Far to the north of the Imperial City of Silvadill, in the Debara Desert, every day was a struggle for survival in an environment as hostile as the beasts and insects calling it home.
Here, in a small tribe located at the eastern edge of the desert, Neve had been born, raised, and died – or so she had perceived her transmutation into a Vampire, which had eradicated all memories of her previous, mortal life. Reborn with enhanced strength and the same phlegm that had characterized her, Neve had submitted to Alameer’s will and accepted to undergo what he called Alabastre’s ritual.
Alameer, the only pale person amid a tribe of dark-skinned, muscular men and women, pulled her close and kissed her lips. She returned his kiss.
“You’re certain that you trust me, Neve?”
“Did I not trust you,” she replied with narrowing eyes, “Would I have allowed you to transform me?”
Alameer smiled and looked down. “No, I suppose not. My beautiful Neve,” he whispered, his hand stroking her cheek as their eyes met once more, “As strong a Vampire as you were a Human.”
Neve’s lips pursed. “Bastern,” she corrected him, “We are Bastern, not Human. The Humans live south behind cold walls.”
Alameer laughed. “There is no difference, dear Neve. Besides, ‘bastern’ sounds too close to an insult in my native tongue.”
Neve smiled. “‘Human’ is an insult as well.”
How he loved this beautiful woman; Alameer pulled her close into a deep kiss, which she reciprocated with lips and hands. Before long they were undressing each other, kissing and tearing at each other’s skin, and their tent filled with the sounds of lust and love.
Hours passed before their bodies and mind recovered some sense of calm. Lying side by side on stained blankets and thin pelts, Neve and Alameer enjoyed each other’s company in silence and gratitude. How they had ever met must have truly been Alabastre’s will.
They still remembered, years later, how Alameer had been captured on the outskirts of Neve’s tribe’s encampment and been sentenced to death in a tongue he, at the time, did not comprehend. Instead of pleading for his life, Alameer had very boldly marched upon Neve and taken her necklace in his hands, turning it this way and that to catch every single mesmerizing shift of colour in the sizzling sun. Neve and her tribe had been too taken aback to react; and within moments Alameer had taken off, muttering to himself in a tongue she had not understood at the time as he’d examined every person, every piece of jewelry, in such a way that his curiosity had roused the curiosity of Neve’s tribe and that they’d started examining him in return. Alameer was the first, and only, Human to have been accepted by the ‘barbaric tribes of the north’, as his peers – and himself until meeting the Bastern – had called these surprisingly civilized and enduring people.
It is here that a deep longing had been granted satisfaction when he’d discovered the precious gems called Alabastre’s Tears, in reference to the dual-faced divinity Alabastre. Alameer was all but convinced these gems in fact originated from a divinity, as he had discovered how to draw a form of magical power from them… albeit at great cost to the wielder.
Alameer shifted to loom over Neve and kiss her. “Do you think you are ready, dear Neve?”
She answered by pulling his face closer and kissing him in return.
Neve looked down at her palm, at Alameer’s hand underneath holding the back of her wrist in place. The knife’s blade felt cold against her wrists’s skin – or was it just fear drowning out the ambient warmth?
She hesitated, then nodded.
And the blade plunged into her skin, severing muscles and veins in a painfully precise way. Her fingers twitched but Alameer held her tight; there was no escaping the fate she had willingly chosen out of love, and out of a growing desire to protect her tribe… and the pale man whom she knew she had loved even before becoming a Veregal – a Vampire. Or, as Alameer had so amusedly stated: not a vegetal, we’re carnivores.
Neve howled in pain when Alameer inserted a shard of the precious yellow gems known as Alabastre’s Tears into the torn flesh of her wrist; she screeched and tried to swat his hand off, even as his thumb prevented the shard from being pushed out by her skin’s regeneration.
Her wrist burned; all of her arm burned with a heat she had never experienced, even after spending her entire life in the blazing sun. She swiped her nails at his face, scratched and scratched but, even bloodied and blinded, Alameer did not let go – not until he sensed her body had ceased to reject the foreign element.
