Lyonha breathed in deeply, drinking in the cool night air. She tilted her head back to gaze at the hundreds upon millions of stars that dusted a night sky which was just beginning to dull. Over the edge of her mountain, a tiny wisp of light spread, barely perceptible. Lyonha wasn't even sure if it was there. But that was okay, because she loved the darkness, the solitude brought on by a night sky.

Merle snorted, and nudged her shoulder. Lyonha came out of her reverie, and patted the mare absently. Grabbing the halter off the fence, she settled it over Merle's head, and led her from the corral.

After a brisk grooming, Lyonha adjusted her bit-less bridle on Merle and jumped up onto the smooth, bare back. Soon they were off, winding through a maze of urban streets and green-lawned houses before the trail's start. She always felt uncomfortable in the city for some reason, deperately longing to escape people's' stares, and hating the fields of gray pavement that seemed to never end. She gave a happy sigh of relief once they were free among the trees, sinking into the secluded silence that pervaded this lush, soft green world. The farther away she was from the bustling streets, the more content she was. They trotted softly on their favorite trail, which wound through the trees beside the creek; tall dark oak, silver eucalyptus shimmering in the predawn, sycamore, and smooth birch lined the path, singing softly in the breeze to welcome the pink hazy sunrise.

Lyonha and her mare traveled in solitude for some time, enjoying the rare and, for once complete, silence. The hills rose in soft gray-green slopes around them, and she knew that, deep in this backland, they were coming close upon her secret grove. Rounding one last bend, Lyonha and Merle stopped in a stand of ancient oaks. Wind rustled their branches, and she could almost hear an eerie singing, like monks crooning through the years long gone bye. The grove had a sacred feel, and whenever Lyonha came here, she felt oddly at peace. All the hurrying, worrying bustle of the world would be shut out, and she could concentrate on her innermost thoughts.

A soft green meadow spread out under the trees, and the stream trickled softly here. A tiny waterfall made soft burbling sounds as it slid over the rocks, tranquil and easing. Lyonha slid off her mare, and tied the reins to a root that was twisted up out of the ground. Sweet spring grass grew all around, and Merle started munching it contentedly.

Lyonha eased through newborn grass, which popped up everywhere after the rains. She tried not to step on it; she knew it wouldn't last long. A particularly soft blanket of green seemed to beckon, and she settled herself amid the springy blades. The girl lay back and closed her eyes, listening contentedly to everything around her.

Trees whispered overhead, the grass made tiny rustling sounds, probably the wind. A morning bird chirped somewhere near, and Lyonha could hear Merle's lazy grazing over in the meadow. All her thoughts fled, seeping away on the cool morning air. Lyonha slowly slipped into a deep, contented sleep.

Aelis was walking through the trees, thoughts swirling through his head. He was bound for his favorite spot, the sacred meadow. Soon he could hear the water tinkling, and the Celtic, haunted music of ancient oaks. His head cleared, and the disturbed thoughts fled.

Aelis slid through dark trees, at one with the night, which was slowly brightening to dawn. He was almost to the meadow, and the water song grew louder. Suddenly he perceived a distant chewing, and he frowned. Soon he could make out someone's soft breath, and a horse's step from the grass over the hill.

Aelis came upon the mare first. He scowled, noticing that it was wearing a bridle. Humans weren't supposed to know about this place!

The horse, even with its heightened senses, didn't see Aelis in the shadows—because he was a hunter, a master at silent stalking, no one did. Of course though, humans were far easier.

Aelis glided from tree to tree, slowly circling the meadow. He moved closer, utterly silent. Oaks swayed overhead, and a bird twittered sharply from far off, its call echoing through the fading blackness. Aelis could see a dark figure stretched out on the grass, and smelled human breath. He choked back a growl, for this was his meadow. Aelis was furious that this human would dare find the secret meadow, would dare to come with a horse and destroy his grass.

But the hunter stayed where he was, settling in the shadows at the wood's edge, waiting for the human girl to awaken. He caught the slightly sweeter scent of a female, soft and flowery, different from a male's husky smell.

After a long time, or it might have been a short time, the girl stirred, and murmured into the sweet grass. His grass, his meadow. He watched, fascinated, as she slowly stretched and sat up, running fingers through her dark hair tangled with pieces of grass. She was so different from him, so strange! Her soft skin, dusted with freckles, was warm underneath. She looked about at his trees, sighing. And suddenly he knew that this girl was different, so different from the other humans. She could hear the ancient song! He knew she could.

The girl's eyes swept the clearing, and rested on a patch of dawn's sunlight near him. She couldn't see him; he was wrapped in shadows, but he could see her eyes. They were dark and green, and grey-blue, with a touch of warm amber near the center. Exactly like his!

Aelis had the impulse to show himself, and be near this strange girl that was so similar him. But he couldn't; that would mean endangering his kind. But what the hell, he'd broken almost every other rule. The hunter waited for her to look away, and quietly slipped from his shadows.

Lyonha awoke to the sound of birds chirping and trees singing their ancient chants. The stream sparkled nearby, and she could hear Merle grazing in the meadow over the next hill. She turned slowly around, examining a spot of new sunlight that lit up the grass in brilliant emerald warmth. The girl looked up to watch old oak branches sway in time to their constant crooning. When she looked back, a dark figure stood, cloaked in shadow. She gasped in frightened surprise, cautiously watching him all the while.

He appeared to be around nineteen, with deep mahogany-colored hair that accentuated the paleness of his skin so that it appeared shockingly white. He wore dark breeches and a tunic of murky gray-green that fell to mid-thigh. But his eyes, they were of the deepest green she had ever seen, flecked with gray and amber-blue. They looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place it. Suddenly he spoke:

"Do you hear the trees' ancient chanting?" His voice was deep and dark as himself, and clear as the oak's song. He seemed to be a part of it, like a species that had lived here so long that it became one with the place.

Lyonha stood at a distance, observing him intently, and answered a little hesitantly, "Yes."

His dark form moved suddenly from the trees, fluid and graceful as a big cat. He seemed to slide from shadow to shadow; she could not clearly see his face. The hunter was coming closer to her, but she held her ground. Lyonha wanted him to come closer, and she felt brave all of a sudden. He wasn't like anyone she'd ever met, and she was fascinated and freightened at once by his exotic appearance and manner. He scarcely seemed human, with his breathtakingly pale, dark forest beauty. And here, in this meadow which was like an island of peace, the only real thing amid the roiling waters of time, that seemed entirely possible.

Aelis heard her gasp, but she wasn't afraid of him like the others. She held his gaze almost defiantly, and yet with an innocent curiosity and impartial interest that pleased him. Her lingering gaze slide over his body, and she unconsciously smoothed her dark hazelnut hair. "Who are you?"

He felt curiously drawn to her, overall, and decided to forgive her for tresspassing in his meadow. "Aelis. And you?"

"Lyonha." She had a soft accent, but he couldn't tell where from. "What are you doing here in my—place?" She hesitated, unsure what to call this spot that she had stumbled on years ago. It really wasn't a meadow, or gully, or a valley. More like all three. And it was so far away from the town, she never expected to see anyone here.

"Your place!? If it's anybody's place, its my place. I was the one who discovered it." His gaze burned with righteous anger, glaring at this human across the clearing.

"When? I am sure I was here first." She returned his glare. She had known of this grove ever since being driven here many years ago by an uncanny urge, and since then it had been her own secret spot, where she went when she wanted to be alone and think, or write, or draw the trees. She had never considered the possibility of anyone else occupying it.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." The hunter said, holding her gaze. This had been his sanctuary, his secret hidden home away from the Clan's iron rules, their close society. It was where he went when he needed to escape, and now it seemed contaminated.

"Try me." This was her place, and she refused to succumb to his claim of having been there first.

Aelis sighed. "37 years ago."

Lyonha laughed in disbelief. "You're scarce past twenty!"

He smiled sardonically. "I knew you wouldn't believe me. Are you going to leave soon?"

"No! No—I wont. This place isn't even yours. You can't order me around." She retorted, irritated.

"It was just a question. Jeez, you humans are so touchy." He turned to go, silently resigned to wait behind some tree until the girl left.

"W—wait! Don't go. What do you mean, that you aren't a human?" His last remark had startled her. Sure, he didn't seem . . . normal. Maybe it was only his almost inhuman beauty. The pale face, as if carved from milky ivory or ocean stormclouds. And such dark hair, ebony and chestnut. It seemed to absorb light rather than reflect it, giving the dark locks a softness that was almost supernatural. She wasn't angry anymore, just curious.

"Of course I'm not a human. Do I look like one?" He sounded worried, as if it were a bad thing to be human.

"Well, no, I've never met anyone that was that gorgeous."

Aelis smiled, relieved. Strangely, he wasn't angry with her for claiming the place as her own, even for bringing the horse. Now all the hunter wanted was some peace, and friendly chat with a human could be just the distraction he was looking for. "Just how did you happen upon this place, anyway?"

She followed warily as he walked over to the water, and they settled on a smooth boulder next to the stream. Aelis lay back to watch the grayish-green leaf canopy sway overhead.

Lyonha was gazing down at him, astounded again at the physical beauty. As shadows whispered across his face, he suddenly seemed ghostly and ancient as the meadow. "First I want to know just what you are. How come you blend in with this place? It needs a name."

"It has a name. It is called Ora Lin" Aelis pointedly ignored her question

"That's a weird name."

"I didn't name it. That's the name it had when I got here"

"Were there people here? And how long ago did you say you came here?" Lyonha tried to get him to give her some information. When he didn't speak for a while, she reviewed his features and manner in her mind. Maybe she would think of something. Let's see . . . pale; beautiful; lives in the woods, as far as I can tell. He seems to blend with them. But that might just be his hunter's instincts. I don't know, a nymph? Some kind of wood sprite?

Suddenly Aelis threw back his head and laughed, full-throated and deep. She looked at him, suspicious. Had he heard her thoughts? What the hell was he, anyway? And why didn't he tell just her? She was becoming frustrated.

"I'm sorry, It's just, oh never mind." Aelis was looking at her now, still smiling. The force of his smile dazzled her, and she couldn't help smiling back.

"So, are you going to tell me just what you are?" Why was it such a big deal anyway? What if it was something evil, or bad.

"No"

"Whyever not?"

Aelis sighed. Talking with this human isn't as relaxing as I'd have thought. Oh well, she's funny, even though it's not her fault, and interesting, so I might as well stick around. Just think, me, a wood sprite! Aelis grimaced, steeling himself for this human's determination.

"I have my reasons." Better for her to be left guessing than to know the truth. Plus, he was getting hungry.

Lyonha silently vowed not to tell him anything about herself. Just let him wonder!

Aelis smiled at the girl's thoughts. Little did she know he could read her mind. And he didn't harbor any qualms doing it, unlike the others in the Clan. People must have their privacy, they would say. He had always laughed.

And his hunger was getting worse. He should have thought about it before leaving, but on such short notice one could only remember so much. Besides, there was food right here, all he had to do was hypnotize her, or hit her with enough psychic energy to make her limp and unconscious. Even surprise would work. But he just couldn't, for some reason. I can't be going soft like the Clan—I'm not. Oh well, he thought, pushing his thoughts aside, along with the hunger. But Aelis knew it wouldn't stay there long.

Lyonha was looking at Aelis. He was staring off into space, totally ignoring her. Shadows dappled his breathtakingly handsome face, and she choked to keep from gasping. He was so beautiful, so cold. Distant. Utterly inhuman. She ignored a slow trickle of fear winding through her, and jumped from the rock, looking for a distraction,

Aelis snapped out of his reverie, sitting up quickly and seeing Lyonha's questioning stare. He probed her mind, and found a tickle of fear being suppressed by logic. No suspicions here.

"Hey!" Lyonha gasped, backing up a few steps. "What are you doing?!"

"What! You felt that?" Aelis was amazed. Only the strongest of psychics could feel his mind-searching. He was an adept among his people, much stronger than any human mind.

"Of course! What did you think you were doing, anyway?" Lyonha had never felt anything like what Aelis had done; she wasn't sure how she even knew Aelis had done it. But she did. And it scared her.

"But—but, how?" Aelis was pacing the clearing now, glancing at her every once in a while.

"I don't know. Hasn't anyone else ever felt it before? I mean, was it that much of a surprise?" Lyonha was frightened. Not by her sudden ability to tell he had searched her mind; but at his reaction. Aelis had been so cool and composed a moment ago, as if nothing in the world could ruffle him.

But now, his eyes were bright with confusion and a little wonder. She could sense a feeling of roiling turmoil inside his mind; Should I tell her? No, that's the most important rule: never tell a human about The Clan. But no mere human could be that powerful. The Elders said so, and they've been around for hundreds of thousands of years. So this girl, she surely isn't completely human, and that means I could tell her. It wouldn't even be breaking a rule! And I've broke so many already. . . God, I'm hungry!

With a violent start, Lyonha realized she'd been reading his mind. Reading his mind! Sure, she'd always been able to tell what others were feeling, their basic emotions. But never entire words, or even more than just a hazy aura.

But what was he saying? Tell her what? And what was this clan he was talking about? Only one way to find out.

He didn't seem to know she had been inside his mind, so she readied herself for a second searching. Suddenly he stopped pacing, and stared at her from the other side of the clearing.

"Don't." It was a command, and he was watching her with narrowed eyes.

She flung her hair back and glared at him. "You did."

"Fine." Where Lyonha had once felt the soft glowing edge of his thoughts a cold stone wall had soared up, shutting her and anyone else out.

She wasn't going to be intimidated. Now her eyes narrowed to match his and she said, defiantly, "Tell me what?"

He gave an explosive sigh, throwing his arms up in the air. "You insufferable humans! Fine, but I'm only telling you this because you couldn't possibly be human and do all that stuff, especially with my mind."

"And why is yours so special?" She asked sarcastically.

"Shut up and listen! Now, you've stretched my patience far too much. Don't be too surprised that I prefer a blunt explanation." He took a breath, watching her out of the corner of his eye. "Do you know the legends of vampires?"

"Yes" She watched him warily

"Well, they're true"

"Are you saying . . . that you are a vampire hunter?"

He threw back his head, roaring with laughter. "No," he gasped

"So then, what . . .?"

"I'm a vampire, silly."

Lyonha watched him with new eyes. If she was scared, it didn't show. "I knew there was something of a hunter's instincts in your movements. Just tell me one thing; do you have to kill the person to suck their blood, or can you do it without death?"

Aelis cringed at her vulgar use of words. "We don't kill to feed, but we could. Sometimes I do, but only rarely. It fills you up more. The Clan is a group of vampires living together, and it's ruled by the Elders. The oldest one has been a vampire for over five hundred thousand years—"

"God! That's old! How could anyone live that long? Hey--how long have you been a vampire?"

