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The Birth of a Dragon

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Darkness… The faintest feeling of floating, drifting in this vast abyss of nothingness. My thoughts, fleeting from my mind, or perhaps was it my entire being that threatened to fade away?.. Who am I or perhaps… was I? Where am or was I? But most importantly where was when? Time seemed to still, or maybe flew by so fast I could never quite grasp it. How long would I remain here, along, before..?

There! A light!

Something akin to… Euphoria washed over me as I focused on the somewhat small dot, trying to bring it closer by the strength of my own will since moving proved to be…. impossible. Silly thoughts, really. Or at least so I believed until something quite peculiar happened; the dot was growing. Perhaps it would be better to say that rather than moving itself it was moving me towards it, as it it had become the center of my gravity. It was the sun and me, lonely earth inexorably falling, or gliding, forward faster and faster to finally collide unto it, bringing with its liberation the gift of… Pain. Agony so violent that it felt as if my body was alight by flames, making me want to jerk and pull away from the source of torment, but the light remained, unforgiving in its assaulting attraction. White filled my view, so… bright it felt like my nerve endings were frying from the sheer force of it. It was so… difficult to think under this… Pressure. Hard to breathe, but I needed to. I needed to breathe…

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Death… Since the apple was plucked from the sacred tree, mortality was believed to be God’s punishment… A righteous snare to keep mankind from ascending to the stars. They were all so wrong! Death is not a wicked thing, nor some holy retribution. A true punishment would be to never know its sweet kiss. Awaken from the harshness and be born once more…

Confusion, overwhelming and unbound. Thoughts crashing against one another like the waves of the Thames upon London’s sidewalks. A voice, beckoning as I gasped for air, body ablaze as I jerked upright, lost in this sea of grey. Where was I? Who was I? What happened? Who was talking? I looked around, ending face-to-face with the degraded corpse of a man. Screaming, I shoved it away, looking around for an escape path, causing me to crawl frantically towards the ramp and another blinding light. I clawed my way out of this pit of misery, scrambling to my feet with great difficulty, as if my body was made of lead, molten lead. Standing up was a hard task, even more so when the world started spinning around me. My throat was parched, my mouth, dry, rasping grunts was the only sound I seemed capable of as I attempted to walk.

Someone was calling. I did not know who but I could hear her voice, calling me, pleading to come home. But where was home? Was Jonathan my name? It must be, or so I assumed as I made my way towards the voice, catching glimpses of scarlet trails across the cobblestone floors, painting the way towards a vibrant source of light. Pulsing red in the distance, moving, almost fleeting. Whatever that was, I needed it, or so I was told by my instinctive feeling of grasping onto it and claiming it. I walked, more so stumbled, towards the crimson shine, each step bringing another wave of torment. Thirsty… So thirsty… I couldn't help but mumble, voice hoarse and heavy to my own ears, yet… Far. As that voice talked to herself, reminiscing old memories or at least I thought it was memories… Focus snapped back to the lithe form before me, the glow was so intense I could barely tell her feature! Not that it mattered as she was facing away from me. Lone light in a cold world… I needed it, but was unable to grasp it as I reached for her, ending up only shoving and startling her. But she did not run. No, she gasped in surprise and cupped my face in her palms instead before hugging me, cries of delight and relief escaping from her lips. Sounds seemed to quieten as time slowed when I felt her arms around me and her body against mine. I was slumped over, cheek pressed against her warmth. The beating noises were so loud in this peaceful moment! I was so cold… So thirsty I had barely any saliva left and my entire being was agony, body screaming to take in such violence that my lips curled, pain blooming in my gums as I returned the embrace only to sink my teeth into the soft flesh beneath.

If she screamed I barely registered it. Entranced as I was when the liquid poured down my throat, easing the ache in such a way that I shook. Greedily drinking, sucking as hard as I could like a drunk man finally having a drink after maddening wait. Bliss swiftly followed as I let go, unable to take any more even though I still wanted it, body thrumming with life and colors returning slowly as I sighed, head thrown back in ecstasy. I barely recollect gripping my chest as the pain suddenly vanished, but the mix of strangled cries, gurgles and coughs instantly brought me back along a voice that would forever haunt me.

- Oh, Jonathan… My sweet brother… What have you done?..

Mary?! My blood ran cold as her whimpers filled my mind. No… This couldn’t be right! Had I just..? No! I could still save her! Panic replaced euphoria as I grabbed the arm she stretched towards me as she was choking on her own blood, the mark of my treason etched in her throat in the form of puncture wounds left by my teeth. Mary! No, Mary… Stay with me, please! Forgive me, but please stay! I did not mean to do this! This is a nightmare, it must be! My mind was racing as I ripped a piece of cloth from my own shirt, trying to apply pressure to the wound to ebb the blood flow, but… There was no use. Even if I begged for her to hold on, praying to God for her to just live… She left me. Oh God… Oh no… Mary, no… I didn’t know what to do anymore. I had just killed the ray of hope in these godforsaken times. Sorrow crushed my heart as I gently lifted her up, hugging her limp form as I cried, denial strong within me even though the facts were there. As the pain passed I was able to slowly letting her go, kissing her goodbye while still praying that this was not right. When I finally set her down, a confused despair forever frozen upon her features, her eyes questioning me, accusing almost.

What have I done? This horror… It’s a nightmare… I was numb, sadness filled my being as I stared forward, unable to look at her anymore. This was my fault, wasn’t it?..

- You done killed her, you beast!

An angry shout, then a shot. Pain blooming in my shoulder as I begged for them to let me explain. But what was there to explain? There were so many! Dark clothed men and women shouting for my death as I was forced to flee. Forced to leave Mary in a damned mass grave. Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? All these bodies piled up on another… And I left her there, without any choice, again! Frustration mixed with panic, a hearty cocktail that drove me forward and down to the sidewalk. Forced to run for my life, by fear of it being taken away so soon after gaining it back, and leave my poor Mary to rot. So I ran, for if I could at least do one thing for her, it was not to die shot down like the rabid dog they thought I was. Surely they could be reasoned with! I just had to convince them not to shoot me. Simple enough, I thought. Right… As easy as convincing a military officer that’s scared of needles to not rip the IV needles out… I ran through dark alleyways, through blocked off streets, nearly getting shot multiple times before jumping down a narrow passage between roads that seemed safe enough for me to gather my thoughts even though I still heard them roaming above.

