Tariq seemed to sense the boy’s unwillingness to linger on the topic of his unwillingly abandoned comrades and did not encroach on it any further. He merely inclined his head, his hair whispering like spider's silk down his shoulders, and allowed him to continue.
“Non,” he agreed with a ripple of laughter. “I am not of your barbarous city, nor of its people. I have only been here a short time. I am from, ah. A place that does not exist anymore, at least not as it did. It was within the Imperium Romanum, ruled by the Senatus Populusque Romanus.” The words rolled from his tongue without the clipped accent that defined the rest of his speech. “But I do not know if it is right to say that it is where I come from. I spent many years in Anatolia, though it followed the customs of Roma at the time, and Arabia, and many other places besides.”
He had gotten caught up in this explanation and now paused and fixed the boy with a blank look from blind eyes. “I do not know how they call themselves now, or what you would understand. But that is how it was when I knew it.”
Fabien’s follow-up question had an immediate effect on the vampire. The calm humour in his face was snuffed out like a candle, and his features darkened. The air between them grew heavy and black, as though the shadows were making an attempt at strangling the life from the fire that sent its orange light wheeling through the gloom.
“Mind yourself, Fabien. You ask after matters that are not easily put into words,” he said after a long silence. His cloudy eyes had fallen away from the pretense of sight and it gave him a vaguely pensive air.
“But,” he added delicately. Some effort of restraint quivered gently in his tone. “I have asked that you speak freely and I will not rebuke you for it.”
Another silence pressed on them as his host mulled over his words. He shifted in his chair and crossed his long legs at the ankle, his posture becoming more of a sprawl, his seat becoming more of a makeshift throne.
“I died… non, ce n'est pas correct. I was killed.” He turned his head and his eyes flashed like beaten silver in the trembling candlelight. “Twice, really. First as a routine exertion of war and then, as I was dying, as an act of mercy. I was returned because those with the power to save what they love will always choose to do so.”
The fingers of one hand had lain flat on the surface of the table. Now they twitched as though eager to reach out and the vampire moved to steeple his hands together before him.
“I am not like you. I have not gained something that can be taken from me. What I am is not like you only stronger or keener or more cunning. I am those things, but I am something entirely different altogether. And yes, it pleases me very much to be what I am.”
He was warming to this narrative and his voice strengthened as he went on, grew richer and more sure in his mouth.
“How could it not? To have escaped the short, ugly life they – you – must suffer through. As I said before, there are no prisons that can bind me, no illness that can ravage me. I know joy and fulfillment, but not any real pain, nothing like how it was… before. It is a paradise.”
His mirth was returning to him. His teeth flashed as he spoke, his eyes distant and unfocused. They had slipped from his guest during his speech.
“The blood is-- there is no way to describe it to you, nothing you could understand. It is not like eating an apple, or drinking water, and they would sicken me if I were to try. Those are pale reflections of what it is to really consume, to take the hot blood and the life that accompanies it.” His pupils had swelled to liquid wells of black ink as he contemplated these images. When he turned his eyes back to the boy his blind gaze was like that of a hungry cat, his features rapacious and sharp for all the delicacy of his words. “It is ecstasy.” His voice was so soft as to nearly be a hiss. “It is rapture. It is perfect satisfaction.”
The vampire shook his head and ran his tongue over pointed teeth. He inhaled, the sound of it ragged around its edges, and the dark of his eyes began to recede. His smile was still entirely too sharp when he resumed.
“I kill so many,” he agreed. “But I do not agonize for it. I have taken at least one of your companions, but how many more have you lost to neglect, greed? I do not take life out of avarice. I take out of need.”
He paused, whether to assure he still had the boy’s attention or to collect his words, before continuing.
“I am a hunter. It is fair, perhaps, for deer to balk at the cruelty of wolves that they must hunt them, but their arguments are of little interest to the wolves. They must kill to eat, and so must I. It is really so simple.”
“Besides, it is a finer death than many are allowed, to die between my teeth. And I enjoy it. It pleases me to kill. Better to sate me than to die wracked and twisted with pox or plague, or senseless in the street, oui?”