Aelis tactfully ignored her question, going on as if he hadn't heard, "Yes, but vampires are immortal. We have superhuman psychic powers, and I'm a master among my own people. That's why I was so startled that you could feel my searching and read my thoughts. Usually I only keep a small shield up around humans because even their strongest minds couldn't breach it. That's the reason I told you about The Clan even though it's one of their most important and heavily reinforced rules to never let a human know of The Clan's existence. You can't be completely human, although I don't know how. According to the elders, all vampires that mate with humans are exterminated, along with the humans involved. But why any vampire would want to mate with a human . . ." He shuddered.

"Why? What's wrong with humans?" Lyonha was offended at his harsh discrimination of her species.

"Well, when vampires mate, its in both body and mind. If one mated with a human, it would give away all secrets of The Clan, not to mention his own. When a vampire mates, it is for life."

"So what do you plan to do, now that I know?"

He turned away, staring at the now fully lightened sky, and muttered, "I don't exactly know, but I am sure I've got to teach you how to use your psychic powers, lest you either give us away or hurt someone."

Lyonha took a deep breath, happily surprised, and asked, "What time do you want to meet me here? And aren't vampires supposed to die in the sunlight?"

"No, only the weak ones. How about every morning this same time?"

"I have school every day except the weekends." She said, disappointed.

Aelis looked at her suddenly. "Aren't you afraid of me?"

Lyonha glared right back at him. "If you were going to drink my blood, you would have done so by now. I figure I'm pretty safe."

"What if I was going to save you for later, or when I'm hungry. Maybe you'll be my emergency food storage." He smiled wickedly, showing elongated teeth.

She shuddered despite herself, but answered defiantly. "Are you deliberately trying to freak me out? Does your ego need everyone utterly terrified to be around you? Well, it won't work on me."

He laughed. "Good. I was just making sure you weren't totally weak and stupid, like some other humans. Well, we can start the lessons tomorrow. I have to go now."

I better get away soon, lest I hurt her in the bloodlust.

The thought was to himself, and Lyonha didn't hear. "Why? I have time now. There's no school."

"But I don't. Now, meet me here at sunset tomorrow, and we will begin your lessons. Goodbye, Lyonha." Aelis disappeared once more in the shadows, seeming to sink into them like a blueberry into dough, slowly covered until there was no trace left.

Lyonha rounded up her mare and rode home in a state of disbelief. Her; plain old Lyonha, was a master psychic, and now had a vampire tutor. An incredibly gorgeous vampire, at that. How surprised the kids at school would be if they knew! The thought almost made her laugh out loud, and she leaned Cholera into a gallop, racing home in the golden light of morning.

Aelis didn't stay to watch her happy departure. The bloodlust was near, and he had to find prey, quickly. As much as he'd like to, Aelis couldn't bite into Lyonha's white neck, not now when he knew she was at least part vampire.

The hunter quickly ran through the woods, feet barely touching the ground. How had he let the visit last so long? Now he had to hurry and find food, in the city, in broad daylight! The thought scared him, because humans owned the daytime. That's why weak vampires couldn't take it; it wasn't their time.

He shoved his doubts aside, and after a few minutes of crafty thinking, soon had a sufficient plan. It was still very early morning, and hardly anyone was awake yet. He could—

Suddenly Aelis heard a noise; footsteps, accompanied by labored breathing. He peered out of the shadows, and saw a lone hiker. What luck! The vampire crept through the shadows, slowly circling the unsuspecting woman. Then, with a movement quicker than lightening, dove for the throat, piercing skin and drinking deep. He shuddered with pleasure, eyes closed.

When Aelis was through, he pulled the unconscious woman into dark shadows off the trail, and meddled with her mind a moment, making sure when she woke that no memories of him would remain. Now, she had simply decided to rest a moment, and had accidentally taken a little nap under the trees.

With his hunger satisfied, Aelis returned to the Ora Lin, falling asleep amid the dappled trees of oak.

Darkness approached, stealthy on silent paws. Night was drenching the clearing in gray light when Aelis awoke from his slumber, and he stretched languorously, yawning to show pointed pure-white teeth. A voice startled him out of sleepy idyll. "I was wondering if you were ever going to wake up."

Thoroughly startled, Aelis leapt to his feet and saw Lyonha watching him from a large granite boulder beside the stream. "I didn't know you were there." His voice was a squeak.

She laughed. "You know, you look so cute when your asleep."

His surprise was quickly replaced with anger, then the usual cool calmness. This time his voice was deep and smooth. "Ready for the first lesson? I see you didn't bring the horse."

"No, she was eating," Lyonha replied, jumping from the rock. "Did you stay here the whole time? Don't you have a home?"

"Of course I didn't. My home is The Clan." (It wasn't a total lie) Aelis replied, a hurt look in his eyes. But Lyonha could detect a slight bit of unease in his voice. " I just didn't want to go back to them today. Now, for your lesson. Come here and sit down, in the grass over there."

Lyonha obeyed, no longer afraid of him now that she had seen him asleep, totally unguarded. And he did look like a boy when his face was relaxed, she mused, and a cute one too.

Aelis heard her thought, and growled. Oh well, the damage was already done. "First I'm going to teach you how to put up a shield. It keeps others from reading your thoughts when you don't want them to. But you need to have enough energy for one, or else it doesn't work.

"Now, imagine a wall around your mind, tall, made of heavy stone. It reaches high into the sky, and no one can get in. There are no doors or windows, just this huge, tall wall, thick and heavy." Aelis could feel her thoughts being shut off from him, and saw in his mind a monstrous fortress encasing them. There were enormous flags billowing at the spiked top, warning everyone away, and the sky was dark with storm clouds. He chuckled.

Now, below the fortress there was an image of him, and from the fortress's battlements someone shot a fiery arrow that pierced him cleanly, leaving a huge burned-out hole. His chuckle turned into laughter, as in his mind the image of him was being blown by icy winds and hailing rain.

Back in his own body, he looked around and saw that Lyonha was smiling. "Smart trick, but it won't go to far with me" He warned as her eyes came open

"That was fun. What's next?" She asked, almost unconsciously keeping the fortress up.

"What do you want to learn?" Aelis asked, curious.

She shifted in the grass across from him, hesitating. "I want to know how to get through someone's shield."

"All right" Aelis replied, settling in for a long session. "Well, imagine that person in your mind's eye; me perhaps. Now, I've got my shield up, so imagine me behind the shield, and pretend you are piercing it with an arrow or something." He felt his shield being disturbed, but not enough to take it down. "If the person is strong, you'll need a lot of energy to take it down. Put all your energy into that arrow, and shoot it through my walls."

Slowly he felt a huge force gather, near where Lyonha was sitting, and instinctively made his shield thick enough to overcome it. The thing kept getting stronger, until he had to use all his strength to hold his shield. The energy constricted in a tiny pinpoint of fire, shot against his walls, and broke through! Only very rarely did anyone break his shields, and this was his strongest one.

He felt all his cover being swept aside, and grabbed for it, like a maiden for her clothes. It took all the strength he had to hold on, and he barely gritted through clenched teeth, "Stop!"

All of a sudden the enormous pounding force let up, and he sat panting. "Mon Dieu! That was strong!"

Lyonha was lying back on the grass, breathles from her effort. "I did that?" She asked, astounded. "I almost took your shield down!"

"Yes," Aelis grunted, trying to catch his breath. "You almost had me there. If I hadn't stopped you, you would have succeeded, and all my thoughts, my past, would be laid out for you like an open book." He shuddered.

"Sorry. So I—I guess that means no more lessons." She was dismayed and tired, but still thorough amazed.

He sat up slowly. "No more tonight. I'm too drained. When you work that hard, all you need is rest. Thankfully not food, or I'd be drinking you right now, part vampire or not." He chuckled tiredly at her horrified look. "It's not that bad. I think it rather pleasant, to have your blood 'sucked' by a vampire, especially one as skilled as I. Well, you can go home now, I need rest. Same time tomorrow."

She looked at him strangely. "Goodbye, Aelis" Lyonha tried to get up, but couldn't move. She was so tired! "Aelis? I can't seem to get up. I must be as drained as you."

He was already halfway asleep, but said, "Then sleep here tonight. I'll return you when I wake up, or if you get up before me, then head home. Good night."

"How long will the sleeping last? Aelis? Aelis?" But he was already asleep, and soon, so was she.

Lyonha woke to see a spattering of stars through oak branches, and slowly sat up, wincing at the stiffness in her body from laying on the ground. She turned to look for Aelis, and found him fast asleep in the shadows. This was the second time in one day she had found him sleeping unawares, and now she was brave enough to scoot close, straining to make out his features in dusky moonlight.

The vampire's face was relaxed and open, and he seemed too young to have such experience in life. She had to strongly remind herself that he was probably many, many years older, perhaps even thousands. But now he appeared to be a young boy of around nineteen, with shadowed hair and extremely handsome features. Almost inhumanly handsome. She tenderly caressed his cheek, hardly daring to breathe. But all he did was sigh with contentment, and she let out the breath she had been holding. His skin was so soft! Like supple ivory, or fine downy silk. Ebony hair fell into his eyes, and she brushed it away with a tender hand.

Deep in dreams, Aelis felt her light caress and instantly snapped awake, feigning sleep. Lyonha sat back, and his body tingled, aware of her intense perusal. His mind was shielded even in sleep, but hers wasn't, and he heard her thoughts.

He is so handsome, like some movie star or statue. I wonder where he fed, and on whom. He said he killed sometimes, did he kill yesterday morning? I felt his hunger, even though he wasn't aware of me. I knew he went to feed after I left. I wonder what it would be like to be a vampire. Aelis is so mysterious, and I sensed his panic when I was about to pull his shield away. What does he want to hide? I wonder how old he is. He doesn't seem ancient, so maybe fifty years, or perhaps a hundred. Two hundred? No, I don't want to think about it. I just wish he'd trust me enough to reveal his past. Oh well, I better get going.

She stood up and walked out of the clearing, leaving Aelis alone with his thoughts.

He wasn't hungry now, but knew the bloodlust would come soon enough. Aelis sighed and fled the clearing, speeding through dark night towards the city. Not the tiny town where Lyonha lived, so far north of LA it could barely remember what smog looked like. He was headed for the real city, the kind where people died every day, and not of wholly natural causes. The kind with dark back alleys, and dirty little corner bars where a vampire could feed and hide. He slipped through the filthy streets of Los Angeles, looking for just the right—there! On a corner of one of the more run down streets of the city, on a grubby corner where hopes and dreams flourished and died, was an ugly little place called Malemia. Its signs were plastered in neon, and screamed at the potential customers with lust and greed. The whole city of LA seemd to have a pall hanging over it, not unlike its perpetual layers of smog, filled with a feeling of lost, unhappy hopelessness. He shivered; this would have to be quick.

Waiters clad in almost nothing brushed alluringly past him as he stepped by, headed for the bar. He hadn' t had alcohol in so long he could barely remember what it tasted like, but why else would anyone be in here? A tiny whisp of a girl strided over to him, hips swaying suggestively, small clothing clinging to her body. "Are you hungry tonight?" She asked, knowing he would catch her double meaning.

"Very much so." The vampire replied, sliding his hand around her waist and following her into a dark little room behind the bar. He hated this desperate squalor—not visible to every eye, but evident in all the souls of the people who frequented these places. It hurt him inside, and he longed for his cool waving forests. But his body, preternatural though it was, still responded to her fondling, and the need for blood pulsed like a flame within him. His adroit lips found her neck in the almost-darkness, and he bit deep into the vein just below the skin. Hot invigorating blood flowed into his mouth, across his tongue, and down his throat, quickening something at his very core. His senses seemed to sharpen, the world becoming clearer still.

She fell limp against him, and he bent over her, eyes closed in the pleasure of feeding. When it was over, Aelis laid her gently on the bed, leaving money on the nightable. He quickly left the dark city far behind, fleeing, fulfilled phsically but fighting a hollow emptiness inside, back to his sacred clearing.

The sun was setting, sinking among a sea of clear colors and washing the meadow in amber tones, when Lyonha walked into the clearing she saw that Aelis was waiting on the rock, very much awake. She sighed in disappointment at not finding him asleep, but hurried over.

"What are we going to work on today? This time I'll go easy on you." Lyonha heard Aelis chuckle at her comment, and turned to see him watching her with dark eyes, a soft shade of gray-green in the sunset.

"The vampires of The Clan use telepathy most of the time. Do you know how to talk without speaking?" He asked. She shook her head. "Try it."

Lyonha closed her eyes and concentrated on Aelis's mind, unconsciously shutting out other sounds and light patterns. She caught the glowing edge of his thoughts, encased in a loose shield, and found to her surprise that they had color; a soft, pulsing green laced with bluish-gray and ebony.

While seeking his mind, Lyonha had left hers unshielded, and Aelis felt the astonishment. "Yes, all thoughts have some sort of color. Yours is amber and crimson right now." At her confusion, he added, "You didn't sense it at first probably because you weren't relaxed or concentrating enough. The color is called mind hue, and it changes with your mood. The colors and patterns are different for each person, and everyone has one."

"Yours are sort of a clear greenish gray with blue and black in it. It's pretty," She told him, embarrassed.

Aelis smiled. "Now your mind hues are orange, with flecks of red and yellow-gold. Well anyway, try and talk to me with your thoughts. Say something in your mind and aim it at me, at my shield. I'll catch it. Shields work one-way, and you can send thoughts to me with yours up too."

Lyonha formed a thought in her mind and shot it at Aelis's shield, watching in fascination as the vibrating shield seemed to hum, absorbing her thought with a pronounced pulse. ~is this good?~

~yes, that's it. Isn't this so much better than out loud?~ She felt his thought on the other side of her shield, and immediately let it through. It was a warm yellow, and seemed to carry a smile with it.

"How did you—" ~I mean, how did you do that? Send a smile with it~ Lyonha aimed the thought to Aelis, watching as his mind hue turned to swirling, misted amber and gold—the color of sunshine through forest leaves.

~merely think of a smile, or frown, or whatever when you're sending the thought~ Aelis demonstrated by adding a deeply furrowed dark blue frown on the tail of his thought.

~oh. Here's a . . .angry look~ Her thought carried a deep rusted red and black shadowed snarl, followed by a dark gray growl.

~wow. That hurts a little. Here, try this~ Aelis sent a roar, ringing rash red and the swollen yellow purple of bruises. Lyonha shuddered, and returned it to the vampire tenfold.

It knocked Aelis onto the grass, and he replied, out loud, "That's not polite. What did I do to deserve that?"

