Blood Cursed is the second book in Cursed series. The first book, God Cursed, is available on my blog and through my fictionpress account.
Daniel Travere floated in the universe. The first person to ever do so. His body warmed at the thought, or maybe that was from a passing sun.
He would be able to tell if only he could open his eyes. If he did, he would see the galaxies spinning around him, great bodies of purple and red and green haze that his god Le Savant had described. If only Daniel could move his fingers, he could touch the stars themselves.
Daniel was the centre of the universe. Everything revolved around him.
His father would be so proud for once.
But his father was far away, so very far away. On a planet in a galaxy, eons and eons away from where Daniel floated.
This must be how the gods felt.
Who? Who was this Travere? There was no one else around. His eyebrows scrunched.
Oh, the voice spoke to him. He was Travere, not the consciousness of the gods. No one ever called him Travere.
Where did the voice come from? Only vast empty galaxies surrounded him. Stars upon stars burning upon lonely planets. No one to look up at them. How terribly alone they must all feel.
But Daniel was there. Daniel was only an arm's length away. He would keep them company. That was what Daniel was. Strip him to his very core, floating in the middle of the cosmos, and that was what Daniel was — everyone's friend. Everyone in the entire universe, whether it was student or tree or planet sailing through the skies…
But who was that voice? Daniel knew the voice, yet didn't. A name wouldn't appear in his mind. Every proper thing had a name. Otherwise, how could Daniel, friend of the universe, befriend it too?
Did a spell hide the voice? He couldn't feel Le Savant's power, as familiar to him as his mother's handmade quilt. Only Le Savant's power could cast spells. The sorcerers only could because of his benevolence.
Had a spell been cast on Daniel? Was this — the universe swirling around him — not real? But this was exactly as Le Savant had described in the treatises his father had forced him to memorise. Nor did it feel like Le Savant's power either — but something else. Something dark. If only he could open his eyes!
Daniel's body convulsed. He screamed.
The stars whispered to Daniel. They were real. He could hear them. They protected him from what hid in the blackness.
The voice wasn't Daniel's friend.
Forget? Forget what? Everything? Daniel didn't know a lot, as his grades demonstrated, but he would rather not forget the feel of stars trailing through his fingers. The vast openness… the vast bleakness of a hundred billion forlorn planets revolving around a hundred billion forlorn stars.
If only his fingers would move.
"Find the silver thread winding through your memories."
Daniel could see it. Not with his eyes. He couldn't open them. But clear as sunlight on a summer's day — ha, that's what Ambrose looked like. Ah Ambrose, would Ambrose miss his friend now that Daniel rotated at the centre of the universe?
"Focus on the thread."
If Daniel could have even twitched his fingers, they would have taken that silver thread, moonlight made real, and wrapped himself in it. No, not moonlight. That wasn't right. That wasn't the image.
An ice storm ravaging all around him, contained in a single thread.
"Throw the thread away."
At the voice's command, Daniel's thoughts thrust out. The silver thread drifted away.
No, he mustn't lose it! That thread was so very, very important. There was a reason. A specific reason. Memories, precious memories — he couldn't…
But why would that be a bad idea? It was just a thread. He couldn't remember. His hands wouldn't move to grasp the thread, to keep it from leaving. It was just as well. The voice had told him to do it. He should obey the voice.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
There was something in the universe. A shadow that wasn't a shadow. It was the voice but wasn't. The universe was empty and yet not, for the voice was there, and this shadow.
"You're not listening, Travere. Discard the thread."
Daniel was listening! That sound was blood dripping. It painted all the moons red. A Hunter's Moon, signalling the time for the vampire hunts — wars to be waged across all of the known world.
Blood, that forbidden fruit. So forbidden it shouldn't even have a name.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The more Daniel's thoughts stayed on the shadow, the closer it came. Daniel couldn't see it — it stayed hidden behind his eyelids, more so than all the stars in the universe. Blood dripped from its fingers despite the fact, like the voice, it had no proper form.
Daniel was scared. He wished it wouldn't come.
He smelled flesh rotting. He smelled corpses left on the battlefield to rot away, the victors long since gone or dead as well.
No one cared for the dead. No one loved Death. It was left all alone.
Daniel heard screaming. He heard the sound of bone-chilling fear. The nightmare made real.
The presence surrounded the voice. Daniel tried to call out, but his lips wouldn't move. That was so very, very bad. Daniel must stop it. He must remember.
"Burn the thread. Burn your memories of me to ashes."
