Creatures of the Night

This is more of a scene than a story, I suppose. It's the bit of creative writing I did to go with the picture below.


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The obscenity, growled at a volume just below shouting, was both blasphemous and highly inventive. After a few more minutes of hopeless wandering through dark, knee-deep waters beneath the twisted skeletons of long-dead trees, Blackjack came up with an even worse one. He was cold, wet and starting to regret starting the thundering argument with his companions that had given him cause to storm from the camp.

Now he wandered aimlessly through the swamp that lay stagnant across the valley floor. The dead, crooked forest around him had been drowned long ago when an earthquake breached a natural dam in the low mountains to the north but their remains still clawed toward the rain-laden sky to form a stark and impenetrable canopy – a cage that prevented the dracosvulf from taking to his great black wings with the threat of torn membranes. So Blackjack was stuck on the ground, splashing angrily through the oily, stinking waters.

Normally he enjoyed swamps and wetlands – even though his body was curse-changed his black dragon nature survived intact and such environments were usually pleasing to him. This place was different. Wetlands were normally full of life but here all was dead and still, the black water with its filmy surface no life-giver. There were tales, legends from before the lake in the mountains was spilled, rumours its waters were tainted by the presence of dead and unspeakable things that haunted the lonely spires of the formidable castles that populated those forsaken lands. But Blackjack cared not for such stores right now. He cursed again when he recognised a certain tree, its wood warped into the likeness of a leering face. He absolutely hated to admit it, even to himself, but he was…

“Lost?” asked a soft, female voice.

He spun round, reaching for his battleaxe, “No” he lied, his calm voice masked the surge of anger at being snuck up on. There was a human woman there, barely past girlhood, pale-skinned and raven-haired, features delicately beautiful enough to be elven though she lacked the willowy height. She was dressed in a long, elegant cloak and gown corseted at the waist its hem lost in the mire though strangely no dampness coursed up the rich deep red and black fabrics. Blackjack narrowed his eyes and kept his hand on the Unbinder’s haft, ready to bring its lethal double-blades to bear.

“We all are, you know.” She continued airily. Her large pale blue eyes, slightly tilted at the tips, stared off into the distance. She did not look at him as she walked slowly past and Blackjack found this annoyed him greatly and the barbed tip of his tail twitched irritably. After a quick glance to ensure there was no one else hiding out in the woods, he kept his suspicious gaze on her and turned to stay facing as she walked, noting that she moved far too easily given the cloying mud of the lakebed through which he had been heaving himself for the last few hours.

“This is a lonely place, girl” he growled, “Mayhaps I came here to avoid the company of such as you.” He had caught her scent and it was in no way human but he was feeling too tired to make a fight of it if he did not have to. She smelled of decay, like autumn leaves rotting in winter’s damp. Whatever she was his hackles were rising and his grey fur bristled.

She turned her head, looking out at a flare of distant marsh light. With a sigh like the breath of wind in a tomb she said, “Lonely as I make it. And it is not your company I seek, beast!”

She spun to face him and her humanity was shed in an instant, cast away easily as an unwanted robe. Her cloak flowed upward to become a pair of tattered skeletal wings, ragged black membranes enveloped in a ghostly glow while her face contorted into an awful mix of human and vampire bat and her jaw distended, gaping open to reveal wickedly sharp curved and grooved fangs. With a bloodcurdling scream she rose up like an angel of death from a tomb. Her legs seemed to have disappeared for her dress trailed incorporeal and wraith-like in the air.

The vampire’s fingernails extended into cruel hooked claws and she lashed out with fearsome speed. Blackjack swayed back to dodge the blow but her trajectory changed at the last moment and she raked her claws across the end of his muzzle, tearing out his lip ring in the process.

Blackjack snarled in fury and launched his own attack. Lunging forth he brought the Unbinder up double-handed. The axe head caught the wan moonlight as it described a deadly arc and while the vampiress tried to avoid the blow her movement was too little too late. The keen blade but hungrily through her neck and exited the wound with a dark spray of blood. With a gurgle the vampire fell into the murky waters. Blackjack turned and spat, partly to clear the blood from his mouth but mostly from contempt.

“Those full-bloods aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.” He mused. Unaware of the dark form rising behind he bent to wash the worst of the blood from the stinging wound.