"Sorry, uh, I kinda got carried away." Lyonha studied a blade of grass, shielding her mind with an apology. Before it closed off, Aelis felt a humiliated red hue, and sighed.

"It's getting dark, and your head probably hurts from so much use. Go home and we'll work on this more tomorrow." He sat up, shaking dirt and grass stems out of his shadow-colored hair, and stretched.

"Hey Aelis, can I ask you something? I've been wondering, what exactly is the bloodlust?" Lyonha rubbed her aching temples, watching the vampire.

"Uh, well, it's when a vampire's body is telling him it needs blood. The equivalent of hunger in humans, but much more severe. Now, I really had best get going." He gave her a meaningful look.

Seeming impervious to his subtleties, she walked out of the clearing, absworbed in thought. "Oh, that's fascinating. How does it work, I wonder? Where does the blood go? I wouldn't think it went to the stomach, but then, one could always change the structure and function of the various body organs to suit…"

Her distracted voice, leaving the clearing, left him with a smile as he turned and stole off into the woods, silent as the night around him.

When Aelis arrived at the clearing near dawn, he saw to his surprise that there was another person there. The man's face was hidden in shadows, but Aelis recognized the stance—bold and arrogant, as if the stranger own everything in sight. He growled with startled wariness, and strode into the meadow. "Malegato."

The man turned, and smiled at Aelis with malevolence. "Aelis. We have to talk. I heard you've been breaking some rules lately. With a human." He frowned in disgust.

"I no longer belong to The Clan. Their interference is not warranted." He watched the dark vampire rise and stride closer, until his fetid breath blew into Aelis's face.

"You were exiled from The Clan because you broke most of their rules. But they still watch you, Aelis. You know that the penalty for breaking that rule, the most important one of all, is death." The last word was a hiss, and heated breath blew across Aelis's features.

"I haven't broken that one yet. And if I did, I would just as soon kill myself. I am not a fool, Malegato, and you best remember that." With a snarl twisting his features, Aelis leaned closer until their noses were almost touching, and shot a cannon ball of energy at the arrogant vampire's shield, utterly destroying it and knocking him across the clearing. Aelis turned on his heel and headed for the deepest shadows, not bothering to read the bastard's mind.

Much later, Lyonha walked into the meadow and saw Aelis staring moodily into the swirling water, lost in thought. His shield was strong as armor, and Lyonha frowned in bewildered apprehension.

"Lyonha, today you will learn how to send a mind blast, and by the time you are done, it will be as affective as the strongest of blows. I will teach you how to make weapons of your mind energy, and you will need them quite soon, I am sure of it." He turned his face to her, features hard and cold as stone walls in shadow. His next thought came in her mind. ~today I had a visitor. He was from The Clan, and they are looking for you, possibly to destroy you~

~because you broke their rules?~ Lyonha settled next to him, watching as he turned his steely gaze on her.

"Yes. Now concentrate. Do exactly as I say" He slowly, skillfully guided her through the steps to turn her mind into a deadly weapon. By the time the sun was rising in the east, and her head was near to exploding, Lyonha had mastered the skill of mind combat. She was so exhausted that she lay back in the grass and promptly fell asleep, cursing school and the consequences.

Aelis smiled and slipped into the shadows of swaying trees, off to hunt before the bloodlust set in. He had fought it all night, knowing that Lyonha's safety was much more important than blood, and offered no breaks in the process.

When Lyonha awoke it was midday, and she groggily sat up, searching the clearing for Aelis. He was no where in sight. She sighed, remembering that it was now Friday, and she had played hooky by accident. Oh well she thought I've done it so many times already, what's one more scratch on the record?

"That's exactly what I said to myself, in teaching you." Aelis strode into the clearing, smiling.

Lyonha sighed in relief, not realizing how tense she had been in his absence. Then she remembered to shield her mind.

Aelis chuckled. She glared at him, feeling his shield freshly renewed from feeding. ~what's it like to drink blood?~

Her question caught him unawares, and he turned, settling a startled gaze on her. "Well . . . it's hard to explain, and harder to understand. You being a human wouldn't know at all." He wasn't holding it against her, merely trying to explain.

"Okay. Let's have mind war, to test my skills against yours. I might even win." Again she startled him, but he answered effortlessly.

"No"

She scowled. "Why not?"

"It could get out of hand, and you know as well as I that this skill is deadly. Plus I want to save all your mindpower for a real danger. You can burn your mind out working it too much."

Lyonha scowled again, staring into the shadows. Suddenly she caught faint movement, and gasped. Aelis felt her alarm through the thin shield and whirled around, studying the tree line intently. "You can come out, Malegato."

The arrogant vampire stepped from swirling shadows, smiling in dark warning. "Ah, I see you have the human with you. That will do well, for you see, I have orders from the Kalet to take you both back to The Clan."

"The Kalet cannot summon me on a whim as in the past. I refuse to go." Aelis watched with narrowed eyes, sending a strong warning steeped in readiness to Lyonha. She nodded mentally, through the shielded thought passage Aelis had created.

"Then I will have to resort to force. The Kalet fears that you will break the rule, that most dangerous one, and wants to have you nearby for punishment. Extermination in fire, the girl with you."

Aelis nodded. "I agree to a face off, and for the girl's safety she will be on my side."

Malegato smiled in pitying disgust. "I don't know why you insist on protecting her. Mayhap you have already broken the first rule."

"No." Aelis violently denied, shaking his head. He trembled, but whether in anger, apprehension, or something else, Lyonha didn't know. His shield was a solid thing, smooth and flawless.

Aelis sent a warning to Lyonha, calling on his power and hers. ~ready . . .NOW!~

Their combined power slammed into Malegato, pitching him all the way across the gully, red and shaking with fury. His body shuddered in pain, and Lyonha could feel the strange vampires gathering energy, so thick it seemed to fill the air.

~he is almost as strong as my fullest powers, but if you help me fight him we can kill the bastard!~ His hate was a tangible thing, and Lyonha wondered apprehensively what this Malegato had done to Aelis to earn the full force of his fury.

~pay attention, or he'll kill you! He aims for weaknesses, and you must always be on your guard. Feel his power? He'll use part of it in his first blow, then save the rest for a final shot if he doesn't get through our shields. Beware!~

Lyonha could sense that Malegato was near the peak of his force, and braced her shield for the blow. When it came, blasting through the clearing towards them, she staggered back wards and was knocked flat with the power. But her shield had held.

Aelis was still standing, and his face was a mask of concentration, thoughts turned inward. She felt sharp pricks, a bloody red on the outside of her shield, and immediately strengthened it. Malegato turned away, focusing on Aelis.

~He'll try to overpower me, and if he succeeds, then with me out of the way Malegato will drink your blood, probably for the kill. Help me get him first. After his final blow, which will probably knock you out, he'll be as limp and powerless as a rag doll. But you will be helpless, and soon dead under his blade. Me, he will take to the Kalet. Help me gather all our energy to kill him before then. Give it to me now~ Aelis reached out a shielded passage, and she quickly connected it with her power source, sensing his pain from Malegato's insistent prodding.

She felt him eagerly pulling, sucking her energy out much like blood. Aelis gathered it into a giant spear tip, calling on all her energy and his. Lyonha could sense the power on the air, static with tension. It crackled as, with a powerful thrust, Aelis heaved the bolt of deadly energy at Malegato. It pierced him cleanly, and she felt the life force darken, reduced to a flickering flame, and suddenly go out. It seemed his spirit rose from him, much like smoke.

Aelis sank to the grass, heavy with exhaustion. "I must sleep. Watch over, please." His voice was barely above a whisper, and Lyonha looked at him, startled. His flawless face was now haggard with exhaustion, and she sensed his energy stores were almost depleted. What was left of it was being used to hold up a thin shield. She politely did not touch his mind, which could be easily done with so little cover.

Her own mind was drained, but not to the point of exhaustion, not nearly as bad as his. She nodded. "All right."

He let sleep come, slipping over him like a healing veil. It snuffed out worries and warnings that danger might be lurking near. He sighed in contentment, and his breathing eased to the steady rhythm of deep sleep.

Aelis awoke many hours later, and his body cried out with the bloodlust, screaming for sustenance.. He groaned and stood up, staring about the dark clearing. Lyonha was sleeping nearby, her face pale in the reflection of stars; milky and white. The world seemed drenched in silver radiance, and the vampire raced through shadowed trees, a darker blur in the dark night.

Aelis came upon a house, tiny and almost cottage-like. His need for blood was so strong that he was on the verge of blind panic. A woman was walking about the yard, tending to chickens. He could smell her blood, warm and sweet and hidden from sight.

The vampire crept closer, and soon became heady with its lilting fragrance. His mind slipped away, and his body lunged at the woman, biting deep into her neck. Hot blood coursed down his throat, burning his senses back with a snap.

The moon was full and far above, glowing and swollen. It cast radiant light around the farmyard, and Aelis, greatly alarmed, crept back into shadows. The vampire hurried back to the Ora Lin, afraid for Lyonha. He sent a dart of thought forward, and found to his relief that she was still sleeping soundly.

Crickets chirped all around, and the night was heady with warmth. It was almost summer; the air hot and ripe in southern California. Aelis sat, panting from the run, on their smooth boulder beside the stream. His energy stores had been full enough that he could run short distances; but now the long, panicked sprint to the cottage, and jogging all the way home for fear of danger to Lyonha had almost emptied them again. Sweat ran down his back and stuck to the dark, thin tunic, and Aelis gratefully peeled it off, laying back on the rock. His exhausted mind was pulled towards sleep, and he grudgingly let it come.

Lyonha woke when she heard Aelis return. She opened her eyes and watched him, unnoticed. A small drop of blood trembled at his lip, and she shuddered in fascination. It was dark, like burgundy wine, and he slowly drew a finger across it, smearing crimson against his smiling lips.

The vampire sat back on the rock, chest heaving in exertion from the long run. She gazed at him, utterly surprised--and pleased--when he peeled off his tunic and flung it to the ground, lying back on the cool boulder. Soon she felt his mind slip into muzzy sleep.

Lyonha quietly rose from the grass, shaking dirt out of her hair. She stole over to Aelis, gazing admiringly down at his smooth, tightly-muscled chest. It wasn't thick, like a man's, but if he were going to model guys underwear for teens, they would ogle their eyes out. She stifled a giggle.

He snapped awake at the muffled sound, ever alert for danger. Lyonha quickly stepped back, tripping over a tree stump. He automatically caught her, his movements swift as lightning.

With his surprisingly warm chest pressed against her, and his arms around her body, Lyonha felt like she was in heaven. Her mind was thinly shielded, and the fall had jostled that away completely. Aelis felt her admiring him, and he smiled in startled remembrance. The vampire had forgot how it was with humans, especially a teenage girl.

But no, his thoughts wouldn't dare stray there.

Lyonha reluctantly—very reluctantly—eased out of his strong arms, sinking slowly back to the grass. He watched her, then settled close beside the boulder, leaning back against it. It was cold on his unprotected skin, but felt good in the humid early morning air.

"Do you want to work on anything now?" Lyonha asked, trying very hard not to look at his chest.

"Anything in particular?" If the vampire was aware of her struggle, he didn't show it.

"How about telekinesis? Can we do that?" Lyonha's eyes widened at the though of being able to do all the stuff people with psychic powers did in the movies.

"Yeah. Here, I'll show you." His gaze fastened on the stream, and slowly, ever so slowly, a tendril of water began to rise into the air. It was swirling and winding gracefully through the morning light, and the sun shone through it, turning it into a spiral of diamond. Suddenly it was cut off from the stream, and formed a wobbly ball of clear liquid, floating towards them.

Lyonha reached out a hand to feel the mysterious thing, and it conformed to her palm as she cupped it, then flowed through her fingers in tiny ribbons of crystal. Aelis opened his eyes, and suddenly the floating tendrils lost their form and splashed to the ground.

"You could do that, with much practice." Her features were open in wonder, and she turned toward Aelis.

"Yes. Teach me how to do that!"

All morning was spent mastering the skill of telekinesis. Lyonha's mind was throbbing with a headache that was an angry red glow to Aelis' mind's eye.

"If you want, I could make your headache go away."

"How?"

"I'll show you." Aelis pushed closer to her, and eased her head into his lap. She closed her eyes, and he placed his hands flat against her temples. The vampire concentrated on this human girl in front of him, and in his mind saw the throbbing crimson blockage. He sent a tendril of cool blue thought to it, and slowly, ever so slowly, eased the painful ache.

Lyonha sat up in wonderment. "How did you do that? Can I do that?"

"I'm really not sure if your mind is that strong, but we could try." Aelis stood, walking over to the stream. His tunic was lying on the ground there, and he shrugged it on.

"Doesn't that need washing?" Lyonha stepped closer, examining his shirt with a critical eye.

"No. Why would it?" He gazed questioningly at her.

"Well, don't all clothes get dirty at one time or another?"

"Not mine. They have a sort of spell on them. We make our clothes from the land, and the Kalet make them so they never get dirty."

"What is the Kalet?"

He turned away, leaning back on the rock. "Kalet is power."

Lyonha sensed that he wouldn't say more. She settled on the rock, looking up at the waving tree branches. Their calming chant was faint but still audible, here in the daylight.

"You had best get going, your family will be worried." Aelis watched her leave the clearing, disappearing into the morning's radiant light.

Later that night Lyonha galloped into the meadow on Merle, and Aelis jumped up in alarm.

"Aelis! Do you know what you did?" She slid from the mare, and strode over to him. Lyonha switched to thought-speak to get the message across more vehemently. ~my neighbor, Mrs. Pansson, was found almost dead, drained of blood in her back yard this morning~

Aelis cringed at her mental onslaught. He stared at her in surprise. "Was her house small and looked like a cottage?"

"Yes. Why did you take so much blood? And you didn't even bother to erase the memories!"

"Mon Dieu! I'm so stupid!" Aelis was shaking his head, and suddenly looked up at Lyonha. "Did she tell anyone?"

"Only my mother, who is her best friend. God, Aelis! What were you thinking?" Lyonha watched as he jumped up from the rock and started pacing.

"I wasn't thinking. You see, the bloodlust had taken hold, and my mind sort of just slipped away. And when it came back, I just didn't remember to clear her mind; all I was thinking was the danger you were in."

"Well, now you will just have to clear my mother's mind, and hers."

"Oh. That's right! What if they told someone already? We have to get to them quickly. Could you lead them to a dark part of the forest tonight? I'll show you the spot. Just get them there and I'll do the rest."

Lyonha nodded. "All right, take me to the place."

Aelis grabbed the mare's reigns and handed them to her. Then he started off into to trees.

