I looked down, first at my blood stained claws and then at my victims. They were mere children, the oldest not having seen more than ten winters. There was no blood staining the ground; it was either on my claws or in my belly.
I closed my eyes against the pain that stabbed at my heart. I felt this same way every time. It made no difference whether it was the old, the young, or the sick. Killing was killing, and it was something I surely would never have done if I had the choice. But blood was my sustenance, and I could no more starve than I could break my curse.
There was a rustle in the bushes. I stood quickly from where I had been kneeling and looked, just in time to see an arrow whiz at me and strike my arm with a solid thump. There was no pain. Of course not. The blood of the monster still flowed in me.
“Begone, demon!” a man shouted, pushing his way through the brush and flourishing a pitchfork at me. I turned and walked away, casting a final glance at the dead children before disappearing into the shadows – my usual exit.
There was a commotion at the scene, I could hear. A flurry of voices. A scream. No doubt the mother had discovered her children. Despite my attempt to hold it back, a sad sigh escaped me. The day I stop feeling this pain is the day I truly become a monster.
The sun peeked her head over the horizon, washing away the grief for a moment. The red scales shielding my arms slowly vanished, and the silvery horns I bore upon my head were caught up in the wind like sand. And, at last, the fangs that took the blood of countless victims disappeared and, once again, I was human.
With a little gush of blood, I pulled out the arrow wedged into my arm. The little pestilence gone, I laid down and rested my weary head on a smooth rock I used every night as a pillow. The cave that surrounded me – my home – was cool and dark, a comfort to the pains that tore relentlessly at my mind. After that, the day passed as it usually did after the night of a Half Moon. I slept. And, as was common, I dreamt of my curse.
The curse was what destroyed my mind and my body, and threw me into the torture that I live now. The moon rules me like a master rules a slave. I am bent to its will. When it disappears during the New Moon phase, my body is human. When the Half Moons come, the beast within stirs and my body becomes that of a half-dragon. Scales, horns, and fangs. Though I fight with every ounce of my strength to resist the vampiric, blood sucking urges that overcome me, I am helpless to do anything but watch in horror at what I do. But, at the night of the Full Moon, my mind is drawn to oblivion. I cannot see, but I know and have seen the destruction I cause. My human body dissolves under the force of the beast within, and I become a full fledged, vampire of a dragon.
The dream comes and goes after every killing. But I see only the pain, and fear, and horror that I cause. It has been so long…I don’t even remember if I was born this way, or if a spell was laid on me.
I opened my eyes; I never let my thoughts stray much further than that. It was too saddening and sickening to think on those things. The wind was cool as it blew around my cave, and it helped to lift my spirits with it, if only for a moment. For a phase, at least, I could relax. The Full Moon wouldn’t come for nearly a week.
Tired though I was, I forced myself to stand. My muscles were cramped; a human body can’t hold up under the strain and demands of a monster like the one inside my soul. It was warm today, and the wild game would be out feeding. Perfect. I was starved anyway. Monster and human, each with a separate belly to fill.
Quickly I grabbed my makeshift bow and a few arrows and leaped down the cliff, quiet as a leopard. My bare feet made no noise on the stone. When there was grass beneath my feet, I kneeled down and quickly looked the ground over for any signs of wild game. There were deer tracks, but they were already a few days old. There was no sense in following them. I determined then that it would be best to hunt on the move; the mood was right for a little action anyway.
It was a nice trek through the woods for the first hour, though rather uneventful. The only living thing I ran into was an old birch, which left me with a rather uncomfortable bruise on my arm. In the distance, a crow echoed his raspy caw. Then another joined him. Suddenly, the whole flock swarmed from the treetops in a cloud of black feathers and raucous screams.
The sound of a clumsy, running creature drew closer, accompanied by hoof-beats, and the smell of leather preceded its entry. Only a moment later, the brush gave way and a human tumbled to the ground, face first. He rolled to his back and snatched his sword from the grass beside him, but I was faster on the mark. My arrow whistled in its flight to the target. The minotaur gave a throaty rumble before his lifeless body tore into the earth, spewing blood from my clean shot to his neck. His hoof kicked reflexively, then he lay motionless; the smell of his non-human blood did not bother me as did the blood of my victims. I stared blankly at the dead creature. There’s no way I’m eating that.
The man, meanwhile, sighed and allowed himself to fall back into the grass with a thump. He closed his eyes, then chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” I said snappishly. All he could come back with was an ignorant ‘hmm?’. I walked away; there was no use dealing with an ingrate like him. I don’t even get a ‘thank you’? When was the last time I saved a person?
“You’re impressive, you know,” he said quietly. I turned; he was sitting up now, looking at me with apologetic green eyes. “I guess you expected a ‘thank you’, and I guess that’s what you deserve. So, thank you.” He half-grinned but looked at the ground with his arm over his knee.
“It’s not exactly what I wanted for a meal,” I said, jerking my head in the direction of the smelly creature.
“Is that a ‘you’re welcome’?” He stood and brushed himself off, then smiled in a charming way. “The name’s Antôn.”
“Irelia,” I whispered and we shook hands. His were smooth and delicate, and it made me uncomfortable about my own harsh, dirty hands. Everything about him was that way – clean and tidy. And I was the mirror opposite. I looked at him seriously, and under the scrutiny he uncomfortably tucked his brown hair behind his ear. His pointed ear. “An elf?” I said it a little more harshly than I meant to. He looked away.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you by it,” he mumbled. “It’s who I am.”
“Not at all! I just hadn’t noticed before now.” We both looked back at the minotaur, now sprawled in a pool of blood. It had smelled dead when it was still alive, and now it stunk something horrible. I thought for a moment. “Why was he pursuing you?”
“You don’t know?” Antôn said. “We’re elves, they’re minotaurs…you know, our races haven’t really gotten along. Besides, I wasn’t being too nice to him when we first crossed paths.” I rolled my eyes; even knowing Antôn for only this short time, I could already tell that he was ‘that’ kind of guy. Name-calling, always looking for fun or someone to poke fun at. He looked back at me. “Do you live around here?”
“For now…” I said, a little too open-endedly. I always end up moving on after I’ve devastated the population in the area. Thankfully he ignored the possibility for more questions.
“Well then,” he said, “why don’t you come back with me? After all, you were hunting when I interrupted, and there’s a banquet tonight.” He looked at my overly thin appearance. “You look like you could use some food.”
“Where?” I said, not really caring. The free food was a tantalizing thought, and it had me sold already.
“Lespryll. It’s just over the horizon. The king is holding a council there tonight, and I’ve been invited. So you’ve been invited as well, as my advisor.”
“Advisor? I don’t really think I’m –”
“Do you want the free food or not?” I stopped and he grinned; he knew he had me. Finally, I threw my hands in the air and said, “Lead the way.”
As we left, I decided to do the unusual thing of starting a conversation. “So,” I said, “why were you going to this council again?”