Oh, Mary, what have I done? I could not think about her now. I had to get moving or they would find me and I was certain they had another way of talking than the one I prefered. One with bullets… And a machete, apparently! I dodged out of the way as one of these bastards lunged at me, ripping a growl from me that was everything but human before I grabbed the first thing that fell into my hands and then proceeded to riposte. The man grabbed his throat with both hands as I struck, gurgling as blood came gushing out. I felt terrible but he left me no choice! I ran through what I thought was sewer tunnels before going up another flight of stairs and startling another man that tried to shoot me down. I cut him down too, muttering an apology as I made my way into what looked like a foundry. Wait, I knew this place, but of course that thought too was cut by more yells. What was wrong with these people? I was just a man that was sick! I had to run between cauldrons of molten metal, bullets bouncing against the casts before cutting down two more young men down. There was an intoxicating smell mixing with that of the heat which I could not exactly pinpoint, so I decided to try and figure out where I ended up instead. The place was huge, but seemed… abandoned? The state of disarray of the place surely did not help me thinking otherwise as I made my way to the back, coughing a little as I pushed forward. This must be Dawson and Dawson’s-…

As soon as I made my way through the back doors I was welcomed rather warmly with a gun pointed at my chest. Startled, I tried to plead with this one man whose face was obscured by a hat and a scarf, but I could see the disgust in his eyes very clearly as he ignored my questions. I tried to tell him that I meant no harm, that I needed help, going as far as to lift my hands in a sign of surrender as I tried to slowly approach him.

- Die, you fucking leech!

Clicks. The gun would not fire. I did not know if it was a sign meant to push me forward but I’d be damned if I missed that occasion! He panicked and tried to flee, visibly afraid of me, but why? I needed to make sense of all this and this man would help me! He needed to! I grabbed onto him as he tried to run past me, throwing his gun aside, and he fought surprisingly well against my grapple but I was determined to have my answers.

- Shut up, beast!

He didn't have to be so rude… He ignored my questions on his people, which was to be foreseen, so then I tried to ask him what this was all about as he struggled to put me into the light. And the Pain. The damnable agony akin to the one I woke up to, but worse, bloomed from the exposed skin on my arm, ripping a cry from me. What in God’s…

- The sun will do the rest of the job!

I had enough of this madness! My skin was… charring! Under the sun’s light! I shoved the man away and ran, telling them to leave me be. To be fair, he probably did the same, scurrying to whatever hell hole they crawled out of to torment me. Gasping as the pain receded after a moment or two I pushed myself to keep moving even after this stunning misadventure. The sun.. It felt as if it was burning me to the bones! If that was so then I needed to find somewhere to hide and fast, for dawn was quickly approaching.

I made my way outside, more careful than ever with these lunatics around. As silent as I tried to be, one lone vigilante spotted me, aiming a… Was that crossbow bolt on fire? Oh, for God’s sake… I dodged out of the way and did little work of this man as frustration finally took over. I had enough of these games! I needed to find shelter! So I ran to the first red door adorned by the words “Keep Out” written in white chalk over its red painting, slammed it open, then closed it swiftly and roughly as I entered. Panicking, I looked around for anything to block the door, deciding to push an old and sturdy library shelf before the entrance, keeping the brutes from entering. I heard them shout and run outside but fortunately they seemed to have lost all tracks they had on me. Finally some peace…

The place seemed abandoned and nobody replied when I inquired, so I looked around. I did not feel like snooping in a space where nobody lived in was that terrible, no, not after all this had happened. I found an intriguing manuscript by a certain Carl Eldritch who was supposedly the leader of something called “Priwen” and the piece described morbidly the effect of the sun upon… Leeches. I folded the paper and put it in my pocket. It looked to be a misplaced page of a book, a book I could probably find and use as a reference of the barbaric methods these Priwen people used in their witch hunt. For that was what it was, was it not? A witch hunt! Otherwise that could mean that… No! I would not think of this. Not now. I looked around some more, an odd smell tickling my nose but I brushed it off as I tumbled upon a frame with a lovely couple smiling at the camera. It sparked something in me as I saw myself embracing my poor twin sister again. Her words haunted me even now… Mary. I’m so sorry… Whoever did this to us, I will find them! This I swore as I set the picture back, noticing the glint of something on the desk before grabbing it. Five shillings… Surely nobody would mind if I took it? I pocketed the coins and walked into another part of the house.

I was not expecting the gruesome scene that met me, but I had at least found the source of the sickenly sweet smell. It came from the decaying remains of a woman whose body was scarred and mangled by some sickness I had never seen before! The cause of her death was obvious; a shot to the head, probably to end her misery. In her hand, I found a watch that reminded me of the one that I had. Another flashback, but… This time I saw myself and what I assumed were gravediggers before they apparently pocketed my property and made a terrible undertaker pun then proceeded to throw me into the mass grave. Even though one of them had reservations towards graverobbing, it did not keep him from getting persuaded to fence my watch! But, wait… That was impossible! How could I have seen something that happened during my coma? Maddening…

I looked around some more, deciding there was little I could do for the woman at this point and, after retrieving a bottle of alcohol, I made my way upstairs. The house was in a pretty bad shape, but I was somewhat thankful of the boarded up windows keeping the sun’s rays away from me. Some doors were blocked by a mountain of furniture, so I settled to go into the only room whose door was opened, ending face-to-face with my own reflection glaring back at me with weary eyes and… My God! I looked so filthy! My clothes were stained with dirt and unknown oils and although my skin was free of scars and blemishes I did not have before, it looked clammy, dirty and there was blood absolutely everywhere. To think I ripped a piece of this shit to try to help Mary… I would have made things worse, had she survived! This left me thinking about what got me here, glimpses of a fateful night came to my mind before memories came rushing back. I was walking back home after being back from war to come and tend to my sickly mother when a voice had suddenly risen from the darkness, calling to a child of the dark to take scent, or whatever that meant. Then vivid pain at my throat before my strength vanished and I was left alone in the cold, dying…

Twelve dreams for the red queen that sleeps under the crown of stone. That she might linger longer, her eyes as white as bones. A prayer for the summoned by warring song, a child born from the darkness must take scent of his path.