Lyonha followed on her horse, staying close to him in the deep shadows. It was near midnight, and the moon was hidden in a sea of clouds. The vampire walked like the hunter that he was; utterly silent and at one with the ancient oaks as he flowed through their shadows.

Deep into the forest, Aelis slid suddenly into a pool of deep shadow, almost disappearing. Lyonha could barely see his pale face, as if carved from the moon itself, floating detached in the darkness. She shivered with dread.

~hurry, bring them to me~ His voice hissed in her mind, and she turned and fled from the shadows, from this vampire that she did not know.

"But why, dear? I'm sure that if Cazzy ran away, she wouldn't come here."

"But mom, I saw her run this way! Come on, I think I can hear her, up there in the trees. Can you hear her barking? Hurry!" Lyonha urged her mother and Mrs. Pansson farther into the forest. Lyonha followed them into the deep inky-black pool of shadows, seized with foreboding. ~Aelis?~ she called tentatively, hoping he was there.

~Don't worry, Lyonha. I'm here~ Aelis sensed her fear, and crept closer. He could hear the women entering the deep shadows, and glided over to the first. ~Lyonha, please forgive me. I must feed tonight~

He wrapped his arms around the closest human, and bit deep. Warm, sweet lifeblood flowed down his throat, and he shuddered in ecstasy.

Lyonha watched in fascinated horror as he slowly, artfully bent over the body, face buried in her neck like a lover. The woman's head fell back, and she gasped with strange, new sensations. Lyonha felt a tingling at her own neck, her body strangely yearning for the vampires warm mouth. She saw a dark trickle of blood, black in the shadows, wind down the woman's throat. Aelis shivered once, then pulled away, slowly easing the human to the ground.

His eyes closed in concentration, he wiped both the women's minds clean; of the former event, and this new one. When it was done, they left them there in the shadows, walking, both lost in thought, back to their own meadow.

"Aelis?"

He looked at her. "Yes?"

"Wha-what does it feel like? Please describe it to me." Lyonha settled on the rock, yearning to be in Aelis's arms for some reason.

He smiled at her. "It's the most incredible thing." His eyes took on a smoldering, far-away look. He stared at nothing. "At first your upper jaw aches like hell, with the beginning of the bloodlust. Then you smell human blood, warm and coursing through their veins, just waiting to be taken. You nuzzle their neck, like a lover. Your fangs touch their skin, then pierce it, with a spurt of warm blood in your mouth. You suck, feeling the blood run up through your fangs and over your tongue both, down into your stomach, burning and hot like fire, and thick. Oh, it's so wonderful! You almost weep tears of joy, and your body shivers with the ecstasy of it." He looked at her.

She was lost in his words, gazing at his beautiful face with rapture. Imagining his fangs piercing her skin, his arms around her, his breath hot on her neck, his—

"Lyonha."

She realized her shield wasn't up, and looked at him sheepishly. "Yes?"

"Do you want to try?"

She hesitated but a moment, a thrill of fear rising along her spine. "Is it possible, with me having part vampire blood?"

He smiled in remembrance. "You aren't supposed to, the Kalet says so. But I've done it before, with other vampires."

"Alright, I do want to try. I've always wondered..."

"Come with me, follow me, Lyonha." His voice was a song in the darkness, and she, lost in the midnight winds, followed blindly. Stars guarded the sky and shadows played, swirling with moonlight in a never-ending dance beneath the trees. Aelis led Lyonha deep into the shadows, back to where the stream trickled far away and grass rose all around, taller than their waists.

He brought her softly to the ground beside him, and took her in his arms. Lyonha sighed with pleasure, somehow feeling as if she had come home. His hands dove into her thick heavy chocolate-colored hair, steadying her head in his grasp. He brought his lips down on hers in a kiss that was so deep that she felt his fangs. He moved down her neck, slowly, lingering at her pulse. Then his mouth found the sweet, throbbing vein. Her lifeblood flowed beneath his mouth, under skin that was sweet and soft, a virgin's flesh.

She felt his fangs at her throat, and shivered. Not with fear, but something entirely different. A moments pain, as he pierced her skin, but soon washed away by something akin to passion. She could feel her blood being wound out of her, a pulling sensation deep at her core. It shivered along nerve endings she never knew she had.

Her blood flowed thickly into his mouth, and it was somehow the sweetest he'd ever tasted. But then, it was always this way. For some reason his shield was being swept aside by the sensations, and he for once didn't care. His mind simply let go of all of the painful thing he'd held inside for so long, so painfully long. It was as if a breath of fresh air had come when his shield was lifted away, and he had needed that air for much too long.

Before it could happen, he pulled his fangs from her neck, easing her limp body into the grass. She sighed in contentment, and he couldn't resist another deep kiss. Her mouth was so sweet! He opened her lips with his tongue, and she tasted her own blood. His arms went around her body, pressing her against his chest. She could feel their hearts beating a staccato rhythm in unison. He broke off the kiss, leaning back into the grass.

"That was . . .wow." He said in wonderment, gazing down at her in the longing of desire. He shouldn't be feeling this way, not with a human. For some reason he wanted to with her! And with his mind, almost had.

She remembered how his shield had nearly been swept aside, and she had caught his heady passion, the lust for her body, and the need to join his mind with hers. Lyonha was stunned with the new sensations.

"I wouldn't really mind doing that again. The kiss thing." She smiled up at him, her hair tumbling about her face in the deep grass.

"N-no. I can't. It might get—too far" His voice was husky and deep in his throat. It's rumble made her shiver.

"Aelis, why are you so scared? What do you have to hide? Because I know you aren't afraid of the Kalet's rules."

He sighed, turning away. "Something happened to me, long ago. I don't want talk about it. Please?"

His features were pained, and it only made him more handsome. She traced a possessive finger along his brows, which were drawn together in a frown. They smoothed under her touch. "Yes, but it can help to tell other people."

It was the wrong thing to say, for he grabbed her wrist in his hand, clamping down on it with iron strength in a painful reminder of what he was. His voice had gone flat as he leaned close. "I do not need anyone's help."

She refused to cower. "Yes. You do. You've been holding it in, for maybe centuries. And I think its time to let it go."

He growled, deep and low in his throat. Pushing her hand away, he crushed her to his chest. ~think you're so brave, do you?~ His mouth slammed down on hers in a devil-may-care kiss.

She leaned into him, letting him vent some of the anger and frustration that was pent-up inside. If only he'd let down his shields!

They broke apart, Aelis struggling for control. Why had he done that, again! His mind was appalled at the thought of doing any such thing with a human. But his heart yearned for it, with a fervor that surprised him.

He had to get away, before something happened that he would regret later. Aelis stalked off into the shadows, hurriedly sending Lyonha his farewell.

"Your heart will win, because it is true." Lyonha called out to his back, and heard a string of muttered curses.

Aelis needed to think. He strode deep into the forest, away from Lyonha and all humans and The Clan. His thoughts turned back to the night's events.

My god, but she was sweet! One of the best I've had. But then, it always seems that way, doesn't it. Or maybe I just can't remember the other times too well. The past is so distant, shrouded with the mists of heartbreak and the fogginess of time.

His heart convulsed at the memories, and he quickly shut them away in a tiny shuttered place deep in his mind. If he could, he'd have sent them back into the swirling fog of his past, and left them there.

Aelis's step faltered at that thought, remembering again the bittersweet memories, and he decided that for all the pain they caused, he would rather keep them. Life was far more sweet than bitter.

Lyonha wandered back to the meadow, respecting Aelis's need to sort through his scattered thoughts, as she intended to do hers. She settled onto the familiar rock beside the stream, and stared into the water, lost in thought. Her mind was shielded by reflex now, and she could sense Aelis, very far away. His thoughts were buried beneath a wall so high and smooth that no one could have broken it. She sighed.

Suddenly a hand shut over her mouth, and she let out a muffled squeal of surprise. Her attacker pulled her up against his body, and she felt a hard chest. A gruff voice whispered in her ear, "Lyonha. Aelis's little slut. I'm Rashel, and you will come to the Kalet now. They will lure Aelis back with you. You see, my dear, you are the bait."

Lyonha's eyes widened in fright, and she sent Aelis a desperate thought. But it was blocked with something dark and heavy. "Why would Aelis come to me? He hates the Kalet, and why do they want him anyways?" She tried to reason with the vampire, stall for time. Her own shield was a thing of stone, many feet thick.

"Oh, but he would. You see, we people of The Clan have rules. Aelis may not know it, but he has already broken the most important one." Her captor chuckled. "And after all he's said, what I wouldn't give to see his face when he finds out! The Kalet, well, they have ways of knowing. I doubt he even knows it himself . . ."

"Knows what!?" Her patience was strained thin, and she had to fight down rising panic. What would her captors do to her?

"You humans, you're so stupid. I pity you." Rashel heaved her into his arms and sped away from the clearing so fast that wind whipped her hair out of her face with a force so strong that she couldn't breath. Holding a hand over her nose, she cursed the arrogant vampire to the eternal fires of hell, and didn't bother to shield the thought.

He laughed lustily into the wind, and said, "I've already been there, thank you."

Aelis raced back to the clearing, breath tearing from his lungs in panic. Her presence was somewhere near, but traveling away at a speed only vampires could manage. He cursed, and the forceful exhalations surprised even him. He hadn't remembered having a vocabulary quite that extensive. The thought made him smile, but only for a second.

Trees shifted emptily in the cold breeze of evening. It was promise of a freezing night here in the backwoods. The meadow was barren of any presence of that girl he was unexpectedly fond of. And how absolutely absurd! Since when had that happened? Best not think of that.

Back to the present. Lyonha was being kidnapped by a vampire, most obviously from the Kalet. His mind instantly considered this from every angle. Of course the Kalet were trying to lure him to them, and probably for his recent crimes. But that wouldn't happen. And he would never get caught. That was a fact. No one had caught him yet, and Aelis intended to keep it that way.

But then he was already thinking up ways to rescue Lyonha. And why? Why should he rescue her at all? She was only a human, and would die someday anyway. What would it matter that much if he prolonged her life?

But he was only having these thoughts to sate the silly thing inside everyone called reason. He knew already that he was going to rescue her. No use wasting time pondering something he already knew the answer to.

Aelis started running.

Lyonha twisted in her captor's arms, trying in vain to get comfortable. She was bouncing at his every step, being knocked from side to side and up and down. How annoying!

You'd think the vampires would at least show some respect to their prey, she thought. I mean, if every time they suck blood is as it was for Aelis and me, they could at least honor that. But it seemed that vampires denied their carnal urges. Why, they treated the act of taking blood jut as humans treated passion and sex. But then, there was almost an orgasmic feeling in that heady passion of drinking blood.

Lyonha sighed. It was useless to ruminate on vampires and their mysteries. She would probably never have an answer to her questions. And Aelis might be leaving very soon. Maybe sooner than he himself knew.

Aelis could see them through the trees. That other vampire, Rashel, was going a slightly slower pace that him. Each vampires' strength was different and one could never tell exactly how powerful one's strength would be until changed into a vampire. The blood gathers power as it ages, and Aelis knew this one was not yet so old. Unlike Aelis himself.

Suddenly Rashel and Lyonha disappeared. Aelis sighed and willed himself upwards. He could just barely see the other two far above and to the west, bathed in the blood red sunset. Why were sunsets around here always crimson and cloudless?

Aelis stayed low to the ground, among the trees so as not to be seen. He sent a silent thought to Lyonha, just to let her know he was there and following as discretely as possible. He could feel her sigh of relief.

Lyonha tried not to panic. She really did.

"Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!" She pounded on Rashel's arms, twisting in his grip. He held her like a vice, squishing her flat against his chest. She stopped struggling because she knew it would either amount to her falling, or Rashel getting angry and letting her drop.

"That's better," he relaxed his grip, trying to get comfortable.

Lyonha looked down. There was her little town, nestled among the mountains. The mountains themselves appeared the spiny backbones or monstrous prehistoric behemoths that were buried in thousands of layers of earth, and trying in vain to free themselves. How could a town live between those huge monstrous creatures without cowering in fear?

She returned her gaze to the sunset, washing everything in tones of red and amaranthine. The forest below appeared a bubbling mass of black blood, slowly oozing its way between the forbidding mountains and creeping ever so slowly towards the unsuspecting town . . .

Lyonha shook aside her macabre thoughts, throwing back her head to view the immense and limitless sky in all of it's fading glory. A star or two shone through, but most everything was swallowed by the dimness of the dying day. The moon peeked from behind a silhouetted rock atop the hill behind her.

She remained quiet, soaking up the beauty of the land below so as not to go mad. She could feel Aelis below, a tiny reassuring flicker at the edge of her mind. She guarded it zealously from her captor, who was trying, very sneakily, to invade her mind. She locked it up tight and drew deeper into herself, alone with her thoughts and the tiny flame that was Aelis.

They were moving fast, but slower than in the forest. Lyonha guessed that Rashel felt safer now that he was out of Aelis's known territory. She sighed and leaned back in Rashel's arms, secure for the moment.

Aelis could feel Lyonha marveling at the quiet beauty of the landscape. He, too, was a little charmed. But something about the situation was bothering him.

The Kalet knew of Aelis' power, and still they had sent Rashel, a mere young one. And now Rashel, who had not been going very fast in the first place, was slowing down even more. And right as they passed into a very deep and tall canyon, lined in decaying granite and small tangled bushes. The trees were thick along the bottom.

Aelis smelled a trap

He slowly and silently moved up the canyon's flank, very sinuous and cat-like. It was the dregs of twilight, and he moved with preternatural sharpness, the night having brought a new awareness to his keen senses. Aelis was trying to get to the top of the canyon, so he wouldn't be easy prey for someone on the rim.

He paused carefully and surveyed the canyon with piercing eyes. All was still. He continued on.

He saw Lyonha and Rashel set down rather clumsily amid the trees now far below. Everything was murky and dark, but he could see just fine. The two were now starting to walk deeper into the foliage. Definitely a trap.

Lyonha unconsciously tightened her grip on Rashel as they dropped in among the trees, the tangled and dark canyon rising about them in malevolent shadow.

"Why are we stopping?" Lyonha darted a glance around her, then looked to Rashel for an answer.

"Shut up!" He shoved her in under a particularly tall and thick bush, very leafy and smelling of that sweet bitter smell of desert and sage. She sank down on her knees among the dead leaves, forced there by the iron hand of her captor.

"Ow! Stop! You're hurting me!" She yanked away, rubbing her shoulder and casting a dark look to Rashel.

He ignored her, looking up at the canyon rim. He seemed distracted. In fact, if Lyonha didn't know better, she would think he were talking to someone up there.

