@copyright 2006 Jean G Hontz
As far as plagues went, ours was not much of a threat. It arrived in the form of an itinerate tin worker. But any hint of plague brought out primal fears. It had the potential to decimate a town so everyone felt vulnerable and afraid. Well, not vampires, as we were immune. We did worry about our human friends, of course, and we made certain they stayed at home, and we were the ones who went out and saw to things. There was also the need for us to go out to feed. Plague victims, near death, were excellent for our dining needs, and we could give them surcease.
I will not dwell on the horrors of that time; many other authors have detailed the ravages of Plague far better than I could. I will say that vampires were not safe from the many consequences of such upheaval as the arrival of plague brought with it.
We’d all seen plague (really any kind of mass unexplained death was called plague) so we all knew how horrible it could be.
We vampires often were the ones to collect and dispose of the bodies of the dead, hoping in this way to slow the spread to other still healthy humans. It was a grisly and depressing business. Not even vampires could see such horrible death and misery and not be moved by the horror of it.
We, by this I mean all of Basel, were doing reasonably well, keeping the disease contained, helping stop the panic, offering help and support where we could. The people of Basel were a level-headed sort who were shrewd and practical so they understood the need to do many things to mitigate the situation.
The plague lasted for some time, but was finally beginning to slow down when one night, as I was out doing a security sweep of the town, I suddenly had cause to wonder just how many of the deaths we’d seen were not exactly plague. I found a body; it had been drained of blood. It was that of a child. A tiny, now broken child. I stared at it horrified. It had to be the work of a vampire. I couldn’t imagine which one of us would do such a thing. We’d been careful (so I thought) not to prey upon healthy homes. Nor did we take a living being from its home and then feed upon it. Yet this child, still dressed for bed, was left broken and empty, thrown down like so much rubbish in a stinking ditch.
I stood looking down on her. Yes, a little girl. From the look of her clothing she’d been just a farmer’s daughter, or maybe the blacksmith’s. Then I noticed there was no evident sign of plague about her. I knelt down to examine her further. No, she did not have the smell of that sort of death about her; granted the smell of death was in the air, but it was not on her as it would be if she’d been afflicted by the plague. I could only conclude that she’d been perfectly healthy when she was taken – when she’d been fed upon.
I realize it sounds odd for a vampire to be horrified by anything, even moreso by death at the hands of another vampire. But as I said earlier, my life as a vampire up to this point had been pretty tame, and I was still a very young fledgling. It is true I’d killed often enough, even as a normal human; still, those killings were targeted. And I’d never have hurt a child. Not even a Medici child.
I heard a noise behind me and turned. It was one of the women vampires from our house. She looked at me, looked at the child. I met her eyes. “Not I,” I said. But I saw the doubt in her eyes. I’m certain she saw it mirrored in my own eyes with regard to her.
She and I returned to the house without saying another word to one another. She doubted me, I doubted her.
The next night we all gathered to discuss what had happened. Our eyes examined our brethren. Doubt. Anger. Confusion. Suspicion.
But then Darius and Stefan who’d been out on security patrol that night came back to report there was yet another drained body. A woman this time. And as Olga, the woman vampire, and I had not left the compound this night, the doubt was suddenly crystallized into a realization that we were facing something other than betrayal within our ranks.
“This cannot be one of us, then,” Anton the alchemist stated flatly.
“No,” replied Darius heavily. “There must be others of our kind here.”
“But we would sense them, would we not?” I asked. Darius had always told me that vampires can sense each other from quite a distance away. I knew I could so sense the others here, knew approximately where they were, and even felt any danger they might be in.
Darius frowned, and stared into the fire. I did not like the look he wore.
I did not understand many things. It isn’t that Darius was keeping secrets, exactly. But his method of training me, educating me to my new life, was measured and paced, much as he was. He wanted me to have time to grow to an understanding rather than to be overwhelmed by things. Only now do I appreciate his wisdom.
So each of us considered the facts and we all knew this must be an incursion of outsiders. Certainly vampires were drawn to places were deaths would go unnoticed, or at least would seem to be due to things other than vampire predation. So I suppose we shouldn’t have been that surprised. But from what I gathered at the time, cities were more prone to such things than small villages, simply because cities had so many more people on which to feed, and it was so much easier for vampires to blend into the population. Small villages noticed new people and their suspicions would naturally be aroused when things began to go wrong.
