I slowly open my eyes, blinking several times to clear my vision. My captors have already left, predictably: they have not much time to get back to their safe houses, to their nests and hide outs, however they are called. The injuries inflicted by them on my body during the chase, intermittent fights and consequent capture have already healed, as should be expected: their primary intent was not prolonging the torture, but making sure that the execution is carried out, since my life had potential to cause more damage than information which could have been gathered from me would have been worth; and that's not mentioning that I would not have given information lightly, if at all, even under pain of eternal torture and threat of true death. It's perturbing how well they understood my character, after I had given them merely a glimpse of my character behind the mask, after my first attempt to become one of them, which is also likely to be the last. I can only be grateful that they have not ordered their lackeys to stay behind to take care of my remains; the pain of burning alive is worth the satisfaction of finally escaping their radar. I 'only' have to make sure to be not noticed by vampires again, to be not lured into joining their company again, where masks are removed so easily and truths slip past lips, unbidden, and that means staying not one, but two steps ahead of them in the ongoing cold battle of deception.
I am tired, weak and hungry. None of this is particularly surprising, after the events of this night. The surprising part is my memory of wooden stake driven through my heart, as captors surrounded me, of my body dissolving into cinders, even as my mind felt as if my body was on fire. No, the fact that they finally caught and killed me is not as striking as the part that I am now alive to remember this, and to live, despite knowing that, by rights, I should be truly dead, as I had met my true death, and my body had turned into ashes - they would not have left otherwise, they have witnessed my 'impossible' escapes before, though none as miraculous as this one. Yet, while they clearly had not the slightest notion of such a possibility as this 'resurrection', I am not arrogant enough to assume that there were no such, or similar enough, cases in the past, or that one of those remembering me will not be open-minded enough to be prepared to such a possibility. For my own survival, I have to surmise that somebody else - most likely, a several thousands years old vampire, since no other race on Earth has maintained such a close contact with Death over time, such a growing collection of near-Death experiences, the best known of which include botched turnings, and summons of a ghost of a deceased person. If I wished to look for information about the likely reason, consequences, and price, of my survival, I should have visited one of the ancient vampires. Nevertheless, I cannot risk contacting somebody who would have such an advantage over me; not now, when I was defeated by those who are individually notably weaker than me but together were able to hunt me down, to trap me, to kill me. I am not going to gamble with my life by seeking out those stronger than me, not even when I will be assured of my ability to evade the existing and vast network of vampires and their supernatural allies despite being a force to be reckoned with, I cannot afford to antagonize anybody needlessly, especially when they have allies, and I don't have even a single soul whom I would trust to watch me sleep, to guard my back.
I turn my head left and right, flexing stiff neck to stretch the vertebrae. My train of thoughts shifts to another track, that of reliving the past. Death is grim, implacable and steadfast; humans, especially mortal humans, tend to add 'fair', because there is no discrimination between rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, innocent and deadly - either of them can be taken by death, either unexpectedly and painfully in a fit of illness, or welcoming it with open arms as sweet freedom from slavery and despair. Vampires are considered by humans to be an exemption to the rule, because, ostensibly, a vampire has no limit on length of his life. However, a vampire - who has already gone through the death-like (and I can now personally confirm the similarity, having escaped death twice, and by distinctly different means) experience of being turned - becomes accustomed to the thought of immortality, as years, decades and centuries pass by, without the body ageing, and the prospect of true death becomes even more terrifying as a vampire sheds human's preconceptions of its gradual approach.
I roll my shoulders, to relieve the tension accrued from the uncomfortable position on the cold floor. Death is as unescapable for a vampire as it is for a human, once the right circumstances arise. However, for some reason, I was released from Death's clutches, even though I have not done anything which could possibly merit such a spectacular pardon. There are memories in my head, memories not exactly my own, which clarify the causes of this event. However, I push them back, to go through them later, when I have time to do it at my leisure. Right now, I cannot help but wonder if this event is an act of mercy or merely a torturous delay of my execution. What would be done to me if I was found out to have been resurrected after my true death, if my captors had already ruthlessly killed me merely for not registering with them, for avoiding and disrespecting other vampires, challenging their authority? To be fair, the circumstances were quite suspicious, and my actions weren't placatory in the least. Perhaps, I should have been more open to the idea of peace talks; but then I would not have found out their abilities, tactics and battle readiness to the same extent as I did from forcing them to give chase, from fighting against them. It turned out that I still possessed only rudimentary knowledge of their world, traditions, culture, despite surviving many a winter since the turning. Pushing boundaries can be quite helpful in this regard, even though the resulting backlash can be quite unpleasant, and could be considered a natural course of action had they known my past - which I, precisely, refused to even hint at. I was a riddle to them, defying their expectations, and giving them no explanations whilst they were offended by my actions on their turf.
