By Mark Cunningham
At that very moment, across the Atlantic where night already held sway, a woman ran through the streets of Arles, France. The moon hung high, fat and bloated in a crisp sky as she made her way towards the arena, leaves blowing in quick circles about her in the mournful breeze. She knew she was being followed and had given up all pretense of anything other than flight. She was being hunted. The hunters were in a group. Her chances of survival were reduced with every passing moment. Her instinct led her to the arena.
Arles was an old town. The Romans had come early, the tourists had come later. The Romans had built like Romans and built a lot and well enough that there was still something for those tourists to see into a third millennium. It was late though and most of them were asleep or in bed. Those few who were still about would barely have noticed her slip through the streets, quietly weaving in and out of the leaves, though they would have done well to count themselves lucky that it was on this night they had heard the sound of those leaves. Many other nights would have ended forever anything ever after but darkness.
She could hear the sounds they made, though she hadn’t made visual contact with any of her pursuers yet. She concentrated on her destination. If she had any chance of making it to another sunset, she had to get to the arena.
“It’s the arena” She heard the voice on the wind, a whisper impossible to hear and so easy to miss with the reach of her mind, but it was there and she took it in. It was French, but with a touch of the Pyrenees, a slight Basque flavor that came through. They knew where she was going so she was doomed. The warrens of the arena were old and familiar to her, but there was nowhere for her to hide that a determined search by daylight wouldn’t reveal and she involuntarily shuddered at the image of what few final seconds she would endure as they pulled her out into the sunlight to explode into whatever cosmic debris her hunger had wrought.
There was no place else to go. There were too many of them, at least ten, to try to fight. They were pros too, that was easily recognizable. They had set her up with a mark that had been irresistible. That had taken some intelligence. They knew who she was, or at least enough about her that the distinction became irrelevant.
She rounded a corner and the Arena came into view; she quickly leapt across the final distance, coming to the walled and shadow filled perimeter. Knowing they would be there, she went up the wall and over the top of it without slowing down. There were two of them and they were ready for her, but ready at the door of the gate, not when she dropped down on them.
The first one she kicked in the back, halfway up the spine, achieving instantaneous immobilization as the spine snapped. He crumpled like a bag of wind that had punctured, softly blowing into a scream. His partner turned and raised a pistol, but she was behind him before he had a chance to fire it. She grabbed his hand and raised it, pumping two rounds into a third man she heard enter the arena. Her eyes had begun to glow in the darkness and she quickly pulled back the neck and sunk her teeth greedily into it. With a yank, she opened his throat and pulled him back to bleed out into her. It was over quickly and she took no pains to dispose of the empty. There would be more coming. All she could do was wait and try to take as many as she could before they destroyed her. If in the process she could gorge herself one last time, ravaging beyond any need for self preservation, then that was an ending any of her kind could envy.
She melted into the shadows to wait, but they came prepared and in numbers too many. They used silver and garlic and finally they just wore her down. It took them time and they lost more blood, but they had both in reserve.
Dawn was still a few hours away, but the darkness was softening as she was finally backed into a corner of the arena by seven of them with crossbow pistols holding sharpened wood stakes. She fanned her gaze across them as she slowly walked backwards, looking for any mental facet or flaw she could exploit, but finding nothing but sheer impenetrable hatred. Their hatred took shape into a cross, which startled her, but only for a moment. She had lived as dead long enough to put those kind of fears behind her.
They were priests. She stopped in her tracks and spit red gore from her lips.
“Well Father” She whispered in Italian, fey and hauntingly sweet. “What brings you out on so lonely a night? Pray tell me, has one of your…” She paused to lick her lips, switching easily to French “…altar boys gone missing? Don’t worry, if I find any I will be happy to share” She bared her fangs, looking for the right opportunity to strike without getting impaled with stakes.
He raised his pistol and shot her through the shoulder. The bolt took her back with it and pinned her against the wall. Molten heat exploded in a ring around the bolt head that she was skewered upon. Silver and garlic slithered in pain beyond any human capacity to understand let alone endure. So she spat again then looked up at the priest with red eyes glowing with hatred and began to laugh.
