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    Prologue -- When evil thirsts it drinks even of dead waters


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    Prologue -- When evil thirsts it drinks even of dead waters Empty Prologue -- When evil thirsts it drinks even of dead waters

    Post  Tariq on Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:01 pm

    The brutal task of surviving to adulthood without sight had not made him vicious. It had, however, made him merciless.

    His homeland was a dark city that housed lepers, outcasts, blood-thieves, convicts of every crime and caste. It was fraught with danger from within and without. This shared peril forged a curiously strong community between those trapped in it. They relied on one another, and although they were not above treachery in dire circumstances, they understood that survival was a communal affair.

    It was speculated that it was the squalor of that city that led to the newborn bat's blindness. Dirt in the air, some whispered. Muck in the blood, others guessed. Such disabilities were not uncommon and he was accepted into their bloody fold with little resistance. He was reared in the city of darkness, quickly learning to adapt to his lack of sight.

    If the bat’s blindness revealed itself to be an impediment to the community’s survival he would have been cast out to starve and to die, alone. Or worse, he would have been torn apart and devoured by the very neighbors who had housed him and from whose wrists he had suckled.

    The bat made certain this did not happen.

    He fought for every scrap he had. He contributed to the survival of others. His blindness offered him one precious advantage that he quickly learned to take gleeful advantage of – it gave him an aura of weakness. He exploited this at every opportunity, honing his deception with age. He learned that his perceived feebleness allowed him access to where others were barred. He learned to put others at ease, to coax them into dismantling their armor. In a pit of snakes, he became a coiled viper.  

    Which made it all the more infuriating that this same flaw he had refined to a razor’s edge was what killed him.

    The stranger’s words were thick with an accent he did not recognize. This was not unusual- he had never left the confines of his peoples’ land, and anything beyond the dark city was a mystery to him. The stranger’s clothes smelled of sweet smoke. A pilgrim, he had explained in that dripping, cryptic drawl. A religious traveler, journeying to a distant temple and converting a few souls on the way. Poor, blind soul; poor, weak child – would you care to hear a hymn? Would you join me on the outskirts for a prayer?

    It had been naïve of the bat (this was long before he had adopted his moniker of power, before any had fallen to their knees to wail the name Tariq. He went by a much different name, in a language spoken by powerful people he never knew). But he thought it easy prey and agreed, meeting the strange rat at a disused funeral pyre on the outskirts well past midnight.

    It was, in retrospect, a fitting place to die.

    His death was brutal. The violence is sewn into the nature of these things. The stranger spoke to him in tender words. He was gentle, but his teeth were not, and they ripped his throat from him as though he were little more than a blind newborn rat.

    The bat was outraged. He struggled and fought through the searing pain, scrabbling to remain conscious as the stranger softly hushed him. Eventually, his fighting grew weak. Finally, his cries of anger melted into sobs of terror and then faded altogether. And then he took his last, blood-hoarse breath, and he died.

    All he knew was blackness. Nothing disturbed his dreamless passing. Later, his mind would fill it with feverish scenes of boatmen and dogs with slavering fangs. But the truth of it was that his brief foray into true death was quiet and peaceful and dark.

    His return to the world of the living was not. He gasped back, his first experience one of a bright bolt of pain jolting through his chest and stomach. He fought to draw in a breath and his muscles tightened in horror when he could not. The familiar taste of blood was heavy on his tongue. He clamped his mouth hungrily on the veins of the pilgrim’s arm, sucking at the proffered wrist as he had done as a babe.

    “This is not a world of darkness and excess.” He opened his eyes and immediately had to squeeze them shut again, although it did nothing to filter the overwhelming sensations pressing painfully into his head. For a brief moment, he thought he had gained his sight. He could see so distinctly the triumph in the stranger’s voice, his own handprints in the blood at his feet (my blood, he thought, the words sending tendrils of hysterical fear stabbing through his spent body).

    “I will teach you.” The words sounded distant and he couldn’t struggle with their meaning. He laid his ears back and drank.

