Chapter 12 - Battles


For disclaimer see Chapter 1


Callum

I can still hardly believe what I have got myself into. First, I get to know an utterly extraordinary friend who turns out to be a vampire, and who is, if truth be told, my lover now. Second, I learn that the whole world is full of some kind of immortals who don’t like to be called vampires but are just that, after all. Next, I find that I have become an immortal myself, and that there are others like me, too, and I have to arrange my whole life around that fact. What is more, I must learn to fight with a sword because they will challenge me. I don’t even have a sword! And finally, I find a master who is willing to teach me all I need to know (and desperately so) about sword fighting and martial arts in general, and this master turns out to be one of the oldest immortals on earth, who is living in a kind of monastery.

The world is colourful, indeed.

I don’t want to fight. In fact, I have never considered myself a fighter in any regard, in spite of my clan history. As far as I know, many of my ancestors have been farmers, and surgeons, even veterinarians, but few of them had anything to do with the execution of the law, no more than being a magistrate, and the only battles we fought were the ones of the quill. And yet: Chao-dai says I have it in my blood. That is why he has accepted me as his pupil, like it or not.

In spite of the shameful detail that I have to learn to behave like some strange super-hero from a fantasy novel for the better part of my leisure time, I have a wonderful future in front of me: my house, my lover, the prospect of finally sharing my life again with someone who cares. It is touching to watch him work so busily over the charts, the re-construction of the house and gardens, it is absorbing him just like everything else about me, and I am so proud to have him and the others as my new family.

We have arranged to meet by the house around eleven, and it is time to go. The children are sound asleep, and I feel euphoric when I leave the hospital behind me to walk to the place where I will take up residence in only a couple of weeks.

I have only been walking for ten minutes or so, when I feel the wave of another immortal’s presence and turn. There he stands, in the mouth of an alley. He looks like a well-clad British gentleman in his late fifties, but I’ve also learned that seeing isn’t always believing, so I wait until he makes the first move, hoping it to be a nice one. He talks like a gentleman, too, but his words aren’t reassuring at all. "May I introduce myself to you: James Elwood Thorpe, at your service. And may I be so audacious as to ask you about your name before I take your head?"

"I’m sorry," I retort, "but you may be mistaken. I am but a pup, no heads taken, and I’m still learning. Sean said that’ll make me off limits." It’s not what Sean said, but it’s worth a try.

He slowly comes closer. "I am sorry to contradict you, my dear chap, but I don’t know any Sean, nor have I heard of that rule." And with this, he pulls out a formidable broadsword from somewhere in the recesses of his coat.

My heart misses a beat or two. My mind is racing. I raise my hands in an act of desperate self-defence, pleading, "Dear sir, I implore you. I am unarmed!"

"That is a pity for you, whereas it will be a pleasure for me, then!" At that he raises his sword.

There is no one around, no one who would watch us. It wouldn’t do any good to yell for help, either. I hear the blood rush in my ears, I stagger back until I stumble over some rubbish, I get to my feet unsteadily, and the first blow almost takes me down again. There is a sudden explosion of pain in my left shoulder, and when I put my hand on it, I can feel it’s all blood and tissue. It’s not my life that passes in front of my inner eye now, it seems to be the whole clan history, all the battles, all the stories, whirring through my brain like one very short and very fast documentary, dyeing everything red. And then it doesn’t hurt any more, and I know my fate, I can’t change it, but I’ll surely fight although I might lose, so I close my eyes for one more precious moment in the past before I give in to some sort of battle cry and plunge forward.

It’s strange. You would think that something like this is impossible, and poor poetry at that, and yet I can hear it: the old march of MacKay’s, the drum roll, the battle cries. While the next blow hits my right leg, I can hear it clearly, and it is my own voice yelling: "Bratach Bhan Chlann Aoidh!", and then the son of fire goes down to die in a blaze of glory.


Daedalus

The sound of my Callum's voice carries clear to the overgrown backyard of his new house, pulling me out of my contemplations of marble pillars and rose gardens. While hearing him talk to someone in the streets is nothing unusual – he's often approached by strangers for the most inane things and always has a kind word for everyone -, there's something in his tone that puts me on alert. And then I hear him shouting something I can't understand, but still I know instantly by the sound of his voice that he's in mortal danger.

A challenge! My Callum was challenged!

I've no idea how I come to arrive at that conclusion, but neither do I take time to question it. From the sounds of it, Callum's voice issued from a few hundred yards away. Gathering the shadows, I race towards it.

