Treacle and Ashes
By: J. R. Tomlin
Lavidia smoothed the skirt of her dress and checked to see if her sword showed under the folds. No, it couldn’t be seen.
Moonlight glinted through the scurrying clouds to light the pathway to the keep at the top of the hill. Trees barren of leaves creaked in a chill wind. What kind of idiot would go up to such a grim place late at night? Well, one like her--and perhaps one other. Her lips curved in a smile.
The dead leaves crunched under her feet as she wended her way up the path. The doors of the keep were weathered by decades of wind and rain. She shoved against them and they creaked their way open. The darkness formed a vault above her head.
She crossed the room to climb the three steps that led to an seat of honor, tall-backed and solemn. The place smelled of mold. The back of her neck prickled.
A flutter of wings rustled somewhere in the darkness. Motionless, she barely allowed herself to breathe. Her heart pounded. In spite of her efforts, her fingers twitched.
The hint of pressure behind her made her shiver. At last, he was here.
She turned, allowing her eyes to widen. His blond hair gleamed as he bent his head. She yelped at the prick of his teeth puncturing her skin. She felt his lips caress her neck as he sucked.
He released her, whirling to spit a mouthful of blood on the floor. “Damn it,” he shouted. “You're a paladin.” He gagged as he spit again. “That was foul. It's like treacle and ashes.”
Lavidia slid the gleaming sword out from where it was hidden under a slit in the side of her skirt and smiled. “I've been told vampires find the taste most distressing.”
He jerked his head up when she touched the point of her sword to his chest. Oh, he was handsome. His face had an ascetic touch, a bit thin and pale. He tried to draw her gaze, to catch her with those intense blue eyes.
“No, I know all about a vampire’s gaze. And I mean you no harm. I only have a little experiment to make then I'll let you go.”
A frown creased his brow. “Experiment? Cutting my heart out to see if it keeps beating, I suppose.”
“Don't be silly. This is a silver sword as I’m sure you know. Your heart would stop the second it was pierced. Besides, I have nothing so violent in mind. I'll simply let you bite me.”
“Oh, no. There’s no way I'm doing that again.”
Lavidia pressed the point of her sword against his chest. A drop of blood spotted the white of his shirt.
“It's your choice. If you won't cooperate, I'm sure I can find another vampire who will--after I do the cutting your heart out business.”
“You'd just kill me anyway. I've heard all about you vampire-hunting paladins. You have no mercy. Why would I believe you'd let me go?”
“It's true that vampire slaying is my duty, but in this case I'll swear to spare you. I'm not allowed to break such an oath--not even to a vampire.” Lavidia smiled again. “Come. It won't be so bad.”
“Easy for you to say.” He scowled, but pushed her dark hair back with one hand as he bent his head to her neck. Again, she felt his teeth pierce her skin. His lips against her made her skin tingle, and she was almost disappointed when, after about a minute, he fell writhing at her feet.
Her knees felt weak. She sat down, resting her sword across her knees.
He clutched his belly, moaning. “What have you done?”
Oh, dear. She did hope this was going to work. “That remains to be seen. I've never tried this before.”
He moaned again as his entire body shook.
She stood and bent over him to touch her hand to his forehead. It was warm and moist, and sweat ran down his face. A vampire never sweats. She nodded in satisfaction.
“I do believe it worked. You are cured of your curse. I hoped my blood was poisonous enough to vampires to destroy that part of you and return your humanity. Now there is a chance I won't have to kill every vampire I meet. Some can be saved. I’m not so blood-thirsty, you know.”
A look of despair flooded his face. “Curse? You've made me mortal. You fiend.”
“But I'm only doing my duty.”
The former vampire lurched, swaying, to his knees. “Better you had killed me.”
“It won't be so bad once you get used to it. Come along, and I'll buy you a meal in town.”
She looked the man up and down for a moment as he forced himself to his feet. His face was pallid, but he smoothed his hair back with a steady hand.
“I’m told there are vampires needing my attention in the town of Gartian. Perhaps you can aid me in hunting them.”
“There are vampires there?”
She shook her head. “Don’t even think of it. Besides, you'll enjoy being mortal again--really.”
She walked toward the doors. Halfway there, she looked back over her shoulder. She wasn’t sure what to make of the half-smile on his lips as he followed.