Sympathy for the Child
Lu blinked back at Mary with surprise in her beady eyes. She looked more like someone Lei could call an equal with her head held high and her eyes looking back at his with respect for him and herself. The air was so tense that Lu wondered if Mary might actually impress her master with her determination so soon. Had Anselm seen this side of her? If he had, would he be proud of her or concerned? So many things rolled around her mind, but if she was going to follow this conversation, she needed to pay attention.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” Mary finally said after the long pause between them.
“I will only help a Sun Dweller,” he said coolly, narrowing his eyes in her direction. “I have no time to waste on a self-loathing vampir that will not accept their birthright. You cannot continue the charade as a mortal for much longer. You and your sister were born to complete a task. I could guide you in that task, but should you have the slightest inkling of fleeing once you have reclaimed your lost twin, I would abandon you to your fate.”
Mary could hear the seriousness in his tone. It almost sounded as if he took it personally as well. Why was that? What were Sun Dwellers anyway? Anselm, Lei, and Lu made them out to be special, so why did they need to be protected? All this talk about fighting against Darkness was beginning to sink in. Just what did they have to do with this Darkness? Who was this Countess Eve? Her questions were multiplying. If she only had some answers, she would be willing to make a decision.
“I think I, at least, deserve an explanation before I am expected to commit to anything,” Mary said, balling her fists. It was all she could do to hold her composure when his unnatural eyes looked at her that way. “The only reason I even entered this world was because I swore to find my sister after my father and mother died in our home. I have no idea why vampires chose to destroy my world. I don’t even know what a Sun Dweller is. I came here, thinking I was going to get answers, but all you’ve done is toyed with me! How can you say you’ll abandon me when I don’t even know what it is you want me to do?”
Lei’s eyes softened from their harsh gaze, listening to her plea of defense. She looked as if she might cry, and her thoughts betrayed her attempts to hide her desperation. He could see the events that occurred over the past day. He saw the heartache she had suffered, seeing what the Darkness had done to her twin. He relived the moments of comfort with Anselm the wolf. That moment in particular struck him personally, uncovering old, haunting memories for the vampire. He understood her grief, and her pain was all too clear to him; still, she was willing to go to any lengths to set her sibling free. Sighing heavily, the ancient knew he could not turn his back on her.
“A reasonable request...”
Both Mary and Lu blinked at his change of tone. The raven’s beak opened wide in surprise. Was he really going easy on her? Mary felt a bit light-headed from the mood change. Perhaps she should stop trying to grasp this guy’s personality and just take him as he was.
“What answer would you like first? Your mind is a labyrinth of inquiries. You cannot expect me to pick and choose the priority of each.” He shifted his weight slightly, but it was enough to make the still stunned changeling fall back behind him into the back of the lounge. Her talons were just visible over his hips.
“Oh... well...” The young woman looked down at her feet. She was still collecting herself from her moment of flared temper and frustration. Blinking for a moment, Mary pulled her thoughts together, sorting through the different topics. Eve, Darkness, Sun Dwellers, and just what exactly was a vampire anyway? Lei wasn’t kidding when he said her mind was a labyrinth. Taking a deep breath, she picked one that had been bothering her for some time now.
“What exactly is the Darkness? You say Mara is engulfed by it. Is it why Mara was taken then?”
“Darkness...” Lei said darkly as he stared at the wisps of smoke before him. His expression was grim, thinking back on the long struggle he had faced against it. “Vampir did not always strive for blood and carnage. There was a time when they coexisted with mortals. This changed when the Countess of Darkness was born. Her reign came too swift to prevent her from spreading a plague through our race. The tainted branded their untouched kin along with them, severing the bond and trust between mortals and immortals.”
“You make vampires sound so human. They feed off the blood of human beings. How could humans ever trust vampires outside of servitude? Just what are these untainted vampires that make them so different from their tainted cousins?” Mary’s contempt could not be more obvious from her tone, her words, her eyes. Crossing her arms before her added to the stacked effect, conveying her disapproval of the race.
“You make vampir sound inhuman,” Lei said softly. It was unclear if he was wounded by the words or curious where they were founded.
