Eternity's Edge: Embrace

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Chapter 14

’The room we entered was lit by dozens of beeswax tapers that had been set in elaborate metal sconces. The tiny flames guttered and flickered in the slight breeze and the wax trailed sinuously down the length of the candles and pooled heavily at the base. The air was redolent with the spicy smells of some faraway, Eastern land—lands that I would later come to read about in books—and the whole atmosphere was infused with warmth and a palpable, luscious exoticness.

The walls were heavily adorned with elaborately carved woodwork and were painted in almost garish shades of vermillion, azure, marigold and emerald. Gilt trim glittered dully in the flickering glow of the candles, and with my enhanced vision I could discern delicate trailing floral and geometric motifs painted on the surfaces. Multicolored glass incense holders hung from heavy chains embedded in the ceiling and a thick, pungent scent wafted out of them. A large marble bath held court in the center of it all, and scattered all around the circumference were various glass bottles containing oils and other unguents.

Amaris gently set me down on a pile of embroidered and mirrored cushions and set about preparing the bath with perfumes he selected from his massive collection. My eyes meanwhile were scanning the room for any available point of escape. A small, ornate door off to the left led to some unknown passage, and the hallway from which we had just come through was far too long to afford me ample time to run away if necessary.

I shook my head. No, running away was out of the question. Amaris had to be stopped or my sacrifice would be meaningless.

He stood up from where he had finished sprinkling handfuls of dried herbs and flowers into the steaming water and let his gaze travel over me. ‘Yes, you were well-chosen indeed.’ He knelt down beside me and his hands tentatively reached out and began to slip the torn dress from off of my shoulders. He seemed almost to be asking my permission, and setting aside my own revulsion to his proximity, I laid my hand on top of his and guided him to push the dress down further. The thin cloth fell away with a whisper of sound and pooled in my lap, exposing my breasts. With a reverent sigh he leaned forward and kissed me—softly at first—and then more urgently as he realized that I was not going to fight him.

Every fiber of my being revolted against this, yet I did not draw away. While my soul rebelled at my actions I was comforted in the knowledge that what I did was purely to avenge Miklos and my unborn child, and no passion touched my heart. Amaris continued to kiss me possessively, hungrily, his hands pushing roughly at the rest of my dress until I was fully naked before him. Without breaking the kiss he began to shed his own garments, and when he was free of them he scooped me up in his arms and swung me up off of the floor. I gave a small, startled gasp at the sudden unexpectedness of his actions and this seemed to excite him. I felt his mouth smile against my own as his teeth nipped at my lips and then his hands cupped me possessively as he gently lowered us into the steaming water.

The shock of this sensation to my immortal senses was momentarily overwhelming, and I gasped and clung to him instinctively. With a feral growl Amaris settled me firmly on his lap, but I deftly angled my hips away from his obvious lust.

He pulled away, a mixture of concern and annoyance flashing in his eyes. ‘Why do you turn away from me, dearest?’

I had to act quickly and convincingly, otherwise he would see past the charade. I lowered my head, feigning coyness. ‘I know that we have forever, but I don’t want to rush this moment—I want to remember it always.’

He smiled and his hand cupped my chin. ‘As do I, beautiful one—my strong, brave one.’ He shifted so that I sat comfortably on his lap and then he resumed kissing me, his lips skating lightly over my lips, my neck, and the tips of my breasts. I shut my eyes tight against this lustful assault and pressed closer so that we were face to face, sharing one another’s breath. I had found the answer to my salvation lying within reach—the knives that Amaris always carried with him were scattered amid the tangle of his discarded clothing.

I made a small sound in the back of my throat and his tongue darted out, tasting me. With a convincing gasp I sighed his name and arched forward. My hands reached behind his head and cradled it before pressing it more firmly to my wet skin. This was all the convincing that Amaris needed and he lunged forward, his lips sucking at me fiercely. I cried out in revulsion but he didn’t seem to notice and I used the opportunity to stretch my hand out a little further and my fingertips grazed the tip of one of the blades.