Startled by the recollection of the words spoken, I snapped back to whatever reality I was stuck in, noticing the puncture wounds at my neck under caked blood. Bite wounds… Just like Mary’s… I shook the thought away, the memory hurting and annoying me at the same time. I found another five shillings on the drawer besides the mirror before making my way further in the room. I was getting tired of all this misery… Probably as tired as the man that laid crooked in his chair, dead from a shot to the head that he inflicted upon himself. I retrieved his gun, it still had bullets and could prove useful for what I would plan next. So the wife and the husband were reunited ultimately in death, I assumed. These thoughts were confirmed by the man’s diary that provided me with some insight on the woman’s disease. She had caught a virus akin to the flu, but it worsened and seemed to have turned her feral then impotent, which resulted in her current state and then her husband’s. I found a syringe on the table near the man. Not sure what I would do with it yet, but… Whatever I could get my hands on would help. I pocketed the syringe and looked at the gun again, flashback from war this time. How grand. Yes, I was a military surgeon, I remember now. The memory is sour as I recall telling the other medic that killing was a hell of a lot easier than healing, but I was fooling myself. It never got easy, no.

I looked around to make sure there was nothing hiding in here besides me and then looked at the bed. If there was one thing I remembered from having nightmares as a child, it was that normally when the beast caught you or killed you, you ended up waking up. Now, since I had no want of going against the mad men outside, there was only one alternative remaining. I was too much of a coward to go to my death or just wait for it, so it will be by my terms and mine only. I took a deep breath, sat on the bed, glared at the man’s peaceful expression before I finally laid down, taking another breath before pointing the gun directly at my heart. Rational thoughts only… I fired.

There was a great deal of pain before darkness welcomed me again, perhaps for one final time if I had been wrong…

Chapter Text

Flashing lights overwhelmed my vision. They were red, then black, always switching so swiftly. Yet sometimes white, but always with hints of grey. I found myself swimming but it was not water. The liquid was thick, warm and the smell of it… I could have willingly let myself drown in it while attempting to drink it. But the currents changed abruptly. It got much more violent, dragging me somewhere, further down, before cascading to a stop. I heard voices, that of a man urging me forward and then there were screams. But I knew the voice. Mary! Was I the cause of this torment I heard?! Please, you had to forgive me. It was a trick! A nightmare from which we would soon wake, you had to trust me on that! Her cries faded away and I was left in a dark room, alone. It was then that I heard somebody chuckling, the sound seemed mocking. I spun around, daring this nemesis to face me, but I only found a mirror reflecting my poor self back at me.

But then it changed. My skin took the paleness of death, my clothes turned from bloodied rags to elegant suit and then I met my own gaze. Iris like burning pyres in which sat a cat-like pupil. This reflection smiled back at me, revealing sharp teeth as it laughed at my dismay. It was vile, evil and the darkness which surrounded this being, this… Side of myself? No, it couldn’t be! It only looked like me, but it was not me.

- Yet…

It smirked, taunting and waved its farewells before I could say anything to counter its statement. The river came back, pulling me away from the mirror, away from my darkness. And back to pain.

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I awoke with a start, gasping as I sat up. I was still in the same house in which I had shot myself. Wait… How could I still be here if I had done all this? I felt my chest, immensely confused as I felt the dampened skin there and the new hole in my shirt. But no wounds. Although there was blood coating my fingertips and, as I turned over to look, all over the mattress also. This was absolute madness! I had to have lost touch with reality…

- Madness it is! As mad as the moon! Who tames blinding sunlight into a glowing reflection?

That voice again! I was definitely going mad. Or perhaps… Maybe… There was an explanation to all this. A logical explanation to all of this! I had shot myself through the heart, or closely enough, and still survived, so I could assume I had gained supernatural healing capabilities. Through my blood...

The thought grossed me out, but then again I could not help but to think about how marvellous Mary’s was… What was wrong with me? Shaking myself, I forced my limbs to move, trying to forget I dared to think like that about my murdered sister. First, I had to get out of bed, then move towards the room’s exit. That voice in my head… if I was not mad then it must have belonged to the one who made me. Who turned me into this… Thing. I needed to find him to understand what I had become, so I could prevent making the same mistake I did with Mary… Walking towards the stairs in a less panicked state was easier than the previous night, possibly because I did not have crazed men chasing after me…

Speaking of which… I heard voices downstairs, talking about me as if I was a rabid animal. Absolutely preposterous! But there was no use trying to talk to them. They had been brainwashed by this Priwen institution, so I had better get moving before they made it past the heavy furniture I had pushed in front of the door. I ran down the steps, trying to make as little noise as possible. An easy task under their cursing and bashing against the door. As I made my way through the living room, I could not help but notice that the woman’s corpse had gone missing and that there was now a trail leading to another door. A side entrance? These people were very adamant on wanting to kill me, so I had little time to think about this as I opened the door and stepped through.

I heard a terrible crash behind me almost immediately. I turned and was met with the nasty sight of the door falling prey to a colossus’ axe before a small masked man dashed in.

- There’s the leech! Here!

He pointed at me and I knew that if I did not leave, it would be the end for Jonathan Emmet Reid. I looked around, in search of an escape, only finding one but… It was so far… Panicking a little, I glanced back at the men, barging in now, before looking once more at the second story of the building on the other side of the rubbles; the only access point that I had into the other house. I felt a pull as my mind went blank for a moment and then found myself on the very floor that I had wished to be able to get to. I did not care how I pulled that trick, all I cared was to at least put a door between me and the psychopaths chasing me!

I slammed the door closed as I gasped a little. taking a little rest against the door. My head was spinning… Whatever I did, it took very little out of me but I could feel the hunger - no, the thirst - gnawing at my core again. How long would this suffering be?

- Oi! Come out you coward!!! ... Clever fucking beasts...