Lu gaped in shock from where she still laid on the seat of the lounge, listening to Mary’s spiteful words. The moment on the beach made more sense to her now. The defensive snap about blood came from a deeply rooted hatred. If she had gathered this much, the raven knew her master had come to a similar conclusion. Rolling over to sit with her wings against her, Lu looked up at her master sadly. This did not bode well if Mary was to accept her task as a Sun Dweller.
“You said they weren’t yourself, didn’t you?” Mary said with a sneer. Even before she knew she wasn’t human, she had hated vampires. In stories, myths, and even jokes, they were nothing but monsters, creatures in the night that brought the destruction of purity. They were leeches, the whole lot of them. Taking innocent life to prolong their own, she could see nothing but wickedness in such an act.
“No wonder you cannot accept your heritage,” Lei said in a soft voice, lowering his reed as he searched her face. Mary gaped back at him. His face looked like Anselm’s, sad and guilty. Only now, the expression was aimed at her. She felt shattered down to her core, slacking her muscles as she looked back at the vampire. Was he reaching out to her or into her?
“It must be agonizing to hate your very being so. How do you bring yourself to wake, child? Burying your visage in your pillow, cursing your fangs and eyes in silence. Waiting to weep under the spray of the stone fountain to conceal the cries from your mortal companion. Standing apart from mortals, feeling inferior, less than human? Poor Mary Black... Did no one ever tell her how pure she was?”
Mary hung her head to hide her face behind her blonde locks. Great, now he was mining her memories to rub them in her face. Fine, let him. He could see first hand just what these damned beasts had taken from her. Let him see how much she had suffered because of the sharp teeth in her mouth, her pale complexion, and her crimson irises.
For twenty-one years, she had clung to her parents' assurance that she was normal, just like everyone else. Of course, it shattered her heart to accept the truth. She was one of the monsters that had ruined everything she had ever held dear. Was it so bad to want to be normal? Why couldn’t she be like Wes and Mitch? She envied their simple lives so much.
“Mary, your bloodline is pure, perhaps the purest left.” Mary looked up at Lei. He thought she looked like a little girl, reaching for a strand of hope left in the cruel world. “So pure that even the countess cannot defile you. I see doubt in your mind. Perhaps to best explain, I must begin with the history of the vampir.”
Mary gasped when she felt something soft brush against her right leg. Looking down, she saw one of the lounging pillows she had noticed around the room was beside her. When had that gotten over here? She looked back up at the vampire, who was motioning to the pillow with his reed.
“You have psychokinesis,” she said, impressed by the confirmation of her suspicions. A small smile spread on her lips, even if she wasn’t completely pleased with things right now. At least, she was sure of one thing. Lei was just what Anselm had told her, a guide.
“I did mention Eastern vampir had evolved.” The irritated tone was back in his voice. His eyes narrowed to convey his perturbed mood. He would have had his hands full with this generation.
“Yes, sir,” Mary said with a little sass in her voice, plopping down onto the pillow. She felt like a girl in school, giving her teacher gray hair. Pulling the silk pillow to her face, she sighed with relief. It had been a rough day, so the small source of rest was greatly appreciated.
“Oh! Oh-oh-oh!” Lu popped up with an excited grin. “Are you gonna tell a story, master? I love when you tell stories!”
“Then still your tongue, and grant me silence to tell it.” Lu covered her mouth, looking up at Lei with pleading eyes. “Well done.” She nodded excitedly, which made him sigh heavily.
“In ancient times, humans wandered the land, following the guidance of the spirits.”
Lei glanced at the smoke flowing off the reed in his hand. It shifted, pulling together to form silhouettes in the dim light. Images from his mind and thoughts formed in the smoke to illustrate his tale for the young ladies. Mary watched what appeared to be humans and animals walking side by side.
“The great spirits taught them to hunt and gather, learn from the earth and one another. Strife was minimal. Most were personal quarreling that ended as quickly as it began.
“The first great battle was devastating, claiming all but one mortal man, but his final fight was with Death itself. His only weapon was his will.” Lei watched the smoke change from the humans and animals to a flying bird, darting about the room above a man lying beneath it.