After some time, filled with sometimes angry discussion, it was given to Darius and me to seek the truth of this and to do what we could to discover the hiding place of these outsiders. He and I were the only two with military or weapons experience; and these vampires had already proven themselves hostile, merely by hiding their existence from us and taking advantage of a town under our protection.
Darius and I, silently, gathered our weapons and departed our compound.
It was a dark night, clouds hid the light from the moon. It was cold, although that hardly bothered us. We were silent even when treading through crusted snow, the wind rattling bare tree limbs and whistling through fir trees the only sound.
The town was locked down tight at night. These people rose early so this was not that unusual. But even the pubic house was dark. The fear of plague kept people home, not to mention that plague was thought to walk on night winds. Therefore, if anyone – human or vampire - was out and about at this time of night it was for no good reason.
We were vampires and had little fear. We moved stealthily through the streets of town, testing the air for a scent, listening for the slightest noise. But then our quarry were vampires too.
Darius and I were wary, since we already knew that somehow these vampires had been able to hide their presence from all of us. We also knew that these vampires were truly monsters, feeding on children and virtuous women. They would hardly hesitate to attack us.
Darius and I knew one another so we made an excellent team. We could almost know what the other was thinking. We moved in tandem. He down one street, me checking another. We both sensed the others at the same instant. I knew this. I’m not certain how, but I did.
Then, with hardly a discernible warning, they were on us. There were enough of them that they attacked us both at the same time. I was too busy fighting for my life to spend much time worrying about Darius. After all, he was a better fighter than I. He was bigger and stronger than I and understood his body far better than I understood my more recently transformed one. Nor had I really had a chance to test my vampiric limits. But I had that opportunity now; luckily I’m a fairly quick learner.
Fighting a vampire is entirely different than fighting a man. The movements are quicker, yes, but there were other things too. There are ways to kill us, but not the same ones as with humans. Still, if you could slash the muscles in the leg or otherwise limit your opponent’s movement, you could slow him down, even if the wound would not bring him down. But vampires can also, seemingly, defy gravity. That isn’t what really happens, but having watched vampire battles, I can understand why some onlookers would think so. It has more to do with the speed of our movements, and the limitations of human sight and mind. The human mind dismisses what it doesn’t understand, or believes is impossible. The human eye can only react so fast to any sensory data. And vampires are, after all, super predators. We are fast, deadly, and cunning, ruthless and focused, and above all, determined to survive.
It was all I could do to survive. I did not fight gracefully. There were no elegant moves, no intricate swordplay; no swashing or buckling. It was slash and whirl away and cover your back because there was someone behind you too.
The fight was silent except for the ring of steel upon steel. No gasping for breath, no grunts of effort, no labored breathing. How long it went on I’ve no idea. But I was tiring. There were too many of them, and only one young me.
I felt Darius coming to help me before I could see him. I dare not look away from my opponents. I was down on one knee when he arrived. He let out a bellow and threw himself through the air straight at the vampire who had a sword ready to remove my head. He hit my enemy with his full weight. Momentum drove them past me. That moment of cover gave me enough time to get to my feet and take on the two other vampires who were there looking to take advantage of my exhaustion.
I didn’t understand why I was fighting. Why did they care? What motivated them to attack us? It didn’t matter though. They were wild and deadly and they wanted my head. I was determined to keep it.
I fought more desperately as I felt my strength fading. I had not fed that night; they seemed fully powered. Not to mention I was outnumbered.
I fell to one knee again, in an attempt to avoid one slashing blade. I hesitated there, allowing them to think they nearly had me. When one of the two tried to slice off my head I shifted my weight and my stiletto was in my hand. In one smooth movement I slashed the muscles in the leg nearest me. Then I brought the knife up to do the same to his sword arm. He screamed and began to topple to on side. I raised my sword and he fell into it. I moved it inside him, wresting it around and hearing the sound of bone breaking. His scream turned into a gurgle and he was down, possibly permanently. The other vampire, a woman, met my eyes, then turned and fled.
I’d have followed her except I looked around for Darius first. As I did so, I felt… Dear God. That was when I saw Darius. Rather, I saw Darius’s head. Just before a sword came slicing for mine. The three who’d killed him now came at me.
Anger took complete control of my body. I have no actual recollection of what happened in that fight after that moment. At the end of it I stood over four beheaded vampires. And one dead friend.
I fell to my knees and wailed, tears streaked through the blood on my face. My friend, my one true friend, was no more. I was alone. Again.