I was pinned to the floor by combination of sharp pieces of wood and chains of silver. I could not move even a finger, much less an arm. I was not surprised: I had demonstrated imagination in escaping these kinds of fetters before. For a youngling, I had a surprisingly high pain threshold, and turning weapons against their wielders augments element of surprise, as I had proven to them many a time during the exhausting chase. It would not save me, however, not this time: I could not find a weak link in the team which surrounded me; I could not find a weak point in the shackles containing me. I knew I would not find pity from them; it was too late to talk them down. They listened not to my words, but to my movements, and water dripping from the ceiling. They had not eyes on the back of the head, but they didn't need to: should somebody step in behind them, they would hear the water splashing under his foot, should somebody fly in, they would note the disturbance in the drops within the air. True, they could not hear dust dancing in the air, like I could at the height of my powers, and they would not be able to notice a moth flying in the rain and solicitously protecting his scaly wings from the falling drops, but it was of no use. Not when they were supported by their vast network wherever they went, while I had not even a friend to rely on, not a single one on this continent, not that I would have intentionally put him in danger if I had one, and could neither turn into a butterfly nor call one of the beautiful nymphs to my help. Being better at detecting the opponents was not helpful when they surrounded me completely, and their skill was high enough that I could no longer escape the siege, nor find a chink in their armour. And their belief in justness of the orders given to them, in infallibility of the court that judged me in my absence, was part of that armour, which I was reluctantly awed by, even as I was observing it being used against me. Besides, even if they were inclined to listen to me, I would have not wished to spill my life story to them. My lips were sealed for more than one reason.
"You had entered our territory, uninvited. You had hidden yourself not only from humans, but from other supernaturals, too. Your rudeness in not registering in the Area on arrival could have been excused as ignorance of a newborn vampire, had you not hidden yourself too well, showing the experience beyond that of a recently turned childe. Nevertheless, assumption of good will was made, and messengers were sent, inviting you to an audience with the local Sheriff. You harshly declined the invitation, despite having been explained its importance. You expressed your wish to be left alone, lest your resistance causes insurmountable troubles for us. We do not take well to threats, especially from an unknown source and for unspecified reason; such a black horse cannot be allowed to run unchecked, to potentially trample people under its hoofs. You were asked the name of your maker, and you claimed that you didn't know it; persuading you to disclose the truth was futile. Our best trackers were sent to your house, in an attempt to identify the blood flowing in your veins. To our dread, your blood had smelt of many vampires of different ages. Yet again, you declined to answer our strainedly polite yet firm questions, only snapping in response, as if we had no right to know what happened to our kin, what stranger wished to live in our midst. The worst was assumed, and the hunt began. You run, as if you could hope to escape the chase. You run desperately, just to avoid answering the questions we asked you. Confirming our earlier suspicions, all the deaths left in your wake during this time were deaths of vampires, as we closely followed your trail, not of humans or even weres, despite your evident bloodthirst, as we called in a favour from the local pack." A sharp wooden stake was pushed through my beating heart. "Confound the kinslayer, and let us hope scum like him will not be seen any time soon, here or elsewhere." I had felt as if liquid fire was flowing through my veins. I had seen, from the corner of my eye, my body turning to dust and ashes. I was detachedly surprised that I could still see the smoking pieces of wood when my eyes were already turning to chark. Unconsciousness crept up on me, and I started to fight against it. I knew I could not possibly get myself free of the wood and silver, but my mind was my own, and I would not yield it, not even to true death itself...
