The blade of his sword grated along the edge of my halberd.
I turned, rapidly stepping sideward and switched the halberd to my opposite hand, brandishing forth my claws in hope of catching him off guard. Unfortunately it did not work and Dumah has always proved to be the better warrior.
There was a stultify pain as the hilt of his sword came thundering into my side.
I grunted, suddenly winded, and fell back whilst Dumah's laughter rang throughout his courtyard.
The stone floor was cold and hard beneath me. I pushed some strands of hair out of my eyes and gazed impassively at my brother who towered over me.
"Your defence is lacking," he said, and offered me a clawed hand. Behind him I could hear the clapping of his own children who had stopped to watch us. There were some standing on the outer edge of the courtyard and some sitting upon the steps. Regardless of where they were seated or standing all eyes were on us.
His sword he lifted up to his face, and with a look of understanding he checked the sword's blade, flicking it over and over in his hands. Content that his newly forged weapon was fit for use and had not been damaged in our little skirmish, he glanced over at the vampire who had made it and nodded in what was serious approval.
"Again." Dumah said, taking up a fighting stance.
Within the grasps of night, a vampire such as him looked deadly. The sword that he gripped confidently within his claws only added to his ominous presence, and his looming appearance was enough to make the most confidant of warriors – whether mortal or immortal, shy away.
I took a deep breath of air and beckoned to the halberd through mind. As I did, so it left the ground and swiftly planted itself within my grasp. Telekinesis was useful in many ways.
I closed my eyes. My mind was drawn to a particular fighting method that ran throughout my thoughts like an ancient reminiscence that had long been forgotten. I recalled a memory and imagined that Dumah and me were clad in the finest armour, and that we fought side by side. Where that fragmented and far-away memory came from – at that time – I simply did not know.
Aim for his weakest point – that was my strategy. Dumah was broad and overpowering, his methods of fighting were deadly at a majority of times. Yet even the weakest warrior may overcome the strongest titan if he should know where to strike. I smiled inwardly and prepared myself, unemotionally gazing at my older brother.
There was a voice that came from behind Dumah just as he moved forwards quickly in the advancement of attack.
Instinct took control. I moved rapidly, ducking deep below the swing of his sword. The blade of the sword hurtled over my head. I heard it cutting through the air knowing full well that at any moment such a movement could grace my own skin. Dumah would not hesitate in his attack, even if he were only practice duelling with one of his own brothers.
As I straightened myself I brought forth my weapon and took a swipe at Dumah. I missed my intended target, as Dumah promptly moved; nevertheless, the halberd's blade caught his bare chest, slicing skin.
Our weapons clashed as either of us blocked the advancing attack of the other. The wound I had inflicted upon Dumah hindered him not, in fact it had already nearly healed. His blade grinded over the midsection of the halberd.
I pulled the halberd back out of the reach of that biting blade, swinging swiftly and bringing up the other end, blades glinting in the fatal light of flaming torches and fitful moonlight.
"My Lord Dumah."
The Dumahim was unrelenting, this message had to be one of importance. Dumah, on the other hand, was in no mood to be bothered. He snarled and took another angry blow in my direction. This time his aim was true and the blade of his sword gleefully bit through a part of my upper arm that was not protected.
The expression on Dumah's face said it all.
In his anger he turned in fury upon his child. "Whelp of a vampire, can you not see that I am not to be disturbed?" His voice was at a deadly growl and I knew that he blamed the youngling for his lack of concentration, and supposedly my own.
The vampire winced at his lord's anger. "My lord, I have a message for you."
Dumah snorted, "It can wait."
This did not silence his child as he had probably hoped it would. The vampire simply glanced at me and then back at Dumah.
"It is from lord Raziel."
Silence in the courtyard.
Dumah turned his back on myself and the other vampire, whilst it was he walked to the other side of the yard. He glanced at the blade of the sword once more and then he ran it along the edge of a low wall. The sound of metal scraping over solid stone echoed.
Dumah's weapon smith approached from behind. He stood next to the Dumahim Lord, as it was Dumah placed the sword into his claws and nodded once again with authorization. I watched these mannerisms mutely before turning to look at the vampire who had come with a message he was so eager to pass on.
