Beginnings and Endings


Marua held her horse's reins tightly, ignoring the way he danced restlessly under her rough handling. She was eyeing the town in front of them, her last stop before she finally gave up her search. The Kuréhan pulled her hood up over her red hair and nudged the horse into a trot, then a canter.
"Come on," she said to him in his own language. "Only a little farther, then you'll be rid of me."
'Good!' replied the animal. 'Monster!'
She wouldn't've even used him, but for the fact that no one walked the distance she would have without him. Marua could have just moved herself mentally, but no, it would seem strange to mortals; no one there one minute, a Kuréhan there the next. So she'd bought this testy gelding from the first horse dealer she found. The beast, of course, hated her. He was called Aconite, after a type of plant. She shook her head, irritated at herself. What she needed to figure out was where Solinari was...
Solinari Nishatarka was a vampire famous among his kind for being ruthless, fearless, and cruel. He was one of the oldest, too; about one thousand nine hundred years old, give or take a bit. She was only half that age, herself. He'd taken over a score of lovers, some human, some not, and killed every one - no one knew why. He was rumored to be handsome and brave as well as brutal.
Something was telling Marua to find him, to make him talk to her. She knew some of his past - he'd been a slave on the plains of Yphanas, in T'linari, years and years ago, and, apparently, hated to be reminded of it.
And this was the last place she could look. She'd spent the past twoscore years searching for the man, and she was losing her patience. If he wasn't here, or if she couldn't be given directions to him, she was giving up.
They galloped down the road, Marua immersed in her thoughts, Aconite intent on just getting her off his back. They were through the town gates and flying through the square before she came to herself and hauled on his reins. He skidded to a stop in front of a hostelry, and she grinned, seeing stables at the rear of it.
A few minutes later, Marua was on foot, coins in her pocket, her haversack slung over her shoulder. Anyone not looking closely would have mistaken her for a lad of nineteen or so, especially with her hair hidden. She approached a man of fifty or sixty, pulled down her hood, and said politely, "'Scuse me, sir, but d'ye know the where-bouts o' a young man, 'bout twenny or twenny-one? Name o' Solinari?"
"Aye..." his voice took on a slightly suspicious tone. "Why y'be wantin' him, if'n y'don' mind me asking?"
"He's kin t'me." It wasn't a total lie. In a sense, all vampires were kin to each other.
"Well, 'tis like this, milady; we don' bother milord Solinari, and he don' bother us. He don' get too many guests, milady. 'Tis better to leave him t' himself."
"Old man, I just need directions, not a bloody lecture! Where does he live?!" She was excited now. Finally! She'd found him at last! What did one human's impression of her matter?
Don't get careless, Marua, or you'll get yourself killed. Again. She rolled her eyes at herself, listening to the man's instructions. When he was done, she nodded, turned, and walked in the direction he'd indicated. She ignored his protests about young ladies traveling alone and pulled up her hood again.

Marua came to Solinari's dwelling after fifteen minutes of walking and paused, a little unsure. Then she walked right up to the door and proceeded to pound on it. The stoneoak door slammed open, and a harried looking boy with yellow eyes was staring at her, his manner fierce.
"What?" he snapped. His voice was rough and his teeth were showing. Definitely a 'wolf. He glared at her. "Well?"
She snarled right back at him. "Shut up, stupid. I want to see Solinari, and I want to see him now."
"May I ask why?"
The werewolf disappeared into the house, slamming the door in Marua's face. She sighed. He'd thought she was a boy, doubtless. She was slim-hipped anyway, and the long cloak she wore hid her figure even more. With her hood up as well, she knew she looked like a young man, and it came in handy sometimes. She was given more respect then, even though the Kuréhan were a hated race. She didn't really care; she was of the race, but not part of it. She shifted on her feet, acutely aware of the open space all around her. Marua was a city girl, unused to the country. She wished that the door would be opened again, and maybe let her in. She leaned against the stone wall, staring up at the setting sun, aware of the desire to hunt. But she had to see this through first. Then she could -
The door opened, and the 'wolf stuck his head out again. "Sorry, sir. 'E says not t' bother 'im." He winked at her. "Milord has lady company."
Annoyed, Marua swept her hood back and said calmly, "And what do I look like? A dancing bear?"
She saw his yellow eyes widen in shock and smiled inside. That's four today, she thought then, half in disgust and half in amusement. Perhaps...perhaps Dania was right. Maybe I should start wearing skirts.
The wolf bowed, then turned and ran back into the halls. He forgot to close the door this time, and Marua stepped inside. A few minutes later, a figure was storming down the stairs, pulling on a shirt as he came. He was a lot taller than she'd expected, standing a full head higher than she, and his aura was full of blood and power. She felt a thrill of excitement surge through her, and she didn't know why. He was just as handsome as Dania had told her, and as obviously dangerous. He glared down at her, assessing her, looking her up and down.
"Well?" His voice was soft, with a trace of an accent, though he spoke common perfectly. "Do you want something?"
Marua struggled to get her breath back. "I need to talk to you," she said when she had, and was embarrassed at how unsure she sounded. The young man - Solinari, she was sure of it - looked down at her and raised an eyebrow. She realized how she must look to him; travel-stained clothes, worn boots, old cloak, a haversack slung over one shoulder. The one set of fine clothes she owned was packed away, and Marua wished that she'd thought to change into them.
"About what?"
"I don't really know. I've been searching for you for near forty years now, because I felt myself drawn to you, and I would really like to find out why. If what I've heard about you is true, you're one of the most dangerous of our kind ever. So tell me, why did I come?"
Again that cocked eyebrow. "If you have no idea, why should I? Go away, girl. I do not wish to speak to you." He turned to go.
"Wait." Solinari paused and looked back at her. Now just what had she been planning on telling him? She fumbled for words.
"I'll be at-" she tried to remember the name of the hostelry, "-the Green Dragon for the next three days. If you change your mind..."
"I won't."
Seething with rage, Marua left his house and walked back into the town.
The innkeeper charged an outrageous sum for only three nights and three days, but Marua was still angry and didn't even notice. As he smelled her passing the stables, Aconite neighed in heartfelt dismay, but quieted as she headed up the attic stairs. It was the only really private room in the inn, though cold and little used. She didn't care, and once she was settled began brooding. What's the matter with the man? Has he always been so gods-damned cold and brutal, I wonder... And why wouldn't he talk to me? She sighed then, hoping Solinari would change his mind, and left by the window to hunt.