At that very moment, rageful fire became a torrent in her veins. Her wrist felt as though about to explode – instead, it conjured a hovering ball of flame into her hand.
The suffering endured seemed small to Neve now, like the throes of childbirth forgotten once the gift of life secured in a mother’s embrace. The flame danced above her hand, happily awaiting her order. She turned her awed gaze towards Alameer. “How did you know to do this?”
Alameer smiled. “Examination, interpretation… Experimentation.”
He pulled up the sleeve on his left arm and showed Neve the bright yellow shard glinting in his wrist. “I wouldn’t have asked you to risk your integrity, had I not done so myself.”
Neve was at first lost for words, but soon regained her composure. “You invented that ritual, didn’t you.”
Alameer’s grin spoke volumes. “Do you hate me?”
Neve looked down at her arm, at her wrist, at the power she sensed coursing through her veins. The flame had followed her every move, never straying from her hand. The power and the flame were linked, inseparable… It might still take a while for her to understand how to douse it.
“No,” she said absently, then focussing her attention on Alameer, “No, I don’t hate you. You could have warned me though… I would still have agreed. This power will mean freedom for my people. I am… honoured.”
“Good, good… Colour me relieved, then.”
Neve imagined that Alameer had no inkling as to how great an honour this power was – and might be perceived as by her people. Alabastre was the reigning divinity of the Debara Desert, the goddess with the feline face and Dragon’s heart. To possess control over flames thanks to the gemstones believed to be an expression of Alabastre herself… Neve literally held dominion in her hand. Were she so inclined, she might oppose and destroy rival tribes and claim herself Queen of the Sands.
Yet she was more interested by the fact that Alameer was holding his gemmed wrist in his hand. “Are you alright, Alameer?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, yes… It’s nothing, dear Neve, nothing at all. Your happiness is mine as well.”
She frowned. “What are you not telling me?”
“Ah… It’s nothing, Neve, nothing—”
Alameer sighed. “All right. You would know, sooner or later.”
He scooted closer to her, holding out his gemmed wrist next to hers. As he had so justly surmised, Neve was quick to figure at least part of the problem out.
“Your gem… it is faded. Dull. Mine is… fiery. Alive. Alameer…”
He pulled his sleeve over his wrist. “Do not think I played with your life, Neve. That is most far from the truth. No, I examined my body’s reaction to the gems, as well as the fiery quality awaking within them whenever one of your people stood near – or you, for that matter. I was… almost entirely certain this proclaimed ritual would have the desired effect… on you.
“Do you hate me, Neve?”
Emotions spread throughout her body – stronger than ever before. As warm blood pumped through her veins, the flame lost of its grandeur until it was extinguished.
“I can never hate you.”
She straddled him, her hands on his cheeks, and kissed him deeply – a kiss he returned with strengthened resolve. In between two bites he told her, “I would do anything for you, Neve.”
But love was not to last. Tragedy struck one night, as Neve and Alameer shared their love and their bodies: Humans, come to seize what was not theirs to have. The Bastern had been prime victims of Silvadill’s need to dominate, and the search for the Emperor’s new bride had urged the Humans’ armed forces to find unwilling slaves in the barbaric Desert lands and expand the Emperor’s not-so-called harem.
The Bastern men who fought armour were struck down by blades; Neve, in an attempt to protect her people, raised her arm to conjure flames and had her hand cut off in one fell swoop. Alameer’s face was pierced through by the captain of this incursion, and kept impaled until he was certain the man he’d recognized as a Vampire had fully bled to death.
Though Neve’s hand would grow back in time, the power she had wielded was all but lost, as was any kindness she had ever harboured in her heart. With Alameer’s death the only thought in her mind, she vowed to exact justice on the so-called civilized society that had enslaved her sisters and murdered her brothers – and what happened of the children Neve never knew, and never wanted to guess at.
Yet luck would turn as, her arm again whole, she was thus found out to be a Vampire and they attempted to put her down. A sliver of fiery power had remained in her arm, and it had saved her life when she slapped the guards’ captain away from her and heat disfigured him forgood.
Neve would escape, only to be caught by Atrophy…