As the weapon smith left, carrying the sword with him, Dumah focussed his actions upon sharpening his claws – running them along the stonework of the wall. I stood, politely waiting, hands clasped behind my back.
The night had started freshly. As soon as I had awoken I had risen only to linger near the cliffs over looking the Lake of the Dead. Razielim flags indicating the entrance to Raziel's land blew feverishly upon the currents of a rather strong breeze.
Cascading waterfalls and the overall smell and sound of what would eventually become my element, mesmerized me. To see such breathtaking scenery such as this delighted my soul, but this was a place I did not visit all that often.
True, to look down from cliffs upon high at the swirling water of the Lake of the Dead was a moment of true awe-inspiring vista. But this was a place of execution. It was here that those not worthy, and those that were traitors were omitted and thrown forth into the gaping maw of the Abyss.
It was a place I came to when I wished to refresh my mind, to linger upon the currents of her watery voice before moving on. But it was only then did I come to the Lake of the Dead. Other times I merely passed it by, whilst attempting to ignore her call.
It was after a stay here that I went off to feed and then to see Dumah. I had found him in a courtyard duelling with his children, and berating those who were not up to standard in a harsh tone. Dumah always expected the utmost best from his children.
I had taken an interest in one of the halberds that the weapon smith had been holding. Afterwards Dumah and me had started a duel of our own – him determined to show his skills off to those of his clan.
"I am assured that this is a fine weapon," Dumah had stated, taking the halberd off its creator and running a hand over one of the blades. I had to admit; it did look like a fine weapon - its sharp blades created from the finest metal.
"Would the Rahabim lord care to test it," said he with a confident smirk, allowing his sharp canines to show.
I may enjoy being surrounded by long forgotten books and weathered parchment and worn-out maps and long forgotten knowledge, but like my brothers, I also enjoy a good skirmish every now and then.
How could I refuse such an offer?
It was a chance to practise, something I admit in those past few weeks, I had been neglecting.
We came to an agreement that the duel would be hand-to-hand combat only; no dark gifts used. Had I not readied myself and showed Dumah that I was ready to fight, then no doubts the Dumahim Lord would have explained verbosely that he had no real need to use any dark gifts, for he could win a battle on strength alone. I have never doubted this, and as I have said often times, Dumah was quite the warrior, a Knight of times past.
Yet I am afraid that Dumah sometimes allowed such facts to go to his head. Foolish is he that allows such to happen, for the foolish drunkard prospers off egotism – their finest wine. Even more foolish are those who think they are the strongest vampire. We all have our weaknesses, of that I know personally.
"Go on, speak." Dumah said after a while, approaching the vampire who had brought the message and giving him the permission he needed to speak.
The vampire hesitated for a second. "A message from Lord Raziel, sire," he said after going down on one knee before his lord. "The Melchiahim have returned."
The message brought words that I had waited for what felt like an eternity to hear, and with that, I felt my lips automatically curve themselves into a smile.
So Melchiah had returned? What news, for how eager I was to hear my little brother speak of the Melchiahim task, how it had gone, what had happened, and whether the crusade had been successful.
Dumah stood as still as stone, merely blinking at the vampire, as if his child had said nothing at all.
I could not help but hear the slight sneer within Dumah's voice.
"Not soon enough." he retorted harshly, defying anyone to think that the first words he had spoken had been ones in gladness. It seemed Dumah was still bitter from Melchiah being sent and not he.
I on the other hand, refused to be so cold. "And Melchiah, is he well?"
The vampire looked upon me. Some hair from his fringe fell over one of his eyes, and with his claws he swiftly pushed the strands away.
"Lord Rahab, I do not know." He shifted within his stance suddenly aware that Dumah was glaring at him. "Lord Raziel asked me to pass the message forth."
"And so you have." I smiled at him and saw a flicker of curiosity within his eyes. He was not used to such consideration.
The vampiric messenger waited but a moment longer, awaiting Dumah to dismiss him. When Dumah did he left without another word.
With our session of duelling now over, the courtyard began to empty. Fledglings and the older Dumahim returned to whatever duties they were attending to in the first place without another thought.
I glanced around surveying the area, the tall stonewalls, the cold iron bar gates. The Dumahim flags wilted restlessly upon their poles.
"It is a fine weapon," I said to Dumah, whilst placing the halberd within his claws.
