Nights in Romania were the darkest there seemed to be. The rugged mountains loomed above, shown only by slivers of moonlight that appeared through the thick, dark clouds overhead. Valley floors were covered in thick masses of trees that obscured almost all light through the day and into the night. Without the aid of torch lamp, travel was exceedingly dangerous. Jagged cliffs were often not far beyond one’s current step. Many unsuspecting travelers were claimed by darkness of one form or another.
The darkness was no trouble to the two men that traveled on this night, however. They both knew these lands, these forests. Every beaten path and road was in their memory. There was no twist or turn that would surprise them. Even those things about the terrain that changed over time did not phase them. Both men had keen eyesight, and saw in the night as well as any man would see in daylight.
Each man had his own horse – fine creatures that had not been cheap in coming by so suddenly. It was uncommon for them to use horses unless absolutely necessary, but this night was special to them, and haste was gravely important.
Both men were strong and young, but their eyes told stories of ages past. Clearly, in whatever years they had lived on this earth, they had both seen more than their fair share of struggle and anguish.
Octavian, the older of the two, ran his fingers through his jet black hair as his pale eyes scanned the land before them. Their travels through the night, while fruitless thus far, at last were beginning to show merit. Across the clear stretch of plains before him, he could see the light of fire.
Here, this deep into the woods of Romania, there were not many large towns. Most places of inhabitance were castles of the lords, and the homes of their servants and people. Clusters like these appeared all through the mountains and forests, though it always amused Octavian to see how each place would vary through the years. One lord might try to completely change everything his predecessor had worked for, while another strove to keep everything the same.
Bloodshed was hardly uncommon every few years.
The fires tonight came from a small town. There was a castle, which, though not the grandest they had seen, was well fortified in case of any attack. The walls were high and thick, and the whole place was large enough to house every person in the town if need be. The majority of the houses were nestled between the castle walls and a smaller, outer wall that encircled the rest of the land before the fields.
This place was full of life.
Octavian smirked as he glanced to his left, studying his younger companion. “What say you, brother?” he inquired.
Ezekiel looked from the scene before him to Octavian, his eyes narrowed. He had never been fond of how Octavian called him “brother” so flippantly. Yes, they were family, but their bloodlines were far too separated to truly be considered brothers. Octavian, who was a tall, sturdily built man with an empowering visage and harsh gaze, was the brother of his ancestor, not himself.
He looked back to the town in question and shrugged uncaringly. This town was hardly different than any of the other places he and Octavian had traveled past through the nights. It was a place, and there were people, but nothing felt unusually special to him. He knew that Octavian had might loftier things in mind, which was very well why he had been the one to take them out tonight.
Octavian smirked again as he saw Ezekiel’s indifference. “Come,” he said as he tightened his grip on the reins of his horse. “This place is alive tonight. We should allow ourselves a better look.” He urged his horse at a fair pace, and Ezekiel followed dutifully.
As they neared the edges of the town, they could already hear the laughter and music that came forth from the dark and narrow streets. It was not common in these parts, and certainly not in the dead of night. Romania was a place with many legends, and none of them were to be trifled with.
But on occasion, there would come a day that the superstitious souls would feel brazen against the darkness that surrounded them. The day of one saint or another was sacred, and tonight was the celebration of yet another dead man who was somehow revered. To these people, such nights were safe to enjoy with celebration, having no fear that all that lurked in the forests beyond would come to them. And perhaps tonight the creatures of the earth would not attack, but that did not give promise to any other night.
Octavian slowed his horse to a gentle walk as they entered the town, making his way to the center courtyard, where the night’s festivities were in full swing. Musicians sang and danced while people clapped, laughed, and drank to their hearts content. Nights like these were so very rare, and they were cherished like little else. It amused Octavian to think that such trivial things were all it took to make people forget their sense of self preservation.
Did they not realize what they had let slip into their presence tonight?
Octavian dismounted his horse and tied it to one of the posts, waiting as Ezekiel did the same. He gave a coin to one of the men by the inn, who was sober enough to keep an eye on the horses. Octavian would not stand to have his horses left unwatched, even in a place as small as this.
Ezekiel followed him silently, keeping his head down as he brushed past various people huddled by bonfires to keep warm. He was not interested in being here at all, but Octavian had insisted that he come tonight. He had insisted that Ezekiel would help him decide which one soul they would add to their ranks. Ezekiel hadn’t seen much of a point to it, however, as Octavian always did what he wanted regardless of what anyone else said.
