Guardian – Part IV

This is entirely new territory for me, and I was turned into a vampire less than a fortnight ago.

Before me stands the Queen herself, her guard – Brom, she introduces him as – pointing his gun squarely at my head in case I get any ideas to either escape through the open cell doors, or maul them all for the blood in their arteries.

I would be lying if I say it isn’t tempting; the blood packs were small, carefully rationed, and nothing compared to the scent and sound of fresh blood running through three healthy humans. I push these treacherous thoughts to the back of my mind, gripping my wrist behind my back, the free hand curled into a fist.

“Are you tempted? The blood packs I had sent can’t have been fulfilling for a vampire so freshly turned,” Queen Sybil says, tone as casual as if she were asking if I’d like some tea.

So that’s where those came from. From the corner of my eye, I see Draya glance at me in surprise. Clearly she hadn’t known who had given the order. Choosing honesty, I admit, “They were not, though they did give me strength. And I am. Tempted, that is. But I meant what I said— I am not a traitor.”

“Majesty, she is not to be trusted. Who’s to say she has not been radicalized by her sire, his whispers in her mind?” Brom bursts out, his gun never wavering from its aim on my head even as he looks at the Queen, frustration clear on his face.

I stifle a snort. “My sire only visits in my nightmares, with that cursed night relived every time I close my eyes. There are no whispers. But,” I turn to Queen Sybil and Draya, “if it will prove I mean no harm, then I will not resist the chains.”

Queen Sybil is silent a moment, then nods. “I do not question your service or your loyalty, Rayborn,” she says almost apologetically. “However, you are a vampire still, a young one at that, and I am not here to take unnecessary risk. No matter what my head Queensman might think,” she adds with a reproachful glance at Brom. “Captain Anguard, restrain her. Brom has ones with the silver you need.”

Draya looks to obey without question. Only I notice the slight skip in her heartbeat, the way her eyes track over me, the split-second before she actually walks towards Brom. He hands the manacles from his pack to her, but it’s clear he was hoping to be the one to place them on me. Too bad.

I do not move as Draya approaches me carefully, her scent and the scent of her blood flooding my nose. I try not to breathe too deeply. “Your hands, Commander,” she says quietly.

Slowly, I bring my hands forward.

“How badly will it hurt?” she whispers, taking her time unlocking one of the manacles.

I smile grimly. “Bad,” I whisper back. “But I will heal after. And you trained us to endure pain.”

She sighs. “I did not train anyone to endure this.” She closes one shackle around my right wrist and the pain is immediate as my skin sizzles at the silver. I hiss. Higher concentration in these than the bars. Draya clenches her jaw and ignores everything except getting the left shackle done, then immediately steps away so as not to see the way my skin burns, returning to her place on the Queen’s left with her eyes steadfastly looking away from me.

The pain is excruciating, all my senses homing in on where the silver meets my wrists and protesting keenly at the contact. It’s evident by the way I grit my teeth, breathing sharply through my nose. I can’t look at Brom, whose lips are quirked up in a satisfied smile – sadist – or Draya, who can’t look at me at all, so I keep my gaze fixed on Queen Sybil, whose gaze flits between my burning wrists and my pained expression with part regret, part genuine interest.

“You are braver than I thought you were, if this is what it means to have you restrained,” she remarks.

“I wanted to prove my loyalty.”

“As I said, it is not your loyalty in question. It’s your self-control. But I will keep this as brief as I can. Please sit, if the pain does not allow you to stand.”

Much as I want to remain on my feet, it’s already far too difficult for me to focus, so I take the offer with thanks, almost crumpling onto my cot and holding my wrists out between my knees. The smell of burning flesh starts to permeate the cell. It takes all of my training not to scream. I also don’t want to give Brom the satisfaction he’d so clearly gain from it.

“As you know, despite nearly a century of war, we have been unable to capture a living vampire. All our intel on their weaknesses and strengths has come from what little observations we have made in the field, trying to separate fact from the legends and myths. You are an anomaly in more ways than one. To our knowledge, the first of our soldiers to ever have been turned rather than killed, as well as the first vampire to be captured.”

I nod, trying not to look impatient. If I’m burning my wrists right off the bone only to be told things I already know, it isn’t worth it.

“While many,” the Queen glances at Brom again, “think you a liability, I think you can be an invaluable asset. I’ve seen your records, Rayborn. You rose through the ranks quickly for someone your age. While you have a penchant for trouble, you still command respect of those you lead. And now, though unplanned, you have given us the opportunity to study what a vampire truly is.”

“Am I to be a lab rat, then?” I can’t help but ask. I expected as much, but it would be nice to be certain – at last – of what will happen to me.

“Yes and no. It will be good to learn more about vampires through someone actually willing to provide that information. However, I foresee a greater purpose for you.

“Between your years of training, and your newfound abilities, you are the closest we have to a super-soldier. Part of each world, and in many ways stronger than both. If you are able to gain control over your bloodthirst, remaining satisfied with the blood packs I am willing to provide, then I want you to work for me. It is, in my mind and heart, the most important role in the kingdom. I want you to protect my daughter.”


“What!?” exclaimed Brom and Draya.

In case you missed it, read the previous installments of Guardian, a short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Guardian – Part III

It’s days before anyone else comes. I spend the time trying to ration the rest of my blood packs, experimenting with the newfound strength and abilities that come with finally being able to… drink? eat? “feed?” Whatever.

