Freebie Mondays: A Most Curious Encounter (Story 10 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: A Most Curious Encounter (Story 10 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: nothing like this has ever happened before.

This short ties in with my Vampire universe which is still very much in development. This allowed chat to contribute some really interesting ideas to the story’s composition. (And I hope to eventually translate some of them into the novel series!) You can read my other venture into this universe here!
. . .

There was a shocking lack of blood. It was the first thing everyone expected to see when they entered the scene of a murder. Even when a vampire drained their victim dry, they usually left some sign of struggle in their wake.

Here, one could almost imagine they were investigating a burglary. Tables were overturned, chairs were broken and books were strewn across the floor. But the dark streaks in between were mostly scratches – claw marks, as a matter of fact – etched into the wood.

If not for the body, the first witnesses would have summoned the guard rather than a slayer.

Of course former lady in waiting Aelizia Maalot wasn’t the slayer anyone expected to answer the summons. At first glance, she didn’t look like a typical slayer – far from it. But beneath the long skirts that indicated her rank she wore a pair of sturdy leather trousers and a pair of concealed belts that held the sharp stakes and other tools of her father’s trade. A pair of small slits concealed within the folds of her skirts’ fabric allowed her easy access to her weapons, and she was ready to draw them at the slightest indication of trouble.

She wore her long hair bound in a pair of braids pinned tight to the side of her head so they could not obscure her vision. And concealed within the neck of her bodice were two small cloves of garlic. Under different circumstances, the villagers that crossed the threshold of the household with her might have complained. Instead, they huddled behind her as if the herb created a protective aura they wished to share.

The stairs creaked beneath her booted feet as she ascended the last two, and the men flaking her cringed. It was a wonder they didn’t flee back down the shaded corridor and out the open door.

Aelizia resisted the urge to grin and instead curled her hands into fists at her sides. It was difficult to pierce the darkness with her eyes, but the shadows were easily banished by grasping the thick cloth covering one of the nearby windows. With a savage jerk, she tore it free of its mooring and the brightness of the morning sun spilled across the room, illuminating the horror that had driven the neighbors to her abode.

It was only beneath this dazzling brightness that she identified the source of the dark streaks, and she bent to slide her fingers across the one closest to her boot. It was deep, carved by a set of long, thick claws. It ran most of the length of the hallway, suggesting someone had dragged the victim most of the corridor’s length before losing control of the situation.

The first overturned table was just inside the bedroom door, and the body was a crumpled heap in the corner. Beneath the light of day, the remnants looked brittle, the skin as dry as crumbling parchment, the bones already beginning to protrude through the places where it had already snapped.

At a glance, Aelizia couldn’t tell if the body belonged to a man or a woman. But whoever they had been, they were definitely a vampire. A pair of wickedly curved fangs adorned the upper jaw, exposed by the deceased’s dying scream.

To an untrained eye, it might have seemed as if the body had been ensconced in its corner for moths to reach this level of decay. But witnesses claimed there had been movement in the house just the night before, and vampire bodies never stuck around long. That was why it was so important to study them before they crumbled into ash.

This will be a great boon to present to my father, if I can keep the sun off the bones for the next few hours.

Turning, she barked instructions to her companions. She needed a sealed container to transport the body in, one that wouldn’t allow light to seep through its cracks. If she sent a message to her father or sister, one of them would know exactly her need and ensure its fulfillment. They were was eager to do right by their name as she was, after all.

With the easily spooked folk absent, she could get down to the details of her investigation. She suspected she would find little of use in the books disrupted by the struggle, but she hoped she would find a key or latch that led to a secret compartment where the vampire’s true knowledge might be stored. She assumed this was not the house of a human or there would have been blood spatters and other indications of an injured body, such as nail fragments or torn skin along the rough edges of the wood.

