by Wo Xi Huan (我喜歡)
He could hear them walking around, could hear them whispering to each other in whistling, thin voices that made him think of the cold. Cold he knew, cold he could deal with- cold was his first memory. He had lived on a mountain far to the north, so cold was his dearest adversary, his worst ally.
He’d been so proud, so eager, just to get into this very prestigious high school- with a full scholarship, his mother had told him, tears in her failing eyes. He would have told his father but he was gone, off drinking and sleeping with fitter women than his wife. The journey was difficult- even with the scholarship, it was somehow assumed that he would be able to afford the costly journey to the south. Shen would stick out his thumb hopefully along highways and often, save for the last carriage, he would be picked up by beautiful women bedecked with feathers and jewels and smiles like those of cats in heat. He was picked up by a Vampire Lord lastly, one who took him in with a sad look and asked where he was headed. “I’m going to Rearu Academy. I’ve been accepted on scholarship,” he said, ducking his head and trying to figure out if this had been a wise move. “That is rare,” the Lord said to him, brushing some of his dark, curly hair out of his eyes, eyes red with the blood of others. “I am impressed.” “Thank you,” Shen said, feeling as if he had just lied. To his surprise, the Lord dropped him off just outside the gates of the academy. “You seem a good young man, Master Shen,” thr Lord told him, waking him from a heavy sleep with his voice alone. “And so I will warn you that I, too, attended Rearu as a young man, and it made me into what I am today.” Shen blinked sleep from his eyes. “Oh.” “Would you like me to help you with your luggage?” Shen shook his head, then thanked the Lord gravely. “You must have gone terribly out of your way. I’m very sorry, I hope you didn’t think that I presumed-” The Lord laid a finger over his lips, his expression darkly unreadable in the setting sun. “You presumed nothing, and so I lent you what I could. As payment, dwell upon what I have told you. Decide if that is the path you wish to tread.” Shen bowed, resisting the urge to go down on his hands and knees to do so- what was acceptable at home was not acceptable in the south, he had learned. When he straightened the carriage and its lord were gone. He understood the warning in the lord’s message. He knew enough about vampires to know that one did not become one casually, or painlessly. What he didn’t understand was why anyone would desire to not follow that path. On his mountain, his father and mother had been happy until their old lord died and their new one demanded a tithe three times the old one. His mother had fallen ill from overwork, his father had taken to philandering, and he had watched his two older siblings walk away from the mountain with hope in their faces and despair at their backs. To reject power, that he didn’t understand- wasn’t life all about obtaining the means, the power, to live as yourself? Life was good at Rearu- there were kind students, cruel ones, laughing ones, tragic ones, and somehow Shen found himself being followed, him, the poor boy from a mountain, by many of the rich, the powerful. The girls wanted him to dance with, to talk about teachers with. The boys wanted him to teach them, wanted him to share stories with. He liked all the attention, and as his popularity grew he noticed that he was changing, not just emotionally- gone was the withdrawn, painfully hopeful mountain boy- but physically. He grew stronger, and his hair shifted from a dark mahogany to outright ink black. His skin grew darker in the southern sun, cooling to a golden-caramel tone, and, except for his eyes, he didn’t think his own mother would have known him. He was charming, outgoing, happy, exciting and excited. It frightened him a little, that perhaps he was changing because of all the attention he was getting. Shen began to understand the words of the lord a little more, and began to hold them close to himself. He stopped a group of girls from throwing a weaker one, socially and physically, into the lake. She reminded him of the old him, and so he slung an arm, broad and tanned, around her pasty little shoulders. She shivered and Shen was suddenly aware that she probably didn’t know how to swim, judging from the way she cringed towards the center of the pier. “Leave her alone.” The girls