There was no warning and the first Blackjack knew of his mistake not to completely sever her head was when the vampire grabbed him from behind. He bellowed in pain as her teeth found his neck, puncturing close to a nerve. The vampire’s supernatural strength prevented him from shaking her off and the retractable spines along his back had no effect.

Vampires feed not on blood, but on the life-force contained therein and within a few seconds Blackjack felt his strength failing. It became hard to breathe and he realised hazily that the only thing that kept him from collapse was his attacker’s strength. Then something happened. The vampire had suddenly stopped feeding and he felt a shudder run through her body. She started to make a horrible choking, gurgling noise and her grip loosened.

Blackjack swore with relief and pushed the dying vampire away. She slid from his back with a weak hiss and fell forward into the dank water where she was racked by helpless spasms, back arched and limbs stiff and useless, all preternatural grace lost.

He staggered away and grabbed for the nearest tree. Steadying himself with his right hand he first slung his axe across his back and then reached to his neck with his left. Cautious tactile inspection revealed the wound was not deep and though it bled copiously, soaking his mane with thick dark blood, no major vein or artery had been pierced.

The vampire was almost dead now. It lay face down in the water, twitching occasionally and offered no protest when Blackjack tore a strip of velvet from her dress the material so red the vampire’s own bloodstains did not show. He wrung it out, pressed it to his neck to staunch the wound then sat wearily against the bole of a twisted tree and waited for the bleeding to stop. For a shallow flesh-wound it was shockingly painful, but from the moment he pressed on the damp rag the pain changed to a cold numbness that seemed to touch his mind with an exhaustion that could not be denied.

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“Is the big lug awake?”

“I’m not sure. Hells, look at his neck!”

Blackjack stirred as familiar voices pierced the veils of sleep. He felt something touch his neck and snapped fully awake, grabbed the reaching arm in a crushing grip and had his wings raised ready to batter his assailant before his eyes had even fully focussed on a rather surprised looking Shade.

“Yup, he’s alive.” Shade smiled and pulled his arm away, “You gave us some worry there, pal.”

“I thought you weren’t talking to me.” Blackjack replied, genuinely surprised Shade and Soul had come looking for him after their fall-out and was embarrassed to realise he was touched by this. He leant over to cup some of the brackish water in his hand and used it to wash the dried blood from his nose, hoping they wouldn’t notice.

“Yeah, well we heard your girly screaming and thought we should check up on you. Y’know, in case you’d found a spider in your boot or something.” Soul said offhandedly. She had her sword drawn and was poking at the vampire with it, “I think this thing’s dead.”

“Vampires tend to be,” said Shade, splashing over to her.

“I mean dead dead.” Soul said and stepped back as Shade rolled the corpse over with the toe of his boot. The vampire’s face was a horrific open-mouthed death mask, her eyes wide and staring dull now the shining lustre of evil unlife had been extinguished. Around her mouth, the inside of which was decayed, her skin was blackened and corrupted and similar blemishes covered her throat and chest. The rest of her skin had changed, now shrivelled and slack, like an old hag’s.

“Ew.” Soul stepped quickly back, covering her mouth and nose against the stench of unnatural decay.

“Interesting.” Shade leaned forward for a closer look, “I’ve never seen a bloodsucker go like this before. What did you do to it, Black’?”

With a grim smile Blackjack tilted his head to expose the blood-matted fur on his neck, “There’s a reason vampire dragons are a rare thing: blood taken from an unwilling dragon is just as lethal to the undead as to the living.” He made his way over and frowned down at the corpse, “Damn leach tore out my lip ring. It’ll take ages to heal over before I can pierce it again.” His annoyed growl turned to an “Aha” of triumph when he espied the glint of gold in the part-submerged right hand and he retrieved his ring, unperturbed by the oily film on the water surrounding the body or by the horrible rigor mortis that made the cold, dead hand resist his retrieval attempt. He then proceeded to help himself to the rest of the vampire’s jewellery.

“I hope you didn’t get any of her blood on that.” Shade said warily, not at all taken aback by what he considered typical Blackjack behaviour.

Blackjack gave a rueful smile, “No, this is all my own for once.”

 

fin

All characters, places and anything else portrayed in this story is copyright 2005 to the author, Isabelle Davis (Drakhenliche), and may not be used without express permission. Meccha/Soul (c) Elsa Lai 2004

Comments, questions, whatever, can be addressed to me at the www.NecroDragon.com forum.