It seemed an eternity that I was burning. I couldn’t see. I had no limbs to move, nowhere to move to escape or alleviate the agony. Was this Hell? What sin had I committed to deserve this?
Then with a great howling in my ears that instantly fell silent, my eyes opened, and the pain was gone.
I was still lying in the snow at the foot of the cliff. The same trees were towering over me, the same snowflakes floating down to kiss my face. But they weren’t the same trees. They were infinitely more vivid than they had been. I could see with unparalleled clarity every branch and twig, every sliver of bark covering them, and I could feel the pulse of life radiating from within them. I could smell the pine so strongly it was almost overwhelming.
And the snowflakes, they weren’t the same snowflakes that had been falling before I died. They were far more intricately composed. From feet away, I could see the spidery crystalline structure of each one as if under a microscope. And when they touched my skin, the icy cold was crisper and more acute, but it didn’t sting as it had before.
One sensory revelation after another hit me, a rampage of wholly new sensations. Colors were brighter, smells were stronger and more complex, and the sounds, sounds of all the world, were available to me. I could hear with unrivaled precision everything. The hum of the trees as they breathed through their stems and sucked water and nutrients from the earth around their roots, the soft whisper of every snowflake joining its siblings on the ground, the rustle of creeping crawling things all around and the heartbeats of the owls as they stared down at me curiously.
And then there were the other sounds, farther away, the familiar voices shouting curses and escaping in pants and grunts in obvious struggle.
I sat up, and the motion was easier than it ever had been before. There was no strain, just simply wanting to sit up and then sitting up. I looked down at my abdomen. The open gash that had been there was now closed as if the skin had never been marred, and what remained was stunningly beautiful flesh, like a peach had been coated with pearl dust, pale but blushing underneath.
I looked at my arms, my hands, and they were covered with the same opalescent skin. My fingernails looked like glass, hard and sharp. I pressed my thumb nail into the skin of my wrist until it punctured and bled, and as soon as I pulled my nail away, the cut sealed and the blood reabsorbed into my skin.
It worked. I was a vampire. The realization was a shock to my system.
But a voice cut through my thoughts. Nicholae, close, and in need of help.
I was standing in an instant, and without consciously deciding to move my legs, I zoomed through the woods in seconds and suddenly right in front of them, Nicholae and Kerrich wrestling to the death.
I yanked Kerrich away from Nicholae by the throat, then squeezed and crushed his neck in my hand, severing his head from his body. I stared at it, the head as it rolled away in the snow, the body only being held upright by my hand. I was amazed and horrified by my own strength.
I dropped Kerrich’s lifeless body and looked at Nicholae.
He was still on the ground, staring at me with fear, awe, love, relief.
Then he stood up and threw his arms around me. I didn’t dare embrace him for fear I would crush him too.
He pulled away and looked me all over. I could hear a million questions dancing around his mind. “How?” he finally managed to ask.
“Delilah had me cornered,” I said, stunned by the magical sound of my own voice. But I continued to explain. “I managed to stab her in the heart with a petrified branch and pushed her over a cliff, but she took me down with her and hugged me till the branch went through my stomach. I was rapidly losing blood, and I knew that I was going to die. But she was dying next to me, her blood just pouring out of her, so I drank it until there was nothing left. I died, but I came back.”
He looked at me for a long time. Then he caressed my cheek. “You’re amazing.”
Then he took my hand and we walked back toward the coven house.
When we got back, the battle was over. Bodies were strewn everywhere throughout the snow, painting it disturbing shades of red and pink. Most of Delilah’s coven had been defeated, while a few others merely fled.
But it hadn’t been a completely successful victory. We had lost at least a third of our militia. Many of Caeler’s coven had been killed, and so had five of Lolita’s concubines.
“I can’t believe he’s dead,” Myra wept beside Levy’s corpse. “I’m so sorry. I never got to tell you that I…that I…” She couldn’t finish. She cried more heavily, her blood tears joining the puddle of Levy’s blood.
Myra was the only one crying, but everyone was mourning some kind of loss. But when Nicholae and I appeared on the scene, everyone fell silent and gawked at me. Nicholae let it be known telepathically what happened between me and Delilah. I felt awe and reverence from the onlookers, but also fear.
Caeler, Laramie, Lolita and Nicholae went about cleaning everything up. The bodies had to be burned, and the blood had to be cleaned up.
I felt kind of selfish, like I had been too greatly blessed. Everyone had lost someone, but I hadn’t lost anyone I truly cared about. Nicholae, the one I cared about most, was perfectly fine, without even a scratch. Laramie and William were fine, too, though Benny had a few wounds that were slowly healing. And, of course, Arsinoe was unscathed and frolicking about like she had just had the best night of her life. Everyone I loved was safe and in one piece. How could that be fair? Why should I be allowed to have everything when those around me were so sad? And yet, I was so happy, so grateful!
“Here’s the last one,” Benny said as he carried Delilah’s body to the pile.
Everyone was looking at me. Crimson, the puny little mortal, really had killed the infamous two thousand year old vampire, stolen her blood, and become the first Amarant vampire in a century.
Caeler went up to the mountainous pile, lit a match and tossed it. The whole of the pile caught almost instantly. We stood there around the funeral pyre, showing silent respect to those we lost, and saying our final farewells. Myra’s soft weeping was the only sound for miles.