Eternity's Edge: Embrace

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Chapter 13

“I was born Katalin Arany in the year 1661 in a small village in Hungary. I have not been called that since the night I was made into the thing that I now am, as the young woman who once bore that name is now long gone along with all memory of her. My village was and still is a beautiful and idyllic place to live, with maize and sunflower fields dotting the rolling landscape which seems perpetually lush and green. The soil there is dark and fertile and life seems to spring out from everywhere. In the springtime the trees and flowers are in bloom, and one can truly gain a sense of the earth’s amazing ability to renew itself after the harshest of winters. Every tendril and tender bit of foliage is a testament to this, a living tribute to sheer tenacity and the will to live. The people themselves are like this, and despite the hardships that accompany every facet of life, they always managed to eke out a comfortable living from the land and from the fruits of their labors. Life in my village was simple yet fulfilling—a good life—the kind of life that my husband and I should have had, but were cruelly robbed of.”

Bitterness laced my words, but I continued undaunted. “I married my first love Miklos when I was fifteen—not an uncommon practice in those days—and we lived in a small house with a field of poppies nearby. I had often run through similar fields as a girl, pretending that it was a magical forest that was populated by all manner of beings—pixies, giants—and that I was testing my bravery by going there. I would lie on my back staring up at the blue sky and think about what lay beyond the borders of our small village, beyond the mountains rising majestically on the horizon. Darkness had never really touched my life, which was odd in retrospect. The simplest things could strike down a person in those days, be it injury or a fever, yet no one close to me had ever died. I guess you could say that I lived my life in blessed ignorance as to what the world could really be like, at least for a time. When I was nineteen my husband and I discovered that we were expecting our first child, which was something that we had both been wanting for some time. We were overjoyed.”

I stopped. The first step is always the hardest, my father used to always tell me. And it never really gets easier, I added silently.

I continued on. “It was the winter of 1680. Snow like an endless unbroken white blanket lay over my little world, and I was safe within the confines of the house that my husband and I had built together. I remembered standing by the shuttered windows absently rubbing my growing belly, thinking how awful it must be to not have a home, a family, nowhere to go and no one to love you. Silly thoughts really, with no valid reason for me to be thinking of them at that precise moment, but in hindsight it seemed almost like a presentiment, as if someone or something had put the thoughts into my head. Miklos was seated by the fire reading. My embroidery lay in a neat bundle on the seat of my wooden rocking chair, the tiny delicate gown that I had been making for my child be it a son or daughter laid out neatly beside it. I imagined myself seated in that chair six months from then when winter had finally released her chilly hold on the landscape, rocking our baby to sleep. Our little family would be complete then. Nothing but continued happiness would prevail as it had always done during my life, and my children would grow up happy as well.

It was at that point that Miklos set down the book that he had been reading. ‘Did you hear that?’ I turned to face him and saw that he was listening intently to something that I could not hear. He stood up and reached for the hatchet which was leaning against the fireplace. ‘Wait here.’

I was immediately alarmed. ‘Don’t go!’

He came towards me and then took me by the shoulders. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t go beyond the porch unless absolutely necessary.’ I still couldn’t shake the feeling of unreasonable trepidation that I was feeling, and sensing it, he offered me an indulgent smile. ‘Would you feel better if you followed me out there with the lantern?’

I softened at the genuine concern in his voice and shook my head. ‘Go.’ I handed him the lantern in question and he walked briskly to the door and unbolted it, then stepped out into the inky blackness. The lantern cast a pale glow on the glittering snow gathered up in drifts on the rough-hewn boards and threw back distorted and eerie shadows across his face. He paused, listening again, and then I heard it: a soft groan coming from the southeast corner of our property near the tree line, but it was too dark to make out what it was. We both started, then glanced anxiously at one another. Was it an animal? A person? Or something much worse? I need not tell you that the people of my homeland have been and are a superstitious people, and unexplained cries in the night conjured up all sorts of horrid and nameless fears.

The groan came again, closer, followed by a hoarse plea for help.

