Episode 3: A Myth. A Nightmare. A Secret.
The same tears that had caused this scenario to begin flew behind a young man that ran through the woods. Fear spurred desperate movements. Stopping would be a horrible mistake. Lean, long legs moved forward, but how long would they hold out? Seemed he’d been running forever!
A branch drew a bloody welt along his cheek. A wince of tired pain nearly closed his light brown eyes. As he looked ahead, a heavy breath was pulled in. Salvation was just ahead. A road cut a line through the trees. A wagon hauling goods was moving very quickly along it. If he could just make it there. His arms pumped hard, trying to push his tired legs to move faster. Sweat ran down the sides of his round face. Short, reddish-brown hair fell forward with a misstep that sent him careening into the path of the wagon. Eyes were wide with fear. Arms flailing about drew attention to him. Not that he’d needed it, for the horse spooked at this sudden appearance.
At the reigns was a large man. Heavy set, disgruntled, self-important. Not someone to trust. But what choice was there? Breathlessly, “please help! Please!”
A sneer crossed the man’s features. Familiar pain brought heartache to the young eyes that pled for help. Wind from the passing wagon pulled at a ripped shirt. He reached a desperate hand out. Any help at all!
As the wagon moved on, salvation slipped away. A sob escaped, “why does the world have to hate me?”
The wagon disappeared around a bend.
“This way!” cruel voices came from the woods.
Fear dictated what would happen next. Despite the pain of tiring legs, he ran further away from those that chased him.
Zene leaned her back against a tree. She was trying desperately to hide tears from him. It was a foolish waste of time.
The bag Reason had packed for them rested comfortably over his shoulders as he stepped around the tree. The sooner he addressed the issue, the sooner she’d cheer up and they could be on their way. “You done?”
Her arm swiped across her wet eyes, “I’m sorry I cost us a ride.”
“But it’s midday,” she pointed out. “Maybe we should stop?”
“No,” his tone was mild yet certain.
His answer was a growl, “we’re being hunted.”
“I’m sorry,” her voice was a whisper that fell to the ground.
In silent question, the sightless gaze he cast was hard. Was that it? Simple acceptance. No argument. Take the win whenever it presented itself, he supposed. He adjusted the blindfold. “Let’s go.”
“Are we still going to that town, McOrmond?” Her feet moved to catch her up to him.
His fingers tapped impatiently at his side. “Until we have a better plan.”
“We should have stayed with Chuck,” the sigh she gave bordered on hopeless. It was clear she felt bad.
There was harshness in his snarl, “you are not the price of a ride.”
“But I’m not worth…”
“You are my source of insight into the fear that drives humans,” he spun about to face her. “I see him again I will tear off his arm as promised.”
He stalked away.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go to the town,” she spoke softly. Her left hand gently held her right upper arm.
His expression softened minutely as he admitted, “I don’t like not having a plan.”
Footsteps alerted him that she was beside him. His head tilted down as she touched a hand to his arm. “We’ve been kind of winging it since we left the dungeon. You want answers about what the humans that held us are planning. What the war is that they spoke about. So maybe, we do go to the town. Maybe, if we ask people, someone will know something.”
It was the closest thing to a plan that they had. He nodded.
“And maybe,” she continued, “if you see Chuck, you take his arm.”
Surprise stopped his feet.
She continued, “he’s got two of them.”
It was beyond him to laugh, but the smile that crept up lightened the eyes behind the blindfold.
“I’ll be more careful now,” she promised softly on a more serious note.
“Humans can’t be trusted.” He heard her disheartened sigh. His next words came out sounding a little awkward, “but you didn’t do anything wrong.”
She made a contented noise in her throat.
“You’re smiling at me, aren’t you?” he asked with distaste.
“Get over it,” she laughed.
Something was headed their direction in an awful hurry. Panicked breathing gave him pause. It wasn’t rushing the two of them. It was fleeing. Listening past the laboured breathing he caught it. A sound of additional footsteps. Two-footers with elevated heartrates. Humans, most likely. And they chased another being. The scent of fear reached him. Their taunts floated into his ear.
“Stay here,” he dropped the bag.
