Chapter Eleven | Punish The Messenger
Dark wings beat at the air: once, twice, three times.
A bird of prey, huge for its species and the very essence of power, dipped low in the sky, swerving so low at one point that it nearly skirted the ground before another quickdart of motionsent it darting back up at the last instant and cutting high into the air. On this night, however, its keen eyes searched not for food, but for a very different sort of prey.
Thus, unblinking yellow orbs tirelessly scanned the landscape, following a trail distinctly out of the ordinary for one of its kind. Then, its eyes came to rest on a city. A village, more appropriately, tucked away into the scene of endless trees and grass but bustling with the unmistakable scent of hot, writhing human life.
Here, the bird's trail came to an end, and it swooped low again, this time around the outskirts of the town, its impeccable hearing straining to sort through the jumble in search of a specific human voice. Eventually, it came to a fluttering stop, talons outstretched and wings beating as the lethal weapons dug into solid bark, steadying the beast's landing until it could safely fold its wings, eyes already intent on the inn room window before it, eyes and ears acutely tuned in on the two figures inside.
"Come on, Drake…" The smaller of two figures whined, his body already positioned near the exit of their current shelter, arms in the air as he emphasized his complaints. "You're overworked, undersexed, uptight, and unhappy!" The bird's eyes focused on him, its own presence far too silent and unobtrusive to ever come to the notice of the currently ranting, dark-haired young man. "What are you afraid of? Actually enjoying yourself?"
The other human, still strewn out on the bed, literally radiated signs of discomfort, his mind obviously in turmoil and body registering signals so very different from what his lazy stature might suggest: arousal, frustration, guilt. The bird shifted in agitation on its current perch, talons digging into the soft wood as a higher consciousness inside struggled for release. The man on the bed had no right to feel such things towards his—bird instinct provided ideas such as mate and prey, but the being in control of the body shoved those aside—target. His property.
Seconds later, a new arrival to the branch beside him attracted his attention, and he cocked his head, his bird's eyes astute and unwavering as they summed up his companion. Eventually, he clicked his beak in a mildly disinterested greeting, feathers ruffling for a moment before the voices from inside returned.
"Fine," The youngest of the pair spoke up haughtily, his body language speaking a thousand words a minute even as he took his time with his actual speech, "but don't come looking for me when the second cot in this room stays empty tonight."
The eavesdropping fowl resisted the urge to cackle its objection, wings beating the air furiously even as it remained, for the most part, perched. The other human in the room showed similar signs of distress, nearly falling from the bed in his haste to sit up: surprise, anger, jealousy.
"You can't possibly expect to-"
"Find someone with a higher sex drive than you? Not hard." The smallest man turned from the room in a huff, closing the door tightly behind him, and the anxiously disgruntled bird of prey watched in relative silence as the still seated, redheaded mercenary waited, debated, then finally stood up from the bed, grabbing a cloak and waiting a moment before following quietly after his smaller companion unnoticed.
Simultaneously, the two waiting birds lifted from the branch, sweeping low, then veering off into the cover of trees out of sight before shifting mid-air, wings growing, talons changing, and beaks disappearing until two fully clothed men stood side by side in the woods, one of them instantly folding anxious arms across his chest.
"Change of plans," Cyprien snapped coarsely, his ebony eyes darting repeatedly back up to the empty window of the room that not so long ago contained two living beings. "We can't wait any longer."
Raspel looked curious, but unperturbed, his expression carelessly laidback to the point where, if he hadn't known the action would likely result in some rather painful form of reaction from his companion, he might have yawned. "Jealous?" he questioned without inflection, and his fellow vampire snarled.
"Of course I'm jealous, you illustrious halfwit! That ungrateful, runaway…wench is about to get himself taken for a tumbling, if not by that hideous ten-ton gorilla himself, than some other greasy, undereducated, farmyard human slum from this pathetic mortal excuse for a town. The little overzealous—he has no idea what to do with himself, and if he doesn't get himself raped and killed in the first go at it, then it certainly won't be long-"
The silver-haired immortal paused,turning at the inquiry to find Raspel with an oddly unsettling expression on his face. Just the fact that Cyprien had admitted to his jealously had startled his partner, but the flow of seething comments that followed seemed to have alerted Raspel to the possibility of something more going on than the simple loss of a prized toy.
"He is just a human, you know…"
"He is my human," the older vampire hissed, eyes gleaming red for one brief instant with possessive fury before flickering back to normal, his mood calming slightly as he ran his tongue hungrily over two lethally sharp fangs with a cruel smirk. "Or he was, and he will be again…very, very soon."