No, but I thank you for the offer, I thought with very little amusement. I lost no time scavenging, as I was sure these men would be swarming the place soon, but did manage to snag a wooden stake that I found lodged in the chest of a poor and very sick being. The man was probably struck down by these animals outside, yet I could not help but notice that he was in a state much worse than the woman I had seen yesterday night. What was happening to London? As I made my way out I, noticed that I was still in Southwark. Truthfully, a little far from where I was supposed to be, which was the West End.

Home… Could I even go back? What if the creature I saw in that dream came loose? No. That would not happen. Never would I let this thing free and give satisfaction to these barbarians!

Speaking of which… One was waiting for me outside of the house and tried to slash at me with his sword. I had enough of these games! I dodged his attacks, a low growl coming from deep inside my chest and, before I even realized what was happening, I was ripping at the cloth at his throat with my bare teeth to finally sink my fangs into the pliant flesh beneath. He screamed and tried to push me away but it all ended too quickly as I drained him. Swift and merciless, what they had been unwilling to show me. The horror of what I had just done to that man was washed away by the bliss of bloodlust. There was a strength in all this… A strength I never knew I had. Three forms were gathered on the shore below, London’s Bridge looming above and casting its monstrous shade on the party. I fell down, almost silent but not enough, alerting the young man lurking around debris carelessly thrown here and there. Alerted he shouted, trying to swat me away with a torch, but how I riposted threw them off guard.

Drawing my right arm in from of me, I suddenly let it fly outwards, palm opened, summoning a spear of bright crimson that sent the man flying, effectively impaling him against the wall. This… Shouldn’t be possible… But I had little time to ponder on this as his teammates cried out in shock and possibly disbelief before rushing at me with swords and torches. It did not matter. Every sinew, every fibre of my being seemed afire! I felt like a child learning the limits of his body as they fell like flies under my newfound skills. One last man - if it was the colossus from earlier, that I could not tell - stood before me and my goal. I made little work of him as my strength and reflexes were far greater than his. I definitely was not human anymore… And that thought scared me, even more so as I noticed how savagely I had torn them all to pieces. Yet I had to keep going if I wanted answers. So many questions, still and no way to solve this giant puzzle that my life had become.

I found a couple shillings on each of them and compounds for what I assumed would be weapon crafting. It could prove useful later on, once I had figured out some of this mess… I was able to climb the staircase leading to London’s Bridge which would enable me to go back. Finally, progress! Yet… Back to my old life? Perhaps not. Making my way across forced me to think back about what had happened these past few nights. My poor sister… If only I had controlled my need for blood! Mary, someone was going to pay for what happened to you. For what happened to us! Determination fueled me, speeding my pace to a point where I ignored the corpse lying in the way, stepping over it while still noticing that it was one of these damned vigilantes. Good riddance…

About halfway through the bridge I was met with an obstacle of the industrial kind; locked doors. Seeing no keys nearby, I decided to test my luck on the metal walkway that appeared to bypass the obstacles but was met with the displeasure to find that half of the damn thing came missing. Although I could very well see the other side - the gap being only about five meters long, tops - I was unsure whether I could cross the distance by normal means which made me think that perhaps I could try something… Unusual.

I looked at the jagged edge before me and wondered if, perhaps, I could redo the trick I pulled earlier at the abandoned house. Curious, I looked to the other side, focusing on a point where I would like to be before stepping towards the abyss, thinking about making this jump. As soon as I moved forward, I found myself on the other half of the walkway almost instantly. Marvelous! It also seemed that playing around with this… skill had made me somewhat immune to the dizziness that had occurred earlier. Or perhaps I could now better control it. Now able to finally make progress again, I strode onward towards the other staircase that would lead me to, I believed, the Docks.

What would London have to say to me?.. I wondered as I made my way to the end of the bridge and then out by the Thames. I had so many questions unanswered! So it should have been a lesser surprise when I stumbled upon the corpse of a man, right as I stepped out the bridge. He was left to rot by the river and it appeared to be like a fresh kill, too… Had the very streets of London became a mausoleum? I went to examine the man. The wounds were deep on his back and there were hardly any blood left in him. But there was a trail I could follow, as the smell of it was intoxicating and slightly overwhelming. Perhaps… this could lead me to my assailant? I focused on trying to keep up with the trail, but was startled when my vision suddenly switched; the world around me fading, colors turning to grey and sounds muting considerably. My focus broke as I panicked and the world came back to normal. Was that a new trick I was to master? Noticing the blood trickling from the street above, I shadow-jumped past the broken railings and looked around. Breathing deeply, I tried to calm my poor nerves and tried again. The same thing happened, but this time I could see the blood trail which was glowing red. Intriguing, although I doubted I could use this while fending for my life, seeing as how much focus this took to keep up.

Fresh blood… The smell of it was so strong! Ignoring this invasive thought, I followed the traces left. So much blood… Something dire must have came about. The trail went in a straight line for only a couple steps before all I could see was a bloody handprint on an abandoned cart. Where had everybody gone? I kept going, on the lookout for more of these traces as I went through the alleyway facing me. I then soon found myself where the man had been attacked, or so that was what the massive amount of blood pooling at my feet left me to believe. That must have been the killer’s trail. I should be following it, perhaps it would lead me to at least someone who knew what was happening here… Trying to pinpoint exactly where the trail would lead proved a little more difficult, before I noticed another bloody sets of handprints and then blood dripping from torn up second-floor railings. How erratic was this thing?

I shadow-jumped to the balustrade, frowning as the tracks seemed to just vanish from there on. No more blood to be seen, but perhaps I would fall on the trail again if I just went around the building? Which is what I did, luckily finding another abandoned house in the process. I entered it - not exactly sure why - as the light above the door flickered ominously. I scanned the area, my focus choosing this exact moment to break, and the world recovered its colors. So any actions or violent emotions could cancel this trick. Good to know. As I mad these discoveries, I noticed that nobody had been there for quite some time. It possibly meant they either perished or were forced to evacuate. I was hoping for the latter as I scavenged through a big trunk, finding handle and trigger parts from which I could probably make something out of at the nearby workbench, should I ever feel the need to. That would have to wait, as I had a monster to catch. Leaving the house, I looked around as I left my vision change again, catching sight of splatters down below. This trail was definitively awkward. Almost as if the killer was drunk or… hesitant… My thoughts were confirmed when the strong smell of blood mixed with alcohol filled my nose after I had jumped down from my perch. Looking at this splatter closely, my eyes caught a bloodied piece of paper that stuck to the puddle. I snagged it to take a look at it, as it could potentially be clues. Hm… No. I was sure I was probably never meant to see this. It looked like part of somebody’s personal diary, but perhaps whoever left it would like to get it back, so I pocketed it.