looked at him, looked at his anger-darkened eyes and the way he looked ready to kill. One cocked her head, brash and rude, filled to the rim with surety, and laughed. “Why? She your little toy, Shen? Is this some kind of joke?” “I don’t care about hitting girls.” Shen told them, his face blank, curiously blank especially for him, and the girls withdrew- all but the one snarl-laughing. He knew her, and he was surprised at how she was acting- she had always been kind, gentle even to Marii, who was trembling under his arms. “So what, you feel sorry for her? You feel sorry because she reminds you of yourself? We made you, Shen, we can unmake you.” Shen laughed himself, then, and surprised himself with how deep, how rich, the sound was. A few girls took hesitant steps forwards, but the one next to him, under his arm, shivered more strongly. Shen knew she was smart then, when nobody else was. “I do feel sorry for her, of course I do. She does remind me of myself. But you never made me, Iria, and you can never unmake me.” War was declared. Shen would think on this later and finally understand what had occurred. The first day, Shen was unaware that anything had happened. His male friends were as jovial and friendly as any other day. The girls were a little quieter, especially the ones in Iria’s hall, Red, and some of the teachers seemed a little tense. The second day started with a bang, though thankfully not in the literal sense. Shen was eating breakfast, talking to a werewolf friend, Renur, when someone ran into the lunch hall screaming about a body. Shen recalled the lord’s words in one instant and stood, wondering vaguely when he had gotten so tall. “Shh, hey,” he told the girl, who was wet with lake water and had an interestingly torn uniform. “What’s wrong?” She pressed close to him, weeping, wild and out of control, and every single person that lusted after Shen beamed hatred at her. In the end he figured out what she was gibbering about, by which time a teacher had arrived to take her to the nurses’ wing. (In a school inhabited entirely by talented and potentially lethal untrained mages, Shen had been relieved to find that the nurses had their own wing.) “She said that there was a body floating in the lake, and some kind of strange monster,” Shen told his Sport teacher, a strict, slender woman. (He had felt uncomfortable around her ever since he caught her tracing the shape of his buttocks as he practiced fencing.) “The body will be dealt with. The monster… bears some investigating,” she responded uncertainly, her bun catching the early-morning light. To Shen, it looked like some divine mandala. Classes that day were quiet and indoors. Everyone wondered who was missing, who was gone, and by the end of second bell it had been established that Marii was the dead girl. Iria was just as surprised as anyone, Shen was disconcerted to find, and in fact she blamed herself. She blamed herself so much so that she began to cry, and she didn’t stop even when Mr. Sato escorted her to the nurses’ office. Shen was experiencing his own difficulties, however, and so he didn’t dwell upon the issue as much as he later felt he should have. Sometime during first bell he had begun to have a pounding headache, and soon after that his spine and shoulders began to seize up. Painfully, he finished the classes of the day and asked Trevor, a gifted water mage and his roommate, to help him back to the Blue hall. “But aren’t you going to hang out with us, man?” “I don’t feel up to it. I need to lie down or, I don’t-” He stopped and gritted his teeth, because the pain was spreading to his hands now. Trevor shrugged. “Do you mind if we hang around with you up in the dorm?” Shen gritted his teeth, muscles twitching, and felt a bead of sweat slide down his jaw. Trevor wasn’t normally so- “It’s just… nobody wants to be alone right now. You’ve been kind of… in pain, so you probably haven’t heard, but the teachers that went to look at the lake have vanished. So has anyone that’s gone to the nurses’ wing.” Shen sighed, biting his lip, and nodded. “Okay. Come on, we can…” He curled in on himself, trying not to whimper in pain, then straightened as best he could. “We can play cards or something.” There were about ten of them all together, and Shen was relieved to find that nobody expected him to be his normal self. They all speculated on what was wrong with him, but nobody mentioned taking him to a nurse- or what else was going