***End of Flashback***
I shake the remembrance out of my head, shivering slightly in apprehension. Death missed me once, when I was turned into a vampire, even though there was no necessity for that - the only threat to my life, at that moment, was the vampire itself, and I hadn't known how to defend myself, especially considering my unwillingness to kill such a beautiful, vulnerable being. Death spared me second time, for reasons which I will look into later. I have neither reason nor wish to rely on Death to save me the third time. I will reminiscence about the reasons for my miraculous survival later, when I am sure I have done everything I could to conceal it from curious eyes of those who would harm me. And nearly everybody, by now, has a reason to hurt me. Fae, because their blood is as addictive to me as to any other vampire - and unlike other vampires, I am a greater danger to them, since I have difficulties finding a steady supply of nutrition, not allowing myself to kill or glamour a living being just for the sake of hunting, not allowing myself to support my life, my survival by theft from others, and seeking ways to pay the price of whatever I had taken from others. Werewolves, because I am a vampire, and there is ongoing dislike between these two races. Several particular packs of werewolves, because I had fought against them and won, which is quite embarrassing for them, when their vampire allies asked for help in tracking down a rogue. Particular vampire Sheriff, because he ordered my death, and I am still alive, even though he hopefully will not ever know of this. Any vampire who sniffs my blood, because it smells of many different vampires whose blood I had drunk during the almost-a-century of my life, and amidst vampires, drinking blood of their own kin is a taboo like no other. Anti-vampire witch covens, because I am a vampire, and also because they might recognize me - if they ever connect the dots - as the anomaly behind several intrusions into their facilities (snorting: 'several' is an understatement, since I had lost count of my fearless escapades long ago; I have no patience when it comes to overhearing plans of draining somebody dry, painfully, to death, and using the liquid gold for their own insatiable greed). Anomaly, for several different reasons. I had broken into their facility extremely close to daylight, as no other vampire would dare; I had touched silver without leaving smell of burned skin behind; I had drunk the blood I found in storage, a sacrilege which no vampire would ever think to commit, likening myself to my opponents; I healed and freed the vampires found here, which no fae would be brave or selfless enough to do, and a werewolf would not wish to do unless they were his pack's allies. And most importantly, I had never left a clue to my identity behind, showing extreme care to be followed by neither vicious enemies nor potential allies, to be neither thanked nor attacked for the unprovoked intervention into their business.
I slowly sit up - I have to do this sooner or later, if I am to get out of there at all, and I refuse to give up; any unnecessary delay would only increase chances of me being noticed. I have to get out of here without my captors knowing of my 'resurrection', or even suspecting it. Fortunately, my body is changed slightly, not enough to affect my balance, but enough to stop them from recognizing me, unless they got an opportunity to scent me - and I have no wish to give them such an opportunity ever again, having seen their reactions once: the practical lesson of inadmissibility of violation of this unspoken tradition was more than enough, thank you very much... I return to the topic on hand. Puddles on the floor can serve as an excellent mirror for a vampire, with the acute vision overcoming darkness, be it the gloaming or the predawn mist. My eyes have turned from sky blue to brown - not hazel or amber, but pitch dark, almost black. Light brown hair have become chestnut brown, and lost their golden highlights. Embarrassing pug nose has been replaced with a sinister hawk one. There are other slight changes in facial structure, enough to dispel any suspicion should I be seen by my enemies in a photograph or through a camera, since no plastic operation or make-up could possibly modify my appearance so thoroughly, in such details.
Besides, plastic operation is nearly impossible for a vampire, since any surgical operation is recognized as a wound, to be healed quickly, and when vampire heals, his body returns to its previous condition, unless the injuries were inflicted by silver or wood - and then the scars after the operation would have been too obvious, causing suspicion not merely in vampires, but even in ordinary humans, especially police officers. And makeup has too distinctive smell to be hidden from a vampire's attention. Therefore, when I had to change my appearance, I consulted sub-cultures which would allow me to do so without attracting undue attention. One of the most ridiculous disguises I had worn was a hand-made vampire costume for Halloween. It was a subtlety of its own level: many true vampires wear such 'costumes' on Samhain, if only for the temporary freedom it gives them in acting as themselves, and they don't expect a paranoid rogue to join into their fun by donning a black cape; at the same time, I was probably the only vampire who included human-made fake vampire-fangs into his costume, to masquerade as human in front of vampires, while continuing to be a vampire in front of humans. There is truth in both of these pretences: while I am far enough from the society of vampires to be almost as ignorant as an average human, I am physically, biologically, a vampire, albeit with a strongly human mentality - I have done everything I could to avoid, to shut out, the other vampires, especially those who could potentially command me. Yes, despite having not met my master since before my turning, or maybe, because of not ever forming the bond with him, I am vulnerable to the vampires which are older than me - should they give me their blood, and drink mine, they would have as much hold over me as my master. I have found it out the hard way, by experience; I haven't allowed myself to get close to an old vampire, no matter how defenceless or weak he seemed to be, ever since. It was during the chase, after my first 'miraculous' escape...
