The Gift

***

Edmund could smell the rain that he was sure was coming, and he could feel the rough touch of the splintering wood of the crossbow in his trembling hands. Eyes filled with fear searched the darkness but to find nothing, as his mind tried to think of something other than ghouls and goblins.

Off in the distance a cat screeched, followed by the slam of something falling against the cobblestones. Edmund whirled around, holding the crossbow out in front of him to protect him from anything that may come lurking his way. He was shaking terribly now, the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck rose in an instant. He wished more than anything to run right now, run through the dark to the safety of his home, or even an open pub. Anything would be better at this point than wandering the darkness, where any sort of shadow may come forth to spring on him.

He recognized the street he stood on now. He paused and waited. A woman had been killed there the night before, her body was found by one of the local drunkards, who when running to spread the news was not believed at all and laughed at for his drunkenness. But they soon saw for themselves the unfortunate accident. Even when the surgeon was called and the body was taken away, there were hushed rumors that this was no ordinary crime.

Edmund had not seen the body himself, but only heard of the rumors as he was walking that afternoon. Tales lifted through the crowd. Some said that the woman had died of a ferocious attack by a dozen or more alley cats who had grown monstrous in size, and when her body was found every inch of her skin was bleeding. Others said that a murderer had come and poisoned her, for when she was found her eyes were wide open and milky white. Edmund didn't really understand these rumors, neither did they appeal to his beliefs. But he certainly didn't believe it when he had heard she had been drained of all her blood and yet there was not a single cut on her body.

The townspeople was convinced that a monster had done this. Their fear quickly turned to rage and they ordered that the cursed thing be sought after and destroyed. Everyone rose their fist in agreement. Edmund seemed to be the only one unsure of what this "monster" was capable of, and quite frankly, was rather afraid of the thought. He could never be furious with something that could kill him.

Edmund was more than alarmed to hear someone shout that the monster craved youth in his prey. To anyone this would seem true, as the woman who was murdered was only twenty, three years older than Edmund. But he was literally petrified when he heard that the monster would only approach someone so young, and this youthful person must destroy it. All eyes, as if instinctively, turned to Edmund.

The boy wasn't sure how it happened, but suddenly a crossbow was thrust in his arms and the priest placed a crucifix around his neck, promising that it would protect him, but Edmund was rather doubtful. He stared at the faces of the townspeople, at the faces of his family in urgency, begging for them not to let him go. He was too young, he was only a child, he had his whole life. And here he was about to face death?

They said nothing, but threw him into the street with direct orders to wait around for the monster, and they said that their doors would not open unless he promised he had killed the wretched thing.

Edmund did his best not to cry. He didn't understand how they could just give him to death without another thought. What had he done to make them abandon him in such a manner?

A gasp left his lips as he was sure he had been touched on the back of the neck. Edmund spun around so quickly that he lost balance, tangling his feet, and fell back onto the cobblestones. A gust of wind moaned through the sides of the dark buildings, but Edmund was almost positive that they whispered awful things to him, whispering his name. Again the wanting to run away came back to his mind.

But it would be morning soon, Edmund noticed. And then they surely would have to let him come back, and once they had seen that he failed, they would not ask him to go back out again. In the daytime the evil thing surely wouldn't strike, would it?

Edmund picked himself up off the cobblestones and straightened out his clothes, sighing softly and taking tiny steps in this or that direction, whatever would pass the time. He almost dared to practice target shooting with the crossbow that was given to him, but there were precious few arrows he had been given. Who knew how many he would need to take down a thing of evil.

A shudder came over him, and suddenly a sick feeling developed in the pit of the boy's stomach. He felt like eyes were watching him, all of a sudden. Edmund rose the crossbow and looked this way and that, his heart pumping very fast, his entire body trembling.

Fear. Pure, unrefined fear.

It was at that moment that Edmund saw him. He saw, and he felt like he would die right then and there of fear, a man that emerged from the shadow of a dark tower. At first Edmund was certain it was a monster, and was tempted to shoot, but at his second thought he was positive it was only a fair gentleman who was out for an evening walk.

The man didn't even seem to notice Edmund. The light of the street lamps were not enough to show his face. He walked smoothly in an unnatural form, it seemed, dressed in a long dark coat that glided behind him like a wave. Edmund stared for moments, as if merely in admiration, rather than shock.