She was well aware of the potential danger of the situation. She could sense Aelis creeping up the canyon wall, slowly and surely headed for the rim where he would be safer and more able to defend himself having a full view of the entire canyon. And as long as he stayed underneath the bushes, no one would be able to see him.

But if Rashel's men were up there, then he would be in more danger than he supposed. If he wasn't expecting them to be there, and they were from this Kalet that Aelis kept talking about, then they would have both the element of surprise and superior strength. Maybe even enough to overpower Aelis and take him prisoner.

Lyonha didn't know why they were after him, but that wasn't the important part right now. What mattered was getting back to Aelis, and escaping with him somewhere safe. Lyonha didn't know what they would do then, but she knew in her heart that she would stay with Aelis no matter what happened.

Aelis reached the top and turned, panting, to look out over the entire canyon. All was dark and shadowy, as the moon hadn't yet risen. He could make out the foliage down at the bottom of the canyon, along the stream there. It was as if some giant had poured black maple syrup all over the mountains, and it had slowly oozed its way onto the numerous cracks and gullies that wrinkled the land.

The night was still and silent, almost eerily so. Aelis could feel Lyonha down there among the trees. She and Rashel were hiding under a tall bush, as if waiting for something. He sent a wary thought to Lyonha ~Lyonha, what are you guys doing down there?~

A pause. The canyon was deathly silent.

~I'm fine. I think Rashel's got men up there on the canyon's rim. Be en guarde and watch and wait. I think something's gonna happen. Very soon. Oh, by the way, why are they after you? I'll stick by you no matter what happens, but why the hell do they seem out to get you?~

Aelis sighed with relief. He didn't know why, but for some reason he was secretly relieved that there was someone else here besides him, for it seemed on this lonely night that he was the only living soul in this part of the world.

~well, before I left I broke a few of their rules. You know, the important ones. They think I'm a threat to the vampire population and welfare. And who knows, maybe I am. But the rules I broke would be enough of an excuse to come and get me, if anything.~

Silence. His emotions hit a fever pitch. ~Lord God, Lyonha, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you~

Stupid idiot! What the hell made me say something as absurd and corny as that! Aelis berated himself.

~don't worry Aelis. I feel the same. You know, I love you. And I'm not just saying that. I really really do--~

The thought was cut off suddenly. He whole presence was gone from his mind altogether. Aelis panicked.

~Lyonha! Lyonha!~ "Lyonha!"

Aelis searched desperately for a connection, something, anything to tell him that Lyonha was still alive. He found nothing.

"Hey! What the hell!"

"Sorry dear. For municipal purposes, we'll just have to make sure Aelis cant find you for now." Rashel chuckled, keeping his shield of invisibility over Lyonha's. It wasn't invisibility in the physical, but in the mental, in her mind. In other words, Lyonha was completely cut off from Aeilis in everything mental. In fact, he probably thought her dead.

"Damn you!" Lyonha had heard the thought, carefully extracted from his shied and shown to her. Of course they would know she had extreme mental ability. But she still had one little surprise left. They didn't know she was actually half vampire.

She hoarded that knowledge and buried it behind layers of shield. They must never find out without her consent.

Aelis searched desperately with his mind's eye the whole valley, horror beginning to dawn on him when she did not show up. Unfortunately for Aelis, the Kalet seemed to have discovered this new power quite recently. In fact, one of the more powerful members of the Kalet had developed this technique as soon as Aelis left. The experienced vampire had had no whisper of this at all.

Aelis was in a right panic. He had given up on his mind and instead combed the valley with his preternatural eyne. No sign anywhere of this wonderful girl who had come to mean so much to him! When Aelis had left the Kalet, he had been shaking with indignation, anger, and pride. But underneath all this there was a gnawing loneliness and fear that had haunted his thoughts ever since being out from under the safe wing of his fellow blood-drinkers. He was now a rogue vampire, a heretic in the eyes of his only people. And those people he needed desperately. Being the only, pardon the word, species of this kind that prowled the earth, vampires naturally and instinctively stayed with their own kind. The humans were their prey, also inferior, and therefore the vampires reigned over them with a kind of loving dutifulness, feeling pity for these poor creatures who must die. And the matter that complicated this whole situation was that vampires were human spawn. They ate their former kind. This to some vampires was beyond the worst of sins, cannibalism and murder combined; this was such a seemingly hideous existence that it forced some to become martyrs. Aelis had overcome this base aversion, realizing that he could not simply give up this glorious and wonderful existence, expensive though it was. He had shifted his focus from trying in vain to verify his existence, to learning how to survive. And yet, centuries after he had made that great and grievous decision, it still came back to haunt him. He caught himself in the midst of reverie comparing humans to vampires, himself to perhaps a passerby on the street, and continually finding himself unworthy. These thoughts, which might seem inescapable to you, were in fact beginning to unravel Aelis's confidence. He had seen this happening and knew that that line of thinking would only lead him to his eventual and certain death, which, in the end, claims all of us, no matter if we arm ourselves with blood-sucking teeth and the radiant glow of supposed immortality. But at what price? he asked himself. He knew the answer: them. Not him. And in his heart this overwhelming selfishness at once disgusted him, horrified him, and benefited him. If you intend to be a vampire for very long, one must have this: undeniable, overwhelming selfishness. But Aelis had realized this, and therefore had banished all thoughts and musings over his way of life and the price it cost, which was paid every day by at least one human life, from his mind.

It was easier for Aelis to maintain this point of view when among his kind. Once away from his species, he feared that he might succumb to this goodness, which would either kill his body or his soul. He had seen what the supposedly "good" vampires went through. An upright man—an upright vampire! At first horrified by their situation, they subjected themselves to all methods of trying to stay alive without killing. Which, if one were a vampire, could be and is a very painful existence. Their only sustenance being blood, lack of it would cause them to dry and shrivel up like a sponge without water, becoming hard and immobile. Since they cannot die except by either fire or the light of the sun, they lay in some secluded niche hiding from the sun and the reality of their situation, moping and slowly turning shades of brow, then grey, then becoming entirely white, not unlike beings that live forever in the very bowels of the earth, never seeing the sun. As slowly their body turns to stone, and then to dust, they become so weak and shriveled that they cannot move even if they had wanted to. Eventually they wither away to dust and the wind, if there is wind nearby; comes and carries on it's back this dust, which still contains their soul, their spirit.

Others choose to die by flame, or challenging the sun's deadly gaze one fateful morning. Some come out black as cinders, not having had the courage to become the martyr, which is their only way out, alas! Eventually they return to their normal coloring. The ones who dare to look the sun in the eye shrivel in it's mighty glare, writhing and screaming in pain as their flesh, bones, and blood are boiled by that great yellow eye.

As you can imagine, all these deaths are extremely painful; starving to death over centuries, turning to dust, boiling alive, or being roasted in the fire like a ham. And yet these are the only ways to escape immortality, so jealously guarded by those who have attained it and so desperately and blindly sought by those who have not. Aelis did not fancy any of these things ever happening to him, immortal as he was in his youth forever. He knew death would come some day for him as for the rest, and he had no fear of that specter. But he did not see any reason to bring it upon himself any sooner than absolutely necessary.

And as he had all these thoughts and opinions broiling and twining in his head, along comes this young girl, unexpectedly, seeming to have walked straight out of some morning fog, and she has inside of her both the species, enemies forever warring and conquering, slave and master, royalty and gamin, aristocrat and noxious poor, scorn and envy! Good and evil. And both in her, this amazing young creature fresh from the meadows as if from some misty moor in Scotland, fresh from the jungle. And she come galloping in on her golden mare, sits down in the grass, and promptly falls asleep. Who could help but be charmed, even if it did happen to be his meadow.

Well, this magical, seemingly fairy creature, fey beauty, come up to him with innocence in her eyes and the warring species within, and falls at once to the depths of his heart! What was a man supposed to do? Ignore her as she is being borne away by these devils, these demons, these evil creatures with the intention of—what? He did not know, and he did not care so long as they didn't harm her. But how could he be sure that they wouldn't? How could he be sure of anything anymore? He had to save her, rescue her, take her away. Away where he didn't exactly know, and cared even less.

The match of action was lit, Aelis was decided; he swooped down the cliff face and straight over the tangled knot of growth at the bottom of the canyon, His eyes, now decided, desperately searching. Nothing moved, not a glimmer, not a twinkle of her to be seen anywhere. He knew she couldn't be dead; he would have felt it surely—right? Doubt, that creature slow as lava, confusing as fog, and dangerous as both, began to creep into Aelis's mind. He suddenly decided to go further up and see if he could make out anything from a higher vantage point. It was worth a try, wasn't it?

Lyonha was staring mutely and worriedly at the canyon rim where she had last seen Aelis. Whenever she thought about the trick Rashel had played on them both, she had to take a thick twig in her hands and break it so as not to scream, or maybe try to strangle Rashel, which wasn't an entirely bad idea, except she was already sure of the outcome. A young girl against a grown man, plus the fact that he was full vampire and she only half; and if she thought about it, it wouldn't really make any kind of difference whatsoever if Lyonha had the bastard tied up to this thick bush or guarding her—even if she got away, Aelis would still be searching for her in vain, because the mind shield Rashel had tricked them with prevented her from sending any kind of retreat message to her endangered one.

Just when her problems were beginning to confound and anger her enough so that she thought it time to search out a new twig, she suddenly saw a dark form swoop down from the top of the canyon, near where Aelis had been when Lyonha had last saw him.

She gasped. "No! Aelis, you've just given yourself away!"

Rashel smiled and glanced toward the top of the canyon where, to his gloating satisfaction, a legion of dark shapes had just flown out after Aelis, who was seemingly desperately searching the canyon for something…something…

"Ah!" Lyonha gave a mental cry, and attacked Rashel, tumbling him onto the ground and slamming his head against the rather thick trunk of the bush, as she had gleefully imagined doing earlier. He gave a cry, and then a shudder, then was gone. Lyonha checked his mind to be sure he was unconscious; she was met with a swirling white blankness which simultaneously frightened and satisfied her.

She leapt out of the thicket of bushes, then suddenly leapt back in, astounded at her stupidity. The legion of menacing vampires who were on Aelis's tail had just swooped by overhead, and she wasn't sure yet that they hadn't seen her. But they passed by, fortunately, without looking back.. Lyonha waited a second, checked the skies, then plunged from the thicket, keeping an eye on the ground while watching overhead, just in case Aelis or some other malevolent flying being should happen to pass by.

She really had no clue as to where she was or where she was going, except that she wanted to find Aelis as quickly as possible and escape these bandits, these Kalet, or whatever they were. Lyonha quickly scanned the skies, and saw that Aelis was headed back into the valley, and the legion of bats, as she had decided to call them, were right on his tail. She flew out into the nearest open space and started jumping up and down, waving her arms and shouting at Aelis. He suddenly turned her direction and, as if fate had been holding it's breath, their eyes met.

He had alighted beside her, and now took her into his arms and kissed her gently and almost modestly. She threw her arms around his neck and he lifted her into his embrace, pushing off the ground and seeming to soar into the open and empty sky.

Suddenly Lyonha pounded Aelis's shoulder with her fist and cried, "look!"

Behind them were the legion of bats, but now they seemed a legion of monsters from hell. The one in the lead blasted Aelis with such a mental blow that the unsuspecting vampire fell from the sky. Lyonha, who remained in his arms, as she had nowhere else to go, screamed as she fell with him.

The two hit the ground with a sickening, unnatural thud.

[end of chapter 1]

Dawn the following day. The sky was a pale pale lavendar, as if the goddess of lilac had breathed on the colorless sky, newly sprung from the moonset. The air was awash with the clean scent of morning, and the night was grasping desperately with its shadow claws to hold onto the receding moon, black sky, and stars, to try in vain, as it had been doing for eons, to conquer the day and keep time all to itself. This desperate clawing was transformed into the slow receding splendor of pre-dawn. Night still reigned, trembling, but day was stealthily creeping in underneath. All colors, including the sky, were turned to shades of blue, no matter how pale or how deep as the moonlight waned like the tide off everything in the world. Even the air seemed blue. Not radiant beautiful sky-blue, but the slow receding of the moontide, almost gray, but close enough to blue as to be called by that name.

In this trembling blue of pre-dawn air, the bushes, which in the day were in all shades of sienna to spring green, were now turned to a mute, sleeping background, all vibrant or nonvibrant colors mixing and blurring in this blue to create the dense and shadowy landscape. The mist crept and lingered in the valleys and canyons, and if one were looking from above it would seem as if some giantess had poured a thick, milky cloud over the landscape, which settled and crept slowly and surely into all the low points of the land. The sky was a breathless mirror to the mist, seeming thicker, higher, grander, but almost the same color.

As this mist of the dying night snuck into the canyon where the gruesome struggle had taken place, it did not seem to notice or care that there was a large black pool of blood, stretching for about 15 yards in roughly a circle, and at the center two silent motionless figures lay, seeming old dolls covered in the dust of morning. Of these two figures, hard to make out and looking part of the silent background world that was the landscape, one was lying twisted at a sickeningly odd angle, and that is where the blood was the thickest. They were lying about 5 feet apart.

Suddenly one stirred. A few rabbits that had been invisible until then silently fled the clearing, abandoning the tender grass they'd been chewing.

The one that had stirred seemed to struggle through a haze to sit up, and finally succeeding, with a low moan of pain. The figure, who was a young girl judging the length of her dark hair, finally managed to become oriented enough to look over at her neighbor, the one twisted and lying in the pool of blood.

She gave a startled cry.

The body, which seemed a corpse, had its face turned away from her and its back bent at a extremely unnatural angle. The girl dragged herself over to the body, and, with a sort of dreadful suspense, turned it gently over. It was clearly a man, who had wild, dark long hair that pooled around him, crusted with blood. His throat was cut, and still oozing black blood. His face was white as if powdered, but was surely not, and his dark eyelashes that so gracefully and majestically brushed his ivory cheeks seemed to flutter, filling the young girl with a desperate hope. But it was only the wind, which swept uncaringly across this gruesome scene.

The girl, retaining some wild hope, put her fingers against his icy wrist, checking for the pulse which she knew would have no chance of being there. His skin was white as porcelain, and hard and cold as marble. Upon extinguishing her last hope, she shuddered with pain, either inside or out, and rose shakily to her feet.

The sky was dark, and the mist cold, or so it seemed to her. She had no idea where she was going, but she knew that she could not stand the sight of that corpse, for that was surely what it was. Lyonha started walking, slowly and almost as if in a dream, to the west, in the direction of her city.

