Archive for September 6, 2021

DJB: Letting the Fur Fly

Posted in Vampirony with tags , , , , on September 6, 2021 by vampirony

She was whispering to him again but the sound couldn’t be heard above the tinkling of the fountain.

“Do you have another message?” she asked excitedly.

He laughed heartily, “Just once, I would like to know that you look forward to seeing me and not just because I carry a message from the Sultan.”

He could only imagine the smile that crept across her face, hidden behind her veil.  She dropped her eyes and left him wondering at her thoughts. So much was still unspoken between them, out of caution, out of duty. She was a treasure to the Sultan, a truly learned man who hungered to find and possess knowledge. She spoke innumerable languages and could translate any with time including ones from far to the east in lands along other oceans. She authenticated manuscripts, could even repair them if the Sultan desired it. She advised him on promising acquisitions and had once been his most trusted appropriator, traveling throughout Europe, until that catastrophic event.

Just one more book, this one purportedly harboring the most prized secret of science and mysticism.  Behind enemy lines, a simple wagon, no observable guard to draw attention, disguised as a young lad.  She’d done it many times before, procuring Aeschylus’s seventh play discovered in Baliabadra before it fell back to the Venetians. Then there was the cache of astronomical writings from Ibn Al-Haytham uncovered in Cairo, right under the nose of the Mamluks.

But luck was not with her this last time and she had been uncovered, by an unnatural creature, in the service of the Moldavians. It had caught her scent and directed a general on loan from the Hungarian Black Army to pursue a prize worthy of ransom.  She couldn’t have known the great lengths men at war would go, the landscape transformed into Hell on Earth to prevent the Ottoman advance. With the Ottoman defeat, she had been trapped with no way out, save one very ardent wild man and his pack.  

The ramifications of that event had encircled them in this golden cage: she was safe and well cared for but within the embrace of the Harem. As such, she had to follow its rules or lose the Sultan’s protection. So started the ruse. She was ugly, as many of the other girls declared, guaranteeing the Sultan would never call her to his bed. Which also served her as accidents sometimes befell the beautiful of the harem. It was best not to stand out. Unlike most of the others, she never dropped her veil, perpetuating the myth.

She’d been burned…or carved up….(or was it branded?) by the general during her brief capture. Raped, made lame, had all her hair pulled out….he forgot how many tales had been spun about her, many of them through her own manipulations. Only one woman in the harem had ever seen her uncovered: the Kahiye-Kadin, the eldest lady of the harem. And for reasons that were the Kahiye-Kadin’s alone, she had kept the truth to herself.

For his part, he did what he had to stay near her, to be of value to the Sultan. Once the beast had been tamed from fever and word of his deformity had spread, he had enjoyed a small measure of goodwill for heroism and sacrifice saving the Sultan’s “treasure.” He earned the title “eunuch” and took up a role guarding the Sultan on outings, the lie of his Janissary status turning into truth. After a time, the Sultan found him pleasing to look at and assigned him to the Enderun, where he now couriered messages and work to her.

The legend of her rescue and his maiming meant he could drift carefully between worlds, but he feared that their time would run out before the length of her servitude. Seven years, two already spent since her father’s death had transferred her into the Sultan’s keeping. Desperate to find other ways to give favor to the Sultan, he had asked her to teach him letters, words, languages, so that perhaps he too could serve as translator, that the Sultan would once again let them pursue mythical texts and manuscripts. To break them out of the cage, where they could be together. Where he wouldn’t have to fear spilt tea and other dropped items and the reprisals that followed from disobedience.

Again, the sound of the fountain caught his attention.

“I wouldn’t want you to think that,” she softly spoke, barely audible as if she hadn’t meant to speak out loud at all. Her eyes lifted and held…my gaze…just as in the hotel, remember, let this caress speak, it is only the beginning…and felt whatever liquid ran through my body thud, my chest contracting, my heart glowing.  

I needed to keep her safe. And as I pulled my mind from distant memories to the current moment, I found myself sprawled out on some dank, cobbled floor, watering dripping along the subterranean wall somewhere nearby.  I realized it was the first time memories that I had left open to roam after first touching the Book had merged back with me. My own memories, my voice, my heart…when we had once existed in the same world, but she had not yet become my Helene.

“Gaat het goed met je?”

