Chapter 1: Claudius, Part 1
(You can find Claudius and Arowenia in the Amaranthine saga & Brothers of Darkness. This story takes place in France in the 1500's.)
The blood pounded through Claude's head like white hot noise and he screamed. He fell to his knees, though he didn't feel it. He was numb to everything but the pain that seared through his veins. Cold hands grabbed him. They held him down to stop his thrashing. He kicked and fought, but the hands were too strong.
Then darkness came.
The black swirled around him. It gave no comfort. It was like the dark inside a furnace; too hot and too dry. There was no escape. He choked on the air, or was it his own tongue? Something flashed behind his eyelids. It was an image and, though he recognized the face, the colors were too bright. He tried to call to her, but no sound came. There was only the dry, hot rasping of the damned.
How long it lasted, he couldn't tell. As the agony sliced through him, he forgot everything: his hopes, his dreams, his past, even his name. There was only one thing that he could remember and that was the too bright face with eyes that shied away from him.
Then, it was over.
He blinked and tried to focus on the person bent over him. It wasn't her, the girl he'd seen in his dream, but it was a woman. Francoise had dark hair and creamy skin, full lips colored in blood and long, pointed teeth. He gurgled; an attempt at speech, and she smiled at his efforts.
"So you have survived, le petit Claude."
With that greeting, his memories slammed into his skull in a heated rush. He could see her; dark and coquettish. She batted her eyes like a virgin, but took him in the stables like a common w***e.
He didn't love her, and she knew it, but she didn't care. He was a game for her, a new toy to play with. That suited him fine. Her offerings were sweet enough. Then, they got sweeter. She showed him her immortality and let him taste it. It was a prize like no other, one that would give him everything he deserved. He craved it like he craved the girl in his pain smeared visions. Now that he had the one, he would soon have the other.
Francoise watched him with keen interest. When she'd met him she had called him young. He told her he was sixteen and she laughed and said he was just a babe, but she could see the revenge that burned in his heart, and it intrigued her. She said that she could taste his hate; hate for the one who had sired him and turned him away. Other noblemen claimed their bastards, and without an heir, there was no reason for him not to. He was so desperate for a child that he laid claim to his only niece, yet refused to foster the one who shared his blood. Or so he said. Claude suspected it was not a daughter, rather a future bride he raised in those stone halls. That was something he would not allow. The ?cuyer would never touch her.
He sat up slowly and the world tilted. He caught himself on a roughhewn stall. The smell of horses filled his nose, suddenly too strong and too organic. His stomach lurched and his tongue burned. He needed a drink.
With great effort he climbed to his feet and propped himself up. "I thirst."
Francoise's smile grew. "Yes, you must feed, but first you must be able to walk." She took his arm and helped him take an uncertain step. "Yes. Yes. Come, now."
They stopped at the opened door and he stared at the world beyond with new eyes. People bustled about their business in the late evening hours, some to bed, some to the taverns, and others to appointments of a more carnal nature. His legs felt stronger and he started forward. Francoise held him back and shook her head. "I shall find you one, mon enfant."
He scowled and pulled his arm free. "I am no child of yours. I will do it alone."
She laughed and let him go. He could feel her eyes on him as he stumbled into the street, and her scrutiny straightened his spine. The strength returned to his legs only to leech out again in an instant. He grabbed the wall of a nearby building to keep from falling in the mud. He heard her silvery laughter but he refused to succumb.
The alley was dark. A man stood at the end of it, no doubt a thief waiting for some unlucky prey. Claude stalked towards him his every sense alive as if for the first time, and the man offered a too friendly greeting. He didn't know it was his death that approached.
It was over quickly. The man's knife flashed and then his scream shook the night. The blade clattered to the ground, as Claude tore through his throat. Blood sprayed his face and shirt and filled his mouth. He gulped down mouthfuls of crimson. The burning agony in his throat eased, and the thirst was silenced. But there wasn't enough.
The blood stopped coming and he stared down at the limp body in his arms with a mixture of disappointment and confusion. Francoise was suddenly next to him. She took the corpse and cast it aside. "Come," she said softly. "We must quit this place before an alarm is given." She tugged the dark cloak from around her shoulders and used it to mop his face. He flinched away at first, but settled and let her clean him. "You are hardly in a fit state to be seen and not accused of murder."
Murder. The word rang through his mind and he looked at the corpse on the ground. He'd never killed a man before. If he wanted his due, he would have to kill many more. None would he enjoy so much as him.
Oblivious to his thoughts, Francoise threw her ruined garment aside and pulled his cloak closed over his shirt. "We are stronger than they are, but we are vulnerable to the sunlight. Never forget that. Besides, tonight you are weak, mon enfant. Your full strength will not find you until tomorrow's sun sets."
Though he sneered at the new endearment, he let it go. There would be time to deal with it later.