And then I see them, I smell the blood – Callum's blood. My vision turns orange with fury.


Callum

I can feel the blade pass through my body, for a moment I can almost sense the exploding intestines, though knowing that they couldn’t explode exactly but nevertheless have just been hacked and slashed into a most fatal wound, and wondering if I would rise from the dead again, and also wondering why I don’t feel any pain at all, I fall. And then I feel the pain. Through a curtain of red panic and ache and fear of final death, I see my opponent raise his sword for the final stroke.

And then I see him fall, too, apparently without any reason at all, he falls back from me, as if he was thrown over by something. It couldn’t possibly be the weight of his own sword, but the ridiculous thought crosses my mind and makes me laugh like a madman, and in spite of the burning and indeed fatal pain in my body I crawl over to see what the hell is going on, and in the same unbelievably short instance I see him bleed all over, somehow, and his head come off his shoulders like some absurd cork being pulled out of an obscene bottle. I can hear the smacking sound of cords and muscles being ripped from their locations, and only then the image of the one doing all this appears in front of my eyes.

It is the demon of death, a monster from the deepest dungeons of imagination, all claws and fangs and red eyes. He is sitting on top of the severed body, growling like nothing I’ve ever heard before, but it is still him, my Daedalus! The moment I recognize him I grow still, it is as if I’m freezing; in fact, the whole world seems to stand still.

Then there is a low rumble that comes from somewhere above us, and at the same moment the corpse is bathed in a blue-green light, rising from the ground, and giving off sparks and jets of light that knock the Nosferatu right off his feet. I see him fall and turn and look at me in agony, and then all I feel is the quickening filling me with an unbearable amount of energy, it just won’t end, it grows more and more, and I hear the voices, I see the ghosts haunting me, and I give off an unnatural primeval cry before everything turns black. And I fall again, this time into the depths of my private hell.


Coming back from the dead isn’t comparable with simply coming to, it is more like inhaling the first breath after a birth from the darkness. And while I’m coming to, I know instinctively that I must’ve been dead. I can feel every vessel, every inch of my body painfully refilling with new, strange life energy, and I realize in an instant that this energy has come from my opponent, and also that he is definitely dead. Now I remember. Daedalus killed him, or to be more precise, he tore him to pieces, and then the quickening entered my body. And now I also realize that it is Daedalus who is holding me in his arms.

I look up at him. He looks dreadful, and his only reaction to my being back among the breathing is to pull me closer towards him. Half his face and his left arm have been severely burned, I presume by light of the quickening, but even while I’m watching he starts to heal again. His eyes have regained their original colour, but they are unfocused as if he’s concentrating hard on something I can’t tell. Then I see the lights of a passing car, and although we are close to the road, the driver looks right through us. Now I understand: Daedalus has made himself invisible, and in some magical way I’m also obfuscated, obviously because I’m in his arms.

Suddenly in panic, I fumble for my shirt – or where my shirt has been, but it is all but shreds now. In spite of my formerly mortal wounds, I can find no blood on my arms or belly, and with mixed feelings grow aware that my sweet Nosferatu must have licked me clean. I try to chalk it up under "loving experience" and carefully put my hand on his, as if to reassure me that this is indeed the one guy I trust and love. Only now he realizes that I am awake, and in the next moment has lifted me up and carried me down the next sewer entrance. A scraping sound reminds me of the sword that had gone through me two or three times and is now, as far as I can tell, somewhere in the vicinity. But of course! Daedalus must have removed the traces (including the severed corpse) while I was dead, and he has taken the piece of evidence with him.

He puts me down on some kind of platform, and I give a yell of surprise when it starts moving. Then I realize that this isn’t a platform but some kind of mine car moving on rails along the sewers until we arrive in something like a hall, or a larger crossing lit by an incredibly gloomy torch attached to one of the walls. There he lifts me up again, obviously deaf to my words of resistance, only to put me down like some pet animal. Yeah, right. Talking about pets, I see that I am surrounded by rats. Daedalus has closed his eyes again, and it looks as if he is calling them. And in fact, the next moment he growls, grabs one of them with unnatural speed and bites off its head in order to suck it dry like a slush puppy. For the second time this evening I ask myself if this is the guy I have thought to know, the ultimate lover, the one I was going to spend my life with. I can’t keep myself from suddenly being in two minds about the whole plan, the house, the quiet life together… while my formerly so civilized and soft-hearted lover gropes for another rat.

I just can’t have it, I stride towards him and put my hand on his arm before he kills the poor thing. "Don’t."

