“We are ever striving after what is forbidden, and coveting what is denied us.”
The pain was exquisite.
Fire licked under my skin, burning me from the inside, while knives criss-crossed over it on the outside, tearing me open.
Breathe. I had to breathe.
I sucked in a lungful of air, but it gave me no relief. It felt foreign, wrong. My body rejected it.
Unnecessary. Dead men did not need to breathe.
The more I inhaled, the more it burned my insides like smoke. My scream was deafening even to my own ears.
Perhaps this was the underworld.
No, I was still in the cellar. The cellar that the beautiful, terrifying woman had brought me to. If I wanted to help my love, I had to follow her. I did want to help her. As soon as the pain subsided, I would find her.
Another scream. How could it hurt so much? I was already dead.
“Cover his mouth,” a feminine voice hissed. Aelia. She had told me her name was Aelia. “Bite, youngling. It will help,” she cooed. She possessed some kind of dark gift that made her words impossible to ignore.
When she commanded I follow, I had followed her.
When she told me I would need to die to be with the woman I loved, I died. I looked her in the eye as she walked up to me, grabbed my head and snapped my neck.
My mouth was suddenly filled with fabric, and I bit down on it as instructed. Anything to ease the ache. The need to bite was all-consuming. Every part of me hurt, though my teeth perhaps suffered the most.
No, my heart. That was what hurt the most. Grief had taken a knife to my chest and turned, turned, turned it until there was nothing left but a mangled mockery of what my heart had once been.
Porcia was dead.
No. She had suffered a fate worse than death. She had been turned into a monster. An undead monster. A creature of darkness who fed on the blood of humans. A gift, Aelia had called it. I was surrounded by such creatures now, — Aelia and four men she seemed to command — letting them injure me, kill me, revive me. Drinking Aelia’s cursed blood as she pressed her bleeding wrist to my lips.
I did not know what I had agreed to. What kind of bargain had I made with Orcus to gain immortal life? Was my soul intact? Did it matter?
For Porcia, I would suffer any fate.
I screamed around the fabric as another tremor of agony ripped through my body, my bones shifting somehow. Transforming my body.
Somewhere out there, Porcia was experiencing misery like this, and she was alone. Aelia had turned her and abandoned her. Saved her and damned her. Then left her unprotected in the world.
That could not be. Porcia was beauty, light, wit, and kindness. The mistress of this household, where I had lived my whole life as an unworthy slave in her husband’s possession. Porcia was the perfect woman, and night creature or otherwise, she needed protection. She needed someone devoted to her safety, as I had been since the moment I had first laid eyes on her.
Porcia needed me. If that was all she needed from me, I would give it willingly. I would always be what Porcia needed.
The waves of torment receded, or perhaps they just became insignificant in the face of the raw, dry thirst that scraped painfully at my throat. The ache in my teeth became more acute. Sharp pains stabbed relentlessly at my gut. Hunger.
“Time to feed, youngling.”
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The sounds of night falling woke me up, as reliable as any alarm clock.
The traffic died down, the rumble of functional work vans morphing into the soft purr of more luxurious vehicles. The click clack of shoes on the pavement and aggravated voices of workers talking on their cell phones became raucous laughter and inane chatter as the pubs filled up and patrons spilled out onto the pavements. One thing I’d always admired about the British was their dedication to standing on the sidewalk drinking pints, whatever the weather.
For six nights of the week, I waited for Monday. Mondays were the quietest night at Porcia’s burlesque club, Sugar. Mondays were the only time she left the premises these days, and therefore the only opportunity we had to see her. To lay eyes on her and know irrefutably that she was safe.