So, after much ado, I present…
16. The Valley of the Sun
She had taken shelter from the heat beneath the shade of an orchard. Legs crossed, head leant back against the trunk of an ancient lemon tree, she allowed the fragrance of the leaves and the fruit wash over her, listening to the whispering breeze and the chattering song birds in the branches.
It is a rare moment of peace. A gentle smile plays upon her lips, and she finds her hands folded in her lap, almost the lotus position. Surely it could not hurt to just rest here for a moment, in the cool shade, a sanctuary from the unforgivable midday heat.
She had not slept last night at all; the hair on her arms had been stood on end for hours, her pupils dancing and darting at every sound the house made around her. Her sense of unease seemed reluctant to abate even when the weak grey light of dawn crept through the shutters. Exhausted after slipping in and out of restless slumber, she had pushed the creaking shutters wide open, inhaling the scent of morning. Upon her exhale, a scream fell from her lips.
So much blood…
Her eyes shot open again, relying on the scent of the waxy lemons and the baking soil to confirm she was in fact no longer in that farmhouse, staring out onto the carnage below. Almost an entire flock of cattle, butchered, and neither she nor the farmers of the household were any the wiser.
She had offered to remain behind, to help with the clean-up. The farmer had declined politely, refusing to take her money for the night's lodging. Yet it was not kindness that made him shoo her away, cold eyes watching her walk off his land and into the daylight. It was fear.
What curse followed her? What was she running from?
She grabbed a fist full of cool dirt, letting it crumble and slip out from between the gaps in her fingers, before repeating the action. Was it so close? Was it waiting for her to slip up just once, maybe forget to light her UV bulb, or for the bulb to fizzle out in the night? Would it then descend upon her and wreak carnage akin to that which had befallen the farmers herd?
She shivered covered in a sheen of sweat beneath the baking heat.
She needed to find help. She couldn't run like this forever, could she? She had been such a fool to trust him, to allow him close, after all the warnings… If you were any wiser, you would stay away from me. Her reasoning powers had never been one of her strong points. She had always been short-sighted, had always wanted to take the safer route. Yet the danger about him had enticed her, pulled her in so close, she had no other choice…
It was too late to dwell on such things now.
She stumbled to her feet once again, shouldering her pack of few belongings. The night was half a day away yet, but its shadow haunted her, a leering promise of fear and restless sleep, hiding within its shadowing confines the terrors of this world. Terrors which she had been oblivious of, until now. Terrors which were more aware of her than she of them.
Her boots crunched over dirt. One step at a time, under the Spanish sun.
It was all she could do.
She was able to hitch a ride on the back of a hay cart later on that day, with an elderly goat for a companion, crossing more distance than she could have hoped for on her own two wearied feet. The driver had seemed amiable enough, squinting from beneath his straw hat as if struggling to understand her Spanish. He had merely grunted his understanding and waved away her gift of money before turning and hoisting himself up into the truck's rusty cabin. The engine had juddered to life, carrying them over the dust track at a bumbling pace, jostling her around in the open truck bed. She soon became thankful for the hay, which despite causing her to sneeze, acted as cushioning.
She used the time the Samaritan farmer had given her to think, reclined against a bale of hay, gazing up at the cloudless sky, and despite the rickety, side-to-side motions of the truck as it bobbed its way along the dirt track, soon she found herself drifting off in a restful doze.
She opened her eyes much later, taking only moment to notice that the stutter-stop motion of the old wagon had indeed come to a halt. The skies above were hazy, telling her that hours had passed—in fact, it was almost dusk. A spasm of panic overtook her; she needed to find shelter, and fast. After what she found waiting for her when she had woken that morning, she didn't want to run the risk of finding out who- or indeed what—had been responsible.
Her muscles complaining at her sudden movement, she scrambled out of her temporary nest among the hay stacks, just as her driver stepped down out of the cabin.
In the dying light, she considered him, her thank you caught in her throat. He was fair haired, a disorderly mop revealed by the absence of that inauspicious straw hat. It was certainly rare to see such light hair… and his eyes, a piercing blue, gleaming coolly out from beneath deep set eye sockets.
"Thank you for your kindness sir, but I need to find shelter for the night. Please can you tell me where I can…"
She paused, for he was chuckling dryly, turning his back to her as he struck a match to light a cigarette pinched between his lips. "Take a look around sweetheart." Her ears were assaulted by a brisk, alien accent. American, perhaps, though she struggled with the exact state. "You're in the middle of nowhere. What kinda shelter were you expecting?"
