Episode 8: What It Means To Be Human
Death. It radiated off his being. It drove dark wings to propel him and gave him focus shown in the position of his body. His fangs bit into his own flesh as his lips pulled back to allow a dark growl to emerge. His right arm was before his face. It slashed through the trunk of a tree that stood in his path. Unhindered, he continued on. The tree crashed loudly behind him. His feet did not touch the forest floor. The dark wings alone carried him on.
His gaze shot to the right. The only indication seen of his intent. Sharply, it was as though he was thrown to the right to follow his dark gaze. The world around him was caught in the tow, bending to the pull of the wind he created. He zigzagged through the forest in search of what had brought him out here. At the last moment, he shifted his weight to plant his foot firmly in the leaflitter. His wings came forward around his arms. He was launched high into the trees. From there, he used the heavy branches and his wings to move him through the forest. Until what he came in search of lay dead at his feet he would not stop.
Zene stepped back from the window, in her arms she clutched his discarded jacket. Raindrops mixed with tears which the wind was trying to dry. She sent a promise out the window, “you’re still Nevetes.”
Anthony stood back, watching the scene that had unfurled. The scene that he had a part in. As she turned, he was a fully grown man in a lab coat once again. Heavy was the feeling in her heart. Nevetes was gone. Her gaze fell over to the book he had thrown.
At her side, her hands curled into fists, “why did you react to his name? It wasn’t written down, but you knew his name.”
There was no answer from the wraith.
The broken bits of glass crunched softly under boot as she moved towards the angrily discarded book.
“Nevetes is a vampire,” she stated softly. Slowly, she knelt. The heavy book moved to her arms. As she stood once more, she looked back at Anthony. “You all turned a little boy into a demon, but it’s his vampire side that I see. What else did you do to him?”
Anthony’s eyes were closed to the memories he didn’t want to face. She gave him several moments to gather the courage to answer.
“I was wrong,” her eyes were closed to the pain. “You aren’t forgiven just because you’re sorry. That’s not enough to erase what you did here. What you did to Nevetes!”
With that last, she was looking upon him. Finally, Anthony looked at her. The tear at his throat began to return; beginning with punctures at the throat and the base where the shoulder met the neck. Holes that could have been teeth from a large creature. Fire began to take the sleeves of his lab coat.
Her fingers clutched the sides of the book as she held it close to her body. She fought the sympathy which was fighting her resolve to be upset, “if you want forgiveness, you have to face what you did to him. And what you did to others here!”
Anthony’s shoulders seemed to rise and fall, as though with a heavy sigh. The image of blood began staining his lab coat across the chest.
“A Primal killed you when the landslide happened. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”
Anthony nodded slowly.
“What torture were you putting them through?” her soft voice was in contrast to the hard truth.
He looked up. Worry laced with desperation was in those eyes. But even Anthony knew that he couldn’t justify the actions he’d taken. Not anymore. The look that fell to his hands was weighted with guilt.
“You started to become the Primal, didn’t you?”
He looked at her silently. Fire danced up his arms towards his face.
She pressed, “before the fire caused by the landslide took your life, you were becoming a Primal. I saw what you looked like. You had a muzzle, like the werewolves that attacked us. You began to turn. How does that happen?”
Anthony’s hand touched his throat.
Her eyes were weighted down in thought, “this book says that demons don’t eat or sleep, and that the infected blood kills the person. So how? How did you keep Nevetes alive? How long did you… He was little when you took his life, but he’s grown now.”
Tears glistened within her eyes as she demanded answers. Anthony’s only response was to nod towards the book she held.
“Why?” the word broke on her lips.
“Because demons defy science,” a deep and familiar voice drove fear into her.
Zene whipped about to face the door she and Nevetes had left open when they first arrived. The book, and more intentionally Nevetes’ jacket was held close. With proud arrogance a nightmare stood across the room. General Vania. Behind him, others waited for his large body to move out of the doorframe so that they could enter. For just a flash within her mind’s eye, she saw him standing on a grassy hill looking coldly down upon her.