“What is it?”
“Three humans; two hunters and one hunted,” he explained as he moved off.
Up the road he caught wind of the hunted. His mind’s eye formed a picture. A thin human nearly depleted of all its energy. Fear drove it on blindly. It was why he wasn’t seen until the human was nearly upon him. By then, it was too late to stop. Though it certainly tried to. It hit the dirt hard tearing a hole in the left knee of the pants it wore.
Kneeling down, Nevetes took in a scent that lit the blood in his eyes and veins. Fear was intoxicating! The human backed away, too afraid to be able to speak. Up the road the predators came. His sightless gaze flashed up, capturing them and their scent.
“There’s something to be said for prey,” he found himself smiling. Face turned upon the two ahead, he added on a happy growl, “there’s something more to be said for a challenge.”
In an instant he faced them, leaving their prey behind. Their overconfident demeanors very quickly vanished. Suddenly, they became prey and they were aware of the shift. Disappointing him, the two fell back.
“What the hell?” the larger pushed the smaller aside as he began to run.
The smaller scrambled and ran away with a scream at the larger, “you bastard!”
The smaller was a faster runner. The larger would be a stronger opponent if he stayed to fight. They ran in opposite directions. Didn’t mean they stood a chance. His pulse quickened. Never before had he chased down his prey. Always he’d been an obstacle to keep prisoners in their cells. The fight with Kihivas was a first, and far different from chasing prey. Even the beasts in the woods had been a stand, not a hunt. He liked this!
Racing ahead he quickly overtook the smaller. His claws caught a fistful of brown shirt at the throat. Dragging the body along was no task even though the human fought with desperation to free himself. The larger was just up the road, looking over his shoulder at Nevetes and the captured comrade.
“Leave me alone!”
“You son of a whore, help me!” the smaller called out.
“Please don’t kill me,” the large pleaded for his forfeited life.
Perhaps the smaller would have put in the better fight after all. But the larger held a heavier punch that he let loose. It was far too easy to evade that weakly aimed punch by ducking beneath it. Claws found hair this time. His leg kicked out the knee. His prey stumbled hard. The knee was blown. His claws kept the human from smashing into the dirt, which exposed the vulnerable neck. Nevetes felt an unfamiliar itch within his bared fangs.
“Fear pushes the blood,” he noted with pleasure.
“Don’t!” the smaller cried out. The larger just merely cried.
A flick of his wrist pulled the shirt tight to the neck of the smaller, choking out the inane chatter. The large one’s eyes were wide, the pupils mere pinpricks. The blood pounded against the throat, beckoning to his fangs.
“Stop!” her voice called out to him.
Annoyance made him growl. His teeth were only moments from the neck and the blood that pounded within it.
“Please don’t,” she pled from next to the human that had fallen.
His tilted head in her direction asked her why the hell he shouldn’t.
She looked on. He could feel her eyes begging him not to end the life of these pathetic humans. They weren’t one of the kind ones she thought existed. What they had done had earned them this fate. He smelt urine and realized that the large one had wet himself in fear.
“What you did,” his fangs still poised to take lives.
“We’ll never do it again. We swear! Just please don’t kill us!” the larger begged pathetically.
“We swear we won’t! We’re sorry!” The human cried. The other nodded, since it still couldn’t talk.
“Touch her again, I will slowly drain you of your weak blood.”
“How did you..?”
With a muted growl, he warned the two. Both were tossed away from him with anger. He stood motionless as the two of them picked themselves up out of the dirt. They ran off together. The smaller helped the larger despite the earlier actions. Behind him, there was a sigh of relief from Zene. The human she sat next to cringed away in fear as he turned back to face them. A slow breath brought his pulse back down. Slow steps brought him back to the two of them.
Zene was reassuring the human, “it’s okay. You’re safe now. Nevetes won’t hurt you.”
He made a rude noise with his nose as he turned his head down upon the two. His bloodlust wasn’t exactly sated thanks to her.
“What was going on? Why were those two guys chasing you?” she was oblivious to the moment as she helped the human to his feet.
The human’s pulse had quickened with the question. Its breathing became shallow and frightened. The response of prey.