Now that she thought about it, why didn’t she see more evidence of the slayer? In fact, why hadn’t the architect of this particular victory taken their spoils with them when they departed? They must not have been badly injured, or they would have left trace of their passage. Not to mention seeking the aid of her father, the best and closest resource for one who shared his crusade against night’s cursed children.

Aelizia narrowed her eyes and scanned the doorway, making certain not a single inch escaped her examination. When she finished noting the notches cleaved into its edges, she stepped to the right and continued her search.

Foot by foot, detail by detail, she scanned the room, noting every shard of broken glass and every gnarled piece of snapped wood. She thought at first one of her slayer kin had been caught unaware, perhaps exploring what they believed to be an abandoned vampire cache. The broken furniture would make an excellent makeshift weapon if they hadn’t had any stakes on them.

Though why a slayer would travel without such was beyond her. And without training, she doubted anyone else could handle a vampire of the obvious skill and rank she noted in the spines of the books still lining the undisturbed shelves.

The more she observed, however, the more curious the entire scene became. None of the chair legs were missing, and there was no sign of a stake protruding from the chest of the dead vampire. She almost wondered if the fangs were fake.

Could the noise the neighbors reported be contributed to brigands sneaking into the house? Did they leave this decoy to fool the investigators so they wouldn’t check for stolen goods?

Tentatively, Aelizia prodded the foot of the body.

Instantly it dropped from its mooring and much of the lingering skin crumbled to a fine powder.

“Damn it…” she hissed under her breath, cursing her wretched impulses.

The body was certainly real. And now that she had finished sweeping the room, she thought she could piece together the events that led to its death.

Someone had slipped into the house – probably through the cellar, as she expected all the windows would be locked up tight. Rather than being caught unaware, they hid in the shadows, waiting for the houses’ occupant to slide into a compromising position. Then they struck.

The vampire and the unknown slayer struggled. Boot scuffs mixed with the claw marks and battered furniture indicated the fight might have gone on for some time. That was surely when most of the damage occurred.

Perhaps realizing they were losing, the vampire tried to run. That accounted for the notches in the door – slashes that had evidently missed their mark. But at some point during the vampire’s flight, the slayer caught up, knocked them prone and dragged them back to the bedroom.

Why the death needed to take place here, Aelizia couldn’t say. Perhaps she missed something the unknown slayer wanted to see. Or perhaps the killer took the relevant artifact with them when they left.

The villagers said the front door was unlocked when they entered. It was what allowed them to discover the carnage. So the slayer must have seen no reason not to take the easiest exit when they finished their grim work.

But why leave the body? Had they been trying to avoid discovery?

Why when the benefits so outweigh the consequences? Especially if they knew the house of the viscount was nearby.

A sharp thud interrupted her thoughts. Her heart leapt into her throat and instantly her hand slipped through one of the slits in her skirt to close around the hilt of a dagger bound tight against her thigh.

It was day after all, so she need not worry about vampires seeking retribution for the death of their kin. But there were moments humans could be just as dangerous – her father never allowed her to forget such.

A second thud indicated something heavy striking the base of the stairs. But it wasn’t until a soft curse floated upward that Aelizia realized her companions had returned. She slid the dagger back into its sheath and hurried to offer assistance.

The crate she requested was large and unwieldy, sealed along its interior with a thick tar that filled every gap and crevice created by its manufacture. The lid fit along a series of fitted notches so that the enclosure was complete when it was properly seated.

Aelizia seized one of the handles and heaved, freeing the box from its lodging. It wasn’t until she regained the top of the stairs and allowed the crate to drop at her feet that she peered at the person bearing the other end and received a second shock.

She almost reached for her dagger again.

The eyes that narrowed in her direction were as blue as hers were grey. The hair and skin were a few shades fairer, granting her sister the kind of angelic look Aelizia couldn’t replicate no matter how hard she tried. The older woman placed her hands on her hips and heaved a deep sigh.

“What are you up to, ‘Liz” she demanded, not bothering to mask her exasperation. “You know father will be furious if he catches you out here.”