on. The Blue hall was empty but for them, and it was truly eerie. Positioned as it was between the Indigo hall and the Violet, it always had someone in its crystal hallways. Now an odd silence pressed at them, and there was a sense of relief when they gathered together in Shen and Trevor’s rug-covered room and slid the door shut. “It’s creepy out there. Makes me wish we taught necromancers and seers here too,” muttered a rock of a charm-weaver, who, despite his enormous size, wove lacy thin charms. “Yeah, they might be able to help.” Trevor sighed, pressing his cool hands down onto Shen’s back. Everybody looked at him as he spoke. “But they teach their apprentices one-on-one, and from what I’ve heard, it’s a good thing. So let’s stop moping, ‘kay, and somebody help me with Shen.” Shen himself was biting his pillow, trying as best he could to keep himself calm. “His back’s all… swollen.” Renur stood from his corner and trotted over to Shen. “I’ve seen this before, guys. Hey, Shen, Shen.” Shen forced an eye opened, despite the agony that produced, and focused on his friends. “You’re, um, well. I think you’re sprouting stuff. Like, wings. Anywhere else hurt?” “Where would you get that from?” Trevor snapped, face suddenly ashen. “You had better have pulled it from somewhere other than your ass, or I’m going to kill you!” “What’s wrong with you, man?” Someone asked, sounding puzzled. “So he’s growing stuff. My half-uncle turned out to be a Devil. Stuff gets swollen, wings pop out. So what?” “He’s not from any other stock than just- Santian! Normal!” Trevor’s voice was trembling. “And I can’t- I’m not experienced enough. Things go wrong so often with things like this- important things get ripped and broken, and-” He broke off into tears. Shen felt his touch recede. “Shen, does anywhere else hurt?” Shen forced himself to nod, forced himself to purr out (surprised at how deep and normal his voice was to his ears, but he didn’t know that it scared the crap out of everyone else). “My head. My tailbone. Hands. Spine. Feet too.” Trevor let loose something very like a howl and was shushed by someone else. “Those are some pretty important pieces, Shen.” Renur’s voice was trembling just a little. “How about your dick, man? That feel okay?” Shen cracked a smile, his whole body screaming in protest as he did. “Yeah.” He heard someone stepping up to the door outside, knocking- though it sounded more like scratching, and someone standing to open it a crack and peer out, “my dick feels fine.” He blacked out then, pain eating him up like a mountain cat would a deer. When he next awoke it was in a confused jumble of blood and limbs and bad balance. “Fuck-” he swore, “what?” Because it was dark, and the living halls were never dark unless everyone was gone. He was still here, so the walls slowly began to illuminate, and as they did, Shen screamed. He tried to spring to his feet, but when that wouldn’t work, when it was hard to even begin, he just scrambled out on all fours. He paused to retch his guts out, outside his door, then skittered into Renur’s room and jammed the door shut, locking it with a spell he had learned his first week in. “Ah,” he breathed, pressing hands covered in dried, drying, blood to his head, which was also covered in blood, also in various stages of dryness. “What, what…” He curled in on himself and wept, unsure of what had happened. He stayed in Renur’s room a day and a night, learning how to balance anew with a velvet-furred tail, with curved, night-black horns coming out of his skull, with- wings. His claws were easy to manage- he figured out that they were retractable almost at the same times that he realized they were there at all. The sleek spines coming out of his back were difficult to manage, but after a while he decided that he’d just have to deal with them- they weren’t as bad as the wings, after all. In fact, once he stopped worrying about them they soothed down nicely to his back, forming nothing more than a smooth ridge over his spine. The tail had a spear of sharp bone on its end, and though he couldn’t control the way it moved it did help him, automatically, with balance. Thankfully, this was one less thing to control, to worry about. The wings he was frightened of most, at first. Bone sprouted through the skin in places where no bone normally was in wings. They were velvet-soft like his tail, and huge- Shen had to figure out how to tuck them close to himself to even