THE SHELBY CHRONICLES
BOOK 1: ASHES TO ASHES
By Shane Lutz
She woke up to darkness.
Shelby blinked, her vision blurry. What had happened? She remembered the Vetala lunging at her but after that it was a maelstrom of reality and illusion. There was the pain, of course. She could never forget the unbearable pain that seared her veins. But, strangely, it was gone now. Actually, she couldn't feel anything.
Attempting to move, Shelby tried to twist and move her body with no success. She remained stationary, and any minute movement was undetectable in the absolute black that shifted and swirled around her like an impenetrable shadow.
"Save your energy," a raspy voice said monotonously from the other side of the room.
Instinctively, Shelby tried to turn her head to see what has spoken, but with no avail. So she could see, hear, and smell. Her feeling from the neck down was absolutely numb, but not her head. As a matter of fact, she could feel a dusty yet comfortable pillow behind her head, cushioning its bruised state. So she had all those senses, but could she speak?
Better yet, could she scream?
"Who are you?" Shelby hissed. She felt a quiver in her voice and cleared her throat. She thought about what she just said and figured the better question would've been "what are you."
"I have waited here for a long time, Daughter of the Snake," the thing said, sorrowful and distant.
So it knew she was part of the Brotherhood of the Snake. That was not good. This creature was obviously not a Vetala. Was it some other kind of creature that could sift through the mind of its victims? Affect both their mental and physical state? Could it even control her?
"I thought you would never come for me," the thing continued. "I thought you had forgotten one whom one of your leaders had almost killed."
Shelby furrowed her brow. "Which leader?" She hadn't meant for that to slip out. She was a master of all areas of fighting and warfare – mental and physical – but her greatest flaw was curiosity. She just had to know.
"Two of your Tribunal members," it said, flat and emotionless. "Hunahpu and Xbalanque."
Shelby felt her breath catch in her throat. The edges of her vision went fuzzy and she wondered if she heard him right. It wasn't possible. If what he said was true about the Hero Twins attempting to kill him, then she knew exactly who the creature was that she was a captive of.
With trembling words, Shelby said, "That means you are…"
"Camazotz: God of Vampires."
Shelby Sparks did not know fear well.
Sure she had traveled to the edges of the world and several realms, ventured through the barriers of time on rare occasions, and had even visited Mt. Olympus, one of the ancient dwelling places of the Golden Bloods – the gods.
She had fought vampires, were-creatures, giants, mutants, and a menagerie of other creatures. She had faced down alchemists, magicians, sorceresses, necromancers, warlocks, strigas, and enchantresses and even destroyed an entire coven of witches.
But this was a god.
And not just any god. A very, very old Golden Blood, one of the oldest Ichor. If that wasn't enough, he – or it, she wasn't quite sure – was a god of death, blood, and murder. In ancient Mayan mythology, the God of Vampires was portrayed as holding a sacrificial dagger in one hand and his intended victim in the other.
Shelby has battled a many demigods – the children of a god and a human – and a handful of minor gods – lesser Golden Bloods, but still powerful nonetheless – and has barely escaped with her life. She had battled one god, and it wasn't even in full form, just a detached soul. Then she was almost killed. That was before Athena had pulled her in to mentor her. That was her old life. Her old life that she had tried with every ounce of power to forget. She could never – and prayed to the gods that she would never – face her old master again…
Camazotz moved forward, and Shelby finally got a good view of him.
She had heard rumors and stories, but none compared to the raw grotesque yet undead lithe that this creature obtained. For the most part, the bad god resembled the Vetala that were his servants. But instead of the gray skin clutching tightly to bones, thin, sinewy muscles – invisible to the untrained eye – clutched the aged skeleton of the Golden Blood, giving him a less emaciated look. But the gray skin still remained, and so did the gaunt and thin form of him. Three long claws grew from halfway down his foot, which was connected to inverted legs that were made for speed and agility, unlike the Vetala's normal, ungainly limbs. His arms were huge, with enormous, leathery wings connected to them that were almost identical to the vampires' she had fought with not too long ago. All-in-all, he was practically indistinguishable from the Vetala.
But his face was different.
