Feast or Famine? Ch. 10byathena_by_night©
Luka raced into the manor, the rays of the sun beating at his heels. He slammed the door shut as small sparks started shooting off his footwear where his feet now blistered briefly from the contact. He heaved a sigh of relief as he maneuvered downstairs to where the coffins rested, knowing his feet would take care of themselves while he slept. Seeing that Stephanos was already occupying one, he slid into the other, mentally moving the cover in place; he lay down and closed his eyes. His last waking thought, one of hope that everything would work out for the best.
"Luka?" He heard the whisper of Stephanos' mind. He sighed, knowing what was in his thoughts.
"Very well, Stephanos. I will tell you what I know of Danijela's death."
"Thank you, Luka. She haunts my dreams at times and I would know that she rests easy."
Muttering imprecations at losing rest, not holding Nadia and of running around the countryside on fruitless missions because Stephanos couldn't control his woman, Luka began his tale.
Eighty years ago...
"I had been out feeding on the local peasantry when I sensed something was amiss. My ears pricked at the perceived dangers swirling in the vicinity. I tried ignoring it, but it disrupted my concentration enough that I had to seal the wound on the strapping young man I had come across and to take to the skies in an effort to locate the source of the angry wails. This was not grief, this was feminine outrage. As you know, I was still honing my listening skills, distinguishing between who had need of my services and who was behaving as humans are wont to do."
"Her shrieks were ungodly. They permeated the air, scenting it with her terror. It was then that I realized they were still several miles away. A sense of dread I have never known came over me! Danijela was in Srebreno with you at your seaside villa, having left with you the week before. I panicked, I can admit that now and lost my concentration and fell to the ground, spraining my elbow. It did not deter me; I shot off towards your villa."
"What I faced there..."
Luka shuddered in his repose, memories of that fateful night unspooling in his mind. Memories he had repressed for fear they would drive him mad. Memories that had fueled his hatred of Stephanos. Memories that were laden with his own guilt over not being able to save Danijela. Memories of his failings as a brother and a friend and as a man. Tears formed pure crystalline drops that trekked down his cheeks and his quiet sobs were causing his shelter to rumble with distress.
Stephanos, silent and still in his own thoughts, empathically shared grief and with his mind touched Luka's wounded soul. He was not looking to probe while Luka was mired in anguish, but to heal the small fissures on his brain that this dark night had created and that had altered Luka as a man. He could see the damage wrought, the twisted neurons, the broken synapses that were in response to the passing of Danijela.
Throwing caution to the wind, he rose from his own tomb to go to Luka's. He shoved the cover aside and climbed in with the weeping vampire. Closing the lid once again, he wrapped his arms around Luka, sending him a healing light. Its path entered through Luka's left arm and traveled north, past bones, sinew, tissues and muscles. It journeyed the byways of his blood, swirling around his spinal column, past his cerebellum to the anterior cingulate cortex to inspect the harm. Warmth suffused Luka's being, but was fixed and concentrated as Stephanos probed. The light was pale green with a tinge of lavender, its tiny shoots starting with the beginning of one disrupted fissure and moving to the tangled mass beneath. Slowly the surface was smoothed and long dead synapses sparked to life. The brief electromagnetic pulses that Stephanos was employing renewed life to the malnourished parts of Luka's brain.
For a long while, they rested together as Stephanos directed the light to repair the damages. Luka was quiescent as he felt the residual effects of grief being washed away. This was not an attempt to erase the memories, but of healing the ragged nerve endings that had been frayed. The green pulses were to represent growth, a regeneration of tissue stimulation. The lavender to assist Luka with his spiritual healing.
Stephanos knew that he should have sought Luka's permission first, but he could not bear the pain of his suffering any longer and took matters into his own hands. Once he felt he had done all that he could, he slowly withdrew the light, careful of Luka's emotional state. Luka was drained by the experience and his recent revelations, and feeling bereft of the light. Knowing that they were both beyond endurance, they called a halt to the memories so that they could rest. Luka slipping into the surcease of sleep with Stephanos still having his arms wrapped around him in comfort.
