Thank you to everyone who reviewed! I appreciate all of it very much. One thing I'd like to say is, this story is a challenge, and so far it's working out well. I haven't mentioned Chlorin's gender; care to guess? Reviewers get cookies, constructive criticism-givers get hugs too. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and there was a typo in the first chapter (besides grammatical ones): "Okkunans" should be "Okuunans". No biggie. Read on!
Your hands fold out creases in the blanket; your eyes travel up and down the walls, soaking in tapestries you've seen a thousand times and yet still finding new details. You're nervous, though not for your life. Your job is to sit in a tower, a tall tower, one with a small window. You'll be protected, because Rordain values your skin, so to speak.
But if you fail—or, rather, if your troops fail—who knows? Rordain may be generous and decide that circumstances had been against you that day (because Rordain, unlike most vampire leaders, has the newfangled opinion of luck and destiny); he could give you a second chance.
But who's to throw the dice? You won't lose.
You rise from the bed. It's mid-afternoon, and from behind your vampiric-made window shades light glimmers forth, making patterns on the wood floors, dappled light that weaves a maze between leaves to reach your room. Oddly, you've been fascinated by the dancings of light for years. Color mesmerizes you, and if you weren't a vampire—if you were an elf, or demon, or human—you might do something outdoors, something with your arms and legs. Work.
But you work with your fingers, your hands; those beautiful tapestries were your own work, infused with doses of gorgeous magic. You could sell them, even now, for more than any human-made art, yet the way the light falls on them makes your mood rise. So you're not like those darkness-fed vampires, in some ways.
There is a knock. "Chlorin?"
You'd recognize that voice most anywhere: That deep note, that brusque, brisk way of saying your name, almost as if it was one syllable.
You open the door, smiling despite yourself—though the pressure's building. If he's visiting you himself, it's important, not just a battle. The penny that tips the scale. "Your August Majesty! What brings you here?" You slide the door open, framing Rordain in the doorway.
He is a tall man, strong and muscular, one of the few humans you'd trust with your life, and he's nearly got it in his hands anyhow. Rumor tells he was a baron who lost it all, then worked his way up, little by little, to oppose the government that brought him down.
Of course he shows it. He shows all of that rugged past; he has a thick dark brown beard, callused dark skin, and wears silver, but sparingly, as if knowing that it's all just an illusion. He gives gold to the vampires instead of silver. He loves gold, says it's sun's solid form, that it's a blessing.
"I think you know why I came," he says, shutting the door behind him and sitting down on your chair. The skilled game he's playing is not missed; he's forced you to cede to him. You sit on the floor, folding your legs beneath you, not meeting his eyes, to show respect. In this man's aura, one that smells of tobacco and fire's smoke and gunpowder, you feel awed.
"I don't know," you say, "sir; I didn't think it was that important."
"The battle? It's not. Chlorin, there's been a complaint. See, some of the humans were saying you're favoring the vampires—keeping them out of harm's way."
You bite your lip and resist the urge to raise your voice. "Then please tell them that it's necessary; when vampires get one hit, whether it be torso or a limb, arrow or spear or gunshot, they die. Not so with humans, sir, which I believe you know."
"But the vampires still need to fight, Chlorin."
You can't miss the repeated use of your name: Rordain is impatient with you. He may be a good leader, but it's then you realize that although this battle's not so important, according to him, it will be for you. Rordain's given you enough slack.
"But the vampires make the armor and the arrows, sir," you say. "If too many of us die, then we won't be able to make enough, and there'll be a shortage."
Rordain nodded. "I'll tell them."
You rearrange your legs. "Thank you."
He leaves; you breathe a sigh of relief, yet it's not over yet, and won't be any time soon.
The sky is painted like dancing fire, alight with oranges and crimson, as the sun fades below the horizon. The air's cool yet humid, promise of conflict hanging over your head.
You exit your room and walk down a hallway, then turn left and climb a short staircase. There you enter a large room with many ladders—perhaps a dozen in all—scattered around. You count—fourth from the left—and climb up slowly, expertly, knowing exactly where you are going. And, sure enough, you've climbed the right one. It connects to tower made of rough gray stone. You keep climbing, hand over hand, till the ladder ends. You get off.
With a grim smile you notice someone's gotten all of your things: A pad of paper, a quill, red ink. They're not needed now; your plan's already set. They're for taking notes.
For now, you wait, and it's not long before the men start to gather around the tower's base. You look out the window, craning your neck to see, making it ache and itch, but you can't see much.
There is a distant roar, then the beating of drums in a complex rhythm. There must be five or six separate drummers, probably more, some doing the same rhythms as others, most doing their own. It's a startling effect, especially on the soldiers. You can hear the sound of their voices rise in pitch and volume, and you grip your quill tightly.
And then they come, trampling down grass, waving banners and streamers galore; the sound of their bloodlusting shouts throbs through the air, shocking in its thirst. There's hate in their voices.
"Archers, fire!" you hear a vampiric commander shout. Lines of arrows sprout, like silver-tipped seeds sprouting, finding their food in the enemy troops' hearts.
Still they march on; they hold their swords high, sharpened, two- and three-bladed staves, and twist them like dancers' flags in complex patterns, like steel flowers.
"Damn," you mutter, impressed.
It's about that time that the chanting starts—the words in ancient Okaaiya, ringing from dark-skinned faces like curses, though the words promised fields of corn and sunlight and large families. They need to destroy us to get it, you think. Or they think they do.
"Fire round two of arrows!" you find yourself shouting, rising to your feet in passion. "And men—fire the rifles!"
The air explodes with the bangs of shots, and you bite your lip in surprise. Are they right below you firing? Have they actually retreated? It was the men on the front lines with the guns. Are they scared?
You have no time to think.
The armies meet, steel on iron, dark flesh versus pale, anger against desire and fear. And with nothing else to occupy your hands you watch, fascinated.
The battle has truly begun. Finally. There is nothing more to do but wait. If there is a point of no return, you've passed it hours ago.
The battle rages.