Summary: Even the darkest nights end eventually.
Warnings: Possible disturbing imagery, death.
Disclaimer: I do not own Last Exile, no money is being made form this use.
Chapter 2: The Night
Alex startled awake, and looked about the grove of trees he had decided to rest in during the day. His horse was grazing near the stream. Sitting up he ran a hand through his hair, and cringed. He really needed to bathe, but these days it was a difficult task. Especially if one wanted hot water. Clean water was hard enough to come by in some places. He had never thought he would actually miss something about the Roman Empire. Sighing he looked at the stream. It would have to do. He walked over to where he had set the horse gear, and his other bags. He began searching through the saddle bags. He looked at the horse. "You haven't seen the dog anywhere have you?"
The scruffy, bay mare just flicked an ear at him and went back grazing. "I didn't think so. I wonder where he got to this time."
The dog had been the gift of Lord Urbanis, he was actually one of the god's own hunting hounds, which made him a deity himself. His name was Vincent, and while he preferred his true form, he could also take human form when necessary. Alex honestly found him annoying at times, but Vincent had proved his worth over the years, and though Alex hated to admit he had become a friend.
There were times like this however that Vincent would have to leave on business for Lord Urbanis. He never spoke of what it was, he would just vanish one day and return several days later. Alex had learned not to ask. He had been hoping Vincent would return soon though. He was on his way to a small village under the control of a vampire, and having Vincent with him would make the job much easier.
Vampires, like many things that plagued humans were the fault of elvish magic. Though to their credit it was unintentional. No elf would ever want any human to have that kind of power, no matter how twisted they became. The first vampires were people who had unknowingly been buried by their loved ones in ancient elven battle fields. Places that to human eyes looked no different from the fields they plowed, and raised their livestock in. But they were still saturated in ancient elvish magic from a time when there had been many queens, when the ancestors of humanity still cowered in caves, each trying to destroy all the others in catastrophic battles. Even after so many ages had passed, grains would not grow in these places, and animals would starve themselves before eating a single blade of grass, So they were used for the dead. Though it was rare, sometimes the magic would seep into a casket, into a body, and someone thought lost forever would return. But they were never the same. It wasn't all bad at first. There were even still villages in remote areas where vampires happily watched over the decedents of their loved ones subsiding contentedly on pigs blood, or when needed blood offered by humans. They protected, and loved the people they lived among. But there were just as many who returned blood thirsty beasts. It was almost unknown by those living today, but the first vampire hunters had been vampires themselves.
It had taken Alex two hundred years to find a village where one of the ancient hunters lived, and more than five hundred to learn everything the seemingly frail wrinkled old man had, had to teach him.
He had died several times in the process. He'd always woken up to a bowl of hot stew, and a detailed list of everything he had done wrong. He had persevered however, and learned all the things that the human hunters had forgotten, or ignored. Weaknesses varied from vampire to vampire, though none could stand the sunlight. To some it only brought terrible pain, or a paralysis like they had died again. To others it brought instant death, turning them to ash. Religious symbols of any kind worked, but those from the religion the vampire had worshiped in life were most effective. The most important thing of all was the wooden stake, it did not matter what it was made of or when it was made, but its purpose was indispensable for keeping the dead in their graves. Driven into the heart of a vampire, the wood would drain out the magic that had given the vampire its unnatural life to begin with. In time, even in the depths of the darkest crypt a tree would grow. Alex preferred wood from trees that did not produce anything edible. While animals could sense the presence of magic, most humans had no such ability, and an apple grown from wood driven into a vampire tended to have strange effects on those who ate it.
After bathing in the frigid water Alex dressed and saddled his horse. He's lost time waiting for Vincent to return. He needed to get to the village before nightfall. This was not an area where one wanted to be out of doors during the night. Even if he was 'not vulnerable' so to speak he'd rather not lose another horse so soon, they were getting expensive. He'd spend the night at the in and head to the manor of the "local Lord" in the morning. It didn't take much longer to reach the village. He wasn't surprised to find several other hunters already there, they all looked very unhappy about something as he rode up to the inn. A short grey haired man was standing surrounded by the angry hunters. A tall burly man grabbed, the short man. "You've got to be jokin' I come all this way and the reward ain't even worth ant piss!"
