The Devil's Gift

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XI

The moon was half clouded and brought a chill to the air. The stars were hidden away behind the clouds somewhere above. I walked with Oceana steadily at my side as we passed an old shop on the left that had a small sign hung in its window indicating it was closed. A group of drunken men walked past shouting and cursing, their bellows carrying through the night long after they had turned the corner and vanished from sight.

The market street that was usually bustling with people and flourishing with stalls that sold a whole host of different things ranging from fruits of all different colours, to armoury supplies and repair kits, was empty and deprived of its usual customers and sellers, though the remnants of fruit and vegetable stalls were still noticeable in the empty market square. An odd cart or two lay abandoned to the side of the street, its contents littering the path. As we neared, a number of mice fled their scavenging and scuttled off in search of food elsewhere. A stall’s frame had been erected in the middle of the square and I guessed it was this that was used to distribute flyers and advertisements to the passing public. We walked past a large stone church and my mind was sent back to the day my faith was destroyed.

‘My lord?’ I shook my head back to the present as if trying to shake the thought of Sophia from my head, but in truth, she would always be there.

‘Err... yes?’ My wandering mind did not go unnoticed by Oceana.

‘Sire,’ her tone was soft and gentle. ‘Are you feeling well?’ I looked into her eyes, they were filled with pity. For some strange reason, I felt a sudden rush of affection to Oceana as she eyed me curiously.

‘Yes... I’m fine. Shall we?’ I gestured toward a dark, dusty alley to the left, keen to steer clear of another unwanted conversation. She looked at me as if deciding whether to press the subject or not, before turning towards the alley. Two large, old buildings towered either side, submerging the alley in total darkness but myself and Oceana could see through the gloom as if it was lit by a thousand candles. Oceana took the lead, walking a brisk pace a few steps ahead of me. We proceeded down the alley. A cool gust of wind swept down the path, bringing with it a sweet scent. My highly-attuned senses allowed me to pick out distinctive traits just by the smell. Young, male, athletic and on a moonlit run. Oceana had smelt it too and immediately, she had changed posture. She went from a cool, casual stroll, to hunting mode.

Her mouth stretched open wide, revealing a gleaming set of pearly white teeth, with two sharp canines glistening threateningly. It was clear that it had been a while since she too had a proper meal, the way she stood, the near uncontrollable temptation causing her body to violently shake. Her canines dripped with poison already; they wouldn’t normally secrete poison until they had penetrated the skin. Drinking blood from the fountains at the castle never quite gave us the full satisfaction a hunt brought, the thrill of finding the target, stalking them, then ending their life. It would keep us strong, yes, but many still preferred to scour the streets in search of a much more satisfactory meal, keeping them at the peak of their abilities.

The mouth of the alley opened wide into a large, long street. Shops on both sides of the street were closed. All except a tavern halfway down the street, The Lonely Mug. Its lights inside spilled through the open windows and onto the dusty street. The dim moonlight just broke through the dense cloud lighting it up. A star popped into view far away hovering somewhere in the distance. The street was empty all except the runner who was jogging at a steady, even pace, his chest expanding with every huge gulp of breath.

Oceana looked at the runner, transfixed on her meal. I placed a restraining hand on her shoulder, which, in hunting mode was a lot more difficult than it sounds.

‘No. Wait, find somewhere more secluded.’ I said firmly. My word is law and she must obey. I was surprised at her impressive capability of the speed she pulled out of the hunt; it was very difficult, especially for a vampire who had not fed properly in a while, to pull themselves from hunting mode with as much ease as Oceana had just demonstrated. She rose from her crouch, with some difficulty, and stood tall, inhaling more scents. She looked around, her quick eyes scanning the scenery, scouring the streets for somewhere quieter. I pointed toward the black and white tavern lighting half the street. Oceana followed me as I set a fast pace, stopping at its thick wooden door. I exchanged a fleeting look with Oceana before grabbing the rusting, circular handle, and crossing the threshold.

The tavern was spacious and square. Its loud, chaotic noise, filled my ears as I entered. A bar was set in the far corner facing me on the opposite wall, topped with wooden barrels and tankards. A few tables were pushed roughly to the left against the grimy, off-white, walls. It was dingy and damp, lit by very few candles casting a heavy gloom around them. A haze of pipe smoke hung in the air and reeked of stale tobacco which was surprising considering the smell of the drunken men, mouldy roofing and whatever else was in here, stank enough. The tavern went quiet and all eyes turned to them immediately, dressed in their silken finery. I heard a group of men whispering, supposedly, quietly to one another, their insults on our clothing and wealth were hollow and I picked up, with some satisfaction I might add, the tone of jealousy. We were clearly above the common riff-raff that drank here.

An elderly man, sat in the corner by the edge of bar, started wheezing as he took another large puff on his pipe. His large belly jerked in and out and he coughed and spluttered. He furrowed his thick eyebrows and scratched at his balding head. His spluttering seemed to kick-start the tavern’s noise again and within seconds, the noise had resumed as if we had not walked in, though a few eyes still lingered on us. I walked slowly up to the counter where a young woman, plain, but pretty, dressed in a shabby old dress and spoke with a rumbling throat.