Verity and Marcella might have been able to sway his decisions from time to time, but since when had Octavian ever listened to Ezekiel? There was not a time that Ezekiel could recall.
Hovering close to the side of a set of stone stairs leading to the front of the manor house, Octavian crossed his arms and scanned the crowd. “What do you think?” he inquired to his companion. “Do you see anyone worth our time?”
Ezekiel sighed as he glanced around, rather bored. There might have been a good amount of people gathered tonight, but that was not to say there were any that he thought suitable. The older men were too weak to carry on well, but the young men were strong and able. The older women were huddled together in gossip, while the young women and girls laughed and giggled with innocence. There were choices, yes, but none that suited his liking anyway.
He expected that this town would be just like the various others they had come to through the nights, and he was almost ready to express that thought to Octavian, when something caught his eye. It was a flicker of flaming red in the light, so unusual to his eyes that he had to find where it had come from.
The bright, flaming red that he had seen was that of a girl’s long, flowing hair. His eyes found her just a moment later. She was young, slender, and had the smoothest skin of a woman that he had ever seen. She was of average height compared with the rest of the girls she was gathered around. Her heart shaped face glistened in the firelight, and he could hear her sweet laugh even from across the courtyard. Her full lips were parted in a gracious smile, and her eyes lit up in delight as she watched the dancers pass before her.
She was enchanting.
The girl next to her also caught Ezekiel’s eye.
This one was taller, and still slender, though her frame was stronger than the other girl’s. This girl’s hair was dark gold, which shimmered in the firelight as near to the color of gold coins. She had sweet eyes and a gentle smile, but was as bold as her comrade, and as deftly sharp.
Aside from their beauty, both girls has his attention for an entirely different reason. Unlike the rest of the women and girls they were around, these two seemed more focused, more determined in their words and actions. They still laughed, but their eyes showed their understanding was not fleeting. They were still young, but women none the less. These two wanted life, and they would clearly love every moment of it that they were given.
Octavian noticed the younger man’s long stares, and he looked in the direction of the group of girls, singling out the two that Ezekiel watched instantly. He have a low chuckle and clasped Ezekiel’s shoulder fondly. “A fine choice, brother,” he laughed again, his lips parted in a cold smile. “I could not have chosen two finer women in all this country.”
Ezekiel tore his gaze away from the two girls quickly, his eyes wide as he looked back to Octavian in a panic. “No, no, I did not mean them,” he objected quickly. Surely Octavian would not pick those two!
Octavian chuckled again and shook his head, amused. “Now, now,” he consoled teasingly. “There is no reason to be so nervous. They are fine girls, both of them. And I see that you are enveloped in more than their beauty. They are not shallow like the others. They have real spirit.”
“You can’t,” Ezekiel pleaded quickly. “You can’t choose them.”
Octavian raised an eyebrow curiously. “Can I not?” he questioned, his demeanor darkening. He did not take kindly to opposing commands, even from those closest to him like his brother. “And why is that?”
“Because…” Ezekiel stammered. “You…you said you only wanted one more girl,” he remembered quickly, grateful that his excuse had truth in it. “If you take both, then you will have your seven. Do you think it wise to have four women and only three men?”
Octavian considered the question. He had only intended to claim one more girl before finding his last young man to sire, but that did not sway his thoughts enough. “Can not Virgil, you, and myself handle for women?” he asked back with an arrogant smile. “Marcella is docile, and Verity will not cross Virgil. The only one who is without a woman is you, Ezekiel. And as our youngest, perhaps you should be entitled to two girls instead of one? Consider it a gift from me, as your brother.”
Ezekiel closed his mouth quickly. He could not let Octavian take the girls. He did not know them, or what future the mortal life held for them, but he could not let them become part of the darkness that was his. The guilt alone for stealing two innocent souls would break him.
“Please,” he begged desperately, hoping that he could find some part of Octavian that he could sway. “Please do not sire them. Find me another, and I will be grateful. Find me two different girls, and I will be indebted. But do not take these two.”
Octavian gave him a faint smile. “Your words betray you, Ezekiel,” he said in a soft tone. “I could easily give you two different girls and it would not matter to me, but it would matter to you. There are no others here that you look to with the same fondness as those two there. You are nervous, and that is understandable, but it will pass, and someday, you will thank me for giving you them above all others.”
Ezekiel knew that arguing the matter further would only anger Octavian, and that would bring devastation across the whole town. His best chance was to pretend that he agreed, and perhaps he could save the girls some other way. “Will you sire them tonight?” he questioned softly, surrendering his opposition.
