Kotetsu awoke to near darkness, and he blinked his eyes, straining for a hint of his surroundings. As his vision adapted, he could discern the pattern of dim light and shadows cast by the fabric draping the bars that surrounded him – he was in a cage, with walls perhaps four feet wide and tall. His legs were cramping badly, and he tried to unfold them, to reach down and massage the muscles…
I can't move.
He took stock of his bonds: the familiar iron collar weighed on his neck, and the barbed bit attached the muzzle pressed lightly into his tongue, promising to tear into it at the slightest provocation. He'd learned quickly not to plead with or curse his captors aloud, but whenever they managed to coax a scream out of him, he paid for it with a badly lacerated tongue and palate. On occasion, after securing him otherwise, his captors removed the bit and loosened the muzzle enough to for him to eat the bits of rotting meat and stale water left for him. Though he refused the food at first, he soon learned to choke it down, knowing they were watching, ready to feed him by force if he delayed.
As they had been since his capture many months ago, his leathery wings were bound, pierced through the folds with bars – yet more iron – that worried at his flesh with their sharp edges, keeping the wounds there from closing. He was nude, as they always kept him.
He tested what little strength he had against the newer, less familiar restraints. His arms were held together from the elbows to his clasped hands in a cage of tight iron bands, and his calves were strapped tightly to his thighs by similar bonds. Kotetsu was fairly certain he could leverage himself upright, but the bands would force him into a kneeling position… the merchant’s men never failed to find new methods of humiliation.
How long will I be left, this time?
His mouth tasted of rust, like blood. He closed his eyes, furrowing his brow at the emptiness in his stomach. Two weeks ago - three weeks now? - his captors had thrown a poor drunkard into a cell with him after removing his muzzle and injecting something into his arm. The drug had burned through him like fire, and it kept his conscious mind from intervening as instinct took over. At the time, hadn't been given anything but water for a month, and he was ravenous.
The merchant and his company had watched from behind the safety of the iron bars, jeering as the man died. When he came back to himself, Kotetsu wept, vomiting the human's blood and retching long after his stomach was empty. They'd fed him on a more regular basis since then -- back to his old diet -- though for the first feeding they had to resort to forcing blood down his throat.
Over time, after his capture, Kotetsu had moved from a sorrowful apathy to desperation, panic, and rage. For a time, he had resisted his captors, lashing out and trying to escape whenever he found the slimmest hope. After the rage was driven from him by repeated abuse and starvation, he'd finally settled into a heavy despair and a gnawing, ever-present fear.
He heard footsteps approaching, breaking the silence, and with the sound came mingling scents of unwashed bodies. One, he could identify as the sharp smell one of the merchant's hired thugs; the other was unfamiliar. Unable to move away, he lay on his side and waited as the men pulled the cloth off of the cage. Kotetsu glanced through the uncovered bars quickly; they were in a dimly-lit, dusty indoor space. The size of the room was impossible to gauge, as his cage was surrounded by crates, chests, and stacked bolts of cloth.
With the strike of metal on metal, Kotetsu's attention was jerked back to the immediacy of the two men now leering at him through the bars. The familiar one, whom Kotetsu had learned was named Regus, gave a low chortle and tapped at the cage again with the pole he carried. There, on the ground behind the two men, was a large iron cauldron it had probably carried.
"Awake, sweetness? Good for yous. We's here under orders to get tha goods cleaned up fer tha young duke! Sit yerself up, now." Regus looked unusually cheerful.
Am I to be sold, then? The merchant had never displayed any qualms in leaving his prisoner to exist in filth.
The unfamiliar man leaned nearer the bars, studying him. “That’s a sad sight right there.”
Regus ignored his comment. "Not cooperatin', sweetness? Too bad for yous. Kelvin, climb up there and help it up."
"Me? I heard what this thing did to that sod--"
"I told yous to get yer ass up there, or I'll let it loose an' throw ya in there with it!"
Kelvin grinned, the smile stretching his face into a hideous grimace, and he pulled himself up onto one of the crates and hopped lightly onto the top of the cage. Kotetsu closed his eyes; he had seen the chain that ran upwards from his collar to the top of the cage. Oh gods. He tried to shift his weight, but he was too stiff and immobilized to move quickly enough.
"Haul 'em up!"
The man above began to pull on the heavy chain, and Kotetsu gagged as the weight of his upper body left the ground. As the other man lifted, Regus shoved the pole through the bars of the cage and prodded roughly at the captive until he knelt upright on his bound legs. When the chain loosened slightly, Kotetsu doubled over, sucking in air past the bit, their laughter ringing in his ears.
"Now help it up jest a little more, an' we'll be ready to clean it proper-like."
As the chain began again to tighten, Kotetsu, unable to control his rising panic, began to struggle. He was hauled clear of the floor, almost to the top of the small cage; his weight fell fully on the collar, cutting off his breath. Blood filled his mouth as the bit tore into his tongue.
As his thrashing became weaker, Kotetsu dimly heard Regus speak again, a note of nervousness entering his voice. "Now see here, yous. Be a mite gentler. If we kill 'em the boss'll string us up with it."
Kelvin let the captive demon strangle for a few moments more, then slowly lowered the chain until Kotetsu 's knees -- the lowest part of his body, considering the way his legs were bound -- touched the floor of the cage enough to take some of his weight.
Ignoring the rattling, desperate breaths of the trussed creature, Kelvin tied off the chain and leapt lightly to the ground beside his co-tormentor.
"Let's get it done. We're almost out of time."
Kotetsu watched through his swimming vision as the pair hauled the cauldron to the top of the cage, and one of them pulled the lid off. It was steaming. He finally screamed when they poured the near-boiling water over him. When they released the chain, he collapsed back to the floor of the cage, gagging on his own blood.
Barnaby shifted slightly on his ornate chair, bored by this latest stream of penitents and ambassadors. His uncle did not often leave him to manage even the most mundane of the country's business, preferring to leave the day-to-day workings of the state to his favorite advisor, Lloyds, when he was away. Unusually, though, the king had included Lloyds in his entourage on his latest journey to deal with some urgent diplomatic matter, and Barnaby had been left to deal with the tradesmen on their day of petition. It was a flamboyant affair which many of the country’s wealthier nobles attended to take stock of the wares on display; most traders brought samples of their most desirable or exotic goods in an effort to negotiate access to the markets in the capitol and provinces, or to haggle for lower tariffs on their merchandise.
On either side of Barnaby, the remainder of the council perched on their own chairs, hawkishly watching over the proceedings. Only Saito paid no attention, instead playing with bits of something metal. His uncle's throne was empty.
Barnaby glanced towards the western windows – finally, late afternoon -- and gestured for the next group to come forward. Like the others, this group came bearing gifts to the crown; from their dress, they appeared to be from the southern region of the continent. Large chests and textiles were present in great number, and one ostentatiously draped object -- a crate, by the looks of it – was pulled in on a wheeled platform by a group of slaves.
A muscle near Barnaby's eye twitched. Endless bribes meant to buy his influence with the king. Such as it was.
One of the men made the group’s introductions. He gave his name and the name of his caravan, but Barnaby pair little attention to his words, contemplating instead the man’s dress and bearing. He resembles nothing more than a portly and rather balding macaw.
"And what business do you have in the court of Stern Bild?" Barnaby intoned in a flat voice.
The fat merchant began to move forward, but stopped after only a step when he saw Barnaby's glare. "Your Excellency, we wish nothing more than to express our gratitude for your country’s generosity in keeping the trade routes through your lands open during this time of great turmoil. We offer a selection of our finest wares in our humble thanks. If I may present our offerings?" At Barnaby’s nod, he bustled about from one chest to the other, pointing out the rarity of the goods.
Get on with it, Barnaby thought, annoyed by the man's self-importance and his delay of the inevitable string of requests. Ah, there it is: "Of course, assistance with import duties would allow greater treasures to flow into this great land."
He nodded absentmindedly as the man spoke, trusting the scribe seated in front of the dias to record the particulars. Finish your show and be gone.
Finally, the merchant gestured extravagantly to the large covered crate. "If I may present to your Excellency our most exquisite acquisition?"
At a rehearsed signal, the slaves pulled the draped fabric down from one side of the... cage? Barnaby checked his initial surprise, but his eyes widened slightly, and he sat up straighter in his chair. Barnaby caught himself, and glanced quickly to the merchant... the bastard was grinning; he had noticed Barnaby's reaction.
Kotetsu knelt on the floor of the dark enclosure, having slowly maneuvered himself upright when the cage stopped moving. When the two men had finished with him, they had re-draped the cage before leaving. Thicker stuff this time. Fancier.
Even through the heavy fabric, he could smell the press of human bodies, and a knot of panic formed small inside him. The tang of his own blood still lingered in his mouth, and he could feel a dried crust of it coating his lips; he had continued to bleed for some time after Regus and Kelvin's ministrations.
He estimated that at least a day had passed, from the dulled pain of his burns and what he could feel of his tongue. Even half-starved, he healed faster than any of the humans he had encountered. In his present state this was no blessing; Regus and his fellow thugs had used him as a toy, delighting in the freedom to inflicting repeated damage on a creature that would inevitably heal without scarring. The merchant's only restrictions, the only rules he held his men to in their treatment of Kotetsu, had been that they were not sever any extremities, and that they were not to kill him.
The stink of humans and the stench of the perfumes they used to hide their own odor cloyed at his nostrils. Listening to what he could hear through the stifling fabric, Kotetsu became convinced that he had been correct in his earlier guess. He was in a human court, probably brought by the merchant with his other goods to present to the nobles of whatever territory they were in as a gift, a plaything. Or an offering. He could very well decide to burn Kotetsu alive as a show for the lords and ladies. It had happened to many of his kind, at the hands of both rich and poor humans. Less often, now.
For a moment, the panic rose to the surface of his mind, and Kotetsu used all of what remained of his strength to pull against his bonds. It was futile; he only succeeded in overbalancing and falling to the floor of the cage. After lying still for a moment, he sighed, resolving to face his fate with whatever dignity he could muster. Not much. As he quietly struggled to lever himself back up, Kotetsu heard the voice of the merchant, close by, insistent. Soon after he managed to return to his upright position, the fabric was pulled away from one side of the cage, and the light momentarily blinded him.
As Kotetsu squinted desperately against the harsh light, he sensed something that made his heart freeze. Something's not right... this smell!
Author's Notes: This is my first attempt at a fic of any kind. Be gentle, readers, but please do share your honest thoughts in the comments!
Barnaby directed his most disapproving frown at the merchant, who continued to smile as he gestured toward the uncovered offering. The young lord could feel his heart racing (Why this reaction?), and Barnaby breathed in and exhaled slowly before allowing his eyes to be pulled back toward the cage.
Inside, an adult male demon knelt, nude, its sunken eyes squeezed nearly shut even in the shadows of the remaining draped cloth that shielded it from the direct light of the afternoon sun slanting through the windows. It was bound so tightly in iron bands that the creature surely couldn't move anything but its head; even the lower half of its face was encased in a weave of iron that resembled nothing more than a dog's muzzle. The demon was very human in appearance, with dark matted hair hanging down to his shoulders. Its skin, stretched taut over prominent bones, was the color of copper and dried leaves. It would never be mistaken for a man, though – huge dark wings lay folded tightly against its back, and even from a distance Barnaby could see the dark claws at the ends of its fingers.
"How does this strike you, Excellency? We are most pleased to bring you a specimen of the fabled race of vampires. Even among the most widely traveled of caravans a live one has not been had for… it will be nigh thirty years! We have heard of your Excellency's collection of rare animals. I ask you, please honor us by accepting this gift as a token of our devotion to the welfare of your liege and your country." The merchant paused, perhaps waiting for the duke to respond. “…It was quite an expensive acquisition for our group.”
Barnaby heard the fat merchant only dimly; the... vampire... in the cage had recovered the ability to see and was staring straight at Barnaby in what could only be interpreted as horror. It took what seemed like an eternity for Barnaby to tear his view back to the merchant. As he did, he became aware of agitated murmuring among the nobles in the gallery and the advisors on the dais, and he swallowed, preparing to speak, to say something, calmly... The damned merchant broke into his thoughts.
"We have, of course, taken the liberty of breaking the creature in for you. With careful handling, it should be no more dangerous than any of your other exotic pets. I will loan the services of my man Regus during the remainder of the caravan's stay... to ensure your guards know how to handle it.” He smirked.
"As these creatures are exceedingly rare and known to all to be very vicious, however, I would like to demonstrate the animal's primary weakness to the honored court of Stern Bild, to allay the concerns of your honored lords and ladies." He bowed to the nobles on each side of the gallery, and repeated the bow to the council on the dias.
One more gesture to the attendant slaves, and the remaining cloth was pulled away from the bars. The vampire in the cage flinched, gaze finally directed away from Barnaby, towards the western windows. It tried vainly to raise its arms against the bands and chains that held them.
A few nervous titters from the crowd, and one boy's voice, too loud: "I know what happens next! Grandfather told me of a village that put down a monster of its kind when he was a lad. I thought it only a goblin tale!"
With a wail that send a shudder through all who watched, the creature in the cage fell to its side, back and wings to the light, small shudders running through its body. The observers in the room, including Barnaby (Get control over yourself!) leaned forward involuntarily, staring, as the faintest of blue lights began to flicker around the prone form, only to be extinguished seconds later with an audible snap. The already copper color of the demon's exposed skin began to turn an angry red, and in short order, as the burns darkened, blood began to seep from the cracks along the skin of the demon's back and wings.
A small scream sounded from the crowd, and Barnaby looked up to see Lord Nathan holding the slumped form of Lady Karina. Lord Nathan's raised his eyebrows, and his eyes went pointedly back to the fallen creature. Barnaby's eyes followed, and he covered his mouth at the sight of the writhing demon.
"Enough!" The merchants' commanding tone and the snap of his fingers echoed through the now silent room, and two of the caravan slaves hurried to redrape the cage. "We don't want to damage his Excellency's property too badly."
As if on cue, the gallery exploded into excited conversation.
Free of the sight of the vampire, Barnaby forced his hand down, straightening in his chair, unwilling to let himself respond further to what he had just seen. The merchant was positively gleeful, bouncing on the balls of his feet as the crowd exclaimed over the demon.
Barnaby knew he had lost control of the situation; that he looked to all those in the gallery and on the dais like a fool, overcome by a parading merchant and his caged freak.
"If you will excuse my boldness, Excellency, I also have a small gift meant for His Majesty, the King." The man gestured towards a small box in the hands of a slave to the side of his entourage. Barnaby opened his mouth to reply -- too slowly, his mind was still struggling to catch up. Rotwang, a red-nosed, greasy, short-statured adviser, was already standing and addressing the merchant.
"I will accept your gift to His Majesty in the adjoining chamber. Our guards will accompany your man and these gifts to the appropriate rooms. This audience is adjourned for the day." Rotwang waited for the merchant to dismiss his entourage, and then he stepped down from the dais to guide the visitor to an inconspicuous side door, his hand on the man's back.
Barnaby returned to his suite very late that night, sure he had fully regained his composure. He'd spent the evening attending to as many "duties" as he could find elsewhere – meaning he had tucked himself away in an accounting room to go over some of the more recent books from the castle’s stores. He’d run his finger along the columns, finding time and again that he hadn’t tallied the figures, and each time returned to the top of the page to begin again.
As he approached his rooms, Barnaby groaned inwardly. Two heavily armed guards stood in the public corridor, flanking the door, which could only mean they had brought the demon here instead of taking it to the dungeons. Apparently he wouldn't be allowed to just ignore the creature. He stalked past them without a word, through his private study, through the empty indoor kennels -- built into the castle, of the same heavy stone; the original occupant of the suite had obviously been a hunter. He exited at the far side (there was a guard there, too), into the gardens that housed his menagerie, walking past the outdoor pens and into the low stone shed set back against the garden's high, smooth wall.
There had previously been only one occupant here: a tiger brought in recently with another caravan. The huge cat was indoors now, pacing the length of the barred pen with its mouth held open to display impressive fangs. Barnaby ignored the animal, turning his attention to the other pen and the men gathered there.
Inside the pen, Rotwang leaned against the wall, arms crossed, conversing in a low voice with two other men. One, Barnaby recognized: Rotwang's unsavory lackey, Kelvin. The other, Barnaby assumed, must be Regus. Two castle guards flanked the door.
The vampire was between them. The bands around his arms and legs had been removed, but the creature’s heavy iron shackles remained. The leg irons were connected by a very short chain, with longer leads on the cuffs around his wrists. These were, at present, threaded through iron rings newly set into one of the heavy timbers of the ceiling. The chains had been pulled tight by a winch (this was just installed, as well) housed on the outside of the pen, spreading the demon's arms taunt above his head and forcing him to stand in the center of the pen. The muzzle still encased the lower part of his face, the collar still encircled his throat, and his wings remained bound.
As Barnaby had dreaded, heart began to speed up when he looked into the creature's eyes, which were once again fixed on him. At least the effect wasn't nearly as pronounced as it had been in the court. Barnaby gritted his teeth and entered through the open pen door.
"Yer lordship --"
"Your Excellency," Barnaby growled.
"Right. Yer Excellency, I've to leave tomorrow, and I'm under the boss' orders to tell yous how to care for the monster here." He clapped the vampire on the back in what would have been a friendly manner, had the flesh there not been raw and weeping fluid from the wounds that graced it. The creature hissed, and Barnaby flinched, but he held his peace. The man would be gone soon; antagonizing him would do no good for the crown's relations with the sizable trading interest he represented.
"Go on," said Rotwang. "The three of us are here to learn together."
"Right then. First, the basics. What we got here is a killin' machine. Where we got it from, they learned that too late. Get careless, and yous’ll find out th’ same. Have yer men feed it,” – another “friendly” slap, this time on the creature’s abdomen – “but not so much that it gets too strong. It's best to keep it hungry. Once was I saw it eat a man's throat out, b'lieve you me."
Barnaby walked around the demon, careful not to get too close; he could see the lines of every bone on the demon’s body; the merchant had kept it starving, not hungry.
"And what does the creature eat?" Barnaby queried quietly.
"'Twill thrive happily on naught but raw bits o' meat and water. Or blood."
The demon's eyes hadn't left Barnaby since the moment he entered the building. It was maddening.
"Can he speak? Does he understand us?"
"Oh, aye, yer Excellentness, but it knows not to try talkin’. First thing we taught'im. Now, let me show yous how this works, sous yer man there can handle the beast for you." He nodded to Kelvin, who smiled at Barnaby as he passed.
Regus retreated to the heavy cabinet that held the winch on the outside of the pen, and returned with a short length of iron shaped like a double-sided, two pronged fork. At his instruction, Kelvin exited the pen to lower the chains to allow a good two feet of slack. Regus kicked the vampire in the back of one knee, knocking him into a kneeling position, his arms again spread above him. The thug's smooth actions belied much practice.
At Regus' prompting, Kelvin pulled the demon's head back by the hair and held it there. Turning to Barnaby, Regus held the forked implement up.
"This lil' beauty is compliments o' the house, as we would hate for yer Excellence or his men to come to an... unfort'nate end." Reaching to the vampire's collar, he undid a small leather buckle at the front and slipped the strap through the ring at the center of the fork's shaft, causing one end to settle between the bones of the jaw and the other into soft flesh the base of the throat. Small beads of blood formed at the points of the instrument. As Regus refixed the buckle, Barnaby saw the instrument’s purpose: the vampire was forced to keep his head thrown back to prevent the iron tines from sinking into his flesh. Kelvin released the demon's hair and stepped back to Rotwang's side.
"Now this next part, yous should only do when it needs feedin'. If yous could all gather close-in."
Barnaby didn't move.
"Your Excellency, I must insist you follow this man's instructions for the time being." Rotwang moved forward to grasp Barnaby's arm, but the young duke shook his arm off and strode forward on his own, trying to ignore his rising disgust.
Regus had pulled a bit of wire from his pocket and was pressing it into a recessed latch on the solid plate fronting the muzzle. The demon's eyes were pressed closed, his brows furrowed. What Barnaby could see when he drew nearer shouldn't have shocked him, after what he had seen of the vampire’s condition, but Barnaby nevertheless took a step backwards.
Rotwang pulled the plate away, and with it came a bit that Barnaby wouldn't have inflicted on the most murderous animal. Better to kill it and be done. An inch wide and two inches long, the top and bottom of the metal plate were covered in short, razored spikes. The surface of the bit was slick with blood and saliva, and it dripped freely onto the dirt floor as Regus pulled it away.
"What the hell is that…?" Barnaby was suddenly grasping Regus' wrist in one hand, the other gathered in the man's shirt. Just as suddenly, arms pulled him roughly away and held him, and felt hot, stinking breath on his cheek as Kelvin whispered, "You don't want to be doing that, yer Excellency."
"Barnaby." Rotwang's eyes bored into Barnaby's. "You will be silent. You will observe. This man will finish his demonstration unmolested." He turned to Regus, who was smoothing down his shirt. "My apologies on behalf of the young duke. He is somewhat... sensitive."
"S'no harm done. As I were tryin’ to say, there be no need to remove the muzzle for feedin. Yous can keep the creature trussed up like this and amuse yerself --" he took the skin from his belt, pressing the mouthpiece through the gap in the muzzle until the vampire parted his bloodied lips under the pressure. He lowered it, having given no water -- "Or yous can jest take out th' bit, leave th' food, and let 'im down." His hand fished into another pocket, emerging with a few shreds of rotten meat, which he flung across the shed to the floor of the pen opposite. The tiger snuffed at it and turned away. "If you want the muzzle off so it ken tear into live prey or somelike, there's a key on the winch box. Up to yous." The man shrugged. "Not my problem no more." He tossed the bit of wire away, so that it landed on the box holding the winch, next to the key. “Them’s the basics. Th’ rest is easy enough.”
"My good sir." Rotwang pulled a small purse from his black robe, and he handed it to the merchant's man. "Thank you for your advice this evening. I again apologize for the rudeness of your treatment. I expect you will respect the privacy of the... challenges... we face here. Please express to your master our sincere gratitude for his gifts. Depart this evening in peace."
"Oh, a'course." Regus tucked the purse away, wiped his hands on his shirt, and turned to Barnaby, a mocking grin on his face as he sketched a parody of a bow. "A last bit o' advice, lordship. Best cover the windows on this side before the morn."
Rotwang sighed as the man left. Why must I be the one to deal with this brat?
At his wave, Kelvin released Barnaby, who strode directly to Rotwang. "You bastard --" The slap rang through the shed, and Barnaby fell silent, the inside of his cheek stinging where he had involuntarily bitten it.
"Listen, boy! You are only tolerated here by the whim of your uncle. You will return to your chambers, immediately, and you will not leave until I send word that you are free to emerge. Kelvin, you will take care of this... creature... for the interim. Feed it. Find some rag to cover its nakedness. It offends me."
"Aye, I'll take care of it."
Rotwang sighed and turned to the guards, who remained statuesque at the door. "Assist his Excellency to his rooms."
They escorted the young duke out, and as Rotwand turned to follow, a sound stopped short of the door. It was so strained, so quiet, he almost couldn't make out the word.
Rotwang turned on his heel, walked past Kelvin into the pen, and grasped the vampire's hair. He pulled forward, hard, burying the spikes deep in the flesh of the creature's neck. He ignored the blood that spotted his dark robe as it spasmed, peering deep into amber eyes that were unfocused in agony.
"For whom are you pleading?"
He released his grip, turned again, and left Kelvin to his work.
Five days, or six, passed. Kotetsu lay on his side in a pile of hay, too weary to move. His back and wings were slow to heal from the sunlight, and the closing punctures in his throat throbbed with every breath and swallow. Kelvin had left him hanging from the ceiling with only the balls of his feet reaching the ground for two days, the fork still embedded in his throat. Finally, the man had returned to dart him in the neck with one of the silver needles that never failed to render him unconscious. They hadn't shown that trick to the young duke. This time, like so many others, Kotetsu had welcomed the darkness, hoping he was healed somewhat by the time he woke.
When he did, he found that the fork head been removed and that a pair of ragged pants that had been pulled onto him. The winch had been fully released, giving him enough slack to move about the pen, but Kotetsu wanted nothing more than to lie motionless. With no food in his system, he didn't even have to rise to relieve himself, though the possibility of that action was more freedom than the vampire had in what seemed like an eternity. He lay and watched the sunlight grow and wane, blessedly far away, though a small window above the tiger's pen.
In the near silence, one stubborn thought remained near the surface of his mind: What do I do about the boy they call Barnaby? He seems to know nothing. Is it best to leave things be?
Shifting slightly on the coarse straw some time later, Kotetsu opened his eyes a slit in the dim light that filtered in through the tiger's door and window. He’d heard a noise; a slight shifting in the hay. He looked around cautiously until he saw the other occupant of his pen.
A rabbit. Kelvin hadn't yet given him any meat, blood, or even water, but the thug had left him with a rabbit. The cute fluffy kind, with delicately curling, fawn-colored fur. Doubtless raised as dinner for either the humans or the tiger.