Mistaking my actions as approval, Amaris drew back with a small laugh and contented himself with simply letting his eyes travel over my bare skin. ‘I did well to choose you—accident though it was.’

I froze, my blood turning to ice. I let the fingers of my left hand twine through his hair while the fingers of my right hand began to carefully edge the blade towards me. ‘What do you mean?’ I had meant my question to sound casual, of polite interest, yet inside I burned to know the reason why this had befallen me.

He smiled indulgently and brushed a stray strand of hair away from my face. ’The night that I came to you—or rather you came to me—I did what I have done for millennia: I feigned an injury or weakness and waited for just the right individual to find me and come to my assistance. Those of a caring disposition like you and your husband have the strongest of life-forces, are the most pure and fulfilling. It is those individuals that I have subsisted on for so long, hence my incalculable and immense strength and resilience.’

He gazed at me fondly. ‘I have shared that strength and resilience with you this night without reserve and you are well-suited to survive eternity.’ He continued to let his fingers play over my shoulders and trace the curves of my arms. ‘Your husband’s life-force was almost cosmic in its intensity, a rarity among humans, but you…you were something altogether more precious and beguiling. You, who had the capacity to bestow life upon another such as I could. Oh, I don’t mean immortality, no. What I mean is that we are both creators: we give life yet cling to our own existence with a tenacity to rival the very heavens. When I tasted you I knew that you were unlike the countless, nameless humans who have woefully fallen short of slaking my unending thirst. The way that you fought for the life of your husband, for the life slowly dwindling away inside of you despite your own considerable injuries, and the way that you fought me again and again in the days that followed more than convinced me that you were destined for immortality.’

My heart sank and I felt sickened at the callousness of his words, to the sheer indifference of the suffering of others. I swallowed back my nausea of being so close to this thing that looked and spoke like a human, yet clearly was not.

My fingers closed around the hilt of the blade and I held it firmly in my grip.

I slowly turned my gaze up to meet his and whatever he saw reflected in there encouraged him. I remained absolutely still as his hands traveled lower and lower, his fingers sliding against the bare skin of my back. His lips found me once again and he breathed into me. ‘I knew that given enough time that you would come to see me as not the monster who took away your life—your short, human life—but as the being who could give you forever. I knew that you would not only come to burn for it as strongly as I burned to bestow it upon you, but that you would trust me to bring you over.’

’I gripped the knife tightly in my hand and angled it inches away from the artery which pulsed steadily beneath his skin. My gaze remained cool and impassive as I leaned forward and whispered against his lips. ’I know; your mistake was in trusting me.’

Before Amaris could process the hidden malice behind these words, I struck with the inhuman reflexes which he had so generously bestowed upon me and I lunged forward, my teeth finding purchase in the tender flesh of his lips. In the same instant I brought the knife around and plunged it deep into the side of his neck and twisted it, reveling in the thick, meaty feel of the blade as it sank up to the hilt.

Amaris shrieked in pain and fury and his eyes flashed dark with hatred as the betrayal sank in along with his own blade. I clung to him furiously as his body jerked and writhed like a stabbed fish, the blood pouring thick and red from his wound. The cloying metallic scent of it filled the air as the perfumed bath became crimson. I straddled him as he continued to thrash around in his fury, unable to tear my eyes away from what I was so certain was his ruination. His skin grew pale and almost grayish as the blood gushed from that illimitable font and his eyes became dull and glazed. He began to slip downwards into the dark water and I scrambled away from him, sickened and repulsed by his proximity. Gasping and retching violently I began to hoist myself up and out of the tub, my fingers grasping madly for my own soiled clothing.

Amaris had now sunk down into the water and lay face down, unmoving. With a final shove I managed to slide away on my belly, the rim of the marble tub cold against my skin. As I began to climb to my feet pain shot through my left ankle and a grip like iron began to drag me back towards the edge of the tub. Terrified, I risked a glance back and saw Amaris, his face ashen and haggard with his hands around my ankle like a vice. The look in his dark eyes was pure malice as his grip tightened and I cried out in terror and redoubled my efforts to escape, my fingers scrabbling madly for the knife that I had carelessly tossed to the side. That inescapable grip continued to drag me further and further towards the bloody water and the nameless horror waiting within it, and with a final lunge I snagged the knife and gripped it tightly.

