Chapter 29 - Dust
Catherine had them clean every instrument of their limited supply by boiling it. Then she had them bring in clean linen. The whole time her heart beat like a drum while her mouth was as dry as dust.
Catherine made Dina go to sleep in the way that she was taught and she saw Gunther’s eyes darken as her touch eased Dina into unconsciousness.
It was a feat she would rather not have revealed to human eyes, but her problems were direr than keeping ancient vampire secrets.
Her hand almost shook as she cut into Dina’s skin. Catherine fought herself as the blood welled up from the cut and overflowed.
The abscess was worse than she initially thought. The smell told her as much, even before she stuck her hand inside the wound and encountered a solid mass. Dina was bleeding heavily, massively to be exact.
Catherine removed the abscess and cut away the infected tissue. Just as she prepared to close off, her slightly shaky hands caused her to nick an artery.
Blood sprayed over her hands, her forearms and her face in an instant. The world turned red.
Gunther’s hard hands took hold of her arms, but it was Althea’s voice which brought back to the light bit by bit. Catherine fought her instincts, but she was on the edge of losing the battle with her inner monster. She could Shake Gunther off like a child, but she didn’t.
“Come on, it’s all right...” Only a few seconds passed, but it felt like a lifetime before Catherine’s teeth obeyed her will, and retracted.
Her eyes blazed, her breathing was ragged and uneven, but the predator retreated. At a nod from Althea, Gunther let go of Catherine.
Catherine found the artery with unerring accuracy and firmly sowed it shut. She closed the larger wound, but Dina was very near dying. She had wasted precious seconds while the girl’s lifeblood pumped onto the floor.
She wiped her hands with a wet cloth, but all it did was smear the blood. Catherine had to get out of the room and get some air. The vampire was just below the surface, and it threatened to break free of her control.
Catherine forced herself not to flee. She forced herself to walk slowly outside. She had to breathe deep and hard before her heart settled to a more steady pace, but she could still smell the metal tang of blood.
The tantalizing smell was on her hands, in the air, in her brain... It threatened to drive her over the edge, and it took control to not lick it from her skin like an animal.
“Dina needs you now,“Catherine didn’t expect Gunther to come to her. Not after what she almost did, but he stood behind her. She turned to find him watching her with inscrutable eyes.
“I want to help her and to help you, but I cannot go back in there,” the mere thought was almost more than Catherine could contemplate. She was not used to struggling with her base urges like a child.
“You are strong, you will not harm her,” Gunther’s quiet confidence was greater than her own. Right then, all she could see when she looked at that strappingly healthy man, was food.
“You cannot risk it, and I cannot chance it,” Catherine deflected, and Gunther frowned, but he continued to look at her with calm, undaunted eyes. Even as she still fought her unseen battle, she nodded. Catherine had the distinct feeling she was about to compound her mistake of earlier.
She moved past him and expected Gunther to shy from her, but he didn’t. He just followed in her wake.
Back inside, she started to wash her hands again but instead ended up staring at them. Guilt ate at her, even as her stomach clenched with an undeniable hunger she could not control.
Althea moved to her side, and before Catherine could move aside, Althea took Catherine’s hands firmly in her own and washed them clean. Along with her face and neck.
The blood colored the water red. Althea took it outside and threw it out before she brought more clean water.
Althea removed all the blood-soaked linens as Catherine waited and although the smell lingered, it was less intense.
Althea even brought Catherine clean clothes and made her change behind the screen. Catherine took charge of herself as she moved to Dina’s side.
Catherine’s frown deepened. There was only one thing that might save Dina, and she didn’t quite know what it would do to a human. The sweet smell of blood was already marred with the smell of death.
“Gunther, my bundle is in the master’s quarters. Inside is a small brown pouch, bring it to me quickly,” Catherine ordered, and Gunther obeyed.
They watched as she put the white powder on the cuts and watched as she mixed the gray powder with the water. They both glanced at each other when Catherine hesitated before she gently forced a barely conscious Dina to drink it. She made Dina drink of it again and again, but only a little bit at a time.
The package arrived at the castle weeks before. The silver eagle feather spoke all there was to say. There was still one among her kind that hadn’t abandoned her.
Oliver, her father’s manservant and the one constant presence of her childhood. He was her guardian as a child and crusty as he might appear to outsiders, most of her moral code came from him.