Fortunately for the rabbit, Kelvin had left on his muzzle. He had also returned the bit to the vampire’s mouth, so Kotetsu could as much attempt to eat the animal as he could open his wings to escape. The rabbit, on the other hand, looked rather fat and happy eating the straw. When it had its fill, it drank from a small puddle that had formed under a leak in the roof during one night's hard rain.
Kelvin wasn't as creative in his cruelty without Regus to goad him on, and the vampire had not seen him since the third day. He must have grown too bored with torturing this particular captive monster to maintain much effort. The rabbit was the only moving thing in the shed, barring the occasions when the tiger slunk indoors to sleep.
The rabbit kicked his hand, hard, the first time he reached for it.
Barnaby sat slumped into the single chair in his study, one hand pulling at his curling hair, stretching one blond curl down to his shoulder at a time. He'd hardly slept in a week; the vampire haunted his thoughts whenever he closed his eyes or tried to focus on a book. Those damn eyes, following me everywhere!
Not that any of it mattered, as there were guards at every door out of his rooms. His uncle had not yet returned, and the rest of the court seemed content to ignore his existence. The only company he saw was a young page that came past the guards several times a day, carrying food and linens in and out without a word.
He sat forward in surprise at the raised voices from beyond the door that connected the outer hall and his study; supper had already been delivered that day, and the page had carried the tray away an hour ago. A familiar voice mingled with the guards', cajoling. The door creaked slowly open on its hinges, and Barnaby watched as a pink-haired noble slipped through into the room, giving a little wave of his fingers to the guards before he shut the door after him.
Barnaby ground the heels of his hands into his eyes and rose to bow towards the older man. "Lord Nathan, it’s a pleasure to see you." Moving aside, he gestured to the single seat.
Nathan ignored the offer, instead he sat down a rather flamboyant bag he had carried on his sshoulder and laid his hand on Barnaby’y cheek. "Handsome, you look dreadful. I came to check up on you; there's a rumor about the nobles that you'd been devoured by your new pet. How are you?"
"I'm well, despite the fact that Rotwang seems intent on never letting me leave these rooms. Thank you, Nathan, for worrying."
"Of course I’ve been worried. Are you eating properly?"
Nathan looked doubtful. Barnaby gave a small wave, dismissing the topic.
"Well, dear, to be honest, I didn't just come to check on you. In the guards’ quarters, Rotwang's dog has been heard boasting about his treatment of the demon. Have you seen it since it arrived?"
Barnaby sighed and sank back into his chair. "Once, the night after it was brought here. It looked half dead. Whatever that bastard is passing around, I couldn’t tell you if it were true. I haven't been allowed into the gardens since."
"Come on, then; we've got a visit to make." Nathan picked back up his bag, pulled Barnaby to his feet, pressed a rather ornate candelabra from atop the desk into the young duke's hands, and headed through the kennels to the garden door. "You leave this to me."
Barnaby hung back, amazed, as Nathan called out through the door to the guard. The man always seemed to have influence in unexpected places. The guard pulled the door open and stood aside, ready to let Nathan through, but he moved to bar the way when Barnaby began to follow.
“None of that, dear.” Nathan pressed close to the guard, running his hand down the man's chest and leaning in to whisper something in his ear before pinching his butt, hard. The man flushed scarlet and moved aside.
"Follow me, handsome~"
Barnaby edged past and jogged forward to catch up to Nathan, who now walked quickly through the gardens toward the shed at the rear. He glanced into the cages he passed; the caretakers had been allowed in, at least. Barnaby could see the tiger in the shed's outer pen, basking in the last rays of the sun.
"Nathan, I don't want you doing that for --"
"Quiet, dear. I'm a grown man. In any case, Antonio and I have an... understanding." Nathan winked, and Barnaby flushed a deeper red than even the swarthy guard had achieved.
As he swept toward the shed, Nathan glanced at the sun, gauging its low angle as it set behind the wall backing the low building. He barely stopped at the door, pulling open it and sauntering directly inside. Barnaby followed him in, more cautiously, the upset wax from the candelabra dripping down his hand.
As they entered, the vampire raised his head slightly from a bed of hay, eyes startled, straw sticking out of his hair at odd angles.
"Oh, my." Nathan tittered into his well-manicured hand. "What a fearsome tiger you've collected."
Surely not. Barnaby worked to close his open mouth. "Ah." He directed his thoughts to another topic: Someone gave him pants. It didn’t work – his eyes flicked down to check what he thought he had seen, at his first glance. It was still there. The creature's arms held a small, dun colored rabbit, which to all the world looked to be stretched out, sleeping, with its nose twitching softly.
Nathan looked over the rest of the shed, taking in the long chains and the winch. When he had made a full survey, he returned to studying the vampire. “Handsome, that brute many have been exaggerating, but not by much. We’re going to need to attend to at least some of this.”
The tall lord knelt, and addressed the vampire in a low, calming voice. "Now, Tiger, I need you to put your friend down and kneel under those rings in the ceiling. We're going to make this as easy as we can."
The vampire's only response was a widened stare; otherwise, it was motionless.
It's terrified. "Nathan, what are you planning?" Barnaby himself was feeling a bit nauseous, his stomach fluttering lightly as he remembered the last time he had visited the demon.
"Nothing so terrible, handsome." He began to remove the contents of his brightly-colored bag, arranging them on the floor: small jars that Barnaby could recognize by smell as containing salves and medicines, gauze, a waterskin, and a crock that opened to reveal fresh raw meat. Finished, Nathan turned back to the vampire, whose eyes now contained more than a hint of confusion.
The vampire can probably smell this better than I can... does he recognize any of it?
Nathan spoke again in his softest voice. "Tiger, I bear you no ill will. Please move to the center of the pen."
This time, the demon stirred, scratching the rabbit between the ears to wake it and sending it hopping away with a pat on its bum. He slowly pushed himself upward, taking a moment to find his balance when he stood. On the first step, he fell, but he regained his feet and moved to kneel in the spot directly under the metal rings; he looked like he would topple with the slightest breeze.
"Barnaby," Nathan began, not taking his eyes off the demon's, "raise the chains until I tell you to stop. We're not here to be cruel, but we have no need to be careless. Some of what that slob of a merchant said about this creature may have been true."
Barnaby backed to the winch, turning the handle slowly until Nathan held up a hand. The demon was able to remain on his knees, but the chains had lifted his arms until they were spread at a level just over his head.
"I assume you want to go in there now?"
"Of course, handsome."
Barnaby groaned, reluctant to approach the creature, and he pulled open the drawer built into the winch box. The key to the pen was there, as was the twist of wire the Regus had released the bit with. Barnaby noted the smaller key to the muzzle was missing. Just as well. Who would ever unlock it? He palmed the key to the pen and the wire, and unlocked the door. He hung back; barely inside. Nathan was bolder.
"Bring the light over here, if you would."
Barnaby complied, setting the candelabra down a few feet from the demon's kneeling form. With the fading light that fell through the door, they had a decent view of the vampire. It wouldn't have seemed possible, but his frame appeared to have grow even thinner, his eyes more hollow. What an odd color; like honey or amber. I hadn’t noticed the color of its eyes before.
Nathan moved forward and placed his fingertips under the demon's chin -- and it jerked back so forcefully that it was held upright only by the chains. Nathan whispered, "Easy," let the demon find its balance, and tried again. This time it allowed Nathan to gently raise its head, and the man turned it to the side slightly to study the muzzle and the half-healed puncture wounds.
"Isn't this an ingenious contraption? Barnaby, do you know how to remove this bit?"
"Yes." Barnaby hesitated, but he came forward despite his misgivings to insert the wire and twist in just the right way to release the bit. He stepped back a pace to fight his rising gorge, knowing what he was about to see.
Nathan slid the bit away, out of the muzzle, and flung the blood-slicked device away as if it burned him. "Barbaric. Open your mouth, Tiger."
The vampire complied, and what they could see of his ravaged mouth past the muzzle made Nathan grimace and sent Barnaby retching into the corner. When the young man had finished vomiting what little dinner was in his stomach, he heard Nathan calling him. "Barnaby, take a drink and then hand me the waterskin."
Barnaby did as he was told (Gods, for once I don't mind someone ordering me about), then handed the water to the other man, whose dark skin was still several shades paler than normal.
"Tiger, don't try to swallow this water. Barnaby, help him lean over to spit it out once I've given him a bit."
The older man lifted the waterskin and maneuvered the spout past the gap in the muzzle left by the plate of the bit to the vampire's lips, poured a small amount and drew the waterskin away. His other hand lightly pressed under the vampire's jaw, avoiding the puncture wounds there as much as possible, closing its mouth, and held there for a moment. When he moved his hand away, Barnaby supported the vampire as it leaned to the side to it weakly spit out the water. The liquid that fell through the bars of the muzzle was thick, slow, and dark with blood.
Barnaby's hands shook as he braced the demon; judging from the weight that settled into his hands, the demon might very well fall were it not for Barnaby's support. His eyes were pressed closed, and Barnaby could see a faint tracing of wrinkles around the corners. Just how old is this vampire?
"Again." Nathan's lips were pressed into a thin line. They repeated the process until the water ran somewhat clearer and didn't improve. There were tears leaking down from the corners of the vampire's eyes to mingle with the bloody water, and Barnaby’s pants were wet with blood, the fabric sticking to his legs.
"Can it drink now?" Barnaby asked, voice almost a whisper.
"We'll see. Hold him up and we'll try."
Nathan held the skin to the demon's mouth again, pouring just a trickle of water past the bars of the muzzle. The vampire's throat worked, swallowed, and it fell into a fit of coughing so violent that Barnaby had to reach across its back, past the wings, to could hold it by both shoulders in an effort to keep it upright.
After the demon had resumed his ragged breathing, Nathan asked: "Would you like to try again, Tiger?"
At a barely detectable nod from the demon, Nathan poured an even smaller amount of water into his mouth. This time, the demon didn't try to actively swallow; it just let the liquid trickle back into its throat. They slowly emptied half of the remaining water in that way, until the demon pressed his its together and shook its head.
"Can you keep holding him, Handsome? I need to treat his throat." Nathan retrieved a pungent container of medicinal paste, a bottle of alcohol, and a handful of rags from the table, returned, and began to wipe off the blood. With another rag, he cleaned the punctures with alcohol, which drew a low moan from the vampire. "He's used to staying silent. Just between the three of us, I'd be screaming. Damn, this collar and muzzle are in the way." He packed the medicinal paste onto the wounds, applied the sticky gauze as best he could, and stood back. "That's the best I can do for him." He wiped his hands on another rag.
"Nathan? Can we do nothing else for its mouth? These burns?"
"Handsome, I never dreamed I'd hear you ask something so meekly. Just for you, dear, I'll try."
Nathan rummaged through the small collection of containers and held up a stoppered vial. "Tiger?" No response. He patted the vampire on the cheek -- the side of the muzzle, really. Eyes opened to barely perceptible slits. "I'm going to pour this in your mouth. It will probably be the foulest thing you've ever tasted, but hold it in as long as you can. Absolutely do not swallow it." Once the demon had spit it out, Nathan explained.
"That's not meant for oral treatment, but it should numb his mouth for a long while. I'm hoping that the fact that he didn't swallow it will be enough to keep it from poisoning him. Now, move around here and let me get to his back."
As soon as Barnaby released his hold on the vampire's shoulders, the demon collapsed, his full weight falling on the wrist shackles. His hands still shaking slightly, the young duke moved around to the front and did his best to prop the demon back onto its knees. Before he had a good grip, the demon's weight shifted and he fell forward. Panicked, Barnaby froze in his own kneeling posture as the demon's upper body and head came to rest against his chest and shoulder. Nathan, back outside the pen, made a thoughtful noise in his throat. "Hmmm. Just stay there."
When the vampire failed to move, Barnaby's muscles relaxed somewhat. "Of course. It can't maul me if it can't even sit up, I suppose."
"Back to sarcasm? I'm glad to find you so resilient. Hold him up."
Barnaby held as still as he could in his awkwardly crouched posture, ignoring the cramps in his legs as Nathan worked on the worst burns on the creature's back and wings. When the man had finally finished, Barnaby slowly backed away from the demon, pushing him up as wall at he could. Nathan leaned over and again patted the vampire's cheek, then pinched the thin flesh of his arm. Nothing. "Hell."
Leaving Barnaby to hold the demon up, Nathan strode to the winch box and kicked the release. The chain rattled back through the rings, and Barnaby, though he shouldn't have been surprised, almost fell under the sudden additional weight. Together, the two men lifted the demon and carried it over to the hay, where they laid it down on its side.
"Hell." Nathan repeated, looking down at the prone form.
"Shall we leave the meat?" Barnaby felt jumpy, exhausted.
"I don't think he can eat at this point, Handsome, but do leave the water." Eying the meat in the crock, Nathan carried it over to the opposite pen, the tiger pressed close to the bars, drawn by the noise and the smell of blood. He dropped it into the feeding trough and slid the drawer though. The meat was gone in an instant.
"Such a waste of fine steak on an undiscerning palate." Nathan watched with a hand on his hip before turning back to Barnaby.
"Give those clothes to me when we get back to your rooms. We can't have the washwomen finding them. I'll bribe the page into bringing what you'll need for Tiger; Antonio will let you through into the gardens tomorrow night. Don't try to come during the day; Rotwang has replaced the usual menagerie caretakers and gardeners. In the meantime I'll think of a way to give Rotwang and his other thugs something to keep them occupied elsewhere. I won't be back for some time -- it will be for the best if I distance myself from you until your situation with Rotwang is resolved."
"When my uncle returns, I'll speak to him. I know he won't rebuke Rotwang for his actions, but I know he will revoke my confinement..."
Nathan didn't respond, instead turning away to gather his various implements back into the bag. When he was finished, he picked up the bloody bit from the floor and dropped it into the bag as well.
Finally he stood, put his hand on Barnaby's shoulder, and he gazed at the young man with a touch of sadness.
"Handsome, Maverick has been back for most of the week. My informants tell me that he has said nothing about you at all. Come now, let's go."
The candelabra's two remaining flames guttered as Nathan lifted it from the floor and guided Barnaby out of the shed. He shut the door behind them, noting the lightening of the sky behind the castle that presaged the dawn.
Kotetsu regained consciousness slowly, fighting through what seemed like layers of cotton in his mind. He was hot, so hot. His throat burned, and he could feel the itch of the patches of gauze that covered much of his neck and back. His vision was refusing to focus, but he thought he could make out a lumpy shape a foot or so from where he lay. He reached out the arm he wasn't laying on and prodded it clumsily; it moved, jellylike. Waterskin? He reached for it, grasping, trying unsuccessfully to lift the spout to his lips. The skin kept slipping out of his hand. Damn stupid way to hold water. He finally managed to get the mouthpiece partially past the muzzle, and though he spilled most of it on the hay, he managed a few trickles into his numb mouth. Wonderful.
The world spun suddenly, and he let the skin fall. Kotetsu's mind drifted foggily back to the previous long night.
If only the dark-skinned man who held it so patiently would come back. What had his name been? He was the first truly kind human I've met since...
A snuffling sound brought him back to the present. Kotetsu concentrated, though the room and his thoughts were both a dimming blur. Ah, I'm hot. Am I burning? No. He couldn't make out the rabbit, but he could hear it start munching on the hay near his head. Maybe I'll wake up after it finishes the hay and find myself eaten. Wait, aren't I the one who's hungry? The rabbit moved to grab a choice bit of hay, and Kotetsu felt its rapid heartbeat when its side pressed against his brow. The heart of that young man who had trembled so while he held Kotetsu had run as fast as the rabbit's. Does he know anything? He can't. A dip into blackness. His hair curled like this. His fevered mind circled around. Just like this little fluffy bunny. Move, bunny, you're burning me up. As he fell back into his troubled sleep, Kotetsu felt an almost forgotten sensation stir someplace near his heart.
Hearing the hinges on the door to his chambers squeal in protest at being too rapidly open and shut, Barnaby pushed himself out of bed and shuffled blearily toward the study. Lunch? I surely slept through breakfast. Barnaby had collapsed into his bed upon seeing Nathan out that morning, and to his great surprise he seemed to have had a dreamless night.
The page who had served him since the outset of his confinement stood near his desk, waiting with the accustomed tray, but today the child wore the largest, bulkiest set of skirts Barnaby had ever seen on one of the servants. To Barnaby's knowledge, the page had never worn anything but a boy's jerkin and a pair of calf-length pants, gathered closely at the hem.
"With that short hair, I thought you a boy. You look better as a boy, and I’m sure it’s more convenient anyway." Barnaby yawned. He expected no answer, and he got none.
The page walked slowly to the desk, an odd hitch in her gait. "Your lunch, Excellency."
He had never heard her speak, but with that voice she was most definitely a girl. She sat the tray down on Barnaby's desk rather more forcefully than necessary and began shoving the platters onto the wood. She always put the dishes there; it was the only furniture in the room apart from Barnaby's chair and the bookshelves lining the walls.
"You're going to scratch my damn desk."
In reply, she bent down, grabbed the hem of her skirts, and pulled it unceremoniously up to her waist.
Barnaby stared. When the girl had reached for her skirts and started lifting them, he'd expected some ill-conceived attempt at seduction. Instead, he laughed aloud at what he saw, but the laugh made him feel nauseous. Was the vampire still unconscious? Was he even still alive?
The page stared boldly at Barnaby. "Lord Nathan told me you're in some kind of trouble and asked me to bring you these things. Didn't tell me why, but I'm no more a fool than anybody." She reached down and began disentangling her cloth-wrapped contraband from the straps and pouches that hung from the belt under her skirts... and over her pants.
Baraby's head was aching monstrously. "And what is your name, miss...?"
“At least you’ve got a girlish name.”
With a heavy thud that made Barnaby's head hurt just the tiniest bit more, she slammed the final item -- a stoppered bottle -- down on his desk. She glared at him.
"My deepest thanks."
Pao-lin snorted in response, dropped her skirts, and picked up the tray. "I'm leaving. If you need anything else, you're to tell me. Remember, this is for Lord Nathan. I don't do favors for some pretty noble with a stick up his ass. Your Excellency."
She stalked back to the door, pounded on it, and was gone. Barnaby rubbed his temples, feeling groggy, worrying at thoughts of the demon lying bound in his shed and trying to remember when the guard Nathan called Antonio rotated in. Why the hell is she so angry? When did pages start to talk like that?
Leaving his lunch under the covered platters, Barnaby began unwrapping the small packages the page had delivered with the meal. Tiny glass jars of medicines and salves wrapped in fresh gauze, a packet of vegetables… vegetables? A small flask – Barnaby uncorked it and inhaled. Thank you, Nathan. He took a swallow and sat the flagon aside. When opened, the bottle proved to contain fresh blood. Barnaby grimaced and set it aside. Blood before meat, eh?
A small bit of paper had been tied to the bottle. Barnaby unfolded it to read the note:
T's metabolism is a mystery. Start slowly. Discard any not used. N.
For the remainder of the day, Barnaby brooded in his study, fighting the urge to try forcing his way past the guard on duty. Idiot. He has a sword on his belt and a lance in his hand, and any guard chosen by Rotwang is no friend.
He sighed. Why is the vampire's welfare so important to me? It makes no sense. The horror of how the creature had been abused would affect anyone, but who knows its history? Did it murder? How often? Children? No one really knows anything about vampires or demons... only fairytales and myths. There have never been studies or true histories.
Barnaby knew some magical creatures existed; there were multiple encounters -- all short, most violent -- recorded in his own books, and he had read of examples in menageries and circuses. Such accounts had become more rare with more recent publications. His own rare animal collection had once contained an otherwise normal golden-haired dog with a magical ability to stir up faint winds. Rotwang had eventually claimed it for a niece.
The vampire lay on his stomach on the stone floor, away from the hay, head turned to the side. His eyes were half open, unresponsive to Barnaby's presence. Gods, it’s dead.
For a few moments of panic Barnaby stared at the vampire. When we left here last night... all day... No!
Barnaby forced himself to inhale, to think, and he studied the vampire more carefully. There. The vampire's back rose, fell, and stilled again. It’s breathing, but very slowly. Barnaby tapped on the bars, quietly, then louder. He saw the vampire's eyebrows knit slightly, but got no other response.
Retrieving the key from the peg near the entrance, Barnaby unlocked the pen door and pushed it open. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a logical voice calculated. With the length of the chains, it won't make it more than two feet out the door. With the leg irons, I should have no trouble evading it. The vampire didn't move.
Barnaby suddenly flushed, and he cursed himself for a coward. When did I become so afraid? Gradually, I suppose. Picking back up the cloth bundle of supplies and the candelabra, Barnaby walked to the demon's side to sit on the cool stones; he could see small shivers run through the prone body. What now? He tentatively reached a hand to the demon's back and pressed his fingers against the dry skin. He jerked his hand back. It’s scalding! Perhaps it really is dying?
What do I do?
The last time he had been sick -- he was a young boy, and his coughing and fever had kept him in bed for almost a week. His nursemaid had spooned him warm soup and laid cool cloths on his forehead, and Uncle Maverick forewent his pressing duties to read stories to him at night.
He grimaced. Not quite in the same league, and I've never been interested in medicine. Few books in my library even touch on the subject. Well, I'll have to start with the basics.
Leaving the candelabra near the demon, Barnaby sprinted back though the gardens to his bedroom, nearly tripping in the fading dusk. He plucked up the pile of fresh towels from the shelf under his washstand (leave one for myself). He ran back out into the near darkness, taking no note of Antonio, who watched him from under the visor of his helmet.
Setting the cloth down near the vampire, Barnaby frowned. The waterskin? Inefficient. He scanned the interior of the shed, chose the bucket that had served for years to haul in water to wash out the pens, and carried it off to fill at the running water faucet Saito had installed last year in the center of the gardens.
Barnaby wrung the first cloth and pressed it against the demon's forehead. He could feel the heat of the creature's skin even through the damp folds of cloth. Perhaps that’s why it’s on the stone, rather than the hay. Removing it when it got uncomfortably warm, Barnaby dipped it back into the cold water and replaced it, situating it carefully so that it stayed in place. He rocked back on his heels and studied his handiwork. The vampire's eyes closed.
"Thank y..." The voice was a strained whisper, but Barnaby jumped backwards a good two feet.
He waited. No other words were forthcoming.
"Ah. You're welcome, I suppose?" Still no response. He changed the cloth a few more times, trying to decide what else he should do.
"I'm going to change the bandages on your back."
Slowly, Barnaby began to peel back the gauze adhering to the dark skin. As he maneuvered the bound wings so that he could reach under and around them, he could hear a low hiss from the vampire's throat, and he tried to move them with more care. When the bandages lay discarded, he retrieved another towel, wet it, and began to wipe the remaining ointment away as gently as possible. The skin was still an angry red, with deeper burns on the areas that had not been shaded by the wings, but it didn't appear to be weeping fluid from the worst areas any longer. Reapplying more salve from one of the jars -- it smells like the same stuff -- Barnaby applied fresh gauze. Not as neat a job as Nathan had done, but serviceable.
"Can you turn to your side?"
The vampire might have muttered something under his breath, but Barnaby couldn't hear it. Resigned, he tugged on the body, bending the legs until the vampire stayed on its side. Holding its head back and working around the metal restraints, he removed the old dressings from the demon's neck. As he washed off the now-dried medicinal paste, he couldn't help but feel a small sense of admiration. The puncture wounds were now evident only as angry red marks, slightly sunken on the skin.
Bending until his head was almost touching the color, near level with the vampire’s, Barnaby tapped lightly on the side of the muzzle. “Open up?”
Despite the bars of the muzzle and the poor angle, Barnaby could see enough to be satisfied that the vampire’s mouth, though still visibly lacerated, was beginning to heal already.
Stirring though the contents of his bundle, Barnaby pulled free the bottle and unstopped it. "Can you try to drink?" This time the vampire responded by opening its eyes just enough to look up at him. Taking that as a positive sign, he lifted the demon's head with one hand, and tipped the mouth of the bottle past the muzzle with the other. Slowly, the vampire managed to swallow, or at least not choke on, a few ounces of blood.
Feeling like he should do something more, Barnaby used the last towel to clean the vampire's dirt-encrusted flesh. Other than the areas they had washed to dress the wounds, it was filthy. Yet another cloth; he finished the vampire's chest and moved to its arms. He noted the lack of locks on the manacles; glanced at the collar and ankle shackles; all these were hinged, but they had been welded at the projecting sides that held the ring to which chains or other restraints could be attached. Barnaby felt the anger that had been simmering at the fat merchant bubble to the surface. That had to be done in place. Barnaby had visited forges on occasion, and had watched as the smith hammered at glowing, heated pieces of iron to join them. Calm yourself. The merchant is out of your reach at present.