"But I must." His voice is still guttural, not my Daedie’s voice but that of a predator. Yet he obeys, if but reluctantly, puts the rat down again and takes me in his arms, finally becoming part of his own self again.

Only then I can feel something else; this feeling is familiar, I had it once before, after my first death, and as soon as I recognize it, the aftermath of the quickening fills every part of my body, and especially one. Maybe it’s not the best place and time, only I can but follow my desire and press closely towards him. "Daedie, I’m burning."

"I will take you away from here, but first I must feed."

He obviously doesn’t have a clue. Therefore I get more explicit. "I’m burning like hell. Take me."

"Not now."

I wiggle even more and start kissing him, and the desire is so strong that not even the blood stains can keep me away. "Please."

"Callum, don’t..."

But it is too late, I can feel it is turning him on, too, and it takes only one little step to make him follow me: to bite his ear. Which I do. The rats are forgotten, the rest of my clothes fly away, and then his hands and lips are all over me, I realize that he must have undressed somehow, at least partly, and I am being taken by an ancient beast, feeling quite primeval myself, and this time he doesn’t stop to bite his own hand but he bites my arm instead, and while I am having the best, if dirtiest, sex in my life, I feel the same escaping from me once more, and die a blissful death.


Daedalus

It takes the sensation of sucking on an empty vein to make me come back to myself, come back from that ecstatic plain where Hunger and need become one, and I finally realize that his blood has stopped flowing, and that Callum is dead.

Dead – because I killed him.

The thought is too horrible to contemplate, yet contemplate it I must. What have I done? Why didn't I stop? What made me ignore the signs I have so painstakingly trained myself to observe, the signs that the vessel is in trouble, and with him, I'm in trouble as well, in trouble of succumbing to the Beast.

The Beast. Always lurking in the shadows of my soul, waiting for a moment of weakness to gain another toehold on my humanity, and another, and another.

I have not killed a mortal to feed in hundreds of years.

Is this proof that Callum really isn't good for me? I give a hollow laugh. No, rather the opposite. I'm not good for him. I killed him. He simply isn't capable of influencing me into disregarding a code I have observed for so long. Surely it is the ultimate hypocrisy to blame him for my loss of control.

No, Callum is blameless. He may like to play with fire, but that only proves his innocence and trust in me. I should be capable of withstanding his wiles. So far, I have been withstanding him. So why now? What's happening to me? Only one answer to that – I'm losing the fight. I'm becoming the Beast.

"Scuse me," a voice interrupts my internal monologue. "Scuse me, I’m fine…" Callum. He has revived. However, that doesn't absolve me. I have killed. I have committed a heinous crime, and that only allows one consequence. "Hey, babe. It was great." He smiles at me. At his murderer.

"It is unforgivable," I say hollowly. "I deserve to be destroyed."

"What? No!"

"If you were not what you are, I would have killed you. Our law is quite clear." I'm a fool. A fool for deceiving myself, for believing that I'm more than an animal. What I have done proves that I'm not fit for human company. I will present myself to Julian – to the Prince of the city – to be put down like the beast that I am.

My one regret is that this will also destroy Callum's hopes and dreams. But surely he prefers that to being killed by the one whom he believed to be an equal, a partner. He should be free of me instead of watching me turn into something he can't recognize before his very eyes.

"Does your law also consider immortals who have just received their first quickening and are thus as horny as hell?" he asks, trying to make light of the matter.

Oh, sweet, innocent Callum, always trying to see the best in people. "That doesn’t change the fact that I lost control."

"Yeah. That’s true. And you were different, too, as far as I can remember… But, no, I don’t mean that. I… I made you lose control." His eyes are like blue fire. He believes what he says. He really thinks that it's his fault.

And yet, nothing he says will absolve me. "I am not a mere neonate," I grate. "I should be able to control myself better than that, regardless of what you did or didn’t do."

But he's not convinced. "Maybe. I bit your ear. It’s your first love... Aww, come on, forget it. And hand me your jacket. I’m stark naked, and it’s freezing down here."

It's the least I can do, a last act of kindness. Ten lifetimes wouldn't suffice to pay the debt I owe him now. I pick up my clothes – useless trappings of civilization I don't deserve to wear, and hand them to him, bloodstained as they are. "It's unforgivable." The thought repeats in my mind over and over. "It's the first step. If I go further down that road, the Beast will win."

And Callum will lose. Whatever I do, he'll lose. Oh, if only he'd never met me.


