Jennifer sat cross-legged on her bed, her homework laid out before her in neat piles. Her long blonde hair was tucked behind her ears in a messy, manic sort of way- it kept it out of her eyes, though. Those fierce hazel eyes rapidly scanned the pages of her Calc textbook as her slender hands etched away at her loose-leaf. Numbers and equations appeared rapidly as she worked- she may not have enjoyed it, but she was damned good at math when she focused. Full lips mouthed the numbers while she scratched and calculated, until her eyes snapped closed and she dropped the pencil. All of her problems were done neatly, lined up symmetrically and showing no signs of her frantic writing. She closed her book with a sigh and stood, making her way over to her oak dresser.
She was tired, tired of doing homework and tired of the monotony of her school life. There was nothing she wanted more than to crawl under the cover and wake up somewhere fantastic, fighting a war or hunting for lost treasure. She opened the drawer to remover he sleeping clothes when she paused, her eyes widening.
There, resting atop her pajama pants and t-shirts, was a slightly tarnished silver revolver. She ran her fingertips along the cold weapon, her mind filling with images- Here, the black haired zombie; the fiery red manes of the wolfen lovers; a dark city filled with an oppressive mist...
She shook her head and picked up the gun, practically caressing it as she relished the memories it brought back.
Jared had helped her save her father from the Occularis Infinite, a cult dedicated to gaining omniscient power. The older man had nearly died at their hands, and probably would have if not for the intervention of the undead man. Her father, fearing for their safety, moved them far away from their old home. Jared had not followed; he had obligations in Penumbra, and though it pained them to part they knew they must. She still dreamed of him, in the darkness of the night, in the shadows of her mind.
As she lay down on her warm bed, her last waking thoughts were of Jared' silver eyes gleaming in the darkness, a comfort to her lonely mind.
Jennifer burst through the front door, singing gaily, excited to have the house to herself for a few hours. She dropped her backpack by the door and moved toward the living room, preparing to set up a movie on their large flatscreen. She stopped in her tracks, her song dying on her lips as her eyes took in the scene.
Two black-haired people lay entwined on her couch, their heads together as they whispered and giggled nearly sub-audibly, their green eyes burning with desire. Jennifer cleared her throat nervously and they started.
"Jennifer, my dear, it's been far too long!"
The woman raised herself from the couch and moved to hug the young girl, smiling radiantly as she approached. Her hug was like steel as she wrapped her arms around Jennifer's slender frame. Jennifer could feel her body responding to the woman's presence in rather unpleasant ways- Celeste was her name, and she was far more akin to a succubus than the wolfen she truly was.
As Celeste pulled away, Jennifer's eyes caught the sight of the man behind her, Eric, shrugging apologetically.
"You look great! Let me turn you, there's a dove... You've aged well. Not as well as I, of course, but that doesn't matter."
The bubbly wolfen sobered and her beautiful face took on a somber scowl.
"We're here on important business, as I'm sure you've gathered. Sten is back, Jen, and we have to stop him. He's a creature of the night now, infinitely more powerful than he was in life. His gift of magic is stronger, and now he's nigh impossible to destroy. We need you. He's going to come for your family, Jennifer. We have to stop him."
Jennifer felt her legs give way beneath her. Sten? Back?
Sten was the leader of the Occularis Infinite, a human sorcerer with plenty of power behind him. Her and her father had barely escaped with their lives during their last encounter with the mad man, what powers had becoming undead given him?
The blonde girl sat shaking on the floor, her hazel eyes unfocused as the shock gripped her. Celeste looked back to her lover and scoffed.
"Five bucks, Eric, did I not call it?"
The black-haired man scowled playfully and tossed her a crisp bank note. After catching it deftly Celeste knelt down, keeping her green eyes leveled with Jennifer's.
"Jennifer, snap out of it. We have work to do."
She slapped the quaking girl. A nice, thick snap echoed throughout the living room. Jennifer came back to herself, shaking her head as if to clear it.
"What's the plan? What do we do? Hell, is there even anything we CAN do, Celeste?"
The wolfen nodded, a smile playing across her flawless features.
"Of course there is. We go for a drive."