Barnaby had seen the vampire’s claws before, but now they were withdrawn, leaving only a length slightly longer than a human nail visible. He wiped the hand he held -- filthy -- stopping when something glinted. A ring? Puzzled, Barnaby began to tug on it. Immediately, the vampire's hand closed around his with a strength that Barnaby wouldn't have thought it capable of in its present state. Before he could react, whether to pull away or to strike out, the vampire released him and drew its arm to his chest, a great shudder passing through its body.
"Don't. Please, Bunny, don't." The voice was still little more than a breath, the pronunciation slurred, but the words were unmistakable.
Bunny? Barnaby frowned and looked around for the rabbit, spotting a tail protruding from the hay. The vampire's fever must be fogging its mind.
Barnaby stayed until soft light began to creep into the shed from the door, occasionally holding the vampire's head so it could drink whatever small amount of blood it could handle. It did not speak again, but it kept its fisted hand held close through the night. When the light grew too great, Barnaby gathered his bundle, locked the pen, and returned to his rooms.
Pao-lin brought supplies again the next day: additional blood, another small packet of greens and vegetables, a second flask, and a fist-sized package wrapped in paper. Barnaby made a valiant attempt to be thankful and complimentary, but for some reason she seemed to be holding herself back from punching him in the face... or kicking him in the balls. Perhaps I didn’t word that comment about her choice of skirts with enough tact?
Barnaby weighed the veggies in his hand thoughtfully. He realized now that they had been meant for the rabbit; a twinge reminded him of the first packet of greens, forgotten, now wilting in the bundle he had shoved into his wardrobe. Picking up the paper packet instead, he unfolded the wrapping until a metal object fell into his hand. As soon as he recognized the bit, Barnaby dropped it as if it burned him. He frowned, smoothing out the paper to read the note inside.
Maverick intends to call you before the council of advisors tomorrow. The enclosed is complements of S. Use it when you leave tonight. N.
Barnaby ran a hand through his hair and reluctantly picked up the bit, turning it in the light. The sharpened spikes had been ground away, leaving a smooth metal plate. The front, which was designed to fit into the muzzle, was unchanged. When worn, it would appear unaltered.
The vampire was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the pen when Barnaby arrived that evening, playing gently with the rabbit's ears. He looked tired, his emaciated frame hunched, but he was awake. The tiger in the opposite pen snarled and stalked out.
As Barnaby approached and sat down his candelabra outside of the bars, the demon put both hands under the rabbit's forelegs and lifted it up so it balanced on its hind legs. With his index fingers, he made the rabbit's front paws wiggle. "Hullo, lil'Bunny." He spoke in a soft, strained voice, a raspy edge accompanying his words.
Looking down at the rabbit, the demon spoke to it, quietly: "Bunny, meet Bunny. He's just like you; always rushing about. Look..." he fluffed the curling fur around the rabbit's ears gently, "you even have the same hairstyle."
Barnaby, who had looked with anticipation and trepidation toward the possibility of speaking with the vampire -- of asking it questions -- felt his jaw drop.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
The vampire ignored him. "The only difference," he continued, "Is that he," The demon looked up, straight into his eyes, and Barnaby would swear he saw one corner of his mouth quirked behind the bars of the muzzle, "is afraid of his own shadow."
Forgetting himself, Barnaby grabbed at the bars of the cage, staring down at the demon. "I must be dreaming. Or drunk, thanks to Nathan. After all of this, you can only insult me?" Suddenly, the aspect of replacing the bit didn't seem so onerous.
"My name is not Bunny, it's Barnaby. In fact, that should be "Your Excellency," or even "Master" to you. In any case, how can you call me afraid when all you do in cower in corners?"
"Calm down, Bunny." The vampire was definitely smiling now. The bastard. "I'm not insulting you, it's just an observation. To this old man, you seem to be having a difficult time."
"Old man? What the hell do you mean, "old man?" What age are you, you bastard? Four hundred years? Five hundred? Surely that's still springtime in the blush of youth."
The vampire sighed and rearranged the rabbit on his lap. Barnaby glared at it, furious at both of them.
"I should be eighty-seven, right now. Or ninety. If I were somehow to live out my natural lifespan, I've got about sixty or seventy years left." The smile had left his face, and with it, some of Barnaby's ire cooled. He looked again at the vampire, and once again noted the hint of wrinkles about his eyes. Letting go of the bars, Barnaby sank to the floor and sat facing him.
"My apologies. I lost my temper." Barnaby reached back to retrieve the bundle, and pulled out the packet of vegetables and greens. As it emerged, the rabbit's nose twitched, and it hopped forward, greedily. Barnaby tossed the package through the bars, toward the vampire.
The demon missed, almost fell, and took a long while sitting back up after reaching to retrieve the packet. He's weak; not anywhere near as well as he's trying to appear.
The vampire unwrapped the food, laying it down for the rabbit to browse. He picked through it himself, raising one sprig of parsley to his nose and inhaling lightly before putting it back down. "If I were stronger, Bunny would have competition for his lunch."
Barnaby's eyebrows rose. "What would you do with a salad?"
"Hell, I'd eat it raw. Right now, I can only drink, and carefully. The blood you brought me was the first sustenance I've had in more than two weeks. When I... when I was healthier, all I needed was a hearty portion of meat each day. Otherwise I could eat as I wished." His eyes looked longingly at the rabbit, who was making quick work of a rather large carrot.
"Do you still need blood?"
"Please. As you can see, even a little helps immensely."
"In that case, Nathan has sent more."
Barnaby passed the bottle of blood through the bars, pushing it in as far as he could with an old broom from the corner to make retrieving it easier. The vampire uncorked it, and Barnaby could see that he still drank very slowly, swallowing with care. He waited until the vampire set the bottle back down before asking the question that most intrigued him.
"Old man, may I ask you... what is the ring?"
The vampire held up his left hand, fingers spread, and studied the ring. "It's my wedding band. The merchant left it to me out of cruelty, as a reminder." He kissed the ring lightly, and closed his hand. "Or perhaps... it was his one kindness?"
What happened? Barnaby wanted to ask the question, but the heaviness in the air stilled his query.
"Barnaby." He felt like a bastard, saying it.
"Bunny, where is the man who helped you on the first night? Who is he?"
"His name is Lord Nathan, a man of great wealth and influence; you could call him my one true friend, though I don’t know why he bothers with me. He's the one who has been sending the blood and other supplies."
"You have no access to such materials? Do you have no influence? You were presiding over the court when I was brought here. The merchant presented me to you to gain favor with your uncle. The king, he said he was?"
Barnaby gave a short, bitter laugh. "Yes, my uncle is the king, but no, I have no influence. He adopted me as a child -- I'm no blood kin -- and he props me up in court with an empty title to stroke my ego. Nothing of import takes place during those audiences. The advisors are quick to step in if anything of consequence happens to take place." He paused, leaned his forehead against the bars of the pen, and went on. "One of the advisers, Rotwang, had me confined to my rooms after your arrival. My uncle returned the next day, but he has done nothing. Lord Nathan is bribing the guard to let me come here at night."
"You haven't had any messages at all from your uncle?" The vampire was frowning.
"No. Lord Nathan sent a message with the page, today... there will be a council meeting tomorrow. They should be summoning me." Barnaby hesitated, feeling unsure if he should share the rest of Nathan's message. "Lord Nathan send something along with the note. This." Reaching into his bundle, Barnaby pulled out the bit and held it out though the bars.
The vampire stood, hobbled unsteadily to the bars, and knelt to take the bit from Barnaby. The chains on his wrists were of a just sufficient length to let them pass it hand to hand. Shorter than I thought.
"In the message, he told me to use it when I left tonight."
"He's right. It will be easier for you, and the alternatives are worse for me. I do see that it’s been altered. Thank him for me." The vampire turned so that his back was to the bars, wings pressed close. "Could you remove these bandages?"
Barnaby reached through and carefully peeled the sticky gauze from the demon's back. The flesh underneath was still an angry, raw red, though much improved.
"Would more salve help?"
"Best not. It will be fine." The vampire turned to face him again, backing away from the bars. "Thank you, Bunny.... and thank Lord Nathan for his kindness," The vampire's voice had been growing hoarser, harder to hear, the longer he talked. "I'll try to sleep for the rest of the night. You do the same."
It's Barnaby. Barnaby left the retort unvoiced.
Any trace of his earlier smile was gone from the vampire's eyes. He turned the bit in his hands, studied it much as Barnaby had done.
"It’d be for the best if you don't give much thought to me." Turning away slightly, the vampire opened his mouth and slid the bit through the slot in the muzzle until it clicked into place.
Barnaby was summoned before the council shortly before noon the next day, in the same large audience hall where the merchants had been received. When he arrived, the advisors were already gathered in their seats, but the king’s chair was still empty. Why not do this in the council chambers? In the recesses of the gallery, Barnaby could see guards from each of the advisors’ personal entourages. Among their number, he thought he could discern Kelvin, standing behind another set of armed men. The floor and the hall were otherwise empty.
Lloyds gestured for Barnaby to stand on the floor before the dais. The position was unfamiliar to him, and he chafed at the way it forced him to look up to see the advisors. I see how he'll play this.
Barnaby shifted his weight from foot to foot; waiting, he studied the faces of the eight men and one woman before him. They stared down at him, whispering amongst themselves; the only exception was Saito, pen in a book, who paid him no heed.
Long minutes passed. Eventually, a recessed door behind the king's seat opened, and Maverick emerged. The king had ruled for more than two decades before Barnaby was brought to the court, and age and his lifestyle had not been kind to him. He was stocky, and the extra weight he carried filled out both his torso and his face. Deep lines creased his features, but in the young duke’s mind, the king still looked as he had when Barnaby was a boy – already aged, but thinner and more graceful of movement.
"Barnaby. It has been long since I have seen you, my boy. How have you fared?" The king didn’t smile at him, but he spoke in a familiar tone that emboldened Barnaby somewhat.
Barnaby bowed. "Well enough, Your Highness, though these last days have been fairly uncomfortable. I hope you have met with the greatest success in your travels?"
“None too poorly, nephew.” Maverick leaned to Lloyds and spoke to him softly.
Lloyds, his eyes narrowed, addressed Barnaby. "I'm sure you know why you have brought you before the council?"
"No, I do not." Barnaby looked directly at the king."I have done nothing, yet I have been confined to my rooms for almost a fortnight, denied access even to my gardens. Highness, it is inexcusable."
"I have heard differently from your fellows on the council… what they have told me is troubling." Maverick frowned and gestured to Rotwang.
"You have done nothing?" Rotwang raised a corner of his lip in disgust. "You only made a mockery of the court as you sat there gawping like an infant while that merchant turned the audience into a circus. The public hue has been impossible to quell thanks to your bungling, and the lords now laugh behind their hands when they speak of you. You then attacked an employee of that same merchant while he was on loan to the crown’s service. We have done His Majesty a favor by removing you from court activities."
Barnaby burned inside; most of the other advisors were nodding, whispering to each other in agreement.
“Majesty, I admit fault in this. However, that does not excuse this treatment –“ Barnaby fell silent at Maverick’s raised hand, and the king gestured to Lord Yuri, who was leaning forward.
"You also," Yuri added, "Failed to follow Lord Rotwang's explicit order that you stay in your quarters." Yuri was a soft-spoken man hardly older that Barnaby; he was known to be impartial and often heard cases of a criminal nature for the court. If the man was speaking against him now, it meant he had also expressed his opinion to the king.
"Barnaby, I am gravely disappointed from what I have heard of your handling of the audience.” Maverick did indeed look upset – almost sorrowful. “I believed you mature enough to trust with such matters. In light of these events, I will be reevaluating your responsibilities in the court. In the matter of your disobedience regarding your confinement, on the other hand, we will forgo any punishment. Lord Nathan has spoken with me regarding the neglect of duties by Rotwang's man; he made a persuasive case that the creature would have died if it had not been seen to.” The king rubbed at the carved arm of his chair. “Whatever Lord Nathan’s peculiarities, I have never known him to report falsely. That is indeed an unacceptable treatment of the crown’s property."
Rotwang spoke again, this time with less bravado, “The man responsible will be punished severely for neglecting his duties. I trust you will leave his discipline to me.”
Punished severely? Not likely. Barnaby glanced to the gallery, where he could still see Kelvin lurking in the shadows.
“Regardless, Barnaby, your judgment in this matter has been severely lacking.” The king turned to the hall attendants, who stood silently at the side of the dais. “Light the lamps and candles, and shroud the windows. Bring the vampire in. I'd like to see this creature my nephew has acquired."
Barnaby held himself still as the servants did as they were instructed. Though he had expected this –prepared himself for it mentally – Barnaby turned just a bit too quickly at the sound of one of the side doors.
A cage was carried in, suspended from a heavy pole supported by the shoulders of two burly guards. More of Rotwang’s men. The bastard had a large portion of the castle guard under his thumb; he attracted the cruel and greedy to him like flies to blood.
The narrow cage must have come from the old asylum, where some of the insane were kept before Maverick closed it shortly after coming to power. As a boy, Barnaby had once slipped away from his nursemaid to explore the abandoned, crumbling building. He had paid for it, not bothered overmuch by the few light switches he was given upon being found, but by the nightmares that had haunted him for months, dreaming of the wretches who must have been held there. It had held cages such as this and worse. He knew now, of course, that the mad souls that had previously inhabited those walls had been committed to the care of the monastery – still abandoned by society, but to what he hoped was a gentler purgatory.
The men carried the cage between Barnaby and the advisors, stopping before the king, still supporting it on their shoulders. In the flickering light, Barnaby could see Kotestu lying on his side, the bulk of his wings taking up the majority of the narrow width of the cage. His manacled wrists were bound behind his back, connected by a short chain to the back of his collar; his ankles were chained by the shackles to the bars at the end of the cage. The demon was unmoving, his head fallen to the side to rest on the bars beneath him. The bit remained in the muzzle.
The pants Kelvin had dressed the vampire in at Rotwang’s disgusted behest had been torn mostly away, exposing the pitifully thin flesh beneath, and Barnaby could see the shine of dark blood on his torso and legs. Gods, last night he was sitting up, speaking to me. What the hell did they do? He saw, in his mind, the vampire caressing the rabbit’s ears with gentle fingers. Horror and anger battled in Barnaby’s thoughts, and he fought the urge to rush to the cage.
Barnaby’s eyes shot up. The speaker was Jules, a man known to be overzealous in his thrift and willing to support any who bribed him handsomely enough. “Shall we keep filth like this within the castle?”
Barnaby gritted his teeth, held himself still, and he spoke, too sharply, to the king: “Majesty, these men have injured my property.”
"Barnaby, be sensible. It probably injured itself by struggling.” Maverick spoke in a calming tone, as he had when Barnaby was a young child. “I know you are protective of the animals in your collection, but I am not convinced that this creature should even be kept alive. Should we not kill it, if only for the safety of the castle’s residents? It can be done humanely.”
“Uncle,” Barnaby spoke through his teeth. “Half of the animals in my collection could do more harm alone than this starved demon could, if they were to escape.”
Agnes, the only woman on the council, spoke then. "Your Majesty, I would examine the creature." At Maverick's nod, she stepped from the dais to approach the cage, leaning slightly to peer at the vampire's face, walking around to the back of the cage to better see the bound wings. She had been absent the day of the audience. Several of the other advisors, including Rotwang, followed her down to circle the cage. The king, Lloyds, and Yuri stayed seated. The oldest of the advisors, an elder by the name of Charles, had fallen asleep and was snoring gently, his head on his chest.
Rotwang spoke. “I had the opportunity to meet with the merchant alone after the audience. He informed me that the vampire had killed a man who was too careless with the beast’s restraints. It tore his throat and bowels out, before drinking his blood.”
Saito pinched the tall, bearded man next to him — Ming-húa, in charge of agricultural matters – who scowled before leaning down to catch the little man's words. When Saito had finished, the older man spoke for him.
"His Lord Saito would like to inform the king that there is currently little danger from the vampire. Do you see the iron? That is what binds its powers. Recall the faint blue glow when the creature was exposed to sunlight, and how it failed so quickly?” Again the man leaned down for Saito to speak in his ear, then rose to continue: “He says that he has experimented with other creatures of magic, and they are no more than naturally powerful when bound in iron. Personally,” the man continued in a lower voice, “I’d like to see Lord Saito go into a cage with the creature to prove it.”
Jules giggled, a high pitched, childish sound. “Would anyone here like to take that chance? Not I. I say we have it done away with immediately.”
Barnaby could feel desperation creeping along the edges of his thoughts. “Majesty; I would petition your forbearance. The demon has shown no inclination to violence these past several days –“
“When you were supposed to be confined to your rooms” Rotwang spat.
“—and I take offense at the suggestion that I cannot handle dangerous creatures. The demon was a gift from the merchant to myself; should I not decide its disposition?”
"Your Excellency." Yuri addressed Barnaby from the dais in a level voice, devoid of any inflection. "Do you not fear for your immortal soul by keeping such a demon? There are many villages in the outlying territories that pass down stories of burnings, not only of the demons, but of men and women who have been condemned as witches for the mere suspicion of consorting with unnatural beings. Some of these reports are none too far in the past." Yuri sat back in his chair, waiting for Barnaby's response.
“My immortal soul? Majesty, surely we are not influenced by such superstitious beliefs in the capitol. The vampire was given to me; I desire to keep it for my collection. Saito has said there is no danger.”
“I would propose a practical use to which we can put the creature." Agnes’ eyes were calculating as she studied the caged vampire. "Even now, the nobles still speak of the demon they saw in court... and the show he gave them. I have heard that the commoners in the city have picked up the story, and the rumors only grow in the retelling. If we were to have the news broadcast that the demon will be on display during the harvest celebration, the capitol would most likely see great profit from it."
To Barnaby’s surprise, Lloyds turned to the king, and the unpleasant smile on his lips made Barnaby draw back. "Majesty, what the Lady Agnes said is true. We could draw much greater crowds -- and thus see much greater commerce -- with the promise of a live vampire.”
The king again rubbed at the arm of his chair; after he had caressed it for a moment he stood, and the advisors quieted.
“Barnaby, you may keep the demon for the time being, and you may leave your rooms as you wish, but you are excused from all official duties at the present. I will meet with you alone, when time allows, to discuss the matter of your public responsibilities. Keep the creature secure; it will be in your sole care. Lloyds, you will station guards in the hall outside His Excellency’s chambers and at all external entrances to his gardens, but there are to be no guards inside his chambers or his gardens unless he requests them. Once the harvest festival comes, Lady Agnes, I will trust the implementation of display of the creature to you. This council is adjourned.” The king rose, and turned to exit at the door behind his seat.
Barnaby felt lightheaded; relief at the vampire’s temporary reprieve warred with the darker feelings of worry and disgust in his mind. As soon as the king had gone, he pushed past Agnes to speak to the men still holding the cage, ignoring her protest.
“Return the creature immediately. You are to relocate it to the kennels outside my suite; the walls there are sturdier and the location is more suitable for security. Move the necessary material from the shed, then leave.”
“Of course, Excellency.” The man at the front of the cage eyed him expressionlessly, shifting the pole to gain a more secure grip. “As you command.” He swiveled his head around to look at the man behind him, gestured with his head, and the two of them carried the off the cage.
Barnaby left through another entrance, intending to take a less travelled path back to his rooms. When he had turned several corners and reached a stretch of abandoned hallway, he stopped, his back to the cold wall, head tilted to rest on the stone behind him.
What have I gotten myself involved in? He shut his eyes, furrowing his brow. Perhaps my uncle was right… would it be better to kill the vampire and be done with it? His heart rebelled at the thought. No. Still, am I doing him a kindness to save him for Agnes and her showmanship? The woman is well known for her ruthlessness. He sighed, rubbed his eyes – and was brought into sharp awareness at a familiar voice approaching. Kelvin. He listened, heard others he recognized. Pushing himself off the wall, Barnaby stood and faced them when they came around the corner.
His situation was hopeless from the start; Kelvin had brought three men with him. More than enough to handle one untrained noble.
“See, boys? I told’ya he’d gone this way. Hidin’ in a hole again, yer Excellentness?” Kelvin leered at him. “Yer like a rat, always scurryin’ off into th’ dark.” The thug wasted no time, gesturing the other men forward. “Take ‘im.”
Barnaby launched himself forward, trying to punch and kick his way through, but as soon as he had one man down with a bloody nose he felt his legs swept out from under him. It’s over. Already. He landed on an elbow, hard, and one of the men kicked him in the gut.
Barnaby lay on the floor, clutching his stomach and gulping for air, Kelvin and the other men gathered close around. One of them nudged him with the toe of his boot until Barnaby gained back some of his breath. When he was satisfied, the thug settled his heel into Barnaby’s shoulder and shoved, sending him sprawling. Before he could react, Kelvin’s boot ground into the back of his neck, leaving the young duke even less able to breathe than before.
Barnaby felt a hand grasping his hair, lifting, straining his neck backwards against the boot. His vision was too full of lights to focus on assailant, but he knew the voice that spoke – Argo, Lloyds’ man. He’d know Argo’s voice anywhere. “M’lord, yer causin’ too much trouble here of late.” He struck Barnaby across the face, hard, and Barnaby tasted blood in his mouth. “More trouble than yer worth.” Argo hit him again, striking him near the temple.
At that, Barnaby began to truly panic. They’ve never left marks where they would be seen before. Gods, do they plan to kill me this time?
“Come now, we’re only here to remind him of his place.” A more educated voice; the sandy-haired man, then. Barnaby had never learned his name. “Put him down.” Argo let go of his handful of hair, and Barnaby bit his tongue as his chin hit the stone of the floor. Kelvin’s boot vanished from his neck, and Barnaby instinctively tried to rise, to get out somehow, but a sharp point pressing into the base of his skull stopped him instantly. “Stay on the floor, your Excellency. If you move – if you make a noise – Kelvin’s hand may just slip. Alonso, if you would.
The man whose nose I broke. Oh, gods.
The man approached, laughing softly, and when he drew close he stepped on Barnaby’s hand as he leaned in. Barnaby tried to jerk it away, and when he did he felt the knife cut lightly into the back of his neck.
“Whoops. Don’t be movin’ so much, rat.” The knife pressed in harder as rough hands tore open the back of his shirt, and Barnaby stayed as still as possible.
Barnaby didn’t cry out when they struck him, but he wept, and silently screamed.
When they left him, he laid for a long time in the dark corridor. After he finally dragged himself to his feet, it took him the greater part of two hours to make it back to his rooms unseen. When he staggered toward his door, the guard only laughed, held it open for him, and bowed mockingly as he went inside.
Barnaby stumbled through his study, reached his bedroom, and collapsed into the chair facing the vanity. His hands shaking, he pulled the ewer over to fill the basin, releasing the jug to fall to the floor when the hand that held it refused to close properly. With pained movements, he reached down to the shelf below fetch a towel, dipped it in the water, and scrubbed at his face with his other hand. When he had done, blackness stole over his mind, and he slept, body draped forward over the vanity’s edge.
When he woke, his first thoughts were of the vampire. He could see the window from where his head rested on the vanity; night had fallen. Old man, what did they do with you? Barnaby pushed himself up, gasped at the pain in his back and muscles, and looked up at himself in the mirror above the basin. His face was swollen, bruised; blood crusted his mouth. I look like hell. I feel like hell. He tried to twist to see his back in the mirror. No good. He could barely turn his head before sharp pain lanced through his shoulder and up his neck, and he desisted, instead tugging at the remains of his shirt with his good hand until he had it off. Getting his bloodstained pants off proved to be too difficult, so he left them on and limped back through his rooms, picking up the candelabra on the way to the kennels. Even the weight of the brass was almost too much for him.
Kotetsu listened in the dark silence, waiting for the young man to return. There was no evidence of what might have happened during the audience, but the mere fact that he was still alive gave Kotetsu enough reason to hope that the outcome had been favorable.
He was not in the familiar shed; the room he occupied was larger, with multiple pens down the length of one side of the room. Hay was strewn across the floor of his small cell; iron rings hammered into the stone of the walls and ceiling, canvas sloppily but effectively hung over the windows set high on the walls. Not the dungeons, then. His wrist shackles had been reattached to the long chains, which again ran through rings in the ceiling to the familiar winch box. He was currently hanging from them, feet clear of the floor, his shoulders feeling as if they were being pulled from the sockets. The room smelled musty, of long disuse, though a scent of the guards and a stronger smell of Barnaby lingered in the space.
He remembered little from the day’s events; after chaining him well enough to feel secure in amusing themselves with him for a short time, the guards had unceremoniously darted him in the arm with a sliver of silver, sending him into unconsciousness. He had tried to fight it, this time, hoping that the blood in his system would allow him to stay semi-conscious, but Kotetsu had only succeeded in staying aware enough to sense the smell of too many humans, too close.
He had been coming around as they pulled him from the narrow cage by the ankles, catching a wing on the rusted bars – he had felt a bone pop – and scraping a goodly amount of skin from his flesh. He looked down; the guards had left the empty cage with him in his new prison. He had seen no one since, and he hung quietly there as the light illuminating the canvas over the windows faded.