"It is swift, and extremely well crafted."
I ran my hand along the edge of one of the blades that adorned the end of the halberd.
"But you might want to get your weapon smith to reduce the size of this blade." I looked at him pointedly and returned his unyielding gaze. "In its current state, this blade makes the halberd a little... unbalanced."
I satisfyingly turned on my heel, smirked, and began to exit the courtyard.
"Rahab!" Dumah called. "Where is it you are going?"
"To welcome back Melchiah," I replied without the slightest bit of thought.
It was raining. I remember the rain, what it felt like for the first time when it was I discovered that water no longer posed a threat – that instead she embraced me. I remember how I would watch the rainfall; rain falling in the night can create such a scene. I would sit there sometimes, drag a chair to an open window and listen to the rain falling upon the ground.
It was raining the night that I went to see Melchiah after his return.
I stood in the corridor, hidden from those talking in the chamber. The one door to the chamber was open whilst the other remained closed; it was by this door that I stood. The rain could be heard pelting against the windows, and I continued to stand listening to those who spoke in the main hall of the Melchiahim abode.
"The Melchiahim were successful?"
That voice belonged to Zephon; I narrowed my eyes upon hearing it.
How strange that Zephon should arrive to greet Melchiah before I. Had he been that eager for his younger brother's return? I was sceptical of such; for all I could conclude about Zephon was that he merely tolerated Melchiah.
"Had the Zephonim been there..."
I heard someone grunt in what seemed like a stifled gasp of pain, and then the clatter of something falling to the stone I listened to the sound of whatever had hit the floor and echo around the hall. With my head tilted to one side I wondered what it was had been discarded so harshly to one side.
"Zephon be silent. Melchiah be still."
That voice was unmistakably Turel's as he told Zephon to be quiet, and Melchiah – for one reason or another – to hold still.
"You mean to say you worry for another other then yourself? Come now, Zephon, that is unlike you." Unmistakable was the voice of Raziel.
Zephon – in response, merely hissed,"But this – this is an insult to us..."
"Have the ones who have done this been dealt with?"
"Yes," came Melchiah's reply as something else clattered to the floor.
The room became silent of voices; meanwhile one could hear the drops of rain and the reverberating echoes of whatever it had been that Turel had once again thrown to the floor.
And from Melchiah's simple word of 'yes' I could tell that there had been pain.
Why the talk of perpetrators, why did our youngest sound like he was in pain? What had happened whilst our youngest had been away from the eyes of the brethren?
I leant against the wall of the corridor, running my claws through strands of my unbound hair in a guilty mannerism, whilst an assortment of terrible thoughts struck my mind.
Was Melchiah hurt? It was I who had volunteered his clan forth. Any injury that he had sustained would be of my fault. If I had not been at the beginning of change then I would not have hesitated to have taken up the task.
The thoughts were tormenting. Melchiah had been chosen to go by our lord, and I was not permitted to question his choice, not that I ever would. Lord Kain – the one who I have bound my life, no my very soul, Lord Kain who saved us from ourselves.
"Why do you linger in the doorway, Rahab?"
I was jerked out of thought upon hearing my name. I had not expected anyone to know that I lingered out of view in the corridor.
There were footsteps upon the stone floor, and then the door of the main chamber was pushed open.
"You make the place look untidy – standing there in the corridor like some abandoned corpse," Raziel stated with dry sarcasm, good humour, and the beginning traces of a smirk present on his lips. But I did not return the smile. Instead I regained my stance and strode forwards, entering the chamber, and walking past Raziel.
No one took real notice of me. Turel was bending down retrieving a broken staff. It was apparent that this was no doubt what I had heard being thrown aside. Zephon glanced at me whilst leaning against the edge of a table, his arms folded against his chest. The gaze was one typical of Zephon, a lazy look of a vicious, yet at that time, contented hunter.
Melchiah was sitting in a chair. He was slouching in the seat, resting one arm on the armrest whilst the other he held out to three Melchiahim. I looked upon his face searching out emotion. We had been taught from fledglings that to show pain was to show weakness, but every now and than, despite ourselves, we all allowed it to show.
His face was blank though every so often I would see the pain embellish his face. He would grimace, his eyebrows set deep in a frown, and his teeth gritted.