‘Quick, bring a blanket!’ Before I could shout a warning, Miklos sprang off of the porch and ran for the tree line, the lantern bouncing and weaving back and forth. I hurriedly snatched the quilt from the back of my rocker and made my way carefully out onto the porch for fear of slipping and hurting my unborn child. I slowly maneuvered one foot before the other in total darkness, clutching the quilt before me like a talisman, when all too quickly I heard the sound of my husband’s voice softly reassuring someone that they would be fine and that they would be taken care of. I squinted in the darkness and soon made out the faint glow of the lantern up ahead and then the silhouette of Miklos and another person, who was bent over as if in pain. Relief flooded me and emboldened and reassured, I quickened my pace and caught up to them.

A man dressed in a fine pair of leather boots and fur-lined wool cape was clinging to Miklos like a child, and I hurriedly brought the folds of the quilt up and over his shoulders. The man was panting with exertion and his hands were trembling as they clasped my own in gratitude.

‘Thank you, dearest.’

His voice had a rich and almost regal timbre to it and I squeezed his hand in acknowledgment. ‘Please sir, let me….’ I slipped an arm around him and together Miklos and I managed to get him to the house and into a chair by the fire. He was shivering from cold and unsure what to do, Miklos hastily threw another log into the fire before setting his hatchet down in its customary spot. Meanwhile I was heating up some bread and broth for our guest, which he slurped down as if he were starving. Miklos and I stood at a respectful distance away, each of us silently wondering as to who our mysterious guest was and how he came to be—well-dressed gentleman that he was—in such a remote and tiny village as our own in the middle of the night.

The man chewed the last bit of crust and took a deep, shaking breath. He raised his head and stared at the two of us and I felt my own breath catch. He was not old yet not entirely young, what the modern world would call mature. He had a full head of light brown hair with a few silver highlights and eyes as clear and blue as the sky. A handsome face to be sure, and once again I had the strangest sense of being in the presence of royalty. He smiled warmly and the action made his whole face glow. ‘I am forever in your debt; had you not happened on me when you did...well, best not to dwell on such things.’ His gaze traveled briefly over my small belly and something quickened behind his gaze, something dark and cunning, though at the time I was unaware of what it could possibly mean.

He continued, his gaze skillfully flitting from me to Miklos in a fraction of a second. ‘Name any price, any wish and I shall make it so.’

Speechless, Miklos mumbled that no thanks was necessary, only that the man rest and stay the night until he had sufficiently recovered his strength. ‘Besides, sir, we have all that we could ever need.’ He drew me close to him and reverently laid a hand on my belly. ‘However if you insist, pray only that our child grows up strong and able so that they too may one day come to the aid of others.’

The man thought this over and nodded approvingly. ‘Well said. You are truly blessed then to have found someone to share your life with, and even more so for giving life to another.’ There was a sly undertone to his words and once again I felt his eyes travel boldly over me. I shivered and drew closer to Miklos, but he did not seem to notice.

‘Yes, we are fortunate indeed, sir.’

The man smiled slightly but this time it did not touch his eyes. ‘Forgive me my momentary lapse in decorum, as I have not yet told you my name, nor asked yours as well.’ He stood up from the chair in one fluid motion. He was tall and powerfully built under his fine clothes. ‘My name is Amaris, and I am at your service.’ He nodded genteelly in my direction after exchanging greetings with Miklos, at which time he was offered more food and drink. He shook his head politely. ‘I am quite satisfied for the moment and wish to simply rest, as I am weary from my travels. Perhaps in the morning I will impart to you tales from my long journey.’

Miklos nodded. ‘Of course. Katalin will show you to the guest room and I will gather some firewood for your fireplace.’ I did not want to be alone for even a moment with our strange guest, but for fear of seeming rude or impolite I merely beckoned for him to follow me down the short hallway towards the guest room. I set the lantern down on the small bedside table and hurriedly began lighting the candles in the room and then busied myself by turning down the thick comforter on the bed. Neither of us spoke and I was keenly aware of his eyes watching my every movement. Some part of my mind screamed at me to put as much distance between us as possible, to flee, but another part insisted that I was giving in to childish fears and superstitions. The man had done nothing to seem overtly threatening, but the way that he had stared at me and at my growing belly with equal parts fascination and—dare I say it, longing?—filled me with a cold dread.

I smoothed the coverlet into place, my fingers rasping over the embroidered flowers which I had made myself. I turned to go, careful to keep my gaze averted. ‘I will leave you to your rest, sir. Good night.’