When Barnaby stumbled into the room, pushing the door open with his bare shoulder, Kotetsu knew something was terribly wrong, and when he saw the blood and bruises on the young man’s face and back he began to struggle, futilely, at the end of his chains.
“Old man, stop moving.” Barnaby started to drop the candelabra; he caught it in time to set it down upright. “I’m going to get you down, but I can’t lower the chains slowly. Can you try to catch yourself?”
Of course not, Kotetsu thought, wryly, but he stilled and nodded for Barnaby’s benefit. The young man fumbled at the release on the winch box, struggling to press it with enough force, until finally the lever gave way and Kotetsu fell to the ground in a painful heap. He stayed there, unable to move his arms – or really even feel them beyond the fire of his shoulders.
“Old man?” Barnaby was seated on the floor, leaning on the box and staring at him, and Kotetsu made a small sound in his throat in acknowledgement. When he heard it, Barnaby let out a long breath and slumped to his side on the stone floor, unconscious.
Pao-Lin shifted the breakfast tray, cursing under her breath. She’d just heard on her way out of the kitchens that the young duke’s confinement had been lifted. That fulfills my promise to Lord Nathan; that prick Barnaby can either find another page or get his own meals from now on. Despite herself, though, she was curious; she had decided to take along this one last meal, a final bottle of blood hidden under her skirts.
“Is he in there?” she asked the guard as the approached. Only one of them now. Not one I know.
“Oh yeah, he’s in there.” The man looked unreasonably happy about that statement as he opened the door for her with one arm, stifling a yawn with his other gloved hand. She swept past; the door’s hinges squealing as it shut behind her. Going to the center of the room, she put the tray on the desk as always, looking about as she moved the platters to the desk. The room was silent; motes of dust hanging in the sunlight that spilled in from the windows.
Is he in his bedroom? Pao-Lin had an itching need to tell the man off one last time, potential consequences be damned. She walked quietly to the bedroom door, which stood slightly ajar, and knocked gently on the heavy wood. No response. She knocked louder; still no reply.
This door didn’t squeak as she pushed it open a bit more, just enough to see into the bedroom. It was also brightly lit from the morning sun, and she could see an unmade bed – empty – a rather bulky wardrobe – well, I doubt he’s hiding in there – and the vanity – what the hell?
She pushed the door fully open and walked quickly over to the vanity, stepping around the bright shards of the shattered ewer. The white basin and the water in it were pink with blood, and a towel smeared with more of the same lay abandoned next to it. Why would he be bleeding? She leaned over to pick up a bloody cloth from the floor and held it up with both hands. Not much left of this shirt. She turned it delicately to avoid the crusted brown stains, noting the way it was torn. She had grown up with five brothers, none of whom were the most peaceful of lads; she’d seen this before – as the only daughter, she had been assigned more than once to try and salvage the clothes they had ripped to pieces in their fighting. From the state of what remained of the shirt and the amount and wide distribution of dried blood on the shirt, someone had beaten the young duke severely.
Better go find him and make sure he’s still breathing. She dropped the shirt back on the floor, mentally encouraging her feelings of annoyance at the trouble, so that they would drown out a niggling sense of worry. He probably deserved what he got.
Pao-Lin peered briefly into the bathroom, which she guessed from the size to have been a small sitting room before Saito had torn the castle half apart to install a gravity-fed running water system. That had been four years ago, a year after she’d arrived here. Nothing in here. There’s only the door through the kennels to the garden left; he must have gone to visit his menagerie. She frowned. In the shape he must be in? Well, there’s no accounting for the logic of nobles<i>. Pushing the last door open, she shrugged. Perhaps I’ll get a glimpse of the –
Vampire. She could see it, just beyond the triangle of light that reached past her through the open door. Her heart beat just a little faster, but she stepped forward, peering into the dimly lit space. The creature was sitting near the back wall of the pen it occupied, eyes reflecting brightly back at her. Pao-Lin moved forward to get a better look, her feet crunching on the dry hay as she entered the room. The vampire started at the noise, raising a clawed index finger to the muzzle that covered the lower portion of its face, the chain attached to its wrist jangling softly. What is it doing? She grew more puzzled as the creature made what had to be shushing motions with its other hand. This is beyond bizarre. Is it mad?
When it dropped the finger from before its face and pointed to the wall of the kennel farthest from her, she looked, her eyes now more accustomed to the dim light from the door behind her – and she let out a sharp yip before clamping a hand over her mouth. Eyes wide, she glanced back at the demon in the pen, who rolled his eyes at her.
Turning back at a groan from the end of the kennel, Pao-Lin found herself rushing to crouch at the young duke’s side, and she leaned over to look at him. His back and sides were covered in shallow cuts and dried blood, straw stuck everywhere, and his skin was starting to darken into a mass of bruises. His face looked little better.
She was starting to feel what she worried might be genuine concern when he gripped her arm suddenly to demand in a gravelly voice: “Where is Lord Nathan?”
She pushed his hand away. If he’s still that rude, he’ll live. “Sent away last morn, before your audience, on an urgent diplomatic trip to the province of Drunhill… by His Excellency the scumsucker Lloyds, he told me. Not in so many words. I came to inform you that I’m quitting. As you’ve been released from your confinement here, I’ve finished with the promise I made to Lord Nathan. I wouldn’t have returned, but I needed to tell you what an insufferable prick you are. Since you’re still alive, there you have it. Would you like me to send for a doctor when I leave?” She got up, brushing the dry hay from where it clung to her skirts, unable to muster the full tirade she had planned so carefully. She shot a disapproving glare at the vampire, who still leaned against the wall of his pen.
“Gods, no. Pao-Lin, wait. Please.” She stopped reluctantly.
“What is it you want?”
“Spread word that I have taken ill with a light fever. Bribe the doctor not to come; there is coin in the top right drawer of the desk. Take, also, whatever you require for your services.” The lord was trying to push himself up. Sighing, she stepped around to grasp him under the arms – he moaned – and pulled him up until he rested against the cabinet next to where he had lain.
“I didn’t come to help you.”
Frustrated, she kicked at the bars of the nearest pen – not the one that held the vampire – mussing her own short hair with both hands. “Fine! I’ll do it, but you’ll pay me well.”
“Whatever you ask.”
“If you insult me one more time, I’m out, and rumors will be scandalizing Stern Bild within the hour.”
“When did I ever –“
“Stop! Stop right there.” She hitched up her skirt, yanked the stoppered bottle of blood off the strap that held it, and tossed it onto the hay beside him. “What should I bring with your lunch?”
Back in the study, Pao-Lin paused to disorder her skirts to a degree that struck her as rather artistic, then moved to untie the laces of her shirt to a suggestive depth. Her hair was already disordered, but she gave it an extra muss for good measure. She pinched her cheeks several times, hard, and then knocked slowly on the door to the hall.
The guard pushed the door open, wincing at the screech of the hinges. The same man who was here when I came in. Good.
“Why were you in there so long?” He eyed her as she walked slowly past, weaving a little. He laughed, a low chuffing sound.
“I see. Didn’t know his Excellency would be up t’ it right now. Especially wit’ a lil’ scrap like you.” He reached down and groped her, and it took all of Pao-Lin’s self control not to jam her knee into his crotch. Instead, she forced a giggle and batted at his hand ineffectually.
“Ac’tually, th’ Excellency’s not feelin’ too grand. Quite a fever, he has. Says he fell down th’ stairs wit’ it. Must’ve…” she paused. This is a ridiculous plan. “Loosn’d up his inh’bitions.” She pushed the guard’s hand away rather more forcefully and walked away. She could hear the guard laughing to himself. If that dolt believes me, I’ll join the theatre.
“Old man?” Barnaby squinted through the dim light that leaked through the canvas window coverings; the vampire was sitting cross-legged at the bars of his pen, waving just a little. In the shed, the chains had barely let the demon approach the edge of the cage; in this smaller enclosure they still hung slack from his wrists. “Give me a moment.”
Barnaby took a deep breath, twisted painfully to the side, and pulled the drawer of the winch box all the way out, letting it clatter to the floor next to him. Sweeping his fingers through it, he found the bit of wire, and tried not to think about the drawer’s other contents. He reached for the candelabra – it was burned down to nubs. He grabbed the edge of the box and slowly leveraged himself to his feet. The effort was exhausting.
He tried to stretch; no good, he was too sore to reach very far in any direction. Giving up, he walked slowly over to the vampire’s pen. As he approached, he could see dark streaks across the demon’s skin. Yesterday seems like an age ago.
He tried to squat – bad idea – and just looked down instead. “Old man, do you know where the guards put the key?” The vampire turned to look in the direction of his rooms and pointed one clawed finger toward the door.
“Over here?” He felt along the wall, eventually finding a small key hung by a leather thong on the side of the doorframe. He’d never noticed it before; having no need to access the pens, he hadn’t looked. The vampire stood as he entered, and held his head back for Barnaby to release the bit from the muzzle.
His goal accomplished, Barnaby felt the little physical energy and mental focus he’d had upon waking drop away from him. He sat down suddenly in the vampire’s pen, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, and his forehead in his hands.
“Thank you.” Kotetsu crouched down to see the young man’s face. He looks so very tired. “Bunny, before you rest, could I ask a favor of you?”
At Barnaby’s nod, the demon voiced his request. “Do you still have any of the medicines and gauze Lord Nathan or the girl brought to you?” Another nod. “If you feel able, could you please bring them, with clean water and any cloths you might have?” He waited patiently. After a few moments, Barnaby raised his head and began trying to push himself off the floor. <i>Gods, he can’t do it</i>. Kotetsu reached out, slowly; he grasped Barnaby’s arm and helped him to his feet. The young duke didn’t try to pull away.
“Will you be OK?” An aborted shrug was his only answer. “Take your time.”
Barnaby moved slowly through his brightly-lit rooms, pulling the bundle from his wardrobe, fishing out more candles and matches, and trying not to step on the broken shards of ceramic littering his bedroom floor. Every movement hurt, his right hand still wasn’t cooperating, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed. He dumped everything in an unused chamber pot he had fished out from behind the iron bathtub. It was clean; since Saito had put in the plumbing there was no need for it. Other than the old bucket he had half-filled with water in his bathroom, he had nothing else to carry the things in. Somehow, making more than one trip seemed insurmountable.
Awkwardly balancing the chamber pot on top of the bucket, Barnaby lifted slowly with his left hand. Once he was sure he could keep a grip on the handle, he returned to the kennels and edged his way into the vampire’s pen through the half-open door. Setting the supplies down, he retrieved the candelabra, then sat down beside it. He pulled out a candle from his jumble of supplies, set it into the candelabra, and struck a match. His hand shook as he tried to hold the light to the wick, and the first match burned out without catching. Damnit! On the third try, the vampire reached out and gently took the match from him, holding it to the candle until it caught, lighting the others, and letting the wax drip to set them firmly upright.
“Now turn around. I know a little more about this than you do, Bunny. No offense intended.” Barnaby could hear an undercurrent of strain in the vampire’s light tone. When the vampire reached out and lightly pushed his shoulder to make him turn, Barnaby’s tired mind objected.
“I brought this here for you.”
“Hey, the guards didn’t hurt me so badly.” The vampire turned his back to Barnaby, craning his neck around to look backwards. “See? Good as new.”
He’s still covered in blood.
“I heal quickly, remember? You, on the other hand, are likely to get a nasty infection.” The demon put a hand on the young man’s shoulder, urging him to sit. “Let me do this, and then you can sleep.”
Wincing at the bruises on the young man’s back and arms, Kotetsu wrapped his chains around his forearms, hoping to keep them from falling on Barnaby’s skin. Gently, Kotetsu cleaned his back, concentrated on the areas where the skin was cut. Barnaby‘s muscles were as tense as a bowstring, and he flinched whenever Kotetsu had to worked to clean dirt or bits of hay out of the abrasions. Near Barnaby’s shoulder blades, his hands paused, briefly. <i>As I thought</i>.
“Ah, sorry.” Kotetsu wrung his rag out and moved around to see to Barnaby’s face.
When he had finished, he pulled the bundle closer and picked through the small pots and vials of medicine. Lord Nathan knows his poultices. Choosing one, he began applying it, touching as lightly as possible. Eventually, the young man began to relax.
“What happened yesterday?”
Barnaby took a long time to answer. “Most of the council wanted you disposed of immediately.”
Not surprising. “And how were they convinced otherwise?”
“My Uncle was eventually persuaded to let me have discretion over my own property. He rescinded Rotwang’s order to have me confined to my rooms, but he has dismissed me from my duties for the foreseeable future.”
“I’m sorry for that, Bunny.” Kotetsu finished with the poultice and began applying gauze over it.
Barnaby laughed sharply. “Don’t be. I never had any real function. I have no friends here, barring Lord Nathan. Even he’s gone now, for the gods know how long. There will be no extra burden for anyone to fulfill my empty work.”
“Who beat you?”
“A group of guards. Most of them are loyal to Rotwang, Lloyds, or one of their dogs on the council. They’ve been at it since I was a boy. Never this badly.” The young man yawned widely, winced at the motion, and raised one his left arm to rub at his eyes, trying to wake himself up.
“Your Uncle doesn’t stop them?” Kotetsu, finished with his work, set aside the remaining gauze.
“He doesn’t know. It would just be one more reason to be ashamed of me.”
Poor kid. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Kotetsu leaned over Barnaby’s shoulder, and whispered into his ear in a conspiratorial tone. “Hey, Bunny. You could always take me out on a leash. I’d scare them off for you.”
The vampire had known his comment wouldn’t do much to lighten the young man’s mood, but he was surprised when Barnaby scooted around and grabbed his forearm.
“Old man, I have to tell you something else.” Barnaby’s voice was low, and Kotetsu could hear the fear edging his words. “The king didn’t give me leave to keep you for long. Come the end of the summer, you’re to be given to Lady Agnes to use to draw crowds for the harvest festival. If she’s planning it, you likely won’t live through it.” The young man looked down, away from his eyes. “I don’t know what to do to stop them."
Shit. Kotetsu could feel his pulse speeding up, but he kept his voice level. ”You’re not doing anything but going to sleep. How long do I have?”
“Six weeks. By then, I’ll – ”
Kotetsu shook the young lord by the shoulder, satisfied to see him draw away, confusion in his tired eyes. “You will do nothing, your Excellency.” He stood, pulled Barnaby to his feet, and pushed him gently out of the pen. “Go to sleep.”
Later that day, Kotetsu woke to the creak of the castle door. He sat up, expecting Barnaby, but it was the girl who entered, carrying a bottle -- more blood -- and a covered ceramic dish.
“He’s asleep. I brought something more than blood for lunch. See if you can handle it.”
“Don’t.” The girl glared at him. “Don’t talk to me. Barnaby’s desk doesn’t have enough gold in it for that.” She approached slowly, uncovering the disk; it was filled with bloody red steak. Setting it and the bottle down, she used her foot to push each one just beyond the bars of the pen. She took one more chance to glower at him before turning on her heel.
As she left, Kotetsu called out after her, unable to resist. “Miss? I prefer it medium-rare.”
She slammed the door, but he could still hear her exclamation from the other room: “This is madness!” He grinned to himself. Somehow, despite Barnaby’s revelation, he found it easy to smile.
Two days passed, and Kotetsu had managed to hold down a bit of meat, though he was still mostly relying on blood for sustenance. He hadn’t heard from or seen Barnaby, though Pao-lin (she’d given her name, reluctantly, that morning) deigned to inform him that “The narcissist is sulking in his bedroom, and he says he’s not leaving his chambers until his face heals up. He tells me to keep saying he’s sick.”
Kotetsu felt a twinge of humor, but it was quelled by his knowledge of the reason why Barnaby was secluding himself until he healed – and why the young lord hadn’t returned to see him. He’d convinced Pao-Lin, mostly by talking loudly over her objections, to retrieve the rabbit from the shed and resume delivering fresh greens and vegetables. She’d even begun to take out the chamber pot that Kotetsu had started to have use for, though she made a lot of noise about being a page and not a chamber maid.
The vampire passed the time otherwise by testing himself, seeing how many times he could pace the short length of the pen before he became too tired to continue. Not many. Not many at all. When he had exhausted himself, he’d lie on his side on the low cage upon which he’d piled some of the hay from the floor, trying not to dwell on the coming harvest.
Finally, in the middle of the night, the door to the kennels was pushed open again. It’s not the girl this time. What the vampire saw come through the door, though, was the last thing he expected.
“What the hell, Bunny?” Kotetsu stood up, surprised, moving to hold the bars of the pen and lean close to watch Barnaby push the large tin basin across the stone. He must be feeling better, if he’s up to that. He looked worse, the bruises on his face having bloomed and darkened considerably.
“My name is Barnaby. You’re filthy with blood, you stink, and I’m about to die from pushing this in here. My back hurts. You’re taking a bath.”
He’s in better spirits, too.
“Hah. No. Bunny, I’m going to rust if I get in there.” He backed away as the young lord swung open the door to his pen before leaning back down to shove the tub in past the door. “Can I borrow a towel instead?”
“Just take your pants off.” Barnaby’s expression turned pained. “Pao-lin’s already complaining that telling the guard I have a water kink didn’t go over very well. He asked what was wrong with my regular bathtub.”
Kotetsu couldn’t hold back a laugh, but he swallowed it quickly when he saw the aghast look on Barnaby’s face. Edging forward to eye the gently sloshing water suspiciously, Kotetsu found one more protest. “It looks freezing.”
“Fine, fine!” The vampire started to tug at the string that held the tattered remains of the pants in place, but stopped almost immediately. “Ah, Bunny, I don’t think this is going to work.”
“Why the hell not?”
Kotetsu pointed at his ankle chain, and Barnaby squatted down painfully to tug on the small but solidly constructed locks that attached the ends of the chain to each shackle’s ring.
“I didn’t think of that. There’s no way I can get these off.”
Kotetsu spread his hands. “Too bad about the bath. Where’s that towel?” He started to walk away – and almost tripped when Barnaby grabbed onto the chain.
“Not so fast.”
“You can just take a bath in those pants. Even if we cut them off of you, you couldn’t put any others back on.” Barnaby pointed at the basin. “Get in.”
Kotetsu sighed and unsure how to manage “getting in” with the short ankle chain, he reached one hand into the basin. Dirt and blood started to swirl away the moment his clawed finger hit the water, and he pulled it right back out.
“What’s wrong now?”
“It won’t do any good like this. Can you hand me that bucket?” Barnaby eyed him suspiciously, but he fetched the bucket and handed it over. Kotetsu dipped it in the water, raised it up, and upended it over himself. Good gods, that’s cold. He repeated the process several more times, ignoring the pool he was creating on the floor, then sat the bucket aside and pushed the basin over to the low cage, holding Barnaby’s shoulder as he sat to swing his legs over the edge. He stood in the bath, contemplating the water. “Do I have to sit?” Barnaby didn’t answer, but something like a low rumble came from his throat. The vampire sat down, and the young lord pulled a bar of soap and a rag out from a pocket.
Barnaby let the vampire clean off his own chest, arms, legs, and what he could reach of his face and neck around the muzzle and collar, then took the soap and cloth and moved to tackle the demon’s hair. The icy water darkened quickly, but Kotetsu kept his head bent forward and didn’t comment. It’s better than I’ve had since I was captured. Be grateful, Kotetsu.
The young man moved behind him, and suddenly, Kotetsu hissed in pain. Barnaby, who had just pushed the vampire’s large wings apart to reach the center of his back, stopped scrubbing. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s a bone broken back there. With my wings bound like they are, I can’t tell how badly. Try to find it for me? It’s on the right, on the outside.” The vampire lifted the wing at much as the iron bars piercing the flesh allowed, and Barnaby, after a little hesitation, began to feel along the bones. He found the break quickly, both from the vampire’s enthusiastic cursing and the swollen discoloration that he could just discern through the dark skin of the wing. He felt it again, a little more forcefully –
“Leave it! Leave it! You found it! How bad does it look?”
“Nothing’s sticking out. What do broken bones normally look like?”
Kotetsu groaned. “Bunny, you’re not much help. It can wait for Pao-Lin. I have a feeling she might be a little more experienced.”
“Will she even look at it? She likes you even less than she likes me.”
“We’ll see. If it has to heal as it is, that’s not so bad. I’m not using it, so it won’t matter if it’s not aligned.”
“I’m sorry, old man. I should probably start studying medicine with you around.” Silence filled the spaces around the sound of dripping water for a moment, and Barnaby set to finishing the demon’s back and wings, avoiding the broken bone.
“There!” To Kotetsu, the young lord sounded a little too satisfied with himself. “You’re done. You can get out, old man.”
He helped Kosetsu out of the basin, back onto the cage. Kotetsu looked with dismay at the remains of the pants Rotwang’s man had dressed him in -- not much left to these -- and wrapped his thin arms around himself, shivering. “Bunny, we’d better dry all of this iron. I wasn’t joking when I said I’d rust.”
“Sorry; I didn’t think of that. Wait there, I’ll be right back.”
Kotetsu sighed and remained seated on the cage, pushing his wet hair out of his face. He held the hand out, studying at the chain that hung from the manacle. Wait here? Where would I go? He rubbed vigorously at his sides, trying to warm himself in the cold night air. It does feel good to be somewhat cleaner, but now I’m going to freeze to death. He heard Barnaby returning, and he smiled despite it all when he saw the young man reenter, struggling to hold an enormous bundle of embroidered fabric off of the floor, a white towel balanced on top. “Take… this… now! I’m going to drop it.”
Kotetsu took the blanket from him when he reached the pen. It was surprisingly heavy, with the weight of the feathers inside. He set it down on the low cage, and leaned behind his makeshift bed to fish out the rabbit from its hiding place and position it atop the fluffy fabric, leaning in to speak to it.
“There now, Bunny. Isn’t that nice?” He looked back at Barnaby. “Bunny, is this yours?”
Barnaby shrugged. “I have too many. I just push most of them to the side of the bed. Tell me if you want another.”
“Thanks, Bunny. I appreciate it.” Kotestu could feel a prickling starting at his eyes, so he dried himself and the iron off as best he could, and let the young lord help him with the places he couldn’t reach.
Pao-Lin frowned, shifting the weight of the heavy tray from one arm to the other. She was still wearing the accursed skirts, but it was more for the guards’ benefit than for any continuing practical need. She could fetch the blood and meat from the butcher openly now and carry the extra materials in the open; “for his Excellency’s creature” being enough of a reason to obtain whatever she requested.
As she traced the long path though the servant’s passages, Pao-Lin snickered to herself, trying to come up with an explanation of how, exactly, she had spent so much time in the “ill” duke’s chambers today.
I’m afraid his Excellency is gaining quite a reputation. I wonder if I’m ruining his chances for a good marriage? Unlikely; the king will doubtless ship in a suitably positioned, adequately attractive, and no doubt brainless wench from some distant province or neighboring kingdom. Well. It’s a better reputation than he’d get for what he’s really doing.
Three days past, Barnaby had asked her quite meekly if she had any experience with broken bones. Of course, with my brothers almost killing each other and all the village boys on a regular basis. She had known it would be the vampire; she had seen nothing to indicate that the duke had even stepped foot into the gardens to tend to his other creatures since the audience. Good thing there are servants to feed and care for them.
She’d been satisfied with herself when she found she could agree quite readily – for a fee, and as long as the chains were raised sufficiently to hold the demon’s arms above its head while she was in the pen. Over the several days she had encountered it, she seemed to have most of her fear of the creature. It was too annoying to take it seriously. She had done her best splinting the bone in the vampire’s wing, muttering quietly about not knowing how to patch up birds while she wrapped the wing awkwardly. The demon played it up for her benefit, grimacing and making pitiful sounds until she punched him in the side.
“That’s dirty. I can’t fight back.” He looked at her so mournfully, turning his muzzled head to rest on on his raised arms, that she had to bite her tongue to stop herself from laughing at him.
Barnaby leaned toward the mirror set above the vanity in his bedroom, examining his face in the reflection. The bruises were turning a sickly greenish color. Charming. I’ll be “sick” for a while yet. After another bath the day before, the vampire had changed the bandages on his back, and the only positive comment from the demon was that it looked like he’d avoided getting infected so far. He’d taken to lying on his stomach to get any sleep at all. To his relief, his hand was working almost normally now.
That evening, he took the bottle of burgundy wine Pao-lin had appropriated that morning from the castle cellars with him to the kennels. The vampire had turned out to have a taste for alcohol, and Barnaby was in a dark enough mood to drink with him. He’d managed to get spectacularly intoxicated on the previous two nights, and he intended to do the same this evening.
“So when the beard started driving me crazy, growing through the muzzle, I found out that I could still use a tiny bit of my power… how’s it look?” Kotetsu tilted his head back, trying to angle his chin so Barnaby could observe his finely crafted beard through the bars.
“It looks ridiculous. You are ridiculous. You can’t be telling me that you have magic powers and that’s all you’re using them for?” Barnaby snorted. “Couldn’t you fix your wounds, or, hell, pick a lock?”