Despite the eons spent fighting vampires, no one knows quite enough to separate all the myths and old wives’ tales from actual fact. If nothing else, I figure I can use my time to change that. Give the Royal Guard an advantage, and tell them exactly how best to execute me, my mind unhelpfully adds.

I break my shackles within the first hour of Draya leaving. I knew we should have added silver.

The bars of the cell burn to the touch, so the silver there definitely works. My hands heal within seconds, the searing pain soon a phantom memory. Well that’s useful. Could have used that in the Guard.

The next day, I find I’m able to fly. Or, hover. Of course, the moment I wake up to my body floating five feet above the cot, I come crashing back down and gracelessly roll onto the floor. The rest of my time is spent trying to control it, until two days later I find I can get myself all the way up to the slit in the wall, which is just wide enough for my arm to pass through. Once day breaks, the sunlight making the gap a shining yellow portal, I experimentally reach my hand out, then my whole arm, bracing for pain.

Nothing happens. Interesting.

My hearing and eyesight continue to improve, but the walls of the prison were built thick enough that I can’t hear much beyond barely audible murmurs and the march of the guards up above. While part of me is frustrated by it, desperate to know what’s going on, another is pleased to know that much of the elements that went into building this facility actually work.

While I continue to find ways to occupy my days, the nights continue to be, in a word, utter shit. I discover I need less sleep, which just means driving myself crazy replaying the raid and Draya’s ominous visit over and over. Then it continues in my dreams, everything made ten times eerier in the way that dreams often are.

Six days after Draya came to see me, I hear footsteps approach, and the outer doors to the prison open soon after. I keep my eyes closed, trying to ignore the beating pulse of their hearts and focus instead on their gait. Draya, and two others, one male, one female, neither from the Royal Guard by the sound of it, and both heavily armed— I can smell the gunpowder, hear their weapons clink against their body armor.

“Tamara,” Draya whispers softly under her breath as they approach. “If you can hear this, please cooperate. Don’t give these guys a reason.”

So they’re not here to kill me. Yet.

Once at the door to my cell, Draya speaks. “Commander Rayborn.”

I hear the scoff from one of the men. “You still consider her worthy of her rank? Her name?”

Forcing a smile, I step out from the shadows and approach. “In the absence of anything else to call me,” I reply for her. “Though I’m sure you have plenty of suggestions.” I notice both men are a step back from Draya— out of fear of me, or because they’re controlling her, I wonder. I also note, with a measure of surprise, that they wear the face masks of the Queen’s Men, though the rest of it is pure military gear. I bow my head, as customary. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from Queen’s Men?”

The man to Draya’s left, the one who spoke earlier, is the one to again. “We’re here for you, vampire.”

“They’re here to escort you to the Queen. She wishes to speak with you,” Draya adds.

Now I’m really surprised. “The Queen? What does Her Majesty want with me?”

The two Queen’s Men exchange a glance. The man seems angry, and definitely does not want to be here, though the woman looks more curious than anything else. Aside from the look they just shared, she has yet to take her eyes off me. “It is not our place to question the Queen’s commands,” the man answers gruffly. “Will you come in peace, or do we have to chain you and drag you to the palace?”

“You’ll need to use silver if you wish to chain me.” I lift my wrists, and point to the remnants of the shackles on the floor, taking quite a bit of pleasure at the wide eyes on all three of them. “But you won’t have to. I swore an oath to this Kingdom. I have no desire to hurt anyone, least of all our ruler.”

The man scoffs again. “Oath? That still means something to you?”

I’m beginning to lose my patience with this git. I level a cold stare at him and step closer. “I was changed against my will, Queen’s Man. Changed, but not indoctrinated. I still remember who I am, or was. And so my oath stands for as long as I live. It just so happens that I will now be living a very long time.”

“Well-said, Tamara Rayborn,” the woman finally speaks. I recognize that voice.

Turning to her, I see she has removed her mask. Queen Sybil.

I immediately drop to one knee, head bowed. “Your Majesty.”

In case you missed it, read Part I and Part II of Guardian, a short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against.

Guardian – Part II.

I’m next woken by the clanging of the prison gates, and I rise to my feet immediately.

Having tracked the days and nights through the slit high up on the cell wall – too narrow to classify as a window – I know it’s been five days since that disastrous night.

The hunger has only gotten worse since then. Sleep is no solace, when all my dreams serve only to replay my transformation, my capture. The searing pain, the taste of blood, that killer’s laugh echoing in my brain.

If I make it out of here alive, the first thing I’m gonna do is murder that bastard. …Who knew revenge would always be this cliche?

“Commander Tamara Rayborn. What a… situation you’ve found yourself in.”

I stand at attention, raising one manacled hand in a salute. “Captain.”

Despite herself, Captain Anguard chuckles. “Even like this, a prisoner of the kingdom, starved and isolated for days, you remain a soldier.” She seems almost surprised. “At ease. And speak freely. I’m the only one here and I refuse to treat you like a criminal, even if you are one of them now,” she adds sadly.

I flinch at her last words. Somehow, despite having had days to reconcile it with myself, hearing that I was no longer human – from my mentor no less – brings fresh pain. “I may be a vampire now, but I sure as hell am not going to forget where I came from. Who I a- was. Besides,” I force a breezy smile, “I’d argue this proves dedication to understanding the enemy.”

“Right. Well, you look terrible.”

“Never one to mince words, Cap,” I laugh. “Not eating or drinking or seeing another soul for days will do that.”