‘Katalin.’

I froze, shocked at the familiarity with which he referred to me as. If Miklos were here he would have been furious, but he was not and not even under the circumstances would he evict the man out into the cold. My voice held a note of polite warning. ‘Use care when addressing me as such, sir. My husband would not take kindly to such familiarity.’

He laughed low and mocking. ‘No dearest, he would not. Fortunately he is not here at the moment.’ He sighed almost sadly and took a step towards me, then another. I was rooted to the spot, terror turning my blood to ice and freezing my muscles. He tenderly and almost reverently took my hand and brought it up to his lips and breathed deep, as if taking in my warmth and scent. His eyes flashed down to my face. ‘A pity that your husband’s kindness will be his undoing. Oh, not yours dearest, never. On my word I will not harm you nor the child growing in your womb. We are alike you and I, for we both can bestow life upon another. When the time comes I shall bestow it upon you my beauty, you who will remain as unchanged as I forever.’

His lips pressed feather-light kisses onto my knuckles and then he slipped my fingers into his mouth, sucking them greedily. Revulsion filled me and broke the paralysis of fear that had overtaken me and as I tried to jerk free of his grip, his teeth locked down cruelly on my fingers, biting and drawing blood. He sucked harder and moaned in pleasure as a strangled scream rose out of me, which he quickly muffled behind his hands which held me fast in an iron grip. I struggled hard against him, trying to strike at his eyes, his face, but he wrenched my other arm behind me with enough force to snap the bone. I screamed against his hand and in a last ditch effort to free myself, tried to bring up my right knee to strike him between his legs. I managed a decent blow and he grunted briefly in pain, then smiled coldly at me. ‘You have courage, dearest because you seek to save not only your own life, but the life of your child. In time, you will prove to be one of the more resilient of immortals.’

Fresh panic overtook me and I struggled harder despite the riot of pain shooting through my broken arm. This man was a monster, a demon, and he meant to transform me into one as well.

He seemed to relish my struggles and continued to suck the blood from my injured fingers as if it were nectar. A sharp, grinding pain began to blossom low in my abdomen which began to steadily intensify and I whimpered in equal parts fear and distress. He moaned loudly in response, undoubtedly taking pleasure in my torment. An agonizing spasm tore through me and I felt my knees buckle and then a wetness began to spread out between my legs. He released me and I cried out as another spasm quickly followed the first and I sank down to my knees, my injured hand clutching at my belly.

‘No....’ My vision wavered and threatened to go dark, and I slumped to the floor with the man looming over me. My breath came in panting gasps and I writhed and whimpered on the floor while the man simply watched.

‘Please no.’ I could feel the wetness spreading and knew what it meant. He was killing my child as surely as he meant to kill Miklos who was running down the hall towards me with no warning of what was about to happen.

‘Katalin!’ He knelt down beside me and cradled me in his arms as I screamed in fresh agony. My breath heaved in and out as I pointed a shaking hand towards our guest who continued to stand there staring at the scene before him with mocking amusement.

‘Help her! My wife, she’s....’ The words died in Miklos’ throat as all the little details that had escaped him moments before steadily clicked into place: the twisted, unnatural angle of my broken arm, the fresh bite marks on my fingers, the way that our guest moved forward with inhuman speed and dragged my husband clear off his feet and held him, grunting and gasping, as if he weighed nothing.

The man drew a dagger from the folds of his clothing and held it up to Miklos’ neck. He scrabbled and tore at the man’s hands, but it was like fighting a living statue. He flicked his impassive gaze from the sweating, flushed face of my husband to my own as I lay helpless on the floor. ‘Say goodbye now, dearest. Be grateful for the time that you have had together, but alas, that time has now come to an end.’

Tears streamed down my face as I attempted to gather up all of my strength to rise and come to Miklos’ aid, but I had lost far too much blood and was weakened by pain. ‘Miklos.’ I gasped as another wave of agony washed over me. ‘Miklos I’m so sorry, I can’t...I love you.’

’Don’t you dare hurt her! Katalin, I love you too. Te vagy a mindenem.’

You are my everything.

