The first night Armand sensed the other blood drinkers he had been out with Daniel, of course, but they had not been indoors and safe from being spotted without the public taking notice. Tonight he remained draped in the chair he was sat at, face compressed into a stark white palm as he watched past Daniel’s shoulder for any better taste of them in the night.
“Boss? You concentrating?”
There were two, he was sure of that, and he could tell they were blood drinkers from their slow heart beats, but their aura was irregular. Base, literal. The sense he got watching large sharks out in the open ocean, happy to give a nibble on anything in front of their snouts, but hungry only for blood. There was nothing fanciful about them he sensed, but he could not fathom what that meant.
Nothing awesome, nothing embolden by spirits. They were literal and he could not explain why. How did one express his gifts in the literal? If he were to believe their own myths he had every power granted by spirits. Something borrowed to be returned to another plane.
“Armand- We’re still walking to the museum, aren’t we? So let’s go already.”
Daniel was leaning over the table now and yanking at Armand’s wrist, the one under his pillowed cheek. Where Armand’s palm could distort his own face and soften it like flesh, Daniel’s mortal fingernail thumped against his nose like it was a chunk of marble.
Sitting up Armand dropped several bills around Daniel’s mostly untouched coffee and when they went out he slung his arm about the mortal’s shoulder and they walked together in tandem towards the Ponte dell’Academia and the gallery on the southern side of the bridge. Dense fog made every lamp post an orb of light caught in the clouds. Daniel was trying to get Armand to sing along with something and walk in such a manner that their legs would cross over in front of one another, but his thoughts were on that presence.
It was more than dark and even though the walk was minutes away Armand felt the urge to shove Daniel in a taxi and promise to meet him there. Winter meant Venice was sleepier in the night and Armand’s plan of breaking into the Gallerie dell’Accademia and later the Guggenheim probably meant he was deserving of whatever run ins might occur- for who else would they run across but other troublemakers?
Them and the presence.
Being in Venice again wasn’t without its added stress. Daniel, picking up on this but not knowing why, had been especially agreeable and affectionate and participatory in the ways that seemed to please Armand most. Daniel quieted as they began over the open air bridge, not a drop of water or sparkle of stars visible through the fog, sighing as he looked upwards and leaned his head against his companion’s. Armand, eyes lost in the mist over the edge of the bridge, was trying to focus on the heartbeats he’d been hearing when they suddenly split apart and the steady thumps began to race around them in circles. Circles, somehow, over the earth and water without hesitation.
The irregular path implied the Cloud Gift, but with such infantile heartbeats he could not believe these were anything but young vampires. This impossibility raked through his mind with questioning, nervous claws and he was struck with the need to get off the bridge and out of the open air as soon as possible. Just as he grasped at Daniel to speedily tug him along one of the heartbeats shot towards him from over the river. Turning, Armand saw it bolt from out of the mist head first, rocketing towards him with its arms and legs tucked close to its child-like form. A pale face, dark hair blown back in the wind, approached with speed nearly to match Armand’s. Like a whip his mind went out to set it spiralling with a wordless command, but their minds were locked from one another.
The thread between Armand and other vampires did not exist between he and this being.
In a split second he knew this and tried a more literal attempt at capturing this thing, one white hand reaching out to snap around its ankle as the other held fast onto Daniel.
Crushing the joint beneath his hand as he yanked it back there was a sudden resistance from the small figure as two enormous webbed wings erupted from its sides to catch in the misty air. It must have had them tucked against its sides when it dove close, like a falcon crashing to earth, but now they were beating furiously in the air and trying to get away-
It was trying to drag him away as the foot beneath his grip wasn’t a foot at all but a large birdlike claw, now wrapped about his own wrist. Letting go of Daniel, Armand pried at the long toes as he was dragged by his heels down the bridge.
“Armand!” followed by footfalls chased after him until he heard another swoosh through the air and turned to see another shoot out from the mist, claws extended like a bird of prey, to catch Daniel by his jacket and yank him over the bridge and into the mist.