move, or else it felt like he was swimming through mud. He had smaller wings on his lower back, and long, whippy ones on his ankles. Shen figured that, whatever he was, he was supposed to fly. He just… didn’t know how. He was hardly brave enough to spring out the window, much less so when there was something on the loose that had… done things to his friends. The only person he could think of that he knew was the Vampire Lord, and he didn’t know how to find him. He could hear them walking around, could hear them whispering to each other in whistling, thin voices that made him think of the cold. Cold he knew, cold he could deal with- cold was his first memory. He had lived on a mountain far to the north, and so cold was his dearest adversary, his worst ally. The day after he re-learned how to walk, he left the school, braving that cold. He saw a pack of what looked like Indigo classmates- but they were on all fours, making those strange whistling noises and gathering around someone lying deathly still. He walked quietly, wondering why he hadn’t been attacked, wondering why they all ignored him in favor of dead bodies. Thinking didn’t help, so he focused on trying to get a feel for his wings. It was a major triumph when he could control the ones on his ankles enough to fold them over his shoes. Worries about catching them on branches and leaving blood trails for those things to follow plagued him no more. Next he tried for the wings on his lower back. They were hard to figure out, until he realized that they swiveled from side to side, not up and down. They were like fins, he decided, walking next to the carriage path connecting a town to his exclusive, prestigious school. What use they had he could not glean, but at least he could keep them out of the way. His largest set was a puzzle, impossible to manage or control. He settled for keeping them tight to him, using them as a shirt where his back spines would have shredded any fabric when he got upset. Which, now, was often. Shen walked for days along the trail leading out to the valley, making slow progress with his seven new limbs. He was covered in blood, too, because he had been sufficiently frightened of both the whistling things and the lake to keep from bathing. It began to snow in the middle of the third day and Shen began to wonder if he was going to die, if everyone but him was dead- perhaps this, whatever it was, a spell, a curse, a judgment- perhaps it had killed everyone but him. Perhaps he already was dead. He heard the wet tramp of horses on snow and jumped out onto the road, stumbling on his wings and falling to the ground before forcing himself up and sticking out his hand. (The idea of those mindless, soulless whistling things driving a carriage was laughable, if Shen still knew how to laugh.) The carriage stopped and the Vampire Lord stepped out. “I did warn you,” he said, voice hard and full of empty sorrow. “This isn’t- nobody did anything to me- I- please,” Shen moaned, terrified that the Lord would step into his carriage and vanish again. “A girl died, nobody knew how, and Iria and Mr. Sato went to the nurse and they vanished and anyone that went to the lake did and the nurses’ wing too and then this stuff all started in first bell and it hurt so much but there was something wrong in the nurses’ wing and then I blacked out-” The Vampire Lord looked a little stunned, but Shen was too terrified of him vanishing to leave anything out, anything that might inspire mercy. “And when I woke up everyone was- dead, and they were all- their bodies were torn apart like something had.” He crushed a low keen that was welling up in him. Shen became aware of the fact that his tail was tucked between his legs- he didn’t care. “Like something had what?” The Vampire Lord asked, watching Shen’s wings, his horns, the way he moved with painful awkwardness. “Like something had burst out of them,” he whispered, then collapsed. Shen next came to in a room so full of darkness that he thought he was blind. Reaching up, though, he realized that he only had a blindfold on. “Leave it,” commanded a familiar voice. Shen dropped his hand after he recalled what had happened, how he had hailed a carriage. “Your eyes changed too. You did them some damage, I think, by forcing them to work so hard when they were so new.” Shen shifted, feeling awkward. “Is something wrong? Are you in pain elsewhere?” “No,” he answered, feeling as gutted as the corpses of his