"I have a job for you, Raspel," Cyprien interrupted suddenly, his tone curiously gleeful in a way that made his rusty haired companion frown with insecurity. Before Raspel could open his mouth though, Cyprien continued. "A very…important…job."
Teige scowled, scuffing his foot irritably on the dirt path beneath his feet and sending up small clouds of dust as he went. Damn him, that man could be so irritating. Not to mention stubborn.
After the incident with the elven queen, Drake had conveniently decided to 'forget' everything that had occurred that night, most notably his obvious interest in Teige, and though it hadn't bothered him much at first, Teige now harbored a growing dislike of the fact. At the very least, the man could admit to feeling some sort of attraction to him—after he'd quite literally shoved Teige's hand to his crotch—if not admit any kind of liking for him as a person.
But no, Drake stubbornly ignored each and every attempt at conversation even mildly related to the subject, and had now taken to trying to avoid Teige altogether (a rather impressive feat when they were traveling together, but Drake's talents where ignoring people was concerned seemed to be limitless). No matter what Teige said or did in an effort to get through to him, nothing stuck.
Coming up on a bar, Teige worked to erase the frustration from his features, figuring that if Drake was so set on ignoring him, he may as well at least attempt to go through with his threat, even if he had absolutely no idea how.
Upon entering, smell instantly bombarded his senses, like a thousand toxic gasses contained in one room: beer, dirt, grease, blood, sex, and sweat. If not for the constant traffic in and out, he feltsure he would have likely choked on the smoke as well. As it was, it only filled the air at a slightly less toxic level. After his experience a few days ago, of which he still had no more than foggy memories, he had found himself noticing more, not just in terms of his sight, but smell, touch, and even taste as well.
In an effort to escape some of the main traffic and gloom, Teige slowly sidled himself off to the side, drifting back until he'd made it safely to an unobtrusive observation point where he could, if he wished, glance over and inspect most all occupants of the bar while going, for the most part, unnoticed. With eyes now capable of picking out the minutest details without much trouble even from a distance, he found his made-up game of name and identify instantly entertaining. Watching as each person entered the bar, he made guesses on their age, temperament, whether they were single or taken, and even what field of work they specialized in.
"You might want to be careful."
Teige jumped, raven curls whipping about his face as he spun towards the source of the cool, monotone voice out of nowhere. Dark, burgundy hair hung straight about an otherwise rather pallid complexion, the smallest amount of stubble dotted his square chin and unreadable, keen eyes watched him as he turned. For a moment, Teige forgot the original comment, too lost in trying to figure out first, who stood beside him, and possibly more importantly, how he'd gotten there; despite his impressive hearing, he hadn't heard the other man come up.
Shaking his head, Teige frowned, blinking in puzzlement as he struggled to decipher the situation put before him. "Careful about what?"
The man grinned, a feral look that sent Teige's heart pounding and blood rushing to his face all at the same time; for a moment, he felt sure he'd seen two gleaming, pointed fangs in the man's jaw, but then they disappeared, and when he blinked, the man looked as human as ever. "Vampire hunts."
Teige's gaze snapped up. "Excuse me?"
The man shrugged, a careless roll of his shoulders that drew the smaller man's gaze first to that broad expanse itself, then to his obviously well-muscled front, barely concealed by a half open tunic that matched the color of his hair. He reminded Teige, strangely enough, of Drake himself: broad, built, and covered in rust-red hair from his head to his stubble to the tiny patch visible on his chest through an open 'v' in the front of his tunic.
"The people around here…"
Teige caught himself staring and shot his head back up at the words; apparently, the man hadn't noticed his preoccupied glances, and he let out a quiet breath of relief.
"They're very superstitious," the unidentified man went on, "…always lookin' for someone to stab in the heart, burn at the stake. Seems they've had…vampire killings." Every time the word 'vampire' left his lips, Teige swore his mind played tricks on him as it teased him with a flash of fangs, but before he could even assure himself once, the mirage always faded. "And with you sittin' back here in a dark corner alone…pretty, pale skin, wide blue eyes…" With the last two comments, the man lifted a hand, tracing the backside of two fingers along the smooth expanse of Teige's cheek, causing him to tense and stare in mild shock. "Watchin' people." He dropped his hand and Teige blinked, their eyes locking even as the man's lips drew back into another predatory smile. "Someone'll think you're up to something…"
"I…" Teige swallowed, still flush along his neck and warm where the man's fingers had been. "But…I'm not…"
"Tut-tut, didn't say you were…" the man conceded quietly, pressing a single digit to his lips to silence any further protests before dropping his hand to Teige's wrist. "But, to be on the safe side, perhaps you might enjoy continuing this conversation outside? The night is young and beautiful…free of the pollutions of this human wasteland."