Callum

Daedalus really looks dreadful. I mean, he doesn’t look as dreadful as he did an hour or so ago, and looking dreadful has, as appears to me only now, never been a real challenge for him, but that isn’t what meets my eye now. I realize how confused I am, thinking these thoughts. First, I almost met my final death, then I met what death looks like in the person of my lover, of all persons I know, and now I can’t help pitying him. That’s so unjust. Never pity a beast. But that’s what he was. But it’s not what he is right now. What is left of the beast, if there ever was one, looks so downcast and full of guilt that it deserves second thoughts.

Maybe it was just an important part of him that I had dutifully ignored all the weeks before. Maybe he deserves better. It is true: I made him do all that. If it hadn’t been for me, this man would still be breathing. If it hadn’t been for me, Daedalus wouldn’t have followed his instincts. It is up to me then to make him feel better again. But first of all, we have to get out of here.

I pull myself together, take the suit he has been holding for more some time, standing there like a shadow of his former self, and put it on. "Let’s go home." Instead of answering me, he turns his back at me and disappears into the shadows. For a moment, I am utterly confused. Less than a minute later, though, he re-appears wearing an old-fashioned hooded cloak that makes him look like a reprobate on his way to the gallows. It’s probably how he’s feeling right now, so I don’t bother him with any questions.

In silence we walk all the way to the hospital through the sewers, Daedalus following me like a boy waiting for his homily sermon. I let the now familiar vibrations of Marcos’ presence pass through me while heading for my quarters, only to realize that the presence I’ve felt doesn’t come from his room. It comes from mine.

As soon as we entered the hospital, Daedalus has made himself invisible, as usual, but I can feel that he’s still with me. He must have noticed that I hesitate to go straight back to my office, but then I realize that it wouldn’t make any sense to check Marcos’ room first. He is in there. I know.

When I open the door, I see that he’s not alone, and at the same time understand the reason for his "release." Chao-dai is with him. They are sitting on my sofa, the two of them, patiently waiting for us to arrive.

As soon as I’ve closed the door behind us, Marcos crosses the room in order to welcome me; Chao-dai, however, simply rises from his chair with a squint. Feeling like a schoolboy myself now and tingling with presentiment of the sermon to come, I stand back and nod respectfully at both of them. They seem concerned, yet they don’t really look as if they are going to hold that homely sermon, but to tell us something important, and by the looks of it, something they have already been talking about for some time.

I turn to the still invisible Daedalus and say, to the eyes of the others to thin air, "You can come out. They’re both of my kind." Reluctantly, Daedalus follows my request.

"Neat trick," is the only thing Chao-dai says, apparently without any sign of surprise, when he sees Daedalus appear. "Wish I could do that." Then he collects himself. "Sit down. This is important."

Obediently, I sit down on an examination stool. Silently recalling the approximate age of my three companions, I come to the disillusioning conclusion that I am by far the youngest here and a children’s examination stool is just right. Daedalus, however, remains standing, and says: "If you wish to discuss immortal affairs, I will leave you."

"No, you’ll stay," Marcos retorts. "It concerns the both of you."

Suppressing a growl, Daedalus answers: "Very well," and sits down on the office chair.

Now it’s Chao-dai again who takes his turn: "In fact, it concerns more than you and even the immortals. Not to sound overly dramatic, but it quite possibly concerns the fate of the planet."

At that, Marcos agrees, nodding gracefully, but smiling at me as if to say that I have nothing to fear. I am very glad for his presence, yet there is a bond between those two old immortals, a kind of companionship so deep that I can but trust Chao-dai as well.

Marcos turns to look at Daedalus. "You interfered."

"Yes," Daedalus answers, obviously without much zeal.

"Haven’t we talked about interfering?" Marcos’ tone of voice is remarkably quiet, as if he knows that most of what he’s going to say will be futile, yet he has to say it anyway to follow convention.

And again, my Nosferatu merely says: "Yes."

Marcos leans back. "So. You don’t really care."

It’s Daedalus’ turn to lean forward now, but just a bit. "He was attacked and he was unarmed. I will not stand by when such a thing happens. You can’t expect me to."

Chao-dai almost interrupts him: "Sure he can, Daidalos."

In other circumstances I would have laughed out loud, but at the present I feel that there’s nothing wrong about a mysterious old immortal calling a three thousand year old Nosferatu by his original name.

Yet, Marcos won’t agree as easily: "Me… Chao-dai, please. This is not important now."

