Obviously edited. I decided having the 'teaser' chapter was too confusing so I have removed it. Might upload it separately. I don't have plans to update this too terribly much due to other fics but I had to at least finish the prologue!
(Also I credit DA Arafel/LJ Pimpyuki for making this backstory with me!)
Sickness hung in the air of the town like a haze of putrid fog. In reality it was only the breath in front of their own faces which carried the deadly illness from one person to the next. It clung to each new victim like a demon, sucking out their life force while liquefying their insides to slush as useless as the half-melted snow which blanketed every cobblestone street. The church was full of infected townsfolk, huddling together as they prayed to God to deliver them some relief from this unending suffering; the alleys were cluttered with many more. The clergy no longer offered anything but prayers for the pitiful victims, burning a fortune in incense alone just to fight off the scent of decay and death which suffocated the streets.
The plague was a curse of God, or some claimed. Nothing made one religious quite like the fear of death. And with this quickly spreading panic, the church was overflowing. However, this was not all for naught. In fact, it seems that all those prayers had been useful. There was a miracle in this small village; word had gotten out that there was a cure. Most people scoffed at this ridiculous notion. 'A cure for the plague? Impossible!'. And yet those who traveled from this aforementioned village all held the power to walk amongst the sick and the dying without ever falling ill themselves. Preaching of this miraculous medicine only to be found within the borders of the Commonwealth, inside the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania, they gained many believers.
It was with great outcry that they learned, upon traveling hundreds of miles to receive this miracle medicine, that the church had recently condemned this cure. 'The Devil's poison', they called it. Drinking it may save your life for now, but it was sure to damn your soul to hell for an eternity when you died. It was less of a deterrent than the church would have liked. And who could blame them, the helpless horde of already sick and dying, when the bodies were piling up by the day! Thankfully for the masses, the city council its self had taken over distribution of the medicine. The Mayor, himself a religious man, calmed the citizens and foreigners alike with promises that he would not stop handing out the cure. But with the shift from church to government, there came a price… quite literally.
The cure now cost a hefty price, and no foreign money was to be accepted! They did accept jewelry and other valuables, and it had even been said that one or two women had been handed into marriage without a dowry just so that their families could survive. Every Sunday they handed out the small green-glass bottles of medicine, collecting the empties later in the day. Turning the empty glass back in would get you a small fee in return and so almost everyone did so. They would even pay you for any small glass bottle you could bring them, causing a ruckus in search of anything that could qualify.
Currently, the town's square was empty of crushing feet, pushing hands, and shoving bodies. Pieces of precious broken glass littered the slush-and-snow covered stones here and there from where a shoving fight had gotten too carried away. It was all being covered by a fresh blanket of snow, as if it could hide all of the filth underneath that pure white. However there was nothing pure about the snow unfortunately, only more cold. An icy chill gripped the night air just as strongly as the sickness did its victims. It entered through the lungs, seeping in right to the core to chill the body from the inside. Warmth left through that same way, in a puff of fog so thick it was almost tangible, chased out by the demon of ice. It attacked the skin as well, covering it with a thin frost until you felt you couldn't move a muscle.
One such victim of the cold went unnoticed in the shroud of night which blanketed the town at this late hour. He'd been there for hours now, ever since the sun was low on the horizon of rooftops visible from the square. He was tired from his day of trying to communicate with the difficult people of this place. Everyone he'd spoken to had either replied in an irritated foreign tongue and shooed him away, or ignored him all together as if he didn't exist. Finally the mayor himself had been able to tell him, in a very thickly accented Russian, that there was no more medicine for today. He'd even given the boy a bit of money for the chipped glass bottle that he had been keeping water in, but then he was told it wasn't nearly enough to purchase the cure.
'Go and ask your parents for more, child.' had been the last straw. In a huff, the young Russian had crunched a pile of already broken glass with his better fitting shoe and trudged off. He hadn't gone far, however. The men had all been talking amongst themselves, and he had heard a few words that he knew. The word for 'medicine' was easy to pick out, and the words 'night' and 'later' had been picked up along his travels. So then, more medicine was coming later tonight! He'd been curious about the man they spoke about, too! Was he a rich man? Some sort of holy man, perhaps? Though the church was calling him a demon; a servant of the Devil. Well a man like that might be interesting to meet too, right? And he would gladly sell his soul for some of that precious medicine!