I noticed that upon the floor next to the chair lay Melchiah's once clean, yet now blemished armour. His clan drape was tattered and stained with...
With revelation my eyes darted from the blooded drape to that of the blood on the chair – a crimson scar upon fabric that would never again be clean. Blood, blood upon Melchiah's skin and then the decomposing and decaying skin that was peeled back from the side of his body. This was what that grim weapon had done to my brother Melchiah.
Another vampire of Melchiah's blocked my view as he attempted to tend to such a grotesque infliction. Meanwhile, as it was I approached I was witness to what damage had been done to the arm that the three Melchiahim had gathered around.
Melchiah's damaged gauntlets had been ripped off and thrown to the floor; they too were covered in blood. The skin wilted from his arm and they, his children, with all their dedication to him, were attempting to try and hold it, if not fix it back into place.
Such was the delicate membrane of our youngest and weakest, Melchiah. So fragile was his body compared to that of the rest of us, that a weapon inflicted in the right place could cause such damage as this. If any other of Lord Kain's children would received a wound such as this, then yes, it would have hurt us, but we had no worry of loosing any of our skin like Melchiah did.
In time Melchiah and his children would find a way to compensate for the loss of their skin that their bodies were unable to hold onto – through stealing the skin of others. A grotesque act, one fit for scavengers, but what else could they do? Their fragile bodies demanded it of them.
"Rahab," came Melchiah's voice as he took notice of me for the first time. He glanced at his arm and the Melchiahim gathered around him as if he was ashamed.
He stared at the others and then at me, before bringing his unharmed hand to his face, covering his eyes with his claws. Was this done in distress?
"No one should be seeing me like this."
"Nonsense," replied Turel in a firm tone, whilst looking at the pieces of the broken weapon.
The weapon was broken in half, and blooded pieces of fractured blade still lay fragmented on the floor.
"We have seen you in a far worse state," Zephon snorted.
The door the other side of the room was suddenly opened, dispelling light into the chamber from another corridor.
Two Melchiahim stumbled in carrying something between them. There was quite a scuffle and I realised, as they came through the doorway, that they were bringing a mortal with them.
The mortal was bound at the wrist and ankles by chains. They were male, neither young nor old, and putting up rather a fight. They looked quite the bedraggled figure with their tangled hair and tattered clothes. Of course the sight of a struggling mortal being held firm by two vampires – like a fly caught in a spider's web – was more than enough to interest the Zephonim Lord and harvest his attention.
I looked to Zephon, knowing that from seeing this scene a devious glint would be running throughout his eyes, and a dangerous smirk would now be placed upon his lips. How right I was.
How he delighted himself in tormenting humanity. How he delighted himself now within this scene. How he approached the struggling mortal, walking forwards, dominating in his stance with every step he took. Oh and how he made sure his shadow loomed on every piece of floor that was not already shadowed, and how his shadow dominated those areas that were.
The Mortal lifted his head, mattered hair falling over his eyes. His fear gave way to the exhaustion of desperation, and no longer could he fight. There was a certain pleading in his voice that only breaks through when all other chances or options are quashed.
"Kind?" Zephon's eyes flared slightly in malice, his eyebrows arched, and he laughed bitterly. "Kind. I never said I was kind." He chuckled again, sneering at such a word as 'kind'. "Kind. Foolish are those who think that I am."
Zephon hissed and smiled, drawing himself up to his full height and wrapping a hand around one of the mortals arms. "Sweet Mortal, a honour it is for you to help my little brother when he is in so much need of ...substance..."
The Zephon Lord reached out for and took a hold of one of the chains that had dragged along upon the floor.
"Come," he said. "Come walk with me." And he pulled the mortal closer to him with those words.
As Zephon approached Melchiah with the mortal, I watched the mortal's reaction. Within Zephon's presence he had almost become limp, perhaps overpowered by the Zephonim Lord's dominance. His own shadow appeared to shy away from that of Zephon's. I have seen this happen to mortals many times.
The mortal looked to each one of the lords in turn. It was his last act, his last plea for help. But what did he expect off us? Were we not the Vampire Lords that his kind had feared for so long? All we could do was return his gaze with emotionless and blank faces as cold and unkind to him as their hunters were to our children.
