"I hate this." Solinari paced in front of the fire, aware of his lover's eyes on him. "They're murdering more and more of us every day, Marua! Things can't be allowed to go on like this. If they do..." He dropped himself onto the couch next to where she sat, knees drawn up under her.
His T'linarian-dark skin had lightened none in the two thousand years he'd spent as a vampire. His black eyes were still quiet and pensive, and had drawn more than one girl to her doom. His strait, velvet-black hair brushed his shoulders when not tied back, and his cheekbones were high. His companion was a strange-looking female, a full head shorter than he. Her bright red hair was now long in the front, cut shorter in the back. A lock of it fell over her gray-green eyes, eyes the color of the stormy seas that lined her country's coast. She was Kuréhan, half his age, with a fierce temper and a love of mischief. She was with Solinari still; many of her kin had bets as to when he'd lose interest or patience with the fiery Marua and kill her. But in the years since he'd met her, they'd only gotten closer.
Marua pulled Solinari down until he was stretched full length on the couch, his head in her lap, and finger-combed his hair.
"Poor lad. Life's not fair, y' know that. Nor death." She laughed almost silently, and bent to kiss him. He reached up and pulled her down against him.
"Solinari!" she gasped, mock indignant, as his hands ran over her body. He flipped so that she was pinned under him, and grinned, his face inches from hers. His lips touched her mouth, her throat, the nape of her neck.
"Hedonist," she whispered when she able to speak again.
"Mmmm." He smiled, snaking an arm around her, and kissed her again. "Am not."
"You are. Did I say I didn't like it?" She leaned her head back, staring at the ceiling, then sighed, sitting up, and he sat with her. Marua slid to the floor, leaning against Solinari's legs, his hands resting on her shoulders. He murmured to her as he put first almost intolerable pressure on her sore back muscles, then rubbed them gently.
"What'd you do to yourself, love?" he asked. "You're full of knots. And you're hurt." He pulled the tunic away from her left shoulder, exposing a gash longer than his hand and two inches deep. It had stopped bleeding, but it still looked red and raw. She gasped as he touched it gently, and snapped without meaning to, "Solinari Nishatarka! Watch it, you block-hauling fool!"
He jerked away hurriedly, and she stood, her teeth bared in a threat. For the first time in years, she felt sweat streaming down her face, and had to blink to keep it out of her eyes. The slash had opened again, and Marua knew there was blood dripping down her back, staining her creamy white shirt and light blue tunic red. For the first time in years, Solinari felt like just killing her, as he had his other lovers. Instead, he stepped forward and steadied her, resting his hands on her hips.
"Lemme look. We'll go into what you called me later. Turn." He explored the wound with gentle fingers, and she gritted her teeth and let him do it, choking back curses against all men. She heard him shake his head, disbelieving.
"Marua, love, how did you do this? I mean-" He went to get a salve many of his kin used. She hissed as it touched her wound. "-this looks like it was done by some kind of animal."
"It was. Those damn werewolves have something in their claws; enough of it can poison one of us." She paused. "You were going to kill me just then."
"I was thinking of it, yes." He was wearing his inscrutable look. She didn't realize it was to hide the love in his eyes. She still tried to view him as a lover; a dangerous one, perhaps, but still, just a lover. She remembered Dania's tales of how others in her place had displeased him, and had never been seen again. She didn't care. There were far worse deaths than those at a lover's hand or in his bed... And, years ago, something had drawn her to him. Marua had told herself he would not dare to hurt her, but she had crossed the line, reminding him of his slave's past. Solinari had told her about his human life, and then said she'd be warned if she reminded him of it. After that, she'd be in trouble. Marua had done it before, and she realized what she'd said too late. She had a notion of what had happened to some of those lovers.
"Rua..." At his troubled voice, she turned. There was an expression in his black eyes that was totally foreign to her. "I don't want to hurt you, Marua. I don't want anything to make me. That's why I warned you, you know. I never warned any of the others. I'm awfully unpredictable. I've murdered over a dozen of our kind. I'm hated and feared everywhere. You knew that, when you first sought me out. You knew that...and you still came. I thought you weren't right in the head. I was ready to yell at Roth for changing a numbwit." He cupped her cheek in his hand. "I was wrong. You loved me, didn't you? Even knowing everything about me, knowing my past, you still loved me. And," he said, sighing, "I was stupid enough not to know it. I thought you were like all the others, looking for favors or showing off."
She stared at him. He wasn't playing, she felt that, but he was the last person she'd thought to hear something like that from. She took a step back, then another, and suddenly she was running. Out the door, down the road, ignoring the stares-
-over the bridge, through the town, forget above Solinari-
-forget how much you love him, dodge the people, watch out for the carriage - the carriage!
"Marua, look out!"
Something hit her, hard, and ran her over, then continued on as a figure swam before her eyes, a figure with coal-black hair...Her vision wavered, dimmed, and she succumbed to the darkness gratefully. The last thing she heard was Solinari calling her name.