The vampire laughed, plucking the bottle from Barnaby’s grasp to take a drink. “You don’t think I tried?” He put on such an exaggerated scowl that Barnaby had to snicker at him. “Give me a little credit, Bunny. The locks were hopeless. I never could affect anything except… well, me. Even on my best days.”
“You’re not really measuring up to the legends, old man.”
“Sorry that I’m such a disappointment.” Kotetsu smiled and handed the bottle back, then leaned forward to watch the flames wavering atop their candles. Reaching over, he pinched one out with his fingers. Barnaby hissed into the bottle.
“You know, Bunny, I have a question for you.” Barnaby looked up; the vampire had a very serious look on his face.
“You ever heard of an oil lamp?”
Barnaby pushed the rabbit off his lap and stood up, a little unsteady with his balance. “That’s it, old man. I’m out of here.”
“Awww, Bunny. Don’t do that.” Kotetsu retrieved the animal and watched the young man leave, wincing slightly at the force of the slamming door.
The next day, Barnaby brought another bottle… and an oil lamp.
To Barnaby’s surprise, the vampire didn’t greet him; he didn’t even comment on the lamp as Barnaby lit it, raised the wick, and set it down on the winch box. The vampire simply sat atop the blankets, leaning back against the bars of the pen and staring at his hands.
Barnaby was disturbed by the demon’s silence, but he was more alarmed by his posture. He always complains about how much the bars in his wings hurt when anything touches them… not to mention that break. What’s wrong with him?
Barnaby pushed open the door to the pen. He no longer bothered to lock it; Kotetsu was chained securely, after all. As he drew nearer, he could see the vampire twisting the ring on his finger slowly. He watched, feeling like he was intruding. He jumped when the vampire finally spoke.
“You know, I met my wife over a drink.”
Barnaby stayed quiet as he took a seat beside the vampire. He hadn’t yet inquired about the subject himself, though he was intensely curious; it seemed like too personal a topic.
“I was drinking alone in a tavern in a small town. Just a village, really. She was sitting at a table across from the local currier, drinking him under the table.”
“How did you get into a tavern? Was no one afraid of you?”
The vampire stopped twisting his ring for a moment to look into the young duke’s face, then leaned his head back.
“Do you remember what I told you about my beard?”
“Of course.” The rest of the night was a fog in his memory, but Barnaby remembered that.
“When I’m not bound, I can go a little farther than that. Not full shapeshifting, and it’s very temporary , but enough to be useful. I could rid myself of the wings, for a time. The teeth and claws, too. I could even shield myself from the sun, for about five minutes, though I haven’t risked that often in my life.”
Barnaby narrowed his eyes. “Was that what the blue glow was, the day the merchant brought you here?”
Kotetsu nodded. He opened his hands, and looked into his palms. “I couldn’t even hold it for three seconds, with the iron.”
“Old man?” Barnaby spoke gently. “Why would you risk going into a tavern, even looking like a human?”
“I was lonely, Bunny, terribly lonely. I spoke to the humans there as little as possible, but I would listen to them talk while I drank. Besides…“ The vampire paused, a ghost of a smile passing across his face. “I could usually make a little bit of money at gambling.”
“And your wife? How did you come to talk to her?”
“She was terribly drunk when she left. I followed her, to see that she came to no harm.” This time there was no doubt of the smile. “She noticed me and turned back to give me a very strongly worded scolding. I apologized, and let her go.” The vampire spread his hands. “What else could I do? The next night, I went back to the tavern. She was there as well, and she came to the bar to sit next to me. Her name was Tomoe, and talked so much she had me frightened like a... well. I’d practiced staying silent for so long I could hardly keep up to her conversation. We met like that several nights a week for months. I’d never stayed in one place so long.”
“She must have found out about you at some point. How did it happen?”
“As I told you, what little shapeshifting I can do is only temporary… sometimes it fails without much notice.”
Barnaby arched a brow. “Doesn’t that mean you shouldn’t have been hanging about in taverns?”
“Maybe. In any case, that’s what happened. I had to make a quick exit one evening, and I was so focused on getting out in time that she followed me without my noticing. I’d gotten quite a ways from the tavern when I lost control of it… just in time for her to catch up to me. Tomoe didn’t scream, Bunny. Or faint, or run away. She was delighted. She clapped her hands, like a child; she ran up to me, pulled on my wings, and asked if I could really fly.
“I was reckless, Bunny. I came to live for her. Gods, we were married in the town church, lit with candles, with all of her friends there to see it.
“We explained away the peculiarities of my schedule for three years – I was a hunter, a trader in furs, rarely home. To keep myself from seeming too odd, I came out in the sun twice a year when I was “home,” to walk with her through the square, always in the evening, always for but a few brief minutes. I was of course as close by as I could stay, throughout the year. I snuck in every night, Bunny, and she stayed awake as long as she could. She would sleep in my arms, under my wings. “
The vampire stopped speaking, and he dropped his head into his hands. After a long time, when the demon still did not speak, Barnaby touched his shoulder lightly and quietly asked a question he’d wanted to know the answer to for what seemed like a very long time.
“Old man, what is your name?”
The answer came slowly, in a voice so gruff Barnaby could barely understand it. “Kotetsu.”
“Kotetsu, where is Tomoe now?”
Kotetsu sat back up, his hands fisted, and Barnaby could see the glisten of tears on his cheeks. “Tomoe worked as the town’s midwife. She had delivered the children of more than half of the local women by the time we met. In the fourth year of our marriage, a local man burst into our home in the early hours of the morning, crying for her to save his wife. He saw me, of course, and he ran from the house, screaming that a devil had taken Tomoe.
“She refused to leave. She had such faith in her friends; she said that they would listen to reason, and she made me leave her. Damnit, Bunny, she was wrong, and I should never have abandoned her. The man denounced her for witchcraft before the priests that night, and the townsfolk –her friends – were quick to offer all the evidence they had against us. Bunny, they kept her in the church, and I could hear her screaming from where I hid. They were trying to torture a confession out of her. ”
Kotetsu stopped again; he was crying now, and Barnaby, feeling lost in the face of the horrors Kotetsu was relating, pulled the demon over to lean on his shoulder. He held him like there, waiting until Kotetsu could continue.
“I killed six men trying to reach her in those first days. I was going mad, but I couldn’t even pass the door. On the fourth night they put her out at the pillory in the center of the village. She was crying for me, Bunny. She was pregnant when they took her.” Barnaby could see the blood dripping where Kotestu had dug his claws into his palms, and he tightened his grip around the vampire’s shoulders. He wished in the deepest part of his soul that he didn’t have to hear the end of this story.
Kotetsu shook his head, hard. He was shaking. “The baby had come early, she screamed, a girl, and they had killed it. Gods, Bunny. I killed my daughter! That night, a crier came out into the center of town and declared that if the devil would give himself up, Tomoe would go free.”
“You went.” Barnaby’s voice came out strangled.
“I did. I walked out, and they took me. They put me in chains, gagged and blindfolded me, and thrust two spears through me for good measure. They left them there. The next time they removed the blindfold, it was so I could watch them burning my wife. I would have been happy to die, Bunny, and the townsfolk were about to oblige, when the merchant made an offer that overrode any piety.”
Barnaby could think of nothing to say, so he simply stayed, holding the vampire while he wept and crying quietly himself.
Pao-Lin found them there the next morning, both asleep. She left without a word, taking care to shut the door into the hall so that the hinges wouldn’t squeak.
Barnaby first ventured out into the castle a week later, using makeup to hide the last traces of bruising on his face. He passed the guard at the door without a word, ignoring the catcalls the man sent after him. Wandering through the corridors, passing servants, guards, and the occasional official, he was struck by how unreal it all felt.
Eventually, he reached the door to the empty audience hall. He stood there, staring across the large room. Why the hell did I even come out here?
“Your Excellency! Your Excellency!”
Barnaby turned at the sound of feet striding purposefully up to him, and he cringed inwardly. The Lady Karina, granddaughter of Charles. Younger than Barnaby by several years, she had come to the castle from her home province of Lyle six months prior to mingle with the other nobles in hopes of finding a husband. She bustled right up to him, and he backed up two steps to put a distance between them.
“I’m sorry to hear about your sickness.” The young woman stared into his eyes, too intently. “Are you fully recovered?”
“T-thank you, my lady. I fear I am still slightly unwell.” Go away.
“There has been talk of you in the court, these past weeks. Ridiculous rumors, if you ask me. You don’t look like you’ve been eaten, or like you’re possessed.”
Barnaby did feel vaguely ill. “Hardly, my lady.” He made to move past her, back into the corridor, but she shifted around to block him.
“Will you take me to see it?”
“To see what?” He was growing annoyed; it was making his surroundings come into painful focus.
Karina dropped her voice to a whisper. “The vampire, of course. It was so frightful that day in the audience. You’d almost feel sorry for it if it weren’t a monster.”
Barnaby gritted his teeth and reminded himself that he’d never hit a woman. “No, my lady Karina. The answer is no. Please move aside.”
She stayed, and he was raising his hands to move her out of his way when he saw Charles approaching slowly, the old lord hunched over his stick. Yuri was trailing him, looking distracted.
“Granddaughter, I see that you’ve found our missing duke. Well done.” The old man’s voice was always a surprise; it held the strong, deep tone of a much younger man. “Barnaby, you are overdue in calling on the members of the court.” He blinked his rheumy eyes at Barnaby. “You will eat at my table this evening.”
“My Lord, I’m afraid that I –“
“You have no other appointments, I imagine?” Yuri spoke quietly from behind Lord Charles. “I would advise you to accept his kind offer.”
Having made his way back to his rooms, Barnaby went through to the kennels, carrying a small folding table and another oil lamp into the vampire’s pen. This one was equipped with a reflector at the back, behind the tall chimney, and Barnaby positioned it carefully on the table until it threw most of its light in the right direction. He’d found the old lamp and table in a junk room tucked into one of the castle’s lower levels; after he’d extricated himself from the Lyle entourage he’d gone there to rummage. He felt drained by the short excursion; he was not looking forward to keeping his appointment that evening.
“It’s nice, Bunny. Much brighter.” Inexplicably, Kotetsu seemed to love the light. Pao-Lin had already delivered two more lamps to supplement the original, which was still outside the pen on the winch box. The two she had brought were a hanging variety, tied awkwardly up to two of the rings on the stone wall backing the pen. The vampire kept the ones in the pen burning always, even when he slept.
“Watch your chains near the table. It’s not very sturdy, and the straw on the floor will light like tinder.”
“I know, Bunny. I’m not in any hurry to die today.” Barnaby looked sharply at the vampire; the demon was smiling softly. “Really, I’m not. Have you seen how good I’ve got it here?” He made a show of stretching out his arms, yawning.
The muzzle, chains, and those shackles ruin the effect, old man. The vampire did look a good deal healthier, though, his bones showing less prominently through his copper skin. They’d removed the splint from the wing the previous day, and Pao-Lin had declared it as good a job as she could do.
“Move over, Kotetsu.”
Kotetsu obliged, making room for Barnaby to sit next to him on the cage. The vampire had taken the young man up on his offer of more blankets, and when Barnaby sat down on the layered monstrosity that had resulted, he could hardly feel the bars below him.
Pulling a bundle of celery stalks out of his pocket, the young duke leaned to the side to drop a few on the rabbit’s pillow before handing the rest to the vampire, who immediately started crunching one.
“Delishioush. Bunny likesh them too; you shoul’try ‘em.”
Barnaby made a face and leaned back against the bars with his eyes closed, breathing deeply. “Tell me a story about your wife, when you finish.”
It had become a routine during Barnaby’s long visits, and Kotetsu would sometimes talk for hours. On a few occasions, he cried, and Barnaby would hold him as he had the first time the vampire had spoken about her.
“After we were married, Tomoe fell in love with the idea of flying. She would spread her arms under the night sky, and run through the field at the edge of the village, making circles around me. I had told her countless times, gently, that she was too heavy for me to take up, but she would ask me all the same.
“She had a notebook, Bunny, where she kept drawings of flying machines she dreamed up. All of them fanciful, impractical. They were modeled on the wings of birds, or bats, and often my wings, as her imagination took her. Who knows? Perhaps someday she would have figured it out.
“After she became pregnant, she made me promise to take our child flying every night, until they grew too large. I kissed her, and made the promise, wondering how I could ever keep it.
“She told me often of her hopes that the child would be born with wings. Of all the things that frightened me during our marriage, that was the most terrifying. I prayed that the child would take after its mother.”
Kotetsu looked at Barnaby, who was slouching where he sat. “Are you tired, Bunny?”
“Then sleep. I’ll wake you in an hour.” He maneuvered the young man down onto the blankets, and sat beside him to watch the flames dancing in the lamps.
For this chapter and the next, total character assassination is happening with Karina. (Don’t hurt me!)
Barnaby surveyed the room, taking stock of the small gathering as he moved to the seat Lord Charles indicated. Lord Charles occupied the head of the table; to his right sat Yuri, followed by Karina, who was flanked by two other ladies. Barnaby was seated opposite Karina, and he carefully kept his eyes from meeting hers. Ming-húa and Saito were between Charles and himself. To Barnaby’s right sat a man he knew by name only – Count Fernand – who was currently engrossed in ogling all three women.
I wonder why Yuri is here? I’ve never know him to associate overmuch with Lord Charles.
The conversation was focused on court gossip and small matters of state as the first courses were served; Barnaby stayed quiet save for small sounds of acknowledgement, eating lightly from each dish and letting the talk of recent events pass around him.
With the serving of the main course came the turn in conversation that Barnaby had dreaded. Charles was the first to broach the subject.
“Barnaby, how have you managed to look after the vampire during your illness? I’d imagine you brought in a few guards to assist you. Lloyd’s men, or Rotwang’s, perhaps?”
Barnaby bit down hard on the meat on his fork, and chewed slowly before answering. “No. The vampire has not been a burden. My page retrieves sufficient food for him.”
Saito plucked at Ming-húa’s sleeve, and the man leaned down to catch his words. “My lord Saito is curious to know what the creature eats.”
Barnaby set down his utensils and pushed his plate away, crossing his arms over his chest. “Blood and meat, primarily.“ The three women leaned together, chattering in excited voices, and the short brunette squealed. “Vegetables, increasingly, as his health improves. He has a fondness for celery.”
Count Fernand leaned in. “Is it wise, Your Excellency, to have a demon in good health? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to place these fine ladies in any danger.” He smiled at said ladies, and all three blushed.
“It is wise, count, to keep anything in good health if you would prefer not to find it dead one morning.”
Fernand refused to drop the point. “The stronger it becomes, though, the better chance it has at escape, am I not right?” He pointed his fork at Barnaby. “I doubt it would head for the gardens if it got out. At the very least, I hope it eats you first.”
“I’m sure that His Excellency keeps the creature properly restrained. The women should be entirely safe.” Yuri earned a glare from Fernand for that comment.
Not by my own choice. On either count.
“Proper restraints, in my opinion, would be in chains at a stake.” The man laughed and stabbed at his food with his fork. “
“If you must know, he wears shackles and a collar that were welded in place – they’re not coming off. A muzzle and chains are on him around the clock, and he is in a secure cage. He’s not going anywhere.”
Ming-húa spoke for himself then. “You must know, Barnaby, that Lord Fernand is not alone in his opinion. Most of us are not entirely comfortable with having such a demon alive near our families.”
Lord Charles wiped his mouth and sat his napkin atop his plate. “The priests – of all seven gods, mind you – the priests in the city are growing agitated, and they have requested several times that the king deliver the demon to them for disposal. I agree with them. Surely you have a large enough menagerie that one specimen gone will be no loss?” The old man spoke in a tone that allowed for no other possibility. “Yuri, has the king answered them, do you know?”
“So far, the king has only responded that the crown will manage the demon as it sees appropriate. Admittedly, he is risking the priest’s support with that action.”
Karina tittered into her hand. “I don’t know about the priests, but I’m not afraid of a demon who eats celery. I’d like to see it, grandfather, and Barnaby won’t take me. Wouldn’t you like to see it, girls?”
“Oh, yes. I heard you fainted when you first saw it.”
“I’m sure I should be horrified – but certainly!”
“I didn’t faint until they pulled the drapes away from the cage and it started to burn – “
Karina jumped when Barnaby banged his fist on the table, drawing a stare from Lord Charles, a quirked eyebrow from Yuri, and an outraged noise from Count Fernand. Saito appeared to have lost interest, and was whispering in Ming-húa’s ear.
“I keep a private menagerie, not a zoo. The vampire is my property, and I won’t allow you to go there to gawk at him. He wouldn’t want to be stared at like some beast by you, and he’s not going to be sent to the priests.”
Fernand laughed shortly. “His Excellency must still be ill, or disturbed in his mind. I hope for his sake that is the case, or I would be tempted to think him possessed, to protect such a disgusting creature.” The count edged his chair slightly away from Barnaby. “Frankly, you’re scaring me a bit.”
Barnaby found himself standing, his fists clenched at his sides. “What are you scared of? Surely not me? What then? The vampire, whose only crime was being found asleep with his wife?” Every eye was on him; even the servants had stopped in their work to stare.
Fernand pushed his chair back, rising to lean over Barnaby’s shorter height. “I can’t believe those words just came out of your mouth. Wife? A demon isn’t a man, and it can’t have a wife. You speak blasphemy; the very thought is revolting. Lord Charles, this boy is sick. He should be taken to – ”
Lord Charles spoke slowly, his deep voice cutting Fernand off. “My girls, you will have ample opportunity to see the creature at the harvest celebration. Granddaughter, you will not attempt to speak with the duke in the future. Barnaby, you will be leaving now, with two of my guards, to await an audience with your uncle. Lord Yuri, if you would accompany them? Tell the king what you heard here. Count Fernand, sit. We will finish our dinner.”
Barnaby paced in the anteroom outside of the king’s private audience chamber. Yuri had entered the chamber alone, to speak to the king first; the two guards stood at the door to the hall. In time, Lord Yuri emerged, walking past to lean against the wall near the exit without so much as a glance toward him. He had left the door open, and the voice of the king emerged from the chamber.
“Barnaby, my boy, come in.”
Barnaby edged past the doorman, relieved when the man stepped outside as the doors closed. The feeling vanished, though, when he saw who was in the room. Lloyds was there, sitting next to the king.
Why the hell is he here?
“Uncle, I would greatly appreciate the chance to have this conversation in private.”
The king frowned, and Lloyds took the opportunity to speak.
“Your Majesty, do you think that wise, with what you’ve just heard? If the boy is unreasonable, you may need help in dealing with him.”
The king waved Lloyds away. “Go. I can still handle my own nephew.”
“Sire, I would remind you that he is not your nephew.”
“Go, Lloyds. You tire me.”
The look of hatred on the advisor’s scowling face as he moved past Barnaby was enough to make the young duke step back involuntarily. When the man had left, Barnaby shook himself and turned to the king to give a small bow.
“Thank you, Uncle.”
“Now, Barnaby, what would you have me think about what Yuri just told me?”
This may be my only chance to speak to my uncle privately before the harvest. Gods, how do I convince him?
“Uncle, if Yuri has reported faithfully on what I said – it was truth, but only a small part of the truth. The vampire is harmless. More than that – he’s kind, Uncle.” Barnaby knew his words sounded ludicrous, but in his agitated state he didn’t much care.
“You spoke to the demon?”
“I did… I have. He is intelligent, Uncle Maverick, not monstrous or vicious. He reasons. His is not a life we should throw away for the sake of a festival or a few over-zealous churchmen. If you would let me tell you his story…”
To his surprise, the king nodded, steepling his fingers in front of himself, waiting. “Go ahead, nephew.”
Barnaby felt a small hope in his chest; the king had at least agreed to listen to him. He told the story, stumbling over parts; by the end his voice was barely a whisper. Telling the tale was almost as hard as hearing it the first time had been. When he was done, he waited silently for the king’s answer.
“Barnaby… come sit here with me.” The king pulled around the chair Lloyds had occupied, and patted the seat. Barnaby walked forward, hesitantly; he sat in the chair, feeling like a child about to be scolded and hating himself for it.
“You know, my boy, that I am not a godly man – I put little store by the words of the priests. But,” and here Maverick held up a finger, “the people do. The nobles do, and many of my advisors do, at least in word. I need their support to rule. And frankly, Barnaby, I am becoming convinced that it was not wise to let you keep the demon. Whatever the priests say, you cannot trust the words of such a creature.”
“Nothing he has said or done these past weeks gave me any reason to suspect him of falsehood.”
“And what is a few weeks? Who is there to contradict it? The power to speak does not imply the presence of a human morality. Barnaby, Rotwang tells me that the merchant’s men all swore it had killed, and viciously.”
“They didn’t say why, did they? The woman he loved, his pregnant wife, was being tortured because she was found with him. She was as human as you or I.”
The king studied him then, looking over him with sadness and a touch of something else. “I’m surprised that you have been so deeply convinced. I had thought you had grown more mature. Barnaby, I think it will be for the best if you were to move to the palace at Conwell. Perhaps it is the stress of the duties I assigned you; perhaps it is your illness, but you need rest. You will leave in the morning. Rotwang will see to the vampire until the harvest.” The king began to rise, stopping when he heard the strangled cry from the young man.
“ Uncle. Your highness, please.” Barnaby looked up at the king, and Maverick felt pity rising in him at the anguish in young man’s eyes. “Let me stay, or let me take the vampire with me. Whatever you decide, don’t send the vampire out for the festival. He has done no wrong, and he has suffered enough.”
Maverick reached down and put his hand on the young man’s head. He hadn’t done that since Barnaby was a boy, and he stayed for a moment, stroking his hair. He could feel him shaking. “Child, this is against my better judgment, but you may stay, if you wish. You may keep the creature, for a time, but while you do, stay out of the court. Make your peace with it. At the harvest, Lady Agnes has claim to the demon. You will not object, nor cause her trouble in any way. If you decide to linger, you will still go afterwards to Conwell, under the care of my personal doctor.”
“Gods, Uncle… please.” Barnaby reached up to grasp his hand; after a moment, the king pulled away gently.
“My decision is final. You are old enough to decide whether to stay, dear boy, but please think of your health.”
Maverick left him there, seated alone. He has to grow up, someday. It will be for the best in the end.
Yuri folded himself into the chair behind his desk and picked up the letter Lord Nathan had left for him upon his departure. Nathan asked him, in the letter, to look into the circumstances of the vampire’s capture. He owed the man a favor, so Yuri had sent two of his more competent men to retrace the merchant’s path in search of information. The men had not returned; Yuri was not surprised, as the trail was likely to be long – the trader was known to visit many countries along his route.
After the audience, the king had called him back in with Lloyds, briefly, to tell them of the conversation and the decision he had made. He had placed Lloyds in charge of minimizing the damage Barnaby had done at dinner before it spread too far.
Yuri folded the letter and slipped it into a drawer in his desk. Whatever they may find, it’s too late for this creature.
Pao-Lin was in the kennels when Barnaby returned; she was passing books from his study, one at a time, to the vampire. Kotetsu had a small pile growing next to where he sat cross-legged on the floor; the ones he had no interest in went back to Pao-Lin. Barnaby leaned on the frame of the open door and watched them, silently, until Kotetsu finally glanced up.
“Bunny!” Kotetsu sounded genuinely happy to see him. Barnaby bit the inside of his cheek, trying to maintain composure. “Bunny? What’s wrong?”
It’s no use.
Barnaby strode over to the vampire’s pen, catching Pao-Lin’s arm as he passed and pulling her closer to the demon.
With her free hand, Pao-Lin tried to hit him in the face with a book; he plucked it from her grasp and tossed it aside. “Let go of me, you bully!”
“Bunny!” Kotetsu reached up, surprise plain on his face. Barnaby ignored his protest, grabbed the shackle around the vampire’s wrist, and pulled it out to Pao-Lin. Releasing her arm, he pulled the chain taunt, catching the lock that swung where the shackle’s ring connected to the first link.
“Pao-Lin, can you pick these locks?”
She rubbed her arm, glowering at him. “No.”
“Can you bribe anyone to do it?”
“No one I know would do it, not for any gold you could give them!”
“Then we’ll break them off. I need a chisel, and a malle… mmph!” Kotetsu had twisted free the arm he held, turning him around, pulling him down to hold him tightly. Barnaby struggled, unable to break loose; he felt tears leaking from the corners of his eyes as he pounded on the vampire’s leg with his fist. “Damnit, Kotetsu!” Pao-Lin watched them with wide eyes.
“Stop it, Bunny! Be still!” He held tighter, and when Barnaby finally sagged against him, Kotetsu moved his arms to the duke’s shoulders. “Tell us what happened.”
Barnaby tried; Kotetsu listened grimly and understood enough.
Pao-Lin looked between them, and addressed Kotetsu. “So it’s settled. Will you be killed, do you think?”
“Probably. Unless they decide to save me for the next festival, though I doubt that very much.”
Barnaby’s breath came in great shuddering gulps of air. “Kotetsu… Kotetsu, <i>I’ll get you out</i>. I sw—”
Kotetsu pressed his fingers to Barnaby’s lips, cutting off the word.
