Ine stared on with concern so deep and destabilizing that, after sitting atop her barrel for several days now, she’d begun to forget she wasn’t Human at all. The festering corpse at her feet was growing out maggots. Yet, her brother still hadn’t come and claimed it.
Sharp nails raking along her wooden seat, Ine shuddered from the strange feeling passing through her imaginary heart. It wasn’t so long ago that she’d sensed it – a great feeling of loss entwined with what she could only define as hollowing panic. She had feared death. Now, more than ever, she feared it and its meaning.
Death, as humans perceived it – as the end of Life – was never intended for her kin. After all, she and her siblings had been born immortal in a time too long passed to be clearly remembered, in a world of snow and silence and darkness too deep to be fathomed. They had always been an intrinsic part of the mortal world. If she released her grip even but slightly on her makeshift humanity, in turns she could feel them:
the girl Leilani, who traversed the generations as Haneyra’s puppet;
hollow Kaheesh, always cloaked in a chaotic aura that defied definition;
the faceless, heartless one whose influence spread all across Ine’s continent of origin;
the Shadow, lingering always on the edge of perception.
Then she sought the siblings harder to track: the one she called Karige, for that was the name of the thing inside of the dying Wyr; and the girl Isaru, an unstable shade now no more than a feeble thread in the tapestry of their kin.
The hardest one to track, Ine always held for last: her brother Zool – the Black Reaper, as mortals came to know him. They had met a long time ago, when they were both newly born to this world and knew nothing of it yet, and seen each other precious few times since. Even when Zool was off in the other world, she could pinpoint his last known location in this one. It had been too long since his last known location had faded from her senses. She lifted a shaking hand to her chest, gripping tight.
Ine felt her eyes contract and turn from dark-streaked crimson to absolute black. No matter how much power she used, she could not locate her missing brother. However, she could now sense something closing in – something insidious and silent, that spoke to her in wordless whispers. They were tracking her as well.
Ine cursed under her breath and hopped off the barrel, and left the dead Human to all of the rats.
She meandered through the crowded streets of the city, concealed by her desire for quietude. It was market day today; people were so busy with their daily affairs that, Ine knew, no one would stare back if she happened to bump into them. So she enjoyed discovering the colorful stalls filled with exotic foods, fancy clothes and jewelry, the occasional slave… and a vast array of sweet, unfulfilled desires that caused Ine’s mouths to gnash their teeth in hunger whenever she walked past their strongest sources. But it was such a beautiful day; the sun was shining, the streets smelled of sweat, meat, and flowers, and Ine didn’t want to tarnish this welcome distraction with bloodshed. Zool hated when she killed people. He never did accept the true excuse of ‘I couldn’t help it’.
Ine smiled, the memories bittersweet. Was she really the only one of her kin who missed him? Did no one wonder what had happened – or, worse, how? “What the hell have they done with you?”
Ine startled and paused. The crowd’s shrill voices, until now a distant conglomerate of dull noises, hit Ine full force. She set a hand at her head and knelt, wincing.
“Thomas, is it you? Is it really? Are you alright?” Boots rushed to Ine’s side and trembling fingers clutched her arm tight. Thoughts unfolded through her skin.
“Thomas,” Ine repeated, breathless. She stared down at those intruding fingers – bony, rough, scarred, and inherently gentle. They weaved the story in Ine’s mind of a man begged not to leave, in vain; of a woman waiting, waiting for what felt to her broken heart as forever, and living on the perpetual agony of hope. Thomas never came home.
Ine grimaced then. This kind of story never ended well.
“Oh Thomas!” The woman exclaimed, dropping to her knees to clutch Ine in her arms, tightly, desperately, like a starving animal tossed a meager bone. “I’ve waited for so long! You have no idea how much I’ve missed you!”
Ine’s hand twitched. She coiled silencing fingers upon the whining gash stretching across her palm, then returned the woman’s embrace. “I have missed you too.”
The lady’s home smelled of blood and tears and of the pungent, telltale aroma of death. Ine felt it in her nonexistent bones: someone had died on that worn-out, inconspicuous carpet by the fire. Old ashes still lay scattered at the bottom of the crackling hearth. Ine narrowed her eyes, reminded again of the Humans’ ingenuity when it came to making corpses disappear, and of how few of these criminals ever escaped punishment. She kept herself from asking, as the lady’s desires painted clear enough a picture: she was afraid of someone. This someone was someone she cared about, yet desperately sought to escape. A feeling that, to some level, Ine could relate to. Care as she did about her brother Zool, there had been times he’d downright terrified her.
How, with godly power at his disposal, had he lost to the fake-dead? Why were none of her siblings looking for him? Could they not feel—
Ine startled, for an arm had laced around hers. Eyes wet and pleading and her heart craving for affection, the mortal lady stared at her. “You’re not going to leave me again, are you? I’m sorry the house is a mess. Since you left, I’ve been living with Anton – you remember my brother Anton, don’t you? He’s… not like you.”
Not like you – her words conveyed a fear and an eagerness to escape a man turned abusive. Ine sensed the scars on the lady’s fragile skin. She knew better than to ask, but… “Why is he hurting you?”