Only now I realize that Daedalus hasn’t reacted to the use of his name the way he should react, but merely took it in like anything else Chao-dai might have said. The only thing he does is ask: "What is your function at these proceedings?" and I wonder if it’s some kind of tactics which has eluded me before or if I’m missing out on something else and haven’t yet found out about it.

I distract myself by setting to auto-pilot once more. "Oh, I’m sorry I haven’t introduced you. Chao-dai, this is Daedalus, my friend. Daedie, meet Chao-dai, my teacher."

As expected, the both of them nod at each other in a non-friendly way. Then Daedalus says: "I am honoured," while looking as if he’s about to throw his boot at Chao-dai. The old man, in turn, catches the imaginary boot, by replying: "Same here. And yet. Marcos is right. This is not important now. We have bigger fish to fry."

"So noted," Daedalus states without turning his glance away from Chao-dai.

The old man goes on: "So, while the fact remains that young Callum is a full-fledged immortal now that he has taken his first head, and that makes him game, we can talk about that some other time."

At that point, Marcos intervenes, if but a bit annoyed: "What Chao-dai means with this is that Callum will have to take up his training at once in order to stand a chance." He actually smiles at Daedalus. "You can’t be around all the time."

Daedalus answers: "I know."

I look at him again and am not mistaken: There is something else on his mind, something that has nothing to do with the present discussion. I wonder if he’s still worried about the things that happened in the sewer. But then, that will have to wait until later. I glance back at the others. "Look, I’m sorry. But fact is, he saved my life."

At this, Daedalus looks elsewhere, and it’s obvious that he’s more than a bit concerned. I scan his expression once more and am now convinced that he is thinking about his own near future, not mine. I hope the others don’t catch me frowning.

If they do, they won’t show it. Marcos replies: "I know he did. I won’t tell. But you should listen to what Chao-dai says. And I bet nobody wants to have dozens of immortals streaming into this city in order to avenge an outsider’s interference."

And Chao-dai adds: "Right now, something else must take precedence. Daniel."

Marcos nods gravely, putting his hand over Chao-dai’s for an instance. Not surprisingly, Daedalus pricks up his ears, too, now, at the mentioning of Daniel’s name. The old man smiles at Marcos, and goes on talking. "I don’t usually believe in prophecies. In my opinion, they’re about as reliable as a weather forecast. But in this case, too many things have happened for me to remain sceptical. Right. 'A great evil is about to return. It was banished thousands of years ago, but now the time has come for it to remember its origins. The gate needs to be reopened.' I've done some research, and there is one man on this planet who can do what the prophecy talks about. At the moment, he’s still a boy." He looks at Marcos. "That boy is Daniel, unless I’m very much mistaken."

I look at the two of them, trying to replay what I’ve just been listening to. Then I must suppress the urge to laugh out loud. "A prophecy? You’re talking about one fucking prophecy?"

Chao-dai slowly bends forward until his face is very close to mine, then locks his eyes with mine and says, "Yes."

Somehow, this makes me believe him instantly, and I can’t but nod in agreement.

Daedalus, however, bluntly asks, "What evil? What gate?"

We all turn to look at him. Then Chao-dai answers calmly, "The prophecy doesn’t say." I can see that he isn’t telling the entire truth, but I imagine that it’s either a tactical manoeuvre or at any rate only half of the story. What I can’t tell is, if Daedalus feels it, too. At least, he remains silent.

"Be that as it may," Chao-dai continues. "Protecting and guiding Daniel Jackson is of the utmost priority. This honourable job goes to Callum and Marcos, while I will have the thankless task of keeping your head on your shoulders, Callum McKay."

At this, Daedalus gets up, saying, "I see. If that’s the case, my presence here is no longer required."

I jump to my feet, too. "Daedie, wait!" And while I excuse us for a moment, taking in the agreeing nods from the other two, I walk Daedalus to the small examination room next to the office. "Don’t you fade on me now," I warn him while closing the door behind us. "It’s not only about me, it’s also about Daniel. Hey, what’s the matter?"

"You’re both under their protection, and you trust them. That’s all I need to know."

"Do I hear any signs of resignation here?"

"Resignation? Maybe. My life is forfeit."

So I was right. I don’t suppress the sigh that has been waiting to come up for some time. "I see. Pray sit down."

Obediently Daedie sits down on the cot. Like I’m used to doing under quite different, yet strangely familiar circumstances, I take my side chair and pull it in front of him. "It has nothing to do with the immortals, or Daniel, right?"

"Callum, I have killed you." By the sound of it, Daedalus really is desperate. "By our laws, that means I must be destroyed. I will present myself to Julian and await my sentence."