“Let it go, Zene,” he pulled her away. “We’re going.”
“But, we don’t even know his name,” she turned back to face the kid. “I’m Zene, and that’s Nevetes.”
“Uh, Bryn,” the human bowed politely.
“Nice to meet you, Bryn,” her eyes sparkled happily.
“Let’s go.” He spoke over his shoulder to the human, “head down the road. Ask for Reason and Lovey, they’re stupid enough to help.”
“We shouldn’t leave him here. He’s hurt and that’s kinda on you,” she made the bold statement.
His teeth found new levels of strength with which to grind.
“No,” the kid seemed hesitant, “it’s okay. It’s my fault. I tripped. It’s nothing.”
Anything to appease the monster before him. But, it made Nevetes’ life easier so, “see.”
“Please, he saw you almost eat someone,” there was an abnormal amount of amusement in that dark statement. “He’d say anything right now. You could have stopped the fall. You would have for me.”
“You want me to carry him too?” Nevetes was angry.
“Do you need to be?” she asked happily of the human.
He growled. The hell he was going to carry a human!
“I’m okay, really!” the kid waved his hands in negation.
“Still, this road seems very dangerous. Which way are you headed?” she asked.
“We’re not escorts,” he reminded her.
“Um, I,” he looked up the road, “don’t really have a place to go.”
“Great!” she pulled at his arm. “He can come with us, right?”
The answer should have been clear to her. He said nothing.
“Ok,” she took a hold of the kid’s arm. “Let’s get off this road before something else happens.”
“Uh he didn’t…”
Zene cut the human off, “exactly! He didn’t say you couldn’t come. As good as saying that you can. Come on! Let’s get off the road before something else comes along it. The woods are prettier anyhow.”
Bare feet meant very little. Keeping pace with the horses was simple enough. Their hooves on hard ground gave the direction to move in. But the daylight was a big problem. It was all he could do just to keep pace. At these speeds, prey was impossible to hunt down.
Shadows moved behind him as they turned a bend in the road. The sun’s heat and exertion were taking a toll now. The humans leading the charge were not inclined to slow down. Stopping was not an option they were willing to consider until they came across something that would give them reason to. A covered wagon travelling up the road might be that reason.
“A,” Bryn swallowed nervously, “Primal?”
The sun was beginning its slow descent on the horizon which the woods hid from their vision. In the first hints of evening gloom, Nevetes looked deadly.
“Uh huh,” the pretty girl next to him said lightly. “Vampire, to be exact. And I’m…”
Nevetes cut her off, “the more you tell him, the more likely it is that I’ll have to kill him.”
There had been no humour in that voice. Seemed likely that the dark-haired vampire didn’t have a sense of humour. Bryn swallowed hard.
“Don’t worry, Nevetes says I’m a leash for him. I won’t let him do anything,” she laughed.
Nevetes shook his head.
“But since we can’t tell you stuff, maybe you can tell us stuff!” she implored brightly. “We’re looking for answers.”
“Like what?” fear made it hard to talk.
“Primals and Elementals! What do you know of them?”
There was a very slight turn of the vampire’s head. Was he interested in what Bryn knew?
He hoped that he didn’t disappoint, “myth and legend mostly. I’ve never known anyone to have actually met a Primal before.”
“Heard it’s common for some to have one as a slave,” Nevetes spoke coldly.
He nodded, “the rich, I’ve heard. But around here, no one’s rich. And not much to bring anyone through. So, we’ve never seen a real Primal before. Some people even think they’re a myth.”
“What about Elementals?” hope had her hands folded before her chest.
“After the Hope disaster, I heard they were taken far from here.”
“The what?” she asked, but they were both unfamiliar.
“You’re not from around here, hey?” Bryn grinned. The dark look on Nevetes’ face could not be hidden by the blindfold he wore. And it spurred the conversation forward. “There used to be a facility north of here some ways. Nestled in the corner of a valley was a town called Hope. That’s where the facility was. But, there was some sort of explosion that caused a rockslide. Whole town is gone now. Half of it buried under all that rubble. The rest of the town was forced to leave after that.”
“That’s awful!” she breathed.