It was the evening of the third day when he came to her door. Marua was packing her things away and was wearing her worn traveling clothes.
"You have to invite me in, you know."
She whipped around to stare at the figure leaning on the doorpost, her heart in her throat. He smiled at her, a slow, almost good-natured smile. For a moment, all she could do was stare at Solinari. He'd come. He'd come!
"Girl...invite me in or I'll just leave."
"Oh - oh, yeah. Come in, please."
He ducked under the low lintel and came into her room. Again he smiled.
"I already told the innkeeper you'd be staying for a little while longer."
Marua continued to stare at him, openmouthed, and he laughed. "I want to talk to you, kindred. You intrigue me. You are Kuréhan, hard as you try to hide it, and I know that very few of them ever become vampires. And in my experience, very few people ever seek me out, for obvious reasons." He paused, looking closely at her, and she felt him analyze her aura. "Name and line? You are surprisingly well shielded."
"I am Marua, of Æila's line. My blood-father is Roth."
He nodded, seemingly unsurprised, then asked, "How old are you?"
"Somewhere over nine hundred; about a thousand years younger than you." She held up a hand as he opened his mouth to ask another question. "You're going to ask about how I was changed - my past. Don't. Please. I won't - I can't bear to - to talk about it - "
Solinari saw the hurt in her eyes and didn't press for detail. He knew how much pain life could bring sometimes. She had dropped onto the bed, seemingly winded, and he settled himself next to her. Her eyes were wary.
"And you?" she asked quietly. "I know very little about you."
"I am of Markta's line. You know my name and age. My blood-mother is Alib. I assume you're well aware of what I was as a human, but there is more to it than that.
"Over one thousand nine hundred years ago I was human, a slave on the T'linarian plains of Yphanas. I hauled blocks to build a new city for the nobles. For nineteen years, I nursed a rebellion. When I turned twenty, I started it.
"I failed. You may've read about that uprising; they mention me by name as the leader of it. I don't use that name anymore, and only Alib and I, and now you as well, know it was me who led the Falotian Rebellion. The day before I was to be tried, and, I was sure, executed, Alib came to me. She offered me eternal life and power. Thinking she meant to give me a potion or cast a spell of some kind, I accepted eagerly. When she took my blood..." He paused for a long moment, remembering. "I fought. I struggled harder than you can imagine, and it hurt. Gods, it hurt. It was no use, though. She forced me to drink her blood, and I fell into death. When I woke..." He shrugged. "You know the rest."
Marua nodded, her throat tight. He'd reminded her of things she wished had never happened. She started a little as Solinari slid his am around her shoulders and did not look at him. He turned her to face him, and his eyes looked into hers. They were as black as night. He bent to kiss her.
"Wait a moment." He paused, surprised, and pulled away a bit. "I have a condition for you." Marua swallowed. This might get her killed. "If I forget and remind you of your past, I want a warning before you kill me for it."
She waited, the seconds feeling like hours. He considered, and she breathed a sigh of relief as he nodded, slowly.
"A fair request. Very well. Three warnings. No more."
She smiled up at him, her fear easing. "Then now you may kiss me."
He laughed, and did, bearing her down onto the bed.

