The Social Graces of Being Sinister
By Alexis Malloy


The Beginner's Guide to Breaking a Spirit

The torches crackled and hissed, orange flames casting everything into sharp, flickering relief. Noel closed his eyes tightly, mouth partially agape, as a slow trail of thick blood seeped from his split lip, his slashed cheek. His head was pounding, stomach lurching. The heat was unbearable, the shouts and jeers more than he could handle. He retched, turning his head to the side as far as it could go, taking a brief flash of sadistic pleasure in seeing a few people jump back, swearing and cursing. It was short-lived, as he felt a heavy fist smash against his jaw, snapping his head back.

Raucous laughter beat at his skull as the townspeople waved their torches, their faces swimming in front of his face in shades of purple and green and a thin haze of red, fearful and spiteful. Someone was yelling again – was it the Priest? Probably. Noel opened his left eye a crack; the right one would not open at all, blackened and caked with blood as it was.

He saw the faces of all that he knew, those that had once loved him, gazing with rapt, feral attention up at the Priest. The young Priest… oh, he had ambitions. Noel had had ambitions too, once upon a time. Now, he realized as he struggled to maintain consciousness, they were no more than dirty grass crushed under the feet of the mob, smudged with soot and mud and glowing with the occasional dying ember. He looked around at the angry, vindictive faces of his former friends and family and felt hot, salty tears mixing with the blood, sweat, soot and spit already smeared across his bruised face. If he had a heart, he was sure that it would be breaking. As it was, he could simply watch, muscles in his neck straining, wrists rubbed raw, jaw a throbbing mass of agony.

The Priest's voice rose, coldly, over the frenzied voices of the mob. "What are we to do with this heathen, this fiendish infidel who dares desecrate our lives by his very presence?"

"Kill him!" screamed the mob as one. They started to surge forward again, faceless in their hate, but the Priest stilled them, holding up his sweeping, black-robed arms in a theatrical manner. Noel groaned, head lolling on his shoulders. Every breath he seemed to take burned with an acrid taste on the way down; his thin chest was heaving shallowly, shoulders shaking with pain and exhaustion. The only thing holding him up anymore were the ropes cruelly binding him to the crude wooden pole behind him.

Slowly the Priest turned to Noel. His hauntingly blue eyes glinted with satisfaction under winged black brows. At one point Noel might have thought him handsome; now he was merely an embodiment of the sucking, downward spiral his life had become. "Have you anything to say for yourself, demon?" the Priest hissed, a wad of spit flying from his teeth to hit Noel in the cheek. The crowd jeered. The Priest knew what he was doing, oh yes. He was acting, playing it up to the crowd, and doing so admirably.

Noel took a few shaky, raspy breaths, good eye fixed blindly on the dead grass under the Priest's feet. The pain in his face had slowly begun to recede; his wrists hurt, but not with the hot, shooting lances of pain he had been subject to earlier. His limp, dirty hair tumbled around his face, more red and gray than blond anymore.

A hand grabbed his chin, forcing him to look upward with a sharp cry of pain. "Answer me!" the Priest demanded. "Dare you ignore the voice of the Almighty?"

Something snapped inside Noel's head with a noise like a broken candy cane. The sounds of the crowd suddenly dimmed, receding to a tolerable level, an echoey murmur. The world around him brightened, not like sunlight, but like everything was outlined to perfection with a dark, radioactive glow. His eyes opened, slowly at first, but then faster when he realized that it brought him no pain, that although he was still broken and bruised and bloody he could see, he could breathe.

He could tear his chin away and snap his sharp incisor teeth down on the Priest's hand, tasting blood and sweat.

With an undignified scream of pain, the Priest ripped his hand away. The flesh tore, leaving two long, sluggishly bleeding gashes. The Priest clutched his hand to his chest, screeching all the curses that his God could offer at Noel as the mob became excited again, fear lighting up their eyes.

Noel swallowed experimentally, then spit out the rest of the blood and skin coating his lips. The mob was in a frenzy, urged on by the enraged, hysterical priest, but Noel was calm.

"When the Almighty speaks, I'll listen," he said in a low, deadly voice, a fleck of blood sparking from his lips to sizzle on the battered grass.

The Priest's eyes blazed. He raised a hand as the mob let out an inarticulate yell—

And that was when the first arrow flew.

It was suddenly just… there: a black shaft with white fletching protruding from the Priest's arm. Before anybody had time to react, the air was full of this hiss and whiz of arrows, flying from all directions. Blood gushed and sprayed as the cries of anger turned into those of fear and pain.

Noel's eyes widened; he went limp. The pain was suddenly back, the weakness, the dizziness and the noise… Then, a flash of silver as a blade arced down, reflecting the crackling orange fire. Noel closed his eyes.

Then, a jolt of surprise as his bonds were cut and he fell heavily on his knees, joints popping and screaming in protest as he collapsed on the ground. And then there were two long, slim, achingly familiar hands slipping under his arms, pulling him up none-to-gently, and a voice in his ear.

"What a mess you've gotten yourself into, No-el." Two distinct syllables. He said Noel's name like nobody else did, like it belonged to him and he could do whatever he wished with it. "Now walk, else you want to be roasted. You're far too pretty for that… although you seem a little disheveled at the moment. After all I'd taught you… Tsk, tsk. Disappointing…"

A strong arm was supporting his shoulders, dragging him through the carnage as the screams died out to gasps and gurgles and dying breaths. Every bit of air Noel took was an effort that scoured his lungs, and he kept thinking, is it worth it? Is it worth it?