“What do you know of a war?” Nevetes asked over his shoulder.
“War?” he’d certainly not heard of any war. “Things have been peaceful in these parts for years. Nothing much exciting ever happens here. And nobody’s been conscripted.”
“Conscripted?” she questioned.
“Forced to go into an army. No one’s even been recruiting.” He explained it to Zene, “voluntary joining of the army. If there’s a war, no one’s told us about it.”
The two of them shared a sightless look. There was more to their story than they were willing to tell Bryn about.
“Any records?” Nevetes wanted to know.
“Of?” he asked.
“What was happening at that facility,” Nevetes clarified. “Were they keeping Elementals there? Experimenting on them?”
“Not sure, but no one’s allowed near the village now. Maybe something might be there? Far as I see it, you don’t keep people away from nothing.”
Nevetes had stopped, and so had the two of them. With his dark countenance focused coldly ahead it was Nevetes that came to the decision. “We’ll go there.”
“Ok!” Zene was agreeable. “Can Bryn come too?”
Nevetes’ head dropped to the side.
Then Nevetes’ head shot up, cast in the direction of the road they’d left behind. They’d travelled some distance. Were his attackers back with reinforcements? Absently Bryn pulled at the side of his shirt to relieve the tension that had been building there.
As the bag Nevetes carried hit the dirt, the blindfold came off his head.
“Wow,” Bryn breathed softly.
“I know!” Zene held Bryn’s arm.
Casting an annoyed look their way, he gave the order, “stay together. Protect her.”
“What?” Bryn stepped back.
Zene’s look showed her concern.
Nevetes was gone. Vanished before he could blink, without a leaf being disturbed. Zene was already moving after him, picking up the bag Nevetes had discarded.
“Zene!” he ran after her.
She lacked Nevetes’ speed but damn the girl could run. Branches and twigs hindered his progress. She seemed to dodge every one. He’d thought that he’d had enough of this earlier. He called after her, but she wasn’t stopping. Finally, the road opened out before them. The setting sun cast its pink color along the road. It did not hide the blood that stalled his feet.
A covered wagon lay on its side. Before it a dead horse lay. Its open eyes and frozen expression told of fear before it died. The laceration in the side was deep.
“This wagon passed me by earlier today. When I was being chased. The driver wouldn’t stop.” He stepped back from the horse, “what happened?”
“Quick, deep strikes. The horse wasn’t the target,” Nevetes was up the road. “It suffered more than it needed to.”
“It was intentional?” horror made him take a step back!
Zene’s hand softly brushed at the mane, “I’m sorry!”
Up the road, a body lay lifeless upon the hard ground. Blood was spilled heavily about the midsection. With his foot, Nevetes rolled the body. Guts spilled out with the movement. The horror remained on the dead man’s face too.
“Is that Chuck?” Zene looked ill.
“His death was slower. The wound is clean.”
“Meaning?” she dared to ask as she stood up.
But Nevetes was racing ahead up the road leaving the two of them with the bloody massacre.
Bryn couldn’t stop the question from coming out, “what happened? Did you know this man?”
“Yah,” she looked sadly upon the man’s body. “He was giving us a ride. But he said that Nevetes’ protection on the road wasn’t enough payment. He said I could do more by sitting on his lap.”
Zene’s arms held her torso lightly.
“Vampires have really good hearing. And even when the sun is at its highest, they don’t really sleep. We,” she hedged her answer, “parted ways with Chuck.”
She shook her head, “Nevetes didn’t do this. Not long after Chuck left, we came across you!”
“Lucky for me,” he smiled kindly.
“Lucky for us too!” She looked back at the man she called Chuck, “in more ways than one, I think.”
Nevetes looked up the road. They’d gone that way. He raced ahead, back into the woods. The truth was that they were gone. Long gone. The body rolled with stiffness and the blood was cold. He could be chasing a ghost at this point. But the violence in the horse’s death and the cruelty of Chuck’s death told him facts that he couldn’t ignore.
He stopped short to kneel on the road. Horses. He could identify them because he’d seen Chuck’s horse. These prints were the same feet, and the same gate. No wagon. Meaning the men road horseback. His gaze caught sight of another set. Bare feet running alongside the horses.