friends. “But- Again, I presumed too much. I’m very sorry.” The Vampire Lord snorted. “I presumed. It never occurred to me that you might harbor something inside you that you could not stop. I blamed you- you could see that- but there was no blame to be had.” Shen felt shocked- a Vampire Lord, apologizing to him? “You presumed nothing. You reached out for aid, hoping- hope is not presumption. There is nothing wrong with hope.” Shen kept his silence, feeling rather out of his depth. “You have changed, I think, to protect yourself. I know what you are- I poured over it deeply, because whilst one thing may mend a unicorn, it will kill a necromancer.” Shen nodded at the old saying, a part of him surprised to hear an elder’s proverb from a Vampire Lord’s lips. “You know what you are?” “No.” Shen answered immediately. “Why did I- couldn’t I have…?” “Are you hungry? There is only myself here- I keep my solitude with great jealousy.” Shen didn’t understand how the two were connected, but he did know that he wasn’t hungry. Which was odd, really, given the fact that he hadn’t eaten in days. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” Shen said, biting his lip. “Jealousy is tempered by other things,” the Lord replied evenly. “You will be here for a while-” He hesitated. Shen heard the rustle of cloth. “I found no others along the road. Nobody met me at the school. The town is deserted. I believe- though I hope this is not the case- that it is just you and I.” Shen nodded blankly, feeling his tail sweeping in anxious curves. “There are some rules I ask that you obey.” Again Shen nodded, disturbed to find himself crying under the blindfold. “Firstly, please. If you have need of aid, or if you feel unwell, call for help. Someone will come- though not someone you would recognize as a ‘someone’.” Shen shut his eyes but the tears remained- he wondered how long it would be before they seeped through the blindfold. “Secondly, do not come looking for me. I will find you in my own time. I am not a pleasant man when I desire no company.” Shen quivered, unsure of this development- he was so intensely social that he had even made conversation with his bitter, drunk father when he was lonely. “I found no information on whether or not you can stomach the normal fare. As it is, even if you cannot, we will dine together every night at one.” “Late,” Shen murmured. “You will find yourself adjusting. Are you weeping?” The question was sudden, swift, jabbing as the beak of a bird. Shen shook his head, then nodded. The vampire took a soft breath. “You don’t have to keep that on, you know.” Shen immediately scrambled to take it off, but it got caught in his horns- the Vampire Lord snorted, whether out of impatience or amusement Shen couldn’t tell. “Here.” He took the cloth off with delicacy. “Oh,” Shen exclaimed, eyes used to the whispering murky depths of the forest, “no.” He shut his eyes, which were rapidly tearing up. The Vampire Lord was gentle as he tied the cloth around his eyes again. “I will get a dry one- a moment.” Shen heard him standing, walking a few steps, treading back to the bed, “Shut your eyes,” and he felt the Lord’s hands shielding his eyes as the blindfolds were exchanged. The tenderness of the action temporarily stunned Shen, enough so that he didn’t react when the Lord leaned around his body to tie the blindfold to his horns. “Sleep now, boy. I will send someone to wake you when it is time to prepare for dinner.” Shen lay in the bed for a long while, anticipating the sound of a whistle. The silence in his room was eerie. It made him wonder if he had somehow also gone deaf, though of course he had talked to the Vampire Lord, so. He couldn’t be deaf- it just wasn’t possible. He only realized he had fallen asleep when he felt a small, leathery paw patting him awake. “Up,” came a female voice, “come on, it’s dinner time soon. Master will be waiting.” “Mmm,” Shen vocalized, hands finding a lithe little feline form. “Ohh, what a sexy voice that is…” He was too tired to be embarrassed. “Come on, up, up.” Obeying was the last thing on his mind, until he felt six needles on his collarbone. “I’m Hiaa, by the way. You know you love me, sexy.” “Not very talkative, is he?” Asked another voice, this one lower, possibly male. Shen’s hands wandered further, until he felt a large amount of fluff. “That’s Hurraur.” “Come on, boy.” Between the two cats Shen found himself heckled into standing. “Up. Up! That’s