I had almost finished reapplying make-up - mostly, concealer - to my skin. I grimaced. An onlooker, had there been one, might have assumed that the frown was caused by the raw wounds, pained when grease was applied above them. However, they would not have been further from the truth. The wounds were healing quickly, without scars, and the pain from paint touching them was almost negligible - at least, to me, with pain tolerance grown through experience; the paint was needed only to protect my skin from the sun rays, should their deadly fire attempt to touch my hide while I was keeping myself from falling asleep. No, the pain in this case was caused by the vampiric healing itself, which was restoring my body to its original condition, recreating the stinging cells which once, long ago, imbued my skin, undoing the previously done, and preserved by permanent injection of silver, plastic operation. Even though silver is considered the most painful poison a vampire can encounter, this rumour is mostly based on the permanence of silver-inflicted injuries, and difficulty of healing them. As I had discovered from my own experience, should a human be turned, into a vampire, with high levels of poison in his body, the poison will remain here, as if it was a part of the human, resisting any attemps at getting rid of it - and the only way to stop the body from regenerating the poison, again and again, as if to human's body belonged this painful stain, is to fight against vampire's healing with local injections of silver, akin to local anaesthesia; yes, the silver-laced scars are painful, but less painful than the poison itself, and in my situation, both of them would be equally permanent. My current predicament was caused by torturers inadvertently tearing skin from my hand, the net of silver-laced scars included, and my body starting to regenerate the venom; they had been confused and pained by the silver within my body, but as my blood splashed over them, their screams turned in howls of pain due to unfamiliar sensation of burns. This distraction, especially given their animalistic fight earlier, when they were barely restraining themselves from drinking my blood, had allowed me to escape. I had run, without stop, until dawn, when vampires would have had to be gone to sleep; I would have continued to run, knowing of their werewolf allies, but I needed to protect myself from both the sun and human's curious eyes, and to stop the trickling blood before its trail led enemies to me.
At the crack of dawn, in the dark twilight the most ominous events tend to take place, and this day was no exception. Even as I had become presentable enough to walk amidst humans without attracting undue attention, I overheard a conversation in hushed whispers. Apparently, they hadn't thought anybody would visit this place, if they hadn't bothered to check for eavesdroppers, but they still were wary of attracting a human's attention, and therefore only my augmented hearing allowed me to hear them at all. They had managed to capture one of the vampires from the fight several hours before; in his, already poisoned, state he hadn't noticed the humans with silver knives and chain until it was already too late. I sighed. I would have preferred to avoid any strenuous action in my current condition, but I couldn't turn away, not when it was partially my fault that one more of my kin was suffering, and expecting painful death. I couldn't just leave him here.
I followed one of them to their facility. They were prepared against an attack by werewolves, should a pack be allied with one of the vampires being drained here. They had excellent traps against curious humans. But if there were any protections against vampires, they were dismantled with the first rays of the sun. Yes, most vampires go to sleep before dawn, but the most ancient vampires can hold off the unconsciousness for a hour or two. Yes, sun burns any vampire, but a coffin isn't the only way to shield yourself from it. They were careless. Yes, times of vampires openly attacking and decimating witches for such blood-draining were long past, because the vampires couldn't afford antagonising humans, and to most humans, there is no difference between a witch and a human. I could only snarl at such stubborn prejudice. Yes, vampires are different from humans, they are humans changed by the turning to escape death. But witches are different from humans, and the difference is innate; a witch can manipulate nature, not exactly bending it to its will, but skillfully pulling the strings which only a witch is able to touch.