Kolya continued to keep his eyes on Pyotr. Watchful of his breathing, the slightest movement causing Kolya's brow to furrow. He measured time by Pyotr's inhalations, shallow, labored, his chest rattled with the pneumonia and the coughs he was racked with periodically. Kolya felt as helpless as he had when he watched Natalya in her sickness. He rose up on his arm to place a gentle kiss to Pyotr's lips and to whisper into his ear of his love. What else could he do? But watch and pray and share his nearness.
Aleksandr moved gracefully around the room, despite his bulk. He adjusted the coverlet over Marianna and smiled faintly when she whimpered in her sleep. Thinking it just her exhaustion with everything, he failed to notice the slight evidence of perspiration on her brow and upper lip, the ashen pallor of her cheeks, muted by the drawn drapes. He moved to the four-postered canopied bed to attend his two charges. Nodding to Kolya, he bathed Pyotr's face, neck and chest with cooling water. He adjusted the bandage on his head and removed the soiled bandages around his middle, before applying new ones.
"He sleeps peacefully, if deeply, Kolya. Marianna's powders seem to have some effect. It is too soon to tell if Lord Luka's blood mingled with his has had the desired effect. But he sleeps." Aleksandr smiled reassuringly at Kolya.
"Aleksandr, may God go with you for all that you are doing. I don't know how I would have managed without any of you." Kolya spoke softly, his voice raspy from his crying bouts. He bowed his head as if to pray once more. Finding that it brought him a sense of peace to share his burdens with his God.
"Would you like some more broth? My Irina makes the most delicious soups and broths for miles around." Aleksandr loved to boast of his wife's talents, well, those that he was willing to share with the world. He thought to keep her talented tongue to himself. He had a rueful expression on his face when he realized Kolya was looking at him oddly and he had to adjust his clothing over its reaction to Irina's loving tongue as well.
Kolya let out a short bark of laughter, easily reading the man's thoughts as he reddened. It helped ease his internal torment for a moment. Suddenly, he guffawed and couldn't stop! The images dancing in his head of these two quiet people enjoying sensual pleasures was too good to pass up. Almost doubled over in laughter and apologizing to Aleksandr for his response, Kolya held his sides.
"My friend, if you knew Irina's tongue you wouldn't laugh!" Aleksandr actually shared in his mirth. Especially as some of the tension left the room with its arrival. Aleksandr knew what he had and he was not letting her go. He even licked his lips lasciviously, much to Kolya's delight. Oh, it feels good to laugh! Even under these circumstances, it feels good, Kolya thought as he finally quieted. Glancing over at Marianna, he was unconcerned as their momentary glee had not disturbed her. For that he was glad. He loved her and would not see her rest disrupted.
Abruptly, he rose from the bed to go behind the painted screen of flowers and hummingbirds. He used the chamber pot and then washed his hands with the pitcher and bowl left for that purpose. Once done, he moved restlessly around the room for a minute, but realized that he needed to be with Pyotr. Seeing that Pyotr's condition remained unchanged, Kolya's gaze wandered the room, taking in the furnishings. Next to the screen was a burnished cedar chest and a large Cheval mirror. The draperies were drawn, but a rich brocaded sapphire that complemented the duvet of a more subdued hue. The cream based walls were accented with further hints of blues. In fact, the entire room had multitudes of blues, from the pillows, to the chair Marianna reclined on to the frames of the pictures. He recognized an early Italian Caravaggio, Stephanos having insisted that he be well read. It was a restful room in Kolya's eyes.
His eyes drew back to Marianna as she moved restively on the chaise. He frowned. Something was not right. It wasn't her hair that straggled over her shoulders or her dishabille in fighting through the night. No, that wasn't it. Kolya brought a hand to his chin, stroking the beginnings of his whiskers there as he contemplated the picture she presented. He was puzzled, but like Aleksandr, determined that it was just rest she needed. He decided that he would join her in sleep. His body was a mass of aches and bruises and he needed his own healing time.
