Sample Chapter 1
I, being of mind, body and death was fully aware that being beyond the borders of my occult city was strictly against The Code of the Central European Magic Regime. The borders of the small community suffocated me so. I missed the human city beyond all reason – missed it enough even to break “Law One”. I was only out for a lonely midnight stroll and did not expect any exhilarating hunt. I was not even thirsty. But the October air was impossible for me to resist. I let the crisp, autumn sweetness cleanse my nostrils of all that smelled of iron and salt. It swept in through my ancient lungs and made me feel like the rest of them.
Prague was unseasonably warm that evening, bustling with Eastern Germans and also natives thriving against the organized chaos in the streets. The majority of the German refugees packed themselves in and around the embassy walls, making it increasingly difficult for me to overcome the aroma of so much flesh in one place. But I could not act on any of my instincts. Law One, arguably the most important law of The Magic Code, meant that any creature of magic blood could not expose what they truly were to any mortal. I was already breaking that law simply by being in the capitol city. I knew that. But I held my breath and kept my pace.
The Golden City I remembered glowing brilliantly under some distant sun was now only an indigo shadow under oppressive red and yellow flags. The parallels between their world and ours were uncanny, I thought. I cursed at the tower of the Regime palace as it surfaced over the sea of city spires.
I perched myself on a forsaken bench as a folk band played a native song under the glow of a crooked streetlamp. A song made famous by Karel Kryl, I recognized. I watched them all. I smelled their warmth. I heard their happiness. It was almost as though I were watching a play; as if I were the reality looking in on the make believe. The exact same way they would feel if they were to ever look in on me.
Passersby threw coins into a tattered hat near the band as I continued to listen into the early hours of the morning. I did not merely watch, but studied. Memories of myself, as I used to be, surfaced in my mind. A group of drunken Russians stumbled out of a nearby tavern, their sound obnoxious and intruding against the peaceful acoustic din. The young women smiled flirtatiously at me as their pursuers pulled them past, threatening me with their eyes. I chuckled. Little did those men know what a threat I really could be. I shifted the chip on my shoulder, and averted my eyes.
I continued my statuary position there until the band began to pack the instruments away into their cases. They peered eagerly into the hat now filled with small change and celebrated their night’s earnings before they disappeared from the city square. I was by my lonesome once again.
I craned my head up to look at the stars, delicately woven beading that mapped out our fate here. Fate. That word used to make sense to me. The idea that things were divinely premeditated never made much sense to me, even when I was among the living. Now I had learned to only appreciate the idea of self. I had become my own friend over the vast years that turned on a dial like minutes. Expendable. Life to me was expendable.
The moon made the tops of the wicked castle spires silver, like fangs sinking into the early morning’s purple skin. It was getting late. I saw dawn’s army of light invading over the horizon then. I would be dying soon. It was around the time that I should return to my home – my prison.
I rose from my perch, and began walking out of the town square when I heard something strange. It was a sort of wailing, though it seemed muffled and hidden, and like no sound I had ever heard before. It was slight enough so that even the keenest human being would never have noticed it. But there were thoughts also. Small, simple pictures that seemed human enough and coming from just behind a nearby shrub.
I walked slowly around the corner of the boxy greenery, expecting to find some malignant little monster waiting for me just on the other side. My hands hardened into claws. My cat’s eyes shifted around in the dark. I was ready to attack, to feed if I had to. Surely, whatever evil thing I found would be meeting a worse fate!
But what I did find was like nothing I had expected. I returned from beast back to gentleman in moments when I saw her there. The tiny body wriggled in a pile of rags that did nothing to keep her warm in the October air. I knelt over her, curious, and saw small tear droplets quivering on her feverish cheeks. Little auburn wisps from the top of her head shuddered in a night breeze.
A mortal infant. The child stared up at me with large, glassy eyes. I looked behind myself to see if there was any one looking to claim her, perhaps from some horrible mistake they made by leaving her there. Alas, the street now was empty and no one seemed to have remembered the lonely little being, save myself. I sighed and my gums started with that familiar, throbbing pain. I gazed down at her and could feel my pupils spread like yoke from an eggshell, painting my entire eye black. She smelled so pure. However, I feverishly shook those demons from my mind.
She cooed at me as I carefully slid my long, cold hands underneath her and lifted her out of the crude nest of covers. The child looked wondrously at the world around us; the desolate city square beneath the velvet sky. Little noises continued to slip from her mouth. I stood there with her in my arms, watching her. I was rather surprised at myself. It was impossible to think that out of everything that existed in my horrible world of nightmarish things, this impossibly tiny human was the first thing in a hundred years that scared me most of all. Me, the monster. I chuckled despite my fear.
She peered up at my grave-marker face and continued to make slight, curious noises at me, naïve to our fierce and deadly differences. This innocent little mortal was so weak, and vulnerable, and terrifying.
“I am not going to kill you,” I convinced myself as my nares singed. “Charlotte.” I named her then, for the innocence in her eyes and my decision had been made. I walked away from the bushes, not taking my eyes off of her in my arms for a second. I made my way back home, back into the deep woods of Bohemia, walking at a steady, human pace all the while, transfixed by her.
I was to be alone no more.