Armand shrieked and heard the creature dragging him cry out in response, it’s wings crumpling as it tried to protect its ears from the piercing sound of Armand’s voice. It must have affected the other one as well as he heard two yelps and a splash from the East side of the bridge where Daniel had been taken. Having no choice but to be done with the winged thing, Armand felt the claw relax around his wrist and flung it towards the river, hoping its membrane-like wings would be too heavy to escape the water. He heard it’s splash moments later and quickly raced to the otherside of the pathway, jumping over the edge in time with listening for Daniel so as to land near him.
Daniel was paddling aimlessly through the fog, whimpering in shock, and managed only to gargle the Canal water when Armand appeared before him. Armand could sense he wasn’t injured, just scared, but getting out of the filthy Canal was an immediate necessity. If one of those claws punctured him the resulting infection from taking a dip would be disastrous- or at the very least would dampen their vacation away from Night Island.
After hoisting Daniel about his shoulders and beginning the trek back he neared the 2nd source of splashing and saw another child.
Pale arms flailed in the water at first, slapping at the surface as what appeared to be a bald head bobbed up and down between them. Upon closer inspection Armand saw it was a child with hair so blonde it nearly appeared translucent on it’s skull. This must have been the one that attacked Daniel. He had every urge to stamp on its head in the water until it swallowed enough to sink miserably down, living but lost in the dark, when he noticed its wings were missing.
And the other one, the dark haired one, was swimming closer.
Either he didn’t throw it far enough or those wings were great for aquatic travel as it was approaching quickly, dark eyes locked onto the blonde.
Armand cut his losses and swam away as the pair regrouped just as he and Daniel made it to the water’s edge and climbed up from a small port. Daniel was coughing and retching into the water, the taste of the Grand Canal in his mouth revolting while Armand watched through the dissipating fog two wingless figures climbing from the water and embracing on the foundation of a pier. Their eyes reflected in the light like an animals, changing as their heads tilted or they looked away, unlike the permanent glow of his own and all others like he.
But it was obvious that they were staring at him. He cupped his hands over Daniel’s ears and shouted again, watching with delight as they both crumpled in pain and wailed like children.
He wanted to leap over the distance, to confront them again, but there were two of them and one mortal he’d rather not lose so he prayed for the sun to rise a little earlier and-
“Are you a vampire?”
One of them was shouting, in English, across the river. The dark haired one had its hand cupped about its lips and it seemed the other wasn’t pleased with the question as they both jolted and a hiss was heard. He could hear them talking over the clucking tongues of water.
“No, don’t talk! You’re hurt, let’s escape…!”
They spoke in Swedish privately so Armand answered in turn.
“Are you ?” His Swedish was perfectly suspicious, just another language mastered in his many years. The figures, who were gathered close together, separated and he could see they were both only in shorts, modern ones, and that their features had returned to normal proportions. Small hands and feet, the sexless lanky bodies of preteens just barely affected by puberty. So, were they human at all?
They’d used the words ‘Vampire’ and recognized Armand as being one of the same. How? Just as he felt the urge to demand answers again Daniel shivered and gripped at his sopping wet clothes.
“Let’s scram,” he wheezed, his glasses lost in the attack, as he squinted towards the children. “Whatever those are- Oh, what-?!”
Whatever those are were transforming before their eyes, Their fingers grew long and between each digit and the flanks of their torsos a thin webbing emerged like the wings of a bat. The dark haired one lead the way up the wall, its mangled foot dangling grotesquely, before reaching the top edge of the bridge and taking flight. Off into the mist they disappeared which left Armand with his mortal lover, clinging to one another in the night.
The next evening Armand arose and headed straight to The Gritti Palace. Daniel was told to stay in their suite and recover- so Armand hissed at the sight of a wide open window. Armand was flattered that Daniel believed in him enough to smite those little devils in the time it took to wake up and feed, but this was reckless.
Leaping to the balcony in one bound Armand landed silently on the rails and entered in with one easy step to an unexpected sight.
Daniel, wrapped up in a bathrobe with syrup, medicine maybe, dribbled accidentally down one lapel was sitting on a chaise lounge in one of the sitting areas with the dark haired creature from the night before on his lap. The blonde one was laying across the top of an ottoman, its arms outstretched and an Atari 2600 joystick in its hands, all eyes glued to a game of Pitfall! On a small television Armand had brought in.