She raises an eyebrow. Draya never did approve of my dry humor. Or my calling her “Cap.” Though I knew she was always secretly amused by it all, even back when I was a young recruit. ‘You need to take this much more seriously,’ she used to say. ‘For as long as vampires exist, we’re at war.’ I’d always retort that finding the humor in things was the best way I had to survive a war. But right now, even though I’m trying, it’s actually a lot harder to maintain.

With a resigned sigh, she reaches into the pocket of her breeches and pulls out a sealed bag. As soon as she unseals it, I scent blood and I am immediately on edge. I let out a low growl and nearly yank at my chains in desperate desire to grab it. My skin breaks out into a sweat, my fangs emerging despite me struggling to clench my jaw shut, and I can tell my eyes are no longer the brown they once were by the way that Draya looks at me, for the first time in eight years, with fear writ plain on her face.

It’s that look that keeps me in check. I look away, shaking, fists clenched and fighting for control as I ask, “You have blood. Where did you get it?”

Draya recovers, clears her throat. “Blood bank. We’ve been granted permission to let you feed. It isn’t much, but it should sate some of the hunger.”

She approaches the cell door and I force myself to shrink further back. The scent has woken my other vampiric senses, dormant from hunger. It’s not just the blood from her package. I can hear her heartbeat, the pulse of the artery in her neck, smell her scent as much as I can the mix of donors in her hands. It’s torture, and I don’t trust myself not to lose control.

Mercifully, she does not ask to hand it to me, pushing the bag between the bars and throwing it towards me. I make no move to grab it yet.

“Aren’t you going to feed?” she asks quietly.

I grit my teeth, refusing to look her way, refusing to look at the bag, refusing to look at anything but the cuffs on my wrists. “Not in front of you, Draya.” It’s the first time I’ve ever used her first name.

“I’m sorry.” I curse my enhanced hearing for being able to hear the crack in her voice. “I’m sorry this happened to you. You were one of our best.”


“Please. I can’t control myself much longer. Please go.”

I hear her turn and walk away. And beneath the sound of the creaking door, I hear her sniff and stifle a small whimper.

If my heart was still beating, it would have broken.

Once I hear her steps recede far enough, I throw myself onto the package in front of me, grabbing the first blood bag out of the pack and tearing into it with my teeth.

The first drop on my tongue is bliss, even as another part of me shirks away from the whole thing.

Fucking disgusting. But also so, so good…

In case you missed it, read Part I of this short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against. You can find Part III here!

Guardian [Working Title] – Part I.

Someone must have knocked over the universe’s bucket of irony on the day I was turned into the thing I was sworn to protect the world from.

Five years as a member of the Royal Guard, undone in one night.

We were betrayed, had to have been. The horde of vampires we had been tracking for weeks knew we were coming. They were ready, and they were hungry. It was wholesale slaughter, and I lost seven good people before I even had the chance to call a retreat.

Tessa had fallen in her rush to escape the warehouse. I ran back, helped her up, made sure there was no one else falling behind. And just as I was about to make my own exit, he found me, pinning me and smashing my sword hand into the wall.

I did not cry for help. The vampires were already giving chase, having drained the fallen and now ready for more. To call my team back would be asking them to commit suicide.

So I stared defiantly into his red eyes, and waited to die.

“You’re not afraid?” He cocked his head, amused. Playing with his food.

“Nah. Only angry that I couldn’t slay more of you before this rather unfortunate turn of events.”

The vampire actually laughed. A melodious sound, damn him, designed by nature to inspire trust, to lower guards. Look: I’m human, and attractive, won’t you let me in? “Why are you so keen on murdering us? What is our crime, except being different?”

My sword hand twitched at the audacity, and everything in me wanted to plunge the blade into his heart. I knew it was futile to try; rage and adrenaline is still no match for superhuman strength. Instead, I looked at him in angry disbelief, and looked past him to where my teammates lay, exsanguinated and very dead. I had only met them for this mission, but they were brave and good and did not deserve this.

He followed my line of sight and gave an almost sheepish shrug. “You attacked us without provocation. We were defending ourselves.”

“Without provocation!? You’re murderous vermin! Leaving nothing but drained bodies and broken families in your wake, a threat to everyone in this kingdom!”

“Is that what you think?” he hissed, pressing back harder and looking hard into my eyes. His own blazed with a strange, righteous anger. “There are those of us who are evil, yes, but how is that different from humans whose morality has as many variations as there are people? This horde kills only in self-defense. We drain only those who are willing, and never to the point of illness or death. But you wouldn’t know that, would you? Because you’ve lumped us all into one, and came in here only with intent to kill.

“You would think you’d remember the days when your people faced similar persecution,” he grazed his eyes over my dark skin, (low blow, you vampiric asshole) then glared back at me. “But maybe you ought to be reminded.”

I was given no chance to retort before he plunged his fangs into my neck. My sword fell and I cried out at the agony of the bite, my veins and arteries protesting the intrusion. I knew that vampires sometimes secreted a potent anesthetic in their saliva when feeding, so the human would be too high to struggle or feel pain. Clearly, this one had no such intentions. He wanted me to feel it, and every moment of it hurt.

Instinct had me clawing at his arms, pushing at his chest, kicking my legs and trying anything to get him off, even though some rational part of me – drifting further and further away – knew there was no point. I’m going to die, I thought, and the struggling stopped. I gave into it, almost looked forward to it, the throbbing in my neck a distant sensation as I began to lose consciousness.

Everything that happens next, I remember only in flashes.

Falling to the floor, the vampire’s boots walking towards me.

My head being lifted. Tasting iron. Trying not to swallow his blood but being too weak to resist him forcing it down my throat.