At least, he has made his point now. At least I have something to work with. All I need to do is reassure him, so that he goes on. "Okay. I understand. And Julian will see your point, too, there’s no doubt about it. I understand that there are laws everywhere and they have to be respected, of course. And you, of all… creatures… are the one who should abide by the law more than anyone else."

"I’m glad you understand," he answers, just like I expected. "Please believe me that I’m not happy about it, but you saw for yourself what I’ve become. There are reasons for our laws, and preventing us from becoming the Beast is one of them."

"Like the beast I saw."

"Yes."

"Dreadful, huh?" I dare go a bit more into the provocative corner.

But Daedalus won’t buy this one. "And dangerous for you. And for all others."

"I see." I realize that I’ve already taken over the role of the therapist here, and bow to the development by folding my hands in front of me – something I only do when I’m being the doctor. Maybe my "client" wants me to look after his emotions first. I give it a try by recalling the past. "I'm thinking of our first meeting. You were so very much afraid to show yourself to me."

"What’s your point?"

Oh, Daedalus! You’re much too good to be fooled easily by a young and ambitious psychologist. But I have to clutch at every straw I can get, and eventually need to go on talking, whatever may come out of it. "Oh. Yes. My point is that I wasn’t."

"You didn’t know what you were facing. You do now." He sounds almost cynical.

"Yes, I do now," I repeat. "Please, would you still mind telling me what exactly I am facing? Or, maybe I should put it another way: I you were me, what would you feel?"

"I would feel apprehensive."

"Meaning what?"

Daedalus looks at me like a teacher and patiently explains the obvious: "You have now seen that my civilized behaviour is only a façade, and that you’re only safe as long as my self-control permits it. You’ve also seen how easily that control is shattered. I’m a danger to you."

Although I sense that I’m heading nowhere, I won’t give up. Maybe the good old questions will help me out. "Has this ever happened to you before?"

"Not for centuries."

"Then why now?"

"I’ve no idea. Probably because I’ve kept away from mortals for so long that I’m overwhelmed now. But that’s no excuse."

"Of course not. Oh. I hope I’m not keeping you from your execution. Just some last questions, please." Was it me who said the last three sentences? Oh, Callum, where are you heading?

"There’s no need to be sarcastic, Callum," is the answer I deserve. "No one regrets this more than I."

"I wouldn’t be so sure about that, if I were you," I retort honestly.

But Daedalus is stuck much too fast to be distracted by that. He just goes on: "I had great hopes, just like you. Those hopes are shattered now, for both of us. And it is my fault alone. I’ll take responsibility, but I don’t do it gladly."

"I believe you do." I can’t do anything but support him now. "But, to make it easier for me, would you allow me to list the facts that have led to this point?" It’s my last hope that he’ll see the flaw in his thinking once he realizes the facts. My last straw.

"I can do it for you," Daedalus says. "One, I’m very old. The Beast eventually overtakes all of us, and the older we are, the greater the risk. Two, I’ve kept away from mortals and their turbulent emotions for fear of precisely this happening. Three, I never had sex since my death. Four, you are too much for me sometimes, and this was one of those times."

"Thank you," I rejoin. "Let me paraphrase. You’re old. You’ve become a creature of the night some thousands of years ago. You’ve been confronted with the pleasures of the flesh only a blink ago, and I can do this to people like you, like, turn them into something savage. Yep. Right. Had it before."

"By the commandments of the Prince of this city, it is punishable by final death to drain a vessel. That alone makes my life forfeit."

Ah, he’s coming up with the framework now. I can deal with that. If he tries to hold the law up in his favour, so can I. "But the vessel was miraculously filled again," I retort. "Oh, I see, that won’t keep you now you’re on your mission."

"The next mortal won’t be so lucky."

Without being able to turn around, I realize that we’re on the verge of a confrontation now. "I daresay, apart from the fact that I wasn’t lucky but just happen to be immortal, that now you’re warned." I bend towards him to hold his hands. "As my granny would put it: that’s enough breast-beating, you old fool. You haven’t thought one fucking bit about the consequences, and you don’t even give it a try!"

"Your teacher has assumed responsibility for your welfare. And I’ve told you that these developments don’t fill me with joy." Daedalus’ voice isn’t calm any more.