    “It begins to burn you up from the inside.” Already, the stranger was justifying himself and the bat could hear the trembling anxiety in his long whiskers. This close, the sweet smell of his clothes was almost cloying. “One day you’ll understand. This need goes deeper than the hunger.” Muscles somewhere deep in the bat’s stomach clenched. He retched and a thick, black pool of blood splattered to the floor. The stranger exclaimed something he didn’t understand and tilted his head back with a rough hand, wiping his bloodied mouth with his sleeve.

    “I have seen you, poor child. It was as though you were waiting for me. You knew what it was to take the blood from your first breath. But you’re not a killer, are you? You are blind, helpless. And now, you need me.”

    And so the bat was reborn. He was wrenched unceremoniously away from his home and kith by this stranger, who, after deliberating, said his name was Strix. The bat, who was originally dissatisfied with this dishonesty, would later learn that this shedding and adopting of new names, personas, mythologies was common among the hordes of the undead who had outlived their old titles.

    Strix was a difficult master. He made it clear that the bat was under his tutelage; not his companion, but his student. He was bound to the rat by blood and was therefore just as tethered by his rules, of which there were many.  

    His new mentor was defined by an erratic, bristling energy. He had little patience, and his corrections often came as a blow or a sharp bite that stung fiercely. He was a recent convert to the dead but his lifespan was still several decades longer than anyone the bat had ever known. His extensive life experience frequently meant he had trouble relating to his new pupil, which frustrated him into sulking fits.

    He was wildly superstitious, often in contradictory and bewildering ways. He wove the bones of owls into the stitches of his clothes and nervously kept a silver-bladed knife close enough to burn his skin. He kept carved amulets made of jet, onyx, obsidian on cords around his throat. “They’re apotropaic,” he had explained after the bat had inquired after the curious, ugly idols. “They ward off lemures, the vengeful dead, restless spirits who were wronged.”  The bat had laughed at this, considering them both among the number of the vengeful dead, and received a sharp cuff from the bristling rat.

    Despite his unexceptional company, the bat was enamored with this new life of darkness. It was easy to spend entire days simply appreciating his newly heightened senses. Before, every day had been spent in dread and maudlin starvation. Now, he had been reborn to an empire where he could play whichever role he chose. The chains of his ugly, brutish life had been broken. There was elegance in the sheer, velvet black of his dreamless sleep and the hunger that crept into his veins like a burning poison felt like liberation. His mentor insisted that his hunger was a curse for which there was no atonement and the bat dutifully agreed, but privately knew he had been granted a great and terrible gift.

    Strix had much to teach. He educated him on the value of patience, at playing the long ploy. Their age and their experience gave them an advantage in the game of mortals – they had all the time in the world. Eventually, the worth of gold relics of little value swelled immeasurably. Eventually, locks rusted and fell to ash. Eventually, blushing young maidens who denied you bent into crooked crones desperate for anything you had to offer. Given enough time, the world he had known would unravel while he only grew crueler and more cunning.

    His learning curve was considerably shortened by his nature; he was already intimately familiar with the thousand ways there were to lure strangers in, how to pierce their veins and how to kill. But this last Strix forbid with an insistence that bordered on violent obsession. The first victim he discovered drove him into a blind rage. He seized the bat, overpowered him, and fumbled for the handle of his silver blade. For a moment, the bat marveled at how clearly he could sense the silver; it pained him just to be near it, as though he were looking into a bright light.

    And then his mentor sank it deep into the exposed flesh of his wrist.

    The pain was unlike any he could recall. It surged up his forearm and drove a white-hot stake between his blighted eyes. He shrieked the high-pitch scream of a bat, wings beating uselessly at the ground. Blood pooled and hissed where it touched the wound.

    “There,” Strix said, and the bat could hear the satisfaction behind his dangerous teeth. “You will carry that scar for the rest of your life. Your body will remember what you do not.”  

