Once Gabriel had fed, they climbed to the crest of a snow-capped peak and looked out over the twinkling lights below. To Aurora it was just a town, but to Gabriel it was the toughest challenge he had ever faced. Every light represented a life, a person who had turned it on. There were families and children down there, people with plans and futures. He had already stolen one life. What if…
“Are you ready?” She was asking.
He tipped his head toward the sky and breathed in through his nose. Since being turned his body functioned differently that it had as a human, but not everything had changed. He still needed food and he still needed air. “Aurora don’t let me hurt anyone, please.”
“You’ll be fine, I promise. Now come on.” She held out her hand and he took it. “Nothing bad will happen, you’ll see.”
As they entered the café Gabriel’s body tightened. Four women sat together engrossed in conversation and sipping lattes, while two men, one dressed like an actual vampire with fangs and a flowing robe, sat at computer terminals.
“Aurora, that man…”
“Is a weirdo in a costume,” she finished. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
Gabriel glanced back, just once more to be sure, and then followed her to a table in the back. As they took their seats none of the customers even bothered looking up.
“Aurora, I can smell their blood,” he whispered. “I can hear it pumping through their veins.”
“It’s natural,” she told him. “You’re a strigoi and they’re human. It’s no different than when you were human and smelt a burger or something delicious cooking. You’re mouth watered and you were starving, right? Well this is just the same. You never dived over a restaurant cook top and started eating all the burgers like a crazy person did you?”
“Well this is no different. You wouldn’t do it as a human, so don’t do it now. You have to learn control. You can’t just react to every urge you have.”
Control himself. All he was doing was trying to control himself, first not to fall in love with her and now not to kill a café full of people. It was starting to feel like a lot to ask.
“Let’s order a coffee and grab a terminal,” she smiled. “Seriously Gabriel, just relax. It’s okay.”
He watched as she approached the counter and ordered two cappuccinos, attracting no more attention than a normal, beautiful woman. Every word she said, every gesture she made had him wanting to know more. She had come into his life, turned everything upside down and there was still so much he didn’t know. He stared at her as she placed the two steaming mugs down on the table.
“What is it?” She asked. “Do I have something on my face?”
“You know I can’t drink that, right?”
“Gabriel it’s time you started to try and embrace some of your old human traits. It will help you fit in and it doesn’t really look right if you just sit here staring at me all night. Just take small sips. It will be fine, you’ll see.”
When it hit his tongue, the coffee tasted bitter and foreign and he quickly wondered how he had ever enjoyed it as a human. Aurora laughed as he swallowed hard and screwed up his face.
“That’s awful,” he managed. “So awful.”
“You’ll get used to it,” she grinned. “Just one step at a time.”
“Aurora, I’ve been very selfish,” he began. “This must be so hard for you, being away from your family and losing Stefan. I never actually asked if you were alright?”
“Gabriel…” She tucked her hair behind her ear. “Now’s not the time for that.”
He had so many questions that he didn’t even know where to start. “Alright, well you said something back at the cabin about not being related to your sisters. What did you mean by that?”
She shifted around in her seat, clearly uncomfortable. “Gabriel…”
“I’m sorry,” he apologised. “I’m not trying to piss you off or be nosy. I just want to know more about you. There’s still so much I don’t understand.”
Aurora forced a smile, but he knew it wasn’t genuine. She was hurting and he had no idea how to make things better for her. It felt like everything he said was wrong.
“Well, maybe someday when I eventually find these demons, or whatever they are, my sisters will see that I’m not crazy and let me come home, right?”
“Right,” he smiled. “If you ask me, they’re the crazy ones.”
She nodded and forced a smile. “Thank you for understanding.”
“Tell me a little about your life,” he tried, keen to change the subject away from what happened to Stefan. “Did you grow up here? How did you come to live at the farmhouse?”
“It’s a long story Gabriel.”
“Well that’s good,” he smiled. “Because I have a lot of time.”
She grinned and sipped her coffee. “Do you really want to hear about all that? It’s probably very boring.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” he told her. “Now tell me and don’t leave anything out, not a thing.”
She sighed and placed the mug down on the table. “Alright, well my sisters and I are descendants like I told you. Our mothers were Scythian warriors, or Amazons as they are mostly called in the history books. My mother Aarani was the eldest of our clan. She was their queen.”