Octavian grew somber and shook his head as he looked to the girls. “Not tonight,” he answered. “These celebrations will keep these people awake until the dawn, and I would not wish to linger here at daybreak. I shall come again tomorrow, and spend a day here to know of them better. Then I will sire them.”
Ezekiel relented a slight nod as he too, looked to the girls. To his surprise, the two had broken away from the rest of the group and made their way arm in arm towards the manor. Towards him. They turned to walk up the steps on the other side of the courtyard, but just as they did so, the girl with the flaming red hair turned her head and looked back, catching him gazing upon her.
He thought for sure she would scowl, or turn away if nothing else, but instead, she gave him a gentle, friendly smile and nod, acknowledging that she had seen him. Flustered and not thinking of what else to do, he smiled and nodded back. She blushed and turned away, whispering something to her companion as they disappeared from his sight.
Oh, she was such a lovely creature, he thought. And he knew that he could not let Octavian touch them.
He looked back to Octavian quickly, suddenly very eager to leave the place. “Have we any other business to attend to?” he inquired. He had not been informed, but Octavian had the very bad habit of not telling all of his plans to those he traveled with.
Octavian shook his head slowly and drew a deep breath. “Nothing for this night,” he answered somberly, eyeing Ezekiel wryly as he began walking back through the courtyard to where they had left the horses. “But soon, we shall have our seven.”
Soon you shall have your seven, Ezekiel thought bitterly. And I shall have an eternity of guilt to atone for.
The two returned to their encampment in a nearby, earthy cavern just as the first rays of sunlight came on the eastern horizon. Virgil, Marcella, and Verity all awaited eagerly to hear what news Octavian had for them. Ezekiel worried what he would tell them, but to his relief, he said little of their venture in the night, aside from confirming that he had found the last two souls he desired.
Verity and Marcella pressed him for more questions, but with a slight wave of his hand, Octavian silenced them.
“It is near daybreak and this is a conversation meant for the dead of night,” he said briskly. “It would not do well for us to spend the whole day talking of does not concern you just yet. Until the two are brought here, they are not one of us.”
“When will you bring them?” Marcella, who fancied herself as Octavian’s favorite of them all, asked. She was either excited or jealous; likely both.
“Soon,” Octavian answered soothingly as he pulled her close and kissed her sweetly. “But for now, we all should rest.”
The discussion ended, and each person scattered to the edges of the cavern where they had deposited their things the night before. Ezekiel lay on the ground uncomfortably, staring up at the dark ceiling, attempting to think of how he could get the girls away from the town before Octavian could reach them. If only he could go out in the day…
A cold gust of wind through the cavern woke Ezekiel. The cold did not bother him – how could he be bothered by the cold when he had no body heat of his own – but he could still feel it. He opened his eyes quickly and looked to the entrance of the cavern, noting that it was already dark. He sat up groggily.
How could he have slept in this late? He was usually up by the last light of the day, unless he had been completely exhausted at whatever point he had fallen asleep. The ride he and Octavian had taken the night before had not been entirely leisurely, but it had not taken that much of his energy, or at least not that he had noticed.
He rubbed his forehead and reached for his flask, draining it of its dark, red content quickly. The blood might still have been considerably fresh, and the flask was designed to keep it good for a considerable amount of days, but nothing was as good as a fresh supply. He didn’t like to feed on humans, but he knew that he had to in order to live. Always biting cats and rabbits wouldn’t be able to sustain him.
As he set his flask down and ran his fingers through his golden brown hair, Ezekiel was suddenly aware that something was different. He looked around the dark cavern quickly, his night vision a blessing as much as it was a curse. He could see Verity sleeping across from Virgil, who was also sleeping soundly. Odd, they should have been up by now as well.
He turned his gaze towards the back of the cavern, where Marcella and Octavian had placed their things. Marcella still slept, but Octavian was gone.
Ezekiel stood up quickly. Where had he gone? It was not unusual for Octavian to slip away while the others were preoccupied, but this was different. None of them should have slept this late into the night, and they only could have if Octavian had done something to ensure that they would not wake in his absence. While that left a variety of options open to what he might be doing, Ezekiel knew. He did not know how, he did not know why, but he simply knew where Octavian had gone.
Ezekiel rushed out of the cavern, mounting his horse, and raced back towards the town. He did not know how long ago Octavian had left, but he prayed to God that it had not been too long before. Perhaps he still had a chance to stop what was about to happen.