"Pl...please!" the little man stuttered trembling. "Everyone in t..the village has given all they can spare! It's all we have, won't any of you accept?"
The brutish man sneered and dropped him back on the ground. Many in the crowd were already leaving, getting their horses, or carts ready for travel though it would be night soon. Alex walked over and helped the little man back to his feet. "Is there a room at the in?"
The man blinked him. "..Oh, Yes there are a few rooms available...Are you a hunter as well?" He asked having regained his composer.
Alex nodded. "I'll head out in the morning, what can you tell me about the vampire?"
"Y..you mean you'll take the job?" Alex only nodded in response. They walked to the inn together. The man, named John was the village leader, he told Alex everything he could. "So our Lords abandoned us to our fate. Many men from the village have tried to kill the vampire, but even going in groups during day light none returned. It has some servant to protect it during the day. We discovered garlic keeps it away...There was an incident a few years ago, a woman was attacked, and...her infant son was taken. It was only a few that a woman traveling through insisted we use garlic. We were doubtful but it worked. The vampire's retribution to our fields, and animals is terrible, but it's better than losing our children...I wander sometimes what happened to that girl, she was gone the next morning. In any case we don't know how much longer we can continue to live like this. Winter is coming, and we don't have enough food stored, or money to buy it from other places."
Alex nodded again. "Thank you, Don't worry about payment. I'll take it from the vampire. I won't be returning to the village after I finish anyway."
"But...How will we know?"
"You will know."
He left early in the morning. There had been no attacks on the village in the night. Alex suspected the hunters who had left before nightfall had been more appetizing targets than sheep, and cattle. By late morning he could see the vampire's manor in the distance. He rode a bit closer before deciding to leave the horse. He took what he needed from the bags, and removed the saddle and bridle, leaving her loose should she need to run.
He walked calmly past the front gate that had been left open, vampires usually had no need for locked gates or doorways, even during the day they had protection. Alex wasn't surprised by the well-tended gardens, or by the servants tending them. Revenants, victims of the vampire who had been killed, but not changed into vampires. They were soulless corpses doing their masters bidding until their bodies became too decayed to continue working. The revenants ignored him, their purpose was not to protect, so he was able to walk to the large mansion unhindered. He paused seeing a face he recognized. It was the brutish hunter from the day before, the drained and withered corpse now mindlessly worked on removing a dead tree from beside the high wall of the garden.
Sensing something, he quickly turned to one of the upper windows of the mansion. There was nothing there save a slightly shifted curtain. Someone had been watching him however. Taking one last glance at the hunter, and spotting a few others he recognized he turned and walked into the house. There were more revenants inside. Doing domestic chores, the place was decorated like a palace, and well kept. The vampire probably had a vast fortune, and connections to a city somewhere. He tried to keep an eye on the revenants now. There was no telling if the true danger was hiding among them waiting for him to let his guard down.
He was able to make it to an elaborate ball room where the vampire's protector was calmly waiting for him. It was a girl with her back turned to him she had long straight brown hair, and was wearing what looked like a powder blue nightgown. Not wanting to waist time he took out an iron dagger and prepared to attack. She turned as he closed in causing him to stop dead in his tracks, as he stared into the face of a ghost. It was the first big mistake he had made in years.
Alex wasn't sure where he was he wandered slowly through a lavish hall. Someone grabbed his hand, and he turned. Lady Euris tried to pull him in the opposite direction looking frantic. He tried to ask what was wrong, but could not speak. Instead he followed her past gilded framed portraits, and ornate furniture, and decorations. At the end of the hall was a door just as lavish as the rest of the hall, he reached for the handle...