She lowered her head. "I had hoped I would have time before… before sundown to find a farm house-"
"So that's what you've been doing all this time? An' You're still alive?" He laughs again, white-blue smoke curling out from his mouth. "Turn around. That's gunna be you shelter."
Pivoting on her heel, palm shielding her eyes against the orange glare of the setting Spanish sun, she notices the compound for the first time.; it is nestled in a valley, bisected by a trickling silver stream, filtering down from the mountain it is back up against. From her vantage point on the ridge where the truck had come to a stop, she can count numerous buildings and halls, as well as open squares, all surrounded by brick walls twice as tall as she was.
"Welcome to Day walker land, lady."
She swallows, turning to consider her driver once more. "Day walker land?"
"Well, it's called The Valley of the Sun. But I prefer Day walker land." He stalks off ahead, making to start a descent of the ridge and down into the valley, the goat that had been her companion at his heels.
"Wait!" She called out to him, panicking. "Who are you? And why did you bring me here? How did you know who I was?"
"Easy, lady, one at a time!" He raises callused palms in defence against her verbal battery. "My name is Cid. I was told to bring you here. And honestly, haven't got a fuckin' clue who you are. Now let's get a move on before that sun sinks below those there mountains. Don't wanna get stuck out here, knowing what's chasing you."
Her heart spasmed in her chest, feet rooted to the spot as she battled with her indecision. He was certainly right about one thing; she didn't want to stay out in the Spanish wilderness after nightfall. She worried her lip, trying her best to fathom who had sent him to bring her here, and why. Kane had been a day walker, she told herself, and he had tried to help her. Surely, she would be safe here?
Cid watched her silently, the angry orange ring of his cigarette flaring momentarily in the dying light. "Alright. Just tell me who sent you."
He shook his head. "I ain't got time for this. One of us is dead, and its 'cause of you. There's gunna be fuckin' war, you're sat dead-centre, and you're worried about who sent me?!"
"Dead?" She repeated, cold settling it her gut. "It can't be Kane?"
His silence told her more than his words could. Her legs suddenly heavy, she followed the gruff man, only half-listening to his muttered tirades as they descended the steep ridge down into the Valley of the Sun.
She wasn't paying any attention to where her unwilling guide led her, instead watching her weary feet carry her there. They passed through the main gate, a heavy creaking monstrosity of solid silver (a fact kindly provided by Cid), and into a spacious, flame-lit courtyard. She raised her head up.
All around the courtyard stood beautiful women and men with golden hair, deep straw to the palest yellow, watching her carefully. Their skin told of years spent toiling beneath the sun, kissed golden or olive. The women all wore identical floor-length dresses, with one-shoulder exposed, though the colour seemed to vary. The men wore rich linen pants festooned with golden belts, their chests bare and gleaming in the glow of the torches.
She was looking upon the elite human sub-race of the day walkers.
"Is this the girl?" One of them spoke, a tall mature woman with hair the colour of sun-kissed wheat, falling to her waist in tumbling waves. Tifa could sense the authority in her voice, and her dress stood out, being pure white.
Cid puffed on his cigarette. "Uh-huh. Make no mistake. I been on her trail for days."
She whirled around, heart racing at an near-unhealthy pace. "You butchered those cattle this morning?"
Cid frowned, shaking his head. "That was—that wasn't me. Whatever it was—it knew I was there. But I think he didn' wanna risk upsettin' the Sun Squad."
"Must you insist on your infantile nicknames…" The mature golden-haired woman sighed deeply, massaging the bridge of her nose.
"Please…" Tifa's voice was barely loud enough to register over the babble of chatter that had erupted at Cid's comments. Some were laughing; the younger ones, Tifa noticed who wore faultless robes of scarlet and yellow. Their elders seemed worried; they conversed among themselves, voices hushed and hurried. Something was clearly unsettling them. "I just want to know what the FUCK IS GOING ON?!"
All eyes settled on her, the only dark-haired woman there, with her travel-stained clothing and heaving shoulders. "I just… want to know what I've done. Cid said someone had died… and it was my fault."