The battered Volkswagon rattled as they drove along the smooth, empty highway. Jennifer could not take her eyes off of the road; theirs was the only car out and about. The girl knew her town, and this was not the norm. Celeste and Eric sat up front, singing as the radio blasted Type O Negative as loud as it possibly could. She had missed them. Though Jennifer had no idea where they were going, she trusted her wolfen companions. Something in her heart was tugging tightly. She could not tell if it was fear, anxiety, or hope.
They drove for days, stopping only for nourishment and for Jennifer's biological needs. The longer they traveled down the highway, the foggier it grew. Heavy clouds hung in the sky, dark and tumultuous, hovering oppressively above the car as the miles added up. On the second evening Jennifer drifted to sleep, her final waking thoughts of the silver revolver in her bag.
When her hazel eyes opened she found herself in the extensive graveyard of an ancient city. Gothic angels stared down at her, weeping tears of rust as they kept their silent vigil. Celeste was sitting cross-legged upon the hood of the car as Eric dug, shirtless, covered in damp earth. Jennifer climbed out of the car and stretched, drinking in the sight of the mist-covered town.
She knelt down to glance at the headstone of the plot her friend was excavating, and immediately wished she hadn't.
"JARED? No, no, why... How? How did he die? He was fine the last time I saw him! Celeste, what is going on?"
"Hush, child," Celeste cooed as she glided over to the frantic human, "Jared needed his rest. When a... well, an undead being needs restorative rest, they crawl into their grave and sleep beneath the soil. Every denizen of Penumbra has a plot here."
She waved her polished nails across the landscape and Jennifer's eyes followed, widening at the seemingly endless sea of statues and headstones littering the dark green earth.
"Oh, I... I didn't know, I'm sorry..."
Celeste patted her arm and reclaimed her seat.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, love, you didn't know."
Eric emerged from the deep hole he had dug, tossing his shovel aside as he heaved the limp body of their friend from the soil.
"Celeste, open the door for me will you?"
The woman moved quickly, opening the door so Eric could deposit the sleeping Jared across the back seat. Once he was in the black-haired man leaned back and stretched, sending a series of pops sounding from his spine.
"Jennifer, go ahead and climb in beside him. We have to get him back to the apartment and clean him up. No one likes waking up covered in mud and maggots."
As Jennifer entered the car once more, she could in fact see the tiny grubs wriggling their way across his face. She covered her mouth to keep from losing her lunch.
'Oh Jared, you poor thing...'
Jennifer opened the door to Adariel's apartment and moved out of the way as Eric carried Jared across the threshold. Celeste brought up the rear and closed the door behind her, clicking the lock into place. The building was run down, the wallpaper shredded and peeling from the walls, flecks of drywall scattered across the floor. Everything in the apartment seemed aged and worn, from the furniture to the very air itself.
Celeste held a finger to her lips as Jennifer opened her mouth to protest.
"Don't wake Adariel. He's a bit of a grump. Wait out here, will you? We need to wash him off and dress him. It won't take but a minute, Jen. Have a seat."
Jennifer sat down in a large plush armchair, sending a cloud of dust jetting up into the air. She coughed and waved her hand, trying to clear the stinging cloud to no avail. It faded on its own, but she had already moved before it had the time.
Twenty minutes later the red-haired duo had returned, their clothes slightly damp but otherwise just as perfect as they had been before. Jennifer rose, an expectant look on her face, a question on her lips.
"Yes, you can go see him. He's in the guest bedroom. Let us know when you're done, and we'll come wake him up. You don't want to be in there for that... It isn't pretty."
Eric nodded his head towards a closed door to his left. Jennifer entered, closing the heavy door behind her. Jared was laid out across the bed, his arms folded across his chest. He was dressed in a light black t-shirt and loose jeans, with his shoulder-length black hair combed and washed, resting behind his skull like a corona of darkness. She had forgotten how pale he was...
She placed her bag upon the bed and pulled a chair up beside it, her eyes never leaving Jared's peaceful face. Warm tears brimmed at the corners of her eyes as she watched him, still as the grave. That wasn't unusual, she knew, what with him being dead. It didn't make it any easier, though. She laid her head down on the comforter, crying softly.
Blood on the snow. Jared was hungry. He could smell fear, salty on the breeze. He moved toward the scent, silver eyes burning with glee. It had been years since he had eaten...
Nearer now. He could see spun gold flying in the wind. Jennifer? He longed for her.
He longed for her flesh grinding beneath his canines.
