This is hardly my first pandemic.
It wears on me. My wraiths feel it, too, in their limited way, dusting and cleaning with quick, furtive movements, though none of these current events can harm them.
Also, it has apparently drive my assassin mad.
“Just how thick are you?” says my knife, my Terrance, utterly out of line. “Outside? Outside? You’re safe in here, you absolute gobdaw!”
The human on whom he vents his anger gasps as though he set her crosswords on fire – and as though she did not start this by claiming we keep her here against her will.
Terrance has never entertained falsehoods.
“You can’t talk to me like this!” she hollers, so shrill that my wraiths shudder.
“Just did,” he snarls.
Ms. Mary Jane Patterson, who is normally a laid-back woman, an excellent blood donor and submissive employee, now has become quite loud. “How dare you! I am a Votary. You owe me respect.”
He stares at her. “Look, lady: If you really want to die that bad, I can personally offer more pleasant ways.”
They have argued like this for at least five minutes, back and forth and miserable. Terrance has never liked this particular Votary – she is too cautious for his tastes, too limited in conversation. She has never liked him, either – she finds him crude, brash, and wild. Still, his impatience here is inexcusable.
She raises her chin. “You can’t understand. You don’t have family out there, all alone. You… you’re not even human! You don’t even care!”
And that is inexcusable on her part.
So help me, I am irritable enough today that I want to let this slide.
This situation, I remind myself, is not her fault. Humans do not understand, do not possess perspective of life beyond their current generation. How can they, given how young they all are? Every century, they seem younger yet –
Ah, a change in the battle: instead of replying, Terrence hisses like a Komodo dragon.
This is not a good sound, and alas, I must intervene. “Knife,” I say, gently as possible – for I understand his irritancy. “She is afraid.”
Terrance bares his teeth.
In response, Mary looks to me for rescue. Her eyes gleam with unshed tears, which threaten to tremble down her cheeks at any moment. Her pleading is palpable, a trembling and terrible weight poisoned with worry. “I have children,” she says, as though I have forgotten that paying for her daughter’s medical bills is her reason for being here. “I can’t leave them alone in this. I have to at least see her.”
Terrance points at her, appealing to me for reason. “She comes back, she’ll come back carrying disease, and she puts all the humans in danger.”
They are both correct. And they peer at me, waiting for my impossible judgement, as though this were so simple and clear.
I do not wish to be Father today.
I do not wish to be be the Blood King, Nox Aeterna, Lord of the Night Whispers. I wish to simply be Night, bearing the burden for nobody – alone, communing with the wind and underestimating the freedom that comes from loneliness.
But these are selfish thoughts, and that is not my role. I have created this family by choice, and so, their burdens, I must bear.
I love them; she, too, has family, and in her fear, struggles to weigh the risks of proximity. I will fulfill my role. So too will she. “Mary Jane, come to me.”
She does, eager in spite of herself, swallowing in anticipation that perhaps I will gentle her fears of illness and economy with the power of my bite. “Yes, sir?”
I do not bite, but I do Ease her.
She gazes into my eyes and is lost, tension melting from her shoulders, and she smiles as though I am all that exists in her world.
It will not last. It is not a long-term solution for her faulty beliefs and short-sighted fears; yet this is, perhaps, the way to start. “Have you spoken to Sipho today?”
“No, sir,” she replies dreamily.
“Go to her. Tell her your fears; tell her your worries. She will hear you. If it is best for you to go home, you shall.” And this is more than a suggestion.
Mary smiles at me as though I granted her the blissful kiss she craves, and goes to do as I say.
Terrance watches her, eyes narrowed, his lips a tight, thin line. “Dangerous, that one. We should kick her out.”
“To become a Votary requires much testing,” I remind him softly. “She was correct: she has earned some respect. Fear has done this to her, my child; fear for her loved ones and her future, since she is not a Patron and will not be made into one of us. Her temporary insanity will likely pass. Nevertheless, if Sipho says she must leave, she will.”