“No he won’t,” Aelizia insisted, puffing out her cheeks to properly express her anger. “Not when I bring him that.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the body.

Her sister leaned to the right to stare past her, then cast her a dubious look. But when Aelizia bent to grasp the crate’s handle again, her sister mirrored the gesture. Together, they shuffled down the scratched corridor and carefully laid the crate near the body’s feet.

With tender care, each woman leaned over a portion of the body, though neither risked touching anything just yet. A soft exclamation from Aelizia’s sister indicated that she had noted both the fangs and the dust near the dislodged foot.

“We have to move it carefully,” Aelizia murmured, barely daring to exhale over the dry skin. “To save as much as we can.”

It was painstaking work, and there was little they could do to preserve the crumbling skin. It was the bones that mattered most; the viscount needed those for his experiments. But the clothing could tell quite a lot as well. Still, each sister carefully examined the portion of the body they were loading so they could report every detail to their discerning father.

“Look at this,” Aelizaia’s sister demanded, jabbing a finger toward the unmarred chest. “No stake marks. But are those… They can’t be!”

It took a moment for Aelizia to trace her sister’s gaze and find the two deep punctures that were so dreadfully familiar. She’d seen them dozens of times on dead bodies, and more than once puncturing the skin of someone she loved.

Not everyone who bore those two distinct punctures died from their wounds. But for those who survived, the experience was often worse. Once a person was bit, they often became a social outcast. People feared the taint of night’s masters lay forever on those kissed by their bite. And often it didn’t take long for a second set of wounds to appear and, this time, prove fatal.

But never in all her years of training and hunting had Aelizia ever seen the distinctive vampire tooth marks denoting a bite on a vampire’s body.

“It would explain why there is no stake,” she murmured, though doubt clung to the words as they slid free of her lips. “There is no other reasonable cause of death. The curtains were all closed until I pulled the ones in the hallway.” And if the vampire had been doused in fire, none of the skin would have survived, thus hiding all evidence of this bizarre occurrence.

“But vampires have one rule,” her sister insisted.

“Do not kill each other,” Aelizia quoted in their father’s stern tone.

Yet it seemed one of them had evidently decided it was worth breaking that rule.

“You don’t think…” Her sister sounded excited for a moment. But then she hesitated and bit her bottom lip. “Have you heard the rumors out of Ryehorn?”

Aelizia’s heart skipped a beat. “Who hasn’t?” she barely dared breath the words. But a vampire slayer who was also a vampire… it was unheard of.

Still, it would explain why the culprit slipped into the night and left evidence of their work behind. Perhaps they wanted other vampires to know what happened here as a message or warning to others of their kind.

“They say the church keeps him locked in the basement,” her sister whispered, still caught between excitement and horror. “They seal the door with a crucifix.”

“It’s nonsense,” Aelizia insisted. Though until a moment ago, she would have said the same thing about a vampire killing a vampire. She gently lifted the arm she had been examining a few minutes ago and the area of neck they had been examining finally succumbed to the brittle nature of the lingering skin.

She tucked the bone carefully into the container, but she couldn’t get the image of those punctures out of her mind.

Why would a vampire bite another vampire? Their blood wasn’t like human blood – as evidenced by the fact that drinking vampire blood caused humans to transform into a vile creature of night with insatiable blood lust.

Could vampire blood nourish another vampire the way human blood did? Was that why their first law was never to kill another of their kind?

“I wonder if it will show in the results of father’s tests,” she murmured, not realizing she spoke out loud until her sister shot her a shining-eyed glance.

“He isn’t going to believe us,” she declared with a shake of her head.

“He will if we both say the same thing,” Aelizia replied pointedly.

Strange as it was to encounter such a bizarre incident, Aelizia couldn’t help a small thrill of elation. She had been diligent in the duties her father taught her and, at last, she was rewarded.

This was exactly the kind of revelation she needed to start regaining her family’s honor.

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