After day had spent its heated glory, night came again in all its fierceness, the moon right on the heels of the sun. The mist again crept up through the valleys and canyons, and the sky was fading from the glory of sunset to the dim fierce softness of the night. The flora, after being drenched in the heat of the sun, had once again gained the dark, shadowy look, becoming instead of the bright pallet on which to write dreams the looming and eerie background, hovering somewhere in the mist.

The moon was rising, thin as a sickle, behind a large boulder atop the canyon rim, which was reduced to silhouette. The last of the day's heat was chased away by the cold and merciless night winds, which seemed to bring a somehow eerie chill to the entire landscape. It had metamorphosed from man's friend into his enemy.

The mist seemed the thickest here in this lonely canyon where the moon chose to make it's entrance, rising mysteriously and majestically from atop the sentinel rock, and ringed with mist and a weird unearthly glow.

Here in this canyon where the shadows were thickest, the trees most menacing, and the mist prowled like a deadly panther, lay the still form of a man, ringed by a large pool of something dark and scary-looking.

The moon had barely cleared the rock, which plunged the canyon into darkness. The man lay unmoving, merely a darker shadow among the rest. He was wearing some sort of dark greatcoat, which deemed his form totally invisible in the blackness of the night. And yet his skin was as pale as the moon itself, and in the darkness it glowed as if it had it's own eerie light. His head was thrown back, and his hair was crusted with dried blood and twisted in nasty tangles behind him. On the whole, he provided a very frightening picture. On his neck there was a dim mark, hard to make out in the night, but looking like some sort of vicious scar.

The moonlight inched down the canyon wall, at the foot of which lay the eerie figure of this man, mute and still as a corpse. The tangled brush at the valley bottom was blurred so with shadow that it became a solid mass, and whenever the wind came around the whole thing moved, and seemed almost alive.

The line of moonlight was slowly creeping neared to the pale, lifeless body, dripping down to the foot of the hill and advancing on into the clearing. It seemed as if it were creating the land as it went, for the blackness of the shadow looked like nothing, merely ink that had been spilled on the page and was slowly being cleaned up by the moonlight.

The only thing visible in that black shadow was this man's luminous hands, neck, and face.

The line of moonlight was passing across the man's face, the face of a corpse, a corpse twisted hideously at a sickeningly impossible angle. The light reached the point where it cut his face in half, one side glowing brilliantly in the moonlight, almost made of marble or ivory and shining as if it were solid. The other half was a mere shadow of this light. His face seemed cut in half, one side light, the other not existing. It looked like half a face. Strange how the night creates such artwork that strikes to the bone in a moment of breathless fear, making everything seem real.

Suddenly the man's eyelids fluttered, and he turned his face from side to side, his hair a stiff swirling mass behind him. His eyes flew open, and the moonlight penetrated right to the core, making his hazel green eyes the color of a pool of forest shadow, that swirling green that is dark, deep, and seems endless. The moon made his eyes glow, and their immediate, brilliant color contrasted disturbingly with the gray and black tones of night.

He wrenched his head from one side to the other, and suddenly a violent cry of pain split the night. The man clenched his jaw together, bringing his head back very far and opening his mouth as a intense shudder wracked his body. He was breathing in tiny broken gasps, shallow and rushed.

Suddenly he brought his head forward and clenched his jaw, turning his body with a sickening crack. His spine, which had been bent at a hideously odd angle, was now snapped into place.

Aelis fainted.

He awoke with the dawn, and at first did not remember where he was. Then it all came clear—him flying desperately with Lyonha in his arms, the league of vampires after them, their sickening fall. He gasped with that last one, unconsciously bringing his head up and sending a jolt of pain down his body. He froze, shuddering with the intensity of it, then let his head fall back to the ground in defeat.

The sky was a brilliant blue above him, spotted with clouds that hadn't yet been whisked away by the strong wind that had come up. Aelis was thinking about last night, how he had wrenched his spine back into place and almost died of pain. He shuddered at the thought of it.

Lyonha had surely gotten home all right. The Kalet had wanted him, and so there was no reason to think that they had taken her at all. He contented himself with this thought, because if he started to wonder if they actually had taken her, sucked her blood, maybe even killed her, then he would go mad with worry. And that wouldn't do him or her any good at all. In fact, the vampires could still be here, or maybe nearby. No use worrying about that, as it wouldn't help him at all either, seeing as he could not move without nearly killing himself. Aelis wondered how long this pain was going to last. If the Kalet had wanted him, then why hadn't they taken him? Unless they had already gotten their use out of him, made him pay for his crimes by leaving him there to die. But he couldn't have died, not without fire of some sort, or them beheading him. And they had obviously not achieved that. And why had the pain been so intense last night anyways? He was a vampire, was he not? And that made pain less sharp, less violent.

Suddenly he thought to look around him, and realized he was lying in a pool of his own blood, which was now brown and dried, but he could see it stretched for a long way past him. That much blood couldn't possibly have come from him alone. Not alone. Oh, god, Lyonha!

Aelis struggled to sit up, not caring about the pain or the damage it would do him. He would heal fast enough with his vampiric powers. But the pain hit him like a punch in the gut, and he was slammed back down to the ground, open-mouthed and gasping.

After a few minutes of recovery, Aelis tentatively peered around him once more, watching the birds hop around in the bushes, fighting each other and gobbling some red berries. That reminded him; shouldn't he have the blood thirst so intensely by now that it would be driving him insane? No matter; for some reason, he wasn't hungry just now, even though it had been, let's see… For some reason, Aelis couldn't seem to remember exactly how many days had passed while he was unconscious, maybe even in a coma. He didn't know; had no clue whatsoever. And that had been a preternatural power he had, an infallible internal clock. That's the second thing he's noticed that was strange, different. It was almost as if he was no longer a vampire. But that was impossible. And yet, come to think of it, before this incident the daylight had been like a strange internal opressant, like some mysterious thing that was somehow painful and eerie, that he had learned to ignore. Well, he couldn't feel it now, and it was daylight. In fact, he felt free and happy, as if the daylight gave him that feeling of warmth and comfort that the night had formerly held for him. Strange…

Aelis was getting tired of these depressing and baffling ruminations. Not much fun to be temporarily paralyzed in the middle of nowhere. He lifted his arm tentatively, bringing it nearer to his chest and bending it ever so carefully, afraid every moment that a hideous jolt of pain would hit him. None did. He moved his other arm too, bending it slowly and bringing it around until he had both arms crossed over his chest. He slowly raised one arm, then the other, waving them in the air a bit. This had no effect whatsoever on his spine, and therefore didn't hurt, fortunately. Aelis smiled.

He tucked his arms under his head, noticing with disgust his sticky, tangly hair, itchy with dried blood. He had always kept his hair healthy and clean; in fact, it had been one of his personal rules. There was little flakes of dried blood all over his neck and chest, and on his greatcoat.

Aelis brought his arm out from under his head, careful not to bend his back any, and started brushing off the flakes of dried blood, which were extremely itchy and very uncomfortable. Come to think of it, this enormous greatcoat was very much too hot, and he felt as if he was slowly being roasted, slick with his own sweat. That, combined with the dried blood stuck all over him, made Aelis extremely miserable.

Suddenly he felt on his neck a mark, and strained to look. But he couldn't see anything unless he sat up, so he laid his head back down and continued to explore with his hands. The strange mark seemed to go right across his throat, at the front, where the windpipe would be. It was almost directly under his chin, but a little lower, and going all the way from one side to the other.

Had they slit his throat???

And all this blood, it couldn't have come from him—could it? Well, if one feasted on blood, one would have it in one's system, and a lot more of it than anything else. So, he guessed, maybe… But that much blood would be all of his blood, and he would be dying of bloodthirst by now—Oh God, these questions….!

Aelis was becoming tortured now by the heat now, and all these questions were making him restless. With this huge coat, black nonetheless, his sweat had almost soaked it though. Oh, if only there were shade nearby!

He slipped his arms out of the coat, somehow managing to get them out without killing himself, and slowly slid the coat flat against the ground on both sides. Then he gradually, tentatively rolled over on his side, careful to keep his lower back rigid, since that was where the injury seemed to be. Getting that far encouraged him, and so he kept going, rolling all the way off his coat and leaving it flat on the ground. Then he slowly rolled back, and settled himself on the coat. Much better! Suddeny Aelis looked at his white arm glistening with sweat. His perspiration was clear, and not slightly red as usual. He frantically felt about himself, his neck, other arm, chest. No trace of blood. He could not remember a time when his sweat hadn't had the red tinge of blood in it. It scared him now. Aelis realized he was extremely thirsty.

Except it wasn't for blood; it was, strangely enough, for water.

Lyonha kicked her mare into a gallop. If she remembered correctly, the canyon should be just around this bend… Ah! There it was. And it would only take her about five minutes to get deep enough into it so as to be able to find the place where she had last seen Aelis, by now probably rotted and preyed upon by all sorts of animals—

Lyonha shuddered. She began easing up on the reign and sitting back in the saddle. They fell into a trot, and the mare, feeling Lyonha ease back in the saddle and lower the reigns, slowed to a walk. Lyonha was extremely reluctant to see this, to return to the scene of the crime, even though she hadn't committed it. But some strange inexpressible force somehow compelled her. And besides, she didn't expect to find him there anyways. She didn't know why, but after crying for almost a whole day and sitting dejectedly alone, it was almost as if he had had never existed at all.

Aelis had crossed an arm over his face to keep out the increasingly hot sun that seemed to be burning him alive. All he could think about now was a tall cold glass of something. He didn't care what it was as long as it was cold and drinkable. He was sweating less though, now that he had gotten the coat off and the breeze was coming through.

Suddenly he heard the brush rustling beyond the turn of the canyon, out of sight but growing increasingly louder, as the thing drew closer and closer. Aelis's heart started pounding, and the first idea that popped into his head was that the Kalet had come for him at last. But then he calmed his rapid pulse and stifled the worries, keeping his mind open and sort of putting off the question.

He cocked his head towards the sound, and was soon able to make out a faint muffled hoofbeat. There was no trail leading into the canyon, and therefore it wasn't very likely that anyone would be anywhere near here unless they was looking for something. And the only person he knew knew that he was back here was—Lyonha!

He closed his eyes a moment, trying to slow his heartbeat and repress this hot hope that had suddenly sprung up inside him. The hoofbeats grew louder, accompanied by footsteps, and he imagined that the horse, being led by the rider for some reason, had come into view. He hardly dared to look.

Aelis slowly turned his head towards the sound and opened his eyes.

Lyonha grew increasingly uneasy as she approached this turn in the canyon that was up ahead. If she remembered correctly, his corpse would be right around this bend.

Suddenly Lyonha stopped her mare. She couldn't do this. Simply could not.

She turned her horse around and started galloping in the other direction, heading home. Some deep, inexpressible pressure that had been building in her suddenly dissipated, leaving her weak. The flying wind dried the tear which had dropped down her cheek and been swept away.

Suddenly something changed in her look. Her face seemed to harden, and she pulled firmly on the reins, jumping down stiffly to the ground.

Lyonha turned and led her complaisant horse back deeper into the canyon. Their step echoed off the walls.

The twist in the valley was approaching, on the other side of which lay the body. Lyonha ducked under a heavy branch that was in the way, and realized that her mare could not possibly fit underneath it to get by. So she tied the reins to the branch, which was quite thick and strong looking, and continued alone.

The bushes and canyon walls closed in around her, and the place was utterly silent. It seemed to be warning her to turn back now, or she would never make it back. It was as if she had entered another world.

Suddenly she saw the familiar clearing ahead, and held her breath. Lyonha kept her eyes on the ground, and pushed away the bushes that rose nearly over her head, obstructing her view of anything except the far side of the clearing. She could see traces of faded red on the tiny ground-hugging plants that grew here; most likely the dried blood.

Lyonha had reached the edge of the clearing now, and she slowly and silently raised her eyes.

What she saw confounded her.

Lying in the middle of the clearing, atop an enormous dark coat, lay a man she did not recognize. His skin was as white as newly-exposed bone, and his hair was long and black and fell around him in tangled locks stiff with dried blood. His eyes were a shocking and remarkable shade of vibrant green.

He was laying approximately where Aelis's corpse would have been.

"Ohh…" Aelis was staring up at Lyonha. She apparently did not recognize him. "Lyonha! It's me. It's Aelis!"

She stared at him, staying where she was and not making a sound. Suddenly she fell to the ground beside him, staring intently at his neck. She brought a hand up and traced the line of his mysterious scar, exactly where Aelis had had his throat slit.

"Aelis? But…" Lyonha closed her mouth, looking over his entire body.

"Listen Lyonha. I don't know what happened, but its me, its Aelis. I can't move; my back was broken, and after I snapped it back into place—" He winced. "—it causes me great pain to move my spine. I've been lying here all day."

"But you should have died! Anyone who breaks their back is either paralyzed permanently or dead." Lyonha seemed in shock.

"Well I'm a vampire, and the only way vampires can die is by fire or having their head separated from their body. So there you go. But…I haven't felt any bloodthirst, and I know I've been lying here for more than a few days. And everything is different. The daylight…"

Lyonha sat down on the ground beside him, exhausted for some reason. "Aelis, I think they did something to you. When I revivied after our fall, you were lying a pool of your own blood that stretched to the edge of this clearing. Your throat was split wide open from ear to ear, and oozing black blood. Do vampires normally bleed that much that long?"

"No…not unless they receive a mortal wound that woud kill any human being. Oh god!" Aelis shuddered and hugged his chest, eyes wide and alarmed.

"What?" Lyonha impulsively layed a hand on his shoulder.

"They were trying to decapitate me. That is the only way to kill a vampire without fire. I just know they were!" Aelis layed a hand on his throat, feeling the mark there. Lyonha ghasped and layed her hand on his neck. His skin was warm for a vampire; in fact, he felt almost humanly warm.

"Lyonha, they did something to me!" Aelis moaned. "They did something to me, and I don't know what it is!" He buried his head in his hands, and leaned against Lyonha's side.

Lyonha sat with him, and the day progressed into evening, then dusk, and finally full night. She didn't know what she was going to do. It was obvious that Aelis could not walk, or even move away from this spot. The air soon became chill, and Lyonha rubbed her arms, shivering.

"Here—take this." Aelis tugged the coat underneath him, and Lyonha helped him roll off it. She wrapped it around herself gratefully.

Aelis was now cold, but he didn't complain; Lyonha was used to him being immune to the cold and such on account of him being a vampire, and he didn't want to bother her with his newfound troubles now.

"How long do you plan to stay with me?" Aelis didn't want her to remain on his behalf—he could take care of himself. On second thought…

"I don't know. I don't want to leave you here alone!" Lyonha sighed. "I wish you could move though. Then we could atleast walk around a bit."