“Don’t make that promise, Bunny. You can’t keep it. If you could break the locks, what then? How would I get out? From what you tell me, the castle is crawling with guards, all with different loyalties. I couldn’t go over the wall; even if my wings were unbound, the muscles have atrophied. Think, Bunny. Once I was out, where would I go? I can’t use my powers, so I can’t hide. I’d have no shelter from the sun. I’d die anyway, Bunny.” He turned the young lord around to look at him. “More importantly, if you were to set me free, there would be no doubt you had done so. What would happen to you?”
Barnaby shook his head, denial in his eyes.
Kotetsu stood, pulling Barnaby up with him, and leaned down to give Pao-Lin a hand up.
“Miss Pao-Lin, can you take His Excellency to his bed? You would do me a great favor if you stayed there until he slept.”
“Kotetsu…” Barnaby’s voice was pleading.
“Bunny, try to sleep. In the morning, we’ll talk about it. Remember,“ and here Kotetsu smiled for him, “we still have four weeks.”
When they had gone, Kotetsu sat back down on the floor. Four weeks...
Barnaby dragged himself into his study the next morning, hair disheveled, having only achieved a few scant hours of sleep. He remembered Pao-Lin staying, and he flushed deeply. I’ll have to apologize to her. There was no breakfast on his desk. She’s probably sleeping now. Scratching his scalp, he headed for the kennels.
Kotetsu was still asleep, lamps burning as always, and Barnaby crept in and sat on the floor next to the makeshift bed. He listened to the vampire’s soft snoring… and found himself being shaken awake some time later, the demon’s clawed hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, Bunny… wake up!”
Barnaby yawned and closed his eyes again, slumping down further. The hand, though, was insistent.
“Psssssst – Bunny!”
He batted the hand away. “Whaa’d’you want?”
Barnaby rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. He wished he hadn’t; memories of the previous day came rushing back. He felt a lump rise in his throat.
“Do you hear it?”
Why is he so excited? He pushed the thoughts of the previous day to the side; though they were still there, his mind latched on to the distraction. At first, he heard nothing unusual: the distant sound of the tiger, growling at something; a few of the various birds… and then he heard it. A low hooting that faded away almost as soon as it began.
“Ah… that’s the silver-crested monkey. It almost never makes that sound.” Barnaby pushed himself up and turned to look at Kotetsu. The vampire’s face was entirely blank.
“You’ve never seen a monkey?”
“No. What is it?”
Barnaby held up his hands, sketching a shape in the air. “It’s a primate… like a little human, but hairy. They’re found mostly in the tropics.” The vampire still looked unsure.
“Can you show it to me?”
“Can you show it to me? If it’s that size, could you carry it in here? Will it eat your face off if you try to touch it?”
Barnaby dropped his arms. How can he be worried about something like a monkey? “Well, no, but… It’s daylight outside.”
Kotetsu shifted his weight, tugging on the down-filled blanket on the top of the pile. He pulled it forward, over his head, and scooted to the far end of the bed. “Ready.”
“You really want me to go get it?” Barnaby was sure he couldn’t be understanding him properly.
“Yes, Your Excellency, I want you to go get the monkey.” The vampire’s voice was muffled under the blanket.
“If it will make you happy…” Reluctantly, the young lord got to his feet. He leaned over the vampire, tugging the blanket into a better position over his wings. At the door, Barnaby looked back, making sure Kotetsu hadn’t moved. “Stay there until I get back."
The rabbit didn’t like the monkey; as soon as Barnaby entered with it in his arms, it started drumming with its hind foot. Kotetsu reached down to it; at his touch it sped away to hide behind the cage. He took the animal from Barnaby, playing with it as the young duke told him about its habits and needs. When the creature started to grow agitated, he passed it back, bundling up again under the blanket so Barnaby could leave to return it to its home.
When Barnaby returned, he pulled the blanket off of the vampire, sat down next to him, and put an arm over his shoulders. Kotetsu returned the hug.
“Thank you, Kotetsu.”
Kotetsu let the young man lean on him for a time before speaking.
“Bunny, I want you to listen to me.”
The young duke started to stand up, but Kotetsu gripped his arm, holding him in place.
“Eventually, whether I’m here in this castle or free, I’m going to die, and it’s very likely not going to be in my bed. You’ve got to realize that I’ve been on borrowed time all my life. Ninety years is a long time, Bunny. More than most get. I want you to look me in the eyes and promise me that you will do nothing. Let me go. You’ve still got so much of your time ahead of you.”
“I can’t do that, Kotetsu. Gods, I can’t.”
“You have to.”
They settled into a routine, spending long hours talking, Barnaby occasionally sent out to retrieve a new animal for Kotetsu to exclaim over. Barnaby gave Pao-Lin coin to have pants made that laced all the way up the sides, and proudly presented them to the vampire; Kotetsu wheedled until Barnaby finally started trying some of the raw vegetables. Both of them avoided the subject that overshadowed it all.
Two weeks before the harvest. Barnaby’s thoughts followed the same pattern each morning when the sun slanted through his windows to wake him. He sat up in his bed, fighting the lethargy that came from the dread that grew heavier in his heart each day.
I’ll see if I can convince him to take a bath today… and then I’ll bring him more books. He’ll like that.
On his way through the study, Barnaby paused, scanning the shelves for titles that might interest the vampire. He pulled out a few, laying them on the desk for later.
Pushing open the door to the kennels, he opened his mouth to say good morning – and a quiet wail was all that emerged.
The door to the pen stood open. The low cage was gone, the blankets that had topped it trampled and muddy. The chains hung from the ceiling as they always had, but their ends snaked across the floor, empty. The rabbit huddled forlorn in the corner under the small table, shivering.
Kotetsu was gone.
They had come in through the garden door at Agnes’ insistence. The king had asked her to avoid trouble with the boy, and she would need his support for a while yet.
She laughed aloud as she approached the vampire’s pen. There were four oil lamps burning in the kennels. The one on the winch box would have been sufficient for light, but there were two more hung from rings on the wall inside the pen, and another perched on a rickety table in the corner. With a stack of books on top, and what could only be a chamber pot beneath. The vampire lay quietly snoring atop a pile of what had to be the duke’s own bedding, given the rich embroidery, and a rabbit had just shot from atop a thick pillow to the corner of the pen.
“How ludicrous! Rotwang, he’s playing house with his pet monster.”
“It’s obscene. The king was a fool to return it to him.”
At their voices, the vampire stirred, and it spoke in a sleepy slur. “Bunny?”
“I’d heard it could talk.” She raised her voice, addressing the creature. “Vampire, your rabbit is hiding in the corner.”
Its eyes shot open, and it sat up quickly, looking over the armed group that crowded the narrow kennel. “Gods, I had more time.”
She smiled at it. “Sorry, but you’ll be enjoying my company from now on. Rotwang, your man knows how to handle the vampire?”
Rotwang gestured Kelvin forward. “Take care of it.”
“Aye, sir. It’ll be a pleasure.” Kelvin reached into a small pouch he carried and pulled out a tiny sliver of silver.
The vampire was standing now, bound wings pressed into the stone wall backing the pen, one hand raised. “If you’ll wait, I’ll come with you. Please.”
“’E must think us fools, like the little rat.” Unceremoniously, Kelvin raised the tiny dart gun to his lips and blew. The effect was almost immediate; the vampire slumped down the wall, falling onto its knees. It stayed there, eyes glazing, breathing labored. It opened its mouth, perhaps to speak, but it failed to make any sound.
“Why is it still awake?” Agnes turned on Rotwang, eyes smoldering. “You told me that would knock it out immediately.”
Kelvin slipped between them before Rotwang could reply. “Ma’am, it’ll likely be what happens from feedin’ it too much. Easily remedied.” He pulled out another silver dart and sent it into the demon’s neck; this time, it crumpled to the floor, unmoving.
“Better. Give me that pouch, and hand the keys to my guard.”
Kelvin looked askance at Rotwang, who waved him on impatiently.
The woman slipped the pouch into a pocket of her robe and turned to the four men still waiting at the door. She gestured them forward, and one took the keys from Kelvin.
“Quietly, now. You’re to put it in that cage for transport. You, Rotwang’s man, do you have anything else to tell me?”
“Those keys’ll do for both the padlocks and th’ muzzle. Otherwise, If his Excellentness hain’t been bright enough to move ‘em, we should have some useful things in there.” Kelvin pointed at the winch box, and one of the Agnes’ guards opened the drawer. He pulled out exactly what Kelvin had expected: the tined metal rod, a familiar bit, and a twist of wire, along with the key to the pen.
The door proved to be unlocked, swinging open before the guard even turned the key. He stood there in the open door, looking between the fallen vampire and the key in his hand. “Gods preserve us, it’s true what they say. The duke has really gone mad.” One of his fellows, growing impatient, shoved him roughly inside.
As the guards began to remove the vampire’s chains, Rotwang approached Agnes. “My Lady, I do have one more item to pass on to you.” He produced a small, hinged case from within the folds of his cloak. “This was left with me, privately, by the merchant who brought the vampire.” He opened the case to show her the contents: a glass syringe and a bottle of dark fluid.
Kotetsu regained consciousness in stages, registered sensations one by one, as if switches were turning on: first the pitch darkness, then panic. He struggled, trying to get up. When he had almost choked, he stilled, trying to suck in extra air past the bit in his dry mouth. This is too familiar.
He was nude again, and he lay on his side on a tilted, smooth surface – it felt like wood, but he couldn’t tell how large it might be. The shackles on his wrists were pulled tightly above his head, digging into his skin. His ankles were likewise bound, but the chains there were not as taut.
The metal of the muzzle dug into his cheek; when he tried to raise his head, he found that the collar was chained very closely to the surface he lay on; nevertheless, he eventually managed to shift his body enough to rest with the pressure more evenly distributed on the shackles.
As the sun rose the next morning, Agnes was already prepared for the day, making her way briskly through the corridors to Saito’s largest workroom. The little troll had protested, of course, when she asked the king for its use during the last council meeting, but she has won out in the end with the argument that it would be “better for his Excellency the duke Barnaby” for her work to take place in an out of the way location, where he was less likely to stumble across anything that might upset his delicate state of mind.
Smiling to herself, she walked to the door to the workroom’s antechamber, pushing it open; the two men she had chosen to assist her following silently, carrying candles. She opened the heavy inner door, holding it so the men could enter first and begin lighting the lamps in the room.
Even in the dim light they carried in, it was clear that the carpenter had followed her instructions. A heavily built wooden table stood in the center of a free-standing cell, which itself occupied about a third of the Saito’s workroom. Lengthwise, each half of the table’s surface angled toward the center, and the tabletop as a whole slanted downward. Agnes had ordered the table built specifically for this project; she would not work in filth, and the design lent itself to efficient cleaning.
The vampire lay on the table on its side, facing away from the door. It was trying to twist to face her, but it was fastened down too tightly for it to make much progress. The chains on its wrist manacles were secured to the anchor at the center of the higher end of the table, its hands shy of the edge by slightly more than six inches. The creature’s feet were likewise bound at the lower end. Similar anchors, not yet in use, were set along each edge of the table. Neither set of chains had been given more than an inch or so of slack, so the vampire was forced to lay fully extended, its body exposed. Three links of chain attached the collar to an eyebolt in the wood under it.
She had visited this room only twice before, the most recent time being shortly after Saito had installed the cell to hold one of the larger of the magical creatures he was so fond of studying. The workroom had one more indispensable feature – it met the outer castle wall on one side, and it sported a row of small windows that were currently heavily shrouded. Her assistants made quick work of the numerous lamps mounted on the walls, brightening the space until it was almost as well lit as day.
Perfect. Bless you, Saito, for your eccentricities.
“Martin, hold the dart ready while I’m in there.” At his nod, Agnes plucked the key off of the hook near the door, entering the cell and stopping at the edge of the table behind the vampire.
“Such a lovely color.” Reaching out, she ran her fingers down the vampire’s side, feeling at the flesh over its ribs, thigh, and buttocks. The demon jerked away, as if she were burning it. She circled around to the other side of the table, where it could see her, and took her time examining the rest of its body. “You look much more formidable, vampire, when you’re not so thin. The boy did an admirable job.”
The sounds it made as she pressed and kneaded its flesh were inarticulate, with the bit gagging it. “Unfortunately, you aren’t terribly fit. Didn’t our dear duke let you out for exercise?” Agnes laughed lightly, and she leaned down to look into the demon’s face, brushing the hair back from its forehead. “He did at least tell you that the harvest celebrations go on for ten days? If you’re to do Stern Bild’s economy the most good, I have to make you last for the duration.” She tapped it lightly between the eyes before she frowned, stood back up, and went to examine the vampire’s hands. The skin around the shackles was already raw, and it had bled in places. “You’ll want to lie there more quietly in the future.”
Pulling one of the fine silver needles from her bag, she pricked at the palm of one hand, satisfied when it convulsed into a fist, the claws retracting as the vampire tried to pull its arm in against the chain.
“We’ve got two weeks, you and I, to decide how best to use you. I have to satisfy all the citizens, nobles, dignitaries, and traders who visit for the occasion – and convince them to part with their money. In the end, the king wants me to appease the priests. We’ll need to make the most of our time together.”
Agnes proceeded thoughtfully, pricking ever so lightly with the needle at the more sensitive areas, watching to gauge how violently its body reacted each time. When she had finished, she stopped behind the creature and reached to pull up on one heavy wing. She couldn’t extend it very far; the bars through the flesh kept it from unfolding. “The most important thing I need to know is how quickly you heal, vampire, and we’ve got a very convenient opportunity for an initial test. These wings are your main distinguishing feature, outwardly in any case, and it would be a crime to leave them like this. I can’t have any onlookers confusing you with a human.”
She dropped the wing and called for Louis, her second assistant, to fetch one of the coils of rope off of the shelves at the far end of the room.
“We’re going to move you onto your stomach, now. Make this easy for both of us; don’t struggle.”
It resisted, as she expected it to. It was comical; what did it hope to accomplish, chained like that? When they had pulled it into position, Louis moved the chains, one by one, to anchors at each corner of the table. When he was done, he tied the demon down more securely with the rope, pulling it secure at each pass over the creature’s body.
Agnes pulled a roll of heavy canvas out of her bag, setting it down on the table in view of the vampire’s eyes. Carefully, she unrolled it until she found the blade she wanted. More noise? You’ll learn to take my advice, soon. She drew the knife along one bicep, as a test. The vampire tried to pull away, but the bindings held it very still.
“Excellent. Let’s take those bars out.”
Agnes cut off the water flow into the basin, and reached to fetch a spare rag to dry her hands. Joining Martin just outside the perimeter of the cage, she watched Louis rinse the excess blood off the table and the vampire’s skin, the liquid running freely down the table to collect in the trough at the end. The vampire had lost consciousness after they had removed fewer than half of the bars. She was somewhat disappointed, but it was easier on her ears after it fainted.
“Don’t touch the wounds. When it wakes, make it drink as much blood as it will hold – see that you record the amount – and wait two hours to be sure it keeps it down. Afterwards, you can release the chains from its wrists, and the two of you may leave for a break. I’ll return here after an early dinner; be sure to have it clean if it makes a mess. We’re going to see how much sunlight it can stand.”
Kotetsu lay on the table with his arms wrapped around himself, once again in the dark. His stomach and bowels were in anguish, and he wanted more than anything to curl around himself, but the chains at his ankles and neck still held his body outstretched.
Earlier, when he had come to, he had been on his back, his agonized wings pressed beneath him. Noticing his waking, the men had removed the bit, slipped a clamp over his nose, pried his teeth open, and poured blood into his mouth – great quantities of it. His body reacted on its own, swallowing the blood to avoid suffocating from it, even after he was sure his stomach must burst. They had repeated the process until he kept enough down to satisfy them.
I should’ve asked Pao-Lin to bring me poison.
Writer's notes: Yes, Agnes is her own special brand of insane sadist, but Maverick has kept her around to use, on occasion, when the situation warrants it.
Er, I have no desire to write out the rest of her experimentation with Kotetsu over the two weeks that follow. I realize that that this chapter is not actually terribly graphic in the grand scheme of things, but that’s about all I’m up to doing. Use your imagination for the rest, or do like me and don’t think about it…
(P.S. If you made it through this chapter, dear readers, you'll be fine through to the end.)
Pao-Lin decided to enter the young duke’s bedroom two nights after she had found him standing in the doorway to the empty kennels at midday. She had seen no sign of him since; he had only spoken to her once, stating simply, “He’s gone. This morning, Kotetsu was gone.” He’d brushed past her then, walking through his study, ignoring her questions and pushing her away when she pulled insistently at his arm, calling for him to stop. When he entered his bedroom, he shut the door on her, leaving her alone. She had fretted in his study for hours, sitting at his desk, before she took the untouched tray and left. The door was still shut at breakfast and lunchtime the next day.
She had retrieved the rabbit and an oil lamp from the vampire’s pen, though entering it and moving past the mess inside made her stomach clench. She shifted the animal to one arm, hoping it was patient enough to stay still for a few moments, and held the oil lamp with the other hand; she had refilled it moments ago. The candles in Barnaby’s study were burned to nothing, and she wanted better light.
When she pushed the door open, Pao-Lin found Barnaby sprawled out on his bed, an arm flung over the pillow atop his head. His shutters were closed, blocking the evening sun.
“Your Excellency?” No answer. “Your Excellency?” She stepped closer, letting the light fall over him.
He moved, this time, rolling onto his back and pressing the pillow into his face with both hands.
Frowning, she tried again. “Get out of bed, you bastard.”
The pillow flew at her, missing by several feet.
“Nothing doing.” She set the oil lamp on the vanity, deposited the rabbit on the sheets, sat down on the bed beside him, sighed, and brushed off imagined dirt from her skirts.
“I could have you whipped for insolence.” He rolled back onto his side, pulling the rabbit to his chest, staring at the wall.
“I’m the only friend you have left.”
After she extricated him from his rooms, Barnaby spent his days wandering the halls of the castle, aimlessly walking up and down the corridors. Pao-Lin trailed him, feeling helpless, shooting murderous glances at any guards who looked at them in any way she thought improper. A few of them laughed aloud at her expression, but none harassed them otherwise; they had no interest in approaching a madman said by their fellows to be in thrall to a demon.
The two of them saw Lord Yuri in the hall on the first day. He stopped at Barnaby’s call, and confirmed that Lady Agnes had been given permission to take the vampire early to prepare for the coming festival. Barnaby tried to question the man further, but Yuri shook his head and continued on his way, leaving them with a last glance that Pao-Lin thought might contain a trace of pity.
They almost walked into Charles and Karina once, but the old lord turned and retreated as quickly as his feeble legs would allow down the hall from whence he had come, leading his granddaughter away with a hand on her back. Karina turned her head to look back over her shoulder at Barnaby, and started to call to him, but her grandfather stopped her with a harsh word.
Twice a day, Barnaby tried to approach the private audience hall or the king’s chambers, demanding to see his uncle. He was turned away each time, informed that the king was too busy to see him.
In the evenings, when he finally stopped wandering, the young lord sat at his desk to write pleading letters to his uncle, to be delivered via the guards the next day. He ate and slept reluctantly at Pao-Lin’s prompting.
As the days passed, as Barnaby found nothing in the castle and received no reply to his letters, he retreated to his menagerie to sit on the ground and stare at the animals in the cages. Pao-Lin gradually eased him into talking about Kotetsu, learning of the promise Barnaby had made at the vampire’s urging – to not try to free him.
“Will you go see him, at the harvest?”
“I have to, Pao-Lin. I owe him that.”
“Will you be able to keep the promise you made?”
Barnaby looked down, plucking at the grass that edged the path.
“I don’t know.”
“Your Excellency, there’s nothing you or I can do. We’re not heroes.” She threw a rock at the ostrich in the cage, startling it away.
“Gods, I wish we were.”
“…If you go, I’m coming too.”
Barnaby paid his coin, and he and Pao-Lin entered the arena through the side open to commoners, where they were immediately assaulted by the heat and stink of too many bodies. For many of those in this portion of the stadium, the entry fee would be equal or greater than a month’s wages. Barnaby was dressed in castoff clothes brought to him by Pao-Lin, his dirty hair pulled back into a knot; she had discarded the skirts for a battered pair of breeches and a loose shirt, looking for all the world like a street urchin. No one spared a glance for them.
“Look up.” Pao-Lin pointed to the top of the arena walls. “The windows are open.”
Barnaby looked up at the row of horizontal windows running just under the roofline of the arena. She was right; the sunlight was filtered by a thin covering of fabric, but it was enough to illuminate the interior of the building as if they were outside at dusk.
There were no seats or stairs in the area reserved for commoners; the floor simply sloped downward to the central pit. He moved through the milling crowd, and at some point he was separated from Pao-Lin. He craned his neck, peering over the throng in front of him, slipping closer when a chance presented itself. When he got close enough to see the arena floor, he dug his nails into his palms and made himself look.
A large cage had been erected in the center of the floor of the arena, the lighting around it supplemented liberally by oil-fed torches. Within it, Kotetsu crouched naked on the ground, motionless, his arms tied behind him. A chain snaked from the shackle around the vampire’s left ankle to a bolt driven into the packed earth. The muzzle remained, but his wings had been freed. The demon was holding them up, as if to shield himself, but Barnaby could still see the reddened state of the vampire’s skin.
“Kotetsu.” In the midst of the noise of the arena, no one took notice of the foreign word; it meant nothing to them. He shoved forward, elbowing his way down through the press of bodies. “Kotetsu! Kotetsu!” He screamed it, until his throat was raw, and finally, the vampire lifted his head in the direction of his voice. Barnaby pressed through the last of the crowd, earning a slew of curses from more than one direction, until he reached the railing that held back the onlookers – a mere thirty feet from the cage. He leaned over, between two guards, and cried out again. “Kotetsu!”
Kotetsu’s lips might have moved, but Barnaby could hear nothing from his vantage point. The vampire’s eyes moved right past Barnaby, searching. Why can’t he see me?
Over the roar of the crowd, a horn sounded, repeating until the noise fell to a low murmur. A brightly dressed man stepped out onto arena floor, followed by an armed party of soldiers, one of whom led a calf by a string about its neck. Behind them came four priests dressed in white robes that signified their position as a council representing all of the city’s gods. Two of the priests carried a copper basin between them. The leader stopped in the center of the arena, faced the section where the nobles were seated – Barnaby could see the king’s box; it was occupied – and spoke in a booming voice.
“My Lords and Ladies, honored visitors, tradesmen, merchants, and countrymen, you honor us by your presence here.” He paused and let the crowd applaud before continuing. “As you have no doubt heard, the country has of late been under the menace of deepest evil from the creature – the vampire you see bound in yonder cage. At the knees of your parents, you have all heard the stories of the murders these creatures do when they are free. Perhaps you have told them to your own children, to frighten them in the night. We have been blessed by the gods that Stern Bild has been free of this plague for tens of years, but this demon was captured, as you see, on the verge of threatening our peace. Our gracious King has wisely decreed that it be disposed of by the priests of the city. Before this is to be done, he has seen fit to allow an exhibition of the demon, to last until the final day of the harvest celebration.”
The man waited until the crowd quieted again and resumed, pointing through the bars of the cage to Kotetsu. “By means of these demonstrations, the people of Stern Bild and our esteemed guests from neighboring lands will be reminded of the nature of this creature, and therefore made safe, and ready to face such a threat should it arise again.”
“As you will see in the coming days, honored guests, this creature of evil is nearly impossible to kill. The priests have requested that we allow them to craft a protection from similar demonic forces, and King Maverick has agreed to allow this important service to be accomplished before any other proceedings take place. We will then show you how the vampire race feeds – it is a horror, my friends – and the exhibition of the creature will close for the day, to resume at noon on the morrow. I ask you to be silent, and allow the holy men and the brave soldiers who assist them to carry out their work undisturbed.”
He stepped back, and the soldiers moved in, opening the cage and stepping inside. Four took up positions in the corners of the cage, and two approached Kotetsu. Those two pulled him to his feet, holding to his arms until he was steady, and moved back slightly. The vampire turned to the left, stumbling forward a few paces, tripping on the chain; one of the guards pushed him back in the opposite direction with the point of his sword. The demon turned, moving away, only to be pushed back again. His motions were wild, his eyes not finding any of his tormentors.
Barnaby could feel his heart breaking in his chest as he watched the men goading Kotetsu. He knew, now, why the vampire hadn’t seen him at the front of the crowd. He’s blind. He tightened his grip the railing in front of him, unaware of the tears tracing their way down his cheeks.
The two priests carrying the copper basin entered the cage. The soldiers nearest to Kotetsu caught him by the upper arms to press him back down to his knees, pushing his wings down at the same time. The priests situated the basin in front of Kotetsu, kneeling to remain at its sides. Another priest reached out to grasp the short length of chain that hung from the vampire’s iron collar, and pulled, drawing the vampire down over the basin. The crowd remained silent as the fourth and last priest raised his arm, displaying for a brief moment the short dagger he held before he lowered his hand, reached under the vampire’s chest, and drew it back with a violent gesture.
