By Heath Harper
Gareth ran a hand down his thick, now waist length hair. For a moment he thought to reach down and take the ivory hairbrush from the bed stand and run it through the smooth, silky silver that his hair had become, the way he done as a youth those many centuries ago. But he thought against it then, and merely shook it in the breeze that flowed up from his high window. Let the young feel the shame of physical vanity, he thought. Besides, the brush was not his, anyway.# It had been three weeks since he had seen Laruebius, and nearly six months since the younger vampire had taken to wandering the city. The thought narrowed the vampire’s already furrowing brow - the thought of his powerful, yet traitorous son. But Gareth would change that this evening.
The night before, Gareth had felt the coming surge of power he had waited for for so very long. He had even begun to wonder if the legends were false, the pretenses of vampires turned insane with the coming of their own ends. But now Gareth understood.
In sleep the night prior, Gareth had actually dreamt for the first time in a hundred years, terrible dreams of devils and angels, and when he awoke, his hair was long, hanging past the middle of his back, and his hands ached with energy. His body had become so steeped in shadow and his eyes so red with the bloody nightmares of man that he was the essence of vampirism, pure chaos packed into his pale, ever-thinning frame.
He had become what the Vampire Elders called an Ancient, a rare and powerful creature whose years had stretched the souls of the dark children to their limits. His mind and his senses were keener than they had ever been, and a sudden understanding of the cosmos themselves now wracked his spirit. While his body itself had not become stronger, had even suffered from the powerful change, Gareth was now something apart from the norm of the Vampire Nation – a creature that could call down darkness itself to wallow and unleash at whim.
For all of this, however, an even stranger change had come. His hands had stumbled every now and then as had absently turned pages in one of the many books his protégé kept lying about. He had nearly tripped on his way up the winding stairs to his bedroom. He could no longer walk as effortlessly through physical walls as he could before, as if the slightest, most insufficient light tugged at him more than it ever had, be it a sliver from a nearby torch or a crack in the paint on the windows.
But Gareth knew that these things were inconsequential when weighed against all else that Teserus had given him the night before.
Like its masters, the house itself had changed since the vampires had come to live there. Their considerable wealth had added on several more stories to the home, making it even more of a brooding mansion than a complacent house. Gareth had erected four thin spires at the four direction points around the place, and had spent a good two-year’s income on a huge iron gate that hugged the mansion in a cold protective embrace, its ornate arms gothic and terrifying. Laruebius had thought all of this luxury to be terribly cliched, and had even suggested they inhabit less conspicuous housing, but Gareth would hear none of it.
He had spent his last century as a mere Master with Laruebius (who was fast on the way to that very status in strength, despite being five centuries too young for such a feat - something Gareth had never seen before). In those years, the old vampire had gotten weary of his protégé’s endless criticism of him and the never-ending stream of questions. Yes and no had never been acceptable answers to the many questions he posed at Gareth, and Laruebius’ attitudes toward the Vampire Nation were disturbing to say the least. Gareth beat Laruebius even more violently and frequently than during his Weening Time, and Gareth wondered if Laruebius was really worth it. The student would never fully accept what he should, and that made him a very dangerous animal.
So it was with great rage that he stared at the waxing moon. Laruebius had sworn to return this night. He was three hours late.
He was always late, and that alone was enough to distract the old vampire. No amount of change could make the Ancient relax and forget.
However, Gareth was worried.
The how of it escaped him, but Laruebius had become quite ambitious in his pursuits of knowledge. Gareth knew that there was nothing left for him to teach his surrogate son, and how things had been for him when his Master could no longer teach him. Gareth had been sent away to forge a living in the Wastes when he was no longer a Fledgling, suckling at farmers before he could get onto his feet. While that was how things were usually done, Gareth knew Laruebius too well to send him away and expect him not to question or perhaps even rebel against the decision. Gareth had to admit that Laruebius had proven himself worthy to live amongst him, one of the oldest living vampires. In fact, despite his verbal misgivings, Laruebius had funded much of the mansion’s work, more than paying his way. However, Gareth could not tolerate how often his protégé would go against the accepted ways of vampirism – studying elven and human culture more than his own, wandering into the cities and taking lessons from mortals on everything from cooking to philosophy. All of this was strange and foreign behavior for a vampire, especially one such as Laruebius who hated humans so very much. And Laruebius, while quite fond of blood, wouldn’t eat flesh. So very strange.
Despite all of this, Gareth knew that if he did not do something soon, his protégé would surpass him, however unprecedented it would be. Gareth could control Laruebius no longer (the words had even echoed in Gareth’s paranoid dreams that night), and so, the Ancient tore a wooden shaft from his desk, and awaited the young vampire’s return. It could not have been done sooner, for Gareth’s sharp ears heard the front double doors clang open ten stories below.