As soon as the voice bid it, Le Savant's symbol for fire, that ever eternal destruction and reconstruction, appeared in Daniel's mind. He didn't even need to sign the symbol. Just by thinking it, the silver thread caught fire. In moments or centuries, it became ash floating in the universe. As alone as everything else.
Now there was nothing to stop the dark from taking over.
Nothing to stop it from destroying everything.
If only Daniel could remember.
Daniel was not having the best day.
He had found himself waking up in an empty corridor by the library at the Sorcerer's Guild school, West Ridge Academy. How had he fallen asleep there? He couldn't even remember visiting the library.
And why would he go? The second trimester had finished two days ago. Not even his father Vespasian expected him to study with classes finished. Hoped? Well, if hope still lived in his father's heart, perhaps.
Daniel had only stayed behind because his mother had insisted that she escort him home. She never let him travel alone, not since that time with the thieves in Tutelle… that Daniel had sworn never, ever to tell anyone else about it. He'd go ahead and not even think on it then. So embarrassing.
Instead of tarrying on his mortification, Daniel had hurried to the main entrance of the school to find his trunk already brought down. So why — never mind. As long as Daniel didn't make his mother worry. With her illness… She wasn't in any fit state to travel, but since it eased her mind so, even Vespasian had difficulty forbidding it.
At least between Vespasian and the headmaster, they had managed to convince his mother that she need not take up residence at the school itself.
Daniel hadn't found his mother in their carriage on the front drive, but two men who looked like they should have been in a factory instead of on the lawn of Le Savant's academy. They muttered to each other as they walked up to the door, and Daniel even heard expletives.
Thank Le Savant his mother hadn't arrived yet to spot the two ruffians. He could already feel the switch against his backside as it was.
Nothing so frivolous as his mother's illness should ruin Vespasian's big day, not his mother's illness, not Daniel's waking up in a hallway he didn't remember. Nothing.
It was only a role, Daniel chided, then caught himself. Even if it was only a role, Vespasian had still been chosen to play Le Savant's avatar during the re-enactment in the capital city Tutelle. Not as prestigious as being chosen to play Le Chasseur, he who gave vampires nightmares in his relentless hunt, but still one of the greatest honours the Sorcerer's Guild could bestow.
When Cain's disciples betrayed and devoured him, they became vampires. In his grief, Cain's twin Adrian transformed into Le Chasseur, the Hunter, and vowed to destroy every vampire that walked the earth. He was soon joined in his war by the gods who would become Le Savant, the god of sorcery, Le Chirurgeon, the god of medicine, and Le Commerçant, the god of trade.
Together, with their human disciples, they drove the vampires to seek refuge among the Larians. Le Chasseur told the Larians that if they didn't turn the vampires over for execution, for the good of their own souls, he and his army would destroy them.
The Larians, cruel and blasphemous, refused. And the gods, of course, won and founded Fallion in the former kingdom so the Larians could never rise again.
Since then, Fallion gathered together once a year to celebrate their victory. Four ageing noblemen, the prized selection from each of the four Fallion guilds, would represent their gods and lead their army (also ageing and balding men, but including the gentry) against their terrible enemy. While places in the gods' army went at a premium, the Prime Minister paid a month's wages to factory workers to play the Larians.
Well, if the two ruffians were planning to rob the school of its valuables while both students and professors were away to watch the re-enactment, Daniel hoped they could afford a talented chirurgeon to halt the flesh melting off their fingers.
"Excuse me," one of the men said with a deep bullfrog voice. "Where can we find Valere Braud?"
Daniel's chin rose half an inch. Not even a 'sir'? He may not be wearing his school uniform, but even so, the cut of his jacket should have been enough to note his social status. While school tradition meant teachers referred to students without titles, his father bore the title comte and they were not teachers.
"Valere? Why are you looking for him?" Were they men from Valere's family estate? Did he even have an estate?
When their eyes narrowed at his question, he added a smile. Very rarely did a smile hurt anything, and in his experience, smiles tended to help a lot. "The trimester ended two days ago. He's probably home now."
Monsieur Bullfrog shook his head. "He's not. The Mistress is terribly worried about him."
Daniel's eyes followed the cobblestone road until it disappeared into dirt.
"We need to find him," the other man said, his voice resembling a rat's squeak far too closely for Daniel's comfort. Even the man's appearance resembled a rat, all tall and pointy.
"I'm afraid you can't roam freely on school grounds." Daniel added a shrug as if to say, 'what can one do?' Personally, he was glad.
"If we're escorted by a fine… 'gentleman' like yourself," Monsieur Bullfrog said, sneering the word 'gentleman.'