"Where am I?"
"Waiting anxiously in his rooms."
"I screwed up again, didn't I?"
"Yes. Sleep, Marua. Solinari will wait."
The sound of something being dropped and a woman swearing woke her. She opened her eyes to see her blood-sister, Dania, glance at her, half guiltily. Her eyes were cold.
"'Tis alright, Dania. Where's Solinari?"
"I'm right here, love." A tall shape detached itself from the shadows in the corner and sat on the bed. He met Dania's eyes, and she growled deep in her throat, picked up what she'd dropped, and left the room.
"Yeah, I think so...what happened?" Marua's eyes were still dark and frightened, though she was regaining her composure quickly enough.
"A carriage hit you; the horse knocked you down and the wheels ran right over your legs. You're alright now, of course. Roth says that we can be away as soon as we wish, and I need to hunt."
"Is it night yet?" she asked. Her room had no windows, as sunlight could hurt a healing vampire, though it would not harm one at his or her full strength.
"Nearly. The sun's just setting." Solinari smiled, showing his long canines in a feral grin. He put out a hand to Marua, and she took it, standing easily, stretching her sore legs. He handed her the clothes she'd left at her blood-father's house, in case something like this happened, and spoke softly as she dressed.
"I'm sorry, Rua. I know I scared you. But I meant it." He let this sink in, then said, "Come, hunt-sister, let us run and hunt and kill! It's been too long since we had a proper fear-chase, and I long to smell it in the air again." His darker side always showed strongest at dusk, increasing as the night did, waning as the night did. He was gentler during the day. Her fierceness responded to his, glinting in her eyes and making them shimmer an ethereal green-silver. His were the glowing black of a night with no stars, of a panther's pelt. His hair was tied back now, but as they left Roth's stronghold, he let it down to stream back in the breeze. She tucked hers behind her ears, dancing before Solinari, challenging him to catch her, if he could. He simply smiled at her, letting her know that she wouldn't be able to bate him, at least not tonight. She stopped her playing and loped beside him, matching her strides to his.
A fear-chase was an odd vampiric custom, done every full moon. A human, or two, depending on who was doing the hunting, was chased through streets or woods, and tracked by the sense and smell of their fear. It was a tradition even Roth honored, and Markta's line relished it, renowned as they were for ruthlessness. Solinari had taught Marua to enjoy it; she had rarely participated before she met him. They met another vampire; a woman called Satania, who was Solinari's blood sister. When they extended an offer to her to hunt with them, she laughed and shook her head.
"Loth da, mas Ge kaloi gem rok handara. Ge'p taami Loj. Ge'ke haami da fiilé?"
"In Common, Satania!" said Solinari, impatiently.
Marua rolled her eyes. "Solinari, she's speaking kuréhan. Satania, Ge raíli da katilis fi Common, thol."
"Da finquer lapali, oe alo. I said, thank you, but I have my own plans. I'm meeting Loj. I'll see you later?"
"Alright. Good hunting," Marua answered.
"Jer da kahal."
Satania disappeared, and Marua asked, "When did she learn kuréhan?"
"Learning languages is a hobby of hers. She's had a lot of time on her hands to do so; she's even older than I am."
"But kuréhan? It's practically a dead language now."
"It wasn't when she learned it."
"But it's been almost totally unused for nearly a thousand years; since Aei'Taevi, the capital city of Kuréha, was destroyed. That was just after I was changed. The rest of our world hates and ignores the remaining Kuréhan people. Why waste time speaking my tongue?" Her voice was only slightly bitter.
"She is near to three thousand; she was Alib's first fledgling. She knows all the tongues there are on this earth."
They headed to the nearest town, pausing just inside the borders to plan. That quick stop turned into a longer one as they argued quietly about whom they'd hunt. Draw someone from their home, or search the streets? The argument stopped abruptly as someone pressed a blade to Solinari's throat. He went very still.
"Don' move." The woman's voice was low and dangerous. "Aerik, c'mere, you flea-bitten excuse for a werewolf. Guard the female."
A shaggy form detached itself from the shadows and sat, yellow fangs showing, at Marua's feet. It glanced swiftly towards the knife-bearer and snarled softly. Both vampires heard its mindvoice.
Watch yourself, Kida. Insult me 'gain and I'll-
"Ye'll what? Aer, ye've been threatening me fer years, and ye never act. Now, leech, I'm going to 'ave ye turn around, very slowly. Keep yer 'ands where I can see 'em. Aerik, take hold of that female's arm. If yer buddy 'ere tries anythin', he'll bite. I know that ye know that that'll kill ye if it's not treated within about five minutes. Tell 'im to turn, girl."
Marua, who knew that Roth had nearly died from a werewolf's bite, nodded to Solinari frantically. He turned around slowly, making sure his hair shaded his face from the hunter. He flinched as the tall, gangly girl grabbed his chin, forced it up, and examined his features.