“Kihivas,” he looked darkly ahead.
They’d moved on ahead with speed. Good news for them. He’d gone far enough. He turned around. Zene would be worrying. And every moment spent here was a wasted moment now.
They saw Nevetes returning up the road. His stride was smooth. Despite their surroundings, she admired. And a small smile of relief softened her features. At her feet was Chuck.
“What happened?” she asked as he walked up to them.
Bryn was looking ill. He hadn’t seen death like this before. She rather wished that she hadn’t too.
“They’re gone,” he told her.
“Probably” he commented with subdued emotion.
She saw the frustration in his gaze. He didn’t like not having answers.
Nevetes knelt at the body of Chuck. Strange to think that he’d been alive just that morning. Alive and forcing his unwanted attention upon her body. She’d asked Nevetes not to kill him then. By the look of horror on his face now, it might have been that she hadn’t done him any favors.
Nevetes’ arm slammed into the body! Up through the gut so that he could reach for the heart that the ribcage protected. Bryn slapped his hands to his mouth to keep from being sick all over the road at his feet. She grimaced, feeling a little ill herself.
“What are you doing?” Bryn asked behind his hands.
It was a good question.
“There’s no traces of torture other than the gut. Death came quickly enough because they were impatient and inexperienced.” The heart was pulled out. Nevetes’ uncaring eyes considered it as he told them, “blood races to and from the heart. It holds memory. For a time.”
His fangs sank deep into the heart. Blood dripped from the corners of his mouth. Bryn lost his stomach at that. She held a questionable curiosity. Clearly, Nevetes knew something that they didn’t.
“What memory?” she found herself asking. Her hands were over her stomach because she worried that she might be sick yet.
The blood in his eyes grew in strength. As he released the heart, “desperation.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” Bryn dared to ask with anger.
“He lied to them.”
“You can’t possibly tell that!”
“About what?” she knelt next to Nevetes.
“They went up the road, not back. He told them what they expected to hear, thinking it would save his life. And then he could turn tail and head back to the village.”
“So, they’re ahead of us,” she grimaced.
“It’s to our advantage,” he assured.
“This could just be bandits,” Bryn pointed out from a safe distance. “Or a bad accident. He was driving far too fast for these roads.”
He shook his head, “selfish humans take what doesn’t belong to them. These took only his life. All they wanted was answers.”
“Wish we could know for certain,” she held Nevetes’ arm.
“Why not take his tongue. Maybe hear his last words. Or take his eyes so you can see what he did before he died,” Bryn was being sarcastic.
But it was making Nevetes think. He reached out for the face. She held his arm back, “I don’t think that’s how that works.”
She prayed that it wasn’t.
Nevetes gave her a sardonic look that questioned her. But then, his gaze moved to Bryn who was still sick. It moved back to her. Seeing her ill look, he gave a ghost of a laugh.
“First time I hear you laugh and it’s at our expense,” she chided lightly.
They stood up. He took their bag from Zene as she picked it up. There was hesitation from Bryn, so she paused to wait. “Bryn?”
Nevetes posed the question, “your town up that way along the road?”
“Yah,” seemed the kid was putting it together.
“Do you want to go check on them?” she felt it important to make the kind offer.
That offer drew the darkest look from Nevetes. Fiercely protective and murderous!
“I know, but…” she trailed off with a weak gesture at Bryn.
“No,” Bryn made the decision. His head shook to back the statement. “We should keep walking. Away from here.”
“I agree,” Nevetes nodded for Zene to start moving.
Bryn moved ahead of them. They were headed back to the woods, away from the direction Nevetes had returned from. Away from the town Bryn had left. With worry, she looked upon the young man.
“Where will we go?” she asked Nevetes.
“Wherever they aren’t,” he told her.
Behind them, Chuck’s body was left to the elements. His guts lay strewn next to him, his punctured heart lay outside his chest, and one eye stared fearfully at the heavens.
Her eyes were cast down as she used her power. It wasn’t right that other people come across that sight. Both the horse and Chuck were claimed by plant life that lined the road. Their bodies would not be discovered anytime soon.