He was the rock that anchored her world. She fully understood that by sending her that tiny bundle of her possessions, Oliver risked his life. Yet he did it for her, and the gesture meant so much to her.
“I know what you gave Dina was not medicine, not our medicine. I want to know what it was. I promise there will be no consequences to you. No matter what it does,” Gunter said quietly, and Catherine turned to look at him.
She was so caught up in her memories that she almost startled at the sound of his voice. She wondered how long Gunther would wait to speak.
″The white powder is simply a natural antibiotic mixed with a little poison. It reduces infection and lessens pain...” Catherine hesitated, and Gunther waited as stoically as he always did, except that now she knew he was not stoical at all.
“The other is vampire dust. What remains of my kind when we die...” Catherine saw the frown on his face.
“Vampires don’t die?” He asked the words not as a statement, but as a question.
“Everything dies Gunter, eventually, if you try hard enough,” Catherine could see that it was not something he thought about.
“So what does this dust do?” Gunther finally asked.
“It heals my kind if we are badly hurt,” Catherine waited quietly as he digested this.
“She might become like you,” Gunter deduced, and Catherine had hoped he would not come so quickly to that conclusion.
“Normally no, it would just accelerate her healing, but this dust came from a very powerful vampire,” Catherine admitted the words slowly and carefully as if she had trouble forming them. Something seemed to change in his expression, Gunther recognized something in her.
“It was someone you knew. It was someone you loved and feared,” Gunther said with an odd tone of voice, and sometimes Catherine really hated how perceptive these humans were. It was uncanny.
“Yes, respected more than feared, although I barely remember,” Catherine admitted.
He didn’t step closer to her, but it was as if he went from being one of ‘them,’ to one of ‘hers.’ Despite the fact of her little struggle for restraint. Gunther did not ask who or insist, instead he waited.
Catherine was just as aware of Althea listening inside. Humans were so strange, so curious, compassionate and dangerous.
“My mother,” She admitted with a hitch to her voice and the feeling of tears in her throat. The thought of her mother always caused a great sadness in her and an aching sense of loss. She could feel their shock and the change in their attitude.
“I doubt if Dina would turn and she would not be like me if she did. She would be dangerous, or if she does not turn, she might just want... blood. It would pass. It usually does,” the silence grew long as Catherine waited.
She could see the thoughts going through Gunther’s mind. He was half horrified and half fascinated by the idea. Mostly, he was terrified for Dina.
“If Dina does turn, I will take care of it,” Gunther sounded so calm and yet Catherine could feel his fear. She could sense it. He would hate to kill what he loved, but he would hate for someone else to do it in his stead, even more.
“You won’t be able to. Dina’ll be too powerful for you. She might even be too strong for me,” Catherine admitted, and that shook him. She half turned to watch Gunther, and his face whitened as confusion fought with understanding.
“Nature makes them sturdy, so they’ll survive. The strength fades after a year or two, but few become like me. They don’t have our control, and it takes them centuries to master even a fraction of it. That is why we either lock them up until they learn or kill them.
I have known only two Half-lings in my life, and they were both volatile at best. A Half-ling would have killed you in there: you, Dina, Althea and half the camp.
Not because it wanted to, but because it couldn’t resist. I nearly couldn’t resist harming Dina,” Catherine turned from Gunther. She didn’t want to see the expression in his eyes at that confession.
“But you did resist. You didn’t throw me off like a fly trying to hold a lioness, you fought even before we touched you,” Catherine barely ever heard him speak and his insight into her nature made her understand why Dillon trusted Gunther.
“You have not fed. Dillon did not want to risk leaving you with one of us to go hunt. I would have offered, but I wanted to be with Dina,” Gunther admitted, and Catherine turned back to him. He bore her scrutiny.
“You sat at the table before a feast, and you denied yourself. I feared you in the beginning. It comes with being human and growing up in small towns.
I saw you kill and I admired the skill with which you fought. Today I respect you as much as I do our masters...
You have more strength than any of us. You could kill us all. Instead, you care,” Gunther started to turn away and then turned back to Catherine instead.
“I will see to Dina, no matter what happens. If she turns, I will not have it hurt you,” Gunther strode away. When Catherine started back toward the tent, Althea stood just outside. Her blue eyes were dark.
“Neither will I,” Althea confirmed and then said no more. Her eyes were certain and her decision clear.