This is still subject to change…
I, being of sound mind, body, and death, was fully aware that attempting an escape from the ancient, marble barriers of the Dark City would surely be the end of me. The real end of me, because I had only very recently lost my human life and joined the ranks of the undead. The Vampires.
I suppose it wasn’t totally unexpected. I’ve been destined for the darkness since I was born.
My mortal parents never understood me. My father never cared to try. But I missed my family. Despite all the times I felt out of place with them, I missed them. My sister most of all.
I can still hear her screams so loud, the memory of the night she was ripped from her life, so vivid, it torments me even now—now that I’ve become the very thing that destroyed her.
My life has begun again.
Escaping one’s own grave proves difficult. Especially when the keepers of hell, itself, hold you down so long, you forget how to scream.
It’s moments like those people discover who they truly are. They learn things they’ve never known about themselves. Like how they’ve possessed a strength and courage that otherwise thrived undetected and dormant beneath their surfaces for their whole lives, as was my own case.
Several days prior, which now felt like years, I was kidnapped with a mortal girl named Charlotte and taken down to the very mecca—the very headquarters of darkness, death, and impossibilities. A city they named Abelim—a metropolis built under the ancient foundation of Prague. The Dark City exists in secret. It harbors an ancient clan of monsters that walk among us—an army I am now part of. And Charlotte, the most interesting girl I’d ever met, escaped her dangerous imprisonment with the most powerful Vampire I’d ever known, and left me down there. Alone. Afraid.
It is arguable that I had not always been a monster. And even though I was born with impossible powers I never understood, I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for an eternity of thirst and anguish. Evil was forced upon me soon after I was captured in the depths of that underground city of shadow. I had no choice.
They, the ancient Parliament coven, tied me up and shoved it down my throat like I was some animal—some amusing experiment. They didn’t care how it hurt me to watch the fear wash through Charlotte’s eyes when she looked at my new, monster flesh for the first time. The Elders didn’t shift an inch to comfort me while I watched her leave with him—with Valek—the one who I was allegedly a descendent of.
My only living relative, they all said.
It was something I didn’t want to believe. Valek was the picture of darkness itself. I never wanted to be like him, skulking around in misery and loneliness for centuries. I had been surrounded by misery and loneliness enough while I was an awkward, mortal teenager. I had been the outcast. The loner English major with secret powers I hid under my sweatshirts next to the emotional scars left by an aloof father.
But Charlotte pushed through my dark walls like a honey-colored sunrise. The day she literally ran into me, felt like the day I took my first breath. For the first time, the girl standing in front of me didn’t look up at me with the word ‘freak’ written in her eyes. She didn’t judge me. Not even an ounce.
Because we were the same.
Down in Abelim, it might have seemed I would be around creatures who would finally understand me. After all, they had also been human once, but now possessed unearthly power. They too hid from normalcy. The Elders of the Parliament knew what it felt like to wield powers so unreal those powers also seemed a burden. They knew what it felt like to hide. They should have been on my side.
I could not have been more wrong.
Those fiends were no more friends of mine than any of the kids I grew up with. No. No one understood me the way Charlotte did. Even after I was completely changed into the beast I am now, it seemed like she would be the only one who would ever get me—who would ever really understand. We were kindred. We were twin souls. Not quite magic, and not quite mortal.
So many people wanted her. To know her. To be close to her. To destroy her. The Parliament Elders wanted her blood under their claws to avenge all the damage she’d done. Aiden wanted her for the worst of reasons. Valek wanted her because he felt responsible for her. I wanted her simply because I wanted to love her. There was no complicated way about it. And I knew I could love her better than he ever could.
The city of Abelim was under complete discord after the mysterious Curator creatures took over the capitol and the Sands of Lilith had been stopped by the flow of Cicero’s blood. It had been days of elaborate scheming and dark-magic-trickery that lead us all to this point.
The darkness seemed to have come alive, melting into a liquid shadow that swallowed the floors and flowed up the marble walls. It drowned the light in the Pearl Hall. Many of the Elders escaped to their crypts, for refuge.
Ophelia was left beyond repair after Valek viciously dismembered her body and left the pieces scattered about her crystal-clad bedchamber—a fashionable and fitting grave for such a chic member of the dead.
A few of the more loyal Elders raced her body to the hag, Baba Yaga, with hopes that the ancient Sorceress might have been able to revive her.
Another band of Vampires bolted to the world upward in an attempt to catch Valek. But even I, who knew so little, knew they would be too late. In the short time I became acquainted with Valek, I knew he was the cleverest of them all. That bastard would have been halfway to Poland within a single beat of Charlotte’s pulse by the time any of the others reached the surface.
There were no moments to waste. I had no time to figure out how to effectively save anybody, let alone myself.
Among the rioting pummel of collapsing stalagmites and skin-crawling screams, I collapsed against one of the walls, it’s roughness causing no arousal from my new, stony skin. I felt nothing. I was empty, like an inanimate thing. Sliding down against my spine, I buried my face in my hands; an effort to hide myself from my own terrifying reality; things only a few, short weeks before I thought to only be true in fiction.
My beastly eyes stung, awash with these new, blood tears I wasn’t used to. I inhaled their rusty scent as they fell between my sneakers, seeping into the cracked marble, like veins in the stone. I raked my claws through my hair and searched through the shadow for a plan.
I had always been a freak in life, but, as I looked around at the immense, underground crypt, I knew I didn’t belong down there, either. Immortality. Strength. Undeniable beauty. They weren’t ever things I was surrounded by. They weren’t comfortable. They weren’t familiar. And they weren’t worth everything I’d lost. Family. Love. Life.
“Nikolai!” A tiny voice called out for me.