As Alex's eyes opened the first thing he realized was that he could not move. He was lying on a bed, and there was none of the usual stiffness, or soreness that usually came with waking from death. Hearing the soft rustle of fabric, he managed to turn his head. The girl was pacing quietly cradling something in her arms, and paying him no attention as she did so. As she turned, he got a good view of what she was carrying. He felt sick, it was another revenant, the infant that had been taken from his mother. He turned away, mentally cursing himself for being distracted by the girl's appearance. He could see in the afternoon light coming from the windows that she did indeed have a strange resemblance to Lady Euris, he could also see many differences now, but the similarity was eery. He looked away. As she passed close to the bed he cringed at the scent of decay coming from the baby, soon followed by the smell of...garlic?...
He looked at the girl again. "You're the one who told the villagers about the garlic aren't you?" She stopped going stiff, but not turning to face him. "It was because of what he did to the baby, wasn't it? Who are you?"
"Mother found out about the garlic when I was little. She used to soak my clothes in it, and rub it in my hair...It was the only thing that kept father away." She stated calmly, and quietly still turned away from him. A dhampir, the half-breed child of a vampire, and some unfortunate human woman. Dhampir were rare. They were usually killed by one of their parents at birth. Mother, out of pity, fathers out of fear. Vampires, thanks to the elven magic were able to reproduce as humans did, which is what made dhampir possible. Though while a Vampire woman could give birth to a fully vampire child, it was exceptionally rare for one to carry a half-blood to term. Their bodies simply weren't able to provide everything a half human child needed to survive. The girl continued. "He said the baby was a birthday present." Her voice cracked slightly. "That...That I should be happy...because it would give me something to do... That I wouldn't have to feel lonely any more." She held the tiny revenant closer, every once in a while it would manage to take in a gulp of air and let out a gasping, dry noise as if it were trying to cry. It could no longer feel anything, and did not need food or warmth, but it still attempted to act like a baby, most likely because it had ordered to by the girl's father.
"You realize it's dead don't you? Just like the servants. You could bury it, and it would never know the difference."
The girl turned to glare angrily at him. "How you know he can't feel! How do you know they can't feel!" She turned away again. "You're going to end up just like them. You should be more sympathetic."
"I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention to upset you. But when your father is killed they'll all go back to being lifeless corpses, even the baby." Alex said watching her carefully.
"No one will ever kill Father. We'll all be trapped here forever." The girl said morosely, gently rocking the baby as it attempted to cry again.
"You could leave. You can travel during the day that gives you quite an advantage." He said trying to find a way to break the binding spell on him.
I've tried. He always finds me, no matter how far I go."
"My name is Alex, what's yours?" Alex asked trying to change tactics. At this rate the vampire would wake soon, and he'd rather not die again if he could avoid it. She turned glaring at him in annoyance. He tried smiling at her. "Consider it the last request of a foolish man about to die."
She rolled her eyes at him. "It's Sophia, and you can just stop right there. You aren't the first idiot who's tried to save his skin by seducing me."
Sighing Alex gave up. "Damn, I'm going to die again." He thought grimacing slightly. He wondered what kind of spell she was using to keep him from moving. He couldn't find any weakness in it. He watched Sophia who seemed very determined to ignoring him now. "How long has it been since he's let you have any blood?"
Sophia stiffened slightly again. "How can you tell?"
"You aren't the first dhampir I've come across. You can go years without taking blood, but it shows."
She glared at him again, and was about to say something when the door opened and an old man walked in. Unnoticed by both of them as they spoke, the sun had set. Sophia, still holding the baby immediately backed against the wall keeping her head down. "I've caught another hunter for you, Father." Without warning the vampire swept out his arm and hit Sophia with enough force to send her flying into a mirror hanging on the wall. The mirror shattered, and Sophia dropping the baby fell to the floor and did not move again. Alex was still trying desperately to move when the vampire grabbed him.