She fell back a step as General Vania entered.
He continued his explanation, “scientists believe other Primals are an evolutionary step forward for their kinds. A scientific success, of sorts. But the demon line is a failure and an anomaly. The infection overtakes the blood, eventually killing the host and itself. Contained, it should have eradicated the failure. It has not. For every fifty successful Primals made, there is one demon infection that rises inexplicably. Our lore doesn’t explain it, and our scientists can’t understand it. That is why.”
The shaking of her head showed her confusion. “We were human once.”
“We?” he seemed to laugh at her. “Elementals are not my problem. I know nothing about your disease, nor if you were ever human.”
The tiny sound of glass under her boot emphasized how unimportant she was. Her gaze fell, and her fingers were curled tight into the fabric of Nevetes’ jacket.
The general continued, “whether by their own hands or mine, Primals are discarded humans.”
“You can’t throw someone away,” she was horrified!
He was not. “Overpopulation and overconsumption of the resources on this earth threatened our species.”
He snapped at her, “there were too many people that had used up the resources and were facing extinction. Either some humans die, or all humans die. Being human is a privilege, it’s not a right. The solution is simple, discard the worthless ones and extend our resources longer.”
“How can a child be worthless?” the challenge lost power because fear pulled her shoulders in and drew tears to her eyes.
There was a sneer to his lips and furry burned within his small eyes, “when the bitch who bore it chose to love a Primal more than her own kind.”
She shrank from the anger he had!
The general seemed to come back to himself. Cool arrogance replaced the burning anger within his eyes, “at best Nevetes was the subject of an experiment. Much of our knowledge of the demon disease is thanks to what they were able to dissect from him. His infection carried more than just death on it’s back. Once infected, your little champion knew things he’d never been taught. Kept in a cage his entire miserable short life, he had no one to teach him. No one to model after. He didn’t even know how to talk.”
“No,” the breath slipped past the fingers pressed over her mouth.
“I know because I ensured it,” the eyes looking down upon her held cold malice. “Once the infection took over, he knew several languages. Just like the mother he’d never met until the day her infection became his.”
Zene’s eyes grew wide.
“Despite countless attempts, no other demon-infected human has shown that transfer of knowledge. He was an anomaly within an anomaly.” General Vania gave half a grin, “mind you, I didn’t care. Primals exists because of us, and they will serve us unconditionally. But your friend’s father cared very much for that anomaly. He spent years dissecting Nevetes piece by piece. Pulling him apart while he lay awake on the table.”
“Driving him further from the human he began as. But then, he’d been infected by the demon strain. What might have been human no longer was. He is merely a murderous infection waiting eagerly to kill again.”
“That’s not Nevetes,” her face turned away with eyes shut because she didn’t want to hear it!
The soldier behind the general came forward to place her in bindings. General Vania waved him back without taking his gaze off her. The soldier stood back confused. The general stared with evil and gleeful malice.
“Consider it carefully,” he challenged her. “Recall the bloodlust you see when he’s in battle. The excitement he has when he kills. Will you ignore the dark light deep within his eyes because you want to think there is some good in that demon?”
The hands clutching the book and jacket trembled. She stared with an unfocused gaze as she looked back to the szarnyteg on the mountain, to the wolves when she tried to find food, to the werewolves in the deep forest, and to the dead body on the side of the road.
The heart pumped its last, leaking blood onto the hand that held it. Blood coated the lips of the one that had pulled the beating heart out. The corpse on the ground lay motionless. Ribs were shattered as glass at the point of impact.
The vampire side lusted for blood. But it was the demon side that held sway now, and all it wanted was death. And yet, the demon understood that the vampire could give that desire focus. A shared desire creating a partnership within Nevetes. Blood taken now would give rise to more deaths. Darkness swarmed through Nevetes’ eyes. The hand holding the heart slammed to the earth creating an explosion of blood on the ground. It no longer held use.
Screams of the town’s people as they ran was only a background noise. In an instant death would be all about. But the desired focus was before him, coming at him with weapons drawn and a sense of foolish pride. A dark growl fit the evil smile.