“While he held no material values or status to cling to, he held something so valuable that even Death could not sever. When his struggle carried beyond reason, the Raven spirit flew to this plane from the gates of Death to learn why. The man told the Raven he would not leave this world, for he had made an oath to return home from this battle to his beloved. The Raven told him that he could not stave off mortality, lying broken on the ground.
“Despite the Raven’s truth, the man swore he would fight to return to his mate.” The smoke bird landed beside the man. “The man’s will impressed the Raven, so he asked the man what he would give to be free of Death’s grasp. The man was clever. He promised anything he possessed, but his beloved would not be included in his sacrifice. The Raven is a master of mysticism, and he knew that humans possessed unique qualities apart from other life.” Smoke wisped upward from the man toward the bird. “The spirit removed the iron from his blood, a powerful mineral in the human body as payment.
“Already weakened from the battle… the man’s condition worsened, and he begged the Raven to help him regain his strength.” The light gray smoke spiraled above the characters, heralding the change about to occur. “Due to the spell the spirit cast, the man could no longer regain his strength from food. A host of some sort was required to carry iron back to the blood. Mankind had not yet grasped many mysteries of Life, so the Raven told the man he needed living blood to restore his strength. Furthermore, he would have to drink the blood of a living being, for once Death has claimed the spirit, the blood loses its power.
“The first creature to cross them was a bat.” A smoke bat flew toward the man, which the man grasped and absorbed into its smoke. “Desperate from fear, the man gripped the animal and drained it completely.” The smoke man stood up, glancing about himself dramatically. “The animal’s sacrifice granted the man with gifts. He could gather winds beneath him to fly. His six senses sharpened to alarming intensities.”
The man grasped its head and tossed about, like a feather in a tornado’s funnel. Mary gaped, anxiously, feeling a sense of relatability to her first time. It had been unnatural yet exhilarating all at once.
“The Raven realized the human ability of adaptability had brought a great burden to the man. Such a being could learn to overcome these trials, but they would become equal to the spirits. To restore balance,” the wispy smoke drifted away from the man again toward the bird, “the Raven inflicted weakness upon his new child.” Lei dispersed the images to grasped Mary’s attention on himself. She looked back at him curiously, open to retain his instruction.
“Wood would render him powerless as he had been on the battlefield. Garlic root would be rejected as it is a healing herb of power. The sun would no longer accept his company, and its very presence would leave him in ashes. However, the moon would watch over him in its brother’s stead, and morning would induce slumber with mercy. The man asked why he was punished so severely, but the Raven told him that great power always possesses equal weakness. This was the birth of the vampir race.”
“Well, if that’s how vampires came into being, where do Sun-Dwellers fit in?” Mary asked, confused. “You said the sun rejects vampires, so how can I stay awake and not burn?”
“When the Darkness came, the Raven allowed the sun to ally with two vampir, for only its power could combat the dark.” Lei watched Mary’s eyes gape in realization. Her thoughts went blank, except one. He nodded. “They were the first Sun Dwellers. Only they have the power to fight against the Countess of Darkness. However, only two can exist, and they are birthed rather than turned.”
“That’s right!” Lu spoke up, draping over Lei’s legs to mimic Mary with her pillow. “Sun Dwellers have to be born, and they age like mortals do until they grow up to hide from the countess while they're young. They’ve never turned any on their own either.”
“Why not? Would that not make the struggle easier than just two of them?” Mary thought this seemed like a huge chip in their armor. She didn’t like the idea of turning more innocent people into vampires, but the numbers could make a difference, wouldn’t they?
“Well…” the changeling replied, less enthusiastically. What door had she just opened?
“Lu.” Lei’s voice was stern and finite, but he did not look at her.
“Sorry.” She hung her head, shamefully.
“What’s wrong with that, Lei?”
“To maintain the balance, the Raven has never spared the Sun’s wrath from any other than the chosen two...” The vampire ended the discussion with that, but Mary felt there was something bigger behind the smokescreen he had just blown up.