The mature woman stepped towards her, maternal concern etching her features. "Cid, you've done enough thank you. I will speak with you later. For now, this young woman deserves some rest. Abigail, Trystan!" At her authorities tone, two beautiful young Day Walkers came forward; the former couldn't have been older than sixteen. "Prepare one of the vault-rooms for our guest. Make sure she has everything she needs."
Many of the Day Walkers were retreating into the various outbuildings by now, though still the buzz of her arrival seemed to be playing on their minds; they cast their gazes back, wondering what danger she was bringing to their doorstep. By now, their shadows stretched tall and dancing in the flame torches. Once she was satisfied they were relatively alone, the woman spoke again, taking Tifa by the arm and guiding her at a steady pace across the courtyard.
"Now, Tifa, isn't it? My name is Maergery, and I am the elder here. We have a lot to discuss, but first I must insist you eat something and make sure you are comfortable."
They entered through several doorways before reaching what appeared to be Maergery's private quarters. Young Day walkers barred the doors from the inside and retreated into the shadows, though Tifa was ever conscious of their graceful presence in the background. She found herself seated in a high-backed cushioned chair at a table spread with wonderful food. Her stomach growled insistently, yet she found she could not manager much-The anxiety weighed too heavy upon her. Yet out of politeness to her host, who sat adjacent to her sipping at a beaker of wine, she forced down some cured meat and a few morsels of fruit.
Her hunger delayed momentarily, she took a moment to appraise the room. The walls were of bare, sand-coloured stone, festooned with white banners bearing a sigil in gold; a burning sun, bisected by a pointed silver knife. A log fire burned in an open hearth. "What is this place?"
"It is a safe house, if you will- You aware of our co-existence with the Night Dwellers?"
"The Vampires…" The word never sounded real to her. "Yes."
Maergery nodded curtly. "Well, we house them here, should they wish to… go away for a little while. Tens of feet below us, out of reach of the sun's rays, lie vaults. It is there that we keep them, safe from their enemies. In return, we are given vitality, and protection. It is a balance that has existed for centuries and centuries."
"Cid… he mentioned something about a war…" Maergery's full lips became a firm line. Clearly she didn't approve of Cid's approach.
"Cid—although he is what you might call an idiot—he is right. There is something on the horizon, something close to breaking… I can feel it." For a moment, the woman was not in the room. She gazed into the flames that crackled merrily in the hearth, and Tifa had to wonder just how old she was, to be an elder. To her eyes, she appeared a youthful forty. She had a dignified beauty about her. "Kane…" She shakes her head slowly, finishing with a deep sigh.
"He's dead, isn't he?"
"Yes- I knew it before word reached me. Of course I would know—he was my son."
"I'm sorry, Maergery. He was very kind to me." Tifa's hand faltered halfway across the table, unsure of how to comfort this woman, or if indeed it was her place to.
"His death was his punishment." Her stare hardened, cobalt irises smouldering in the firelight. "He has brought war upon us."
"Punishment for what?"
"Oh Tifa. Sweet child of Eve…" firm fingers reached over to cup her chin. "His was the greatest deception. You trusted him, and he betrayed you. He betrayed all of us."
"Please…" Tifa begged, clutching at the hand that offered her little comfort. "What deception?"
"He wanted revenge against Scarlett. Decades ago, she murdered his lover. Drained her dry." Tifa's blood ran cold in her veins, her knuckles tightening as the gripped the table. "And what better way to do it, than plant his seed within you—descendent of the finest of bloodlines. Scarlett's only remaining descendant, a blood line that she had dedicated herself to protect."
"Seed?" She raises her hand to her stomach. The dream… had it all been a lie? The room started to spin.
"He violated your trust, and he violated your body. Now you carry within you a being of the purest blood. Half Day Walker, half blood of Eve."
"…Eve?" She'd never been religious. Surely Maergery didn't believe that she…
"It's a blood line that can be traced back to humanity's very beginning- A blood line that has always been lusted for by the Night Walkers. Some wanted to preserve it, so that it may be indulged upon, and yet it was near hunted to extinction…" Something changed in her expression. She stood slowly, fingers poised upon the table top. "And so, here you sit. Marked by a Night walker, blood of Eve, and a Mother of Day."
Thanks to those who nagged me. I knew I needed to get down to it. It was finding some boyfriend-free time to do it. I hope you enjoyed it, and please forgive any errors. 90% of this I wrote today.