I raised my head at sound. A short, brown-skinned woman with what seemed to be brilliant multi-colored feathers for hair leaned over me, hand on my shoulder. Was I not in the Prague Redoubt? Had I misdialed? I tried to push myself up but as I tried to stand, I felt tethered. My head swam as I looked back towards my right leg to find the phone handset on the floor and my ankle disappearing into it.

A wave of nausea hit me as I realized I hadn’t come all the way through. No, I needed to protect her. This can’t be happening, not again. The woman spoke, but I collapsed to the cobbles, exhausted. I tried to think myself through, tried to envision my right ankle, connected to my right foot but the sensation of my body itself was fading. The room turned all the way to black just as I saw her reach for the handset and put it back in place.

“I think he’s coming around. Fetch Lord Valerian.”

I shook awake and tried to throw off the hands that held me against the bed.

“Damn it, hold him down!”

My eyes wouldn’t focus; I just saw shapes but felt pairs of hands bear down. I struggled and felt the panic of needing to be free burning in my belly. Not restrained again. Not so soon.

“Ay!”  Muffled sounds and thumps as the hands suddenly lifted as I continued to blink, a sudden whiff of burned fur.

“Jesper, calm down!”

The voice sounded so familiar that I stopped my thrashing. My eyes cleared gradually as I tried to control my breathing and soon revealed Aubry, holding his hands up with open palms. It was him but inexplicably furrier, his palms singed for some reason I struggled to grasp.

We stared at each other, as I realized I was in the Redoubt. I lay in a tall four poster bed, still naked. I felt feverish. Aubry stood to my left, his ears cocked strangely. A glance to my right showed the woman from before and one of the men from the South American tribe. Alejandro, maybe? He nodded and smiled uneasily as I looked at him.

They all held their hands up as if ready to restrain me again. That was when I felt my toes on my right foot wiggling. It was a relief to see me back in one piece.

“Sema, get some tea,“ Aubry commanded calmly, his shoulders relaxing.

“And maybe some ice, no?” Alejandro added, amused.

Aubry clenched and unclenched his fists while Sema, the woman, was suddenly there with a porcelain cup, holding it up to my mouth. I was quite thirsty and as I stared into her eyes, they held me in place and I smelled the jungle, felt the weight of humidity in the air, but tasted pine.

I flinched to sitting but only after I drank the whole cup. She stood back, a strange smile on her face. But as the liquid moved through me, I heard the roar of fire and I sprung up, looking for the pitcher. I bounded around Aubry who stopped Sema from following, from interfering, while I picked up the carafe and drank the whole thing down, rivulets of liquid escaping the corners of my mouth and traveling down my body.

As I put it down, Aubry folded his arms as if he’d seen this show but before I could ask him anything, my awareness breezed through cool pine tree forest, morning fog high on the mountain, running with the wolves at my side, solid dark soil beneath my feet. I pushed the sensation away; I need to be here in the present to protect her.

I looked back over to Aubry who’s notoriously implacable face was stunned, as if all the hairs stood up on his now very furry neck. I breathed a sigh of relief; the burning sensation had subsided. I had little time to unravel the effect of sunlight on me let alone Valerian’s pine needle tea. I needed to call for an assembly.

I stepped towards Aubry to do just that when a roar of another sort ripped through the door and I was thrown to the bed, Valerian’s hand clamped around my throat, his blood red eyes and fully fanged face just above mine.

“What the Hell are you doing here?!” he shouted, the whole room reverberating with his angry Vox. Sema and Alejandro were knocked to the floor, with Aubry gripping the bedpost to stay standing.

“You’re supposed to be protecting her!”

As his grip tightened, I felt the rush of a folded memory, of a time when Valerian and I had been adversaries. The memory wouldn’t unfurl but, for a moment, I saw all his emotions in his normally taciturn face. He’d loved and lost her too. He hated that he’d had to send me to save her. He wanted to claim her for his own.  Here. Now.  And I realized it was useless to fight against their past even as my gut twisted at wanting to know and tear out any history they had together.

“I’m here to bear witness, “ I choked out, my hands wrapped around his arm but only giving the slightest resistance.  “To Conclave. As her….” His grip steadily tightened as if he feared the words. Sema and Alejandro struggled to get to their feet, the force of Valerian’s will holding them in place.