This didn't seem to be the murderer.

Edmund was startled and drawn from his thoughts to see that the man had stopped on the cobblestones, merely yards away from him, and was now facing him. The darkness was still dominating, and Edmund could not see the man's face yet. Fear swallowed him whole and he wanted to run, but his legs and feet felt like jelly. What had he heard once a long time ago? A murderer always returns to the scene of the crime?

The boy wasn't so sure that this man wasn't the murderer after all.

The tall, dark man stood for moments, only staring at Edmund, as if contemplating when would be a good time to come forward and make a move, any move, a murdering move or even a few words. Both Edmund and the man waited for it.

Shortly, following this thought, the man took liquid steps towards Edmund, very elegantly, so he stood closer to Edmund, and now the boy could see what the man in front of him looked like. The boy was greatly surprised.

The man was beautiful. Entirely beautiful. Edmund stood for a moment, awestruck by what he saw. This man standing in front of him, pale and perfect, he seemed to be some sort of cloaked angel, a heavenly beauty who bathed in darkness. But Edmund thought the comparison was almost pleasant. The man was sharply elegant, in such a frightening way that Edmund was sure he was a foreigner. He had never seen anyone like him before in his life.

The dark man smiled at Edmund, as though reading his charming thoughts. The smile was sincere, but in a way it frightened Edmund, and the boy instinctively took a step back, staring at the towering man who only took a step forward towards him.

Would a gentleman approach someone just randomly in the street like this? Now Edmund was sure he was not from around here.

"Hello." the dark man's voice was creamy and seductive sounding. Edmund felt himself shudder, both in delight and in fear. The man's smile seemed to grow delicately at the sight of the boy's recoil.

Edmund made not a sound. He stood perfectly still and stared at the stranger, contemplating his greeting as though he had heard it in an entirely different language and was trying his hardest to understand what it was the man was saying, but to no avail. As quickly as the interest in this man had risen in the boy, wanting to run away had dominated his feelings.

The dark man cocked his head slightly to the side, amused, it seemed, by Edmund's lack of words. "What might someone as young as you be doing out so late?" he spoke as though he already knew the answer.

Edmund's jaw trembled and he tried to force himself to say something, but it was as though his voice had died completely inside. The boy clutched the crossbow in his hands tightly, readying himself should this man decide to attack him.

The dark man looked down at Edmund's hands, down at the crossbow, and his smile was gone in a moment, swept away by the winds of time, it seemed. His face was not as perfect in a frown, but Edmund couldn't pull his attention from him nevertheless. What would he think of the boy having a crossbow, and wandering around so late at night? He would be convinced that Edmund would be up to no good.

The boy's lips shook, he begged himself to think of something to say. But his mind betrayed him and he was left speechless.

A smile, like a taunting smile, drew itself over the man's lips and he turned his attention to the frightened youth His eyes flickered with innocent laughter. "A crossbow?" there was a gentle smirk. "A large, unflattering weapon for someone so small."

The man's gloved hand ghosted along the dark of his side and the cape wove in the gentle wind. Edmund watched him, stunned, transfixed, like he was a magician producing magic, something in which the boy had never really seen before. This man must have been magic itself. Edmund had never seen anyone so wonderfully eerie.

The man became aware of Edmund's interest in the suave way he moved. He turned, his head cocked slightly to the side, like a bird, but curiously, dreamy eyes boring into the boy's soul. "What in heavens name will you do with that?" he referred to the crossbow.

Edmund clutched the wood tightly in his hands, sucking in a deep breath. Now was his time to speak, and this time he couldn't let the appearance of this dark beauty distract him. He swallowed tightly, his lips shaking, but his voice at last allowed him to speak. "I've...I've come to kill a man."

The interested smile was gone, and the eyes seemed dead with disappointment. Edmund felt guilty that he had done such a thing. He was obviously boring the man close enough to tears. But the reaction was somewhat intriguing. Perhaps this man knew about the murder. Perhaps he was, as Edmund had thought, the murderer all along.

"I see." the voice was unhappy. "A man like me?"

Edmund shook at the sound of the words, the way the man spoke made him think directly that indeed, this was the man who had killed that woman. But there was no proof. The boy wasn't even so certain if the thing that had killed the woman was a man at all. Maybe a creature. No one in the town was sure.