Dark blood spurted in a heavy stream into the bowl.
Barnaby’s howl of rage was drowned out in the explosion of noise from the onlookers around him. His vision narrowing with his anger, he saw the priest cut Kotetsu’s chest again, the guards still holding the vampire in place to let his blood continue to fall into the basin. Barnaby pulled himself up onto the railing, climbing over – and strong arms were suddenly around him, pulling him back, a hand trying to cover his mouth. He bit it, tasting blood, and his assailant screamed. He pulled an arm free… something hard struck him on the back of the head, and he fell limp, his vision blackening. The guards shifted his weight, lifting him by the arms, and they dragged him off, the crowd making their progress slow.
“Wake up, you little idiot.”
Icy cold drenched him suddenly, and he gasped. Barnaby shook his head, trying to shake his wet hair out of his eyes, squeezing his eyes together to focus past the overwhelming pain in his skull. Rotwang. Kelvin must be here as well. He tried to stand up from the hard chair he sat on; large hands on his shoulders kept him down.
“Do be quiet. We’re not in the castle.”
“Gods damn you, you bastard. What the hell have you done to Kotetsu?”
Rotwang snorted. “Is that your monster’s name? How precious. I don’t know what Agnes has done to it. That’s no longer my concern, or yours. Barnaby, I have a bit of advice for you. You may be disheveled enough that none of the locals in the crowd recognized you today, but you’re unlikely to be that lucky again. I ask you to consider the reputation of the crown.”
“What reputation does the crown have to protect? Torture and murder?” He tried to rise again, and was stopped by the sudden presence of a cord tightening about his throat, cutting off his breath.
“Agnes was in the stadium as well, and she’s asked me to pass on a message for her. The moment you try a repeat of the performance you just graced us with, the vampire dies, festival schedule be damned.
Rotwang paused and chuckled. “You know, Barnaby, Agnes hates nothing more than having her schedule upset. I’d take her seriously.”
Spots grew in his vision, and he sagged in his chair, trying desperately to pull the cord away from his neck. Rotwang watched him for a moment, then gestured, and the cord loosened as quickly as it had tightened. As he gasped for breath, Kelvin moved around to grin at him. “Yer free to go for today, yer Excellentness.” He pulled Barnaby to his feet, drug him to the door of the building they were in – a shop? – and shoved him out, slamming the door behind him.
When the thug returned to the main room, Lloyds had already stepped within view.
“Are you sure you’d like to let him go, Lloyds? That was an excellent chance we just wasted to rid ourselves of him easily. He’s not going anywhere fast; I could send Kelvin out to fetch him back.”
“Not today. Killing him now would only accomplish the lesser part of our goal.”
The next morning, priests mingled with the vendors of foodstuffs and cloth and exotic goods to sell Kotetsu’s blood. The small glass vials glittered brightly in the sun, tinkling against each other as they dangled from the priests’ fingers. There must have been hundreds of them, each containing a few drops of reddish brown. They were said to be blessed as powerful amulets against evil, and they fetched a dear price from each buyer.
Barnaby purchased one, and he turned it in his hand, studying it. Pao-Lin shook her head, disgusted.
“Your E—ah, brother, how could you give those bastards money for that? I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“It’s a memento.” He looked so very solemn as he lifted the leather cord over his head and tucked the vial under his shirt that Pao-Lin relented.
The previous night, she had been waiting in Barnaby’s study when he finally returned. Barnaby told her of his encounter with Rotwang; in response she begged him not to leave his chambers until the harvest festival was over.
“I’ll watch for you, your Excellency. I’ll tell you about it, at the end, but stay away.”
“I have to see it.”
“Do you know what happened last night, after you left? After the priests were done cutting him? They staked him out on the ground, Barnaby, while he was still bleeding as if unto death. Then they slit the calf’s throat, collected the blood, and forced him to drink it. All of it. The way he – I thought he would die, right there. Could you stand by and watch that?”
Barnaby pressed his fists against his forehead, and his next question came out in a low, anguished voice.
“What if there’s a chance… and I miss it?”
The girl shook her head and raised an arm to point in the direction of the city. “I tried to sneak back in last night. Guards circle that arena like flies on a dead horse. They’ve got soldiers there. Do you have a plan? I haven’t thought of one.” She dropped her arm and spoke in a quieter voice. “You have to let him go. Remember what Rotwang said to you.”
“I remember that they’re going to kill him anyway.”
In the end, Pao-Lin gave up on trying to convince Barnaby to stay in his rooms. At her insistence, however, he sat at his desk for half of the night while she appeased her nervousness somewhat by changing his hair. She cut it close to his head, leaving loose, messy curls. Unsatisfied with the result, she ordered him to stay and left to fetch dye from wherever it was that one found such things. He didn’t feel like he could muster the strength to argue, so he leaned forward in his chair and rested his cheek against the cool surface of his desk, to stare dully at the scratches it had accumulated.
When she returned, she rubbed henna into his short hair, rinsing it out over the washbasin after it had a chance to set in. She repeated the process with indigo, further darkening the curls to an inky black. When she had finished, he went to his vanity to survey the results, and gave judgment in a harsher tone than he intended: “This was a waste of time. It won’t fool anyone who knows me.”
“We only need it to fool those who don’t, and keep those who do from looking closely enough to see who you are.” She tilted her head, looking into the mirror with him. “Well, your Excellency, if they’re far enough away, it might help.”
After Barnaby bought the vial of blood, the two of them joined the queue on the commoner’s side of the arena for admission at midday. The entry fee was greater than the previous day by half; still, the arena was full to capacity shortly after they passed the door. Pao-Lin held onto Barnaby’s arm with both hands this time, and they stopped at her insistence while they were still some distance from the railing.
The arena was brighter now, with the light from the noon sun pressing in. In the cage, Kotetsu was yet again trying to shield himself by holding his wings aloft. He had curled into a ball so tight that his body was barely visible beyond them.
The presenter emerged, this time with only the soldiers accompanying him. The trumpet was not needed – today, the crowd fell silent at his appearance.
“I welcome you again, My Lords and Ladies, honored visitors, tradesmen, merchants, and countrymen. Those of you who are visiting our fine country, we hope your journey is fruitful and prosperous, and we thank you for bringing your trade to our markets.” He bowed then, to each section of the audience.
“We are here again to witness the further exhibition of the vampire, which our king has generously preserved for this purpose. I would like to greet you all with a request that you take note of the sunlight entering this arena from yon windows. Now behold the creature in the cage. There it grovels, alive! The light is dim, to be sure, but this is yet one more reminder that the danger is more than we had known. We believed them only ably to exist in absolute darkness! We are truly fortunate for this chance to learn of the nature of this beast that would be even now terrorizing our fellow men if it were free.”
The soldiers had entered the cage while the man spoke, some again taking up positions in the corners, two others flanking Kotetsu. The closer men leaned down to pull back the vampire’s wings, drawing him up to his knees to expose him more fully to the sun.
“But do not lose hope, my honored guests! If these creatures lose shelter, even in light of this weak strength, they are incapable of withstanding the sun for long. With brighter light, the damage quickens, and the vampire dies from the burning.”
Pao-Lin reached an arm around Barnaby’s back, clutching his clothing in case he tried to move forward. She glanced up; the young duke jaw was clenched and he stared intensely at the scene in the arena, but he stood still as promised, watching the blistering of Kotetsu’s skin slowly deepen.
“As we still have need of the demon, however, we will desist for today.” At the presenter’s prompting, heavier shrouds were let down over the windows to block the sun. The spectator’s area darkened, though the arena floor remained brightly illuminated by the torches.
The soldiers tugged Kotetsu to his feet, grasping him by the back of the collar and one of his bound arms, and pulled him around at the reach of his chain so the entire crowd had an opportunity to clearly see his burned skin. The sight was made more horrible by the blood that had crusted and dried on Kotetsu’s naked body from the previous day, and Pao-Lin tightened her grip as she felt Barnaby shiver. When they had completed a full circuit, the host moved into the cage, stopping several paces from the vampire that the soldier still held erect. He gestured at the livid marks, closed but still very raw, that stretched across the vampire’s chest.
“For those who were with us last evening, I am sure you recall the grievous wounds the vampire received at the hands of the priests?” He paused, and many of the spectators surrounding Barnaby and Pao-Lin yelled out in the affirmative. “Do you see how well it has already healed, with its hellish power?”
“This monster heals itself with the blood of innocents, my friends! The more it drinks from its victims, the stronger it grows! Yesterday was but a three-day calf – imagine yourself, your children, feeding this beast!” The response from the crowd was angrier, louder. Someone near the front threw a knife; it glanced off one of the bars of the cage and fell to the dirt. The host made pacifying gestures, yelling the next words so he would be heard.
“In this case dear guests, the creature will get its reward for the lives it has fed on. I beg your patience! We come to the main demonstration of the day. I do warn you, those of weak constitution should leave now.” He waited a few beats, for effect; when no one left, he carried on.
“The men you see escorted onto the arena floor“ – and indeed, two men were being brought near the cage, though the soldiers had to drag them – “are the most vile criminals from the king’s prison. One had admitted to raping and disemboweling more than twenty of our women – our wives and daughters, my friends – the other, to strangling his babe in the crib and beating his wife until she died from the blows. They were both condemned to hang in the gibbet until dead.”
One of the men began sobbing; the crowd reacted to it with jeers and whistles. The presenter stepped back out of the cage, and when he had gone, the soldiers began loosing the vampire’s bonds. They left the ankle chain in place, but the chain holding his arms behind him was removed, and the muzzle was unlocked and pulled from his face. Kotetsu stood where he was as they backed away. He slowly brought both hands to his face to feel his jaw, his chin, his mouth.
Barnaby sucked in his breath, watching him. How long has he worn that muzzle, that his own face is so unfamiliar to him? Dimly, he registered Pao-Lin’s arm disappearing from around him. When he finally took his eyes off Kotetsu and looked down, he saw the girl rubbing at her eyes. She looked very young, suddenly, and he put his arm over her shoulders to tug her close.
The soldiers outside the enclosure thrust the crying man into the cage with Kotetsu, closing the door. The vampire heard the sobs, let his hands fall, and turned his unseeing eyes toward the condemned prisoner. The man was shoved forward by one of the soldiers who stood at the perimeter, coming to a stop well within reach of the vampire’s ankle chain. Kotetsu did nothing but take a shaky step backwards, holding up one hand as if to keep the man from coming any closer.
The presenter spoke again, this time facing the commoners. “Here, my friends, is the most dangerous ploy of the vampire, shared with many demons… the ability to mask its bloodlust, to draw the victim into a sense of safety. We will show you its true nature, and the fate of any prey it chances upon.”
Kotetsu’s head shot up at this; he turned it, startled, when a soldier grasped his arm. He pulled, trying to get away… and his blindness defeated him as he stumbled right into the arms of another soldier, who reached into his coat, pulled out something that flashed brightly in the torchlight, and pressed it to the vampire’s neck. The soldier stepped back to the edge of the cage immediately, letting Kotetsu fall.
Barnaby shook his head, his throat working, and he reached up to grip the glass amulet through the thin fabric of his shirt. The arena seemed too warm, and he felt a bead of sweat track down the back of his neck.
“What was that in his hand? Pao-Lin, did you see what they did?”
She whispered her answer, “No,” but he didn’t hear.
Digging his claws into his scalp, the vampire convulsed and screamed, a piercing sound that drew more than one return shriek from the audience. He was still, for a moment, before he convulsed again.
One of the soldiers at the perimeter of the cage threw a dagger to the ground in front the gibbering convict, who snatched it up, holding it to his breast as if in prayer. Shaking, the man stood, backing away – and a soldier made a cut at his arm that send blood spattering to the dirt. Howling, the man fell into a panic, trying to reach the door of the cage, taking another injury each time he drew within reach of a soldier. Finally, he spun back to where the demon crouched, its back to him, and he screamed and ran at it, plunging the dagger between its wings with all his strength.
The moment the dagger sunk in, the vampire whirled, grabbing at the man before he could react, pulling him down to the ground – and with a swift rake of its claws, it tore open the man’s belly. It took it a moment, with its sightless eyes, to find the man’s neck by feel, but when it did, it drew the jerking body up to itself and sunk its teeth into the exposed throat, tearing back a mouthful of flesh.
Barnaby was frozen in place, eyes locked on Kotetsu, his hand still around the amulet. His heart quailed within him, urging him to run away from the demon now feeding in front of him, to join in the screams rising around him. The man to his left was on his knees, vomiting, and not a few of the men and women in the crowd were now trying desperately to force their way back through the press of bodies to an exit. He felt Pao-Lin fall, picked up her limp body, and remained where he stood while they forced the second man into the cage.
He didn’t leave the city streets after the show ended, instead seeking out the shadowed doorway of a shuttered shop, away from the bulk of the festival’s other activities. When Pao-Lin came to, he held her until her crying slowed and then gently pushed her away, telling her to return to the castle. He leaned back in the doorway, his thoughts a jumbled mess.
He was still there when the event criers began winding their way through the streets. Tomorrow, the crowd would be allowed, a few at a time, to approach the cage. They named the price of admission; Barnaby’s laugh came out as a groan. The next day, the vampire would fight a rare and vicious tiger recently acquired by the crown. Barnaby’s thoughts were slow to coalesce around the idea, but when he made the connection, he slouched further down the wall.
On the fifth day, the traditional day of rest, the schedule would break to prepare for the second half of the exposition. For the sixth, the arena would host a demonstration of the effectiveness of silver as a weapon against demonkind. On the seventh, the incapacitated vampire would be impaled in the center of the arena, pierced though and held up by seven pikes, one for each god of the city. Barnaby squeezed his eyes shut and almost covered his ears, but he forced his hands down to listen to the rest.
Throughout the eight and ninth days, the vampire would remain impaled, but small burnings were to be made for each of the deities. The ears, hands, and feet, followed by the tongue, eyes, genitals, and wings – all would be cut from the monster’s body and offered in the arena. Finally, on the last day, what was left of the vampire would be brought down from the pikes and dragged to the main plaza before dawn. There, as the sun rose, the vampire was to burn until dead before all the citizenry.
Barnaby stayed in the doorway all night, first numb, then sobbing, clutching at the amulet and what remained of his hair.
Pao-Lin left Barnaby’s rooms the next morning; she had fallen asleep waiting at his desk. He had never returned. The girl made her way to the kitchens and found a tray, intending to take it back to Barnaby’s rooms in case he made his way back. Almost as soon as she lifted it, she set it back down. I can’t do this anymore. She felt more tired than she could remember ever being, and her heart felt withered in her chest.
She walked slowly through the halls of the castle, toward the exit, ready to leave – to head anywhere outside of Stern Bild. And when he comes back, and finds me gone? And the vampire? If that is his true nature, what the hell have I been doing? She forced her thoughts away, and tried to ignore the guilt and doubt that swirled together in her gut.
She had almost reached one of the servants’ gates when someone touched her shoulder; the girl spun, and found Lord Yuri standing there, looking at her with calm eyes. How long has he followed me?
He spoke as quietly as he did on the rare occasions Pao-Lin had been in the audience chamber to hear him speak. “Miss, the king would like to have a word with you.”
“He can take all of his words and stuff them up your ass. I’m not staying here for one moment more.” When Pao-Lin resumed walking toward the gate, Lord Yuri stepped in front of her and held out his hand to block her way. She glowered at him, but his expression didn’t change, and he didn’t step aside.
“Miss Pao-Lin, you must speak with him. You are free to go afterward, of course.”
She started to retreat in the other direction, back down the hall. I’ll find another way out.
“It involves the relationship between the duke Barnaby and the vampire.”
She hesitated, wrestling with the question. “Five minutes. He gets five minutes, and I’m out.”
Yuri’s lips curled, just a bit, as he led her back through the castle.
She stopped in the doorway of the king’s audience chamber, and Lord Yuri had to tug her in the rest of the way. The king sat within, and with him were Lord Nathan and two men Pao-Lin had never seen.
Sorry for the delay in this chapter, folks. I do want to let you know that the story does end before the sixth day of the harvest festival, because even I don't want to write that.
“Young lady” The king folded his hands in front of his heavyset frame and looked down at her, his expression unreadable. “Thank you for your testimony in this matter. You may go.”
He turned to the other men, and it was as if Pao-Lin had ceased to exist at that moment for all of them. She looked back at the door, feeling lightheaded, walked toward it as if to leave, and slipped behind the heavy tapestry hanging beside it instead.
Lord Nathan had introduced her to the king, but he said nothing of the other men who watched her with impassive eyes. The king had asked her questions about the vampire; she had answered as truthfully as she could. Yes, he was a thinking being, and he could reason and make conversation. No, he had never shown aggression toward herself or the duke Barnaby. Yes, they had been in close contact with the vampire, and of course she had been frightened. At first. After that? She was more worried about the rabbit that shared the vampire’s cage – it had bitten her twice. The five minutes had passed, and she stayed, growing angrier at the monarch the longer the questioning went on, her misgivings about Kotetsu receding from her mind. The final question had been infuriating: Yes, his Excellency showed an unusual attachment to the creature, but she had seen nothing that indicated it was from any demonic influence. His dismissal of her came after she finally burst out, unshed tears clouding her vision: “And you, you son of a bitch, where were you when he needed you? He calls you ‘uncle’, but you don’t care about him at all, and now you’re torturing his best friend to death in front of him.” She spat in the king’s direction then, pulling the worn coat she had worn through the night tighter around herself, too upset to consider her actions.
Behind the heavy tapestry, Pao-Lin bit the side of her hand to keep herself quiet, and strained to listen to the low voices from across the room. She couldn’t hear everything, but she could follow the direction the conversation was taking: the two men were Lord Yuri’s, and they had been away trying to find out where the vampire had come from and how it had been captured. What they had found seemed to corroborate at least some of the vampire’s story, the statements of the townspeople had been hard to gain and very contradictory. Nathan spoke little, only adding his impression from the night he had dressed the vampire’s wounds. She could understand none of what Yuri said.
“Young lady.” She jumped, disturbing the fabric, and she cursed her lack of self control. “Do come back out.”
The king was gesturing her forward when she edged around the tapestry, back into view. She approached slowly, scuffing her feet on the floor.
“Where is the duke?”
She shrugged and glared at the king. “I don’t know. In the city, somewhere. I left him in a doorway.”
“Bring him back to the castle. I need to speak with him.”
“Find him yourself. Aren’t you the king? Surely you have men to do that work for you.”
The king’s lips tightened. It was the first indication he had given of anger, and Pao-Lin moved back a step.
Yuri answered her. “Girl, this is an extremely delicate situation. The populace and the nobles – and powerful men visiting from other countries – are in an uproar over the killing of those two men. It has aggravated the already very dangerous speculation that has been circulating about his Excellency’s connection to the creature. I’m afraid that the duke’s strange public behavior over the past two months has only encouraged the rumors; the talk has been heard even beyond the castle walls.
“If these rumors develop further, he will be in real danger, as will those associating with him. The king, as his sponsor, must tread very carefully. The advisors and the nobles are watching his actions. Your refusal to cooperate could have very dire consequences for the duke – for many people.”
Nathan stepped down to her and reached out to touch her hair; she stepped aside to avoid his hand.
“Sweet, I need you to find Barnaby. I’m worried about him. Will you do for me?”
“You already owe me a lot of favors.” She twisted her hands behind her back.
“Will you do it for Barnaby? For the vampire?”
She leaned to the side, looking past Nathan at the king.
“Will you save the vampire?”
“Young Lady, I do not believe that is possible now, even for me. The entire city is crying for its blood. For this I am sorry; it seems I may have misjudged the creature. There is a possibility I could grant it a swifter death. I will think on it.”
“If you won’t spare him, what the hell is the point?”
“We may be able to save my nephew.”
Barnaby didn’t enter the arena on the following day. He went instead to a tavern, and folded himself into a seat in a dark corner. For the rest of the day he held a tankard of ale on the table before him, slowly turning it in his hands, not drinking, hearing but not listening to the words of the lower-class men of the city as they came and went. When the owner told him to leave after several hours, Barnaby flipped a silver coin onto the table, and the man left him in peace.
Pao-Lin found no trace of the young duke, though she searched the festival and market grounds, the alleys, the shops – and the arena, where she tried to keep her eyes from the vampire hanging in the center of the cage as the crowd milled around outside the bars, hurling insults and more at him.
On the fourth day of the festival, Barnaby watched from the back of the crowd as they brought the tiger in. Again the soldiers pulled Kotetsu to his feet, again the glint as they pressed something to his neck. This time, they retreated entirely from the cage before rolling the tiger’s pen up to the door, opening the grate, and forcing it out into the cage with a spear.
In the same manner as the condemned criminals, the soldiers pushed the animal toward the center of the cage – this time standing outside, using their lances. As the tiger grew angrier, unable to reach its tormentors, it turned its attention to the captive that shared the cage with it.
The tiger had a distinct advantage; it was much faster than the prisoners had been, and agile. Able to hear but not see his attacker and hindered by the ankle chain, Kotetsu fell under it at its second charge, tearing at the cat with his claws as the animal tried to bite into his neck through the iron collar. Frustrated, the tiger left him, circling around and back, tail lashing.
On its next leap, the tiger pulled Kotetsu down by his left wing, jaws closing over the bone at the top, claws ripping down through the thin flesh. The vampire screamed and twisted, tearing at the animal’s back with his own claws and biting, sinking his teeth ineffectively into its flesh of its side. The cat held on, and it pulled him to the extent of the chain. Frustrated at the resistance, the tiger loosed the wing and swiped a paw across the demon’s chest, claws extended, breaking the vampire’s grip and sending him rolling to the ground. The tiger pounced after him, this time burying its fangs in the vampire’s right shoulder. It shook him sharply, trying to break his spine – and fell, blood spurting from the arteries in its neck that the vampire had severed with its claws. It pushed itself back up, briefly, raking its claws across the demon’s body, and then it fell across him to die.
Having given up wandering, Pao-Lin perched atop a stack of crates, searching for Barnaby in the crowds leaving the arena through the exits in the commoner’s side. She almost missed him as he slipped into a nearby street. For the rest of the afternoon she followed him, hanging back, waiting to catch him alone, but he stayed too near the busy marketplace.
As night fell, he headed back toward the arena, circling around until he came to a small entrance away from the public gates. It was guarded by only one man who slouched against the door, drinking from a flask. Pao-Lin almost called out to Barnaby, but she froze when he strode right up to the guard, complaining to him about the scheduled break in the exhibition of the monster. The guard, annoyed at the disturbance, crossed his arms and told him in a slurred voice to go home. In the middle of the guard’s drunken cursing, Barnaby pulled a knife from his belt and buried it in the man’s neck.
In horror, Pao-Lin watched the guard choke blood from his gaping mouth as he fell. She sat down heavily, frozen to the spot as Barnaby disappeared into the building, the door closing again behind him. Before she could collect herself enough to move after him, four more men in soldier’s livery approached the dead man at the door. One pushed at him with his boot, laughed shortly, and he and one other picked up the body and began silently carrying it away. The other two took up position at the entrance as if nothing had happened.
Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong!
Paolin got too her feet and edged slowly back down the alley, keeping to the shadows. When the door was out of sight, she turned and ran back to the castle.
When Barnaby was barely inside the door, he was hit from behind, the blow to his head stunning him long enough for the men to bind his arms back and force a wad of dirty cloth into his mouth, tying another over it to keep him gagged. They dragged him through the twisting hall and out into the noble’s side of the arena. Lloyds was there, sitting in the king’s box, Rotwang standing at his side with a group of priests. Kelvin and a group of other guards flanked the small gathering. Barnaby’s captors threw him to the ground in front of Lloyds, and one of the guards put a boot on his chest and leaned in, pinning him to the floor as he thrashed against his bonds, trying to twist to the side, push away with his legs, or pull his arms free – all futile.
Lloyds leaned forward in the king’s seat, studying Barnaby as he screamed wordlessly past the cloth. “This is a sad thing you’ve come to, your Excellency. You would murder, for a demon?” He turned to the priests. “He has disguised himself and killed an innocent man. His cause, as is self evident, could only be to free the vampire.”
The priests reacted with varying degrees of disgust, all of them staring at the young man still writhing on the ground. One of them stepped forward to speak. “We have stories of this, my lord. A demon, if allowed to exist too close to a human, will possess the human entirely. In the end they will steal the human’s soul, condemning the wretch to an eternity of hellfire. You were correct to bring us here this night.”
Frowning, Lloyds looked down at the young duke. “And the king left the boy he calls his nephew to such a fate. The closest thing he has to a child. It is very troubling.” Lloyds stepped down from the king’s chair to crouch beside Barnaby. “Is there nothing we can do to save his soul?” He reached down to touch the young duke’s hair, and Barnaby again screamed, tears running back from his eyes into his black curls.
“Perhaps.” The same priest spoke again, thoughtfully. “If he were to kill the vampire, of his own free will, his soul might escape the worst of the torments that await him.”