"I can't. I wouldn't even know where to start." Daniel flinched when he realised that his words were true. He didn't have a clue, short of searching every inch of ground, despite spending eight years of school together. He couldn't even remember saying more than five things to him, and the quiet boy had said much less than that to Daniel.
It hadn't been intentional, he was sure. He had nothing against Valere… Nor any of Daniel's peers. Their paths just didn't cross. He really didn't know enough to dislike him, although he tended toward liking him, even if his astonishing beauty made it hard for someone like him to say two words to.
Valere was an ice storm, the beauty enrapturing one even as it destroyed everything around.
If anyone should play Le Savant… That didn't quite fit. Le Chasseur. That was the ticket. Except for the colouring, Valere would fit perfectly with his impervious eyes that gave no mercy to vampire heathens.
"Our Mistress needs to see him immediately," Monsieur Rat said, bringing Daniel out of his overcast thoughts.
"I — I told you, I wouldn't know."
"What do you know, 'sir'?" Monsieur Bullfrog used the honorific like a joke. They would never talk like that to Valere. It may be nigh impossible to act rudely toward him.
"He likes to keep to himself?" Even when Valere was pressed by Aldric and Marcus, he rarely spoke.
"Perhaps you should give us a tour then."
Daniel's eyes glanced to the road, but even as he checked for his mother's appearance, he knew he would do it. "He could be in his dorm."
Again, no 'sir'. Daniel let out a breath as he turned and led them into the prestigious halls of West Ridge Academy.
Valere shared a room with Ashley Hayworthy, if Daniel recalled correctly. He led the two ruffians up the stairs to the senior floor of the dorms. Ashley was more of an… open book, being mad about books of any kind. Sometimes Daniel suspected that Ashley would even read romance novels just because they were books.
Their footsteps echoed like a temple bell. Nothing deadened sound like scampering first year students. Without students or professors to care for, and to not get in their way, the servants had most likely finished their duties early and retreated to the servant's quarters or to their own homes in L'Oeil.
If someone had stayed last night on his own floor, surely Daniel would have noticed. Daniel had laid awake, unable to sleep in the suffocating silence, yearning for some company. Ambrose could always be trusted to ravish the night with his snores. Ambrose protested that he couldn't do something so unbecoming. His subconsciousness disagreed, apparently, since Ambrose sounded like metal scraping together — on the good nights.
Monsieur Bullfrog stepped within a foot of Daniel, peering down at him. "What are you smiling about?"
"He thinks he's giving us the run around," Monsieur Rat said.
"No," Daniel said. He had been smiling? "Err, no. Just… nothing. He'll probably be in the dorms or the common area."
When they reached the austere chestnut door, Daniel knocked softly. Monsieur Bullfrog shoved him out of the way. Without proper warning, Monsieur Bullfrog slammed open the door.
Regaining his balance with only a semi-comical whirling of his arms, Daniel peeked into the room. He winced as the two men slammed open wardrobe doors.
"Don't break anything!" He ducked behind the door frame as the two men sent him nasty sneers.
"He's not here." Monsieur Rat sucked in air, preparing to spit on the clean wooden floor.
Monsieur Bullfrog nodded to the neatly hung uniform jackets. "His things are still here."
Daniel eyed both sides of the room. "He's obviously departed already."
Daniel instantly recognised Ashley's influence on one side of the room from the stacks of books neatly piled to the ceiling on the desk, peeking out from under the bed, and hidden among the remaining uniforms in the wardrobe that Monsieur Rat spat on.
The other side of the room was bare. Only five textbooks remained on the desk, all standard fare. The wardrobe contained only pieces of uniform, spread at equal distance from side to side. The bottom was bare. With only the school assigned linens, the bed was practically naked. Daniel's own bed, like many other students, bore the quilt his mother had made.
"He would have left his uniform," Daniel explained, even though it should be obvious since Ashley's wardrobe contained the same. "He wouldn't need it during the holiday."
Ignoring his statement, Monsieur Bullfrog grabbed him by the jacket collar. "Where else could he be?"
"I — I really should go back and wait for my mother."
Leaning close enough that Daniel blanched at the strong stench emanating from the thug's mouth, Monsieur Bullfrog growled, "Tell us where he is."
"I don't know," Daniel said. "The showers?"
Still holding his collar, Monsieur Bullfrog jerked his chin at Monsieur Rat, who disappeared out the door.
Monsieur Bullfrog dropped his collar and adopted a ghoulish grin far more concerning than his earlier anger. "You're his friend, right?"
Daniel jerked his tie back into place and smoothed down his jacket. He nodded.
"He would be so grateful if you led us to him," he continued. "It's an emergency, actually, and we must retrieve him as soon as possible. Our mistress requires his presence something fierce. Tell us where he is."