Teige blinked repeatedly, trying to focus on the man's words even as he nodded faintly, allowing himself to be led simply because he no longer felt totally confident in his ability to walk on his own. Everything felt hazy, like a peaceful, floating dream, and he didn't really register much of their movement until they stepped outside. It was like falling asleep, blinking, and realizing you'd woken somewhere completely different than when you passed out.
In that instant of waking, though, his senses came alive, bursting with clarity again as his heart soared and he glanced immediately, without thought, to the full, cloudless sky above, the waning moon a slim crescent but each star casting more than enough light to bathe the town in a silvern glow.
Unbeknownst to him, though, one other pair of eyes had watched as he'd exited the bar, hand in hand with a handsome stranger, and though Teige himself did not notice, the ever-observant dark eyes beside him instantly spotted their observer, currently cloaked from the cold of night and watching from just outside the building opposite them. An unfriendly leer twisted onto his lips, his eyes glittering with triumphant malice before he turned the corner, leading his smaller captive around the side of the building and off into the shadows.
"Do you believe in vampires, Teige?"
Teige's gaze lifted with a flicker of movement, his expression first surprised, then considerate, a small smirk curving onto his lips before he finally answered, nodding lightly as he kept track of their surroundings.
"Yes, I believe I do." They had made it out around behind the bar, the brick wall of its backside one way and nothing but forest in the other direction. Glancing up, Teige smiled again to the stars, his hand still captured within his companion's grip. "But whether I believe or not, you seem rather obsessed with them…" He turned his gaze to the larger man, his own eyes curious, but unobtrusive as they ran over the more rugged figure before him. "Trying to scare me with gruesome tails of bloodsucking beasts in the night?"
The other man chuckled, a deep, rumbling sound that reminded him of cat's purr, licking its lips perhaps as it had the canary pinned in the corner, one wing already broken and the other beneath its paw. Teige almost jumped when his back came in contact with a wall; he hadn't realized he'd been backing up, and all of a sudden, his companion looked a thousand times larger.
"Oh, vampires aren't all that scary…" He had one hand just to the right of Teige's head, and the other around the vicinity of his hip, both flat to the wall and creating a sort of man-made cage, "and certainly not gruesome…" Standing there, pinned, Teige felt every word against him, each syllable sending a single ghost of heated breath fleeting across his lips and chin. "They keep all their kills very…" The man's lips met his skin for the first time, pressing with a surprising amount of tenderness to the dip just between the base of his jaw and column of his throat, sending a fiery stem of heat to every place in his body imaginable, "…clean."
Swallowing a moan, Teige shut his eyes tight for one instant before forcing himself to stand straighter, placing a grip on each of the other's wrists and moving just enough to force the man away from his neck. When their eyes locked, he gave a quiet pant and a second swallow before speaking. "I don't believe…I ever got your name…" The man frowned ever so slightly, just a brief flicker of movement, but before he could reply, Teige continued, "and actually…I don't think you ever asked for mine either…" The vampire tensed, his body stilling as the smaller man continued. "Yet, somehow, you knew it."
After a moment, the larger man's lips curled back into a mixture between a smirk and a sneer. "You're a very smart little wench, aren't you? Though I can't really see why Cyprien is so taken with you…you should learn to keep your mouth shut while you still can."
A cold panic dropped into the pit of Teige's stomach like a stone, causing fear to well up in his consciousness even as his mind struggled to find means for escape. Not just any vampire, but Cyprien's vampire. Someone who planned to take him back, lock him up and, worst of all, keep him from Davinoff.
In one moment, he dropped his legs out from under himself, slipping down the wall into a crouch and escaping the larger vampire's pin before dashing off to the side in a wild leap for freedom. Less than a second later, the man caught him, shackling his wrist in a far more powerful grip and yanking him back roughly enough to make him screech as the treatment pulled at the joints in both his wrist and shoulder, slamming their bodies back together, his back to other's chest, and pinning him there as the man trapped his other arm and waist in a vice grip against him.