The lady startled. She exuded fear. “Anton isn’t hurting me,” she replied, too hurried for sincerity’s sake. “He’s a good man. When you left, he and his wife and their two children came to live with me. They’re very kind to me. Truly.”
Yet it was deep distress that radiated from the woman’s tightening grip on Ine’s arm. Ine’s skin rippled, mimicking the lady’s trembling stance. So eager, so eager this Human was, to see her suffering end at long last. Ine sighed.
“So what do you want from me, …?”
The lady welled up. “You’ve forgotten my name?”
“I… got hit on the head one too many times. I travel a lot. Remind me?”
Ine saw on the lady’s face her confusion, and perceived her desperate eagerness to believe, no matter how improbable the lie. The lady eventually answered, shakily. “Theodora. You called me—”
“Thea,” Ine concluded, and as Theodora’s face lit up, Ine knew she’d guessed right. Predictable Humans. Even Theodora’s sudden embrace Ine had expected, and steeled herself for.
“Oh Thomas, it is you! I can’t believe it! After all of these years, you’ve returned! I knew you would! I knew one day you would! Oh Thomas, I have missed you so dearly!”
Ine hesitated. The woman’s blazing desires were starting to flake her fake skin. In the pit of her imaginary stomach, Ine felt hunger.
Yet, she also felt a strange sentiment of understanding. After missing her own brother for what felt like ages, Ine could only imagine how she’d react if (when) she’d see him again. As she returned the woman’s embrace, Ine chuckled. Zool would literally kill her if she ever tried to hug him.
Theodora burst into tears. “How I have missed your laugh, my love! I have missed you so much. Words cannot express how happy I am that you returned.”
Ine patted her back. “You’re doing well enough without me. But, Thea… I won’t be able to stay.”
Theodora froze. Any and all desire in her heart died.
“Understand,” Ine continued, digging into her centuries-wide bag of tall tales, “there is a reason I left. That reason isn’t you. It is…” Ine paused then, and set her hands on Theodora’s soaked cheeks to pull up her face. She waited, seconds passing by in silence as Theodora’s heart slowly resumed beating with yearning. Ine kept waiting, patiently, until a suitable feeling crept by. “It’s… to protect you. If I stay, you’ll be in danger.” This was truer than Ine wished it to be.
A frown aged Theodora’s face. She said, “I’d feared someone was after you, Thomas. You were acting so strange that day. You rushed away from me. Oh Thomas, what will I become without you?”
“It’s your life,” Ine said. “You could try your luck elsewhere and die; or you can stay here, with your brother, and die. At least you know that staying here will mean your death. If you leave, well… Lots of things can happen.”
“I am too afraid to leave, Thomas. What if Anton finds me?”
Ine snorted. “Yeah, right. Most cases like this, the guys themselves are such cowards that they never look for the lost girl.”
Theodora cocked her head. She looked confused… and fearful. “What are you saying, Thomas? What—Your voice sounded strange. Are you alright?”
Ine took a deep, focusing breath. Staying in kind of-character was starting to bore her. No, it wasn’t boredom, Ine realized, staring down at her flexing hand and the blackness she saw pulsing underneath. It was frustration.
“Never mind, Thea. I need to leave. I have… someone to look for. It’s important. I’m sorry.”
Jealousy flared through the room, consuming Theodora’s fear like flames devour dead wood. Her voice lashed with a dark edge. “She’s more important than me?”
“She’s a he, actually, although that’s kind of interchangeable—You’re changing the subject,” Ine said, shaking the confusion out of her head. “He’s my brother—”
“Liar!” Theodora screeched. “You’ve never spoken of a brother! Who is she!”
Should’ve known that would happen, Ine thought, mentally kicking herself for giving into the woman’s winding desires. That’s what she always got for trying to be nice to the mortals.
“There’s no she,” Ine calmly enough stated. “Would I have come with you if there was?”
Theodora scrutinized her. The desire to believe burned weak and was snuffed out by the need to express what Ine guessed to be a lifetime of soul-deep suffering. Terrible yearning raged in the mortal’s heart. Before long, Theodora ran to the hearth and snatched a poker and lunged back, screaming her lungs out, at Ine, who only sighed. Once Theodora within reach Ine slithered forward and caught the mortal’s wrists, grip like a vice, just shy of breaking her bones. She squeezed a little harder still, until the red-hot poker dropped to the wooden floor. Ine stubbed its heat beneath her boot.
“Listen to me,” Ine said, ignoring the mortal’s apologetic blubbering. “There’s no one else. And once I leave, you will seek out someone else. You got that?”
Theodora sobbed something. It sounded like, ‘I can’t’, words that her fearful, yearning, desperate heart confirmed.
“You don’t wanna be alone, do you? Or hurt? Or scared? Believe it or not, there’re good guys out there, they’re just hard to find sometimes, and I can’t help you with that. But I promise you that if you do try and go find one, you’ll feel better for it.” And likely die a gruesome death, Ine thought, but as she glanced again at the ash-strewn hearth and deathly clean carpet, she knew that no matter what happened, this mortal’s life would be short.