‘What can I get you sir?’

‘Where is the nearest secluded place?’ I attempted to entice her, I needed a meal and she seemed the cleanest of the lot, though admittedly, it was difficult to pretend I was even remotely interested in her. Nevertheless, my voice was soft and flattery and she fell under my enthralling gaze, as so many before her had done.

‘What... why is it for?’ She spoke, her eyelids battering. Her cheeks filled with colour as I raised an eyebrow, tempting her. I knew already, I had won her over. Using this to my advantage, I held out a hand, inviting her to put her grubby palm in mine. I did not respond to her question, though she seemed very confident she did not require an answer, as at that moment, she placed her hand in mine, running her fingers over my smooth, solid wrist, and walking round the bar to come face-to-face with me.

I allowed my eyes fall over her body, she was small and petite but I was interested only in the liquid flowing through her veins. Many of the men in the room stared with open mouths at the sight of the two of us. They obviously had tried an abundance of times to bed the barmaid, and by the look on their faces, none had succeeded. I wondered idly what they had tried, though it more than likely began with,

‘Wotcha say we go have some fun eh darlin’?’ I doubted any of them were capable at wooing. Oceana’s expression was blank and impassive as I neared her, standing at the door as if guarding it. I led the barmaid by hand to the tavern door.

‘I’ll wait here.’ Oceana mouthed to me as the woman and myself swept past her and out into the open street. I nodded slightly and proceeded outside. Once outside she entwined her hand with mine, interlocking our fingers, I couldn’t wait to be alone, I just wanted a meal not a spouse. I allowed her, rather begrudgingly, to grab my arm as we walked down the deserted street. I led her past many shops and houses, along to where the road slowly thinned and the light began to ebb away, allowing the houses to become rows of prickly bushes and near-dead shrubbery. The houses soon became rows of bushes and shrubbery.

‘Oh, where are you taking me?’ She whispered excitedly. I ran my hand down her cheek as I leant in close to her greasy hair, whispering back in her ear.

‘Now, I don’t want to ruin the surprise.’ She was suddenly overcome by a small fit of giggles staring into my eyes longingly. I led her onto some grass after passing the last building on the street. The grass was damp and thick, leading into a large green park where, evidently, many couples spent hours with their partner; a few of these couples still lingered. We were far away and I was out of the light of the moon which had now won its battle with the cloud and broke free, bathing the majority of the park in bright, silvery light.

I kept the barmaid to the shadows, surrounded by a long row of trees that provided an excellent canopy. I gently pulled her over to a large hanging tree, thick with blossoming flowers.

‘It’s beautiful!’ she exclaimed as the heavy stench of liquor on her breath wafted towards me. Fighting the growing urge to turn her head so I was not caught in the line of speech, I slid a hand to her throat, caressing it. She obviously expected a kiss as she leant closer to me, closing her eyes. I then closed my hand tightly around her throat, choking her. She kicked and squirmed but I thrust her against the trunk of the tree and blood started to spill from her mouth. She spat a mouthful onto the floor, choking and coughing. Tears leaked from her eyes.

‘Please... please stop!’ she choked out.

Her eyes widened in fear as I leant in and sank my sharp canines into her neck. Her shrieking scream rang in my ears for a split second before I clamped my spare hand over her mouth to muffle the sound and she was paralysed by the venom. Blood gushed into my mouth sloshing, warm and thick. My eyes flew open as the frenzy started to send my body jolting like a bolt of lightning struck me. My parched throat felt dry and burnt like a wildfire but the blood cooled it. I let the blood run fast into my mouth, my hands trembled and I clamped harder on to her face and throat. A loud crack told me her neck had snapped. Her body slumped against the tree, but I held her firmly in place, drinking the blood until I was satisfied. I let her body fall with a thump to the ground, tasting the vile aftertaste of the alcohol that had absorbed into her bloodstream.

At that moment a young man, in his teens, strode past, he took one look at the bloody woman, with her neck snapped in two and let out a scream, the sound was loud and would undoubtedly alert any nearby townsfolk and I hoped there was none in the vicinity. I reacted quickly and instinctively. I thrust out my arm, seizing him by the throat as my canines pierced his carotid artery, this time not drinking the blood, but injecting the venom into the man’s bloodstream; his scream faded in a few seconds as he too, took his last, rattling breath.

After a second, I pushed the teen from my body, looking into his eyes. As I dropped the body, his scent filled my nose and I recognised it as the jogger from earlier. I stopped for a moment, my throat cool and satisfied with its large supply of blood. I felt my muscles pulse slightly as the limitless power coursed endlessly through my body. I relaxed and let my senses take over.

A slight flapping sounded to my right as a bird landed in a nearby tree, rustling and tweeting. I listened carefully. A pair of spiders clicked their pincers in a web somewhere nearby. A faint buzzing noise rapidly stopped as a fly hit the web and was instantly latched on to by one of the spiders. Straining my ears harder, I could just about hear the poison flush down its fangs as it was injected into the fly. As I listened, out of nowhere came the sound of approaching feet, one walker, I heard each footstep, though they travelled at impossible speed. Oceana, I guessed, had just left the tavern. I opened my eyes and in front of me now stood, with blood covering her mouth, Oceana.