The words hung in the air with a palpable sense of finality and the sounds of the night filled the tiny room. Silently the man drew the dagger against the side of Miklos’ throat and he stiffened, then gagged and struggled while the blood gushed from the wound. I screamed as the man bent forward and molded his lips tightly around the wound and began to draw the blood into his mouth, moaning and rocking his body in time with the ever-slowing heartbeats of my dying husband. I kept screaming as he grew pale and his struggles grew sluggish and clumsy as the light slowly dimmed from his eyes.

Miklos went slack as the man drank and an effervescent violet illumination began to blossom forth from his chest. The man held him hard against him, crushing the frail bones of his ribs, and the sound of them snapping was like gunfire in the tiny room. A strangled gurgle whistled past Miklos’ lips and his eyes glazed over before the lids closed, obliterating all vision of the final horror.

His chest heaved once, twice, then was still. A bestial growl emanated from the man as the violet illumination rose, coalesced into a tight, spiraling mass, and then in an instant drove itself into his body. His head was thrown back with the force of it and he released Miklos’ body where it tumbled heavily to the floor. He lay there like a broken doll, waxy white and utterly drained of blood and all life.

A ringing started in my ears and filled the space between my thoughts as the full spectrum of what had occurred hit me. I think I tried to speak, to murmur nonsensical things and half-whispered pleas for mercy when there was none to be had, but all that came out was a low roar which steadily grew in intensity until it filled the room, filled my entire being with a fury so poisonous and potent it became all that I was. An unnatural strength infused my limbs as I gave voice to my agony and grief, and despite the pain and weakness from blood loss, I managed to rise to my feet and closed the distance between myself and the man. He half turned, undoubtedly shocked at my wrathful determination and struck me with the full force of his inhuman strength.

I was flung bodily into the opposite wall and my vision went red then black as I slid down and slumped over on my side. I could taste my own blood as my eyes struggled to adjust and the man drew nearer. He knelt beside me just as liquid fire shot through my abdomen and I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.

I was dying—I had to be—as no one could possibly be in this much pain and live through it.

He stooped and slid his arms under me and then cradled me against him as my head lolled to the side. A faint whiff of some spicy Eastern scent emanated from his clothes and I shut my eyes, praying for death to find me and reunite me with my husband and unborn child.

His hands gently smoothed the hair away from my face and he kissed me full on the mouth, delicately licking the blood from my lips. ‘You will never die, dearest: not now, not ever.’

I went limp in his arms as consciousness abandoned me to darkness, and I knew no more.

*************

I awoke in a cold damp room made of stone which sweated and was slick to the touch—a prison cell.

Panic seized me and as I struggled to sit up pain shot through my arm and abdomen and I cried out miserably. Dark spots danced before my eyes and my head swam with visions of horror and bloodshed.

Blood.

Gasping in revulsion I glanced down at my clothing only to discover that I was in a plain gown of gray wool. My fingers, nails, and even hair had been scrubbed clean and new shoes had been placed on my feet. Shame filled me as I realized that the demon—Amaris—had undoubtedly removed my bloody and soiled dress and had taken the liberty of grooming me, but for what purpose I didn’t dare dwell on.

I had to get out of here, to escape.

I cautiously felt around the confines of the cell and discovered that it was barely big enough to stand in and allowed only enough room to lie down the full length of one’s body. My fingers searched carefully for a seam, a loose stone, anything that would aid in my escape, but there were none.

My nails came away stained by mold and dirt, and it was then that I realized that my wedding band was gone from my finger. Amaris had undoubtedly removed it when he had brought me here, and with a sinking feeling I sank down into the corner furthest from the door and drew my knees up to my chest and wept.

‘You know it pains me to see you weep, dearest.’

Amaris’ voice sounded from the opposite end of the cell. I hadn’t sensed his approach and could not conceive of just how he had escaped detection, but it didn’t matter in those moments. He was here within reach and no matter what he may do to me, I would have my revenge.

I shot to my feet and lunged blindly for the monster who had taken everything away from me. That same inhuman roar welled up out of me as I managed to snag a corner of his clothing and I snarled and ripped at it in my fury. ‘Where is it? What have you done with my wedding ring? Give me back my ring!’ My voice was high and hysterical as I continued to rage and tear at his clothing, some part of me convinced that he had concealed the precious token on his person and that if I just tried hard enough that it would be returned to me.