His sardonic laugh as he left.

Curling up on my side in the darkness, ringing in my ears, muscles twitching.

Shouts of, “She’s here! She’s breathing!”

Jerking awake for only a moment, gasping, only to hear, “Oh, fuck!” and then a significant blow to the head.

And now I’m here. In a prison that I had helped design, chained to the wall, with a brand new set of fangs and a hunger that I know won’t be quenched by food.


Read Part II and Part III of this short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against.

The Return

Neither of us can remember when she started sleeping in my chambers, in my bed. Only that one night, a few months after I had freed her, she had slipped under the covers with nary a word, and curled up against my side. I remember that first night like a still photograph: Auburn hair spilling across the pillow, her bare leg over mine.

All we have done is sleep, with no compulsion for more. It’s comfortable. Comforting in its routine, despite the unusualness of her schedule; every night like clockwork Rhea comes, both our duties done for the day. She sleeps, wakes at 2am to draw or walk or get some air on the balcony, then comes to bed again. Sometimes I join her when she wakes. Sometimes we talk of what troubles us.

I have never questioned why she started to join my bed, and she has never explained. Neither of us has felt the need; it feels the most natural thing in the world. Even on hot nights, our combined body heat adding to the sweat on our skin, we lie pressed together.

It’s 2am. We’re both awake, this time, merely lying in bed. I’m savoring my last night with her, before having to leave for the Academy. Despite graduating years ago, most of us have been called back. An evil is coming; we’ve all felt it. And when the Academy headmaster’s sister turns up, long-presumed dead, claiming to have been buried in ice, we all know that the academy will be the center of it all. Again.

I’m showing her a picture from an older time, one of the few happy memories from the Academy, her chin tucked into my shoulder from behind. Then, with a suddenness that chills, she pulls away. I turn to follow, facing her as she lies on her back, staring at the ceiling.

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know. There’s things we must learn, and relearn, if we’re going to be ready. Especially against an unseen force where we don’t know what to expect.”

Continue reading “The Return”

Between Worlds

By the time I come to, I’m already running. From what, or whom, I don’t know. all I know is that my heart is pounding, my mind is racing trying to catch up with whatever happened to require me to run, and This. isn’t. home.

The memories return in flashes, as they are known to do. Confusion, pain, passing out. And now I’m in a “here” that is like my own “here,” but not. A world parallel to the one I normally live in- same neighborhood, except not. Same sky, except not. I don’t know how I know, I just do.

I realize what I’m running from when the car screeches around the corner I just turned, long-haired teen with her head out the window, a gun pointed straight at me. Shit. I try (again, my memory reminds me) to explain that I am not a threat, that I don’t want to be here any more than she wants me to be, but she probably can’t hear me between the roar of the car engine and the shots fired from her weapon.

I dodge. Roll. Get up and find myself… elsewhere, again. What now?

This place, I don’t recognize. It’s even more oppressive than the first, feels wronger for me to be here. There are people running somewhere beyond the fence that leads into a theme park, yelling… calling out a name? Someone is missing. Given where I am, it’s most likely a child. Never good when a kid goes missing, especially somewhere as crowded and noisy as a theme park.

But hang on… Is that him? I wander closer to the bathroom shed, having caught a glimpse of a small figure slipping inside. There’s a giggle, which means either the child is playing a game in very poor taste, or I’m about to get supernaturally murdered. Which wouldn’t be good, considering I need to get back to my body and get the hell out of here.

“Excuse me,” a frantic voice calls out from behind me. “Have you seen my son?”

Relieved that I am spared a gruesome otherworldly death, I point towards the bathrooms. “I just saw a kid run in there. Was about to check it out when you showed up.”

The man runs past me and rushes in. I hear exclamations of relief, more giggles, stern rebuke. Disaster averted, I begin to walk away, trying to find some way out of this strange place.

“Thank you!” the man calls out. I turn. He has his son on his hip. They are, adorably, in matching pink shorts and white tees, the only difference being the father has no hat to cover his bald head.

I shrug. “No worries, I was just in the right place at the right time, is all.”

“You’re not from here, are you?”

“…No. How can you tell?”

“We always know. The same way you know you don’t belong.”

“How do I get out?”

“Keep walking. Your body will call for you; you’ll find yourself where you need to be.”

“Thank you.”

“Just be careful. There will be beings that do not want you to go back.”

I think back to the homicidal girl I’d just escaped, and smile grimly. “I think I’ve already met one. But I will keep that in mind, thanks.”

With a wave, they set off back towards the park, and I pick a random direction to start moving towards. The city looms out ahead of me, tall buildings and bright billboards, all of it looking and feeling inherently wrong to my senses.

A ripple. A shift. The city looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. And then I’m back.

Not home, not yet. But close enough. The same neighborhood where I know my apartment building stands in my world. It isn’t quite in the same place right now. I should be able to see it from where I am.

A gun cocks behind me. Shit. 

“No sudden moves.”

I slowly raise my arms. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“What are you doing here? What do you want?”

I hold up one finger. ”I woke up here.” A second finger. “And all I want is to get back to where I’m from.”

“So… You didn’t come here intentionally? You’re not here to profit?”

I laugh. “Profit? Profit off of what? I just got myself stabbed, and I’m lying in a coma somewhere on my planet, or ‘world,’ or whatever the term is. And I need to find my way back to my body so I can wake up.”

I hear the gun being put away. “You can turn around now.” When I turn, I see a little boy standing by the girl; he’s the same boy from the world I was just in. Huh. Interesting. Is there another me in this place too?