I spun around until I was in a sitting position and I flung myself at him, the blade poised deadly and glittering in the dim light. Surprise flickered briefly in his eyes as I brought the blade down squarely into his chest, into his heart. Dark blood gushed heavily from the fatal wound and his hands flapped uselessly against it, batting clumsily at the blade. I wrapped my legs around his torso and sank the blade in with all of my inhuman strength, riding him down to the bottom of the tub. For the briefest of moments I thought that I saw a look of admiration flash behind the dying orbs of his eyes just before he vanished under the water.

A wave of nausea and dizziness suddenly overcame me and I gripped the rim of the tub to steady myself, fearful that he would resurface or worse yet, drag me down to the depths once again. I took a slow, deep breath as the feeling slowly began to pass and I kept my eyes fixed on the water before me. It was now a deep crimson and I felt tainted by being immersed in it for any length of time. Long moments passed and despite my revulsion, I forced myself to remain where I was watching for any sign of life from him. His body did not resurface and when I was satisfied that he was well and truly dead, I climbed out of the tub and used my own discarded clothing to wipe away the blood from my body. After a quick search of the room I easily located fresh clothes from the sumptuous array that Amaris had stocked, as he had apparently been expecting the arrival of a female companion for some time. The clothes—despite their finery—were unimportant to me, but merely served a temporary function. I gathered up the remaining knives and some coins from his clothes and with barely a backwards glance, casually set the contents of the room afire. Flames whooshed upwards and began to consume the ornate woodwork, and the delicate silk draperies and embroidery were immediately immolated in a whisper of sound.

’I left those chambers with all their remembered secrets to burn in silence, to collapse into silent ruin. I was now free, an immortal to roam the world on a path of my own choosing, forever seeking out others of my kind who sought to destroy the lives of innocents such as myself in an endless search for the meaning of it all. I would not spare a single one and would slake my eternal thirst with their life-force until time itself came to an end, if that was indeed my fate.

I knew that my old life was over and that any memories of it would only cause me pain until they had long faded away. I could never return to the village of my childhood, of my own brief existence as a member of the human race, at least until sufficient time had passed in which all memory of me had ceased to exist.

I struggled in those first decades, struggled with the never-ending hunger, the horror, the grief, but eventually I came to terms with what I was and what this strange existence of mine demanded. I emerged from them scarred and beaten, at times world-weary and exhausted, yet I never gave up even when the sheer madness of it all threatened to consume me.

It was sixty years before I returned to the village of my birth.

It was then that I learned that my family was long dead, my sisters had married and borne children of their own, and my mother had died of what the locals called a “broken heart” after her youngest daughter’s mysterious disappearance. My father’s health had withered away from alcohol and his ceaseless searching for me, as he was convinced that something terrible and catastrophic had befallen me, that I had been spirited away by one of the nameless horrors that the villagers feared in the darkness of the night, never to be seen again.

It was then that I did disappear, this time for good. It has been three-hundred and fifty-eight years since that fateful night and yet I remain, clinging to life much as I did when Amaris first transformed me into the thing you see before you. I have no desire to close my eyes on this world, this world that I have tread upon for so many centuries. I crave life much as I crave the life-force of my victims and cannot conceive of a time when I would willingly abandon my hold on it.

In all that time I have loved but only once, my long-lost Miklos. Time has not erased the memory of him but only deepened it and made it all the more precious in its rarity. I have sought solace in those memories during my endless loneliness, have taken comfort in them when the embrace of another living soul was absent.

Until now.

Once more I feel the old lust for life and all its endless possibilities coursing through me, feel once more as if I am at the cusp of something that transcends my own existence. You have breathed new life into me, have enlivened and uplifted me with your innocence and your unwavering affection for me. Only now in all those centuries of existence do I truly feel alive.’

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