"Solinari." Not a question; a statement. "Law requires yer throat slit by whoever catches ye, milord." Whatever else they were, hunters were courteous and almost always honest. The vampires acknowledged that, for mortals, they were uncommonly good fighters, and were regarded as near equals by most.
"I know, Kida. I know." His voice was very quiet. "May I say goodbye to Marua first?"
"Of course. Aerik, let 'er go."
Solinari turned to Marua once more, his hair falling over his eyes, and put his arms around her. "Rua...I'm sorry. I'll always love you, you know that. Remember me." He kissed her softly, then leaned his forehead against hers and looked into her tear-filled eyes. "Oh, Marua, it's not so bad. This hunter knows me; she wouldn't make me suffer. Running'll do no good; it'll just you killed as well. Aerik's fast - he gave you that scar, though I never told you I knew it was him. And Kida would track me anyway; she can sense my aura, even if I try to mask it. We go way back." He dashed tears from his eyes. "Please, love, don't make this any harder than it already is. Tell Satania I love her. Tell Alib - tell her that - that I'm sorry I hurt her."
He held her a moment more, and she buried her face in his tunic. Then he took her arms from around him and turned to face Kida. Her brown eyes seemed almost sorry as she raised her sharp wooden blade to his throat. "Just like old times, huh?" she said, her voice rough. Solinari turned a little to look at Marua. "Not quite." He closed his eyes.
"Sure ye don' want t' try and run, or fight?"
"I'm sure. Dammit, girl, just kill me!"
In one smooth movement, Kida brought her knife across Solinari's throat, cutting deep. She caught him as he fell, and lowered him gently. She glared up at Marua, her eyes overbright. "I've been huntin' 'im for years and - well, that was my goal to - and I guess - I'll miss 'im."
Marua knelt next to the hunter and brushed Solinari's lips with her fingers. He smiled weakly at her and put a hand up to touch her cheek. Then his eyes closed and his arm dropped.
"Solinari...oh, love, don't leave me. I need you. Please-" She put her head on his chest and sobbed. When she looked up, Kida and Aerik were gone. She lay a hand on his cold shoulder, and blinked out of sight, appearing again just inside Roth's keep.
Her blood-father Felt her arrival, and leaned back out of his window to see what she was doing back so soon. He nearly fell out in shock. Instead, he dropped out of the window and landed like a cat in the courtyard. He hurried to Marua's side. "Rua..."
"He's dead." Her voice was emotionless and flat, her eyes empty. She was totally focused on the young man who lay before her. "He's dead," she repeated, quieter this time. "Dead." Roth heard her voice crack and knelt beside her, feeling helpless.
She wouldn't let anyone help her as she gathered the needed materials for a funeral pyre; it was something she preferred to do alone. Everyone and everything seemed to remind her of Solinari, and it still hurt to think of him.
Marua watched the as flames leapt high into the darkness, flickering around her lover's form; watched alone, because she did not wished to be pitied and treated like she was about to break. She held out a hand and beckoned, and a tiny flamelet jumped from the pyre to her hand. She gazed at the soft glow of the pale blue and yellow flame against her skin until it was blurred from the tears in her eyes. Then she closed her hands, extinguishing the flamelet, and sighed. She went back to watching the fire.
It was morning before it burned down, leaving only ash and glowing embers, and Marua turned away from it, making her way slowly back to Roth's stronghold. She stayed only long enough to gather her things and give her blood-father an absent, one-armed hug and Solinari's message for Alib, in case he saw her first. Then she left, first to find Satania, and then - she knew not what.
But she found that it hurt too much, seeing Solinari's blood-sister, and she turned from the girl after just giving her his message. Her heart ached and she couldn't face anyone, not yet. She turned to walk out of the town Satania lived in.
She had barely reached the edge of the town before someone grabbed her from behind and held her mouth shut. "Don't...move. My nerves are frayed, my senses are stretched to the breakin' point, and if ye move now, I'll snap. Seriously. Ye're a vampire; ye should know. I'm not armed and I don't want to hurt ye. Turn, but do it slowly. Aerik is even jumpier than I am at this point."
Marua waited until whoever stood behind her let go, then rotated on her heels to look into Kida's solemn face. The hunter was visibly unhappy, and the human-formed 'wolf behind her was agitated. "I - "
"Give me one reason to listen to you. I loved him and you killed him."
"Get the hell out of my sight. You come near me again and I'll kill you."
"Look," said Kida, growing defensive. "I just wanted to apologize. This is how I work. This is what I do. But I'm sorry I hurt ye. I never really thought about who else I'd hurt doing my job. So I'm sorry. I'm not asking for forgiveness. Just thought I'd tell ye."
Kida let her hand stray to Aerik's, and Marua closed her eyes in pain. She had no one to hold onto anymore. She never would. As before, the two young hunters had disappeared when she next opened her eyes, and she was alone again.
She felt like she'd never be anything else.