There were bloody footprints leading towards a building that stood before me and inside…. Glowing vessels of life. I started walking towards them. At last… People! Of the friendly kind? I sure did hope so! Two men and a woman, which I assumed was the waitress of this pub. Looking at the other figures, I was certain of which to leave alone and which to ask about the recent events. With this observation, I made my way to the bar, welcomed by the barkeep as I neared.

- Welcome, sir, to the Turquoise Turtle- My God, sir! You look like Jonah’s whale just spat you out of hell! Can I get you a drink?

- No thank you. I’m not… Not thirsty…

- Well, grab a chair and get some rest! This is gonna be another long night.

- Why is it going to be a long night?..

- You must be new around here… Don't you know about the murders?

Admittedly, I did not. He was more than willing to let me know that there had been bodies discovered these last few weeks, but it was not the flu that took them. I inquired if perhaps the police had any leads on a suspect, but, sadly as foreseen, the cops were not really welcomed here. Especially with the dire criminality rate and the gangs… These people were left to their own, and as this man said, nobody seemed to care. Perhaps I could help them after figuring out what had happened to me… I inquired about the place to appear more… friendly, even though my appearance was probably misleading. It seemed to help out as the bartender appeared to relax somewhat and even acted compassionately towards my tough looks. I learned that the Turquoise Turtle was neutral territory on the docs. Nobody dared drawing blades or weaponry by fear of being kicked out of the only respectable establishment in these savage parts, no doubts. He apparently never went outside himself, and since the pub was a safe place, why leave it? The man had even opened his doors all night for those who might seek refuge in these dark times, which I was thankful for, after all the trouble I had getting here.

Seeing as I had drained the little care for small talk that I was capable of, I went straight to the point, telling him about the man I was looking for. Luck finally was on my side as I learned that there had been one customer, but that they proved to be the reclusive kind. Hopeful, I gathered that he was still here and learned that he was to be there for an entire week! I couldn’t help myself but to question him further. How long had he been there, but more importantly who was he? The barkeep, Tom Watts as he had presented himself as, said that he had been there for a few days and never spoke of the end of his visit. He also told me that the stranger looked like a gentleman - clean clothes and politeness - and that he was possibly a professor or something of that kind due to seeing him take many notes during his stay.

I announced to him that I needed to meet the man to question him and he did not seem against the idea, even telling me how to get to his room. Apparently Tom even heard him open his window, which meant he was possibly still awake. He stopped me before I could leave, warning me about his establishment being respectable and wanting no funny business. The audacity! But I could not blame him, the way I played this all was a bit shady… I thanked him before heading upstairs, eager to get this over with. But as I got to the door I could hear the man very distinctly as he warned somebody else about Priwen patrolling the area. Oh, not again… A female voice softly calmed his claims, telling him that they were not pursuing her. No, of course, it was me they were chasing around like mad men, surely thinking I was the cause of these murders, too! That thought was confirmed as both talked about the need to catch the killer to get these men back to the hole they crawled out of, although the man tried to convince the lady that this was no place for her, still, but she seemed resilient in her want to remain. So they were partners investigating on these murders? Curious… As I eavesdropped some more, I found myself in a bit of a situation as she suddenly hushed him as he tried to protest again. She must have heard me, for she told him that somebody was at the door, listening. The man enquired if she was sure, there was a rush of air and then silence.

- You might as well come in, whoever you are!

Caught red-handed, I had little choice but to comply, pushing the door only to have the man lift up something that suddenly dulled all my senses and petrified me. Even breathing was difficult as I fought the urge and the push whatever he had in his hands were causing to me. I tried to tell him I meant no harm as he asked for my identity, mocking me by calling me a vampire as well as my attempt to persuade him of my good intentions. He demanded again and I pleaded to him. All I needed was a word… With anyone!

He slowly made his way to his desk, sat and then finally proceeded to put down the item which turned out to be a cross. The man’s behaviour seemed to completely change as he told me that he could do just that for me as I was left wheezing, trying to regain proper breathing. He pointed to the chair in front of him, and, to appear as docile as I could to avoid him using the object on me again, made way to the chair before sitting down.

He asked me who I was again, but after that little confrontation I was left a little unnerved. He could present himself first… He dodged my question with another one, asking what I wanted and then promising he’d tell me after I answered him. That was none of his concern! His arguments were strong and made to prove me otherwise; I had entered his room in the middle of the night, pale as a corpse and shaking like a tree… He wanted me to indulge him. Very well... So I did! I decided to let him know that something, or someone, was molesting people, biting them, killing them. Apparently that was the calling card of a vampire, like me. He must have been joking. Vampires?! Was I going to sprout wings and magically vanish into thin air like Stoker’s book described?! Hm… I did seem to be capable of the latter, but I was a victim, too! I had been hunted down like a rabid animal in the streets and attacked. He seemed compassionate and his face softened under thick glasses. He believed me and I had to struggle to keep composure under the relief it brought me.

I was finally able to inquire about who or what he was. Apparently his name was Edgar Swansea and he was also from the “Brotherhood of Saint-Paul” investigating the cases of murder in this area to understand precisely what was going on. Although this was all very intriguing, I had to know who was the lady I had heard talk with him. It was not all that surprising that he denied anything had happened and tried to make me believe that I imagined all of this. Something told me not to trust him, from which he told me he felt just the same. Only slightly amused by all of this, I chose to divert my line of questioning elsewhere. Inquiring about his own knowledge of what had happened in the vicinity, to which he gladly answered all he knew, or so I thought;

It had all started a few nights ago with the rumors of violent murders, which, not to his shame, he admitted was not that surprising. The docks were unsavory at best and everyone knew not to go there, for crooks and muggers were abundant in these parts. But this was different, for he, when asked how, claimed that a vampire was at work here. It was Famished, reckless even, and by Swansea’s look as he declared that it had to be put down and quickly, I knew this was no joking matter. Vampires… real. This was… Not quite what I expected, but at least it served to ease the tension on my nerves, if only for a little while. I tried to interrogate him on this intriguing “Brotherhood”, but he dodged the question, waving it off as there were more pressing matters to him.