I had killed all the witches on the facility, not allowing them to escape, to make a report to their superiors. I held no illusions; it was only one of many branches of their business, and my actions would not matter in the long run, but, at least, I would be able to save some of my kin from being turned to ashes. I would need my whole strength to help them, I could not afford to make any mistakes, to let them see my face, or hear my voice. I had found the heart of the facility, the darkness where vampires and their blood are stored; not out of kindness, but because they cannot afford to lose their victims too early, to lose their blood. I had drunk as much of the blood from the refrigerator as I could; the vampires from whom it was taken were already dead, the least I could do in their memory was to stop the witches from using vampires' blood for their own gain. I had reversed the intravenous systems, so that instead of being drained, each vampire would have his blood returned to him. I had approached the last one; he was emaciated, and I would have thought him dead, had I not known that death turns vampire's body into ash. Nevertheless, in worry over him, I had inclined too close to him while changing his IV; with strength I didn't expect this frail body to possess, he had bitten me, and pricked me with the needle deeply; falling down with exhaustion, he whispered "Don't let the unknown control you". I jerked, from the previously unknown feeling of the order, and I knew I would not be able to throw it off. By the time I had pulled the needle out of my hand, where it was bent because of colliding with the bone, his body had turned into ashes. It was as if he had waited for my arrival, and held onto his life until then. I shook my head; most likely, he wished to see the witches' defeat. Fortunately, his only order was not much different from my own wishes; otherwise, I would have had to seek a way to go against master's order. I was surprised, though, that the bond took hold when less than a minute had passed since exchange of blood.
It was only weeks later that I heard, from the whispers within the wind, that one of the one-thousand-years old vampires, by the name of Solomon Brunswick, had died. His place and circumstances of death were not known; he had been missing for some time; his child Lorena had felt his pain, but had done nothing to help him, had not attempted to seek him out, and was glad to be rid of him. It hadn't surprised the vampires; Solomon's inability to get along with other vampires was well-known, and it had caused him to be a loner, without a definite place in the vampire's chain of command, almost an outcast. Due to his age, he should have been a sheriff; but he had no diplomatic abilities whatsoever, openly refusing to become part of any king's or queen's court. Nevertheless, his death was disconcerting for other vampires, and increased their determination to team up, leaving no outcasts to be caught by the witches or, as they suspected it to be in my case, to assist the witches in murder of their kin. And that meant I had to run, yet again.
***End of Flashback***
I stand up, checking my balance. I have to get out of here. I have to leave my old clothes behind, so that no questions about their disappearance would ever be raised. They are ripped and stained with blood, so it's not much of a loss. I have to make sure I leave no scent to follow, and disappearance of ashes would not be noted. Fire would have been an excellent cover-up if I was dealing with humans, but not in this case; vampires instinctively associate fire with a threat, and an arson in this place would cast suspicion on me. Flood it shall be, then. In any other place this action could attract attention of water fae, which would not be pleasant for an exhausted vampire; but abundance of iron and rust assures me of current safety from this type of adversary, at least. Right now, a matter of primary concern to me is possible presence of weres or shape-shifters; if anybody notices my departure, it will be a child's play to connect it with the execution of which many have already heard, and my 'resurrection' will paint a target on my back, much larger and brighter than ever before. If I thought that being known as vampire-drainer was bad luck, then being known as vampire-phoenix would be literally nails in my coffin: everybody would wish to know how such immortality could be achieved, and if I proved stubborn enough to survive this pain again and again, I would become an experimental guinea pig for those wishing to dispel the curse of immortality from me.
I jump up lightly, higher than a human would have been able to. Tearing apart the weakest pipes above the basement and having the outcome blamed on the old age of this decrepit building on the outskirts of the city is not at all difficult. I have to get out of here, as an invisible shadow, leaving no trail behind me. Fortunately, the river is not that far away. The fact that I have not ever heard of a werefish, or shape-shifting into a shark, is an additional bonus of this route of escape.