Amid the screaming towns folk, three men and one woman came to a stop. Like these four, the one on the ground had been a soldier. A low and slow growl emerged from Nevetes. The thought of killing kept a pleased grin upon his angry face. The stances held by the four were weakened by the fear they let show. They did not want to face him.
“S-stand together. We do outnumber him, and we are armed and armored,” the nearest soldier lifted his weapon once more.
“What is it?” the woman asked, her sword poised before her. She took in the sight of him crouched upon the ground. Relaxed wings pooled about him, pouring small bits of smoke. The shirt he wore was tight to his toned body and liberally covered in blood now. One heavy boot he wore sat flat upon the earth under his chest. The second was on the ground underneath him as he knelt before the dead body of their fallen comrade.
“A filthy Primal. That’s all we need to know,” they tried to bolster courage.
His wings pulled in tighter to his body, ready to bring about the moves that would bring more death.
“Oh no you don’t!” the soldier raced forward to intercede.
The sword he carried came down in an arc towards Nevetes’ face. Unflinching, he stared with uncaring eyes at the soldier. As the blade came down, his right wing intercepted it. Tiny, three pronged claws at the elbow of the wing caught the blade. They were insignificant compared to the heavy blade. Or they should have been. The sword’s momentum had completely stopped. Slowly, Nevetes stood from his crouched position. His wing moved the sword to the side. The soldier tried to wrestle control back.
In Nevetes’ eyes a dark light shone in response to the delight which brought out the evil grin in force. Fear alone was in the soldier’s eyes. Nevetes’ left hand swiped with blinding speed leaving behind a gaping hole in the neck of the soldier. There was no longer a battle to free the weapon. It took several moments for the body to realize that death had come. A malicious chuckle emerged.
“You son of a bitch!” the woman screamed.
The remaining three charged for him. The smoke of his wings swirled around him as they spun him around the trio to bring him to their backs. Confused by his sudden departure, they paused and looked about. The male closest to him noticed first.
“Holy,” he whirled about!
The other two spun. It was far too late. He raced forward, slamming the palm of his left hand into the chest of the closet male. His heart stopped. Nevetes didn’t even look at the woman as he moved beside her, their faces only a breath apart. The fingers of his right hand sliced the artery in her neck open. The smoke of his wings pooled about her. As it touched the open wound blisters appeared on the skin as the blood began to boil.
She screamed, dropping the weapon she held so that she could clutch her neck. The eyes in her head sunk back, the skin grew taught, a breath was impossible as the boiling blood moved throughout her body. He heard the heartbeat explode in speed as adrenaline coursed ahead of the infection. The blood stopped moments after the heart did.
The last soldier stood before him. Terrified of the monster before him. Loud was the clang of the weapon as it fell to the cobblestone ground. A step back was as far as the human would get. He wanted to run. It was no longer in him to fight. He certainly wasn’t going to win.
The smile was gone in Nevetes’ eyes. Anger, resentment, and rage alone rested there now. As old as Nevetes had been when he was turned vampire, the soldier was barely more than a kid. He tried now to run. A swipe of his left hand caught the kid in the back and caused him to fly forward. He was caught within Nevetes’ cold embrace when he moved ahead of the falling body. The fangs of a vampire loomed ominously towards the exposed neck.
General Vania stood before her within touching distance. He could grip her with those cruel hands he possessed. She felt the phantom feeling of them closing in on her. The items she held were clutched tightly to her stomach. She looked so small standing defeated before him.
“The demon, you dense little Elemental, holds value Nevetes never had as a child,” the general sneered. “Not all humans are created equal. Some of us benefit the world. And some, are merely fodder. Those that discard their value as humans will come to serve humans. What science began, I will perfect.”
Her head trembled slightly with the shake of confusion.
“Primals began as a way to save humankind. I will see that they do, but within the capacity they deserve; as slaves to us. So I want you to tell me where he went so that he can be returned to the place he belongs,” his sight moved to Anthony, “dissected on a table.”
“No,” she cried with fear!