When Alex woke again, it looked to be nearly midday outside. He had been left on the floor of the room Sophia had brought him to. He sat up stiffly, he ached all over and his shirt was ripped and covered in blood. He could feel where new skin had grown over his neck, and shoulder, and down to his collar bone. The vampire was a messy eater apparently. There was no sign of Sophia, but when he finally managed to stand he saw something that made his blood runs cold. The revenant baby had been left lying over the broken mirror shards where it had landed. Considering how Sophia had treated it the day before he doubted she would willingly leave it there. Something must have happened to her. He carefully picked it up, it was nearly mummified the darkened skin dried, and cracked from it trying to move. Several of its bones had been broken by the impact. He found its blanket not far away and wrapped it back up again. Before placing it on the bed.
The first thing he did was find his equipment left on the floor of the ball room, and returned to the room with the baby. It was something he usually did for some revenant animals, but the baby was small enough it would work. Taking one of his knives he carefully cut through to the baby's unmoving heart, and pressed a small seed to it. The effect was immediate. The revenant stilled, and the seed began to sprout. Alex sighed re-wrapping the tiny corpse in its blanket. The least he could do was find somewhere to bury it, before he searched for Sophia, and her father.
Walking slowly through the mansion, being once again ignored by the other revenants he turned a corner and stopped. It was the hallway from his dream. Overcome with a sudden sense of urgency he ran down the hall still carrying the small body with him till he reached the door. On the other side was a sun filled courtyard, and Sophia, dress nearly shredded, and chained with heavy iron manacles, and nothing to protect her from the sun. Sun light could not kill a dhampir out right but it was still very dangerous to them. Sophia in her blood starved state already had nasty blisters forming over her unprotected skin. Alex set the baby down beside the door and went to Sophia. She was barely conscious, and unresponsive. He ended up using a spell to release the chains and carried her to the door, he paused remembering the baby, grimacing he decided to leave it for now.
He carried Sophia through the halls till he found another bedroom. Placing her on the bed he tried to get her to respond, but weak, and feverish she kept fading in and out of consciousness. Finally knowing nothing else would help he cut his arm and placed it against her lips. The reaction was immediate, as Sophia grabbed his arm and sank her small fangs into it. Wincing he looked away as she fed. He wasn't expecting it when she suddenly pulled away from him, staring wide eyed in disbelief. She reached up to touch him before it seemed she thought better of it and pulled her hand back. The blisters had already begun to heal, but her she still felt feverish when he tried to keep her from getting up.
"Sophia, Sophia! Listen to me. I need to know how to find your father. Where does he sleep during the day?"
"Where is the baby?"
Alex sighed. "The baby is dead Sophia. I was going to bury it when I found you. I need know where your father is, please." He waited wondering if he would have to fight her. Still healing, and exhausted she didn't move.
"In the library" She finally answered after a while, her voice barely above a whisper. "Behind the book shelves on the north wall. There's a secret door. The staircase behind it leads to Father."
"Thank you. I'll come back for you when I've finished." He said pulling the blankets over her before he got up to leave.
"If you have time...I'd like to be buried beside the baby, I think." At the door Alex turned and looked back at her, but Sophia had already pulled the blankets over her head. He wasn't sure but he thought he heard her crying as he left.
The first thing he did was return to the courtyard, and bury the child. He grabbed his equipment before heading to the library. It was after noon now but he hoped he still had plenty of time before the vampire woke again. He walked unhindered down to the tomb. Reaching the bottom, he paused feeling a presence.
"...I see" A voice echoed through his mind. "I've heard of you cursed one. How pathetic, you could rule this world until the end of days under your own power. Surely the son of a king would have that right. Yet you chose to wander destroying those who would aid you. How weak."
"I wonder, did you think this way in life? Or have you just been a monster for so long that you've forgotten how humans think?" Alex countered undisturbed by the vampire's telepathy. "You can't move can you? That's why you needed Sophia a competent guard dog during the day."
The laughter was almost painful. "I see your mind, cursed one! My daughter is far more than a dog to you is she not? Will you do as she has asked, or will you try to make her your own pet? She's never known a man before, perhaps you could impress her."