Aelis felt really bad about keeping her here. But if Lyonha was set on staying, she might as well make herself comfortable.

"Lyonha," he turned towards her. "Why don't you go home and get some food and blankets and such, and then you can come right back."

Lyonha seemed reluctant. "But what if those vampires come back? Or some wild animal?"

"I'll be fine! We would be in more danger if we stayed here, exposed to the elements as we are." Aelis waited for her to agree. She was hesitant. "Here—you can leave me my coat if you're really worried."

"…oh alright!" She shrugged out of the enormous greatcoat and laid it over him. He smiled gratefully. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"

Lyonha walked quickly out of the clearing, resolve evident in her brisque step. She untied her horse, who had been waiting patiently and munching on grass. After a moment, Aelis heard the soft muffled sound of the mare's quickly receding hoofbeats.

He sighed and laid back on the ground. What was he to do?

The chill night air made Aelis shiver, and he wrapped the coat tighter around himself. Where the heck had he gotten this coat from anyway? Oh well, it was useful now, as the wind blew across his skin and ruffled his blood-caked hair. Oh he felt so disgusting! If it had just been him lying on the ground, utterly exposed to the elements and not able to move at all, he could have handled that—but his entire being felt…contaminated, some how, violated. He wanted to stand under a stream of water until all of the dirt, the blood, the pain, washed away.

Suddenly he noticed the sound of a slow trickle, as of water winding its way down a stream far away. At the present moment he was lying in a clearing, but over the edge of the clearing there were a line of trees, farther down into the canyon, and he supposed that down there was a flow of cool, deep, clean water…

He grimaced at all the dirt and dust on his skin, his hair, his clothes, and knew that he had to get down there, no matter what.

After a time and little effort, he discovered that it was possible for him to slide along the ground using his hands and feet to push himself, as long as he kept his spine straight. Keeping the greatcoat under him for protection from the ground, he slowly slid across the reddish dirt of the clearing and into the shade.

The first sigh of relaxation and contentment escaped him, and he collapsed there under the trees, exhausted by the amount of effort those dozen feet required. But feeling the crusted dirt and blood on his neck and hair, he shuddered, and decided to keep moving.

The ground here sloped down towards the stream below, and he almost had fun sliding down its incline. It reminded him of the snowy mountains he used to visit as a child, and the shiny red sled him and his brother used, yelling in joy as they clattered and slid down the hills. He smiled sadly in remembrance, trying to recall the faces of his parents. That had been nearly 200 years ago, hadn't it? But the faces refused to become clear to him, and a tear slid down his cheek at these thoughts he had not had in a long time.

Suddenly through the trees and ground-hugging foliage, he caught sight of the water. Forgetting his sorrow, he gave a yell of happiness and scrambled down the last bit of incline, jumping fully clothed into the water.

He washed away the sweat and grime and dried blood that had caked his skin for days, and quickly forgot the sun's untempered fury that had been unrelenting on his pale, exposed skin. The water was warm and deep, and he dunked his head under, glad for the opportunity to wash his hair. Ah, this feels so good! He thought, and peeled off his shirt.

Thankfully, the substantial fabric of his clothing had retained its impervious qualities, and his clothes were as clean as the day he made them. He knew also that they would dry fast, even in the moonlight, and never stain or wear.

Once he'd washed all of himself in the water, he stayed in its current, upright at the deepest point, relaxing in the weightlessness. The horrible pressure on his spine had eased, and he felt his normal self there, in the water. He flung the dark wet hair out of his eyes, and knew that no matter what had been done to him, he could survive it as long as he had Lyonha at his side.

Lyonha made her careful way back through the hills to Aelis, saddlebags filled with food, drink, flashlights, blankets, and anything else that he might want. When she thought of him, alive and recovered and still loving her, she could scarce stay in the saddle with her happiness, clenching the reins and hugging herself. Oh, Aelis!

When she reached the clearing with the saddlebags, she looked about excitedly, expecting to see his beautiful form lying there waiting for her. When she saw that he was no where in sight, she gave a small cry and, dropping her burden, rushed over to where he had lay.

There was no trace of him, and the first thing she thought of was the Kalet, the Clan, and its horrible alchemy. It took effort for her not to collapse to the ground sobbing. Not again, she thought. I can't have lost him again!

Aelis was reclining in the cool water when he heard a small cry from the clearing above, and suddenly remembered Lyonha. Lyonha! He recalled the surge of worry he had felt upon awakening from the fall, Where had she gone and what had they done to her? Her beautiful face, when she had entered the clearing where he lay, had been the most radiant thing he'd ever seen. His heart, when he beheld her obvious fear and disgust for what she saw as some stranger who had replaced her Aelis, had seemed to contract as if someone was squeezing it with a cruel, iron hand.

She would might not hear him from the canyon down here, and plus, he did not want to alert possible danger nearby to their presence. He could not call out to her.

Suddenly something occurred to him—

~Lyonha!~

Lyonha was just about to panic at Aelis' absence—where could he be? What if the horrible Kalet had come for him!—when she heard Aelis' desperate thought, bursting red and purple with his love for her and his fear at her endangerment.

~Aelis! Where are you?~ She was overjoyed

~I'm down the hill, in the water. The stream~ it was yellow with a smile and little chuckle, and she was comforted at his humor. Everything was alright.

She stumbled down the hill, stopping in surprise when she saw him standing in the middle of a deep pool. He was more magnificent than she remembered—it seemed the trauma and tiredness of the experience had been washed away by the water, leaving in its place a fresh glowing youth that she had not had before, when she first met him. He had been as old seeming as the land itself, as aloof as the trees waving overhead, as mysterious as the moon. Now he seemed—human. He was warm and open, young and innocent-looking and fresh, as if in the water he had been reborn. And more sexy than she had ever remembered him. His shirt was off, and his breeches wet and slicking to his skin. She turned her head away, pushing down the rising blush in her cheeks.

He immediately sensed the change in mood. As her mind was not shielded—it seemed she'd lost the habit with its apparent need for use—he could sense her thoughts, and he felt in himself, as if in answer, the first stirrings of genuine, pure, unbridled lust. The emotion was strange to him.

"Lyonha," he said, and rose out of the water, starting towards her. Suddenly he cried out, and fell forward, overcome by the pain in his spine.

"Aelis!" Lyonha went to him—she couldn't help it—and, unheedful of the water around her, offered him a steadying arm.

He sunk slowly to his knees in the now dirty water, grasping her arm in an almost too strong grip. "I'm so sorry," he gritted out between his teeth, and wrapped his arms around her legs. She stayed like that, bent over him with an arm on his shoulder, for a time, until he overcame the pain and sank slowly into the muddy water.

"Wait! I have an idea." Lyonha said excitedly, urging him to remain standing. It seemed that, though getting to the position was nigh impossible, once standing he was al right.

"Yes?" he moaned, dripping black hair hanging into his face.

"Remember when you healed my headache?" She said slowly. He looked up at her, realization dawning.

"Yes! Perhaps you could do the same for me, and ease the pain in my spine." He said; a sudden frown came across his features. "But it will be very hard to do, and you will be exhausted afterwards."

"I don't care." She said defiantly, and eased him up from the water, slowly walking with him up the hill. "I'd do anything for you. Anything, Aelis." She looked directly into his brilliant green eyes, so warm and inviting now, instead of distant and cold.

He couldn't resist it—he put both arms around her and hugged her tightly to him, burying his face in her warm fragrant hair. She felt his body pressed against hers, and touched his pale cheek, ringed with dark curlets of hair. When his knees gave way again from the pain of remaining upright, she supported him, and eased him down in the clearing.

After spreading one of the blankets she'd brought on the ground for them, she wrapped another around him as he lay carefully down. It was very dark now, almost midnight, but she could see fine in the dark, and his eyes were accustomed to it.

"You really should take off your wet clothes sometime—now that you're more… susceptible, you must take these things into consideration." She said, upon seeing him shiver in the darkness.

He looked down at his clothes, which were almost dry. "No. Remember, these clothes have a certain resistance to wear and tear, and that includes moisture. Look; they're not even wet anymore, just a little damp. They're supposed to dry with the skin."

She put a hand on his chest, feeling for herself that what he said was true. She left her hand there, and leaned over him. "I should heal you now."

He turned his head away. "Yes, that would be nice." His voice, formerly so radiant and youthful, had gained an exhausted quality that pained her, and she wondered if that would be fixed with the healing. "You should have both hands on the skin, the area that you're healing," he begun to explain. He turned over onto his stomach, and she slid her hands inside his shirt, along his back, feeling his incredibly smooth skin under her fingers. His muscles tensed, then relaxed under her touch. "Then, you should close your eyes, and think of the bone structure in your head. Clarify it and embellish it until you have it strong and stable. Search with your mind along the place with the pain, seeing the hurt as red areas. Then, with your mind, think of calming the pain, the red, easing it until it abates and is gone. I use blue to ease, because it seems to work better." He gasped as a cooling calm came over him, and his pain slowly disappeared. He felt invigorated and strong, and had more energy than he could remember. Of course, he'd been healed before by other vampires, but never by someone half-human, or someone he cared for so much…

Lyonha eased back on the pressure, merely laying her hands flat against his well-muscled back. "Did it work?" Her voice was faint and far away, and he realized that she must be exhausted. Healing took a lot of effort and energy in the best of times, and the extent and adroitness with which she had performed it must have been exhausting.

He turned towards her, sitting up. Her hands, having slid across his skin, remained on his chest, and she seemed about to fall exhaustedly into his arms. "Lyonha… thank you so much. You did it." He kissed her then, very lightly and on the forehead. He didn't want to tax her anymore than necessary, and he thought she needed some sleep. She slid down and lay across his lap, arms around his waist and mumbling something about danger and Kalet. He hushed her worries, sure he could take care of it, and slowly eased her down onto the blanket. She was asleep before his arms left her, and he caressed her cheek once, tenderly, before rising and slipping into the trees.

No matter what had happened to Aelis' body, he still felt at home now in the forest more than anywhere else. As he walked, he thought on all that had happened. He felt, deep down inside, that he was no longer truly a vampire, and it saddened him immensely. But what puzzled him was, how had he reached his present state? He knew that after the fall, he and Lyonha had remained susceptible and exposed on the ground for some time, and that the Kalet would not have chased them down for no reason. His crimes before leaving the Clan had been enough to get him in serious trouble, but had they warranted his death? He did not think so—vampires were put to death who took some violent action against the Clan, such as betraying them to those annoying mortals who called themselves Vampire Hunters and stirred up trouble for the Clan and people in general, or killing other vampires themselves. His supposed crimes were not nearly that bad, and just because he had caused personal insult to members of the Kalet didn't mean they were going to kill him. Then, what?

He reviewed the facts in his mind. When he awoke, his throat had obviously been slit—but why? They weren't trying to decapitate him, he knew that now. Decapitation was one of the easiest and infallible ways to kill a vampire. Then what could they have done it for? He knew the jugular vein, in the neck, was the biggest vein in the entire body, close to the surface of the skin, and therefore easy to cut. They must have cut his jugular—which explained the pool of blood in the clearing. It was said that when a vampire died, all the blood of all the victims he had ever killed would bleed out of him in a steady torrent, setting their souls free to rise to heaven. He didn't know if he believed the soul part, but that circle was definitely big enough. Not that he killed that many people, as he preferred to merely take a small portion of their blood, but sometimes it was needed, or happened on accident.

Cutting his jugular would empty the blood entirely from his body, leaving him a bloodless shriveled corpse. But neither he nor Lyonha remembered seeing him as such—he must have either retained some of his blood, enough to live as a human, or….

The Kalet. They were always coming up with new ideas, new technology, witchcraft, as some called it. What if they had done something with his blood, something he'd never even though possible, and changed a vampire into a human? What if they had tampered with the very soul itself, and changed his nature from immortal to mortal? He shuddered at the possibilities, at the though of them taking his own body and performing horrible, alchemic procedures, then returning him to Lyonha to watch, as would a master scientist one of his experiments, and see what happened. What if he was the first test for their new witchcraft!

Aelis' step quickened, and he hurried back to the clearing. He wasn't sure why, but he wanted something warm and familiar and… human, with him again.

When Lyonha woke, it was morning. She yawned groggily, and stretched. Suddenly next to her she felt a warm presence; Aelis. He lay pressed against her back, relaxed and young seeming with an arm draped casually across her, the other curving around to hold his head. He was youthful vitality incarnate, and he was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. The infant sun, not yet up over the hill, cast a warm, diffused light over everything, shining his features with gold and limning his hair with brilliance. His skin was still so pale as to be painful to her eyes, and clashed dramatically with his beautiful dark hair, long and luxuriant in the sunlight, and boyishly disheveled. It made him seem a sleek, long, ebony-hued panther reclining in the sun; lazy dangerousness; innocent-seeming yet astonishing beauty; muscles and power and speed coupled with an element of grace and elegance and artfulness that astounded the eye with its silky curves. He yawned lazily, unaware of her perusal, and searched for her with an errant arm. She smiled and let him find her tresses, her face. He was so sleepy, so innocent…

The next thing she knew he was over her, her hands pinned to the ground in his iron grip, his narrowed green eyes, like wedges of liquid emerald, gazing down at her. "Good morning, Lyonha," he said, his voice a low and dangerous growl. She was beginning to feel a sliver of fear in the back of her mind, coupled with a raging disbelief, as she stared up at him wide-eyed. Suddenly, something in his eyes changed, and his mouth bent down, kissing her, long and thorough and breath-stealing. Her arm stole up and wound around his neck, pulling him lower and deeper into the kiss. His hands found her warm chestnut hair, and he could feel her breasts pressed against his chest. Something in him gave, and he had to pull away.

She lay there, surprised and yearning, when his voice came into her mind. ~I…I felt a little uncomfortable under your perusal. I am truly sorry if I have offended or hurt you~ It was tinged with shame and sheepishness, but under that she saw a rising passion, and desperate loneliness and fear. He was afraid of what had happened him, and afraid of the yawning emptiness that his life had held before her arrival. A moment of sudden insight clarified the incident, and she pulled closer to him. "Aelis…" He looked away. "Aelis." She touched his cheek, turning his gaze slowly back to her. He was so magnificent, with his wild dark hair shadowing his eyes; the curve of his strong clenched jaw fit perfectly in her hand. "What did they do to you, Aelis?"

He looked down, fighting… something. "I don't know." His voice was pained and deep. "I know they cut my jugular; remember all that blood? Well, it is mine." He told her what he had thought while in the forest last night, recounting the Kalet's strange witchcraft with bodies and souls. She shuddered to hear.