Raising an eyebrow, I ask, “Do you always bring little boys with you when terrorizing random people?”

“My brother is here to learn. We protect this place. It has the thinnest barrier between our world and yours, and plenty of people from your world have tried to take advantage. Create some sort of tourism business, as if the fabric could survive that.”

“I know nothing about that. I just want to get home. My body is in my bedroom, in my apartment, which in my world should be around here somewhere. But I can’t see it.”
“Tell me what it looks like. We know this place inside out. We’ll grant you safe passage. In exchange, you don’t come back.”

I reach out to shake the girl’s gloved hand. “Deal.”

Almost immediately after we’ve settled into her car, I hear growls from around us. “Um. What is that?”

“Shit.” She looks to her brother. “Don’t tell mom I said that.

“THAT is what we’re granting you safe passage from. There are things out there that don’t want people finding their way back. You’ve woken them up by coming here, and now they’re after you.”

“What do they want to do to me?”

“Whatever it takes to keep you from getting back to your body. We’re going to have to run. We’re sitting ducks in this car. They’ll tear through it instantly. But if we split up, they won’t know which one of us they’re looking for until – hopefully – it’s too late.”

Reaching forward, I grab one of the girl’s guns. “Guess I’ll be needing this then.”

With a nod, we shove the car doors open and sprint out in all directions. I can’t see anything yet, but I sure as hell can feel I’m being followed. Judging by the sounds that follow my new friends as they sprint off in separate directions, so are they.

The road gives way to dirt pretty quickly, and looking back I can see prints on the ground. Not human, of course. I try to run faster, and as I break out of an alley I almost cry in relief at the sight of my apartment building up ahead. Or at least, this world’s version of it.

The only problem is, whatever’s chasing me seems to have picked up on the fact that I’m the one its looking for, and is picking up speed. I’m going to have to fight the damn thing.

Pulling out the gun, I try to take aim at the space behind me and manage to fire a shot. I miss. Which only serves to piss the damn thing off, because now I can see it, humanoid, grey cracked skin, very sharp teeth growling right at me.

I take aim again, but nothing happens. The trigger is jammed, and I am screwed. As the demon thing bounds closer, I decide there’s only one thing for it. Bracing myself, I hold the pistol like a baton and beat the demon over the head as soon as it’s in range. While it’s still stunned, I stab the gun into its gut as far as it’ll go, which works surprisingly well.

The demon screeches, falls to the ground, and vaporizes like some cliche.

There’s a joke about knives and gunfights in this somewhere.

“You did it!” I turn to see the sister-brother duo running behind me. By the looks of the ash on their clothes, they killed off their pursuers too.

“Yeah! Your gun doesn’t work though. Please fix it.”

“Oh, no… You got Betty. She’s always jamming. I keep meaning to take her out of commission.”

“Doesn’t matter now.” I point to my building. “That’s home. I’m going to get going before more of those demons show up.”

I hand the girl her pistol back with a smile, and scruff the little boy’s hair. “It was really nice meeting you. Even if you were trying to kill me at first. I almost wish I could stay and get to know you guys better.”

With one last wave, and a sheepish goodbye from two (whose names I never learned, I’m realizing) I jog off towards home.

A ripple. A shift. The building looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. This had better be it.

And then I’m awake, stab wound and all. Clutching my side, I whisper out, “Thank God,” to the confusion of my nurse, and fall back asleep.

This time, I only dream.

Through and Out Again

August 2, 2019

I didn’t mean to go back.

It had been years since I was even allowed to, years since the last close call that marked my decision not to return. Not that I was given a choice— the door had been closed to me ever since.

I don’t know what changed. But sure enough, while my team was deployed across the grounds and everything was set, I looked up to see the entrance tantalizingly ajar. A single air conditioning vent in my room, partially unscrewed, the shadows of stored objects making themselves known.

I was alone, still hooked to my comms, and not needed for the rest of the mission. I figured it would be a minor distraction at worst— at best, I was wrong, and it was no more than a tactically-sound exit from the room I was holed up in. So I climbed, taking little notice of the dust brushing onto my clothes, past an old necklace that looked familiar, dusted copies of books whose titles I did not recognize, paintings and posters from decades ago. I got to a place I could stand, eyes sweeping the attic-like room unsure of what to pick up first.

She would like this place. It’s perfect for exploring.

A step forward, however, and it was attic no more. I had gone too far, slipped back toward a world I did not think I would see again. Back into a role I did not understand, though I knew it would be dangerous to admit it.

I was dressed in a tux this time. The bay windows showed nighttime, and I could both see and hear the distant crashing of waves on the shore. With a wry smile, I thought of how funny it was that such a gorgeous property existed technically so close to our apartment with the thin walls and lack of space. For a colonial moment, I wondered if I could not bring my family here instead.

Then it started, and I remembered the reason why even I had vowed never to return. She walked in, older now, but still beautiful. Dark, wavy hair cascaded down her back, and her black dressed shimmered as she walked towards me. I was rooted to the spot in panic; it was too late to hide.

“There you are! You look nice. Are you ready to go?”

I nodded, wondering how on earth I was going to escape this time. “I just… need the bathroom a second.”

“…You aren’t going to disappear on me again are you?”

I laugh, trying to be casual as I walk toward what I hope is salvation. “No, no.”

She follows, clearly not believing me after last time. Right into the bathroom with me. Now this is just ridiculous.

I make a show of fixing my bow tie while she scrolls through her phone, leaning against the bathroom door. Sighing inwardly, I turn to her. “Shall we?”