it. Ohhh, my. Look at those wings.” “You’re a cat, Hiaa, not a bird.” “Well, technically-” “Master? Waiting? What’s your name, son?” “Shen,” Shen said simply, his wings feeling terrible and uncoordinated and clumsy. The feel of slinky sleek cats spinning around his ankles only made this feeling worse. At least the lord had left him shirtless, to accommodate his wings. “Come on, then, Shen. I’m to lead you to the dining hall.” Through Hiaa’s efforts (which consisted of a string tied to Hurraur’s tail), Hurraur managed to lead Shen, blindfolded, through the complex castle’s halls. Shen felt a tug on the string that was obviously the cat sitting down. He crouched down as well, wondering if he had done his eyes a permanent injury. “Now, a word, first. Eat what Master-” The click of a door opening interrupted them. “Thank you, Hurraur.” There was a brief pause, in which Shen heard the Vampire Lord turning his head. “Ah, of course. I didn’t think- the string is Hiaa’s doing, of course?” “Yes, Lord,” Hurraur miaowed, sounding for the first time like a cat. “Your guest, Student Shen.” “You are dismissed, Hurraur.” Shen stood as best he could. If he listened hard, he could hear the telltale ‘click’ of many claws on a stone floor. “Come with me,” the Lord said, taking a hold of his arm. “Yes,” Shen agreed finally, forcing his feet to move. They ate dinner in silence, or rather, the Vampire Lord did; Shen sniffed at the food and felt him stomach turn. Conversation was stiff and awkward- Shen was too terrified of never seeing again to muster small talk, and the Vampire Lord was clearly not on the up-and-up on the art of discourse. “Boy,” pronounced the Vampire Lord as dinner was cleared away (Shen found himself wondering if little cats were handling it), “your name is Shen, which means ‘mountain’ in Northern, yes?” “Um.” Shen felt himself flush. “Well, actually… my mother has a morbid streak of sorts.” He declined to mention that shan was mountain. “Then your name does not mean mountain.” “…No.” “What does it mean, then?” Shen fidgeted, his mouth twisting down into an uncomfortable grimace. “It means arsenic, the way she gave me the name.” The silence that followed was enough to make Shen begin to listen for whistles again. When the lord finally made a noise, it was a soft cough. “You are named arsenic.” “Yes, sir.” “In the time of my youth, Master Shen, people were not allowed to name their children mortifying things.” “I’m sure that was a very long time ago, sir,” Shen responded, half-asleep. He had a moment to recoil in horror at what he had said before the lord made a scratchy little fabric noise. Shen interpreted it as a shrug and mentally heaved a sigh of relief. “It was, I suppose. One loses track of time easily when one resides in an ivory tower.” “An ivory tower, sir?” “An ivory tower much like Rearu. This castle is shielded from the world by the power of my magics. In fact, Rearu’s shield was my master thesis.” Shen couldn’t quite process this, that the man in front of him was responsible for the legendary shields of Rearu- it was too giant, too huge for him to contemplate. “…Which brings us back to the reason you are here, Shen.” Shen’s tail slunk down below his chair. “The creatures, you say they whistle? Here, take my arm and follow my lead.” Shen obeyed automatically, still contemplating the skill, the sheer power, such a complete shield would have taken. They ended up in the library, with Ein (he introduced himself belatedly and in the midst of a flurry of questions) studying silently and Shen curled awkwardly in a large chair. Now and then he would hear the click of little claws or the strange voices of servants (more cats, he supposed), but for the most part Ein cultivated a strict silence that Shen dared not to break. The blindfold came off after Ein doused the light; vampires, apparently, saw more comfortably in the dark. It made Shen uncomfortable to realize that cats, too, saw better in the dark- the castle must have been lit for his benefit. It was an unpleasant thought for him. Occasionally Ein would ask a question, but as time passed, the questions became fewer and fewer, until they dwindled into nothingness. Shen could see a clinging mist spinning itself outside the thin windows of the library, and it frightened him- he had seen that mist at Rearu. Turning himself onto his side to look outside, Shen draped his tail over his legs. Were all of his friends dead? All his teachers