She looked away as she thought about her past. It was painful to remember and even harder to talk about.
“They lived very long lives Gabriel. In 1801 she led a horseback attack on a caravan of what they thought were merchants travelling across the hills of the Romanian Plain, but when they demanded the occupants get out, the Scythian women quickly realised the men inside were not human. It was the first time the Scythians had ever encountered the strigoi and a battle ensued. My mother was ferocious. No human man would have been any match for her but the strigoi elder of the group was strong and after hours of fighting eventually they both relented. My mother laid down her bow and he put down his sword. It was the first time either of them had ever encountered their equal. That strigoi elder soon became more than just my mother’s equal Gabriel. He was my father.” She took a moment and steadied herself. “I was the first child of strigoi-Scythian parents and Stefan was born just a few years after me. Once the strigoi heard about Scythian women, of their beauty and strength, more came. Children were born and we lived together in harmony on the Romanian Plain until the night those things arrived.”
Gabriel was transfixed. The way her lips moved as she spoke. The story she had to tell. It was so mesmerising that he completely forgot about the humans sitting around him. His only interest was Aurora.
“After they decimated our village, Stefan and I, along with some other children and a handful of elders who survived the attack, left with a passing caravan of Romanian merchants. We travelled to the border of Serbia where we came across another group of Scythian nomads who also had families with the strigoi. But it was 1813 Gabriel and at that time the Serbs were locked in battle against the Turks. They had just suffered a huge defeat and we heard they were planning another rebellion. It would be years before they would ever overthrow the Ottoman Empire, years before there would be peace, so the families decided to travel south to Albania and far away from the conflict.”
Gabriel’s mind was racing with images of warriors and battles. He saw himself there, weapon in hand and shouting orders. He saw himself rescuing the children. He saw himself rescuing her.
“But when we arrived in Serbia we encountered many hill tribes who did not want us there,” she continued. “The strigoi men could have killed them of course, but warfare over land, especially land that had been claimed by another tribe, was not acceptable to the Scythian women so we continued south to Greece. That’s where things really changed.”
Gabriel reached out and gently touched her hand. “Please, go on.”
“Oh Gabriel,” she said, instantly pulling away. “This must be all very boring for you.”
It pained him to think she didn’t want him touching her, but he decided to focus on the positives. She was telling him her story. That had to be a good sign and he definitely wanted to hear the rest. “Aurora, this is by far the most incredible story I’ve ever heard. Please keep going.”
She sipped her coffee and winced. “It’s going cold from all my talking.”
“That doesn’t matter, we’ll get another. Please, just tell me what happened next.”
She nodded and put the mug back down on the table. “We crossed into Ioannina in the west of Greece and made our way south along the coast to Delphi. We had been there for about a week when we heard stories coming out of Athens about a man from England and a poem he had published called The Giaour.”
Gabriel leaned in closer. “You mean the poem by Lord Byron?”
Aurora could not hide her surprise. “You know it?”
“Yes, my father he…” Suddenly Gabriel couldn’t move. It was as though his entire body was paralysed. He couldn’t feel his face or legs. The coincidence was uncanny.
“Gabriel? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“My father, he used to read that poem every night after dinner. It was the first poem in English literature to ever reference vampires.”
“That’s right,” she nodded. “Do you know why your father read it?”
But Gabriel’s mind was already somewhere else. He began to recite a section of the poem word for word.
“But first, on earth as vampires sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent
Then ghastly haunt thy native place
And suck the blood of all thy race
There from daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must fee thy livid living corse
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
When he finished, Aurora’s eyes were wide and her mouth was open. “You know it by heart?”
“Not all of it, but every night my father would read it aloud in his study. I sat outside the door and listened. He did it all of my life.”
“Gabriel, do you think there’s some connection?”
“Between vampires and my father? No, my father was a decorated Army General. He did everything by the book, just like his father before him. But you’re right, the coincidence is incredible.”
Aurora sipped her coffee and immediately winced. It was cold and bitter.
“Keep going,” Gabriel urged her. “Tell me the rest. What happened next?”