He sneered mockingly as he allowed me to vent my rage at him, which was all I could really do. He remained as immovable as ever and with a bored sigh he gathered my hair up in one hand and bent my head back, exposing my throat. I moaned in terror as the cold length of his tongue traced the artery pulsing beneath the taut skin and redoubled my efforts.

‘Ah, but you do fight me so.’ His teeth grazed my neck and I stiffened. He breathed deep, undoubtedly scenting my mounting terror and I felt his lips smile against my skin. ‘You belong to me now; that pathetic little bauble is of no consequence, and I left it where your husband fell.’

I bit back a sob as I realized that the sole tangible reminder of our brief union was forever lost to me, and I felt more alone that I would have ever thought possible.

His tone was sympathetic. ‘In time you will forget him, dearest. I have millennia of experience and know of innumerable ways of pleasuring the mere thought of him from you.’ His lips sucked suggestively on my neck and an involuntary shiver traced its way through my limbs, filling me with shame. His other hand traced the contours of my thigh, rubbing teasing circles through the thin cloth. I squirmed.

He laughed and his finger traced the contours of my lips with brazen possessiveness. ‘When the time comes, not only will you scream for me but you will beg me not to stop.’

‘Never.’ I spat the word at him and he slapped me hard across the face. The shock made my head spin and before I could recover my senses he pressed his lips against my own and forced them apart. I felt utterly defiled as his tongue probed my mouth and then I felt his teeth bite down sharply on my tongue. I screamed despite myself as I felt not only my blood being drawn forth, but my life force along with it. A violet haze began to emanate from me and with each intake of breath he effortlessly drew it from me in a long, streaming line. Pain radiated through all of my nerve endings and my veins burned as if on fire. Each swallow felt as if my heart were being drawn forth on strings and I struggled to draw breath.

It was agony.

I was abruptly released and fell back, gasping. My entire body felt limp with weakness and it was all I could do to curl up on my side. I cradled my injured fingers close to my chest, careful not to hurt my broken arm. Amaris knelt down beside me and I flinched as his fingers tenderly brushed the hair away from my face. This monster—this demon—would undoubtedly continue to torture me at his leisure until tired of my feeble attempts to ward him off, he would eventually dispatch me in a manner similar to my husband.

I whimpered and the sound filled the tiny cell. Amaris’ fingers paused from where they had been smoothing my hair back, and I heard him shift to a sitting position. I dared a look in his direction and found that he was indeed seated right next to me, a strange expression on his face.

‘My intention was never to kill you—surely you must realize that.’

It seemed almost inconceivable that such coherent words could be uttered by the same creature that had murdered my husband in front of me for no apparent reason other than to cause me torment. We locked eyes and he gazed down at me possessively, chilling me.

‘Why then? Why do what you did to my family and me if that was never your intention?’ I realized that my hand was resting on my belly and the awful reality of it all hit me: Amaris had murdered my unborn child as surely as he had murdered my husband. ‘You robbed my family not only of their lives, but of the future that we were meant to share in together.’

‘Are you so sure of that? Fate and destiny are concepts that mortals entertain because the pure cosmic randomness of life terrifies them; if anything, fate and destiny provide false hope for the masses and creates the illusion of control. The only beings capable of fully controlling their own existence are those that are beyond the mortal realm, the immortals such as myself.” His lips curled up in a small, secret smile. “And of yourself, when the time comes.’

‘No.’ My entire being lay in the conviction of that single word even though I was quaking in terror. I would rather die than be what he was, of that I was sure.

He made a dismissive gesture. ‘Mortals with convictions such as yourself are always so sure of this desire, yet when death hovers nearby ready to snatch their souls away as they draw their last breath….’ His voice trailed off but I caught the meaning.

‘No.’

He sighed. ‘Stubbornness is a trait necessary to navigate through eternity without succumbing to madness, but in a mortal it must be stamped out.’ He advanced towards me in a blur of movement so fast my eyes scarcely had the chance to register what was happening, and his hands tangled painfully in my hair once more. I cried out in terror and pain as he yanked me off of my feet and then punched me savagely in the stomach. The air was driven from my lungs just as he struck me again and I pitched forward. Unconsciousness threatened to overtake me but I fought through it, determined to face my tormentor. Amaris hit me again and I lay prone on the floor, struggling to force air into my lungs. I cursed and spit at him despite the pain and he merely stood there staring down at me impassively.