- Then help me find the culprit!

- I may… If you first tell me why you opened this door.

I saw no use in lying to him, so I told him the truth. I had followed a trail of blood from a recent victim and it had led me here. I could see his eyes widen as it finally dawned on him. Yes, I had thought that he could have been my aggressor and it seemed to explain a great deal to him. We were chasing the same shadow… Of this, I was unsure. This was all still so new to me! How would I be certain of what I was looking for? My mind was still a labyrinth of jumbled thoughts from where I sometimes had issues recollecting things.

- You should let me handle this affair. You’ve no idea what you’re up against.

- No! I will find the monster. He is mine!

- How will you do any better than I? But then let me ask you this: what are your intentions if you find the killer?

- I’ll end him.

Swansea’s frown deepened at my words, his features harsh as he glared at me, for the darkness that dripped from my very own tone had been quite surprising, even to me. He had heard it too, obviously… He wished me good hunting and he prayed so we could meet again before dismissing me. I did not know exactly what made me say this. My nerves were shot, that must have been it. I got up from the chair, a lot more steady on my legs then when I entered the room, and left without any more words.

If Swansea was no my attacker, then it meant that someone else came here tonight… Someone had to know something. Perhaps Tom would tell? But then again he only told me about one visitor, which had wasted precious time. Although learning to avoid religious signs was helpful, it was not what I came here for! I scanned the main floor as I walked down the stairs, noting a highly inebriated fellow and the waitress that seemed to want to keep a low profile. Better not bother her too quickly… I tried to converse with the man who seemed quite amused by my current dishevelled look. He was rather pessimistic, affirming to me that things could only get worse before I tried questioning him. As feared, he was too busy drowning whatever was afflicting him to have noticed anything helpful. The most I got out of him was rambling about civil rights and some sewer dog. A folks tale that tried to explain the murders on the docks. Lovely. I decided to leave the man, whose name I found was Dyson Delaney. But something he said really stuck with me, the omen of it giving me shivers… He claimed that people would always believe in monsters, as it was better than to accept their own darkness. We could all be monsters… Suppressing a grimace, I walked away to finally greet the only woman here, besides the one that spoke to Swansea and vanished out of thin air…

As I approached her she seemed to become stressed, I could hear her heart rate growing, which made it a little trickier to talk to her, but I managed. I paid no mind to the fact that she offered me a long-suffering sigh, as if I was bothering her from some important experiment, so I started questioning her on simple matters to try to put her at ease. She tried to evade the conversation by trying to convince me that Mister Delaney needed her. I raised an eyebrow at that, seeing as he was well occupied by the beer in his hands and tried again, this time asking her what was going on. Apparently a series of murders along an epidemic was the best solution to keep people indoors at night. The Spanish Flu… So it had come back after all and with a vengeance. One more thing to take care of, why not! It was not as if I already had a lot of things on my plate… Quarantine zones are multiplying, which meant that I could possibly fall upon these Priwen fellows at any street corners… Not good news, indeed.

Disgruntled after discovering the enormity of the task ahead of me, whatever it would be, I decided to go straight to the point. I needed the truth. She tried to play coy, but I had more than enough of these games and she could probably see it as I strained to be at least polite whilst speaking to her.

- I spoke to Doctor Swansea. He's not the man I’m looking for. Now. I want the truth!

- The truth? W-what do you mean?

The stutter gave her away and she knew it. I told her about my suspicions; that there had been someone else, but that Tom deliberately forgot to mention it. She tried to be loyal, but I could feel her fear. I attempted to reason with her and she finally seemed to soften as she sighed.

- It’s… Will. William Bishop? He came in earlier tonight and he… Well, I thought he was gonna clock someone!

She was sincere, so I dared to ask why she was afraid, which lead her to tell me what had happened. Apparently, Mister Bishop was terribly drunk, per usual, but there was something… odd about him and his behavior. He had caught something that had deteriorated the state of his skin and sickened him as he came in wailing like a mad man. She had scrubbed every surface he touched to make sure nothing remained if he were to be contagious. I tried to get her to talk a bit more about William. Who was that man? A sailor, before having to work at the canning factory to then finally lose that job too. The man fell prey to the bottle in which he drowned despair and sorrow. His behavior had changed from a nice man to a violent and lunatic one in an unforeseen turn of events. But that did not explain why Tom kept it a secret… It was then that she told me that Tom and William used to be quite good friends. Tom was loyal, but if my suspicions were to be correct, his loyalty would be proven to have been misplaced. I thanked her for her candour and then headed to the bar to talk to the owner of this place.

I gave Tom one more chance at giving me the truth, but he seemed adamant on the fact that I was the only other stranger he had. Of course, stranger. That was the keyword wasn’t it? I locked eyes with the man and frowned deeply as he looked almost smugly, waiting for my reaction.

- Tom… Talk to me about the visit from your old friend, William.

- Yes, Will came by tonight... But he is not my friend anymore.

I was shocked by the power I felt behind the words I spoke, seeing Tom’s eyes glazing over as if he was in some sort of trance, compelled to answer me. Intriguing… I asked him why he lied, but he denied doing anything of the sort as I had enquired about strangers. Smart man… So I asked him to tell me about William, then where I could find him. He was sicker than usual, whined about how mean people were to him before trying to attract Tom outside for some odd reason, but couldn’t so he left for his boat, which was not far from here. Now to look for a tall, sick man with torn up clothes and a bad rash… It should be easy enough.

- If you end up seeing him, tell him I don’t want him back here unless he cleans up his act, okay?