As he neared the crest of the hill before the town, he stopped, his horse panting heavily in the cold night. From here, the town looked the same as it had the night before, though with fewer fires lit. It was just another sleeping town, waiting for the night to pass so another day of work could begin. The people there had no idea what sort of monster lurked their streets in those very moments.
He urged his horse onwards, slowing down only once he had reached the edge of the town. He slid off the horse quickly, letting it wanders in the grassy area just outside the entrance of the street. He could sense Octavian here. Now he just had to find him.
He ran through the streets quietly, following Octavian’s scent all the way to the manor house. He paused as he stood outside the large, dark house, searching the windows for any sign.
There! Through one of the windows, Ezekiel caught sight of a shadowy figure walking through the hall. It could have been a servant perhaps, but Ezekiel knew that it was not. It was not anything human.
He ran to the door, surprised to find it unlocked. Only when he pushed the door open did he see one of the servants lying on the cold, stone floor, his eyes waxy and void of life. Ezekiel moaned to himself as he moved around the bloodless corpse quickly, running up the stairs. As a vampire, he did not give much care to the loss of mortal lives, and even the servant’s death did not affect him. He was only concerned with the two girls that were somewhere in this house.
When he reached the landing of the second floor of the house, he stopped, and realized that he was too late. Standing at the end of the hall was Octavian, holding a white cloth in his hands.
He was wiping blood from his lips.
Ezekiel gasped for breath, rage swelling in him as he began walking down the hall. “What did you do?” he rasped as he glared menacingly at his sire.
Octavian turned and looked to him, only mildly surprised to see him here. “Doing as I promised,” he answered calmly as he slipped the cloth into his pocket and took a step towards him. “Did you really think I would not see the extent of your reluctance?” he questioned. “I knew that you would try to find a way to spare these girls from me if I gave you the time, and I could not allow that to happen.”
Uncontrollable rage flooded through Ezekiel, and he rushed to Octavian, grabbing him by the collar of his jacket and pushing him against the wall. Octavian was much, much stronger than he (especially after having fed off three victims), and grabbed him by the arms, pushing him back and slamming him against the opposing wall. He held him there, helpless as he barred his fangs and snarled. Ezekiel stared with fear at Octavian, well aware of just how violent this monster was.
Seeing Ezekiel’s fear and feeling his grip become slack, Octavian ceased his growls and began to laugh. “Even as a vampire, you have such a good heart,” he remarked chidingly. “My dear brother, you may be cross with me for now, but in time you will thank me. These girls are a gift for you. Though they will be one of my seven, they shall be your responsibility. You will need to care for them, teach them, and see to it that they adjust to this new existence properly.”
Ezekiel’s body trembled in anger as he fought the tears that began to make his eyes water. “Why would you sire them for me?” he questioned, his voice hardly above a whisper. “Why curse them with this existence?”
Octavian smiled his cruel, cold smile. “Because,” he whispered, leaning close and looking into Ezekiel’s eyes. “Because you saw them for all that they are and can be. And now, they have all eternity to achieve their potentials.” He released Ezekiel quickly and stepped back, straightening his shirt calmly.
Ezekiel stepped away, moving towards the great window at the end of the hall and stared out into the darkness, speechless. This was his fault. If only he had kept his lingering looks to himself instead of being so blatantly obvious, then this might not have happened.
“You might wish to go in there,” Octavian nodded towards the bedroom door in front of him. “Both of them are in there, and they will need you to show them how to feed.”
Ezekiel turned back around, tears in his eyes. “Why me?”
Octavian sighed as he stepped closer, resting his hands kindly on his shoulders. “They are yours, brother,” he said again. “They are your responsibility.” He let go and stepped away, retreating back down the stairs and disappearing into the darkness.
Alone, Ezekiel turned towards the door, which was slightly ajar. Tentatively, he approached, pushing it open with the back of his hand and stepping into the bedroom. There, in the darkness, he saw the two girls, both wearing nightgowns and appearing to be sleeping.
Sleeping, or dead.
The redhead lay on her back on the bed, backwards, with her long hair dangling over the foot of the bed. Her eyes were transfixed on the white ceiling above. Her nightdress was spotless, save for a few splashes of blood on the bodice. Two, small puncture wounds adorned her neck. He could smell her blood even from here. It was as sweet and sharp as she was.
She was breathing, though it was no longer a thing more than absent habit that carried over. The points of fangs protruded from the edges of her mouth, and she was awake, if not entirely dazed and lost. But she would recover, as they all did, when they were ready to feed.
The blonde girl lay on the floor by the window in similar fashion, though her transition was far less peaceful. She gasped and struggled faintly, clinging to the last bit of mortal life she had left in her. Ezekiel went to her first.