Daniel bit his lip. The two men were rough as a hoe, and not afraid to be rougher with him. If this was the way they treated Valere, no wonder he hadn't returned home.
Guilt dropped into his stomach like a vicious snake. They must treat their young master with the due diffidence of their position. They were just anxious to fulfil his worried mother's wishes.
Daniel hoped that if he were in the same position, that his father's servants would move so much to find him. But if his mother arrived and Daniel wasn't there to greet her — or worse, she spotted him with these two brutes…
But what if it was his own mother in the same plight?
Monsieur Rat returned, shaking his head.
"He — he could be outside," Daniel said. Valere always disappeared. Marcus and Aldric would get in a mood to associate with him, but even looking high and low, they would never find him in the school. West Ridge Academy's grounds spread for acres, bolstered by the headmaster's estate behind it, and was nearly impossible to search in any decent amount of time.
The man nodded and pushed him to lead. Daniel made noises to protest, but Monsieur Bullfrog shoved him again.
Daniel wasn't as sure as they were that Valere remained on campus. Where had all of his personal belongings gone?
They checked the muddy courtyards, interspersed among the school building, each with footprints left in the mud by students and servants but that the two men believed could belong to Valere. They insisted on searching every one of them.
Daniel told them to wipe their feet before re-entering the school, but they just pulled him along by his collar. Some poor maids would be whipped for that mud. He grimaced for them.
Daniel hesitated to suggest searching the rest of the estate. Should he check the roads for his mother? Not with these men. He suggested they check the gardens behind the school.
The gardens were equally muddy and devoid of life, but it opened onto the squelching grass lawn. While the two men investigated a particularly suspicious shrub, Daniel walked along the hedges. It was better if he searched too, right? They didn't need three men looking at the same area.
He heard a scream, with the kind of particular anguish he had only heard once before.
Daniel bolted to the source. He covered the lawn, reaching the carefully manicured trees marking the end of the school grounds and the beginning of the unkempt forest.
There! Underneath the bare cherry tree! The frost still kept it from blossoming—
Daniel's foot slipped on the wet grass. Frost. Valere appeared in his mind's eye, shimmering like on the surface of a half-frozen lake. Beauty that enraptured its victim even as it destroyed everything around. Beauty that the gods themselves would envy.
But an ice storm couldn't be felled, that — that shadow — What had Daniel been thinking about?
Never mind that, Valere was hurt! And all Daniel did was think of poetry. Inexcusable. "Valere!"
The man didn't move, his head bowed. Valere held himself up on his knees with a hand gripped around a thick branch. He still wore his school uniform, the legs and back muddy as if he had rolled about on the snow-drenched ground.
He must be freezing! Daniel pulled off his jacket and knelt beside him. "Valere, are you hurt?"
Valere's silver locks covered his eyes, worn longer than was acceptable even by the young poet's style currently favoured. All Daniel could see was his parted lips, gasping for air. When Daniel draped the jacket over Valere's trembling shoulders, his jaw stiffened and his shoulders clenched.
"I'm calling for a chirurgeon," Daniel said. The school nurse would have departed already. He stood and turned to run, but found that the two ruffians had also heard Valere's cry.
Monsieur Bullfrog grabbed Daniel's arms and trapped him against him.
"Get up, you pissant." Monsieur Rat kicked the ground, as if he had meant to kick Valere.
Daniel felt cold in a way that had nothing to do with the early Avril chill.
"He said, get up! You're coming with us," Monsieur Bullfrog said.
Valere didn't move.
"Are you mad?" Daniel asked. "He needs help! Let me go!"
Daniel felt the cold chill of metal pressed against his throat. A spell? But he sensed nothing magical. A dagger.
A dagger at his throat!
They had pulled a dagger on him! Ruffians indeed!
"Shut up!" Monsieur Bullfrog jerked him for emphasis. Daniel moaned at the sharp pain of a tight grip. He felt a trickle of wetness on his skin, but strangely, as one would wouldn't expect from getting one's throat cut, no pain. "You piece of shit, get up! If you try to run, your mate here dies."
Valere turned his head, his hair falling out of the way. Daniel's heart missed a beat. Suddenly finding himself a hostage was shocking, but suddenly confronted with those eyes… Surely, those eyes inspired the same awe as Le Savant would if he had taken the form of an ice storm instead of human.
Valere's eyes said, if emptiness could be said to say anything at all, that it didn't matter to him whether the two thugs killed Daniel or vampires suddenly gutted them all.
How could he not care? Daniel reflexively gulped, a new line appearing on his throat.