The frightened boy shivered and shook his head, finding it more and more difficult to breathe, like the fog had picked up and decided to settle directly into his chest. "If you are a monster." he said, barely audibly.

Terror went through the boy as suddenly the man whipped back his head and laughed, sending the glossy waves of ebony hair down to swallowing the powerless darkness. His laugh was low and constant, charming in a way, pleasant to the ear. But Edmund took a step by, frightened by it, wanting to run more and more.

Once the man had settled himself, the laughter was gone, but the smile remained. He was generously sweet in his smile this time, not a smirk, not an interested grin, just a little, sincere smile. It comforted Edmund, even in the slightest bit. The man took a step forward towards the boy, turning his head to the side just slightly. "Training all your life, have you, to kill this monster?" his voice was taunting.

Edmund found himself lowering the crossbow, lowering his head and staring down at the cobblestones in sadness. To be reminded was sheer punishment. "I was only chosen." the boy said, shaking his head.

Icy fingers suddenly held his chin, and within an inch of a heart attack Edmund screamed and jumped back, raising the crossbow high to the man who had all of a sudden, without moving it seemed, appeared in front of him and touched him with cold, dead fingers. Edmund could hear his heart pounding, above the heavy breathing and the scared gasps. He stared at the man in fear, but the man only smiled back in tease.

"So then you are a mere sacrifice." the man said in his taunting, low purr.

Edmund's eyebrows burred in contemplation, thinking of this man's words, and the more he ran them over in his head, the more it seemed to sound so much like the truth. "Sacrifice?"

The man laughed again, showing the bridge of pearly white teeth, something Edmund hadn't quite noticed before, but when he smiled showing his teeth his eyes lit up. Edmund was entranced with him once again, but held just as tightly to the crossbow.

Suavely the man stepped towards Edmund even as the boy stepped back. "Surely they didn't believe a powerless little thing like you could kill a monster." his glowing eyes searched the boy's body up and down for a moment. "You look only eighteen."

Edmund's eyes cast down again to the cobblestones and to his feet. "Seventeen." he murmured.

And to the boy's horror, the words of this beautiful man seemed true. Edmund was young and he was scrawny and innocent and boyish and never could kill anything, even if it was a monster. The townspeople couldn't have truly believed that he could kill the monster that had murdered the woman. So that could only mean one thing.

"You are only a sacrifice," said the dark man, like he had read Edmund's thoughts just as easily as if they were written down on paper, and the boy looked up at him with teary eyes. It was true. It was so very true.

The man seemed very impressed for some strange reason. He took a step towards and grinned wider when Edmund did not step back. "A gift." he said slowly. "A free meal..." and the man's eyes wandered hungrily up and down the boy's body, making Edmund shiver. "And what a lovely meal..."

Edmund couldn't bear it any longer. He was frightened beyond comprehension. Without a second thought or a single trace of denial in his mind he rose the crossbow as far as he could, closed his eyes and fired it like he had been shown by one of the townspeople. He felt the arrow leave the bow, and heard the sickening thud of its point hitting flesh. The boy's heart was beating so fast he almost didn't hear it. Suddenly he was sure that he had killed this man in front of him who would have, had Edmund not taken action, would have killed him.

The boy looked ahead of him, expecting to see the corpse of the man on the cobblestone road. It would be a pity to waste such a beautiful man, but Edmund had the sickening feeling in his stomach that the man was not entirely dead. He just wasn't safe at all.

But now the town would be safe, and he could go home and be with his family, and they would never ask him to do something of this calabur ever again.

To his amazing horror, the man was still standing before him.

The dark man glared down at his chest, where the arrow had thudded into his right lung. Surely that would have killed him right away, wouldn't it? Edmund stared in terror, thinking that perhaps it had killed him but the corpse maintained perfectly good balance as to stand up until knocked over. Edmund was afraid to blink, and everything in the solemn darkness was quiet.

Easily the man smiled, and curled his long white fingers around the arrow, and pulled it out simply, like it was a large thorn in his palm, one that hurt but could be removed easily. Blood flowed freely from the wound and soaked the frilly cravat beneath the dark jacket.

Edmund felt himself go white, when he watched in disbelief as the wound closed before his eyes, and the skin that was there was now untouched, unbroken, white as the moon, perfect, just as he was. It was like nothing had ever even happened.