“Okay, so when we heard about the poem and this man Lord Byron some of the strigoi in our group were furious. They wanted to find him, silence him before he could tell the world about their existence. As far as we understood it, humans had never known about the strigoi other than our mothers of course. Now people all across Europe were reading about them because of what some man had written. They were angry and they were frightened. Others in our group felt it was time to go to ground, to lay low and hope the whole thing would blow over. There was a lot of unrest and much debate about whether this Lord Byron had actually encountered a strigoi during his travels in Greece, or if he had just made the whole thing up.”
Gabriel nodded. “So what happened?”
“The elders in our group could not come to a census on what to do, so some diverted course and travelled overland back toward the United Kingdom where it was said Lord Byron lived, while others took the children and sailed across the Atlantic to Novascotia and as far away from Europe as possible.”
“And you sailed with them?”
“Yes, but it was a terrible journey. Many did not survive. We were on that ship for months and there were no animals aboard. The strigoi men were forced to feed on the sick and the dying, those who had been infected by illness and disease. They all died before making it to shore and at least half the Scythian women and descendant children also fell terminally ill. Their immune systems were not accustomed to such close quarters with humans. They had no antibodies and there was no way their bodies could fight off human sickness.”
“Wait, I’m almost done. When we made landfall there were just seven of us left. Myself and Stefan, four descendant children and one Scythian women. She had wanted to take care of us but emotionally she was broken. She lost her husband back on the plain and her only child had died aboard the ship. When we disembarked she disappeared leaving us to fend for ourselves. I was 12 that year and Stefan was 10. The other girls were younger and we were all alone in a new country, a new world, so we quickly became a family. After what we witnessed aboard that ship, I made the decision to live as far away from humans as possible. I was the oldest and carried the strongest bloodline, so the others followed me. We tracked west and eventually found an old abandoned farmhouse at the edge of the forest.”
She nodded. “We were all strong Gabriel, even as children. Before long we fixed up the house and grew crops. I began trading them for horses and necessities, pretending that I was learning the ropes for my family. Decades passed and we never heard what happened to the other group, whether or not they made it to the United Kingdom. But we did know that years later Bubonic Plague savaged Europe. If the strigoi were there and still feeding on human blood they would not have survived.”
“So, you never found out if Lord Byron really met a strigoi or if it was all just fiction?”
“Well, as the decades passed and we entered the 20th century, characters like Dracula emerged but they were nothing like the real strigoi. Characteristics like changing into bats, sleeping in coffins and being repelled by garlic were nothing more than someone’s creative imagination Gabriel, you know that. We knew then that if people had discovered the real strigoi the stories would have been very different. I can only assume that after the plague the strigoi all died out and were never discovered.”
“So, you and your sisters are the only five living descendants left in the world?”
“No, there are others,” she told him. “I can feel them out there somewhere. Their vibration is faint, but I know they’re there. There are also the four members of the Council. You already met Lucius.”
Gabriel sat up straighter in his seat. Finally he would find out who Lucius really was.
“Lucius is a strigoi?”
“No, Lucius and the Council are not strigoi. They are the only four remaining true vampires left in the world, the very last of their kind. Once the strigoi came to be the Council governed the species to ensure their survival. They made rules and enforced them emphatically. Specifically, no murdering of each other and no breeding with humans. They didn’t want the bloodline diluted further.”
“But weren’t the Scythians human?”
Aurora smiled. “Technically yes, but they were very special humans and an exception was made. But once descendant children started being born the Council made sure we too followed the rules. For decades they kept a watchful eye over everyone but when the plague broke out in Europe the Council fled to take up residence in a fortified bunker in the Long Range Mountains in Newfoundland.”
“Well, it’s probably a little different than the kind of bunker you’re used to Gabriel. It’s not like the ones used during war.”
“And you’ve been there?”
“Once,” she nodded. “I went to ask for their help to find those responsible for killing my parents, but they refused to get involved.”
“Hmm…” Gabriel rubbed at his chin.
“What is it?”
“It’s just that when I met Lucius he told me I should help you. Why would he do that if they didn’t want to get involved?”
Aurora thought for a while and then suddenly pounded her fists on the table so hard that the mug vibrated and Gabriel jumped in his seat.
“Aurora quiet,” he hissed. “We shouldn’t be attracting attention.”
But she completely ignored him and a wide grin broke out across her face. “Something has changed Gabriel and I know what it is.”