The one in Daniel’s lap looked first, a cold and serious expression for a child on its face, but with a smile it looked easily away and back towards the screen.
“Armand is home,” it said in a surprisingly low voice. Armand might have guessed on its ratty attire that the child was a girl, what with the light blue linen pants and friendly, thin yellow sweater with an apple tree on the front, but he couldn’t be sure with such a raspy voice.
Daniel didn’t look up, instead fixing the glasses he’d lost in the canal before speaking, glasses that had been returned. “Armand don’t just stand around come and sit-”
“What are you doing.” Armand’s low, cutting words snapped everyone to attention at once. They had one minute to explain themselves before he exterminated the both of them. 30 seconds if they wanted it to be a painless extermination.
Daniel started first and neither stranger seemed bothered by this. “Armand, they came by after you left to apologize.”
After? But the sun was nearly up by then. As if Daniel could read minds, or maybe he just knew Armand well enough, he answered. “They can stay awake in the day, but the sunlight rule stands. Anyway, they came by with my glasses and their trunk,” he gestured to an open trunk in a corner, blankets and clothes lulling from it like many panting tongues. “And said they only wanted to talk. Promised to stay in the trunk, said if I was scared- you know-” he pointed to the open window and then ran his thumb across his neck with a wet snarling noise. “Or rather-” he spread his fingers out like in an explosion. “Fwoosh. Smithereens.”
“We come to make peace,” the lap-sitting one said, “We knew you were a blood drinker but we didn’t know there were ones like you. Just ones like us.”
Armand’s nose was scrunched up in anger, almost a snarl, but the more he tried to read them the more he realized they were like they said. Blood drinkers, but not the same breed.
“For one,” Daniel said, holding up a finger, “They don’t have to sleep during the day. Eli was up all morning, Oskar woke up around 2pm for a bit.” Armand detested their names immediately, but Daniel… His sweet Daniel, he seemed elated to talk about the two of them. Brighter than he’d been in months now. Armand realized privately that his disgust was conditional.
Were they strangers he wouldn’t care. Those names were perfectly fine belonging to people not in Daniel’s life.
“And two, they can’t-” he mouthed these next words and thought them aloud. ‘They can’t mind read.’
Armand’s shoulders relaxed.
He immediately shot Daniel a vision of the two being toppled out onto the street from their balcony, exploding into flames on the daylit streets below. Why hadn’t he done this?
‘ Cool it ’ Daniel warned.
“That’s enough.” Armand said, ending the conversation, which drew both Eli and Oskar’s attention this time, the two of them looking at eachother, then Daniel, and finally Armand. “If I have questions after your’s are spoken I will ask. But as it stands…”
He tried to send them that vision as well, their cries muffled by the hiss and pop of a raging fire as they writhed in the streets but it was no use.
Their minds were shut from one another.
Eli stood from Daniel’s lap, fixing their yellow sweater, and fearlessly sauntered up to Armand. Tiny grey hairs mixed in with their dark curls and he could see the small vampire was exhausted, unfed. I’m weak , the display said, I can’t hurt you right now. Armand stood still, but as Eli’s hand reached up to his face and coaxed him closer he obliged, leaning down. Eli’s eyes closed and while he expected there to be some similarities between them he hadn’t thought it would be the powerful kiss.
When they shared the chaste connection Armand felt the whole world between Eli and Oskar erupt suddenly in his mind. The bond of Eli’s kiss was powerful and more vivid than he expected, but a small hand pleaded him to keep still and with his will stretched to its limit Armand allowed the flood to continue. Working backwards he saw the night before with Daniel, their recent travels, Oskar’s turning, the massacre at the pool, the lumbering corpse of Eli’s keeper and him again as a depraved mortal man, the toys he and Oskar shared. On and on back that first night.
“We can’t be friends, you know.”
Wrenching his head back as soon as the small hand retreated Armand stared blankly at Eli as Daniel piped up from his spot on the couch.
“Also, unlike somebody I know, they ask permission to be let in.”