She gave me a curious glance and her eyes dropped to my feet where lay the two corpses of my interrupted, messy meal.

‘Shall we discard the bodies?’ She spoke though I knew this was not so much a question as to a suggestion, as one might suggest clearing up after dinner. I bent low and scooped the woman in my arms, she felt weightless. Oceana copied me, carrying the young man. We walked for a minute keeping to the shadows still, watching as the young couples retired for the night, leaving myself and Oceana free to dispose of the bodies in private. I quickly scanned the park and found a large part of it overgrown with weeds and grass, tall enough to tickle my stomach.

I bent down and placed the woman in the tall grass, submerging her body wrapped in a torn and blood-stained dress. Hiding the bodies here would make sure they are undetectable at a distance. Oceana followed suit and we both stood towering over their remains.

‘Come, we have little time to linger.’ I spoke quietly, my eyes pinned on the brightening sky. Not a moment later, we were tearing down the deserted street. Houses flew past me at an unrecognisable speed, but I saw every minor detail, each chip in the brickwork, the dust motes that spun in the air and each tiny grain of dust on the floor, before I passed over it, dispersing it in a hazy cloud behind me. The early morning workers had now started to leave the comfort of their warm houses and head out into the cold to begin setting up shop for the day. Neither I nor Oceana broke pace as we blew past them, at this incredible speed, added by the fact it was still gloomy and the workers were still tired and unaware of our presence, we were virtually invisible. We shot down the roads and paths occasionally bearing to the right or left to avoid a collision with objects such as people or buildings.

The sky grew brighter still, the sun moving faster on the horizon than we were. We were out of the main streets and were now blowing past odd trees and the occasional shop on the outskirts of town. Just as we started hoping we might just make it, the sun broke free, and was upon us. I looked back over my shoulder, the bright sun was inches away from my heels. We both, if possible, managed kicked up a gear, the sun providing us with enough motivation to speed faster and faster, and avoid being turned into a pile of smoking ash. We whistled past a large hanging tree, Oceana was unfortunate and was unable to dodge in time due to the fact she was concentrating on the gaining sun. She ploughed straight into the tree, slicing it clean in half sending bark shards careering in every direction. She screamed as I took a leap to the right, jumping into the shadow of a small shack, run down but, surprisingly and thankfully, standing.

I laid in the dirt, protected by the overhanging shadow, my eyes scanned the sunlit outskirt of the thick forest which surround Castle Blackmoor. My eyes quickly rested upon a bright blue dress and I feared the worst. Just as I bowed my head, from the corner of my eye I noticed the dress move slightly, then, a pale body too. I exhaled a heavy sigh of relief.

‘I’m fine.’ She told me, obviously answering my unspoken question. I wasn’t fooled, I heard her wince.

‘Are you hurt?’ I asked her.

‘No... Well yes, my arm is burnt, nothing too serious.’ She spoke in a none-too-convincing voice. I knew she would heal but still, I worried for her safety.

I thought of a way I could reach her, but I knew soon the sun would pass over the shack, displacing the shadow leaving me exposed. No, she needed to come to me. I quickly thought up an idea that, if done carefully, could work.

‘Oceana,’ I spoke, ‘come here, there is a shack we can stay in, tread carefully and only in the shadows of the trees.’ I told her. This could work if she was careful. I saw her nod from the shadow of the large tree the towered over her. She stood slowly and moved carefully, but quickly. Keeping to the shadows of the thin trees, she finally reached me at the side of the shack.

‘We can’t stay here long, the sun will move across the sky, we must act soon. Let me see your arm.’ I said. Oceana obeyed and placed her arm into my hand. I studied the burn carefully for a moment, the sun had scorched a few inches of her arm, though thankfully, it wasn’t serious and she had only been exposed for half a second at the most. I released her arm and said,

‘You should heal soon, it’s lucky you fed so soon, this could have been much worse, you need rest.’ She agreed she was lucky. I rose from the ground, careful not to let my head touch the light. I examined the wall beside me, it was wooden, and rotten by the look and smell of it. In the next moment, I had clenched my fist and ran it through the rotten wood, grabbing a handful with very little force. I tore out a large doorway for us to climb inside. We both entered. I removed my cloak and pinned it to the newly-made doorway, blocking all light from entering inside. The cabin had one room and was scarce of furniture save one, rotting, wooden chair. I let the smell of the room fill my nostrils. It had a thick, musky smell.

A layer of thick dust and filth had congregated on the stone floor and in many places, the thin wooden walls and been re-boarded up with extra planks of wood. The roof was made of some old, damp, thatch and I wondered idly how long this place had been here for I hadn’t passed it before now, preferring normally to take the longer route home as I wouldn’t normally allow myself to leave it so close to sunrise before heading back.

Oceana crossed the room and took a seat on the chair, I wondered how the rotting wood had supported her weight without turning to splinters.

‘We might as well relax, we are going to be here until nightfall.’ Oceana spoke. I shrugged my shoulders, a kind of non-committal agreement and took a seat on the filthy floor beside her.

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