Though as the hours dragged on the boy was getting less and less excited. The sun had been down for a long time, and with it the cold had only gotten worse. No… It had gotten stronger. Beside the run-down wooden stand which probably used to be a shop, he sat huddled up against the side to escape the soul-chilling wind. Amidst the shadows he was all but invisible in his thin pants and slightly oversized shirt, bare hands clenched together in his lap where his fingers were going numb. On his head sat a thick furry hat that was several sizes too large. It was pushing his messy, ash-blond bangs down into his eyes each time that it slipped down, only to be shoved up again. His mouth and red nose were covered by a dirty scarf, which wrapped around his neck only to reach the ground behind him. Only his eyes were visible at all, twin violet irises against a slightly reddish background.
The boy sniffed again as the wind picked up, his arms and legs already tingling with icy pins and needles. He'd already thought of almost anything that he could in order to pass the time. From the answer to why the answer was blue to the question of what color the sky was, when it was so clearly gray at the time, to why they said green about the grass, when there was only brown. If it wasn't for the pain of the cold, he might have fallen asleep… It was just as those eyes closed to rest for a moment that he heard a sound. A click of glass and small scuffle of shoes on slush-covered stones…
Through the gently falling snow there came a figure, as if right out of the shadow of the alley he stepped out of. He wore along wool coat which fit to his slender frame, buttoned tightly and reaching his knees. It was a thick coat, but it was clearly very old. His shoes were old leather boots, laces fraying and looser than they should have been, but some of the eyelets were missing from the sides. Wind-swept brunette hair hung to about his shoulders, snowflakes decorating it without melting. It was clear to see against this dark night that something was off about this man… It wasn't his skin that stood out, though it was rather strange as well. A pale white, which nearly matched the snow all around him as contrast to his darker hair and clothing. But even more than his appearance was what he carried in his arms.
A large, crude wooden crate rest between the slender man's hands at about waist level. Glass clinked together with every step he took, drawing a worried glance from the man carrying it. Over the top there could be seen that several good-sized glass jars rest inside, and something was moving with each move despite the care the man took to keep the crate still. There was so much… this was all that he could give. There would be no more, despite how much the men would beg him. They only wanted the money now anyway… Ever since the church had condemned him, the officials had only found profit in the plague. It was already at the point that food was scarce. Every living animal was either a pet or used as a last resort for starving townsfolk who wasted nothing.
Reaching the steps of the Mayor's manor, several men filed out of the house's huge double doors. The light from the inside of the house made him wince, though a welcome gust of heat washed over him as two of them came close. They each took a hold of a side of the crate, pulling it away quickly.
"Be carefu—!" The strange man warned, reaching out his hand to study the precious cargo. Glass clinked, and a thin stream slipped out from under the hide which had been tied with twine around the mouth of the jar. Crimson stained the fresh blanket of snow laying over the stairs of the manor, and one of the men gagged noticeably. Another man stepped up, shoving him out of the way to take over his side. They took the crate from the brunette's hands easily then, hurrying away with it up towards that open door. A fourth man stepped out to shoo away the one who had gagged, giving him a glare before he fixed his eyes on the bringer of the crate.
"Mayor Livanaiktis would like to thank you again for this kind contribution. No matter what the church says, we would like to express our thanks for your continued aid…" He was reaching in to his pocket, pulling out a stack of paper money. "On behalf of the Mayor and all the fine folk of this town…" He trailed off as the stranger's green eyes narrowed.
"Oh, I won't accept that!" He protested, holding up his hands. Money from the pockets of people desperate enough to sell their sons and daughters, and their every last possession… He didn't want that kind of blood on his hands!
"We insist," The man continued, taking a hold of the brunette's wrist. He winced at the coldness of that pale skin, but he shoved the stack of money into his palm and let go quickly. The stranger struggled not to let the money fall; not taking it was one thing, but wasting it was another entirely! The villager nodded his head back behind him, to the plump silhouette of the man in the doorway. "We look forward to your continued service to…"
"That's the last of it." The stranger said however, his voice as cold as his wrist had been.