The word resounded in Daniel's skull until he grasped that Valere had spoken.
"Your mate here," Monsieur Bullfrog said. "You know, the one with the knife pressed against his throat. Since I don't have a knife at my throat, and neither does my associate here, who does that leave? It's a simple process of deduction even you should be able to make."
A simple process of deduction? What kind of thugs were they? They… spoke roughly, but with better vocabulary than he would have expected from backstreet ruffians.
Daniel pressed his eyes shut for a moment. They weren't servants, as he had so stupidly assumed, so who were they?
This was why for eight years Daniel had only just escaped the letter asking him not to return for the next trimester.
"Who hired you?" Valere repeated.
"You'll find out in time enough. Now come!"
Valere unfolded himself until he stood, Daniel's charcoal jacket framing him like angry clouds. He slid his hands into his trouser pockets, even though they'd be better served by the freedom to fight. Then again, what could Valere do against trained kidnappers? The dispassionate look he granted them, was that only the same way he looked at everyone?
Daniel had never even seen him smile. If Valere was regularly abducted like this, it wouldn't be a wonder as to why.
Monsieur Rat lunged at Valere, his fists ready to clobber him. Valere stepped into him, dodging the fists to deliver his knee into Monsieur Rat's stomach. The man fell to the ground, cursing.
Where had Valere learned to do that?
"Kill him," Valere said. "I won't move until you tell me who hired you and what they want with me." His eyes flicked back to Daniel. "It would be a waste of time."
A-A waste of time? His life was considered a waste of time? His eyes widened, pleading with Valere to have pity on him and follow the men's directions.
How could he plead for Valere to sacrifice himself when Daniel had aided his kidnappers? When Daniel continued to aid his kidnappers by allowing them to use him? He closed his eyes to stop the look, to serve as a signal to Valere to save his own life instead. It was the least he could do.
"Fine." Monsieur Bullfrog didn't move the dagger. "Our master wants you alive to negotiate a new treaty with your queen. Now will you come?"
Valere seemed to mull it over. "If you let Travere go."
"He won't," Valere said. "He knows that if he tells anyone, not only will my life be forfeit, but his as well. At least my death will be quick."
"You swear on Le Savant?" Monsieur Bullfrog said the god's name the same way he had said 'sir' earlier. Daniel felt himself scowl. Only when the man shook Daniel did he catch that the man was speaking to him, not Valere.
He couldn't swear that! He had to tell the headmaster, or the Hunters, or, well, anybody! Somebody to help Valere. If he swore on Le Savant and broke his oath, he would be ruined, body and soul.
But — if he told anyone, Valere would die. Valere had thrown that in so casually that it couldn't be a lie. It had to be true.
Just who did Valere associate with?
Daniel opened his eyes to try to read Valere's expression.
Monsieur Bullfrog shook him again. "He's not swearing."
"Travere," Valere said, his voice as emotional as Daniel had ever heard it. His voice promised pain should he stay silent.
Who could possibly be so dangerous? Besides vampires, of course.
"Daniel," Daniel said. Everyone called him Daniel. Even professors sometimes. "I swear on… on… Le Savant."
"You swear what?" Monsieur Bullfrog prodded, pressing the knife further against his neck.
Daniel tried to think of wording that would allow him to wiggle out, but his mind blanked at the simple truth: if he told anyone, Valere would die. "That I won't tell anyone that you abducted Valere."
The man pulled the knife away, and pushed him onto the ground. Daniel sneezed as his trousers and shirt sleeves dampened from the grass.
To his accomplice, Monsieur Bullfrog said, "Get up you lazy mutt."
Groaning, Monsieur Rat straightened. Turning to Daniel, and giving him an extra kick on the hindquarters, Monsieur Bullfrog said, "Go run, boy."
Daniel looked up at Valere, who nodded. He scrambled to his feet and did as ordered.
His mother was waiting, he told himself. That was why he scurried through the grounds while ruffians abducted his friend.
They said they wanted him alive… He had to be fine…
But he was hurt, wasn't he? Why else would he cry out like that?
Daniel looked back. The ruffians placed their hands on Valere, attempting to shove him forward. But neither the manhandling nor his earlier illness bowed Valere's back. Valere remained in complete control.
To be continued...
Next week: "You're pitting us against each other until only one survives."
Author's Note: After so long, it's such a relief to finally get Blood Cursed started! I've never edited anything so much as this first chapter, with the help of an actual published author.
This week is so busy too, with tryouts for roller derby and financial planning... I'm not sure which one is going to hurt more.
Thanks for reading! ~Katsueki