Condensation dripped off the walls of the sewer tunnel. A rat scurried by the pale man with the spiky black hair. Squeaking loudly, it ventured off into the gloom. Erasmus Zain was tall and muscular. He wore a black leather cloak with a silver mink lining, black trousers tucked into high boots, and a gray silk shirt. A minor enchantment kept his clothes clean when normal garments would be covered in filth. On his head, he had a broad brimmed hat, also black. Strapped to his waist was a long dirk; in a scabbard on his back was a broadsword with an ornately decorated pommel, ending in a wicked looking spike.
There was an air of indefinable menace about the man, a wistful sadness, a secret melancholy which seeped out of his green eyes and clung to him like an invisible second skin Erasmus was a vampire.
He cocked his head, listening. He sniffed the air briefly, then nodded to himself. She was coming. He had worried that she would be a no-show, frightened away by his(undeserved, as he thought) reputation.
He stood at the intersection of three tunnels, facing the leftmost one. Behind him the sewer water mumbled to itself, running under a grate, descending to a still lower level. Out of the tunnel a tall, statuesque woman came into view. She was holding out a glass vial filled with a clear liquid.
“Serum of concentrated Garlic, as requested. You have my money?”
“Vinia,” Erasmus said. “It’s been too long. I hope I wasn’t too much trouble?”
Vinia shook her head and held out her palm. Erasmus sighed and tossed her a small leather bag which clinked as she caught it. Sometimes, no matter what he did or said, some people were determined to hate him, or rather, his kind, which was pretty much the same thing.
Without another word, Vinia turned and left back the way she had come.
Erasmus was alone in his room above the Enchanted Horse. Business had been slow lately for Peroshky, the owner who had begun as a burly boy muscling around the heavy ale kegs, saved up his wages for three years and bought the place from the previous owner’s wife when the old man had taken ill. However, business was slow everywhere since the Violet Plague.
There was a knock on the door. Erasmus’s room was situated almost directly over the stairs, a small cubby of a mini-dwelling that was part attic and part living quarters, with a window that was by a staircase that, in another place might have been a burglary risk. But no one would rob from an inn rumored to be sheltering a vampire. “Come in,” Erasmus said softly.
Peroshky entered, face ruddy, widow’s peak damp with sweat. He was carrying a bottle of Seaman’s Folly, a drink that had the taste of dark beer, but fractionally more alcohol than absinthe, and two glasses. “Hot one, today,” he said.
“Even for summer,” Erasmus agreed, accepting a glass and patiently waiting for it to be filled, which it soon was. He sipped the drink, savoring the notes of barley and oat.
Peroshky pointed to where the garlic mixture’s vial lay on top of a dresser drawer. “So you mean to go through with it?” he said. Although the innkeeper had been leery of Erasmus at first, now there were no secrets between them.
The vampire looked into the depths of the liquid in the glass. “Yes.”
“Can’t imagine why. You have superhuman strength and speed. Damn near immortal. Immune to diseases that would snatch the life right out of the rest of us.”
Erasmus closed his eyes, seeing dark memories and darker truths. “All of what you say is true, ‘Roshky. But do you know, it’s been three hundred years since I’ve walked in the open Sun? Two hundred and thirty years since I watched my wife die, childless and bereft, loving me even as she aged, and I didn’t, even though vampires age backwards until they have the appearance of a twenty-one year old, loving me even knowing I was cursed, damned—outcast from mortal men. And then there is the blood hunger. Oh you can put off feeding for a week, even a month after a time, but a vampire must feed to live. Do you know what that does to your conscience? Even when your blood-source is willing?”
Peroshky drained the last of his drink. “I’ll say no more. Just let me know if it works.” The innkeeper left. Erasmus walked over to the vial, took the cork out of the neck and quaffed the mixture in one swallow. It tasted vile.
He laid down on his bed. In an hour, he felt a sudden heat in his veins. In three he felt a swift, sharp pain in his chest, followed by a numbness in his extremities. He began to hope, and he drifted into a light reverie that was not quite sleep. However, in the wee small hours of the morning, he felt the blood-hunger come. He cursed inwardly, and wept. The hunger rose in him like a huge river that had been dammed. He shook with his need, until he mastered the desire so that it was just bearable, then day having come, he slumbered wearily, dreams dark, confused and vaguely unnerving.