Eyes slitted against the still-blazing fire, sparks in his vision, Noel looked weakly up at the man supporting him. A pleased, wolfish grin, incisors like ivory hooks curving over his bottom lip, hooded eyes and lustrous black hair. Séverin.

"Let me go," Noel protested weakly, voice harsh. "Let me die…"

"Oh, no, No-el," Séverin said, playing with the words, eyes wide, amused. "I could never do that, my darling…" Noel began to struggle weakly, but he was half-blind and partially burned and faint from lack of blood. Not only was Séverin stronger than he was on a normal day, he also seemed to revel in the blood spilling all around them, the stench of death and fire in the air.

The air seemed to be getting a little cooler, and suddenly Noel found himself without support, falling heavily on wet, spongy grass, against the rough trunk of a tree.

"Stay there," Séverin told him, a glinting half-smile on his lips that made his instruction ironic. He knew that Noel couldn't have gone anywhere even if he wanted to. "I have some… things to attend to."

Noel closed his eyes weakly, the scent of pine needles and cool grass near his nose settling his stomach, although it couldn't get the taste of ashes out of his mouth. His fingernails scratched helplessly at the bark as he heaved himself up into what would pass as a sitting position for now. He could vaguely see Séverin slipping back through the thin line of trees into the clearing, could see Narcisse and Pascale there, too. Three beautiful, raven-haired, elegant figures among the dirt and the blood and the ashes.

There were still people alive, those that had been clever enough or fast enough or lucky enough to dodge the rain of arrows no doubt employed by Pascale. Her thick hair was braided and coiled on top of her head, her eyes limpid and ruthless as she cut a young woman open from breast to navel with a broken arrow shaft.

Noel whimpered, a soft sound deep in his throat. The dying women's eyes found his as she fell; Noel recognized her. She used to be a friend of his. The look in her eyes, that of disbelief, fear, and accusation, cut Noel to the heart.

He felt himself grow cold.

Pascale smiled and lifted the shaft to her lips, licking the blood off it with a pale pink tongue.

Shivering helplessly, Noel closed his eyes tightly, taking deeper breaths. It wasn't the sight of her drinking blood that upset him. No… it was the callousness. The recklessness. The knowledge that to survive, he would have to be exactly like them…

Use, discard. Twist. Break. Manipulate.


His fingers dug into the soft grass. He took three deep breaths, eyelashes fluttering as he slowly forced his eyes open. Both of them. One hand pushed slowly up; he managed to cling to the tree trunk for a moment, then dragged himself to his feet. He breathed in the scent of pine, felt the throbbing in his face slowly subside to a dull ache.

He slipped past the tree, stumbled a step, and then righted himself. He could stand on his own. Could he walk? Yes. He was still weak, and felt strange, like his blood had suddenly turned to metal and was holding him up by sheer force of substance. He took a few steps deeper into the forest–

A scream. And then – nothing.

A laugh. Séverin's.

"Poor dear. She should have stayed quiet…" said the man. He was too far away for Noel to possibly hear. But he did.

And he remembered.

Heavy material draped over him. Wool? No, something less familiar. Smooth. Satin? Yes, satin. Satin sheets, a thick embroidered blanket, his head resting comfortably on thick pillows. He wasn't wearing anything underneath the covers.

He slowly opened his eyes. The thick curtains around the bed had been pulled back, and although it was just barely sunset outside, the room was lit up using lamps and the drapes over the windows were drawn closed. Sitting up and holding the sheets to his chest, Noel looked around, a little disoriented.

"Sleep well, pretty one?" asked a smooth voice. Noel looked quickly towards the source of the noise. A very tall, lean man lounged indolently at a desk, cradling a bone pen in his long fingers. His eyes were brilliantly, impossibly purple, his long sable hair held back in a silver tie. He smiled slowly, revealing two long, hooked incisors, although they didn't exceed the edge of his sensuous lips.

"Séverin," Noel found himself saying faintly, memory sliding back in rather than rushing. Images streamed through his mind, of the past few weeks, spent in the dangerous, heady world of Séverin and his sisters. The dark nights, the drinking, the luxuries, the –

Noel felt himself reddening and pulled the smooth blankets closer around himself. This seemed to greatly amuse Séverin, who rose to his feet. He, Noel noticed (oh, definitely noticed), was wearing very little save a flimsy lounging coat.

"Modesty? How quaint," Séverin laughed, tossing his thick hair. "I thought I had gotten rid of that. Oh well…" he slid onto the bed, one finger brushing against Noel's chin. "I guess we can keep working on that…"

Noel didn't fight it. He hadn't before, and to do so now would be foolish. He had wanted adventure, an escape from the mundanity of his little world. He was poor but beautiful, headstrong and intelligent. And he had been so very pure.

How could the vampires resist?

Noel found himself being pushed back against the bed, limp blond ringlets splaying across the dark sheets as Séverin leaned over him. His incisors had lengthened imperceptibly until they hooked over his lower lip, and they gleamed. They were very sharp.

Noel wasn't afraid. He had more or less accepted his position as an inevitability. Around the vampires there was no fear unless they wished it so.


Continued in...

Chapter One: The Boy With The Glass Smile

Four hundred years later...