"We can pay more…" He started, but stopped again at the glare that he was leveled with. Giving a bow of his head, he turned on his heel and very quickly fled back up the stairs that he had come from. Double doors closed with a heavy click, shutting off that orange-yellow glow, and the warmth that had come with it. The stranger sighed, shoving the money into his pocket with disdain as he too turned to leave. Some of the money fluttered to the snow, dampening in what had become slush from the men's footsteps, but he paid it no mind.
Feet crunched on glass hidden by snow as he headed away, chaos hidden by a blanket of pureness. This whole city was steeped in it… A miracle cure that had become a demon's poison in a matter of weeks, and humans were losing their souls to obtain it while they crushed their neighbors underfoot. There were freezing, starving bodies in the allies, almost inseparable from the dead. But he knew the difference… He could smell it, even under the stench of unwashed bodies, urine, alcohol, and sickness. The blood… The humans weren't the only ones who were starving.
As he entered one such alley, he didn't even notice the smaller figure some ways behind him, who had stooped to pick up that carelessly discarded money with already frozen fingers. There was so much coughing, sneezing, and groaning from every side that he didn't even hear it. That small sound which would have given it all away. It was the simple high-pitched whisper of a knife being drawn, and the footsteps behind him.
"Ah!" It was a quiet gasp of breath that alerted him, and the stranger turned just in time to catch a glimpse of the flash from the silver of the blade. Starving or not, his body jumped into action. The knife grazed his side, unable to cut past the wool coat to reach the skin beneath. Lashing out with one pale hand, he seized his assailant's wrist in an iron grip, causing him to cry out as he dropped the knife to the ground. Jerking hard, the taller body moved with ease to slam face first into the side of the building as his arm was twisted up around behind his back. Held firmly by his wrist, the stranger grabbed the back of his neck for good measure.
Lips pulled back in a somewhat feral nature as he felt the man's pulse race against his fingers, that neck slick with sweat even in this cold. Fangs poked into his lower lip as he bent close, stopping only a moment later. This collar… a priest! Aha… So, the church was trying to kill him already? The man was spitting curses, and the brunette's entire body was shaking with strain. Each struggle only made the man's heart beat faster, his blood run hotter… Green eyes nearly closed as the stranger gave a low, anguished whine. Pulling back at arm's length, he bit into his own lower lip to resist. No way could he…!
"Are you going to eat him?"
The voice was clear as day, cutting through his haze of bloodlust like a knife through water. Wide green eyes turned to the side in disbelief to behold a figure standing not twenty feet away, down the alley he had come from. It was small, dressed in ill fitting clothes and a hat and scarf. The eyes which met his own were equally wide, though the strangest color of violet…
"Run, child!" The priest was shouting. "This man is a demon!" The said 'demon' in question gave a frustrated growl, annoyed with the man's ignorance. He was speaking Polish, but the child had clearly spoken Russian!
"You should eat him quickly…" The boy remarked, raising one blond eyebrow as he pushed his hat up out of his eyes. But the stranger threw the man away from him instead; the priest coughing as he hit the ground. Scrambling for his footing on the slick stones, the attempted assailant stood up and ran uneasily towards the child. "Ah, your supper!" The boy squeaked in surprise. There was money at his feet, which looked like the money the vampire had dropped moments earlier. He had followed him from the manor at the square?
"Come child! Run!" He called to the boy, touching his shoulder for a strong tug as he ran by. The blond merely stumbled a little, his eyes never leaving that of the vampire's as the priest's fingers slid from his shirt. Too terrified to look back the older man only continued to escape on his own, vanishing around the bend in the alley, his footsteps fading swiftly. The child was giving the brunette a look of awe, but also slight disappointment. His eyes were so bright with curiosity, and for all the wrong things. But his center of interest only shook his head, covering his face with his hands as he fell to his knees and doubled over.
"Go on, boy! Go home!" He shouted to the boy, in an accented Russian. It wasn't his native tongue, but he knew it pretty well by now. But the child only frowned stubbornly.