    It was the beginning of a pattern that lasted for years. The rift between them deepened beyond repair.  The bat would comply with his mentor’s wishes until the appeal built to a grinding pressure in his bones. His deception would eventually be discovered and Strix, in a fit of frantic rage, would punish him with a slash of that dreadful blade that the bat began to regard with real dread.

    The last cut was aborted before its completion. The instant that singing silver touched his skin, the bat lashed out. His panicked kick caught Strix in his stomach and he doubled over, spitting oaths only he could understand. The bat, clutching his wrist, heard that hated blade clatter to the ground. He bound out the door and into the cool night air where his creator learned how fruitless it was to pursue a creature with wings.

    He remained alone for several years. He was too wild, too violent to gain any new companions. The bat enjoyed the fine pleasure of his own company, plumbing the depths of his own wickedness and testing the bounds of his strength and cunning. Freed of Strix and his innumerable rules of decorum and tact, the vampire relished in his new anarchy.  

    Eventually, his pride would not allow him to remain in hiding. He found himself restless and dissatisfied. Keen ears followed local rumours of strange illnesses that dizzied and weakened without proving fatal and he soon tracked Strix down.

    He returned to his maker with syrupy words. The rat's delight at his return drowned out all caution. The bat was quickly forgiven. He was greeted with joyful kisses and warm reassurances. That night, they huddled close to share stories as they had innumerable times before.  

    “I know you don’t understand, child, and I suppose you consider me a fool. But I am still atoning. I am still grieving. I wasn’t given what you were; I wasn’t made with purpose, with dignity. Attacked in my bed, and I woke up to a terrible world I didn’t understand. How could I?”

    The bat remained mute as a gargoyle, black eyes gleaming in the dark.

    “Of course, they didn’t either. They-- my family stood no chance. I don’t remember how they died. I remember the thrill of finding their warm bodies. I remember the blood. It was a slaughter. I fled that charnel house with nothing but my father’s hunting knife, the only item of real value any of us had.”

    His voice had risen, wavered and cracked. The bat’s wings trembled at the fingers. His throat was hoarse, his voice raw. “Where is it?”

    He sensed the hesitation in the rat’s pause. But he sighed and shifted and soon the cool weight of the blade rested in the bat’s palm. He closed his fingers over it and closed his eyes. The flesh was already uncomfortably warm from the silver’s sting. Old, raised scars on his arms prickled.

    “I could blame the hunger. I do. But truthfully, it was… I was like a wolf suddenly awakened in a pen of sheep. I didn’t need to kill them all. I was sated after the first. I ripped their throats out for the sheer joy of it.”

    His voice was hollow, the words dying blackly on his tongue. The bat said he understood. He stood and stretched his wings. They blotted the stars from the sky, swallowed the moon whole. He kissed his maker, who stiffened in surprise at the sudden passion before softening into the embrace. His fingers tangled in his hair. This close, the sweet smell of his clothes was almost cloying. The bat sighed into his lips and plunged the blade deep into his throat. Sour blood sprayed into his mouth and he spat it out. Strix retched and a thick, black pool of blood splattered to the ground.

    The decapitation wasn’t difficult. The knife was made to gut animals, to sever skin and bone, and the rat had kept it exceedingly sharp in his futile quest to ward off the resentful ghosts of his slaughtered kin. Burning the body to ensure the cunning, immortal flesh was forever finished was a tricky task for the blind bat with no tolerance for flames, but he managed it.

    As the flames finally flared to their full hunger, the bat stepped back to consider his handiwork. His hands, slick with blood, were blistered from the blade and he held them out to the salve of cool night air. The stench of burning fur choked the night. For a moment, a shard of ice pierced his heart but he angrily shook it off. Tonight was the true night of his rebirth. Tonight he rose from ashes not his own.  

    The bat plundered his former mentor’s hoard and left what remained of his body for the scavengers. Equipped with enough wealth to secure his fortune and free forever of his mentor’s choking shadow, he struck out on his own, leaving the place where he had been born and where he had been slain behind. Strix’s ashes were still glowing orange when he made his first kill.

    And so the bat began his reign of terror in earnest.

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