Alex pushed the lid off the granite sarcophagus, and pulled the lid off the wooden coffin inside. The vampire lay there even hidden away from the sun he was little more than a corpse under its power.
"No." The vampire continued laughing even as Alex prepared the stake and hammer. "You'll try to free her, and in years to come she will be one of your victims as well."
The laughter continued right until Alex drove the stake into the body. Even before he had finished the small sharpened piece of cedar had begun to sprout. After he had finished, he picked up his things and left. Walking through the halls back to where he had left Sophia, he could see the rest of the revenants had already collapsed. The magic keeping them animated gone the oldest of them were now crumbling to dust.
Sophia was asleep when he entered the room. He watched for a while, wondering if he should kill her, and bury her beside the child as she had wanted. Even her fathers death would not make her human. Eventually he sighed in frustration with himself and leaving her again went to the stables he had seen on the other side of the courtyard. There were several horses, but most looked half crazed. Knowing they would never be tamed again, after being driven mad by the vampire he let them loose. He eventually found a surprisingly gentle little gray pony. It probably belonged to Sophia. He found a saddle and other things that fit it, and lead it around to the front gate. Vincent was waiting there with his own horse. He glared at the dog. "Watch her." Taking his own saddle bags, and the pony's he went back into the mansion. Finding the vampires fortune didn't take nearly as long as he thought it would. He filled some of the bags with what gold they could care without overburdening the horses. He then found Sophia's which was more difficult, and packed some clothes for her in the remaining bags. Moving more quickly he took the bags outside and dropped then in front of Vincent. "Put those on the horses. I'll be back."
Vincent shifted to human form and frowned at him. "Getting a bit greedy aren't you?...I mean not that I think you don't deserve it or anything, but you've never taken this much treasure before. And what do we need the pony for? She's said some very hurtful things, and tried to bite me!"
Alex disappeared back into the mansion without answering. He walked quietly into the room where he had left Sophia. Wrapping the blankets around her, he picked her up. This was probably one of the stupidest things he had ever done, but he couldn't bring himself to kill her. The dream was still too vivid in his mind, he felt with every fiber of his being that Lady Euris wanted him to protect this girl for some reason. When he got back outside the sun was beginning to set, and Vincent was arguing with the pony. He handed Sophia to Vincent so he could mount his horse.
"Alex...This is a dhampir..." Vincent said looking at him flatly.
"I know." He replied taking Sophia back from him. Taking the pony's reigns he tied them to his saddle to lead her as he rode away.
Remaining in human form Vincent managed to climb up on the pony even though she kept trying to bite him. He looked very awkward never having ridden a horse before. "OK...Why are we taking a dhampir and the most evil pony ever with us?" He swatted at the pony's nose. "Stop that! You are being very disrespectful!"
"If you don't like it, feel free to leave." Alex replied ignoring Vincent's struggles with the pony.
They had just crested the first large hill away from the village and manor when Sophia shifted, and looked up at him sleepily. "The people are coming." Alex turned back toward the way they had come. She was right. Even though night was falling, the people of the village every able man, woman, and child was marching toward the manor. With axes, saws, hammers, and fire. At one time it would have taken weeks, or months for those who had been under the control of a vampire to brave the creatures dwelling place, sometimes the courage never came and the humans simply waited for another master to come and bring terror to them. Times were changing. They would take what goods were there, bury the bodies, tear down the buildings and burn what was useless. They would drag the vampire into the sun, and bury him in a shallow grave. In time, a tree would grow. "No one will ever come back here will they?" Sophia asked quietly laying her head on his shoulder.
"No. No one will come. The people are too angry to be afraid now. That will be enough to keep others like your father away. This land belongs to humans now." He looked down at her. She smiled a bit before closing her eyes and going back to sleep.
Vincent still managing to stay on the pony frowned at them. "What exactly are we going to do with her?" Alex ignored him and got the horse walking again. "Alex!...er...She is a dhampir right?"
"...Why does she smell like garlic?"
Alex sighed. "It's...a long story."