and the kind nurses? The generous trustees that had granted him a scholarship, hope for the kind of life his parents had never seen? Who would do such a thing? Why? Would this sickness, those creeping, malignant whistlers- would they take Ein also? Shen felt a violent hatred sweep through him as he lay there. There was nothing he could do to lessen it, so he endured, trying his hardest to stay alert. Fury blinds, his mother would always tell him, treating the wounds on his arms from their lord’s horsewhip. Fury consumes all, Shen, she would say when her husband didn’t come home until early in the morning, stinking of other women. If you ever want to truly destroy something, though, dearest, he closed his eyes and thought of the whistling things, thought of who- what- why they existed, you neglect it. A plant will wither. Love, too, dies. She would glance at her sleeping husband then, spread out on the straw bed. There was no kindness in her eyes. With that thought in mind, Shen turned his face to the window in time to see something moving with a limping gait. A shrill whistle rang through the air a second before a body, only vaguely humanoid, threw itself at the window. Ein shot up from his seat at the sound of the collision. “What-?” “Here they are,” Shen sang, half to himself, half to his dying mother. “These creatures….” Ein trailed off, shaking his head as if to rid himself of water. “These are your…?” Shen slid from the couch, his tail slipping into a protective curl around himself. “They aren’t mine, sir.” Ein didn’t seem to hear him, however, because he asked the same question again. “No, sir. They’re… I don’t know.” “Demon,” Ein growled, making Shen’s tail stick straight out and his back spines raise, “these creatures are the lesser spawn of a demon.” His canines were sliding out, his eyes were turning from rich bright garnet to deep black- something terrible was happening, Shen knew. “I can hear something… is it from…?” The Vampire Lord shook his head, curls flying out with the force of the shake. “I….” “Lord Ein?” Shen raised a hand to touch the man as more whistling things gathered outside the window. The mist slid around them in some sort of obscene caress, the stroke of a pleased parent to its hungry young. Glancing over at them, he could see a knotted arm-like appendage here, a twisted neck there, drops of rot and mildew and filth everywhere. They didn’t seem to be able to get in– Shen was impressed with the lord’s shields now as always. His hand, thoughtlessly outstretched, was snatched up by Ein. There were no words between them, but Shen clearly understood that this was necessary, as necessary as his hailing the lord’s carriage had been. Shen was pulled to the man’s body by his waist, his head forced to the side by a hand. Only desperation would lead a Vampire Lord to rive into the neck of his guest. Ein was heavy. Shen’s wings were pinned to the floor by the lord’s suddenly taloned grip, an agony that was dwarfed by the terror of having fangs- white-hot needles, his mind insisted,- buried in his neck. “Lord,” Shen groaned out, hearing the shrill cries from outside increase in pitch as he was held more and more tightly. When Ein began to drink in earnest, hot needy mouthfuls of blood, Shen released a keen of his own that made the whistles stutter and fall into silence. A particularly vicious bite made him wail in a high tone that rivaled the creatures’- they began to fall away from the window, their bodies stumbling in their haste. They had all gone, taking the mist with them, when Ein released him. He was a mess- gone was the polished Vampire Lord. In his place was a man wild with uncertainty, a man with blood dripping down his chin, a man with the fangs of a great serpent. Shen clasped a hand to his neck, feeling the blood gush and flow from the violent slices Ein had made. “That hurt,” he said faintly, “how dare you?” “Shen,” Ein gasped, trying to wipe the blood from his mouth with his sleeve, “Shen, Shen-” “I’m still bleeding.” Ein’s eyes darted away from where they had come to rest, on the red humor flowing from Shen’s neck. “Finish what you started, sir.” Ein swallowed, then shook his head. “You can’t walk away from something half-started, Ein. Finish what you started.” Shen had read somewhere that when a vampire was finished supping, his saliva was filled with enzymes that aided clotting and speeded healing. On the off chance that this was true, Shen felt it would