"I don't live here…" Not even close! Mismatched shoes scuffled as the boy came close, smiling suddenly. "Oh, do you want mine?" He asked excitedly. "I'll give it to you! That's what you want, right? Blood!" The boy added in broken Lithuanian. "For cure. Cure. Do you understand?" He tugged the scarf away from his slender neck, turning his head to the side. That beautiful vein showed plain as day on this dark night, standing out from his skin slightly. The vampire stood and backed away as if he had been burned by the very presence of this child, uncovering his face to gaze at the child in shock. What was he going on about…! Did he even know what it was that he was saying? Ah, the money from the ground… the blood that had spilled... he must have seen it! And then, this attack…! The vampire shook his head quickly.
"No! No, I refuse!" He protested. Standing this close, he could see the boy more clearly now. That nose which was red with cold, pale skin and slender neck… He came to about the brunette's chest, though he couldn't be over nine years old. Oh, just the scent of such a child… There was the faint hint of sickness about him, and yet it wasn't from the boy himself. Healthy, young blood… The vampire covered his mouth with his hand, giving a low groan of anguish. The boy only looked angry now, his voice sharp.
"Yes!" He protested, fists clenching and eyes narrow. "If you don't eat you'll die! Right?" The blonde's voice was rushed now, as if he was anxious. "Ah, I know!" He reached into his pants pocket, pulling out his knife. The brunette tensed, thinking he meant to fight him. But instead the child lifted the knife to his own outstretched forearm, sliding the blade across it before the vampire could react otherwise. Though the blade was old and dull, it made quite a nice cut there. Red blood seeped to the surface at once, gathering and falling in small trickles. The small blond was wincing slightly, and yet his smile stayed. "See? I'm already bleeding… Hurry…!"
The scent alone was overpowering. Fangs dug in to his lower lip hard enough to hurt as his green eyes gravitated to that wound, watching with rapt attention as the first few drops hit the snow—wasted! He swallowed hard, throat tight and oh so dry… His body ached from lack of sustenance for far too long. Dropping to his knees in front of the boy, the vampire's expression was the very picture of anguish as he groaned, "Oh, you fool…" seizing that arm by the wrist firmly. The child seemed to tremble then, though it was not from fear, but in excitement. Pale lips parted as the brunette drew close, his cool wet tongue touching first. He lapped swiftly and expertly at that wound, gathering every drop which threatened to fall.
The boy's lips parted for a gasp, eyes nearly closing as he watched attentively. And the moment that those lips sealed over the gash, he flinched. His arm tensed as the vampire began to suck, the sting shooting up along his arm to tug at his heart its self. It caused his pulse to skip a beat, as his if life had just skipped a moment in time. It was… relief that he felt suddenly. All of the pain from the inside; the harrowing trip to this village, his family's slow dissolution and withering health… It suddenly found at outlet in this. And as for the vampire, he felt nothing… Nothing but satisfaction the moment that the child's thick red blood rolled over his tongue, wetting his parched throat, and soothing the ache of starvation…
The brunette was conscious of the pain he knew that it was causing, he knew it by how the boy's arm tensed, and he heard him gasp once or twice more whenever the pain became too much to hold inside. He hated himself even as he swallowed down that sweet blood, a slave to his own needs for just one moment. And yet the youth never once attempted to pull away, his knife still held tightly in his free hand. He could have used it at any moment; the vampire couldn't be more vulnerable when he was feeding! Yet he waited patiently, the tears in his eyes having little to do with the pain its self. And finally, the vampire ceased to suck at the wound. His tongue cleaned it once again, and he cut his tongue on his own fang. Now the boy gave a soft sound of surprise at the burn that he felt as his skin knitted closed. It was nowhere near healed, the brunette didn't have enough blood in him for that, but when he pulled back it had stopped bleeding completely.
While the stranger licked his lips, giving gasps of breath which created not even a cloud in front of his pale lips, the child looked at his arm in wonder. He put away his knife in a hurry, tracing his fingers over the cut curiously. What had he done…? "Boy," The soft voice spoke in Russian, and he looked up just as the vampire touched his cheek. It was all that the brunette could do to make his expression as affectionate as he felt right now. This sweet child, this little foolish human, how could he even begin to thank him? "You'll need rest," He continued, licking pale lips which had begun to color slightly. "Can I take you home?"