I neither agreed nor declined as I left for the north pier, from which a strong smell of blood welcomed me. I would get to the bottom of this intrigue… Of what's been done to me. To this city. No matter the cost. It was with little surprise that I found yet another corpse to greet me, although this time it was in a much worse state than the previous ones. I approached the small and simple boat, looking for some clues that would lead me to the one I was pursuing.

Critical thinking only. The body was still warm, as if it had just been drained of blood. I took a closer look at the victim, noticing the gun in his hands and the way the body was positioned. He was armed, probably tried to defend himself, if i was to believe all the claw marks that covered his body. Just like the previous victim, I could see that there was not a single drop of blood left in his body and, as I went to investigate him more closely, something caught the corner of my eye. A note? I picked it up. It was most definitely handwritten by a certain G. McCullum who was ordering more patrols around the Docks. Priwen… These men were a company of professional vampire hunters? Preposterous… But, then again, my current condition in itself was as absurd as this.

As I kept looking around, I found many empty bottles of gin littering the boat. Blood and gin bottles… This Bishop fellow was something of a heavy drinker. That was all the hints I could find here, I feared. Moving away from the craft, I looked around, then did so with my new vision, focusing on trying to spot where William could have gone. It took me a moment but… There! On that barge on the other side of the canal! Blood. Which meant that this could be where he headed after trying to lure Mister Watts outside the pub. I had to reach that barge, but how? Perhaps with the jump, although it looked a little farther than what I had attempted earlier. But I had to try it. I walked towards the edge of the pier and almost immediately found myself on the other side. Well, that proved easier than expected! After all, I always had been quite the quick-learner.

Moving forwards, I ended up inside an old warehouse that seemed mostly abandoned. Or at least that was what I thought before I suddenly heard something break. As if somebody had dropped a glass, or a vial. Looking through boarded-up windows, I was very displeased with what I saw foraging inside a box of some sort. Priwen. Anger stirred deep in my guts, mixed with something dark as I used the ungodly amount of noise the man was making to sneak up on him. No, I would never end up like the creature from my dreams, but these men, at least, deserved no pity from me.

I made little work of the man and was not ashamed to admit that it felt right as my fangs pierced his flesh to drain him, quenching the thirst that never seemed to vanish entirely. So it was unending? Would I always crave blood in such a way? So many questions still lingered! I could only hope to find some answers as I got my hands on this vampire who left a heavy count of bodies behind. No… Most of these bodies were probably from these vampire hunters, embuscading poor folks that were too sick to defend themselves. Setting these thoughts aside, I chose to have a look at what this man was scavenging so hastily through. Ammunition crate! Good, I might be in need of a lot of bullets. It felt as if I was back on the front line again… Screams of the dying, cries and the coward nemesis that butchered the weak. But I was alone in all of this. At least, for now…

- I’m cold! It’s awful here! Let’s head back to the warm fire.

- Shut that foolish mouth o’ yours! You ever known McCullum to be wrong ‘bout anything?

That name again… I would rather not meet the man just yet, as he proved fearful to even these brutes that tried to attack me on sight. The one warned by the big oaf stood no chance. His name was Billy. What a joke. Although I had a little more problems with the bigger man, he too proved no match for me. I kept going. I had to get to the bottom of this and these people would not keep me from the answers I sought!

- That’s this nest cleared out...

The voice came from yet another warehouse on my left, the only path I could take. Well, I supposed I was to clean the streets of this filth tonight. Very well… I made my way through, taking down two, before having to shadow-jump to the last one. As I dropped the gunslinger’s corpse, the realisation of what I was doing suddenly dawned on me. I was becoming a mad animal, just like them! Even though they could not be reasoned with, I should not be butchering them like this. Nor enjoying doing it! Shivering, I looked around as the bloodlust faded to leave a dull ache in my guts, my gaze soon falling on the corpse of a man slouched against a pillar. This kill was not my doing and he seemed to be holding something. More information? Perhaps… I made my way to him, mindful of where I stepped to avoid the mangled carcasses placed in a burning pile in the middle of the room, and snatched yet another note from this peculiar McCullum character.

Details on how one should hunt vampires. Intriguing. So this man figured out that the best way to hunt them was to face them head on rather than trying to find their lair. I should definitely be more careful on my whereabouts, especially now that I knew that this McCullum fellow was the Priwen leader. I pocketed the note, frowning as my future only kept on getting worse. Faith had to hate me for this to keep happening… Shaking my head as I left the warehouse, I looked around for any hints that would tell me where to go, ending up using this special vision of mine as colors proved distracting. There. A massive pool of blood right at the exit, trailing past another pool of blood with rats crawling around. I looked at these tiny vessels of blood running around, stepping forward and grabbing one without truly thinking. It squeaked and tried to bite my hand and I felt the urge to bite back, to sink my teeth into its tiny body and-... My God! I had to keep these urges in check and swiftly! I dropped the rodent, disgusted at myself, before my eyes caught a flickering light above. Hm… So these rats roamed around possible hideouts?

I had to test that theory. The night was young and with my new abilities, Mister Bishop would not be going anywhere I could not find him. I shadow-jumped to the balcony, opening the door that confirmed at least this hypothesis. There was another body. A poor soul that probably never made it out in time. I looked around a little bit, finding metal plates, springs and five shillings, before deciding that I had taken enough time snooping around. I had to find William to hopefully get answers. On this thought I exited the home, letting myself fall to the ground before following the blood trail with the best of my abilities.

Hm… It seemed to lead back to the Docks through a boat warehouse. As I entered it, the smell of fresh blood overwhelmed my senses. The whole building reeked of it! Smell so strong it made me dizzy. I stepped forward, trying to shake the desires and urges that tried to surface as a glowing light caught my attention. No, wait… There was two, but the second was dimer, crouched over the other vessel. The urgency I felt made me lose focus as I started walking more rapidly, trying to find entry.

- Oh dear God. Not again. William, please stop…

- Just a sip. I promise! You are my dearest friend. You’re my last and dearest friend

What was happening in there? I had better find out before something dire happened to the other man. The poor soul was begging for William to stop, but I feared the man was too far gone. There was a scythe stabbed in the wall as I made my way to the men. I grabbed it. It would prove useful, should that vampire not prove friendly. The place I soon entered through a closed gate smelled of bloodshed. There were human remains everywhere! This Bishop fellow was definitely mad and had to be brought down. I could see them both now, one crouched over the other form that was sprawled against the railing near the water.