"It doesn't matter now, I suppose. There is nothing I can do without the Kalet to get my immortality back—truly, it isnt so bad without the preternatural benefits and needs. I don't… I don't need blood, Lyonha."

"Are you saying… that the Kalet actually changed you from vampire to human, from immortal to mortal?" It was starting to sink in, and she was suddenly afraid for him.

"Yes, I very much think so.

"But… what will you do with yourself now?"

"I don't know, Lyonha." He leaned forward, eyes green fire. "Do you understand—do you grasp the significance of the situation? Do you realize that, even though humanity's greatest wish is immortality, those who have gained it prey on their own kind, like cannibals, to keep this precious gift? The process of becoming one of us is irreversible, and vampires must choose between life at this great cost, or the screaming, burning death of a martyr. Lyonha, this means that we, I, could choose. I finally have a chance to step back into the wildly-swirling and unpredictable river of life; to relinquish my position as a cold and uncaring bystander, and become one of—you!"

He paused for a moment, overcome by the implications of the situation. Lyonha stared at him, wide eyed. "But Aelis," she said in a voice barely above a whisper, "will you?"

"Lyonha…." He took her face in his hands. "It's unlikely that the Kalet would give me my immortality back, even if I wished it. They might be officially and permanently cutting me off from The Clan. For my actions against them, which, according to the rules, didn't warrant death, they've devised with their witchcraft a punishment worse than death: life."

Lyonha gazed into his troubled face, dark hair falling across green eyes, sunlight dusking his pale skin, like fate waking up to morning air. "Aelis, is it truly that horrible to be human? Just think; if you chose life as a mortal, it would mean I could be with you. You could… remain with me the rest of your days." Her heart beat wildly in her chest, and she had to push down a rise of white-hot hope.

He closed his eyes, escaping her gaze. She pressed her beautiful face into his touch, and in his mind he saw her auburn waves of shining hair and vibrant green eyes, face pained with the desperate surge of hope within. "Lyonha… I'm so sorry. I can't live like this. Like you." He kept his eyes closed, knowing the hurt on her face would be too much to bear. "I've been a vampire so long, I can barely remember what mortality is like. I… it's just a part of me, and if it tore it away, it would hurt as much as much as the loss of my heart. Lyonha, I must have my immortality back. I must become a vampire once more." He opened his eyes. "Please… please help me?"

She turned her head, breaking away from his poignant gaze, feeling his hands slip from her face. She took a shuddering breath, and after a moment, said, "All right."

He kissed her then, lightly, tenderly, and made her look at him once more. "It will be very dangerous, and I'm glad to have you at my side. I'm not sure quite how we'll do it, but I know there must be a way to get my immortality back from the Kalet, and we'll find it."

She smiled suddenly, playful and mysterious. "Yes, yes, all that. But in the meantime, you have no choice but to be human."

He frowned at her in surprise, and suddenly felt a pain in his abdomen that frightened him with its strangeness. He bent forward, hand to his stomach.

"Aelis, what's wrong?" she asked, alarmed.

"My stomach. It… hurts."

She looked at him strangely for a moment, and suddenly burst out laughing. "Oh Aelis," she gasped through giggles, "That's just hunger! Don't you remember?"

He smiled sheepishly, feeling incredulity and humor through her loosely shielded mind. His own shield strengthened, shutting her away from the embarrasing thoughts. "Do you… have any food?"

He stared at the squished bagel sandwich Lyonha handed him with apprehension, uncertain about putting such a thing in his mouth.

"Oh come on," she chided, taking a generous bite of her own. "Its good. And besides, it's the only thing I have."

He sniffed it cautiously, then took a tiny bite. After a moment of thoughtful chewing, he suddenly burst out, "Hey, this is good!"

She laughed. "Of course. Why would I make something bad for your first meal in… how long?"

"One hundred and seventy years," he replied offhandedly, chewing now with gusto.

Her jaw dropped. "One hundred and seventy years? …you became a vampire in 1832?"

"Yes," he said, swallowing. "I was living in Paris at the time. Parles-tu français?"

"Oui, mais pas maintenant. What was it like in 19-century France? Oh, I wish I could have seen it!"

He smiled, remembering his mortal days. "It was the birth of the grand and sweeping Romantic era, and I lived in the best city for the time—the city of love, Paris. I was a member of the Abaissée, or, the ABC, a group of young college students planning for the revolution. I remember one of our number, Enjolras; he gave long impassioned speeches in the cobbled streets, and people would gather to listen to him. The government of Charles X, that conservative repressor! Well, his government sough to subdue our uprisings, and the sentiment was becoming very violently insubordinate. Finally, in July 1830—I was 17 at the time—people were erecting barricades in the streets, and Charles sent out his soldiers to crush the revolutionaries. So many men died! My friend Enjolras was shot in the heart, right in front of a group of soldiers. I remember his face as he fell…" Aelis broke off, lost in the past.

Lyonha watched him with glazed eyes, waiting in anticipation. "What happened then?"

Aelis sighed, seeming to come back to the present. "Well, after the revolution, a new man gained power. His name was Louis-Philippe, le duc d'Orléans, and he was a good man. He established a republic, and ended the Bourbon monarchy. I recall one night visiting with him in his estates in Orléans, and he was talking to me about his father being guillotined in the French Revolution when he was merely a youth, and how later he joined the Jacobins, a french radical political club. He fought in the revolution just as I had, and I was very sad when his reign failed in 1848, and he was driven from France."

Lyonha was thinking of the hazy days of the past, and recalling what she knew of the french revolutions from her history class. "Did you stay in France after that?"

"No… I traveled south, to Italy, and Spain, and then by the late 1800's, resided in Mother Russia. Have you heard of a composer named Tchaikovsky?"

"Yes! Of course. He's my favorite composer," Lyonha burst out excitedly.

Aelis smiled, sensing in her the same passionate love of Russian music. "Well… I met him."

She gasped. "Really?! Oooh, I'm green!"

He chuckled. "Yes, I did. We talked of so many things, I can hardly remember them all! But I recall him saying how he felt about music, how he turned to nature and the chill Russian air for inspiration, and the way the church bells ringing and the ancient catholic chants revived his soul as no other, and brought on a fit of composing. Ah, the Romantic era! I miss that time more than any other in history, and wish I could take you back there with me. I definitely think of myself as a child of that time. Even by just looking at me, it's evident. The cut of my clothes, the style of my walk, my mannerisms, everything. You know what's fascinating? Sometimes I see that in humans, and it makes me wonder. I see it in you."

Lyonha paused for a moment, thinking. "Aelis, why do you live out in the wilderness, shut away from humanity, if you are so immersed in culture and music? There is no music out here, except that of nature. Have you so much distain for this era that you cannot even bring yourself to return to places where those aspects abound?"

He shook his head violently, a troubled frown marring his beautiful features. "No, no, that's not it at all! Have I ever told you of my past, Lyonha? Of course not. Well, I stay out here among the shadows, the waving tree branches, and the moon's domain, because I… it hurts me to return to the city. Not too long ago, before I came to the clan, I knew a woman, a beautiful mortal. We were in Oakland at the time, and I had been years without a companion, mortal or immortal. I must confess that I… fell quite in love with her. When the coven of vampires that prowled that domain discovered me, and my relationship with her—that I had told her everything, breaking that first, most important rule of the vampire Kalet—they took violent action. I knew they were going to try and kill her—that is their way of keeping the secret safe—and so I... had no choice but to make her one of us. She needed that preternatural power for her own safety! It had to be done."

He broke off, pained once again with the unfolding of his past. This was the first time he had ever told his story to anyone, and he was living it again in his mind. Lyonha laid a hand on his arm for comfort, and he took a breath, starting once more.

"Well, they knew, of course. They didn't think I would go that far, but I did. And at first—oh, at first she was reveling in her new senses, the whole world vivid and open for her eyes as never before! But when she had to feed… Lyonha, it is necessary for the first drink of a vampire's to be death. Im not sure why, but it somehow stabilizes and instigates their existance, making the transformation a permanent thing. Jaide—that was her name—she couldn't bring herself to take life. She hated it. And after a time, she hated me. She fled from me, from the coven of vampires after us, from humans and from life, and I never found her again. The coven itself searched, but she was disappeared. They went after me, determined I knew where she was, and dispising the fact that I had broken their rules. So I fled, south, because they would never expect me to come here. I found these woods, these hills and trees and mountains. The tiny town provided me with needed sustenance, and I resided alone, avoiding my fellow immortals. At first I lived so far back in the mountain range that no one cared about my presence, but once they had word of me from the north, I was forced to face them."

Lyonha held his hand in hers, feeling a faint shudder go through him at the words. "What did they do?"

Aelis smiled down at her, and caressed her hand. "Well, after much time and discussion, passionate pleas and stern obstination, they finally settled on a punishment. I was not to have any lasting and influential contact with humans and their society for half a century. They banished me to these woods, and I lived in seclusion for many years. I was half afraid to return to society anyway, because of Jaide, and I think some of them knew that. Many of them thought my punishment was too lenient, and when I… involved myself with you, they knew I had gone too far. Oh, Lyonha! And now it has come to this." He stared down at himself. "I guess it's a suitable fate, considering what happened to Jaide."

"This… Jaide," she attempted the strange name, rolling the soft j off her tongue, and producing something akin to shjedd, "you never found her? What if that horrible coven of vampires discovered her, and now she is long dead, burned by the sun. Or what if she met your same fate?"

Aelis shuddered, closing his eyes for a moment. "No… I think the Kalet would have told me. They always liked to see me suffer, and this would have pleased them much. Mon Dieu, I hope not."

They sat in silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts. The sun was high overhead by now, and birds were chirping companionably in the wind-swayed trees and various foliage. Sunlight warmed them cheerfully, and it was peaceful and happy in the clearing. The blood was almost completely faded from the ground, and the horrible fall and escape was distant in their minds.

After a time, Lyonha spoke up. "Hey, Aelis?"

"Yes?" he replied, basking in the warmth and comfort of the sunlight. He couldn't remember a time when the sun had felt this good.

"I think… I really would like to return home. And I was wondering how you will find food out here, so far removed from human civilization. And, indeed, it's quite inconvenient to come out here every day on horeback—that reminds me, where is Merle?"

She stood up from the blanket, searching along the path they had come in by. "In all the excitement yesterday, I completely forgot about her! Oh, poor thing. I do hope she's all right."

Lyonha and Aelis headed back along the trail, looking for the tree she had tied the reins to. There was no sign of the mare anywhere, and she was starting to get worried. "Aelis, where could she have gone? I was sure I tied her securely, and she usually stays where I leave here, munching on grass in the general area. Ah, what if… what if the Kalet took her?"

Aelis felt guilty at the girl's concern—after all, it had been him keeping her away from her mare, with the healing and all. He said in a calming voice, "I seriously don't think the Kalet would take your horse. What would they do with her? Vampires prefer human blood to animal, and there isnt a shortage in the former, as far as I know. She probably just wandered back home, as horses are wont to do."

Lyonha sighed, walking with him back to the clearing. "I suppose youre right, but I really am worried. Shes never done anything like this before."

Once they were settled back down on the blanket, Aelis suddenly discovered a curious pain, all over his arms and shoulders and face. He rubbed his skin worriedly, and Lyonha noticed his movements.

"Aelis… you have a horrible sunburn." She felt bad for him, but his white skin was so delicate and exposed that she wasn't surprised. "I don't have anything for it with me—it slipped my mind, and I was gathering things so fast. You know what? I don't think staying out here any longer is wise. You need food, shelter, medication, and human company. Besides, I don't want to just leave you out here. Who knows what the Kalet would do? Or even your fellow immortals, now that you are shunned from their ranks. Aelis, come back to the house with me."

He looked around his clearing, his woods and dappled shade and singing leaves. Then his gaze returned to Lyonha's anxious face. "All right."

She smiled, relieved. She felt bad for his sunburn, but there was nothing to be done about that. And the walk was long, and would be longer still with the awkward weight of the saddle bags, but she thought he would generally enjoy it.

Aelis gazed at the sun, warm and friendly and high overhead. "We might as well leave now. By the way, how long is the trek? I never thought to ask."

By the time they had passed two miles, Aelis was sweating and stumbling in the heat. "Lyonha… I'm not used to such slow movement in broad daylight. As a vampire, I could pass the miles like minutes, and never directly in the sunlight. But now… I hate to admit it, but the body is very weak and feeble without the preternatural benefits. How do you humans live?!"

Lyonha smiled at him, breathing easy and enjoying their charming surroundings. "I guess ignorance is bliss, for the inferior."

Aelis groaned. "No, its not that. Do you have any water? Something in me tells me I need it."

They stopped for a time, and she dug in the pack for some water bottles, handing him one. He twisted off the cap, tasting the first warm, dusty drops in 170 years. And choked.

"Ugh, this is gross! Flat, empty, lifeless on the tongue, textureless and tasteless and odorless. It tastes like, like nothing!" He spat the offending liquid into the dust, and passed the water bottle back to her.

She took it, and swallowed some. "It tastes fine to me. A little warm, but that cant be helped."

Aelis moaned, and sat down in the dirt. "I hate being human! Nothing tastes good, not like blood; the sun burns your skin; the little things give you numerous scraped and scratches; bugs bother you; you have to walk sooo slooow; and everything is so… dull!"

He stared at his white skin, now tinged pink with the hue of an angry sunburn. Beneath that wrist flowed warm blood, hot with life and energy, carrying nutrients throughtout his poor damaged body. He remembered the taste of it, thick and dark and filling the mouth like an explosion of life, rich and luxurious like fine European chocolate, red and glittering in the moonlight, sucking it hot and fresh from the vein—

"Aelis, what are you doing!"

Aelis looked up from his reverie, and discovered there was blood running down his arm. "Huh?"

"Yous just—you just bit your own wrist!" Lyonha was kneeling with him on the ground, distressed.

"Oh…." His blood glistened a most beautiful red in the sunlight, and he couldn't help lapping it up with his tongue. Suddenly he froze, tasting it in his mouth, contemplating it with his tongue. She was alarmed at the expression on his face. When he spoke, she could barely here him.

"Lyonha….. Lyonha, this tastes—bad! Bitter and watery and—" he couldn't go on, and buried his face in his bloody hands.

Lyonha was at a loss. She didn't know what to do, if there was anything she could do. She simply sat, hands on his shoulders, until he sighed and looked up.

"I… I'm sorry." His face was turned away from her, but she saw him run a hand across his eyes. She knew she hadn't shielded her mind, and he could sense her worry and sympathy. But she didn't really understand.

He got up slowly, and took the pack from her, draping it across his shoulders. They started down the trail in silence.