“So will you burn as ever a witch should burn.” The priest’s eyes glowed with a fire of their own. It was a fire of an apocalyptic faith made real in the presence of Evil. There was also redemption in those eyes. She saw it and began to seek an entrance through the blind spots of his dogma.
“What great sin do you hide then priest?” She teased him with her laughter and continued in Italian, her native tongue rolling easily from lips that didn’t breathe. “From what poison well do you drink from that you would hope to cleanse with your mad crusade?” She saw him hesitate and began to coil. She would put every last of herself into it. All her will and lust and power and all the blood that still raged through her, diminishing the power of the silver. Before she could spring, he shot a second bolt into her
“We will watch you burn in less than two hours.” He switched to English. We will film it and we will show the world what you are. You will be on Youtube before your ashes hit the ground. You will be in hell an instant before that.” There was no redemption in that voice.
She dug down one last time and prepared to explode. She would call it up. She would summon that dark thing that lay within her; that thing that was hot and fed by all that blood. It was the source of all her power, of all that she was. She could only use it once because after she let out the darkness, there was nothing to do but feed. She would feed until there was nothing left to feed on or until something stopped her.
He began to laugh and his laughter was picked up by his brothers. They laughed until they realized she had joined them, then slowly stopped. She finally stopped, but the laughter didn’t. She smiled as she recognized the sound. She threw her head back and roared, calling back the darkness, swallowing it back with the laughter.
The priest who had shot her recognized what had happened as well.
“It’s a trap.” He shouted but it was too late; an instant later gray shapes that were low and fast moved out of leaf and shadow bringing silent death swiftly to all but two of his companions. He also was spared, merely held tightly in a grasp so rigid there was no possibility of motion.
One of the shadows separated and took the form of a man in a long gray jacket. He spoke with a Scottish accent. “I almost let you rage.” He said as he approached her. Stopping in front of her, he slowly shook his head. “It would have been a worthy ending.” He grasped the end of a bolt in either hand and pulled them out of the wall and out the front of her quickly, stepping back as gore that steamed with decay from the corrosive silver sprayed out of her wounds. He gestured and two of the surviving priests were pushed forward. He quickly slashed their throats with a long curved knife and threw them at her to spray their lives into her open wounds. They wounds healed before the priests finished draining, so she was able to drink a bit, enough to build up a thirst for more.
“Go feed on this one then.” The Scot pointed to the priest who had shot her. “You can take some time. We have to clean up your mess.”
She looked at the priest who was held fast in cold strong arms, his eyes shaking with horror. He began to pray, shrilly begging for mercy, though not from her.
“Well Father.” She took it full circle. “I think we have time now to finish our conversation about sin. She began to walk slowly towards him, quickly floating just above the swirling leaves. He began to pray louder, his tone taking on frantic despair, but she heard the dead Scot call over his shoulder as he walked away.
“When you’re finished we need to talk. There is some trouble back in America. They sent me to get you. Did I remember to say you’re welcome by the way?”
He chuckled low and into some fog. She considered the implications of his words for a moment, the closed the gap between herself and the priest who was released into her arms, still praying.
She held him out in front of her, then easily lifted him up until his feet were dangling.
“The lord is my Shepherd. You are nothing but a lie, an abomination in the sight of God. I serve God. I have no fear.” He looked down at her and the joyous hatred filled his eyes as he began to recite a prayer in Latin. She recognized it a the prayer for the martyrs. She considered this and smiled most unpleasantly. She lowered him and pulled him close until her lips were close to his ear.
“If you would serve priest, then serve me as an acolyte. I will teach you the ways of sin and darkness and you will worship me.” She gazed into his eyes and there was again hesitation. This time she just poured her will into the hole and saw what was hidden there. What she saw made her laugh wickedly.
“Well priest, in life you strove to serve your church as a eunuch, though your failure lies open in your very eyes. So too as a eunuch in death will you serve me.” She stopped and smiled wickedly. “But I will be kinder and take a more literal interpretation and remove the temptation completely, the better to inspire your fealty.”
The prayers soon turned to pleading, though screams quickly followed. There was silence followed by moaning and soon nothing more than a mewl easily lost in the mournful mistral of Provence.