Marianna's forehead was burning up. She struggled through the layers of sleep and fever, but couldn't surface. Her dreams were fraught with mythical creatures and the suit of armor downstairs had come alive and was chasing her through the corridors of the manor. In her dream she was frantically calling to Stephanos as she tried locked door after locked door. She imagined she could feel the fetid breath of the corpse that once inhabited the armor. It stalked her relentlessly and stealthily. Never hurrying, just moving forward, determined in each foot that fell. Marianna was gasping for breath, her clothing feeling restrictive in the endless corridor.
She saw a partially opened door at the end of the corridor and she raced for it. Not being cautious of what may lay before her, but knowing what lay behind her, she rushed headlong into the room. She slammed the door and shot the bolt. Chest heaving, with her back to the room, she closed her eyes to draw in a long, steadying breath. The suit of armor started ramming the door with no success. Knowing she had to find additional shelter she turned and opened her eyes to...horror! She was caught in an abattoir, fiends savagely tearing into the flesh of screaming villagers, as they sought their blood. She saw her parents, Dmitri, so many she knew being attacked. She screamed, drawing the attentions of a beautiful young girl, her mouth dripping blood...
Stephanos felt the fear running through his veins. It brought him out of his sleep; instinctively he knew it was several hours before dusk. Thinking it to be Luka in the throes of a dream, he saw that he rested peacefully at his side. Something was wrong, very wrong. His awareness was tingling with it. He projected his mind into the manor proper, searching for the source. As he approached the room that housed the invalids, his sense of dread increased. He shape-shifted into a stream of vapor, to pass unhindered beneath the door, metamorphosing into a shadow of himself so as not to frighten the occupants with his arrival. He passed over the bed, and saw that Kolya and Pyotr were all right, both sleeping. Sighing in relief he continued on. Aleksandr had fashioned bedding on the floor to rest by Pyotr's side. Still no dread feelings from them. He turned, and saw Marianna deeply asleep. As he approached her, the feeling grew.
He frowned at her restive movements and then she screamed! Her fever-bright eyes flashed open, unseeing. She sat up abruptly and thrashed amongst the bedding as if it were attacking her, calling out unintelligible words. Her face stark with terror and suffused with the dull rust coloring of one who is sick. He swiftly was at her side, trying to capture her hands in his wraithlike state. Her frightened eyes fixed on him, but didn't see him.
She saw Stephanos starting to sink his teeth into the side of Dmitri's neck! She had to save Dmitri! Nothing else mattered in that moment. Ignoring all the other fiends, she wended her way pass the mass of writhing bodies to Stephanos. In her mind she saw herself pleading with him to spare Dmitri. And Stephanos! Stephanos lifted his violet-infused eyes and mocked her for her naïveté. She grabbed his arm, but he shook her off. She advanced again, claws reaching for her skirts.
Stephanos was beside himself with what he could make out of her incoherent mumblings. He caught "Stephanos", "Dmitri", "...take me instead", but didn't know what to make of it. Shaking off the momentary shock and despair her words caused, he concentrated on finding the source of her sickness. Despite her ramblings and thrashing about, he started with her head, running his fingers all over, trying to see if she had a bump of some kind. Not finding anything of that nature or any cuts, he proceeded downward. By this time, Aleksandr was at his side, fretful over what he was witnessing. Stephanos had him fetch water and a clean cloth, to try and cool her forehead.
Aleksandr was careful in his ministrations, trying to avoid her flailing arms. Stephanos calmly inched his way over her clothing and body, finally finding her finger with the signs of infection. He immediately recalled his spirit to his physical body and shoved the lid open once more. He catapulted out of the coffin and surged to the room containing Marianna. Bursting through the door, he gently brought the wound to his lips and started sucking out the poisons inhabiting her body. Taking his time, probing as he had with Luka, to dispense with the tainted blood. A convenient spittoon lay nearby where he dispensed with the infected humors.
He was pleased that it had not yet spread to her internal organs. He had arrived in time. He continued his gentle suckling, wanting to leave her blood free of infection. Once he was done, he sealed the wound. Then he opened his wrist to bring it to her lips. The dazed look had left Marianna's face, and she understood what he would have her do. She brought her own hands up to his wrist and pressed it further into her mouth. She swallowed a few mouthfuls of the vampire's blood. When she was done, she wiped the back of her mouth as he sealed the wrist. She fell exhausted back onto the cushions.