‘You are strong, so strong, but you too will break just as the others did.’

He left then as silently as he had come and I simply lay there in the dark with only the sound of my own panting breath to comfort me. I knew that he would be back to torment me again until he had sufficiently broken me, and there was little that I could do in the interim but wait.

I slowly crawled into the corner and wrapped my uninjured arm around myself. My thoughts and fears were my enemies in those seemingly endless moments where I waited for Amaris to return, and eventually I slept. I tossed and turned fitfully, my dreams haunted by images of terror and bloodshed. I finally abandoned the prospect and lay there in the darkness, my senses straining for the smallest sound to alert me to his presence. I lay there for hours, perhaps days, my body physically exhausted and my soul stretched to the breaking point. I burned with hunger and thirst yet no sustenance appeared and I simply waited and suffered in silence.

Eventually Amaris returned and the torment began anew, as did my vehement denial, all of which was to no avail. I fought, I cursed and I suffered immensely in both the physical and spiritual sense, all of which Amaris seemed to relish.

‘Fighting me is only prolonging the inevitable—surrender to me—to what I have to offer you, and I promise you that it will be sweetness, such sweetness as you have never imagined.’

By now the days had blended seamlessly into one another where I felt that I existed outside of time and had been condemned to relive this one moment again and again endlessly. I was physically and spiritually drained, my body gaunt and starving. Everything hurt and it seemed that I was made of raw and frayed nerves, my skin a thin and insufficient covering against this seemingly endless torment.

Each new day brought renewed pain and suffering, as I would not be allowed to die—Amaris had told me as much—and as I lay there sprawled on the floor with him towering over me, I realized that yes, he was right. Fighting him was useless, as he would only continue to torture me until my mind and body were broken and then he would take me regardless. If I surrendered now then the inevitable would be on my terms, of my own choosing. Whatever else Amaris may do to me that choice would be my own, and what I chose to do with the life he was offering me—immortality—would also be of my own choosing. Amaris had to be punished for what he had done to me, to my family, to countless other families over the centuries. My weak human state was no match for his incalculable strength, but if he made me what he was, an immortal such as himself, then I at least stood a chance. I may not survive the attempt, but I would ensure to my dying breath that neither would he.

I drew in a shaking breath and steeled myself for what I was about to do. ‘Yes.’

Amaris’ breath hissed out and he drew nearer to me, kneeling beside me.

I turned my face towards him and reached out beseechingly. ‘Yes.’

Dark triumph flashed in his eyes as his hands reached underneath me and drew me up into his lap. He cradled my head and his fingers traced the contours of my lips. ‘Mine. Forever.’

His hands trembled with barely-repressed eagerness as he roughly swept my hair away and wrenched my neck to the side. His lips brushed ever so lightly over the pulsing artery and his blunt teeth grazed the tender skin. Without warning he suddenly bit down hard and my body bucked and writhed violently as his lips, tongue and teeth teased and tasted me. It took every ounce of willpower to not fight him and simply lay there in his arms, willing myself to have the strength to endure my transformation and whatever nameless, horrific consequences my actions would undoubtedly incur.

With my surrender came the first silvery threads of mounting passion and a small whimper escaped my lips as I refused to give in completely to the waves of exquisite pleasure rolling through me.

No. My mind railed against this lustful assault even as my body betrayed me. His teeth tore at me cruelly and this time I did scream, long and throaty.

I lay panting against him as all strength was seemingly drawn from me. My hair was plastered to my forehead and neck as he continued to drink, his lips working rhythmically against my skin. From all around me it seemed that there were voices whispering to me, sweet voices uttering vile and obscene words. I lay there in the maw of the demon and allowed him to take me, but the knowledge that doing so would give me the strength to fully avenge my husband and unborn child gave me the courage that I needed.

He released me suddenly and I cried out as the connection was severed between us and that was when I saw it: the same violet miasma that had swirled out and around my dying husband was also emanating from my chest. Amaris bent once more and kissed my lips, darting his tongue in between my teeth, and in that instant he drew in a breath and with it the violet illumination.