The man stared at the arrow in his fingers and smirked, startling the youth tremendously. "It's not even silver," the man said rather amused, and threw it casually to the side, like it was nothing but a piece of garbage. His luminous eyes turned up to the boy and he smiled at the frightened youth. "They didn't give you commendable protection." he chuckled seductively. "You truly are a sacrifice."

The boy's hands went numb, and it wasn't because of the chill in the air. His hands were clammy and he dropped the crossbow, hearing it fall on the cobblestones, sounding like merciless thunder in his ears. He began to shake, like he had been swimming in cold water, quite unable to move or speak.

The man laughed softy upon seeing the boy's immense fear. He took a few steps towards the cowering youth, relishing in the delicious way Edmund squirmed as he neared him.

Hot tears pinched at the corners of the boy's eyes, as he stared at the cobblestones and prayed that someone might find him and save him, before he ended up just like the woman they had found the previous morning. His eyes clenched together tightly, wanting to find a shadow to hide in. But the world had seemed to abandon him. The world was ready to deliver him straight to death. And as this man approached him, close him to do anything to him, he felt Death's creamy cold hands around his neck, making it difficult to breathe.

"Sir..." Edmund could only squeak he was so terrified. "Sir...please...please don't-"

The dark man was completely unfazed. "Please don't what?" he said slowly and seductively.

"Please don't hurt me..." Edmund dared to look up at him, into the face of the beauty who would take his life. But only for a moment before his head bowed low again. "Please..."

Long, snowy fingers reached out and began to curl auburn locks that graced the youth's head, a gentle affectionate action that Edmund would have blushed by if he weren't so very afraid. Even with his head bore down the boy could tell that the man was smiling.

"Although trying to protect yourself," spoke the dark man in a low whisper. "You put a hole through my expensive cravat." Violet eyes moved down to the puncture in the lacy shirt. Snowy skin was visible through the little hole. The dark man smiled down at the youth who seemed now to be nothing more than a frightened mouse in the palm of his hand. "I think you deserve a little punishing for that, little one." his grin widened.

Edmund felt the icy fingers touch his ear and flow down his cheek in a cool caress, until they took hold of the boy's chin, lift his head, his eyes, to face those of his soon to be murderer. The boy's eyes closed, not wanting to face the eyes of Death, too afraid of what was soon to come. "Please sir..." he murmured so softly, as a tear fell down his cheek. "Please sir...don't hurt me..."

A begging mortal, that was what the dark man liked. His smug smile remained, even as he took in each of the boy's heart-wrenching pleads. Once again ghostly eyes searched the boy up and down, his snowy thumb sliding over the boy's lower lip, his smile growing and his eyes clouding with a certain wanton desire.

"Such a lovely gift like you is too precious and fragile to hurt..." the dark man mused.

The fear of death in the boy quickly changed to sheer nervousness, a sudden new fear of what this man may do to him...if death was not his intended fate. Tears began to stream from his eyes, feeling hot and terrible against his skin, wanting to wipe them away but not daring to move.

The snowy thumb brushed away the salty rain, and the smug smile had turned softly, more sincere, more sympathetic. "Don't cry, little one." he said slowly, pulling the boy's chin just gently, clearing away spilled tears with fluid movements of his soft tongue, caressing to the bud-like lobe of the boy's ear. "Tell me your name." he whispered, lips grazed the delicate shell, sweet breath tumbled down the boy's neck.

Edmund opened his eyes, and they stung of the salt. Blinking a few times, sniffing, feeling the worst was soon to come, that he would never see his home or his family ever again..."E-Edmund..." came the gentle reply.

Frosty violet eyes closed gently, long lashes tickled the boy's skin, until lips caressed his skin down to the shaky rosebuds of the youth's mouth. "Edmund..." he spoke the boy's name in a low purr, opening his eyes and holding out his arms, feeling the boy's weight already beginning to grow heavy.

A smile crossed the dark man's lip as he held the sleeping boy affectionately in his bridal embrace, white fingers brushed away auburn locks, frosted eyes gazed upon the unimaginably beautiful youth, basked in slumber, completely under the dark man's power...

The smile was loving. "I shall take very good care of you."

The dark man and the boy were gone.

All that was left was the fog in the lamps.

~*~