The tight structure of the head was the same: protruding bones, taut skin stretched across the face, deep, socket eyes, and no lips. Just long, slim teeth yellows and deathly sharp. Shelby could see a tongue the color of an old bruise move idly behind the fangs, and shivered. His eyes were a startling yellow that glowed in the almost absolute darkness with slit-pupils, like a cat's. But, on the top of his head, Shelby saw the undeniable characteristic that marked him as the bat god. Giant ears that were exactly the same as a bat's stuck upward at the top of his head, twitching at every single sound.
This was Camazotz.
But why had this unimaginably powerful god left her alive? She squirmed, trying to move, the numbness relentless.
The God of Vampires moved back into the shadows, uncomfortably moving just behind Shelby's head, sitting on a chair identical to the Victorian loveseat she laid on.
"Do not waste your energy, Daughter of the Snake," Camazotz said tiredly, sighing. "It will do you no good."
Shelby tried to speak, but her throat burned and her mouth was dry. She licked her lips and tried again. "What have you done to me?"
He let out another exhausted breath. "The vampiric venom my children injected into your blood was making the pain unbearable. I used a simple trick to numb as much of the pain as I could. I left your mind clear of the soothing effect, so you would not drown in your own isolation. Do not worry, I will release you shortly."
Shelby suddenly remembered the insufferable burning that coursed through her. That must've been the vampire venom from the Vetala. But wait: even though she couldn't feel the poison, did that mean she was cured…?
As if reading her thoughts the bat god said, "You are still afflicted by the undead's curse. You are not yet one of them, but soon you will be…"
The two remained silent for a while. Shelby actually – strangely – felt sorry for the creature. He sounded so tired of….life. Like his entire existence had been strife, just waiting for the right person to come along and gut him. But why had he – if for even the moment – saved her? Why would he numb the pain of a none-escapable curse? If he really wanted to help her, he would kill her.
"Why did you save me?" She finally managed.
At first Camazotz did not answer, but sat quietly. She heard his large wings drag across the dusty floor as he shifted, and then, suddenly, he was in front of her, dangerously close to her face.
"I have waited millennia, planned in absolute secret," he said quickly, his words coming out in a rush. "I have lived a long and tiring life. Immortality is not a boon, my dear, it is a curse. Remember that.
"Many I have called to my abode, and all have failed. So I had to search for a new…champion." Shelby shuddered at the word. "And I chose you. You are the only one who can save me now. If you fail, then I am doomed."
"What do you want me to do?" It came out a whisper, a barely audible sound. But Shelby saw the twitch of his giant, translucent ears, focusing in on her words.
"I can save you. Daughter of the Snake, I can save your life and make you human again. But I must ask for something in return. A token of gratitude I suspect you will be all-too-gracious to give to me."
Shelby waited in silence, holding her breath, waiting for his answer. And then finally his trembling words came.
"I want you to kill me."
"Wha-…What?" She finally managed.
Camazotz rose from his chair, walking through the light and again revealing himself to her. Something cold slithered down Shelby's spine at the sight of the leathery and emaciated beast. No matter what, she would not get use to seeing him.
"I have lived for so long, and with so little," he explained. "I was once feared and honored; worshipped and given sacrifices. But not anymore. The humani that now rule this earth have forgotten the old ways – and perhaps that is for the best. But nonetheless, I no longer take revelry in the hunt I not so long ago delved in. The raw emotions I would gain from the thick, dark blood of those I feasted upon no longer seeps into my soul. I have become as numb as you are now."
"So you want me to kill you?" As surprising as it was, she could understand the bat god. His life was no longer filled with life and feeling; only darkness and emptiness. Which, for even a vampire, was a dark void best avoided.
"Yes, Daughter of the Snake, that is what I ask of you. And, in return, I will heal you. I will extract the venom from your blood and return your mortality to you…before it's too late."
The sat in silence for a few moments, pondering. There was a thump downstairs, and Shelby wondered if any more Vetala walked the abandoned mansion. What other creatures lay under the control of the God of Vampires?
"You planned this, didn't you?" She finally murmured. "All of it. The mission, the Vetala, the bite, everything."
There was silence from the Golden Blood, but finally he answered her. "Yes. It was the only way. I knew your so called Tribunal would send their best – you – and that if you were bitten by one of my children that you would kill me in return for a cure."
"But how did you get the Brotherhood to create the quest?"
There was a choking, hissing sound, and then Shelby realized the ancient vampire was laughing.