"My Stephanos, I owe you thanks." Marianna raised her eyes to his. "I don't know what happened, but I am grateful you came. Please sit with me a moment, while I catch my breath." She fluttered her hands by her sides and patted the seat with one. Stephanos was struggling with the small shards of light penetrating the room, but knew he couldn't leave Marianna. If he was careful and stayed out of the streams with the dust motes giving chase to one another without concern, he would be all right.
He gathered her close and moved her onto his lap. He coddled her like a child, stroking her hair, rubbing her back. He was content. She snuggled into his chest and wound her hand into the lapel of his suit. No words passed between them now that the crisis had passed. None were needed. Marianna knew that she would share her nightmare with him later, if only so that he would know what she had envisioned. For now, she was where she wanted to be and she was safe.
Luka surfaced some time later to find Stephanos no longer by his side. Knowing it was safe to emerge, he left the dark cavern to seek out the others. He found Irina and Nadia just arriving at the door as he was. Knowing there were enough people to see to those who were still ill, he pulled Nadia into a small alcove, as he winked at Irina. She tittered in return and shooed them on their way. Luka swept Nadia into his arms and watched her dilating moss green eyes. He lowered his lips to hers, softly at first, a caress designed to tell her he had missed her.
Nadia sank into Luka's embrace, parting her lips to show a need for exploration. Luka gladly obliged her for minutes on end, seeking out all the hidden qualities that represented Nadia's mouth. She in turn, cradled him to her, uncertain of the changes she felt in her body, never having kissed anyone before this. Her breasts were hard and pointed; it was not an unpleasant feeling. Her belly had the same excited feeling she got when the fair with the gypsies passed through town and she went to have her fortune told. That sense of something more to come, of thrilling chances left to fate. Her skin was flushed and other places were hot and damp. No, she didn't understand it at all, but she knew that Luka would teach her.
Luka groaned at the unrestrained passion that Nadia kissed him with. If he wasn't careful, this would go further than he intended. But she was absolutely beautiful in his arms, trusting him, coming apart under his kiss. His hands were roaming her back and shaping her ribs. His hands stopping just short of touching her breasts. Knowing she was innocent and didn't understand the relations that occurred between men and women, he lifted her off her feet to stride over to the bench. He sat with her in his lap, their lips never breaking that melting kiss. He shifted, realizing that he had placed them in a more precarious position. He discreetly attempted to shift her in his lap, so that her lovely bottom was not grazing his hardness. He just hoped she didn't notice in her explorations.
Nadia lifted her moist lips from Luka's to nibble on his ear. At his quickened breathing, she knew he liked it. She definitely liked what he was doing to her. He started whispering words of love into the side of her neck, his lips mobile against the tender flesh. The pulse with her life's blood beating a distraction in his ears and beneath his mouth. Not in desire of piercing her delicate flesh with his fangs, but in carnal wantonness at her boldness. His mounting passions were threatening his hard-fought control.
He wanted to do this right with Nadia. He wanted her as his life mate and helpmate. And because he desired that above all else, he knew he needed to put a stop to this now. Resting his head against Nadia's forehead, he fought for breath. Showing her his caramel eyes, he knew she was as affected as he.
"Oh my love, how you tempt me so! I want nothing more than to devour you here." He wrapped his arms around her in saying this.
Nadia was doing battle with her own tripping heart and racing blood. "Luka, I have loved you since I was a young girl. I have waited until a time that I could be with you. You would deny me this?" She pleaded.
"My dragana, I deny you nothing. I ask that you wait just a little longer, I beg of you. I want you to be my princess, my lady. I want you as I have never wanted anyone or anything in my life! And I would honor you by waiting until I can make it happen. You have stolen my heart. I would do anything, anything you bid of me! And we will belong together forever. Just let me speak with your father and make the arrangements. You can give me three days, can't you?"
"Luka, you can have your three days. I promise that I will not wait beyond that. If I am not your helpmate by then, I will not be responsible for the things I plan to do with your body." Nadia was a little smug in saying this, but wholly adamant that she wanted more of what Luka could offer to her. "Now, come here for a minute..."