came not for betrayal, but for hunger.” Analise was astonished to see tears glittering on this woman’s face. I am not the only one of us to know grief and terror, to feel as though I am drowning under this misery!
She felt nothing but sympathy for the other woman just then. She had spoken with such shameful pain in her voice that Analise herself felt renewed guilt at her own feasting, however brief it had been. She glanced at Dorian, fearful of what punishment he might exact upon her.
Yet, to her amazement, Dorian merely said, “Take up Belial’s sword and help your sister, Kearra.”
The subsequent work was short but bloody, and Analise often caught glimpses of Kearra sometimes choosing to finish still-writhing bodies by biting into their flesh and feeding from their blood. Analise herself felt shameful hunger as she gazed upon the ruined body of one young man squirming in the snow before her. His arms and legs were bent unnaturally, and great spurts of blood were spilling out from his shredded skin.
As she knelt before him, sword in hand, she was overcome by a moment of hesitation, of a need too great to neglect. She let the sword fall to the snow and put her lips to his neck, allowing the spurts of red to sprinkle onto her tongue and send throughout her body waves of ethereal bliss. She fed and felt herself elevated into such a state as to nearly believe she was dreaming.
Thus she continued, following in Kearra’s shameful example and filling herself on the nectar of life before delivering the stroke of death.
When it was over, Dorian stood before them, his face unreadable, as though forged of ice. “We must go from here,” he said, his eyes glancing over them both and the blood that sullied their faces and clothes. “In days long past, Halospear would have sent its champion warrior against us for such a desecration of its people. Though that champion is no longer a concern in this new day, we must nonetheless act with sense and be away from here.”
Analise shivered at the thick displeasure in his voice, at the coldness in his gaze. As he turned and started away, she stole one last glance at the bloodied camp. And she found herself hoping that a hero like that in the Halospear legend would indeed come and destroy her before she could ever again witness and participate in such dreadful carnage.