A myth. A nightmare. A secret.
Those words were in his mind and he couldn’t get rid of them. Next to him a beautiful myth walked nearly silently. Though, to be fair, he wasn’t really sure which was the greater myth; a vampire or a girl that didn’t hold judgement.
Bryn watched the two of them with more than a touch of envy. How could he not? They were both everything that he wasn’t and couldn’t ever be. Zene moved like a breeze through the forest. Every plant seemed to reach out to touch her as she passed. With elegance she avoided every obstacle without paying attention. The flow of her shirt would catch the gentle curves of her body as she moved. Those bright eyes looked around at everything with wonder. Even Bryn.
Ahead, the vampire lived up to the expectation Bryn held of such a creature. He would vanish from sight if Bryn blinked, and then reappear in a smooth stride that gave the illusion that he moved with the forest not through it.
Nevetes. To Bryn’s eyes…well, to his eyes Nevetes was absolutely breathtaking! The confidence and poise just oozed out of him. He was competent with an edge of danger. Again, everything that Bryn was not. Only in this case, it was everything that Bryn did want to be.
Foolish fantasies of a worthless being. That’s all this was, as well as a waste of time. His sad gaze moved off into the dark woods.
A waste of breath!
His father’s words echoed in his mind. That had been the last thing his dad had said to him before Bryn had run away.
“Berries?” she smiled with an outstretched hand.
The berries did look good, and he was hungry. With a smile holding a lingering self-doubt, he accepted “thanks.”
She carried on with a happy step. They’d been walking most of the night. He was about ready to drop, though he didn’t want to say anything. He got the sense that Nevetes would leave him behind if he stopped for a rest.
“Where did Nevetes go?” he asked after popping several berries into his mouth.
“He’s right there,” her smiling eyes looked to his right.
“Holy hell!” he nearly jumped out of his skin!
There was almost a crack of a smile on Nevetes’ face.
“Strange pairing. Heaven and Hell,” he commented.
Nevetes moved off, completely devoid of sound. Bryn shook his head, “gotta be a vampire thing.”
“Think we can stop for a while?” Zene asked around a yawn.
“Again?” Nevetes spoke with bored irritation.
“Vampires don’t sleep much, is what I’ve learned,” Zene told him with a smile. “But I do. And Bryn’s more tired than me. He keeps stumbling. Can we stop for a while?”
He watched Nevetes as he continued to walk ahead. It seemed as though he would ignore Zene’s request until he ever so subtly nodded.
“Yes!” she gave a muted cheer. “Let’s find a good spot.”
Nevetes disappeared into the forest, leaving the bag for Zene to carry. Bryn reached out to grab it so that she didn’t have to. “There was a stream not far back. Could be a good place to grab some fresh water.”
A drink sounded really needed right now.
“Good idea,” she encouraged!
They moved off to the side, hoping to intercept the stream rather than backtracking to it. It didn’t take long for them to come across it. Zene moved to it immediately and drank deeply. Hopefully, the water was good. He’d hate to see her get sick. Though she did seem to know how to navigate through the woods.
“You seem comfortable out here,” Bryn commented as he knelt to take a drink.
“A little chilled, but my jacket’s pretty warm.” Her comment was endearing.
“I meant that you seem at home in the woods. Have you spent a lot of time in them?”
She shrugged, “enough, I guess. My sister and I used to live in a cabin next to a meadow. We’d forage for our food every day. There was a lake not too far away that we’d get our water from.”
There was a sad story there. Bryn wanted to ask, but fear kept his tongue from doing so. Instead, “what was your sister’s name?”
That sad smile spread.
“Carla.” She suddenly stood up. “I’m going to see if I can find us something more to eat. I won’t go far.”
Bryn watched her leave. “I understand what it means to have secrets. I won’t push.”
He moved about clearing an area of debris and pulling over some logs so that they would have a place to sit. Next, he pulled together some firewood. It must be nearly dawn now, but still a fire would be nice. Especially if Zene was chilled.
Thinking of her seemed to summon her. With an armload of fruit too! Seemed she’d found a crab apple tree.