My back bowed as it seemed my heart and lungs were being drawn forth on strings and I clawed frantically at the air. My breath burned in my lungs as I struggled to breathe and it seemed then that I would truly die.

‘Katalin.’ He exhaled into me and with it came the flood of my life force being returned to me along with traces of his own. I gasped and my eyes flew open with the force of the action and it was as if I could see past the very veils which parted this world from the next. I knew then that I was damned, utterly damned as I wanted nothing more than to experience this violent rape of all my senses again and again.

I gasped his name and clutched at him, begging him to take me again. He caressed my face tenderly, lovingly. ‘And you shall have it, forever and ever.’

I stared up at him impassively as I saw the hunger and lust well up in his gaze once more. He brought me up into a sitting position and with the other hand deftly removed a dagger from the side of his belt. The hilt glittered coldly in the dim light and I recognized it as the one that had taken the life of my beloved husband weeks before. He brought the tip down to rest between my breasts and in one swift movement he slashed through the collar of my dress so that it fell away from me, exposing my neck and shoulders even more.

‘I need more than just a taste to bring you over into eternity, dearest; to do that, I need to take all that you can give.’

I shivered as the cold steel slid over my heated skin and he trailed it up until it rested against the marks his teeth had left on me.

‘Only a moment’s pain and then sweetness.’ A sharp pain followed as he nicked the artery with the knife and my blood flowed heavily out of the wound. In an instant he had battened on my neck once again and sucked greedily, drawing my life into him in great heaving draughts. The act was so eerily reminiscent of how he had coldly and dispassionately killed my husband, and as snatches of memory from that traumatic night flashed through my mind fear overcame me and I began to struggle weakly, smearing the blood all over his mouth and face.

Amaris seemed un-phased by my struggling and continued to suck languidly, his hands firm yet surprisingly gentle on my shoulders as he held me down. My heart beat loudly and frantically in my ears and I could feel myself weakening as my body grew cold and pliant in his grip. Eventually the fight went out of me and I finally lay back upon the cold stone floor, my limbs leaden and dead. My vision wavered in and out of focus and a heavy sigh escaped my lips as I felt myself hovering between life and death. My last conscious thought was of my husband, his face full of fear for me as he realized that Amaris was going to dispatch us both and that he was powerless to stop him.

Forgive me, Miklos; this was the only way…

His lips ceased their relentless movement against my neck and I felt him draw back and then his tongue began to lick at the still-bleeding wound possessively. ‘Do not fear, dearest. Take me into yourself and live forever.’

Somehow in those tenuous moments I understood that he had allowed me to bleed out just enough to bring me to the brink of death, and then with his fatal kiss he would bring me forth into eternity.

I heard metal rasp against bare skin and then hot viscous blood flowed over my lips and into my open mouth. The scent and taste of it was unlike anything that I had ever experienced before and my tongue lapped at the thick nectar eagerly. A startled gasp tore from me as I felt the fluid being drawn effortlessly into my body, as each cell exploded into a brilliant supernova of cosmic and spiritual potency. Amaris’ laughter was cold and soulless as I writhed on the floor in an almost euphoric daze, my hands reaching out desperately for him in order to draw the source of this essence closer to me. My lips met the silken coolness of his skin and a riot of sensations whipped through me as with a bestial growl I held fast to his wrist and drew him down on top of me. He cried out in ecstatic triumph as I sucked furiously at the torn flesh, my own inhuman hunger growing every second with each draught that I imbibed. For long moments I drank my fill while he moaned and held me hard against him, whispering my name over and over while urging me to take more of him into myself.

The flow began to ebb and far from being satisfied I tore at the wound, bringing forth a great gout of blood and his hand clasped my shoulder, pressing me closer to him.

‘Yes.’

A new, unnatural strength was infusing my limbs and I veritably hummed with power. My body seemed to expand and then contract with each swallow, each tiny droplet seeking to wed itself to every vessel and fiber of my being. I felt as if I were made of some light, glassine substance that despite its fragile appearance was hardened and indestructible.

Amaris gasped and his hands tenderly caressed my face. ‘You are very nearly there, dearest.’