be prudent to encourage the lord. Distantly he felt Ein settle on his knees next to him, pressing a shaking, gentle mouth to the wounds. “Shen–” “Finish.” “Shen–” “Ein. I’m bleeding. Finish it.” Shen flushed as he heard some of his internal terror making his voice quiver. Ein paused, then obeyed his command, lowering Shen to the floor as he drank. Something odd happened to him as Ein lay him back, straddling his body and cupping his jaw with a hand. He lay there quietly, but even so he felt a rush of- of… It had been so long since he had felt something good, or even something that wasn’t pain, that it took a moment to reconcile the feeling. When he finally acknowledged that he was becoming aroused, Shen wasn’t quite sure what to say or do. It was a painfully awkward position to be in. He had already demanded enough, he felt, and to ask for more was just not– Ein felt differently, perhaps, or, more likely, he had supped from many people in his long life. While he used a confident, albeit delicate, hand to undo Shen’s pants, he pressed a nipping kiss to Shen’s collarbone. Shen’s hips lifted to allow the material down and off, though it got caught at the wings on his heels. He let the cloth stay there as Ein’s hand traced the spines on his back, tracing a path down to his tail before coming to a stop a breath from where he wanted that hand the most. “Move your wings, Shen.” Ein lapped almost lazily at his neck until Shen obeyed, unsure of what this was supposed to do. To his surprise and near consternation, they all moved, even his primary pair. The result was that he found himself moving as if he was sliding through the air, swimming like a snake. Ein was on top of him, though, so he wasn’t sure if it was the arousal he was feeling or if he was actually flying. Ein moved up and back, allowing Shen to swim into the air. The thrill he felt as he departed from the floor was almost orgasmic, a rich, thrilling feeling that temporarily chased away the now ever-present fear. His tail wound after him in the air, forming sinuous curves that complemented his already curving, graceful movements. For Ein, it was like watching a living magical character dance in front of him. “How did you know…?” Shen asked, directing himself towards Ein and finding it surprisingly easy to do so- easier than walking, this was, and it felt good, like being sex incarnate, or maybe even life. “I read up on your condition, if you will recall. How does it feel?” Ein pulled Shen’s neck to his mouth and quickly lapped up the gathering blood before it could fall and stain his floor. Shen wrapped his arms around the vampire, curling close, closer than he could previously have done. “Good.” He was becoming more comfortable with this man, more comfortable with his position and reality and self. As Ein’s hand again touched his body, this time going up instead of down, Shen could feel himself being flooded with power, the kind of power he had always searched for. Social power, physical, mental- it all collided in a form that felt as if it was bending life itself with each bodily slide through the air. Ein busied his mouth with the violent slashes he had made in the incubus. His hands, however, busied themselves in other ways. Soon Shen was rocking into Ein’s hands, body falling into an instinctive rhythm that needed no words. Indeed, silence was the order in that dark room. A faint clicking was heard once, but the mandate of silence chased the servant away. Shen let loose an almost operatic sound as his body tensed, his wings forming a confusing, intricate spiral. The sound made Ein shake his head; the darkness in his eyes faded and red came creeping back. When his hand was covered with Shen’s seed, he wiped it off magnanimously with the discarded pants. “Sing for me, Shen,” Ein dragged his tongue along the seeping wounds, “sing for me so that…” Shen wondered what Ein meant, but he decided that the man had done so much for him, a song would hardly be difficult. Ein lay, exhausted, against a large reading couch. When he would slit his eyes opened to survey the scene outside the castle, his eyes would be vibrant red, the red of fire and health. Shen slipped into a position on his lap, tired but purring with potent, slicing rage at whoever had woken a Demon from its slumber. They lay quietly together, watching the mist swirl outside, and when the whistling, rotting demonspawn returned, Shen swam through the air to sing the song of life.