The slap the general delivered sent her reeling backwards. “He is a monster. Out there right now he is killing people. Their deaths will be upon your shoulders. Their horrified cries will haunt you each night unless you tell me where he is. Only I can stop his rampage now.”
“What will you do?” tears slipped over the hand that held her cheek.
“Nevetes is one of a kind. The only demon-vampire crossbreed.”
She looked up at him with a sense of internal inquiry.
“He will not subdue easily, but with enough numbers I will overpower him,” the general had confidence.
“You,” the breath was caught in her chest. “You turned Nevetes into a vampire.”
The general scoffed lightly, “not me Elemental. Your wraith friend did.”
She looked across the room at Anthony. He merely stood there with his head down.
“His father’s work was not done, but Nevetes’ life nearly was,” the general’s answer had her looking back to him. “The blood of his untainted brother bought time with every transfusion given, but it wasn’t enough. The more blood you give the disease, the more it takes. From what I understand from your friend there, the disease grew in strength each time it was given more to feed from. Nevetes would have died before we would have learned what we wanted to.”
“Untainted brother?” Her pale eyes lit with understanding, “Kihivas!”
“What you call a vampire is nothing more than a voracious beast. It too aims to kill, but with a more focused goal of survival. Where the demonic infection looks only to kill, the vampiric infection seeks to find life in the death of others. Your good doctor here tested his theory that overlapping the vampiric against the demonic would sustain the subject’s life. I had my doubts, but Nevetes stands today. His demonic nature and vampire urges drive him to kill, making him a true nearly ageless monster.”
“You’re wrong,” she shook her head!
The general moved forward. She fell back, feeling the wind coming in from the open window at her back.
“That little boy you care so much about died on that table many years ago. What took its place was a disease that turned that body into a sociopath able only to kill. The only place for a thing like that is in the military’s charge where we can keep it controlled.”
Through the jacket pressed to her lips she protested, “that’s not Nevetes!”
The lifeless body of the soldier lay in front of him. The blood he’d taken wiped clean to the sleeve of his shirt. The vampire was sated. The demon was not. Crouched on the ground, the claws of his left hand were buried within the dirt underfoot. The claws of his right were ready to murder again. The only movement was the breeze in his hair.
Not a single muscle moved in his body. There wasn’t a note of recognition in his eyes. And yet; quaint, quiet, and even picturesque. He knew this place. This square filled with people he didn’t care about and decorations that annoyed him. And an Elemental with bright eyes that provided him with a mug of spiced blood.
As that image faded, his sight returned. A girl stood motionless at the edge of the town square. Her dress moved softly in the breeze. Trembling hands held tight to the basket she carried. She hadn’t been his focus until now. Blond hair, green eyes, a young soul just barely an adult. She was inconsequential to him. And yet.
Green eyes like the green of a meadow. An earthly green that conveyed peace despite the fear in them. The demon in him knew. It shuddered at the anticipation. His dark eyes held her, tilting his head down. The calm before the storm. His wings moved out in a stretch as he stood and rolled his shoulders.
Fear laced the tones. Adrenaline had hearts pumping fiercely. Two young men holding similar features raced on to the young woman. Terrified, all she could do was shake her head minutely. They would protect her. At seeing him, they stood before the girl with arms outstretched. Their bodies shielded her.
“They would die protecting her,” he stated it darkly. Their deaths would not matter.
“Only if you force them to, Nevetes.”
Her voice was familiar, pulling his focus from the trio. She stood to his left; a once smiling face that reflected her namesake. Lovey. Haggard by recent events, she looked older now. Aged within the matter of days.
“They’re just children.” Her voice was calm yet earnest. “Not a threat.”
His gaze was flat.
Lovey didn’t try to move closer. The wounds hidden beneath her clothing still seeped and provided him with the reason why she looked so pale. There was a part of her that would accept death by his hands. Anger returned to his eyes.
Lovey looked at the kids, “go on home.”
“Lovey,” the girl was afraid for the woman.
“It’s okay,” the smile was a faint reminder of what used to be there. “Your parents are waiting for you.”