Within seconds, Laruebius came sweeping into the room, a fine silk cloak swirling about his shoulders, a strange woman on his arm.
“Who is this,” Gareth growled, even more enraged by the sudden invasion of his home.
“Manners, Master. ‘Manners will keep you alive,’” Laruebius said, mocking Gareth’s earlier lessons. “Isn’t that what you said, Father?”
“Something like that.” Gareth glared. Have you something in your hand there, Laruebius?”
“Yes Father, but first, I must tell you my lady’s name.”
Gareth’s eyes narrowed. “If that one’s a lady, I’m a priest.”
Laruebius’ sneered and his eyes faded to yellow before he spoke again.
“Oh, don’t forget Father, I used to be a priest, and a damned good one at that.” Lily giggled.
“My guest here is called Lily, Father,” he continued. Lily curtsied.
“A pleasure,” she cooed. “May we eat soon, Laruebius? I am so intrigued to see Lord Gareth here partake of flesh as you say.”
“A disgusting habit, my lady,” Laruebius said. “But, Father has so few vices, we will allow him the one.” He tossed something onto the desk then that landed with a sickening thud. It was a severed human head, a bloody gash pouring from one eye. “Enjoy, Father. But, may we take it into the dining hall? I would prefer my guest to see our proper eating habits. Alright?”
Gareth glared. He had been right in his decision to kill the impertinent vampire.
“Are you becoming angry Father, at your age?”
“What,” Lily said, confused. “Is he not immortal?”
“Oh yes,” Laruebius said, a confident smile displayed on his face. “But Father’s eating habits render him weaker. His bloodline is cursed you see, to crave flesh.”
“What?” Gareth demanded. He rushed forward, outraged, but Laruebius stopped him with an outstretched hand.
“Tell, me Father, are you not an Ancient now? Dreams of demons and whatnot plaguing you?”
Gareth’s eyes widened and he took a step back. How could he know?
“Perhaps,” he said, and again hid the stake.
“Also,” Laruebius continued, circling the room menacingly, more brash than he had ever been. “You are finding blood completely tasteless, while flesh seems to be the only thing you need in life. Not shadows, not music, not women, not even lifeblood. And you are not nearly as strong as you should be, yes? Slipping?
Oh, Father, in my studies I have learned about the Gareths. You, who were once called Gian Faetherdown, were begotten by Alscuis of Gareth, who was cursed. You are cursed now, who is called Gian of Gareth, or sometimes, the Hated, The Desired, the Taker of Virgin Flesh. Father has to eat skin, Lily, which is filthy and makes him weak. I, on the other hand, do not. I think this is because of my former faith, but I really do not know. Do you, Father?”
Gareth could barely contain himself. He sat shivering with rage. The insolence! How Laruebius had learned such a thing was beyond him, but then, Gareth remembered how much knowledge his student had received by the wayside. The huge tomes that lay all about the mansion had been more than pleasure reading it seemed.
But Gareth was no fool, and knew that if he was to attack the younger vampire for his insolence, Laruebius would retaliate this time, and so would Lily, of whom he knew nothing. Gareth smoothed his hair.
“I am sorry, my dear, Lily is it? Yes, forgive an old fool for being uptight. I just worry so about the young Laruebius.”
“Not so young,” Lily said, stroking Laruebius’ hand, who looked down at his Master with glowering eyes.
“Lily,” he said, not taking his eyes from his volatile master. “Would you be so good as to step into the dining room while Father and I speak alone?” Lily reached up and kissed Laruebius on the cheek, then curtsied and sashayed from the room.
“She is lovely, child,” Gareth said after many moments.
“To the balcony, then? To drink of wine?”
“I would love to,” Laruebius said, reaching down and then tossing the gruesome head to his mentor. “Feel free, Father. It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Gareth bowed shortly and licked the long neck. It was salty.
“Who was he?” he asked.
“Does it matter?” Laruebius said, already up the stairs and opening the passageway to the roof. “Come. I would not leave Lily long.”
Gareth concealed the wooden stake within his coat and walked with Laruebius to the top of the roof. Outside, a storm began to brew, and a wind began to blow against the high fences and pointed parapets on the mansion’s top and sides. The view was high, ten stories up and cold, but the vampires were unfazed. To one who can fly, height is not a thing to fear.
“A long time it has been since we have been up here together, child.”
“Yes, it has been long.”
“You like this waif, this Lily, don’t you?”
“Did you bed her?”
“How long has it been for you, Father, since you bedded a woman?”
“Twenty, perhaps thirty,” he replied.
“Sixty-three years,” Laruebius said, “since you took that maid in Susbeniton. She had brown eyes and red hair.”
“Oh,” Gareth said.
“I am going to kill you.”