No. No Jared. Not Jennifer.
Within reach now.
Not Jennifer. Cowering prey. Fair game. They weep, weeping makes them more delicious.
Jennifer screamed as Jared's gleaming fangs closed on her neck. Hot blood ran down the nape of her neck and she struggled against his grip, reaching for her leather satchel. She grasped its handle and tugged, spilling its contents across the wooden floor. With all her might she swung it, colliding it with Jared's skull and sending him reeling. He loosed his grip and prepared to lunge at her again, but her fingers closed on the revolver laying on the floor and she pulled the trigger, sending a bullet plunging through his bicep.
The door slammed open and Eric burst in, a shovel in his hand.
The wolfen's voice echoed through the room, a cacophonous sound filled with power and presence. Jared halted and shook his head. He looked down at his arm, at the hole still smoking through his muscle, and at the bleeding Jennifer.
"Jennifer... How could you? Eric, you KNOW better! Why did you let her in unsupervised?"
"We thought you'd sleep longer, it seemed safe..."
"I could have killed her! She could be infected! Quickly, get her to Celeste, she needs to be cleaned and stitched. I can't BELIEVE you! Get out, and take the human with you! NOW, ERIC!"
Eric bowed and scooped Jennifer up in his muscular arms. He carried the girl out and closed the door behind him, being careful so as not to jostle her. Blood poured though her clasped hand and she struggled to breath, her eyes full of pain, emotionally wounded from the attack. How could he, her eyes seemed to ask, how could he attack me?
Celeste came running, a small medical kit tucked between her arm.
"Eric, lay her on the table and find me a brace, quickly! There should be some in the hall closet!"
As Eric rushed off she opened her box and took out peroxide, gauze, and a small surgical sewing kit.
"Shhh, hush, Jennifer, you're going to be alright."
She poured the peroxide on the gash and Jennifer whimpered as the cleansing liquid bubbled and frothed. Celeste wiped it away with a wet-wipe and opened a small cut on her wrist with her fangs.
"Don't be scared, sweetie, you'll be alright, I'm not turning you."
As her cold blood made contact with Jennifer's fair skin, the wound began to smoke and close itself. She helped it along with the needle, stitching the ends closed as her blood worked its magic. It would leave an ugly scar, but Jennifer would live. She could hear the crashing and shattering of glass as she wiped the blood from Jennifer's shoulders. Jared was gone.
Jennifer awoke some time later, sore and stiff from laying on the table. There was a small brace around her neck, to prevent her stitches from tearing. She was groggy, but she could remember the attack. The fury on Jared's face stayed with her, and she felt awful. All she wanted was to be close to her friend; she had missed him so strongly over the past two years that she had broken down on seeing him. She should have known, she should have waited...
The young woman's blonde hair was stained red at the tips, but she did not care. All that mattered to her was finding Jared, to apologize, to make sure he's okay. She tracked down Eric, lounging in a chair and reading a very ragged Lovecraft collection.
"Jared? Probably on the roof. He usually goes up there to pout. Jennifer?"
"Promise me that you'll be careful. He didn't mean to hurt you, but... He might still be angry. Keep your gun nearby, to be safe."
She nodded, patting a bulge in the pocket of her jacket. He nodded back and returned to his book. Jennifer excused herself and exited the apartment, searching for the roof access. She found it at the top of a long staircase, an iron door normally held shut by a thick metal chain that lay shattered upon the hard linoleum floor. Jennifer pushed the door open and stepped into the frigid autumn air.
Fresh desiccated animal corpses were scattered across the cement rooftop, ripped to shreds by powerful jaws. Blood stained the ground and the metal cooling units, leaving a thick coppery smell hanging over the area. Jennifer stepped over them carefully so as not to slip or get dirt on her friend's meal. She found Jared easily, sitting with his legs dangling over the lip of the building. The bright lights of the city were reflected in his mirror-like silver eyes. As his hair fluttered in the breeze, she felt a wave of longing crash over her. He was beautiful. He did not turn as she took a seat beside him, tucking her bright golden locks behind her ear as she shared his gaze across the city. She could feel his anger.
"Why are you here?"
"Celeste and Eric said that Sten was back. I came to stop him, with your guys' help. I don't-"
"No, Jennifer. Why are you here, on the rooftop?"
She shuffled her feet and fought to keep her voice even.