“But this monster…” the boy trailed off when Nevetes’ eyes found him.
“Nevetes is no more a monster than Marie,” Lovey laughed.
He looked to Lovey in question.
The boy argued, “he’s killed. Marie hasn’t! She is nothing like him!”
“Marie was once lost too,” Lovey claimed a seat on one of the four benches lining the town square. The pain in her body was easy to read on her expression. “A frightened little kitten alone in the woods that your mum picked up and took home.”
Recognition pulled his eyes to the girl, “cait sidhe.”
“A what?” Lovey asked.
“Fairy cat.” He eyed the girl up, “weakened power. Non-threatening. A lesser witch.”
“Still a witch,” her one brother proclaimed.
“Whose power fades with each use. Like a cat, a cait sidhe holds the power of nine. Nine times it can change, until the power is gone. A lesser witch.”
“And one that isn’t a threat to you,” Lovey slid that in.
With a sardonic smile, his nod was one which conceded. He crouched back down, a sign that he wouldn’t attack.
“Go on kids,” Lovey’s smile held warmth.
Slowly the three kids stepped away. Marie’s racing heart called to the vampire. He cocked his head to Lovey. His gaze asked all the questions.
She gave him those answers, “the army came in search of you. They had a creature with them…a terrifying beast. It led them to our home.”
The fear tightened her fists and her voice. He stared hard at her.
She continued, “I thought it would be Zene they were seeking, but it’s you.”
“The beast,” he pushed.
Lovey shook her head, “a pale creature heavy with muscle. It was ferocious and didn’t seem intelligent. They called it a tracker. It was following your scent.”
The deadly glare he possessed fell to the ground in thought.
Lovey interrupted, “what happened to Zene? Where is she?”
His gaze flickered up to capture her. “Soldiers were here.”
“In case you should come back.” Her gaze was pulled down with sorrow, “or we should be inclined to help another like you two.”
“A foolish mistake on your part,” he stated coldly.
She nodded, “our town has a long history of helping souls in need, Nevetes. We paid a price of blood for that choice. But it won’t change who we are.”
He stood before her. His movements were unseen eliciting surprise within Lovey’s tired eyes. Cold was his voice, “then you will all die.”
Sadness. A deep sorrow that tore at Lovey’s soul. It lowered her head and brought tears to her eyes.
With a demanding edge in his voice, “who led the soldiers?”
“They called him General Vania.”
Murder consumed the eyes that no longer saw the present. He left with no other words. Vanishing before her unblinking vision and leaving her alone with the pain and the bodies.
The blood from those bodies had dried to his hands. He stopped to look at it. Before him stood the quaint house. In a short time, it had changed. Many feet had trampled the flowers. The ineffectual picket fence was set back to rights after being knocked down. Blood littered the ground. It wasn’t the same home that stood here now. In the backyard, a lone figure sat on the decorative bench. A man with only one arm and half a disfigured face. He’d lost sight in the left eye. It appeared to be gone from the socket. What remained of the arm was in heavy bandaging touched lightly with blood.
He emerged from the shadows, “you paid in blood for helping us.”
Reason turned his only eye upon him. An empty pain rested within that gaze.
His tongue ran over his fang. Cold was his expression and his voice, “how much blood remains inside you?”
Reason’s response; a simple smile holding warmth with the fatigue. Nevetes’ wings grew around his shoulders.
“All it wants is blood,” the general spoke cruelly. His eyes were lit with malice. Lightning from outside the window caught the twisted features of his face. Zene stared with fear. “At this moment, people are dying at his hands.”
“Nevetes,” her heart reached for him through the darkness!
“There is nothing human about that monster. The thing you know, the thing you see in him doesn’t exist. It is only his vampiric nature that curbs the demon. Is that the humanity that you cling to?”
Her mouth moved. Her head began to shake denial. She couldn’t form the words she was desperate to find.
General Vania sneered, “an Elemental doesn’t know what it means to be human. You can’t know. You would see him be free, but the side of him that kills to feed himself is the lesser of the evil within him.”