The next night he dragged himself downstairs after the bar had closed. He felt ill. Peroshky came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel. “Did it work?” he said. Erasmus closed his eyes in pain(he was starting to get a headache). “Alas, no.” Peroshky’s face became grim. Then, with an effort, the man smiled. “You’re still alive though. Care to drown your sorrows?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Erasmus walked the night, but indoors. He was in a very large room. The interior was dim, the curtains drawn, pale purple, made of silk. He had been required to leave his weapons at the door. He was surrounded by other vampires and their dewy eyed supplicants. Many eyed him with open disdain. He could read their thoughts in their eyes as though they were shouting at him: The Blood-Coward! He who would reject the great gift we’ve all been given! Even so, not one of them barred his way as he crossed the main hall and entered a side door. It wasn’t for nothing that he was once called The One Who Butchers His Own Kind. It was usually hard for a vampire to kill another vampire, but he knew all the ways, and well, so well that he could take out two score of his own kind before being subdued, although it had been a half century since he’d actually proved his abilities. There were only half that number here today.
As he entered the room, he saw a small, even frail looking woman with mousy blond hair. He closed the door. “You are sure about this? Sure you wish to become one who walks the night, ever fleeing the merest kiss of the Sun?”
“My husband and my children are all dead. Disease claimed the last of them yesterday. I don’t care to live any more. How is what you offer any worse than what I’ve already been through? An Outcast told me where I can go, where the Church offers its “mercy” to Dhampir. So you see, I’m not planning to endure the curse for long.”
“So be it.”
Erasmus strode through the dark forest outside the gates of the city. Moonlight shone down, creating a pattern of interlacing shadow and white light resembling the markings on some horses–the ones who were mostly black and looked like they had had white paint splashed on them in a seemingly random pattern. He stood in the shade of a towering oak, its silvered leaves stirred about by a gentle, almost soundless breeze.
He walked into a clearing. On the other side was a large willow, with a hole in the bark a little ways off the ground. Erasmus saw something glittering inside the hole. His pulse quickened. His footsteps, though he trod on crinkly pine-needles, and dried leaves, were wholly inaudible. When he reached the tree he crouched.
Reaching his hand into the hole, he pulled out a small, rectangular bottle. It was filled with a metallic liquid which glistened brightly. He placed the bottle in a deep pocket of his cloak. He looked up. Tied to a branch was a scrap of paper, arranged so it looked like it had been tossed about by the wind and stuck there naturally. He read:
This is the purest silver solution I could find within three hundred miles. By the way, do you have the money you owe me from our last card game? Send your reply the usual way-M.
The “M” stood for Margrave. Erasmus had had dealings with the man before, but they weren’t exactly friends. And despite the jaunty tone of the question Margrave had posed, if he didn’t get his money, even though Erasmus had paid for the bottle in advance, soon, Erasmus would be in deep trouble. But then, that was what you had to expect when dealing with the criminal underworld.
Leaving the forest, Erasmus made it back to the city without incident.
Erasmus’s room was hot, close, the air muggy with the heat of a Summer night. Peroshky was away on business, meaning the vampire had the building all to himself. He held the glass bottle with the liquid silver in his hand. Such a small item, to either cure him of his curse, or, more likely, kill him. Erasmus thought back to the night with the slender woman. “An Outcast told me where I can go, where the Church offers its “mercy” to Dhampir.” He had never thought of himself as the self pitying type, and he hadn’t understood at the time why the woman had decided on suicide so rashly, but now he knew. He wondered what he would do if this too failed. Would he seek out one of the church’s knights as well?
Enough equivocating, he thought, unscrewing the lid of the bottle. He slugged down the silver. It had no taste, precisely, but he felt an electric tingle as it slid across his tongue. He sat in his favorite chair and waited. He felt no change at first, but as the sun rose outside, which he only knew by the sounds of people bustling around outside, their many feet hitting the cobblestones. He didn’t feel in the least sleepy, and he felt hungry, but not for blood. He gingerly opened the interior door of his room. He went downstairs and crept into the washroom he and Peroshky shared. His friend was away, visiting an aunt for a weekend. Erasmus went up to the mirror and jumped back in shock. There was a man staring back at him in the glass! He looked over his shoulder, tensing for a fight, but he was all alone. He smiled, and wept. He felt faint. Falling to his knees, he clutched the lip of the bathtub, sobbing unashamedly.
After some time, he went into the kitchen, having to go first into the common room, where bright beams of sunlight awaited him, their feel alien, but pleasant on his skin. He found some eggs, a cast iron pan and some butter. In no time, he was scrambling them into a breakfast. He hadn’t forgotten how to cook over the long years; it was just that he’d never needed to. Until now, he thought. Until now.
Sergio Hartshorne has been working in writing related jobs as a Library Assistant and English/Writing Tutor for the last four years. He has had Episodes 1-8 of “the Changeling King” published in Happenstance Literary Magazine, “Eerandi’s Gift” in Havik Magazine and “Sons and Mothers” in Bewildering Stories. He is currently devoted to changing the literary image of Serpents (so unjustly blacklisted!) and branching out into Science Fiction and character studies of mystics and ghosts.