When I woke, I was lying in my bed back at the coven's sanctuary. It had been home for all my life, a fair sized building in the middle of the city, divided into small apartments for privacy. My own allotted quarters had always seemed familiar, welcoming…but the unease that had coursed through me during my coming of age ceremony lingered on my tongue.

"Couldn't run fast enough, dear? They tore you up pretty thoroughly, I'd say."

I gazed up, perturbed, at the young man who lounged on the edge of my bed. Raz's dark, nearly black hair, usually combed up into a short faux hawk, looked tousled and more than a bit unkempt. He had obviously been there for some time, and seemed at ease even though I hissed through my teeth at his presence. The last person I needed trying my patience at the moment was he, though I quickly got my attitude under control, as letting him rile me up would be even worse for the day.

"Run? You mean to say that you really expected me to? I'm not like you, darling, I don't run from my trials."

For that I was given a deep, calculated look, his vivid green eyes alive with thought, as if he were trying to understand where I was coming from. Apparently the elders had not told him what had gone on at the ceremony. Was speaking of it after the fact forbidden, as well? Throwing the covers off of myself, I was greeted with a sight that I had never experienced before; a body covered with cuts, bruises, and bite marks. The look of astonishment on my face elicited a chuckle from my companion, and a response of quizzical tone.

"Never been touched by a vampire, before, of course…you know how we heal of physical wounds given us by humans, or animals, or of day to day means, but this is a rarity for you. When you are attacked by another vampire, the marks don't fade quite so quickly, and they hurt while they last. Your skin will be blemish free in another day or two, I'd say, as you've been knocked out for about as long. What I'm curious about, though, is why you didn't run."

I rolled my eyes at him before drawing the covers back up to my chin, suddenly, inexplicably exhausted. "I told you, just now. I'm not a coward. Fleeing is not in our nature; killing is. I don't see why it should be any different if we are assaulted by others of our race."

He gave me a look I had grown regrettably accustomed to, a superior, wiser-than-thou-art kind that always made my blood boil. "The fact that there were many, and at that older and more powerful than you? I wouldn't call what you did an attempt at bravery. I'd call it stupid."

My tone sharpened a bit at the insult, and I snapped back with a touch of malice. "Well then, perhaps you'd feel justified telling grandmother that. Because she was the one who said that I was rare. My fighting is supposed to signify something. Who would've known?"

He stiffened at the mention of my family. Although everyone in the coven was close, not all of us were related; his family and mine made up the basis of the group, though the elder matriarch came from mine. It was a bit of a sore point between not only us two, but between me and the other young vistryx in the coven. I was the youngest, yet following family tradition I would be the head of the coven sometime in the distant future, not they. Lineage and patrimony were sources of highest pride within the coven, and though grandmother would probably be alive yet when I took hold of everything, she would have reached the age that we begin to consider one of our race beyond such political dealings. Retiring to a state that transcended such political and social expectations was a great honor in our society, and as a result of the fights that sometimes occurred between covens, few ever reached it. Those who did were the most ancient of the ancient, revered beyond a simple local coven; they were considered elders of the race at large.

He most wisely decided to end the conversation, knowing that we could easily come to blows on such a topic. With a barely suppressed sigh he stood, and walked over to the window, fingering aside the curtain to gaze out into the bright world beyond. Luckily, vampires have no true allergy to sunlight, merely a disposition that makes it difficult for them to withstand it once reaching a certain age. Where I had never had even the slightest inclination to shrink away from the daytime world, those a mere generation older than I tended to avoid it because of the sensitivity it caused, and I had only seen my grandmother out past sunrise a time or two during my entire eighteen years. A moment or two passed by in silence, and I began to idly trace the outline of his figure with my eyes. While females of my race tended towards slenderness with strength as a secondary asset, males as a rule became roughly powerful when they reached adolescence; the trend was not lost on him, and he never lost a chance to use it to his advantage. Today was no exception, and the sweater and jeans that he wore were alike in the way that they clung to his body. Despite years of trying to refuse him, he was undeniably beautiful, and to that I was incomprehensibly drawn. He turned, stoic words interrupting my musing, and instead of his pupils being dilated from the light, they were instead engorged with black, a sign that he had not in fact calmed down.