A collection of humans walked closely together. In their arms they carried an assortment of items they’d gathered from the woods they walked through. A bountiful harvest that pleased them. As it would please the town they headed back towards.
“Man, I can’t believe how much stuff we found! I can’t wait to show the others.”
“Told you all going deeper into the woods was a good idea.”
“Pfft! Wasn’t even your idea. Bryn told you that before he left.”
“Get your facts straight. I said it, Bryn only said that it was how he made it coming over.”
As they rounded a dense thicket, Nevetes stood ahead of them. Upright with head titled down, claws at the ready, and wings vibrating with anticipation. The dark light within his eyes grew.
“He is lost. An evil that you’ve released upon the world,” General Vania moved in close. He towered over her. His confidence oozed from his being. He had won. He had given her doubt and he had won.
The book and Nevetes’ jacket moved to her hip. Shoulders back, she held her head high as she faced the man before her. Her left hand waved abruptly across her torso. The wind that came in through the window hit the general hard in the chest, sending him back several steps. Droplets of rain that had accompanied the wind rested on her cheek. She looked up with calm certainty, “that’s not Nevetes.”
He seemed surprised. The men behind him looked askance at the general. He dictated their moves.
He didn’t dictate hers. She continued, “you have no idea who he is now. What he’s made of himself!”
“What he’s made of himself and of you is a target.”
The rain coalesced about the humans when she raised her left hand up to her face, the palm turned to her face. Some moved to slap away the water ineffectually. Suspicious anger flashed in the general’s eyes. Her fingers slammed down to form a fist and ice formed instantly around the men. They struggled to free themselves before the ice became too thick. Her power was stronger than they.
“Release us,” the general commanded.
Two fingers waved through the rain filled air sending droplets flying and a half mask of ice formed over the mouths of the men. She was done listening.
“She cried when she found a baby deer,” Zene’s eyes were focused upon the past. “His mom had died and he was too little to survive on his own. She took him in. Tried to find a way to feed him. But he was too little, and he’d been alone too long. She stayed up all night with him, crying as he lay dying in her arms. It’s the first time I saw my sister cry like that. And when he died, she laid him next to the body of his mom and prayed that they would be together now again.”
Anger shone in the eyes staring at her. She looked at him, power returning to her voice.
“What does it mean to you to be human?” She didn’t care to hear his answer, and the ice at his mouth remained. “Carla; the young woman you killed in the meadow. She was human. She was kind, she was loving, she cared for all the creatures of the forest as much as she cared for me. That’s what it means to me to be human. But if all I’d ever known of humans were people like you, I too would hate to be called human.”
Muffled words were lost behind the ice. There was a disregarded warning within his eyes.
“Nevetes still has a soul. Whatever you did to him, it didn’t destroy that because you don’t hold that power. You don’t even hold the power to break his spirit. And you don’t hold the power to break mine. We are stronger than you’ll ever understand. Nevetes will prove you wrong. Not because you matter, but because he matters!”
She turned her back on the general and his men. His muffled voice demanded the attention she was done giving him.
Items held safely in her arm and eyes soft she spoke to Anthony, “I don’t understand what you did to him, or how you could. But you did try to help now. I don’t know what penance means, but I think it starts and ends in this room.”
Slowly, Anthony nodded.
She moved away, stepping upon the window that Nevetes had shattered. She waved her hand away from her hip. More water poured into the room to coat the men already locked within the ice. A thicker layer formed at their feet. They would be there for a long time. The fungus was given reign over the room. It took in the water the books were absorbing.
Her gaze took in the sights of what lay ahead. The storm she had called was reflected within her eyes. There was no sight of Nevetes.
“Sometimes, we’re not enough to keep the people we love in our lives.” His jacket was clutched tightly to her chest. Her eyes were weighed down by sadness.
She stepped off the edge. Water from the small lake caught her about halfway down. Safely she was swept far away from those that hunted her and Nevetes. In her arms rested the book holding the truth of Nevetes’ origins and the jacket he’d abandoned.