Just as we emerge, someone else joins us. Him, I don’t remember, which only serves to worsen the situation. “So,” he drawls lazily, a drink he’d helped himself to already in hand. “Shall we?”

She clearly knows him, smiling and making idle conversation in a language I know I’m supposed to understand.

When I think they’ve lowered their guards down just enough, distracted as they are by each other, I do something that still shames me. I bolt.

No words of excuse, no stammering explanation, no waiting to wherever we’re supposed to be going. I just run out through the only open window onto the patio, leap across the board walk, and keep sprinting into the shopping mall ahead.

Panting, I finally use my comms. “I need an extraction, quickly.”

There’s no response, but just as I hit a sports clothing store on my left, a clerk calls out, “In here! Colored changing room!”

I don’t break my pace as I veer inside, rapidly drawing curtain after curtain to find the right changing room, confusing the hell out of the people hovering outside. There’s more than one fucking “colored” changing room.

Just as I think it, my luck shifts and I find the right one.


June 24, 2019

The palace would have been immaculate, if not for the bodies.

Gleaming marble floors, polished banisters, light spilling in from the few stained glass windows unobscured by thick curtains. It was beautiful.

But those damn statues of death everywhere…

I had been on excursions like this before. All of us had, as part of our training— a full tour of the sites of the old war.

But this place… This place was different.

Nowhere else could you still see the soldiers, frozen mid-battle. Nowhere else could you see the last of the rival royal families as they fought or fled, locked in the last move they ever made, the last breath they ever took.

The last of the vampires, cursed to a second death that wasn’t death.

It had been eons since the spell was cast, with a strength of magic never seen before or since. And to this day, no one has been able answer the questions of why, from where, by whom… and most importantly, for how long. Fear and superstition abound across the kingdom, many still believing the vampires would one day awaken.

The point of the visit was to dispel those myths, and see for ourselves what truly became of the titans of old. Walking amongst them, however, it was hard to hold on to the objectivity required of a historian. The stories I had been told growing up replayed unbidden in my mind, and while I usually shied away from superstition and fancy, I could not shake the unease that had wrapped itself around my heart from the moment we entered.

The vampires may have been cursed to stillness, but the stillness did not feel like the lifelessness of death… It felt like the crouch of a tiger, waiting to strike.

“What fools.”

…Clearly, I was the only one who felt this way.

“Quiet, Garrick. We still don’t know whether they can hear us.”

“I don’t care. It’s not like they can do anything about what we say. And they were idiots, fighting amongst one another like uncivilized rats rather than the superior race they claimed to be.”

With each word Garrick flung so carelessly, my panic rose.

“Garrick,” I hissed, eyes darting to the statues closest to us. Of course, they had to be the former princes, the Wairf’s wings gleaming, the Pyr’s sword still raised to cut them off. “Not. here.”

Always one to enjoy making things uncomfortable, Garrick laughed. “Fine, out in the courtyard then. I have something to show you all anyway.”

I followed, more relieved to be out of earshot of the vampires to be concerned about whatever Garrick had planned.

Until I heard the screech.

I’d read the records. I had pored over the descriptions of our former kin, and the noises they’d make to strike fear in their enemies during battle.

But I never, ever thought I would live to hear a Wairf’s scream.

I whirled to face Garrick, who was far-too-smugly leaning against the garden wall. “What have you done?”

His smirk made me wish I was close enough to plunge my sword into him.

“I made a better vampire.”

My heart was plunging to the depths of hell as he continued to speak.

“I borrowed some DNA, and I cast a little spell. They were stupid. Wairfs… Pyrs… Even the names. It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. They fought for nothing, just so one could claim superiority when neither deserved it. Combined, however… Combined they create a new breed. Stronger than both. Smarter than both. And released right here, for them to see where their petty war got them.”

As if timed, the hybrid’s shadow cast over us as he flew screeching through the open palace doors.

The elders are going to be so mad when they wake up.

And suddenly I knew. They were going to wake. They were going to wake because of what Garrick had done, and our people would pay.

“You idiot!”

I ran. The king would be the first. The others were already beginning to stir, droplets of their entrapment dripping to nothingness. But I had to find King Alareiks.

Behind me, the demon screeched again, looping overhead. Garrick’s magic was nowhere near as advanced as his ego, yet even I could see that his creation was truly a hybrid. The strong wings and tail of a Wairf, the lean musculature of the Pyr, the standard wolf’s head of the advanced Pyr warrior who transforms in battle.

It would have been impressive, if it wasn’t so damn stupid.

He found King Alareiks before I did, landing on the balcony overlooking the ballroom just as I skidded in, his eyes shifting between me and the nearly-awakened King of Wairfs. I kept him in my field of vision as I approached, eyes cast down as was the old custom.

After the War

2nd June 2019

You joined the fight so you could stop feeling helpless. And yet now, as the world crumbles around you, the anguish is worse than it’s ever been. All you can do is watch, and follow, as they drag them into the chamber, chained and blindfolded, silent in the face of death. Your allies. Your friends.

You curse the powers that drew you to the war in the first place. Being unseen, unheard unless made aware, was incredibly useful for intelligence gathering, for stealth missions where slit throats were better than the cacophony of gunfire. But now, though desperate to be seen, desperate to show that you haven’t abandoned them, desperate to die by their side, something within you – always beyond your control – won’t let you.

The anguish gives way to anger. You scream, but the soldiers calmly piling your friends in a room too white to be pure remain impassive. Just following their orders, unknowing, unseeing. You follow them out the door.