“Wow, that was quick!”
“I haven’t had these in a long time!” she dropped her treasures next to the gathering of wood.
“I’m just going to grab a couple of bigger logs. Then I’ll see if I can get a fire going for us,” he promised just before running off into the woods. He’d seen a few good pieces not that far off. They should provide just what they needed to keep a healthy fire going.
He’d found them right where he thought they were. Pleased to be helping out, Bryn returned to the clearing only to find that Zene started the fire already!
“Plenty of experience,” back to him, her head dipped to her left shoulder. “It was always my job to start the fire.”
“Well, thanks,” he dropped a hunk of wood onto the fire. “You did a great job!”
She handed him an apple. With one in her mouth, she moved to the bag. The ties came undone to allow her room to rummage through. Her eyes lit up and a note of happy surprise escaped around the apple in her mouth. From the bag, she pulled out a pale colored cloak. This she pulled around her shoulders. Mouth full, she commented, “wonder what else he brought!”
So, Nevetes had packed the bag. And it seemed she was happy with the one find. Like a child with a present, she unpacked the bag.
He sat next to the fire, feeling the heat coming off it. He took another apple. There were questions that he wanted to ask but hesitated to do so. That hesitation sat heavy in his gaze.
She broke into his thoughts when she sat next to the fire, “how come you didn’t want to go back to your town?”
Seemed Zene lacked his hesitation.
His uncertain gaze turned inward. His arms pulled in over his stomach. “I couldn’t…maybe I wouldn’t…I just wasn’t the person they wanted me to be. And bad things happen when you’re not.”
She looked sad, “like the people that were chasing you?”
Slowly, he nodded, “yah. Favorites in town. There would have been no consequences for what they’d done. It was my…punishment.”
“Because they wanted you to be something that you’re not?” anger lit her pale eyes. “Then I’m glad that we didn’t go!”
“Why?” bafflement shone in his eyes. His arms loosened from his waist.
“People should be accepted for who they are, not judged for what they are not,” she was adamant! Her mood lightened instantly, “like Nevetes! He is kind with a strong spirit. That’s what I see when I look at him.”
“Really?” there was doubt.
“Uh huh,” she grinned. “Thanks for sharing Bryn. We won’t stop for long, so we’d better get some rest. Wanna join me. The cloak is big enough.”
“Uh no,” he declined quickly with raised hands. “The fire is plenty.”
“Ok. Have a good rest, Bryn.”
“You too, Zene,” he watched her bunk down and fall instantly asleep.
If she could fall asleep that quickly, she was damned enviable.
The log made a nice backrest. The fire was more than enough to keep warm by. Trouble rested heavily in his gaze that reflected the firelight. If he let them, tears were waiting at the backs of his eyes.
Nevetes seemed to simply materialize in an instant across the fire from him. Fear had his heart leaping into his throat! Force of will kept the scream from coming up.
“Does it not freak her out when you do that?” Bryn asked, clutching his chest.
“No,” the vampire stated simply. The gaze Nevetes levelled felt like a predator stalking prey. “Why do you hide it?”
“Hide what?” It wasn’t politeness that kept Bryn’s voice low.
“Just curious. You don’t actually have to tell me.”
From the fingers of his right hand, Nevetes held something small. It was the eye from the man from the wagon. Bryn covered his mouth. It appeared to be chewed somewhat.
Nevetes tossed it into the fire, “it didn’t work. But it wasn’t a bad thought.”
“I was being sarcastic at the time,” he felt and looked ill.
“I know,” he actually smiled a little. “Your town is fine.”
“You,” he was stunned, “went to look?”
“Not for your sake,” Nevetes firmly pointed out.
So, then for hers. His glance towards Zene gave away his silent thought.
Nevetes’ voice held a growl, “the humans went through and carried on. No deaths.”
“Why?” he was confused but felt that somehow Nevetes knew something.
If he did, he wasn’t sharing. “The two humans chasing you on the road returned to the town. One human asked about you. Large man, thick bones, same brown eyes.”
“Dad,” he whispered into the fire.
“They didn’t tell him what they’d done to you,” firelight flickered in Nevetes’ eyes giving them an intense feel.