I might be preternaturally long-lived and a broken neck might require months of recuperation. But a severed head or one otherwise forcibly separated from my neck, that was another matter. I shut my eyes, trying to calm myself, gathering my wiles to find a way to convince him.

The growl started low, hyphenated by the merest whine. But it built quickly, a series of warning yips that turned guttural, like an engine revving and the bed started to shake. Then the barks intermixed with an almost rabid growling that finally broke through Valerian’s awareness. I opened my eyes just as his grip slipped a millimeter as he turned, his right arm swinging to defend just as a maw full of glistening teeth clamped down.

I stared in disbelief as Aubry transformed from the slightly furry version of his dignified self into a full were form. No, not just were. Wiklas. As he tore at Valerian, Valerian turned to him in shock but centuries of training wouldn’t loosen his grip completely and I was yanked from the bed. I shielded my fall with my left hand and as Aubry continued to thrash his clench over Valerian’s arm, Valerian finally relented.

“Aubry!” Valerian shouted, still stunned as his oldest ally, his friend, some wondered if more, had a death grip over his forearm and was shredding it. Valerian froze, his stance turning to stone but his face barely registered the creature before him. As I finally stumbled to my feet, leaning heavily against the bed, his eyes clouded as if pulled back into memory, an emotion I had never ascribed to him: fear. But it was a flash and the betrayal and anger that replaced it heralded his powerful strike. In Wiklas form, Aubry had nearly doubled in size, towering over Valerian with all his limbs elongated and muscled, now more wolf shaped than man, having ripped through his exceptionally tailored ochre tweed suit with matching vest and purple pocket square.

Valerian flicked his wrist and while he must have broken a bone or two to do it, I heard a sharp crack as several of Aubry’s teeth that had locked into Valerian’s flesh snapped and he sailed across the room, ricocheting off the far stone wall.

I couldn’t help but let out a sigh but my relief was short-lived as Valerian turned back toward me. It was obvious Aubry’s attack was just a distraction; he was still bent on aggressive interrogation. He made only a step in my direction before the growling stopped him in his tracks.

He spun back to see Aubry’s Wiklas form crouching to make another attack. This time, he wasn’t emotionally prepared and the hurt bit into his brow. Aubrey’s wolf mouth foamed with blood but the growling grew more fevered.

“Aubry! What is this?”

Just as Aubry looked ready to strike again, I stepped up to Valerian, left arm around his back and right hand straight out toward Aubry.

“Enough, Jovan!” I shouted, in Vox.

The room was suddenly awash in light as if the shout I’d used against Sophie’s half-vampire goth girl had instead been broadcast throughout the room. As the light faded, I saw Aubry hunker down, his sanity returned and his wolfen face full of regret. He panted, obviously in pain, and he bounded out of the room as Alejandro sped to follow, with a singular glance back at us. Sema had backed against a wall; she clearly wanted no part of this.

“Sema? Please help Alejandro take care of Aubry,” still using Vox but much more subtle. I wasn’t sure how I was doing it nor whether it would be used against me later given the prohibition of using our powers against our own kind. But given the circumstances, I needed everyone out of the room as Valerian and I worked through this….whatever this was.

I turned to him, my jaw tightened with resolve to find him staring wide-eyed at me, lightly holding his right forearm together.

“Who are you, Scribe? What have you become?” Valerian insisted.

I gave his left shoulder an easy shake. “I was trying to say her advocate but you didn’t let me finish.”

His eyes tightened as he demanded, “What power do you newly possess to command my ever-faithful servant to first attack me and then be warned off like a pet?”

“You think I did this?” I commented, bemused, glancing down at his arm, as it already knitted back together. I dropped my arm and went to sit back on the bed, suddenly exhausted with my whole head hurting. As I raised my hand to my head, I noticed it shook.

“Your glowing eyes would seem to say so,” he accused. When he realized that maybe I couldn’t explain it, his mind whipped back to his earlier anger. “Whatever your abilities, you were meant to stay with her, to protect her, not run back here and leave her unguarded.”

“You’re wasting time. You must call Conclave to assemble. I must be allowed to report everything that has happened. Immediately!”

Valerian looked suddenly wary. “Why is that so important?”

“Because we killed a vampire and the Conclave must not perceive her as a threat or the area of Seattle will become a war zone.”