“You’ll kill them! You’ll kill children and old men! But you won’t kill me? Not young enough? Not old enough? Look at me!”

Nothing. Not from them. Not from your friends.

Then a small gasp from behind you. The doctor heard something. She sees something. You whirl, are on her in a second, a knife nearly severing the artery on the side of her neck before you realize with horror that she’s pregnant. They’d send someone pregnant to do this, someone carrying life to take it clinically and without thought. Does her line even deserve to go on, if she’s here? But no. You won’t kill a child. A mother. Not even one of theirs.

“How can I help them? Where are the keys?” You press the knife in just a little more, just enough to make her think she’s going to die. “Where?”

“Next room over,” she chokes out. “They always keep the keys in the next room over, to collect the chains once it’s done.”

You let her go. Grab the gauze on the tray next to her and wrap it around her throat. She says nothing, and you know she won’t betray you.

Then you’re there. Some focus, a short run, and you’re in the next room but you’re not alone. The keys are in the general’s hand but there’s no time for stealth, no time to make sure you’re still unseen. You grab. She resists, grabs for you, calls for guards, but you wrench yourself away.

You will not fail them. Not when you’re so close.

Out the room. Back to the next. Hands working fast, keys shaking and chains clinking to the floor. You can hear the guards – much less impassive now as they rush towards you all – but you don’t care as long as they get out first.

You drag them away, weary, broken, confused, but running for the lives they so nearly lost.
Then it’s over. The war.

The rubble remains. The ash still in the air despite how many months it’s been. Despite people out amongst the ruins everyday, trying to rebuild.

There’s a new leader now. You remember him. Fought with him, once. He’ll be good for the world. Already trying to make amends.

You listen to him speak, simple words from a man who spent more time using his hands. The world listens. All over, from crumbling skyscrapers to burnt villages.

You know they do, because you turn and walk away, find yourself in Tokyo, his words echoing in Japanese through the larger-than-life holograms.

Another step. The same in Russia.

Another step. The same in Dubai.

It feels like a movie. Cut-scene after cut-scene. Nation after nation. Showing what remains of the world as they listen to the one person who can give them hope.

You come to the street of the last battle. Where you struggled so hard to save your friends. The barricades have been removed, but it’s not much of a road, still. Still churned up concrete and stains you want to forget. You can’t breathe. You can’t move. But you can’t leave.

So you scream, rushing forward, seeing the horses and the enemies on top of them again, dark helmets and vests, before you’re back to reality, and the lights on top of shotguns turn into lanterns as food deliveries are made.

Food. Food sounds nice.

You wander, finally deciding on a small family-owned place. But when you walk in you realize you’re still crying. Turn just as the little boy locks eyes with yours. Curious. Concerned. Then he runs past you, yelling for his parents as you ignore him and rush to the bathroom, pour water over your face again and again.

You need to get clean, but you know you’ll never feel pure again. Still, you take off your suit, ignore the scars on your skin, try to cool your burning skin with wet cloth.

You’re about to get dressed again when she bursts in. Clearly the locks here are useless. You avoid her eye, grabbing your clothes and hoping she’ll just leave.

She looks scared. You hate that you notice. You know it means you’ll do something about it.

She notices you then. Takes a breath, puts on a charming smile. Glances at your body then lays a hand on your chest, groping. “I didn’t know you were a woman under there. That’s kind of exciting. What if we…”

You don’t let her finish. You grip her wrist, move it away. “You and I both know that I’m not your type.” You don’t tell her you’re offended she thought this what she needed to do, to get help from a soldier. You don’t tell her you’ve been used and manipulated enough to not want something as sacred as this tainted by transaction. You don’t tell her she’s pretty, and tempting, and that you might have let her continue her thought in another life, one where she wasn’t so obviously straight.

Instead, you say, “I heard the boy. I know you’re all in trouble. Just let me get dressed.”

She sighs out a thank you, grateful and ashamed in one breath. You ignore it.

You put your clothes back on, listening to the noises outside. Loud, confident men barking orders and laughs and making the waitresses squeal in fear. You know the gangs that have emerged since the war. You know the way they’ve clawed into small businesses like this one.

You wonder if that was partly why you walked in here.

Then you walk out the door, to the large center table, and you remind yourself what it’s like not to feel helpless.

The Escape

I slip back into reality with no memory of who I am, nor what has transpired before this. I’m not alone, either; two armed guards are walking beside me. It seems I’ve been a willing prisoner (am I prisoner? For some reason, I feel like one…), because I am not restrained. However, they do seem ready to pounce if I make any sudden moves, so apparently I am an escape risk. Wait… Escape from where? What is this place? It’s outside… but not outside… Oh, we’re walking along the perimeter of a building. High wall to my left, government-looking facility to my right… Why are they always these sleek, chrome, grey-white buildings? Governments never have any imagination… Strange thought. Was that me? Must be, these guards certainly aren’t saying anything.

There’s someone up ahead. She’s standing by a door. Is that where I’m being taken? Must be. Something is bubbling up inside me, with more and more urgency. Panic. Why am I panicking? Is something bad about to happen? No coherent thoughts in my head anymore all I can think of is escape. I must escape. How? The guards are speaking to the woman now. She looks young. My age, maybe. …How old am I? I don’t feel like I’ve been alive very long. She says something about vents. Vent… I get flashing images of being huddled up in one, wrapped in a blanket… It’s comforting. Did I used to live in a vent somewhere? That’s strange. I must have been homeless. NO! Focus! Escape! I have to get out, fast! The guards are leaving me with her. I’ll get my chance soon. They need to go away first. But I can’t let her take me too far into this place or I’ll get lost. All these bright lights and identical hallways. Oh, there’s a vent here. That’s funny. Maybe she was just saying there was something wrong with it… Why can’t I think properly? What’s wrong with me? We’re approaching a door. It is the only door that is different and the panic has reached fever pitch. I need to get away. I need to get away NOW. RUN.