Melchiah sat up in his chair with the notion of blood. The hunger and the desperation of such were written keenly within his eyes. There was a great need behind that look. Peculiar in a way, for both mortal and vampire had this strong desperation, which was apparent in them both. Both with the desperation of survival, the mortal in desperation for his life as was the vampire – highlighted with his desperation for blood.
There was no struggling now, and I have often thought upon whether Zephon truly had the power to stun his prey so that they remained still. Whatever it was he often had power over them. I have seen mortals have the same reaction with Raziel, how captivated they are by him, and how frightened. Maybe it is how we all affected them.
The mortal descended to his knees under the surprisingly gentle guidance of Zephon.
The moments upon Melchiah realising and reacting to the offer of blood were quick. Melchiah simply and swiftly snatched his arm away from his children, and then he leant forwards and brought the mortal into an embrace.
In return the mortal accepted Melchiah's embrace.
I knew what happened in the moments afterwards – the excitement of your teeth piercing skin and then the exhilarating and intoxicating taste of blood as you draw it into you. The warmth it gives you, ones such as we embrace openly. It is the only warmth we feel, it is the only warmth we know of.
Raziel turned to Turel, both regarding the weapon that had pierced Melchiah's skin, whilst it was Melchiah fed. I, on the other hand, looked to Zephon as if wanting an explanation. With eyebrows knitted in a frown so it was I studied him.
Zephon had willingly given up a mortal he could have quite easily fed from himself. It was unusual for him to miss out on an opportunity to feed.
I concluded my thoughts, suspecting that Zephon had freely given up a feed because it had given him a chance to taunt a mortal, to intimidate them. More so perhaps it was because with three of his elder brethren close by, there was not a chance that he would get away with stealing a feed.
Melchiah's right hand ran through the mortal's hair in what seemed a soothing gesture. His left hand supported the mortal's back, holding the limp body up to stop it from slipping and falling to the floor.
It seemed Melchiah was very hungry, and it was no surprise considering the wound he had endured. He fed quickly; only pausing now and then to savour the taste, until it was the Melchiahim within the room came to take the body away. Afterwards more blood was offered. Melchiah would need all the blood he could take in to heal a wound such as that.
Hours after duelling with Dumah, anyone looking for the Rahabim Lord would have found him residing in one of the Melchiahim halls.
I sat in a chair by the fire, a book from Melchiah's small collection perched on my lap. Thankfully the only light within the room was from the fire, though every now and then I would even turn away from that.
Not far away and at a table, a small gathering of Melchiahim sat discussing some affair of the clan and the newly claimed land. They kept their voices low so as not to disturb the lords whose company they distantly kept.
Opposite me Melchiah lay out on a divan. The injured arm lay next to him, whilst the other hung over the edge of the divan, his claw tips lightly touching the floor. Gazing up from the book I watched as his chest rose and fell with the habit of breathing.
I marvelled at the wounds he had carried, the new parts of graphed skin merging with his own. The skin that had been damaged his body had not been able to sustain, and so it had fallen away. Regarding such I glanced at my own wounds that I had received in duelling with Dumah. All that remained now was a faint scar... How small it was compared to Melchiah's, and how quickly it had healed.
From such wounds Melchiah had looked grotesquely decrepit. He looked like the corpse of a warrior who had died in battle and had been newly raised as a vampire. But the wounds did heal, though slowly and painfully, and the fresh blood that channelled its way through Melchiah's body helped.
It was a relief that the staff had wounded Melchiah where it had. I am afraid that had they overwhelmed my brother and managed to impale him properly, then the Melchiahim Lord would have been lost to us.
Flicking the book to a close I rested one set of claws on top, whilst the other hand rested upon the arm of the chair. I slouched low into the seat for comfort and threw my feet upon another chair close by. Meanwhile the Melchiahim we had shared the hall with, got up – bored of their discussion, and left the hall.
We remained this way for a while, peaceful – Melchiah in what I thought was rest, and me just beginning to doze – my eyes closing slightly.
The rain outside had stopped, but I could hear the distant dripping of droplets of water elsewhere in the abode.
A draft blew through the hall and somewhere else I heard a door slam. The zephyr rattled around in the corridor outside, and the dripping of water could still be heard in what felt like a tormenting mannerism.