A vampire? Well, turns out you are woefully uninformed. Where have you been hiding the past week, under a rock?” He was still angry, his eyes still red, his fangs still extended, but my fervor seemed to be winning him over.

I noticed his emphasis on the “a” as in singular. “What are you talking about?”

Valerian, still holding his arm, walked over to the table with the empty carafe and peered in, then gave me a dubious look. He huffed and turned toward me. “What you killed was a revenant, borne from the Taint, the last unaccounted bottle of it. Who knew that one born like that would have the strength to reproduce?”

“There was another?” I replied, shocked.

Valerian’s arm must have finally felt on its way to healing as he pitched it on his hip.  “Yes, and was dealt with by your…associate through some formidable fighting that also bears some scrutiny.” He eyed me critically. “If I hadn’t known you for the last hundred years give or take a few decades, I would be concerned you might be reproducing.”

I bent my head. “You know I can’t, Valerian.” I tried to think. Morena must’ve broken the skin. But it would’ve been so little of my blood. It didn’t make any sense. But none of what I was becoming made any sense. “You say she fought another revenant?”

“She had some sort of help; it’s unclear the whole story.” Then he huffed, “I was expecting to hear it when you brought her to testify on her own behalf.”

“Bring her here? Are you insane?”

At that jibe, Valerian snorted,” That remains to be seen as I have a bookish vampire who seems intent on doing the exact opposite of what I need him to.” Then, with a tang of humility, “Well, except saving her.”

It wasn’t true, not really. She’d really saved herself. The Kukri, her wards, their strange band of irregulars that had boxed me up and taken me to the hotel. Valerian needed to not know about her vampire wards, or her assistant Nick, and I was already regretting that Morena was on his radar. It had been safer for all when he knew nothing about my life in Seattle or the company I kept. But it was obvious that I was not his sole surveillance in the area. And I had been trapped in rigor dormitus for too long to control the breaking of this story. But perhaps there was still a chance to color the commentary.

“Revenants, you say? Not other Carpathian spawn?”

“Definitively. We’d been tracking the male for some time.”

I nodded, “Then even more reason to call Conclave to assemble. I can stand witness to how she tried to diagnose him, tried to help him, not knowing it was futile.” I stood.

Valerian just stared at me skeptically. “That’s all I’m going to get from you? A proposal to stand up for her…when you’ve so obviously been….influenced by her?”

“What do you mean?”

He shook his head. “Can you actually say you are the same Jesper that I sent to contact her?”

He wasn’t wrong. In such a short period of time, the veil that I myself had pulled over the world to mute it from a history so painful I had tried to write it out of existence…it had been burned to cinders. And while I knew I myself could be the very evidence anyone in Conclave could need to show how she meant no harm, how she only sought to help, to heal, something deep within told me now was not the time for that.

“I will talk to Conclave, if I have to summon them myself.” I needed to make her safe, safe from the very interference that Valerian and I represented. She apparently could take care of the rest. She always had….except….

I strode past him, towards the open door, not able to stomach further delay. I’d obviously come across the line during the day but with Valerian up, it meant at least half a day had past. She might be sleeping now. I hoped she’d heard my message. Hoped she knew I was doing this for her.

“You might want to put on some clothes if you’re going to do that.”

I looked back at Valerian.

His eyes had faded back to brilliant blue but the line of his mouth was grim. He shrugged. “You may not feel up to sharing your own story, but it’s written all over your body. So unless you want to explain how you’ve suddenly become able to share boons with humans, turn men into werewolves, and summon light from your Vox, let me fetch you something to cover you up. You’re practically glowing.”

He moved towards an inner door, likely to his dressing room, and disappeared. He returned with a similar cloak to the one he wore to cover himself when he was back from a journey, a collar that could be turned up. I donned it quickly, but felt something just inside the pocket. I pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses.

“I’d recommend those too,” he said bluntly.

“What about Aubry?”

He sighed, his face a mask again hiding his feelings. And his recollections. Aubry’s actions had loosened something in Valerian and he was just as wiling to face it now as I was tying Aubry’s unexpected transformation to my past with the Wiklas.

“I’ll give him some time to settle.” He met my questioning gaze. “There may be more than one testimony to witness here tonight.”