Marua woke first the next day. It was late afternoon, with the sun streaming through the western window. Moving quietly, so as not to disturb Solinari, she picked up her discarded clothes of the previous night, then sighed and picked up his too. A prickling of bloodlust at the edge of her awareness reminded her that she needed to feed, but she'd wait until full darkness.
She stood at the east-facing window a little while later, clothed once more, and watched the moon rise. She rested her elbows on the windowsill and her chin on her fists. Hands were placed on her shoulders and Marua felt Solinari's breath on her neck. She covered one of his hands with one of hers, and for a few moments, they simply stood like that.
I'm falling in love with him, thought Marua dazedly. I'm falling and there's nothing I can do to catch myself.
Do I want to be caught?

Marua sat on the windowseat, her arms linked around her knees, leaning her head against the glass. The rain streamed down outside, making the just-after-midday sky as dark as night. She had woken a few minutes earlier, her hair damp with sweat, and had had to get up. She couldn't bear anyone's touch, not right now.
The beatings as a child, the scars, both mental and physical, that she'd bear all her life, seeing her parents and brother die...
She tried and tried to push the memories away, to hide them as Solinari hid his, but she couldn't. She closed her eyes.
...being brutally raped at fourteen and fifteen and again at eighteen, working the taverns to earn a little money, becoming a prostitute to earn a little more... and her changing. Oh, gods, her changing. A knife in her back and another in her gut and left to lie dying on the ground and a tall man with curly brown hair kneeling next to her and cradling her, offering Marua her life and then holding her down as she fought against him as he took her blood, being forced to take his and falling pain-ridden into a sleep like death and waking to an unbearable thirst...
Arms went around her and she could barely keep herself from screaming.
"Rua? Rua, what's the matter?"
Shaking wildly, Marua stared up into Solinari's worried eyes, then away.
"Sometimes..." she said in a whisper. "Sometimes it's better not to touch me."
He took his arms from around her and looked at her. There was a mixture of incredulous disbelief and shock on his face. "What's happened to you?"
Marua shook her head and refused to answer. She could feel his anxiety, very faintly. She almost longed to tell him, to let him bear the burden of her pain, but she couldn't bring herself to trust him that much. "Dammit, Solinari, leave me alone! I said I didn't want to talk about it!"
She felt cold, very cold. She had no idea why, but it might have been part fear for speaking to him like that. But the chill helped a little and Marua continued to stare out the window. She heard him settle himself next to her and knew he was watching her, concerned.
"Look, Rua, whatever made you pull away like this, it's over."
"It's not over."
"You don't know what I've been through. I'll have scars as long as I live, and I don't forget things easily." Her hands were clenched so hard that her nails bit deep into her palms, drawing blood. Solinari took them, gently, opened her tightly closed fists, and showed her the red liquid pooling in her cupped hands. The wounds healed after a minute or so, but the film of blood remained. Unthinkingly, she licked it away. He smiled bitterly. Marua stared at her blood-smeared palms, then put her head on them. She got up and began to pace. He followed.
"Gods damn it, I said leave me!"
"Look, you, you, slave! I said to-" she clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes terrified above them. She backed up until she ran into the wall.
"Solinari, Solinari, don't hurt me, I didn't mean - oh, gods. I'm sorry." But it was too late. His spilt-bamboo knife was at her throat and she froze. "You swore you wouldn't do this," she said in a whisper. He backed away hurriedly, and her knees gave out and she crumpled, sliding to the floor. Solinari leapt to catch her, but she somehow fell away from him. He knelt in front of her, reached out to her. She pushed him away and stood, watching him stand a second later. Her gray-green eyes were cold. Then they softened a little. She stepped forward and threw her arms around him, pressing her face into his chest. Then she raised her face to his and kissed him, fiercely, hungrily, desperately.
"Goodbye, Solinari."
And then she disappeared.
"Rua..." It was too late. She was gone.

She went to her father's manor, not needing an invitation to enter. It was the only place she knew of that Solinari didn't. Roth saw the pained exhaustion on her face as she appeared before him, didn't ask questions, and told her that her old room was still open. She got into her room and fell onto the bed. She cried until her eyes were dry and sore, then fell asleep, heartsick, miserable, and alone.
Marua didn't wake when Roth came in, later, to sit on the edge of her bed. He looked down at the troubled young woman he had changed nearly a thousand years before. Caitlyn. He loved her. He was not a fierce vampire, like nearly all of his fledglings, but gentle. He kissed his blood-daughter's cheek softly, as a father was wont to do, and left.
Neither did she wake when someone lay down next to her a half-hour later and put his arms around her. But she did turn so that her head was nestled in the hollow between Solinari's head and his shoulder. He smoothed her hair and looked at her for a moment. Poor Marua. He hoped she never found out that Roth had sent for him as soon as she'd fallen asleep.