"Old grudges die slowly. Ancient death-threats must be honored. The Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who once, long ago, almost killed me, would not pass up the opportunity to see the end of my days. Once they found out I was still alive, millennia ago, they have not rested in my search. No doubt the suspected I was here when the Vetala were reported and sent you. If you survived, then they would've believed it was simply a rogue clan of vampires, but if you, their finest warrior, was killed, then they would've known it was I."
"Sounds like a lot of work just to get someone to kill you," Shelby muttered.
"A vampire cannot kill itself, as you surely know," he said flatly. "That is a price we must pay. And do believe me when I tell you, it is a price, not a gift."
"The recurring motif of the story," she huffed, her usual bitter, sarcastic attitude returning. It was hard to be afraid of a primeval monster when they were basically willing to let you cut them open without a fight.
"So answer me this," Camazotz whispered, his voice a hissing tremble. "Will you slay a monster that has lived for far too long in hollow emptiness?"
She swallowed. The god would cure her first, and afterwards she would have to kill him. Could she do it? Could she pitilessly plunge her gleaming sai into a creature that was no longer evil, just sorrowful? And why was he so eager to die? Was their more to the story? Had the God of Vampires lived alone for all his life, or had he a mate? A lover who had died far before her time, and was now waiting for her undead Camazotz on the other side. It was difficult for Shelby to imagine the bat god in love with anyone, and vice versa, but it was even harder to see anyone living forever alone.
Camazotz moved forward and rested his hands on her, one on her neck and the other on her stomach. She felt a rushing feeling, and the numbness slowly seeped away. But instead of the rushing burning she had expected, there came the natural pain of being mortal. No longer did she feel the searing of her blood, flesh, and soul. The venom was gone, extracted by a god who knew pain all-too-well.
Shelby sat up slowly, pushing her legs onto the floor, steadying herself. She bent low, picking up her sais. The crimson ruby twinkled in the shafts of moonlight that shone through a shattered window. The gem looked like a bloody tear, caught in the cold blue stone from a time when myths and legends ruled the earth and magic was everyday life. Shelby suddenly thought that she would give anything to return the modern world of strife, war, and anger back to that ancient time. It wasn't absolute peace, but it was better than a bleakness that shrouded the minds of every living being.
Tightening her grip over her powerful dagger, she thought of Camazotz question. All this time, in the back of her mind, she knew exactly what her answer would be.
Shelby Sparks sat on the ancient hill that she had accepted the mission on. The sun had broken over the horizon as she had trudged up its green slope, her powerful master and beloved guide Athena had stood watching the morning come. But she was alone now, staring out at the sunrise.
It seemed darker now. The great ethereal ball of life entering the world and bathing it with its light didn't seem as promising as it once did. It was the expedition she had, only a few hours before, returned from that had changed things for her.
She had fought with infinite reserve, strength, and cold emotions. You couldn't feel for your target, because the moment you did, you became the prey. But something about the bat god – and killing him – kept nagging at the back of her mind.
She knew that many gods and immortal beings, while being immortal, could be killed. But, even stranger, they could die. Primordial Golden Bloods who had existed from the beginning of time could simply cease to exist. They could – and often did - lose the will to live, and they faded away, slowly and effortlessly. The just died away, leaving little trace of their existence. Gods could wither away if they had nothing left to live for. They became mortal.
But why had Camazotz not died then?
He obviously lost the will to live. Could it have been that the unimaginable sorrow and pain he felt was even greater of a life force then any happiness that was granted? He wanted to die but he couldn't go out like a flickering flame. There was too much anguish within him for that. The God of Vampires was, in his darkest hour, the most human he had probably ever been.
It wasn't just this that really got under Shelby's skin. She thought of the vampire god's background. He was raised from his birth to be something. He was crafted to be a monster against his will. He couldn't fight it. It was simply who he was destined to be. And he paid the price of dying alone for it.
And Shelby saw a pattern between herself and the immortal.
Would she suffer the same fate as he? She was made into a warrior since she was born. She never knew her parents. She never knew a life without violence. She didn't have a choice either. The only difference was that she was granted the blessing of being able to die and not slowly turn gray and wither into dust, caught in the wind. Was that it, then? Was she cursed to be blackened ashes, scorched by a life molded by blood and tears? Was she doomed to cry cinders from her soul like few before her?
As Shelby watched the sunrise, a foreboding tear slid down her cheek as she cried for what could've been and what never would be.