I can’t keep my emotions down, either, and all I have to do is let go. "Don’t you dare give me that foul lecture one more time," I interrupt him. "I tell you what you’re doing: You’re beating it! You’re leaving me alone, bathing in the illusion that Chao-dai will look after me once you’re gone. I tell you what: He won’t! And he doesn’t fuck me, bloody hell, and I – alas, here’s another one in this room thinking of himself – will bloody miss you!"

I can’t rattle on, because I am dumbfounded in a Nosferatu bear-hug that almost gives me hope. "I know," Daedie says, his voice thick with sorrow. "Believe me, I know. And I’m sorry. I wish there was another way. But I’ve proven to you that I’m dangerous."

Not again! I push him away and shout: "Stop it! You’ve made one mistake in three thousand years, and at once you try to slink away. But I haven’t built up all this to let it be destroyed by one old self-pitying fool! And if you don’t listen to me, maybe you’d rather have it that Julian talks to you about our future." Once said, it seems to me to be the only rational solution, after all. The thought of a light at the end of the tunnel calms me down a bit, and I add: "His, too."

"It’s Julian’s decision," Daedalus finally agrees with me. "Of course I’ll talk to him. He may be lenient, but that’s not something I have any influence over. He’ll make the right decision, that’s why he’s the prince."

The more I think about it, the better the thought gets. Suddenly, I can’t suppress a slight smile. Daedalus tries to read my thoughts, but it is him who is mistaken this time.

"And nothing you can say will sway his decision," he says. "He’s Ventrue. He will know the truth."

The truth. I know how Julian will think about the truth, and the thought of him fills me with warm anticipation. "Good." Refreshed, I get up. "Leave it to the Ventrue. He will know that you killed no one."

This finally makes Daedalus smile, too, if but slightly. "We’ll see."

"One last point," I venture. "Could it be that you’ve hated yourself from the very beginning?"

Daedie hesitates. "There may have been a time shortly after the Change that I hated what I’ve become, and I hated my Sire. I’ve always tried to… make the best of my unlife."

"You like what you are," I state.

"I have achieved many things that were previously not thought possible for one of my blood. I’ve experienced a freedom no mortal knows. You might say I’ve learned to see the bright side," he answers.

"So, you like what you are," I state again.

"If you insist, yes."

"Good." At least he is convinced of himself and not searching for an excuse to subtract himself from this planet. I wonder where that thought came from, and quickly change the topic. " We shouldn’t keep the others waiting."

"By all means, let’s not," Daedalus agrees. After all, he has forgotten about his plan to leave.

I lead the way. "Come."

The moment we enter the room, Chao-dai hastily removes his feet from my desk, holding on to his beer-bottle as if he’s afraid of spilling some of the precious liquid, while Marcos hastens to lift his head from – it can’t be otherwise – Chao-dai’s lap. They look at us with the air of two guys who had a good time and could have used some more. Marcos straightens back his hair and says, as composedly as possible under these circumstances, "All resolved?" His eyes rest on Daedalus, and again I ask myself how well they know each other, especially when he adds, "Are you all right, my friend?"

Some of my hopes are scratched at when Daedalus replies: "As I was before."

Annoyed, I throw him a glance. "We’re all tired. Let’s hit the sack." And to Daedie I add: "I bet you don’t wanna stay?"

"I might harm you again," he answers.

Now Chao-dai asks: "Harm him?"

Daedie merely throws him a glance as if to say that it’s none of his concern. At the same time, Marcos turns towards me. "Harm you?"

Now it’s my turn to throw Daedie a glance, but I have no problem telling Marcos and Chao-dai the truth, at least in a nutshell. "We fucked. There was some blood loss."

"I understand." Chao-dai smirks, Marcos is tactful enough not to grin, but they both look at each other in a very significant way.

Daedalus adds, under his breath: "Not that it’s any of your concern, Agaros."

"Of course it’s not," Marcos says. "But if you need my advice… Those things have happened to me, too."

"I doubt that," Daedalus states.

Chao-dai goes on grinning and drinking his beer. At this, I break out into hysterical laughter. I think I’ve lost my thread long ago, and I can but try to control myself again. Must be the time and the blood loss. I hear myself giggle like a madman.

Marcos doesn’t seem stirred by that, and he goes on talking to Daedalus. "Rest assured, the quickening awakens the beast in all of us." He winks an eye at me, and feeling suddenly very ridiculous, I fall silent.

"I know, it’s none of my business," the Greek continues, "I should go back to my cell, then." He turns to Chao-dai. "Wanna join me?"

Chao-dai stares back. "Sex in a hospital? Surrounded by children? No, thank you." He gets up. "Night everyone."