Bryn pressed his lips to his folded hands. His elbows rested on his knees. “It doesn’t matter.”
Nevetes’ gaze narrowed. It seemed as though he were disappointed in Bryn’s response.
He probably didn’t have to, but an explanation came out, “dad wasn’t asking because he’s worried about me. People like them will always get away with what they do because they’re accepted. I am not.”
The confession came easily to Nevetes, “I don’t understand.”
Bryn gave a singular bitter laugh, “neither do I, really. People decide how everyone should look and act. If you are those things, you are praised. But if you’re not…”
Anger had Nevetes’ claws digging into the log he sat upon, “humans are vile!”
“Hard for me to disagree,” he dropped his hands and looked across the fire.
“The experience I have with humans is limited.” Nevetes looked towards Zene. Bryn’s gaze followed. “What are the ones you know like?”
Bryn’s gaze moved back to his arms where the fire’s light danced. He did his best to explain, “I wasn’t beaten. I wasn’t kicked out of the house or the town. It could have been much worse.”
“My experience is limited,” Nevetes’ voice was flat with anger. “I am a pawn for humans. A tool to keep prisoners in their wells. Have I seen the worst of humans, or just the surface?”
“I don’t know…” fear of many things danced alongside the firelight in his eyes.
“You’ve dealt with these humans all your life. I’ve seen prisoners treated better than what those two did to you.” Nevetes’ voice remained calm and level, yet it inspired fear to grow.
“How?” He needed to know, “how did you know? About me. About what they did.”
“Vampire,” he explained simply with a shrug.
Bryn’s arms moved over his gut in a protective manner. A blush colored his cheeks, “you could smell my blood.”
“It hasn’t stopped yet today. Women have cycles. I know that much. What I don’t understand is why it matters.”
Staring into the fire, Bryn forced the words to come out, “Zene is beautiful. The kind of girl that others would like to be. Slender, graceful with a touch of elegance, kind, inquisitive, fearless. What amazing feature doesn’t she have?”
There was a warning growl from Nevetes.
He hurried on, “the kind of girl I’m supposed to be. The one that my father and the entire town expects me to be. But, my whole life, I’ve known that I’m not a girl.”
“Your body says otherwise,” he pointed out mildly.
“I know but,” there were tears in his eyes, “my heart says differently. I’ve always known that I was a boy. That I was meant to be a boy!”
Bryn wiped away the tears with anger.
“No one understands,” the truth of that hurt Bryn. “I don’t even understand why it hurts when people call me a she. I know technically it’s what I am.”
Nevetes held his gaze, “it doesn’t matter.”
“What?” the concept was too complex for Bryn to merely accept it.
“What others think. What’s under your clothes. Why does it matter to you?”
The question made Bryn think. “Because, well, because I know.”
“So?” the question was baffling.
“You know. Isn’t that all that should matter?” Nevetes was annoyed and his gaze across the clearing showed that clearly.
“But I just,” Bryn struggled to find the words to the emotions and beliefs he held. “I just want to be me. I just want…”
“To be true to yourself,” Zene’s soft words provided clarity.
Nevetes considered her. Bryn rather felt like a cornered animal.
Zene continued, “we shouldn’t have to keep who we are hidden. And we shouldn’t pretend to be who we’re not to make someone else comfortable. That’s why Nevetes doesn’t hide his ears.”
Bryn considered that, and Nevetes.
Who passed the comment off, “I don’t particularly care what others feel.”
“See?” she smiled. “True to his heartless nature.”
There was a moment where Bryn feared his reaction. But the insult seemed to hold no barb.
“So, what are we talking about?” Zene’s head dipped to her shoulder in question.
Bryn looked surprised to hear such wisdom when she didn’t even know what they were talking about.
Nevetes let a smile come out, “go back to sleep.”
“You boys are going to have to keep more quiet then,” she said around a yawn. She was already curling back up under the cloak. Sleep came very quickly for her.
“Get some rest,” Nevetes was looking at Bryn. “Human boy.”
Bryn nodded. Before leaning against the log, he gathered himself to say, “thanks.”