I do. I turn around and make a break for it, taking the same path we came from. The woman is yelling for me to come back, yelling for someone to stop me, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here. Yet. They’re going to come for me. The thought makes me run faster. I get to the vent and yank it open, intending to hide or find a way out. It’s blocked. I whimper in fear and frustration. Of course, that must have been what she was saying. I’ve done this before. They know. They don’t intend to let it happen again.

I keep running and get outside, a giant wall glaring right at me. Another to the right, meeting it at a corner. The sliding doors are behind me, with that woman getting closer. She is armed with back-up, now… I can sense it like the hot breath of a predator on my neck. In my peripheral vision, I see the guards who had escorted me here coming in fast from the left. It’s a long yard and they had left me eagerly, so they are still far off. I have time to make a decision. Get over that wall. Without pausing to think about it I rush forward, slapping my foot against the right hand surface of the corner and thrusting myself up, twisting my body to grab at the other ledge. Using both my legs and my arms I pull myself up and over, hearing the dismayed yells of my pursuers as I make the jump down. I have no idea how I did what I just did but there’s no time for me to think. They’ll be out soon, and they’ll be armed. I run.

It strikes me as odd how fast I seem to be, and if it weren’t for the fact I was being chased, I’d probably enjoy it more. I like this. Feet pushing the ground back and away, air rippling at my clothes. Then I see them in the distance, standing in their oncoming jeeps with guns drawn, trying to close in on me, and I forget everything except needing to get away. There are houses and buildings here. Quick as a rabbit, I flit to the right, leaping over a fence and finding myself in a small complex. I suddenly realise how winded I am and begin to pant, bending over to rest for a few moments.

“You seem like you’re in trouble.”

I snap back up so fast I hear my spine crack, searching for the source of the voice. One of the little house doors is open wide, a man sitting on the floor with some food, his side facing me. He must have been eating, or about to. My stomach growls a little. He hears, and chuckles softly. Long, slim hands attached to bony wrists toss two small scones across from him. I feel strangely safe for now, so I walk inside cautiously, shutting the door, and sit down. He smiles. He has a kind face. Weather-beaten skin and a thin, wiry body. But he doesn’t seem to be very old. I remember that I still don’t know how old I am. I don’t even know my own name.

“Eat,” he says, tearing a piece off one of his scones and taking a bite.

Hungry as I am, it strikes me that this is a very small house in an old complex. Even the rug we were sitting on felt thin and worn out. He may be sharing the only food he has for the night. “What about you? Is that enough?” I marvel at the sound of my own voice. It’s quiet, raspy from lack of water. Not too high-pitched, not as deep as a man’s. I realize I do not know how I look. The need to see my face is rising.

The man watches me. He can tell I’m struggling with something, but says nothing of it. “I always buy extra. Don’t worry. Please eat.”

I gratefully reach for one of the scones when the door bursts open. In an instant, I am across the hall and in the kitchen, hiding behind the fridge. I hear a yell, then a thud. My heart races. I’m terrified and guilty. No. No, no, no please let nothing have happened to the man. Please let him not be dead. Grabbing a knife from the counter I glance out towards the room. Only one of those men, coming this way. As soon as he walks through the door I growl as my arm swings out and I stab him as hard as I can. Not waiting for anything, I get the hell out of there. There’s no time to check on the kind stranger. I can only wish he’s okay, and make sure to stay away from people. Their kindness could get them hurt. Those who were kind, anyway.

I run without a single break in stride, slowing only marginally as tiredness makes me lose momentum, then speeding up again a second later. There’s no one out but me and the men coming after me, though I have yet to see them. I know they’re out there. I change directions. Climb over walls. Vault over any obstacles in my way. Hide, and then break into a run again. I don’t care where I go, so long as it’s far, far away. I still have no idea why I ran. All I could say for sure was that I knew that once I walked through that door, there was no going back. I am a liability. Whatever they wanted from me, they did not get. And we all know what happens to liabilities. I nod my agreement and pick up speed.

But the night drags on, and soon I am too tired to continue. It strikes me as odd that it has taken me this long to tire out. Adrenaline, probably.  Find a place to spend the night. Yes, I need to sleep. I see a large villa close by. It’s big enough that I think I can risk hiding somewhere on the grounds. I can leave in the morning before I am discovered.

Exhausted, I climb the gate slowly, trying to keep my movements controlled for as little sound as possible. At this point, the temptation to just let myself crash to the ground and sleep where I land is almost overpowering. Only the thought of what would happen if I did keeps me from it. Luckily for me, the only lights on are those in a few rooms on the higher floors, so I can sneak about easily, crouching low and close to the walls of the house.

Then I stumble across the children. They spot me right in the middle of their play, and curiously make their way over. Probably heard my labored breathing and turned to look. Crap, what the hell are they doing up so late? Why aren’t they afraid of me, a stranger who’s broken into their house in the middle of the night? I don’t even care anymore. The exhaustion is taking over. Just as they reach me, saying things I can’t quite hear, I slump to the ground and it all goes dark.