I looked toward the sound from my lost and lonely place on the floor. Frowning, I blinked hard to focus on the figure racing down the hollow corridor toward me. The Witch. The little one.
Her aged, violet eyes were cautious and locked on me, as she stopped several feet away from where I was curled up. Her hair was still gray, her spine still bent.
She looked just as lost as I felt. Just as afraid. Afraid of me, perhaps. After all, I was newly created. At the pique of my thirst. There was no telling what I was capable of. Who I would kill. Of course, no harm would come to her. She didn’t smell like the others. She didn’t appeal to me at all in the way they did. Still, I didn’t know what to do. Attempting to make no sudden movements, I shifted back up to my feet as slowly as I could, blinking back at her.
The only part of her that moved, was the slight step she took toward me.
And then I smelled it, and I figured out why she was there. She was trying to warn me. Or, perhaps, protect the others.
The warm, gushing pulses were enough to drown me. I caught myself on the wall, digging my nails as far as they could go into the stone. Salt. Iron. Blood. I looked up to see the horde of human girls racing through the various passageways behind Sarah.
The little enchantress stood as the only blockade between them and me. I felt my heart give one, dead thump and it was nearly powerful enough to knock me forward. If she hadn’t been there, I would have undoubtedly killed every last one of them.
As I focused, all of the commotion before me seemed to play on dramatically slow.
Silvery tears slipped from Sarah’s eyes. Her pulse sounded far closer than the others, though, hers was dry and as rapid as a mouse’s. She reached for me, holding her arms out straight, like she was begging, willing me to come to her and control myself. She looked weathered, so much beside herself that she needed someone else beside her or she might collapse.
I ran. I made the choice. This change within me would not overpower me. I was a good guy. Under it all, I was good.
Among the snarling monsters, the screeching, scattered humans, and the waves of enchanted, dark shadow, I ran and scooped her up into my arms.
“I’m going to get us out of here,” I promised.
All I could hear were Sarah’s quiet whimpers with the fevered fluttering of her mouse-sized pulse. I cradled her against me, her tiny face buried into my shoulder. I hugged her tighter to ensure her that she was safe. It was not romantic. It was friend comforting friend. Lost comforting lost. Everything else was just white noise and seemed to vanish as I raced through grim the tunnels.
The dim light from the wall sconces reflected over the polished floors and guided my way. I knew the more light there was, the closer we were to our exit. I wasn’t sure how long it was that I was running, making my way through the maze of halls.
I flipped through my various, dizzying thoughts for a plan, but I just kept coming up empty. It was all I could do to just keep moving. My new, Vampire mind should have been quick and keen, but I was distracted. I was supposed to be clever, wasn’t I? After all, he could make decisions on the turn of a dime. And allegedly, I was from him, so why couldn’t I?
“S-Sarah!” Abruptly, another familiar voice called out to the Witch in my arms from out of the chaos. She looked up toward the source of the sound, and I slowed. I saw him then, as well.
Edwin, along with the giant Spider-guy-thing standing stock still against the emptiness of a corridor abandoned. They looked just as maddeningly lost as she did—as we all did. I set the Witch down, and before I could release her from my arms, her legs were already moving. Just as she had to me, she was racing for the animated, burlap fellow. The scarecrow boy, or whatever sort of creature he was.
But she didn’t see the Vampire that was coming. Didn’t hear the snarling gnashes that bounced off the hardened surroundings to my new, overly-sensitive ears. Once again, the lightning-fast action before me slowed. The fiend was headed straight for her. In rage? In confusion? Did he think she belonged to the group of captive girls? I began to panic, but there it came. The sharpness of thought. The plan I had been waiting for.
I dashed for him, my claws bared. A furious roar ripped from my center, a sound that I didn’t know I was even capable of making. Surprised at myself, I slammed into him, both of us tumbling to the marble floors of the capitol. Half my mind was amazed by my strength. It was the human half that was still leftover somehow, marveling at the power and agility of my Vampire half.
I rolled atop the Elder. My claw covering the entirety of his face, I pulled him up with his head in my grasp, before slamming his skull down hard, cracking the marble floors beneath him in a deep way. If he were human, the impact would have been enough to flatten him. But this only made him angrier. He howled something beastly and slashed at me, gaining the upper hand for only a minute as he then rolled on top of me. With both of his claws on either side of my face, he threatened to tear my head clean off my shoulders. I could see it in his eyes and the way he grinned down at me—as though he’d already won.
“Nikolai!” Sarah called from somewhere behind me. “Finish him!”
Without another human thought, I was growling from between my fangs, my talons gripping his cranium, as well. We were about to kill each other when one other voice boomed from over the chaos.
“Stop. Right. There.”
The Vampire above me grinned wider as we both looked to see Milo, who had appeared in the corridor with the rest of his posse. His claws were in fists. “Leave him to me,” he said to the Elder who immediately pushed up and away, though not without a satisfied snicker.
I shot to my feet, though remained crouching, ready to lunge again.
Milo’s initial response was only the chilling sound of his wicked laughter. “What are you going to do, Nikolai? Kill me?” Taking a few steps forward, he gestured to himself. “Have you forgotten? Kill me, and it is our law that you are executed at dawn.” He lifted his thick, black eyebrows, a crooked grin contorting his features. “The single, most important piece of Vampire code.” He continued to advance, his smugness unfaltering. And as he did, the quaking palace seemed to quiet around us at last.
I peered about our surroundings, finding no more screaming. No more running, or twisting shadows.
“We have great plans for you,” he continued. I looked to see a few more Elders had appeared, flanking Sarah, Edwin, and the Spider. “You’re not escaping the Silver City. Not just yet.” Milo came toe to toe with me. His beady eyes slanted even more, as he gripped the top of my shoulder with his claw, his nails digging deep. “Your presence is requested by Cicero in the Great Hall.”