"I was worried about you, Jared, I wanted to come find you. I didn't want you to hurt yourself, or anything..."
Jared snorted with derision and turned his head toward her. There was blood caked on his lips and chin.
"Jennifer, You could be infected. I might have ruined your life."
Jennifer shook her head and smiled weakly.
"I would have turned by now, Jared, it's been hours. I'm fine. I'll have a scar, but I'll leave. There's nothing to be afraid of, I promise."
She reached for his hand, and took it in her own. It was cold. He met her gaze and they sat in silence, drinking in the sounds of the dead city beneath them.
"You know, Jennifer, you may be the first human here in hundreds of years. I'm surprised they can't sense you."
"Maybe they don't want to wake Adariel," she said with a smile. Jared laughed and wrapped an arm around her.
"Listen, Jennifer... I can't bear the thought of anything happening to you. I... I care about you, deeply, and the knowledge that I could of killed you... I feel so terrible. You're alive, and you're okay, and that makes it slightly easier, but what if you had bled out? What if you had turned? How could I exist with myself, knowing that I had done that to you?"
He laid his head on her shoulder and sobbed, tiny tracks of blood carving a path down his face. Jennifer held him as he sobbed, letting him vent all his sorrow and self-loathing as she rocked him back and forth. He was tough, yes, but Jared was very emotional. It hurt her to see him so distraught.
"Jared... It's alright. No harm was done. I'm alright. It's okay. Hey, look at me."
She lifted his chin, bringing his eyes to hers and smiling down at him.
"Even if I had turned, I would never think less of you. I wasn't thinking. Please. Everything's safe now."
He stared into her hazel eyes, feeling the horror fade in her arms. He ran a hand through her silky hair and pulled her close, meet her warm lips with his.
It had been five hundred years since he had kissed anyone, and as warmth flooded his cold corpse he felt a joy long since lost to him. Jennifer kissed back deeply, sparkling tears dropping from her eyes as she reveled in Jared' embrace. The air seemed to grow warmer around them, flooding them with feeling. She knew then that she loved him, dead or not, and that she never wanted to be without him again.
Their romantic moment was cut short as a loud crack sliced through the air. Jared pulled away, his jaw falling agape as his eyes scanned the dark night sky. Jennifer followed his gaze and screamed.
Churning between the clouds was a deep violet portal, its center swirling as jagged trails broke off to cross the sky. Large balls of flame began to rain from the strange grate, crashing into the castle-like buildings of Penumbra. Fire erupted on the streets and the sounds of the citizens screaming roared up from below. Jared grabbed Jennifer's hand and began tugging her away from the edge.
"We have to get inside, Jennifer, come on!"
A large ball of fire dropped onto the tower, rocking the building with the force of the impact. Flames licked at the pair as the raced toward the door, slamming it closed behind them. The air was hot inside, very hot. The wallpaper was blackening around the edges.
"What about Eric and Celeste? Jared, we have to go get them! They don't know what's going on!"
"The hell we don't, Jen! Go with Jared, we have to get Adariel out! We'll meet you in the sewers, just go!"
Jared smirked at Jennifer and began tugging her down the stairs.
"You heard the woman, Jennifer. Let's get the hell out of here!"
The flames began to engulf the building as they traveled, and Jennifer struggled to breath as they dodged the pulsing, unnatural fire. Jennifer felt her skin blistering from the intense heat, but she knew she musn't scream. Finally she could see it, the grate access that led to the sewer systems running beneath Penumbra. Jared let go of her hand and dove, crashing through the ground and opening a hole wide enough for them to fit through.
She did, taking a running leap and curling her knees to her chest. She landed on Jared, laying down to break her fall. The sewers smelled of burning flesh and musty air. Jennifer helped the corpse to his feet and let him lead her through the labyrinthine passages. When they finally stopped she scooped the clear, fresh water to her mouth and drank deeply, feeling it cool her burning throat.
"We'll be safe here, Jen. The others will find us."
"I sure hope so, I worry th-"
"Jennifer! I know you're hiding in the city! I have a friend I'd like you to meet, child, say hello to Sot-Amenthotep!"
As Sten's deep baritone rolled across the heavens, it was met with a deep, cacophonous laugh.
"He's eager to meet you."
Jared began shaking.
"Jen...Jennifer... He... He's summoned a god."