Marcos simply nods at this statement and follows him into the passage way.

"I, too, will take my leave," Daedalus says, but his voice is full of sadness. I fake a yawn in order to cover up my concern, and join in the general choir: "Yeah, I can hear my bed calling."

Daedie throws me one last look, as if to say that he is fatally sorry for all that happened, but before I can say or do anything else, he disappears.

I feel Marcos’ hand on my shoulder and realize just now that he must have come back into my office without me noticing, and I’m still looking at the spot where Daedie vanished. With a friendly squeeze, the Greek asks: "You all right?"

"I manage."

Now Marcos goes back to his room, after promising that he won’t leave the hospital unless I tell him to. After all, I can only believe he’s being honest. What is more, I don’t want to lose time to call Julian, so I have to take the risk and let him go without checking.

Once I’m on my own, I hurry for the phone. His voice rings out after ten impatient ringing tones, and it sounds almost familiar, but a bit husky.

"Julian?" I ask, just in case.

"Callum. What is it?"

"Listen, honey," I say, again not believing what I just said.

"Yes, darling," he answers.

Obviously, the Prince is having a good time. That makes me bold, and I go on: "There’s a desperate Nosferatu on his way to you."

Julian switches gears so fast that I can almost hear them screech. "What happened?"

"His version will be that he killed me," I explain. "Now, Julian, are you talking to me or to my ghost?"

"What’s your version?"

"He saved me from my final death. I had a first duel and no weapon. He couldn’t keep out, you know him. Well, and then I had my first quickening."

Julian carefully states, "I assume it’s not pleasant to have a quickening."

"Oh, I say, it’s the most pleasant thing on earth, even better than…"

"I see," he interrupts me. "You’re very lucky then."

I feel that he doesn’t behave the way I know him, as if he’s still distracted by something – or someone. Therefore I ask: "Are you alone?"

In return, I can hear some rustling and voices in the background, then Julian’s voice: "I am now."

"I was lucky to have a… Nosferatu stallion near me."

I have Julian’s full attention now. After a small gulping pause he says, not without a certain amusement in his voice, "I’m still not getting the ‘desperate’ Nosferatu part."

"I just wanted you to know all the important details," I answer. "I bit his ear."

"Ouch."

"So, I take it you’re not familiar with Nosferatu ears?"

"Not particularly, no." His voice is trailing off a bit as if he’s relishing the thought.

I explain, "Most erogenous. Now, imagine: an utterly aroused Callum, literally glowing from within, an angry Nosferatu, hungry, too, and in a state of, let us say, emotional instability, and me, biting his ear."

I can imagine him visualizing the whole situation, and I dearly hope he likes what he sees. Then he says: "I. See. And he killed you. Only you didn’t stay dead."

"Not at all. That’s what made it perfect. And now he’s trudging to your place to receive final death."

It’s Julian’s turn to sigh. "Dear Daedalus. If all Kindred were like him we wouldn’t need any laws."

"Please, help him," I urge. "He’s real desperate. I couldn’t talk him out of it."

Julian’s voice is so reassuring that I would love to be with him now. "Don’t worry, Callum. I’ll make him do penance to ease his conscience but I won’t take his unlife."

"I knew you were wise enough," I hear myself say. "But it’s not only that. I think there’s a little bit more to do to dissolve this complex wish of self-destruction."

"He has a wish of self-destruction? Are you sure?" Julian sounds like he’s the therapist now. In a way, he is.

"Quite," I reply. "He can’t confront the fact that this is what he is without fearing that it will happen again. To me, it looks very much like an escape bid, although he means well, no doubt about it. Oh, and besides, I love you for saving him."

Ignoring the last bit, he says, "I’ll be honest with you, Callum. It’s true that he has committed a crime. But it’s also true that losing him would throw the city into chaos. But to mitigate, he has lost his control under the worst possible circumstances."

"Yes, I know, but part of that is due to me," I retort.

"I can see where he’s coming from. But only the most strict of rulers would sentence him to final death. And I’ve been called a prince of peace."

There is a long and warm pause before I dare state: "You love him, just like I do. No, more than that."

After another pause, less warm but understood by, I presume, both of us, Julian states: "Now that this is resolved we will talk again later." And without any word of warning he puts down the receiver.

I have known Julian long enough to know that he can’t deal with that amount of emotion in front of me, so I understand. Just to please me, I hold the receiver to my ear for another moment, enjoying its warmth, and say, "Yes, Julian," as if I’m saying the words into his very ear. Then, with a smile, I put it down lovingly.


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