And it may shorten still.
Ine froze when Theodora snuck in a desperate, passionate kiss. She tried to resist its pull, knowing how this encounter would end; but Theodora yearned for her – for the man Thomas – and this need had consumed everything else, including Theodora’s will to live. If she couldn’t live with Thomas, then she’d rather die in his last embrace.
Desire overshadowed Ine’s rationale. She returned Theodora’s kiss with equal hunger.
Ine’s fingers ran along Thea’s face, through her hair, while her lips tasted the girl’s sweetness. She slipped her hands down onto Thea’s bare back and swallowed the girl’s pleasured moans, trailing exposed collarbone with her fingertips until her hands firmly cupped Theodora’s breasts through her thin dress. Ine squeezed and twisted, Thea shuddering in her grasp. Desires flooded Ine’s consciousness; without thinking she breathed out, a quiet ‘I love you’ that caused Thea’s emotions to implode in her chest. The girl pressed herself against Ine, and slid down, and Ine could vaguely fathom what she planned to do. It would do Ine no good, so instead she slid to her knees and brought Thea down beneath her.
Now straddling the mortal girl, panting without lungs, Ine observed her. Thea’s chest heaved with anticipation, her legs squirmed with longing. It wouldn’t take long for the mortal to be ripe for consumption. Hunger pounded within Ine, as did the growing feeling of guilt. This girl had been bruised and abused and lived for nothing more, now, than this one, final night with her lost lover. It wasn’t as wrong to feed on the already dead, but… “Is there really nothing left for you?”
In answer Thea reached for Ine’s face and pulled her in, lips and bodies interlocking. Passions flared back up. Ine threw caution to the wind then; she shifted lower, over Thea’s thighs, so she could pull up and splay open the girl’s dress and wiggle herself between the mortal’s legs. She caressed Thea’s soft, striated thighs, inhaling her intoxicating cravings for a tool Ine didn’t possess; but Thea reacted to the ghost limb in her own head, which pressed hard against her welcoming crotch. Ine scooted closer and Thea cried out, gripping the carpet beneath her. Ine couldn’t help but smile, even as she felt her human-like lips distend. Thea was ripe. But the feast was only beginning.
Ine’s monstrous grin melted back into false humanity as she leaned down to rip open Thea’s bodice and taste the sweet warmth of her nipples. Her tongue latched onto the delicate skin, twisting, savouring, and beneath her Thea squirmed and gasped in ecstasy. Nibbling now on hardened, eager flesh, Ine ran a gentle hand along Thea’s side and reached up for her other breast, which she kneaded while her tongue pattered Thea’s nipple. Gashes began to appear all across her body, one by one, wailing out their deprivation. Mind slipping, Ine stretched out blackening hands to Thea’s sides, nails ripping through the carpet’s threads.
With a horrifying screech Ine sat up, her face now nothing more than a wide, carnivorous grin.
Hours passed until Anton, Thea’s brother, came home. He noticed at once his sister’s defiled body lying motionless on the carpet. One of her breasts was streaked crimson.
He took a shaking step towards her, and froze, rubbing his eyes. In the empty chair next to the fireplace sat, now, his wife Livia. Anton coiled, frowning, sweating. Did Livia finally find out the truth…?
Livia made a pensive sound. “So that’s how it is,” she said, her tone soft and terribly cold. “It’s always about cheating with you stupid Humans, isn’t it.”
Anton stared on, confused. “What did you do, Livia?”
“The question here is: what did you do? Though you don’t have to answer. I know.”
Anton hissed. “And what is it you think you know, woman? She’s my sister. I may do with her as I please.”
Something glinted in Livia’s eyes. Anton felt his knees buckle; implacable fear tore at his entrails. When Livia rose to her feet, Anton found himself dropping to his knees. He tried to resist the floor’s impossible pull, in vain. In the firelight, Livia shimmered like a dark ghost made flesh.
When she knelt before him, Livia was grinning. She said, “Oh, so you want me to spare your life, little boy? Big wants for such a big coward, huh.”
“I-I didn’t sa—”
“—Say anything,” Livia concluded, “I know. I can hear you all the same. I wasn’t going to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, but you just made me change my mind. Because I hate hollow trash like you.
“Or rather,” Livia stated, her green eyes streaking crimson, “You hate trash like you. This is your lucky day.”
Livia’s face blurred, and melted, and rearranged itself, and as her features rejuvenated a strong smell of things old and long dead sickened the air. The red-eyed, red-haired girl that eventually stared at him, pale curving horns glinting in the firelight, appeared unfazed.
Terrified, the man stuttered. “Y-You’re a-a Wyr—”
“No,” the girl stated. At length she added, “I’m your worst nightmare. And I’m hungry.”
Long after Theodora woke up to the mutilated corpse of her brother and ran out screaming, and the abuser’s wife returned home with her children to, soon after, pack up her bags and leave the house for good, and the looters and squatters had salvaged the once-home and the rats had claimed the rotting carcass for their own, Ine still sat by the fireplace, hoping for her missing brother to, at long last, return.