I walk within the stream, making sure the water washes down any scent I could have possibly left here; fortunately, it carries its own distinct odor of rust and rot which is disliked by all supernaturals and pains even my highly experienced nose. I have to get out of here. But where should I go further? I could hide myself inside a ship, as a stowaway, but I would be too vulnerable during the day, amidst the crew who would be looking for ticket-less passengers. And it would not bode well for me if a were, either a crewman or a passenger, found me; it would be only too easy to connect the dots for any person knowing of the staked vampire, the flood at his place of death, the ship departing from the city and the stowaway, hungry, unregistered vampire in the cargo. Neither would a water fae be a welcome sight if I were to choose a small wooden yacht; at best, they would attack me like they would attack any other vampire. I have no wish to go through this experience, having heard of it in retelling of other vampires, several times older than me, as they tossed about painedly in febrile delirium, and I attached the needles to infuse from plastic bags the blood which was earlier drained from them, desperately trying to keep my hands from shaking since a mistake could cause true death of an almost-drained vampire, and my tired eyes from closing - I had to wake up earlier than them, to go away without letting them know the identity of their mysterious benefactor; besides, I had no wish to confess to ingesting blood of those of my brethren who were beyond any help, turned to ashes before I had even seen them. In the worst case, anybody finding me could use me as a bait, a bargaining chip, in the political games, and I would be tortured in the meanwhile, both physically and psychologically, for information on both my past, my maker, my activities, and my ability to survive, my skill of mingling with mortal humans as one of them. To avoid this fate, I have to perfect my skills, until I become either stronger than anybody who could possibly threaten me, and despite my arrogance, I understand that such invincibility is virtually impossible, or find somebody who would be willing to protect me in exchange for my skills. However, collecting information on a several-centuries-old vampire without attracting even a sliver of his attention to myself is also a daunting task.
I swim in the dark river, glancing at the lights of the city reflecting in the waves; water should be too cold for swimming, but vampires in general are less sensitive to low temperatures. I have to get out of here, without anybody remembering me. The less humans I come in contact with, the better. And these humans should be the kind which vampires usually do not dare to approach. And which are avoided by supernaturals in general. There is no place with abundance of silver, which would repel vamps and weres both; but there is a place with plenty of iron, sun and fire, the airport. Vampire would not get into an airplane because it involves getting closer to the sun, and a crash would mean instant death, by either ravaging flames of burning fuel, or bright sun rays coming from all directions with no shelter in sight. Fae would shudder at mere thought of being enclosed within an iron coffin, let alone explosion of this scrap metal: wounds inflicted could be lethal to fae, even though seeming to be a mere scratch to humans. Magical humans have other, presumably more comfortable, methods of transportation; besides, magic tends to disrupt technological devices, if not of the plane itself, then of the security gates at the airport. And wouldn't it be pleasant, to deal with paranoid and well-trained security people here?..
This brings up an interesting thought. Would it be possible for me to leave the region by a military aircraft? Unlike a commercial airliner, it wouldn't have many potential victims on board at the time of my awakening; and if there are any people here, they will be resisting my attacks strongly enough to snap me out of bloodthirsty frenzy; therefore, I will not break my own self-imposed vow to not kill for food, for sustenance of my seemingly endless life. If I am lucky enough, then number of witnesses will be small, and I will be able to glamour all of them to forget even seeing me, and to remember an alternative explanation for the destruction of interior of the aircraft, if there is any. However, it would be beneficial to choose an aircraft which is operating only at nighttime, giving me peace and safety during my healing sleep, and it would also give me an option of expressing my gratitude for their hospitality, by attacking and weakening their enemies during their operation - and feeding myself in the meantime. This option sounds better and better. I have to get out of here, without anybody knowing, and who is better at protecting the life-and-death secrets than the military? The main problem would be not breaking in, but leaving, without any noticable anomaly being written down in their files. Lately, with their unfortunate - for those who have to keep secrets, at least - tendency to install video surveilance everywhere, glamouring to forget is going out of fashion: infiltrating the place, akin to Abagnale, is more likely to work, especially when glamouring allows to get 'classified' information from a human without any visible struggle to cause suspisions of onlookers or memory of the event to shock the person who has given the information. Still, glamouring cannot be overused, especially when the main point is to leave no trail for possible pursuers, be it today or months later.