Perhaps the sound of dripping water did not really exist; maybe it only existed in my mind as that constant echoing sound. The echoing of madness? Possibly. Though the sound of dripping water was enough to send the sanest creature in the opposite direction of the spectrum, thus sending them into a spiralling madness.
"Rahab? What troubles you?"
I opened my eyes, surprised at seeing that Melchiah was awake. He was still lying down but his eyes were now fully open and he was gazing intently at me.
I sat up, swinging my feet down off the other chair and placed them on the floor.
At first I gave my attention to the floor, gazing at it, examining the segments of stone. There was so much to tell, so much to say... Alas, I concluded, I was thinking too much. Why could I not be as free thinking as the others? Why could I not just forget all worries and just focus upon what was...
But these worries, these problems, my thoughts... they were mine. It was not out of spite for Melchiah but a simple desire of my own that I wanted to keep all these thoughts and worries to myself. I had no desire to share them with anyone else, brethren or not.
There was one thing nevertheless, that had rested upon my mind heavily since I had last seen Melchiah. And now this one thing had been increased, ripened upon seeing Melchiah wounded.
"Melchiah, forgive me..." I stopped speaking, leaning on the arms of the chair, bent over like the figure of some decadent king. "I was not there to see you and your clan leave."
From Melchiah's silence I knew that this had not been what he had expected me to say. Perchance he had expected me to speak of some long, dark problem that weighed heavily upon my mind. Some ancient worry, something I dreaded perhaps? And true, there was an element of such, but it was not something I highlighted whilst talking to Melchiah within that moment.
"It..." Melchiah hesitated and heaved himself onto one side so that he could see me fully. "It matters not."
"It matters greatly. I said I would be there. I would have been there, if it had not been for... change."
Within that moment Melchiah attempted to sit up, his claws digging down hard into the soft material of the divan.
"Loyal Rahab," he grunted in what I considered to be discomfort. "Rest easy. For once, take heed of yourself." He smiled, a glint of confidence remained strong within him, a confidence I had never witnessed within our youngest before. Perhaps this task he had been sent on had given him confidence after all.
Regardless of myself I was smiling, though the smile was small. This task had given Melchiah the confidence that before he had been lacking. Although he had been injured in such, something of great value had come from it.
"And how went the campaign," I said standing and picking up the chalice I had drunk from earlier on.
I looked around for the carafe of blood, and upon Melchiah pointing to it situated on a near by table, I poured myself some.
Melchiah gestured to his malformed wounds. "Albeit these, it went – finely. My children Rahab, so fine they were." He tried to sit up once more but I approached him and bent down to rest my free hand on his shoulder in a mannerism that suggested he should lie still for his own sake.
"Be still Melchiah and rest," I told him, and offered to pour him a drink but he declined, content to just focus upon talk.
"We took the towns. Lord Kain's flags are flying now as well as the Melchiahim's." He was proud of his achievement that was evident.
I sat down in the chair whilst listening, and pulled the chair closer to where Melchiah lay, reaching out for his damaged arm and gently touched the grafted skin. He allowed me to do so, only wincing slightly to indicate pain as one of my claws softly touched the inflicted surface.
"And when, in the campaign, did this happen?"
"Near to the end, close to our return." He stopped and caught his breath after having become overwhelmed in describing the Melchiahim progress to me.
From his words I imagined the scenes, imagined the clan's eagerness and how they had advanced on the towns. The aftermath and the small skirmishes that had broken out soon after in their last attempt for their freedom. Of how it was he had received these wounds of his, and whilst I listened to such I found that I had automatically clenched my fists.
"We would have returned sooner had it not been for the capture of one."
"Capture of one?" I hesitated and frowned. "One of the Melchiahim?"
He laughed gently. "Nay sibling, one of them."
The word 'them' struck a cord of thought strongly within my mind. I did not need to ask whom the 'them' were. Automatically I knew he referred to those of the resistance we sought.
I looked away and glanced at the room we sat in. The dying embers of the fire nearby crackled faintly, their tongues of orange had faded a while ago and now all that remained was a faint glow submerged around the carcass of burnt wood.
Could it be that Melchiah – the one whom had always been regarded as the weakest of us – had caught a mortal who would be able to give me the answers to what it was I sought?