He scowls. Anger flushes behind his many freckles, presenting me with deeply orange rebellion. “She’s fomenting trouble, I tell you. She’s telling everybody conspiracy shit. They’re all gonna panic.”
And it seems my work is not yet done. “Terrance, come to me.”
He needs no compelling to do so, ever-eager for my presence no matter the hard things I ask of him. “What if she spooks everybody?” he says. “What if…”
He leans into my touch and stops speaking.
I smile. “You seem to have lost your train of thought.”
His lips move against my wrist. “We can’t afford some idiot bringing that virus in here,” he murmurs. “What if the Patrons get it? They’re not ready to be made, not one of ’em, and if they’re dying, we’d have no choice.” He rests his fangs against my skin, asking, self-comforting, for even this touch is trust.
“We will protect the Patrons, as always. We will also protect the Votaries – though if they choose to leave, we will let them. They will, however, never come back.”
He lifts his mouth from my skin to look at me. “You mean that.”
“I do. The willingness to endanger those near them is my concern, more so than any worry I have for them endangering themselves. It is one thing to put one’s self at risk; should they choose to risk those they know and love away from here, that is their decision, but whether they endanger those under my roof is my choice, and they can not break it.”
It is a rare moment when I cannot read him.
His eyes – so unnaturally, magnificently green – are hard, flat, perhaps the expression given to those he must kill on my behalf. Does he approve? Is he doubtful, questioning seemingly risky choices I have made? Does he wish for more than this, for some manner of justice to be meted out beyond the foolish placing their lives in harm’s way?
I meet his gaze with my own, unafraid of his judgements, for he is mine. No matter his current mood, no matter what dark thoughts he generates like fog – in all joy or sorrow, in life and death, Terrance belongs to me.
Humor transforms him from a killer to a rogue, and he grins, suddenly boyish in his dark mischief. “May she leave, and run out of toilet paper, too.”
“Do not be nasty.” I raise my eyebrow and again offer my wrist. “As long as she abides by my law, she need not leave, and you hardly need to associate – ah.”
He has bitten.
To give blood, to take it – no, there is no greater intimacy. The low, vulnerable pulse of souls colliding brings peace in any situation, in any circumstance, no matter if the whole world be on fire and we choked upon its smoke.
I offer my blood for love of him and for myself; as he is calmed, so am I.
He does not need much. My blood is far too potent to ingest much.
“Thank you,” he murmurs against my already-healed skin.
“No, my son,” I tell him. “Thank you. After she is done, I wish you to speak to Sipho, too.”
“Yeah, figured,” he says. “I will, Da’. And… Sorry about all that.”
My wraiths resume their dusting, visibly relieved. As Terrance leaves, I sigh. This is hardly my first pandemic.
My family survived the horror and ash of the Black Breath of Susa more than ten thousand years ago. We paced ourselves, lasting through the scarcity of the bleeding eyes which swept through Inner Mongolia five thousand years ago. We survived the plague of Athens, Cyprian’s End, the Cocoliztli epidemic, and more.
We have kept those humans sworn to us alive and safe, often in spite of themselves.
We shall do so even now. To that end, the Votaries will, if they wish, be given their freedom – but only if they understand the cost.
We need human blood to live. It is easy to be gracious when we have so many potential employees to choose from, even if all current ones leave – but should the unthinkable happen, and humans grow so scarce that my children’s welfare is threatened, so many things will change.
For the sake of the Ever-Dying, I hope things do not come to that… or we will no longer be gracious.
Until then, we will play generous monsters. Until the day when my family is threatened – and surviving humankind may wish they never knew my name.
Some wiki terms you may find useful:
- Ease – vampire hypnosis
- Ever-Dying – humans
- Votary – a human employed to provide blood to Notte’s family
- Patron – a human with the potential (though not the guarantee) to be made into a vampire
- Knife – Notte’s personal assassin
- Sipho – one of Notte’s oldest children and his go-to psychologist
- Wraith – pieces of souls, not fully alive, given purpose to continue existing