“I would like to give him that chance. I have known him since he was a lad, and my own heart is grieved at his possession.” Lloyds smiled at Barnaby then, baring his teeth in a snarl, and his hand clenched tightly in the short curls. Composing his face back into a look of sorrow, Lloyds turned back to the priests. “Shall we leave him here tonight and for the morrow, with the demon, and arm him to kill it if he can find the will to save himself?”
The priests leaned in, whispering amongst themselves, and the spokesman gave their answer. “We agree. If we return to find that he has not killed the demon by sundown tomorrow, we will know his soul cannot be redeemed, and he will share the vampire’s fate. We will discuss later what to do regarding the king.”
The priests and Lloyds left the arena, and Rotwang directed the remaining guards to carry the duke down to the cage. They unlocked the door, dropped him to the ground with his wrists still tied, and put a short sword down beside him. Locking him in, they left, and the arena fell into silence.
As he had struggled, the gag had shifted back and unwound slightly in his mouth, and Barnaby choked on the cloth and his tears, fighting terror at his inability to breathe. He rolled over, onto his side, and forced his gasping efforts to suck in air to slow. Fighting the overwhelming impulse to retch, he worked his jaw and his tongue to shift the gag forward, to extract the loose end of the cloth from his throat. Finally, he moved it enough to breathe, slowly and carefully, and he got his legs under himself and pushed up into a sitting position, searching for Kotetsu in the dim light that reached them from the torches still burning at the king’s box. The vampire had retreated as far as the chain would allow, and lay with his free leg drawn into his torn chest, wide eyes reflecting the distant points of fire, staring in his direction but seeing nothing. Kotetsu! His heart was racing again, and he forced himself to take shallow breaths until he had calmed.
Barnaby tried to call out to Kotetsu, but the sounds he made only left the vampire pulling weakly against the chain. Twisting around, Barnaby found the hilt of the sword with his fingers and maneuvered it back until he could clamp the hilt between his boots, holding it there until he had sawn through enough of the rope to pull free. Tearing off the gag, he rushed to Kotetsu, half falling, only to stop short and stare as the vampire desperately tried to claw along the ground to get away.
The muzzle had not been replaced, but the vampire’s wounds had been left untreated. His mauled wing lay broken and limp, the thin membrane scored into ribbons of flesh where the tiger’s claws had torn through it. He was covered in a caked mess of dirt and dried blood: his own, the calf’s, the men’s, the tiger’s. Other filth clung to him, and his skin, where it was still visible, was covered in burns and dark, mottled bruises and cuts. Damn it, why the hell didn’t I find some way to stop this? Tears filled his eyes again, and this time he let them fall.
The vampire froze, and he repeated the name, pleadingly, “Kotestu.” He moved closer, slowly. “Kotetsu, it’s Barnaby. I’m right here.”
At Barnaby’s name, Kotetsu let out a quiet keening, and he raised his hands to press them over his ears, his forehead pressing to the dirt.
Barnaby knelt in front of him. There was no resistance as he lifted the vampire up, or as he pulled the demon’s hands from his ears. He reached to touch Kotetsu’s hair, brushing it aside as gently as he could, and even in the poor light he could see the cloudy film obscuring Kotetsu’s eyes. The fear on the vampire’s face made him wish he were free to kill more of Agnes’ men, and give the woman herself the death she planned for this gentle soul.
“Kotetsu.” Barnaby spoke the name softly, in a whisper, and he lifted one of the clawed hands to his cheek, noticing as he did so that the ring was still there, somehow. “Do you feel me here? It’s your Bunny, Kotetsu. Do you remember me, old man?”
The vampire’s fingers moved then, tracing up the side of his jaw, pausing to tug at his short hair, feeling his face… and Kotetsu pulled his hand away, clenched it into a fist, and with a great exhalation of breath, he began to weep.
“Oh gods, Kotetsu. I’m sorry. Damn it, I’m so sorry.” Barnaby pulled him forward by his other hand, embracing him; the vampire hissed through his tears at the pressure on his ravaged skin, but he leaned into the young duke’s arms nonetheless.
The torches had long guttered out, and Barnaby sat cradling Kotetsu’s upper body on his legs, the vampire’s wings stretched out away from them. The young duke combed his fingers over and over through the crusted hair, his other arm holding Kotetsu close as the vampire cried. Kotetsu still hadn’t spoken, but Barnaby talked to him in a low voice, repeating Kotetsu’s name often, telling him the happiest stories he remembered about Tomoe. He stopped only when the vampire’s breathing slowed, evening out in the rhythm of sleep.
In the darkness, he brushed his hand over Kotetsu’s face, running his fingers across the wrinkles at the corner of the vampire’s eye and tracing along the line of his beard. “Old man, I’ll be staying here with you. Until the end.”
Pao-Lin shoved her way past the guards and into the king’s audience chambers, the men outside too startled to react at first to the small girl pushing between them and into the room. One collected himself, cursing liberally, and he rushed after her, drawing his sword. He skidded to a stop at the king’s raised hand, breathing hard. The king dismissed him, and he returned to his post, exhaling strongly and mopping his brow on his sleeve as he closed the door behind him.
The king was alone, save for Yuri, and he stood and took the girl’s arms in his hands, holding her still until she caught her breath.
“He’s gone, gods, he’s gone.”
“Barnaby? Where has he gone?”
She told him of Barnaby entering the arena, of the dead guard, of the men who replaced him without raising an alarm.
“Your Majesty…” Yuri stood as well, joining them.
The King looked stricken. “Foolish, how very foolish.” He released Pao-Lin and returned to his chair, leaned his head into a hand, and with the other he rubbed at the carved lion at the end of the armrest. He sat there, silent, for a long time; Pao-Lin studying both men nervously in the silence. Slowly, the king dropped his hand and stood back up, facing Yuri.
“Yuri, find Saito, find Nathan. Get him out, if he’s still alive. Get his vampire out, and see them safe from the city.”
Yuri smiled then – a feral smile that stretched back across his teeth – and Pao-Lin was chilled to see it.
“Do you have safe haven for them, somewhere?”
“No.” The king grated the word “I can offer no sanctuary.”
“May I kill?”
“If you must. Do it quietly, if you can, to give them a chance.”
“I’ll need time to get ready.”
“You have none. Go.”
Pao-Lin guided them back to the same secluded entrance, pointing from the shadows at the two men who stood guard there. Her nerves felt as if they would shatter at the lightest jolt, and she looked back at the men who accompanied her. Not enough. Their group was small and lightly armed – only Saito, Yuri, Nathan, Antonio, and another guardsman named Alexander. How the hell are we even going to get inside?
At her gesture, Yuri nodded. He rose and swept past her, almost fading into the night in his enveloping black cloak.
She watched him approach the guards, and listened to him call out in response to their challenge, lowering his hood. Without warning a hand slid over her mouth. She tensed, ready to strike out – and Nathan leaned forward, pointing for her to watch. He kept his hand tightly over her lips, and in a moment, she knew why – dark fire burst from Lord Yuri’s eyes and hands; the flame enveloped the guards, and she started trying to scream, over and over again.
The flames extinguished as quickly as they were lit, and two blackened corpses fell to the ground. Nathan turned her around, looking into her eyes as he shook her lightly, and she forced her breath to slow before nodding at him. “I’m sorry, Pao-Lin. I’ll explain later.” He took his hand away and waved Saito down next to her.
“Both of you, go now. Be quick.” He rested a hand on top of Pao-Lin’s hair, briefly, and this time she didn’t pull away. “Good luck!”
When they had gone, he gestured to Antonio and Alexander, and the three of them helped Yuri drag the bodies inside the door. When they had finished, the two guards took up position to replace the fallen men. Nathan and Yuri slipped inside, Yuri lighting one of the torches that sat ready near the entrance.
Barnaby lifted his head at the light growing at the edge of the arena. They’ve returned early, then. He considered the sword for a moment, and the sleeping vampire he held. I can’t. He pulled Kotetsu closer, closed his, and waited.
At the sound of metal scraping metal, Barnaby’s eyes flew open. Lord Nathan stood at the cage door, leaning his weight into a pry bar jammed behind the lock. Lord Yuri was at his side, carrying a torch.
“What? How…? Nathan?” Barnaby stared, trying to form his words into a proper question. At that moment, Kotetsu stirred, and Barnaby held to the vampire to keep him from pulling away.
Yuri looked over at Nathan. “The guards at the door had no keys on their persons.” He spoke as if this information explained the entire scenario before him.
Nathan gave one last heave on the bar, and the lock fell away. “Bless Agnes for always contracting the lowest bidder.” He pulled the door open, and both he and Yuri entered. “Hello, Handsome. I left to return as soon as I heard of the festival’s main attraction. Unfortunately, the province Rotwang sent me to was particularly far away – I’ve been here only two days. We’ve been searching for you. Pao-Lin saw you go into the arena, and she came back to the castle with the news. The king sent us… for you, and for Tiger.”
“For both of us?”
“Yes, dear. We’re going to try to get you both out of the city before the dawn. Pao-Lin will be there to meet you. Saito came, too – he’s on the outside, getting things ready. Yuri, bring that light here.” Nathan crouched down and lifted Barnaby’s arm gently away from the vampire, who was now cringing into Barnaby’s stomach. He cursed sharply at what he saw in the light from the torch. “Hell, what did they do to him?” Nathan pulled at Kotetsu’s shoulder gently, avoiding the deep punctures from the tiger’s jaws, turning him slightly to survey his chest.
“Horrors. Oh gods, he won’t even talk to me.”
“He knows who you are, Handsome, and that’s enough for now.” Kotetsu was clutching at Barnaby as if he might be torn away at any moment. “If he didn’t, we’d have very little hope of getting him out of here.”
“He… Nathan, he’s chained. I can’t move him.”
“Pao-Lin mentioned that, so we planned for it.” Nathan used the crowbar as a stick to lift himself, and he turned to Yuri. The other man reached into his cloak, pulling a short pick from his belt and passing it to Nathan.
“Do it quickly.”
Nathan pursed his lips at the man. “Yuri, dear, I’m not stupid.” With great overhanded swings, he struck into the packed ground around the stake that held Kotetsu’s chain. When the earth was loosened, he positioned himself over it and pulled straight up, sliding it from the ground. He coiled the chain about it, leaving enough slack to hand it to Barnaby. “Can you carry him?”
Barnaby nodded, though in truth he wasn’t sure. He his free arm under Kotetsu’s knees, leaving the other behind Kotetsu’s back underneath the trailing wings. Nathan and Yuri pulled him to his feet, one on each side, holding him until he found his balance. Yuri pulled off his cloak, covering the vampire’s body, and they moved away, toward the same door they had all entered by.
“Where will we go?” Barnaby was panting, walking slowly; the vampire was heavier than he expected, and his wings were impeding his steps. Nathan caught them up, and Kotetsu let out a small cry.
Yuri answered from his position at the front of their small procession. “Saito has gained entry to an empty building situated not far from the entrance.” He stopped, looking back as Barnaby struggled to catch up. “Pray no one sees us as we cross to it.”
They reached the building unmolested. The streets were mostly deserted at this time of night, even with the harvest festival, and the few distant figures they saw were either tending to their own business or uninterested in harassing a group. Antonio accompanied them, clapping the other guard on the shoulder before he left. Alexander would change shifts in the morning, in place of the two dead guards, and would from there try to make his own escape.
Inside the barren front room, the single window heavily draped, Nathan and Saito worked as quickly as they could to clean away the worst of the grime from the vampire’s skin. In their haste, they were unable to do the work with much gentleness, and Kotetsu twisted, trying weakly to escape their hands. Barnaby held him, muttering to him softly, taking a mental tally of the injuries revealed as they went. Saito’s eyes kept flicking to the vampire’s claws, his fangs, his wings… not in fear, but with an intense curiosity. Despite the lack of malice in his actions, Barnaby felt an urge to shove the man away.
Yuri stood by the window, lifting the fabric aside every so often to look out into the alley. “You’ll have to leave within the next hour to have enough light to reach Pao-Lin before dawn. From what you’ve told us, the alarm will be raised when they find you gone this next night, and that,” he nodded at the vampire, “can’t travel during the day.”
“He’ll never make it past the gate.”
“You’re right.” Yuri left the window, and he reached down to pass his hand in front of the vampire’s staring eyes. He earned no reaction. “We spoke about this, on our way to you; we have only one answer – to get him out of those irons.”
Barnaby lifted his gaze, and there was fire in his eyes. “You can’t. They’re forged together.”
“They will come apart, with enough heat.” Yuri sounded too calm, and too sure of himself.
Barnaby’s jaw dropped, and he looked from Yuri to Nathan and back again. “You want to melt it apart? You’re mad! You’re mad – he can’t take that.”
In a quiet voice, Nathan spoke. “He lived through it the first time, Handsome.”
“He wasn’t like this.”
Yuri’s eyebrows furrowed, and he made a sharp motion with his hand. “You’d let fear of pain remove his one chance at escape? You’re more of a fool than I thought.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, and tried again. “The fire would be small.”
Barnaby ran his hand over the heavy metal collar around Kotetsu’s neck, turning it slightly so he could study the weld. It was too thick, the iron too close about his neck. It’ll kill him, and even if it doesn’t… “Gods, just leave them. Please… he’s been hurt enough.”
“So be it. I’m done here.” Yuri turned to the door, but Nathan caught him with a hand on his arm and held him as he addressed Barnaby.
“When the king spoke to Pao-Lin, she told him of Tiger’s shapeshifting ability. It’s all we have to rely on. With the festival, the soldiers at the gates search every cart, every carriage. Not even the most loyal of the king’s guard would let him pass in his natural form; Agnes has done a very good job of assuring that. There’s no hope of moving him out of the city as he is. We have to remove the iron, Handsome, and hope he’s up to holding a human form, or he’s not going anywhere.” He released Yuri’s arm and moved next to Barnaby, kneeling to put his arm over the young lord’s shoulders. Barnaby leaned in, over the vampire, as if to protect him.
“Barnaby, you don’t want to leave your friend for Agnes to butcher in front of the crowd. Am I right?”
Barnaby moaned, and shook his head, not looking up.
“And you couldn’t bring yourself to kill him, this past night. Could you do so now? I will do it, if you ask; it will be a mercy.” Nathan took his arm away, and sat back on his heels.
Antonio spoke from his place at the door. “You don’t have much time to think about it.”
When Barnaby spoke, it was through gritted teeth. “Damn it all. Take them off.”
“Lay him on his back.”
“Barnaby.” Nathan’s voice was hard, and Barnaby quieted, biting his lip. Antonio lifted the vampire away, holding him under the shoulders, and Kotetsu gasped and reached out when he felt himself pulled away from Barnaby. Nathan caught Kotetsu’s hand, placed one finger of his other hand against the vampire’s lips, and spoke slowly.
“Tiger, this is Nathan. Do you remember me?”
Nathan waited patiently and was rewarded when Kotetsu drew in a shuddering breath and nodded ever so slightly. Barnaby started at the movement; it was the first direct response Kotetsu had made to any question.
“We need to get these irons off of you if we’re going to get you out of here. It will hurt, Tiger. Can you help us?” When Nathan felt the weak squeeze on his hand, he moved to slide his arms under the vampire’s knees, gesturing Barnaby forward. “When Antonio and I lower him, pull that wing out to the side as far as you can.”
They moved him as carefully as they could, and Yuri came to crouch at Kotetsu’s side.
“This will be very painful; perhaps more painful than when they put these on him. Lord Nathan, if you and your man would hold his shoulders and arms. Saito, hold his legs.”
As the men moved into place, Yuri turned to Barnaby. “Hold his head, as tightly as you can... Don’t move, vampire.”
Yuri grasped the short chain that trailed from the collar, pulling the side of the iron band as far from the vampire’s neck as he could. He cupped his other palm around the collar, behind the weld.
“Damn you, what can we do here? Do you even have any tools?”
“Your Excellency, it’s time you learned something.” Yuri looked up, and deep in his eyes a green light glowed. “There are a great many races in this world.”
Barnaby shrank back, a knot of confused fear forming in his throat at the expression on Yuri’s face. “What the hell are you telling me?”
“Just hold him, and be silent!” Yuri narrowed his eyes, staring intently at where the collar lay against his hand.
Suddenly, an intense blue-green flame erupted from the lord’s palm, illuminating the group and their surroundings in a ghastly, dancing light. Most of the flames curled inward, toward the collar, but some licked outward, and the vampire began to struggle, with cries deep in his throat that gradually rose along with the smell of burning flesh.
“Gods, Yuri! Kotetsu, <i>Kotetsu</i>, stay quiet!” Barnaby held the demon’s head as best he could, leaning in to speak to him, ignoring the heat.
The iron slowly began to glow, turning a dull red around most of the collar that brightened into a deep orange near Yuri’s dark flame. The metal directly under his hand was white with heat, and slowly it began to slump and run, to drip to the ground. An eternity later, the iron separated, the collar swinging free on the hinge opposite where the weld had been. Yuri pulled it away, casting it aside.
Barnaby lifted shaking fingers, reaching toward Kotetsu’s neck. Yuri caught his wrist, his own hand cold, preventing the duke from touching. The flesh was badly burned, all the way around, blackening deeply the closer it was to where Yuri’s flame had burned. The vampire had quieted, his blind eyes barely open, his lips pulled back into a horrible grimace. His claws were out, and they had dug deep into the wood of the floor.
“Oh, Tiger.” Nathan sat back, holding one hand to his own throat. Saito hovered around, at least having the grace to look slightly green as he studied the creature before him.
Barnaby bent over Kotetsu, stroking his dark hair, wiping the sweat from the vampire’s face and brow with his sleeve. He leaned down and pressed his lips to the vampire’s hot forehead, and Kotetsu’s eyes closed.
Yuri reached over to his pack and pulled out a length of cotton. He dampened it, then lay it carefully over the vampire’s neck. He ever so slowly eased it around the back while Barnaby lifted, and wrapped the excess over and back around.
“We’ve got more work to do here. Hold his arm.”
When Yuri was finished, the vampire was unresponsive, his breathing alarmingly shallow.
Nathan patted him on the cheek, and got no response. “Help me sit him up.”
Antonio propped Kotetsu up from the back, and Barnaby took his face in his hands, supporting the weight of his head. He called out to the vampire, as loudly as he dared, pleading with him to wake up, to try to change his form. The only response was a slight tightening of the vampire’s hands where they rested, the wrists wrapped, in his lap.
Lost, he looked over at Saito, who stood near the pile of bags. “Is there any blood?”
The little man nodded, saying something that no one could hear, and he dug out a flask, handing it to Barnaby. The young lord unscrewed it hurriedly and held it to the Kotetsu’s mouth.
“Slowly,” Nathan warned. “He won’t be able to swallow.”
He let the blood trickle back into the vampire’s throat, looking anxiously at Yuri, who had returned to the window. When the blood was gone, he sat the flask aside, reaching to touch the vampire’s temple.
“Kotetsu, try. Please try.”
The demon furrowed his brow, struggling to lean forward out of Antonio’s hands. After all too short a time, he sagged back, his breath rattling.
“Gods, what do we do now?” Barnaby looked into the faces of the men around him; none held answers.
Finally, he looked at Saito, who was staring at him with an unnerving concentration. Saito’s eyebrows shot up, and he gave a little snicker; he reached over to pull Yuri down to speak in his ear. As he listened, Yuri’s eyebrows also raised. Pulling the dagger from his belt, he approached Barnaby.
“Give me your arm.”
Barnaby held it out willingly. “Will more blood help? Gods, take it.”
Yuri pulled the duke’s sleeve back, and he paused to pour alcohol over both his knife and Barnaby’s arm. “It’s your blood, specifically, that may help us here.” He gripped the young lord’s forearm tightly, and continued in a conversational tone. “Apparently, I wasn’t the only nonhuman child the king took under his protection.”
Barnaby tried to pull his arm away, but Yuri held it too tightly. “What the hell are you talking about?” When the man didn’t reply, he reached out with his other arm and gripped the hand that held the knife. “Answer me."
“Ask your vampire friend, if you’re both alive long enough for him to recover.” He shook off Barnaby’s hand, and drew the knife across the young man’s arm.
They tied Kotetsu upright on the seat of the cart, leaning him onto Barnaby’s shoulder. They had pulled loose clothing and a high-collared coat onto him, covering most of the dressings, while Saito stole a last chance to study the vampire’s now-human hands. The mule at the front looked back at them, flicked an ear, and stamped the ground.
“Nathan… we’re to go alone?”
“You’ll draw less attention. Follow the directions I gave you; if you hurry, you should reach Pao-Lin in time for her to guide you to shelter before the sun rises. Antonio and I will follow tomorrow before dusk.” He patted Barnaby’s leg, drawing the duke’s attention back from the vampire.
“Handsome, listen to me carefully. Those burns are deep, and it’s likely they’ll harden and constrict. If his hands or feet get cold, or if he has trouble breathing, cut through the burned skin, on the sides…” Nathan lifted one of Kotetsu’s arms, running a long nail along each side of the dressing that covered the charred flesh that ringed his wrist. “It will let the blood keep flowing, and allow him to breathe. Keep the wounds clean and dressed, and keep them raised. Saito stocked medicines in the cart, along with the other supplies. Don’t forget to tend to your own arm. Let Pao-Lin help you.”
Barnaby leaned down and embrace the man briefly. “Thank you, Lord Nathan. Will give my uncle my gratitude?”
Barnaby looked back at the other men, and nodded to them. “I owe you a debt I’ll never be able to repay… thank you.”
Yuri tapped the edge of the cart. “You’re wasting time, your Excellency. Go, and don’t let the sun catch you.”
The guards at the gate searched the cart; finding nothing unusual, they let it pass, trading jokes afterwards about the drunkard and his brother leaving the city so long before dawn.
When Barnaby reached the wall where Pao-Lin perched, she led him off the main road, down a long, overgrown path in the woods, to a partially collapsed hunter’s shed. Working together, they got the ropes untied and the heavy coat off before pulling Kotetsu down from the cart into Barnaby’s arms.
While Barnaby carried the vampire inside, Pao-Lin lead the mule and the small cart and around to the back of the structure. Once the animal was unhitched and hobbled, she went through the packages and bundles in the back, taking inventory: food and medicine in a good quantity, four small casks of water and two of wine, ample clothing and blankets, cooking supplies and essential tools, a crossbow and other small arms… and coin; more coin than she had ever seen in one place.
The day passed quietly; Kotetsu had shifted back into his natural form the moment they moved him inside, his wings splitting the back of the shirt he still wore. Barnaby positioned him as Nathan had instructed, hauling in water from the nearby stream to bathe him, clean his wounds, and cool his burns. As predicted, the vampire’s hands and feet grew cold and his breathing shallow as the burned skin hardened and shrank. When Barnaby’s hands shook too much to make the cuts, Pao-Lin took the knife from him and did it herself, exposing the lighter tissue underneath the burns.
Afterward, Barnaby unwrapped his own arm, and he pressed a blade into the skin below the previous incision. Kotetsu turned his head when he brought the arm to his lips, but Barnaby persisted, begging him softly to drink. Eventually, the vampire relented, but he only took a little before pulling away again. Barnaby let Pao-Lin clean his arm, smear it with a poultice, and rewrap it.
He sat next to the vampire throughout the day as he slept, propped up against a corner of the shed. Eventually, he too fell asleep, waking at a light pressure on his arm; Kotetsu had moved his bandaged hand atop it. Barnaby looked into his clouded eyes, brushing Kotetsu’s hair back from his forehead to let him know he felt him. He looked for Pao-Lin, and saw her sleeping on a blanket where the fallen beams of the roof met the floor – and then he heard the still distant pounding of approaching hooves.
Barnaby shifted Kotetsu down onto the blanket and stepped outside to meet the rider. It was not yet dusk, but under the trees the light was fading swiftly. As the rider turned the last corner, he saw it was Yuri. The man was alone.
Yuri slowed his mount, circling it, dropping from the saddle before it had fully stopped. He leaned over, his hands on his knees, breathing heavily.
Barnaby approached the man slowly. “Yuri, why are you here? Where is Lord Nathan?”
When Yuri caught his breath, he straightened, pushing his long hair out of his eyes where it had come loose from his accustomed tie. He glanced at the shed, and turned to Barnaby, his eyes unnaturally bright. “Lord Nathan is dead. The king is dead, and so are many other men. Lloyds has condemned you for it. Where is the vampire? Cover him up and get him out here. He’s better a little burned than dead.”
“Dead?” Barnaby stood in his place, rooted to the ground. Yuri slapped him, hard, and he blinked back the tears that stung his eyes.
“Move! There is no time!”
“Dead… where will we go?”
“I don’t know. Away from here. Now hurry!”
Thanks to all of you who have made it to this point! I hope it proved to be worth your time. Did you enjoy it? Please let me know by leaving a review! I’m also open to constructive criticism, as this is my first fic (reposted from the meme, with some revisions). I’d like to know what to focus on improving if I ever try this again… or if I were to write a sequel.