Laruebius was on him like lightning, which flashed in the distance like an angry god. He leapt on Gareth, who fell to the ground and rolled, the two of them hissing like wild cats. They locked arms and tumbled about, slashing at each other with long fangs, until Laruebius was thrown wide as Gareth kicked him squarely in the stomach. The lithe vampire rolled to his feet, though, and stood straight. Gareth willed himself forward, floating to a standing position, and set his feet.
“You knew this would come,” Laruebius spat.
“Yes,” Gareth said, and drew the long wooden stake from his coat. “Why you would be so foolish to do so is beyond me, however.”
Laruebius thought for a moment. “It is because you hit me,” he said, and lunged again, keeping one arm out to keep the stake at bay. This time, Laruebius put up a fairer fight, and scored two hits on the slower vampire’s backside. He then heaved with all of his strength and threw Gareth across the roof, where he landed hard, the air blasted from his lungs.
Impossible! Gareth thought. He is too strong! Impossible!
Gareth heard a shink! as Laruebius drew a blade.
“I hid these up here, Father, so that we might fight as gentlemen. Do you agree? Or would you prefer we squabble with sticks such as the one you wield now?”
Gareth shook the daze away and stared at Laruebius, who held two long rapiers. “Steel?” he asked. Laruebius tossed one to his mentor. The loud clang rang in his ears.
“Edged with silver enough to kill even you, Father.” Gareth grasped the blade in both hands. A brilliant swordsman he was not. Now, though, he thought it fitting for the student to choose the rules of engagement. He knew enough to use the blades better than most, however, and so he held the blade high above his head, and charged.
Laruebius stepped aside with the grace of a seasoned warrior. Gareth’s eyes went wide as his student parried the clumsy swing and scored a quick hit on his exposed shoulder. Gareth knew pain then, as the silver coating on Laruebius’ blade ate into his skin.
“Again!” Laruebius screamed, prompting Gareth to charge in. It went on for many minutes, with Gareth bleeding badly from a dozen minor wounds. Laruebius grinned.
“How?” Gareth demanded.
“I trained, Father,” he said, stalking slowly toward his master. “I trained in the citywith militiamen and soldiers while you shoved pieces of cold dead skin down your throat, and grew weak and fat. Elves, Father, elves like the one I used to be, taught me how to fight. Six months was all that I needed. Not even their masters can beat me now. All so that I may relieve you of your curse, Gareth. The only way I know how.” The young vampire’s eyes burned yellow with fury. His lips curled wickedly, and for a moment, Gareth thought that Laruebius looked a bit like him. A bit too much like him.
Laruebius twirled the blade expertly in his hands. “The best part,” he mused, “is that I will put the blade away all together once you are dead.” Laruebius tipped the blade to the ground and grinned. “So you see, Gareth, all for you. All for you and your vicious, foolish lessons.”
Gareth shuddered with rage for the second time that night.
“Insolent,” he hissed. “Even in your death throes you shall not refer to me by my true name, child. To you I am Master or Lord! Or in truth, your god! The Hells will-”
“The Hells are a children’s story compared to my hatred of you!” Laruebius shouted. “You are a wretch! You are unclean and low, Gareth, Eater of Flesh. You are an animal, and no longer the connoisseur that I have become. You are lowly, Gareth. You are an embarrassment – below me. Not fit to live. ”
Laruebius, for all his bravado had underestimated Gareth. The rage that built within the older vampire was enormous, and Laruebius had let his guard down, despite his passion. Gareth was suddenly an inch from his nose, and Gareth’s arm shot out and grasped Laruebius by the throat, lifting him from the ground. Laruebius broke from the grip, and drew up his rapier into Gareth’s arms just as he hit the ground, scoring a hit in his chest. Gareth drew as well, and the two vampires met in a fury of clanging steel.
While Laruebius was the better trained, Gareth was stronger, and he was hard pressed. A series of quick slashes kept Laruebius back on his heels, and only his quick thinking kept the older vampire from running him through.
Gareth snarled as their blades met, and he tore the sword from his protégé’s hands. Weaponless, again Laruebius found himself hoisted into the air by the throat.
“Never did you have a chance,” Gareth smirked as a moment of silence tinted only with the roar of lightning in the distance passed by. “I cannot even feel your hatred anymore. I am too powerful for even your intrusions of passion, and now, you are without your strength, and without my blessings.”
He walked him over to the edge of the roof, and let the younger vampire stare down at the ground so very far below. Rain began to pour as Gareth gazed down to the courtyard below and sneered. Laruebius clenched his eyes. This was it, the end of all of his pain.
“I once thought you beautiful, Laruebius,” Gareth hissed. “You were to be known as Laruebius of Gareth, taking my name and letting loose on this world.”
Laruebius could not stand it. He spat in Gareth’s eyes and cursed him in the Old Tongue. He flailed and scratched and punched and drew blood, but Gareth, insane with rage, would not yield.