"Cyprien wants you back, little nightingale…" Raspel hissed against his neck, his voice sending a heated shiver down Teige's spine even as he cried out and struggled violently against the grip. After his outcry, his captor clamped a hand over his mouth, his grip overpowering enough to contain him with one hand and silence him with the other. "And it's my job to fetch you. So you just calm down, quit struggling…and I promise I won't bite too hard."
Teige's eyes flew open impossibly wide before shutting tight as the immortal's grip muffled his scream. In a desperate attempt to rid himself of the other's detainment, his heart near choking him in his throat as he felt teeth grazing his exposed neck, he stomped down, hitting first the roof of the man's foot, then apparently somewhere in his shin as he kicked backwards.
Although not totally effective, it startled the man enough to loosen his grip to the point where, with enough struggling, Teige broke free. But, the stunned state was short lived, and in the half a second it took Raspel to regain his bearings, Teige had already determined that he could not overpower, outsmart, or outrun the man as quickly as he'd need to in order to successfully escape, and so, instead of running, he turned in a whirl to face his oppressor.
Under any normal circumstances, Teige's weight alone would never have been enough to get the other man on the ground, but in his still semi-startled state, a head on collision was the last thing he expected, and more than sufficient to get him down. So, straddled atop a vampire twice his size, ten times his strength and several centuries older than him, Teige bared his fangs for the first time he remembered clearly, and sank them deep in the other man's neck.
At first, he thought the man might throw him, his hands gripping tightly to his forearms in a vice grip that made him want to cry out in pain, feeling like his bones might fracture under the sheer pressure, but he refused to back off. To his credit, the man's blood tasted like a wild nectar, pulsing with life and adrenaline that made Teige's body soar with an almost invincible confidence, telling tales of endless forests—pines, oaks, maples—and the howl of wolves in the trees on a night with a full moon.
Then, the nature of the man's reactions changed. As Teige drank, the vampire's vice hold grew progressively weaker—lightening up to a simple hold, and then changing to almost a cling before sliding down from Teige's arms to his hips—and there, his mouth fell open, a low, husky groan spilling out and nearly startling Teige enough to make him withdraw. But he caught himself in time, making himself stay even as the vampire clung to him, sliding his touch up, just enough under Teige's clothes to brush along his skin.
Forcing himself to ignore the growing arousal pressing at him from underneath as the vampire ground their hips together, Teige kept at his work, only realizing just then how very unsure he was as to how long he could drink, or how much the man could stand to lose. When he felt the other's heartbeat gradually begin to slow, he began to get an idea.
Keeping track of the immortal's heartbeat, he slowed his own pace ever so slightly until finally, he felt the vampire's soft moan of consent, his eyes fluttering with the effort to stay open even as his lips worked in an attempt to form words. When Teige did finally back off, the man's grip had fallen from his hips to his thighs, so lax, they had almost no handle at all, simply laying there as he barely had the strength to roll his head from side to side.
"I think…" he mumbled in a voice so quiet, even Teige from his distance of less than six inches could barely hear, "I'll amend my previous statement. I might have some idea why Cyprien is so smitten with you…" With that, his eyes fell shut, his breath falling into a slow, but steady pattern of sleep as Teige ran his tongue once more over the two small incisions at the vampire's neck, catching the last remnants of crimson liquid present and sealing the punctures.
"Little late to start appreciating my positive qualities, isn't it?" Teige muttered as he stood, running a finger along his lower lip and frowning as it came back stained red. "Don't think I'll be returning to sleep with Davinoff tonight…" Heading back to the town, he lingered along the outskirts before arriving at the horse barn just to the side of their inn. There, he gave a brief glance to the water trough, examining its smooth surface for his moonlit reflection and grimacing at the sight he made. "Well there's a sight you don't see every day…a vampire straight from the storyteller's mouth…in all its gruesome glory. 'Clean' my ass."
Kneeling beside the trough, he assured himself that the innkeeper must have replaced the horses' water for the night. It looked clean enough, and the idea of splashing horse slobber over his face made him want to grimace. Since he had few other options, though, he pushed away any thoughts of its contamination and made quick work of cupping out several handfuls of the cool liquid, splashing just enough on his face to remove the bloodstains.
Once satisfied, he dried as best he could manage with his shirt, and attempted to run his fingers through his hair, but gave up on the first try. Finding the barn locked but a large, unblocked window wide open, he scrambled with reasonable ease up several half-empty barrels of oats and onto a haystack in the barn. Inside, he found an abandoned stall, thanked heaven it was clean, and curled up against a loose pile of gathered hay where he fell asleep for the night, not worried in the least who found him there in the morning.