"You're cold…" The child said quietly, as if he had just noticed. After all, the youth's body was cold, but this man was much colder! He blinked his eyes slowly; the tears which had gathered in his eyes slipping down his ruddy cheeks. The vampire swore he felt his unbeating heart breaking. Expression becoming worried, he stood and pulled the boy in close. The youth didn't resist at all, though he was surprised at the sudden affectionate hold. He closed his eyes, leaning in to the taller, though colder man…
"You poor thing, you must be freezing out here!" And now with less blood to warm him, thanks to this stranger! "I hate the cold… We need to get you somewhere warm. Please, tell me where to take you."
"Ah!" The blond spoke up as if just remembering. Violet eyes looked up in alarm, his expression anxious again. "My sisters…! You have to save them! Natasha will die soon, just like mother. And Katya is getting tired too! M-my mother…" Those wet eyes threatened to overflow again, voice strained as his throat tightened as if refusing to let him continue that sentence. The vampire understood all too well; the story was all too common. Even if the children were locked away inside, the parents still had to go out for supplies, making them the most susceptible to the sickness.
"Of course." The vampire agreed readily. It was the least that he could do after what this child had done, what he had risked… "Just tell me your name, and where to find them…" With a swift repositioning of his arms, the child was lifted with little effort on the stranger's part. The boy seemed surprised—he was quite heavy for a child after all!—though he was ultimately delighted at this show of strength. He smiled wide, also happy that his plan had worked even better than he'd ever imagined.
"We're at the inn!" The child's chest puffed out slightly, as much as it could as he was being carried. "My name is Ivan Vikentovich Braginski! What is yours, vampire?" He asked without an ounce of formality or respect. The brunette smiled at this brashness as he headed for the inn.
"It's Toris. Toris Lorinaitis." This name was repeated by the blond youth in his arms, who committed it to memory.
"Lithuanian!" Ivan said in excitement. So, this vampire wasn't Polish, though he had spoken it with the men in the square. He was happy about this, but he didn't elaborate as the vampire confirmed this.
"Ah, yes… Tell me Ivan, is it just you and your sisters?" Though Toris had seen many broken families, it never made it any easier to see children suffering alone. The Russian boy shook his head,
"No, we have Papa! But he's fighting the Turks right now. Mama… She died on the way here, and sister Katya started getting sick, and I carried Natasha here on my own!" He explained as the inn came into view. The streets were all cold and empty, save for the huddled and the dead which lined them. The building its self was old and brittle, probably the cheapest place around and yet even then it was almost empty. Wind whipped around their hair and clothing as Toris stepped inside the front door, letting it slam shut behind him. Stray snow fell to the floor around them from the burst of air, and Ivan shivered. They received but a glance from the man at the desk, who lifted one eyebrow only to look back down again. The Russian pointed with one hand to the stairs, as he continued speaking.
Ivan's family was from Russia originally, but they had moved around a bit due to his father's military career. He was gone when the plague had hit, and his mother had fallen ill first. Like many others, they'd set off in search of the cure… As they neared the door, Toris chided the young Russian about the carelessness of what he had done; what if he had killed him and his sisters were left alone? Ivan only laughed, stating with all confidence that such a thing wouldn't make any sense. Why would a man who went through such lengths to cure the sickness infesting the town, and who turned down a perfectly deserving adult meal, harm a child? And also, he hadn't had any money, and so what other way was he to pay for the cure! A trap, the vampire realized suddenly. And quite a bold one for a human so young.
Toris had no way of knowing the full consequences that he faced as soon as he stepped into that room, passing the threshold and entering into the lives of these three Russians. Little did he know that the impression that he left on that night would catch back up to him, some twenty years down the road…
Katya and Natasha, Ekaterina(Ukraine) and Natalya's intimate names.
Though it's not expressly explained, Toris was giving his blood to be mixed with whatever drink the people giving it out chose. This acted as a cure to the humans who drank it, healing the parts of them affected by the plague and fighting off the remainder of it, effectively 'healing' them.
The date here is around early 1772, before the first partition of Poland/the Commonwealth of Lithuania and Poland. I'll gladly answer any questions you may have in my next chapter notes!