“It is you,” Gareth said, “who are dead, my son. I am sorry that I failed to make you beautiful as I. I once thought you beautiful, Laruebius, until this very moment.” He let go, and Laruebius dropped, slamming onto the many roofs and onto the many gargoyles that adorned his home. He tried to take flight, but could not concentrate as he slammed again and again into the marble walls. He landed on the ground with a thud, inches away from a pike that would have skewered him had he landed upon it. He could feel his bones shatter from the fall, could feel the shards of his ribs stab into his black heart. He knew he was broken, but it was nothing that would not heal.
He wiped the mud from his eyes and stared at the roof so far above him. His Master was still up there, glowering down from above, pointing down at Laruebius.
“You are unworthy, Laruebius, not I,” Gareth cried in defiance of the thunder. “You? You are…you are dead, my son! For I who made you will unmake you!”
Gareth procured his stake once again, and touched its tip with his finger. The stake ignited and became a flame. From below, Laruebius could not see what happened, but knew that time was running out.
He was unsure what Gareth was doing, but then looked about and saw where he had landed. He lay amidst barrels of oil they had used for lanterns. It was then that he understood. Gareth meant to hurl the firebrand at him, and burn him to death in the ensuing explosion. The younger vampire knew that Gareth had been one step ahead all along. He knew that Gareth’s supposed apathy in his dealings in the city was just a way to keep him out of the house so that Gareth could rehearse this very moment, acting out exactly how and where to drop him long before the battle ever took place.
Gareth’s sick grin, however, suddenly left his face.
He dropped the torch, and grabbed his throat. The flaming stake puffed out as the rain poured harder and a new flame was born, deep within Gareth’s body.
The Ancient had never known such agony as that which burned at his throat. It seared his very soul and his heart exploded in flame. He whipped his long, matted hair in defiance, but no amount of flailing would ever quench the fire.
“What did you-” he screamed, but a flash of lightning made him flinch, and he toppled from the roof. No gargoyles stopped his descent, however, and he landed with a thud a few feet from his broken protégé. Still, the fire in him burned.
Laruebius levitated to a standing position, his body already beginning to regenerate itself.
“Does it hurt? I think it would hurt,” Laruebius said calmly, watching Gareth crawl about, clutching his throat. “Oh, poor thing,” he continued. “Look at you. On all fours, snarling and hacking like that.” Gareth spat blood and clutched at his chest as an orange light began to glow from it.
“You will find yourself now in the greatest agony a vampire could know,” Laruebius said, pacing back and forth like a schoolteacher. “According to Tenathiel, dear Father, a great elven mage of the East, the most terrible thing that can happen to a vampire is to ingest holy water. It bonds to your soul, you see, and renders your flesh as pulp, defying the very thing that you are.”
“How did you-” Gareth stammered as black ooze vomited from his mouth.
“Ingenious, really. You see, Gareth, my Tymora-given powers never left me. There are two sides to Her, Father, I just came to know the darker of the two. It would seem that She does not smile upon you this day, no?”
He knelt in the mud, grabbing Gareth by the collar and staring into his face. “I consecrated water and smeared it on the dead human’s neck you just licked. Just a taste is all it takes” He dropped Gareth into the mud again. “It seems that the Goddess had one final gift to give me, one last way to repay me for the “good” I once did as a priest. The Gods do exist, Father. And you are not with them. Not at all. I am sorry, Father, but you were more an animal than anything else. It is you who were unworthy, you who were unclean. Gareth the Unclean. Gareth the Unclean.”
Laruebius stood up. Within his eyes gleamed the blaze that was once Gareth the Despised, and now, Gareth the Unclean. The old vampire’s body erupted in flame, and a dark mist poured and bubbled from his chest as it exploded in fire. Swirls of light came streaking from the blaze, screaming in an unearthly eulogy. Then, it stopped, and Gian of Gareth became a charred, rotting shell.
The old master’s corpse writhed for another minute or so, but then became no more than a lump of flesh, smoldering in the night sky. Laruebius breathed deeply.
“Olly-olly-ox-and free,” he whispered, smiling.
Lily came and put her arms around his shoulders. They stood there for a while, staring into one another. Like an omen, the rain stopped, and the clouds gave way to a New Moon, which bathed the mansion in soft light.
“Kiss me,” he said.
“Because you should kiss someone when the year is new.”
“Is the year new?” she asked.
Laruebius stared into the dying embers that Gian of Gareth had become. He felt no remorse for his old master, but rather, felt a twinge of elation. Of freedom – the freedom to do what he pleased in the world without any inhibitions. Toril was his to command, to destroy. Many would fall to the vampire that had once been Evan Laruebius.
What was more, he knew that he would never know servitude to another again
“It is,” he said, and they embraced, their cloaks whipping in the mournful winter wind.
The content of Villain is the property and copyright of Heath Harper, and is not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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