"You do realize, now that you've come of age, there is ample opportunity for a real courtship to begin. It is only correct, and you know as well as anyone that if there are more than two odd-sexed vistryxes in a coven, there must be a union. I know that you haven't expressed such…favorable opinions of this, but…"

Throwing myself out of the bed, I crossed the space between us in less than a heartbeat and angrily interrupted him mid-sentence. "You horrible boy, what are you about to say? That you know I don't want you, but you mean to have me anyway? I don't give a damn what the coven law has to say on this matter, you are an arrogance, self-centered liar and have not the slightest idea amount of respect for me. If the only other youth in our coven weren't your sister, I would not even pretend to entertain the idea. How dare you confront me mere days after my initiation with this? I am not a piece of meat to be pounced upon at the earliest opportunity."

His eyes bore into me, black and fierce in their possessiveness, and I knew that no matter what I had to say, he already saw me as his. The steps of courtship and binding ceremony were mere formalities to him, things that would occur in due course as he saw fit, now that I was old enough to be eligible. "My dear Katalán, you've more than entertained the idea. We've been thrown together since childhood, and however much you want to protest the fact, we used to be friends, you and I. We have exchanged thoughts and gestures such as only lovers do, and to deny what is only natural would be to transgress against the coven itself."

"Were you not listening to me? Fuck the coven, and if you don't call me Kat like you have done the entire rest of my life, I might have to knife you in your sleep." During our conversation he had somehow inched closer without my noticing, and the few good inches he had on me was becoming more and more apparent. Disgruntled, I stalked across the room and threw open the door to the hallway that crisscrossed through the private quarters. "Get out."

He took his time leaving the room, brushing close to me as he passed and pausing in the doorway. His gaze looked over and judged me in less than a moment, and his last words were gentle but contained an edge of command that I didn't like at all. "I will call you your full, given name so long as I am in courtship…it is a polite formality that is observed during such a time, and I wish you to call me Raziel, as well. You may refuse me as you like, but know that if you draw it out overmuch, the coven may step in and take measures to…coerce you. I only have your best interests in mind, as have I always. Get some rest, and congratulations on completing your ceremony. I will see you soon enough." With that he offered a faint smile and inclined his head to me in mock formality before walking away.

"You have never had the best interests of another at heart. You stay away from me, and if you bring the coven into this, you will regret it for longer than you'd care to think of, Raziel Samal." I spat out his full name in distaste, watching him walk away and silently turn the corner with his cocky, self assured gait. I shuddered to think which of my coven had let him into my apartment, and how long he had been there, waiting like a bird of prey for me to wake and fall into his trap. I should've known he would bring this up, but even I doubted how caustic he would be by coming so soon afterwards.

Shutting the heavy wooden door behind me and dead bolting it, I glanced to the clock on my bedside table, reading the time as a mere hour or so before the early winter's sunset. The coven would be expecting me to eat in the public hall that evening, it being the first I would have been conscious after the ceremony. Most social gatherings occurred at night in the coven, out of respect for the elders who could no longer bear the light as easily as us. Throwing open drawers and closet doors, I looked for something simple yet elegant enough to fit the occasion, laying it out on the bed before surrendering to a long, well-deserved shower. Someone had tended to my cuts while I was sleeping, something I wasn't used to having done since wounds very often lasted more than an hour or two. As the water washed down, hot over my body, I traced each and every cut, every bruise, with my fingertips, both horrified and entranced by them at the same time. What would it be like, to be a human, subject to such constant mutilation every day of one's life? To look at one's skin, flawed and blotched with the tales of the past, and to have to ignore the outer shell to see the beauty within. To a vampire, whose inner capability was reflected equivocally in physicality, the thought of living in a blemished body was irreconcilable. One or two of my cuts split open again as I scrubbed at them and the faint, weakened blood that spilled into the bottom of the shower reminded me that I hadn't fed for days, even before the ceremony. My fangs pricked at the corners of my mouth, and I smiled with the knowledge that after dinner with the coven, I would go out to dine in a second, most primitive way…one that held more satisfaction, and inarguably more fulfillment.