Once more the flow ebbed and then finally stopped altogether and I drew back, panting. Amaris bent forward and pressed his lips to mine and as he exhaled into me once again, I felt a mingling of our life forces pass into me along with his breath. My body felt like it was on the verge of exploding, every nerve electrified and singing with new-found strength as I exhaled and felt some unknown force coil around my soul, forever anchoring it to my body. My face, lips, arms and the entire surface of my skin was tingling with a sublime warmth and I flexed the fingers of my hands, marveling that my broken bones no longer hurt. Indeed, I was completely devoid of any type of pain or discomfort and I nearly sobbed in relief. Meanwhile Amaris was slowly staggering to his feet and was wiping carelessly at his wrist which was also miraculously healed. He seemed gaunt and frail given the exchange, but I knew that he was still capable of crushing me to a pulp if he chose.

He gazed at me possessively. ‘And so it begins.’

Before I could dwell on what his words meant, a tiny pain began to radiate from my fingertips, into my hands and up my arms. I shook the limbs more out of annoyance than any real concern, but the pain intensified and then started up in my toes and spread rapidly up to my legs where it finally settled in my gut. I grunted in pain and put my arm out to steady myself and nearly screamed in terror at the ghastly sight before me: my hand was undergoing a rapid and horrifying change, the flesh yellowing and shrinking in on itself. Age spots dotted my once creamy and unblemished skin, and the fingers of my hands had become gnarled and twisted. I backed away from the wall and saw that this horrid transformation was not yet over, as my legs and torso had become shrunken and withered. My back became stooped and misshapen and my hair fell away from me in snow-white drifts, the strands dry and raspy as hay. I opened my mouth to call to Amaris to help me, but he merely stood against the opposite wall with a strange, secret smile on his lips.

A dry croaking emanated from my throat as my vision became clouded by cataracts and I groped around blindly. I stumbled and fell to the ground with a sharp thud and my frail and ancient bones snapped like twigs, making me cry out. A sound like snakes slithering on and around one another filled my ears as my skin continued to contract and cleave to my bones, to desiccate and flake away from me. In a matter of moments I had become a living corpse, my veins stretched taut and rubbery over sinewy flesh. My eyes lost all vision and the ringing in my ears reached a fever pitch before abandoning me entirely. I flailed, writhed, and twisted from side to side as what was left of me began to break apart and was eddied about by a slight breeze sweeping through the tiny cell. The true horror was that consciousness did not elude me for even a moment and I was aware of my literal and figurative destruction from initial inception to its grim finality.

I do not know how long I drifted between this strange and terrible half-life, nor for how many moments my maker stood at his silent watch as I suffered immensely. The memories of what happened next are mercifully dim, but what I do recall is that Amaris was calling to me and urging me to return. More blood flowed over my shriveled lips and I felt the life return to me. I was once again gathered up in his arms and fed the blood of eternal life, and as it filled me I felt my strength return. My body literally bloomed with life, filling out and smoothing over in a matter of moments. Flesh grew firm and soft, my hair regained its luminous luster, and the contours of my face emerged from the ruin it had once been. I heaved in a deep breath and felt the air expand in my lungs, felt my heart beat strong and sure. I opened my eyes, eyes which had never truly beheld the world up until this moment. Everything had a deep and unnatural clarity to it, a world revealed within a world.

I was now immortal.

Amaris smiled down at me. ‘So beautiful,’ he whispered reverently.

It was only later that I was to discover that when one sheds the vestiges of humanity and becomes immortal, that their body will rapidly attain the age that it should have naturally progressed to at the moment of death before reverting back to the state it was in when the blood of eternal life was administered. I was also to learn that each year on the anniversary of my rebirth that I would undergo this change again and again, and that with each passing year, each decade and proceeding century that the change would grow increasingly drastic and painful. I learned that that was the reason so few of us existed in the world—of any considerable age at least—as not many had the resiliency to endure this ordeal each year of their unnatural lives.

Amaris picked me up and carried me away from the cell that had been my place of death and rebirth and into a place of light and wealth such as I had never imagined existed on this earth. I was borne away from everything and everyone that I had ever known and loved and thrust headlong into the bowels of a hellish and nightmarish world, a world of my own choosing, if only to make the one of blissful innocence safe from monsters such as Amaris and myself.

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