“Shh…” he soothed as he smoothed her hair back gently. “Relax, darling, relax. It will pass and you will reawake soon enough.”
The blonde girl struggled a little longer, but Ezekiel’s quiet insistence silenced her quickly enough. She became still, and her body turned unnaturally cold. Her eyelids drooped, then opened suddenly. Her fangs appeared, and she opened her mouth wide, as if screaming silently. When she became still for the second time, Ezekiel pulled his hand away from her and waited. One or the other would awake from their daze first, and then he would teach them to feed.
To his surprise, the blonde girl came to first, grabbing his hand with a deathly strong grip as she sat up next to him, her eyes wide with fear and confusion. She looked to the redhead quickly, before looking back at Ezekiel questioningly.
“She will wake soon,” he assured her gently as he took her hands in his and stood slowly. “Can you stand?”
She nodded, and with his help, stood upright. She swayed for a moment before gathering her bearings. She ran her tongue along her fangs, grimacing.
“You will get used to it,” he said as he released her hands and stepped back to admire her in the darkness. She looked the same as she had before, though with paler skin, fangs, and no smile on her sweet lips. She had a hungry look in her eyes, craving for something that she could not understand.
“You must feed,” Ezekiel explained to her as he turned towards the door and motioned for her to follow. She did so without question, and he led her to one of the other rooms and opened the door for her. “You will know what to do,” he whispered as she walked past him.
The girl entered the room while he waited outside, and moments later he heard the faintest sound as fangs pieced flesh. He continued waiting until he heard the girl begin to sob, and only then did he enter the bedroom. There, he saw her sitting on the floor underneath the window, her legs drawn close to her chest as tears trickled down her face. Blood dripped from her lips and fangs, her lips trembling as she continued to cry.
He walked towards her quickly, and caught sight of the body lying in the bed from the corner of his eye. He didn’t need more of a look than that. He crouched down beside her and looked into her green eyes. “This is what you are now,” he said softy, his tone neither kind nor harsh to her. “This is what you do to survive. Animal blood will keep you alive as well, but there were never be anything as satisfying as the taste of human blood. But you can control that desire, if you are strong.”
She looked up at him, somehow comprehending what before had been all but confusion. “Are you strong?” she asked back in a whisper.
Ezekiel nodded. “In time I have become so,” he answered. “I am called Ezekiel. What is your name?”
The girl remained silent and continued to cry.
“Her name is Keira,” a new voice said from the doorway.
Ezekiel turned quickly and saw the redhead standing, the moonlight illuminating her slender frame as she entered the room and walked towards him calmly, eyeing the corpse in the bed closely, but did not bite.
“Keira,” Ezekiel repeated as he stood up slowly and faced the redhead. “And what do they call you?”
“Katerina,” she answered softly as she looked into his eyes deeply. “You are called Ezekiel, I heard?”
He nodded, still captivated by her calm demeanor and entangled beauty. Despite being turned, despite being an entirely differing creature now, he could still see the wonders inside her heart. Same with the other girl. They were still the same as they were before, aside from the curse they now carried.
Katerina tilted her head to the side as she studied him. He was fairly tall, rugged, but gentleness and kindness was all that she saw in his demonic eyes. She took a step close to him and raised her hand, touching his check softly. “You are not our sire,” she remarked plainly.
Ezekiel nodded slowly, reveling in her gentle touch. “I am not,” he agreed. “But your sire is my sire, and he has entrusted me with your safety. I will teach you all you will need to know, and I will be your protector.”
Katerina nodded as she lowered her hand. “There is only one other soul in this house,” she informed him. “And I have yet to feed. Once that is done, may we remain here until the next night? Our time to adjust might be better done in a place we know with you, that we trust. We will lock the doors and close the windows – anything and everything that we must. But let us stay one day longer.”
Ezekiel nodded slowly. “If you wish,” he relented. Octavian had not said how soon he was to bring the two girls back, and if they were his “gift,” then he should be allowed to take as much time as he needed to help them adjust.
Katerina smiled, stepping past him and going to comfort Keira, who still cried.
Ezekiel kept his back turned, but listened as Keria’s sobbing ceased. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Guilt already weighed heavy on his heart, and he knew that it would always remain there. But even though he could not save these girls from Octavian’s bite, perhaps he could protect them from the rest of the world. Even with the strength and endurance of a vampire, Katerina and Keira would need someone to guide them and watch over them. If that was to be how he spent the rest of his eternity, then he would gladly do it for them.