As soon as I stepped further into the room, William turned towards me, screeching. This creature was bedeviled. I had to put an end to its misery! It took a lot to keep myself from snarling back at him. No, I would not act like this thing! I would remain focused and alert. No more fooling around, it meant business as it lunged at me. As if I was back in France, only me and the enemy. Dodging, waiting for the right opportunity to strike and then more dodging. It was hectic, swinging madly at me with mangled talons before trying to jump me, biting my arm and tearing part of my flesh before I could push him off. That hurt, but only for a moment before the wounds started healing quickly. The battle possibly only lasted a moment or two, a clear mind superior to that of a sickened beast. I had no time to examine the corpse, the other man seemed distressed.

- William was an honorable man… I could have saved him.

- Mister Hampton, are you in there?

Somehow I knew that this was his name, yet he did not seem to notice me as he was preaching uselessly. He was in quite a state of shock…

- Sir! Listen to the sound of my voice. I am-... I am a doctor. You’re suffering from shock!

He kept preaching, praying so he could return to his flock. Screeching startled me as William seemed to have raised again, ready to strike me down like the fool I was to turn my back to danger. I was ready to die to keep this man safe, before being saved by an angel. A red-haired angel.

- Remember, certain skals are every bits as resistant as we are.

- Who are you? What do you mean by… Skals?

- You truly are a newborn! I should have realized.

I was confused by her. Who was she? Why was she smiling and looking at me with an amused look to her green eyes? She turned to leave, then some things finally clicked.

- Wait… Y-you are the woman from the bar! Are you… Like me? Can you help me?

- I believe, sir, I already have!

And with this she vanished in a trail of dark smoke, leaving me baffled and confused. I stood there, watching the top of the broken staircase from where I believed she had vanished, her amused tone lingering in my mind as I finally turned to tend to mister Hampton. I helped him up. We needed to get out of there and quickly. He was wounded, delirious and if I had to fend off another of these skals, I was not sure if-...

- By George and the Saints! You’ve solved the mysteries of these terrible murders.

The voice cut through my thoughts, echoing in the empty warehouse as it mixed with the growling of an engine. What was Swansea doing here, all of a sudden?

- Patience, good fellows! I’ve come to offer help. Just give me a moment to secure my boat and we can leave this awful place…

Well, I was not going to refuse any help. Especially from a doctor such as him. He could probably take care of Hampton better than I could…

- William was not the evil man they claimed. He was just taken by the thirst... He needed his drink!

- This man requires medical attention. We’ll see he gets to the nearest hospital.

So it appeared Swansea had somehow read my thoughts. I handed him the poor man that started pleading for his flock and wanting to return to them.

- There, sir. Go with the good doctor Swansea. He’s resourceful and I’m sure he’ll take good care of you.

- You’d best come as well! The sun is soon to rise and you’ll need a place to rest.

- I just need a moment. If I can learn something about what has happened to William, I’ll be a step closer to understanding what happened to me.

On these words I went back to the corpse. The woman had done a number on him, as a gaping hole now adorned his chest. I knelt down, grabbing the vial I had gotten the day before to take some blood samples before finally taking a look at him. This poor creature could not be my maker. Perhaps it was some kind of sub-species of vampires? Surely Swansea had more answers, but for now I would go with him. I had to find someplace to analyze the blood... I went back to the boat from where the doctor greeted me with a small smile under thick glasses. It was at this exact moment that I realized that I never took the time to take any good looks at anyone I encountered. Besides the lady, of course… The man was rather old for a practitioner, probably in his mid forties if I took into account the streaks of grey in his dark brown hair. I could not help but notice that he was also a little well padded, which meant that he probably never did exercise much or kept it at a strict minimum. Why was I making such deductions on a man I barely knew?.. Mister Swansea cleared his throat, making me notice that I had been just standing there the whole time and staring rudely for what felt like quite some time. He motioned me to get in, so I did, out of politeness and also for the promise of shelter.

I sat opposite to Swansea, facing mister Hampton who looked severely out of it. I looked him over, slightly worried about this kind man, before the steamboat started backing into the canal. At the silence that fell as the wind chased the smell of blood with that of smoke and cold, I felt uneasy and could not help but strike a conversation with the man. Or at least attempt to.

- Where are we headed?

- We’re on our way to the Pembroke Hospital; it’s just across the canal. They’ll have a bed for the poor mister Hampton.

- William was… What manner of creature was he?

This felt like I had the opportunity to ask him some questions, as he seemed more pliant. I had to seize this chance, so I did, and was rewarded by answers. Finally, some answers!

- Predator, prey, villain and victim. Who can say? The important thing is that he has been stopped!

- Duly noted. And the woman? What… Who is she?

- W-what woman?

- Oh, don’t play me for a fool… You used me to locate that skal. You must know who she is.

On this subject, he proved adamant yet again, reproaching me of not being very gentleman-like but at least letting me know the lady valued her privacy. I chose not to delve further on the matter as it seemed he would not tell me anything else about her and I did not feel that pressing it would be of any good. Huffing only slightly, I gazed upon the canal for a moment before Swansea spoke again.

- Were London as peaceful as she appears from the middle of the canal. If only that were the reality of the situation.

- To be honest, I’ve always tried to avoid this part of town...

- Pembroke Hospital is the last bastion between the rest of London and the epidemic. The flu has decimated the East End and the war still rages. Welcome to the front lines of a plague!

- This is where you work, Doctor Swansea?

- I am the administrator of Pembroke Hospital.

Squinting, I could not help myself but to point out what he had first told me: he had been there in service of that mysterious order of his. The Brotherhood of…

- Of Saint-Paul’s Stole, yes. But, first and foremost, I’m a man of science. A physician like yourself, Doctor Reid.

How did he know who I was? I sputtered, confusion and perhaps a slight bit of fear possibly as clear as crystal in my voice. Swansea smiled, telling me there was no need for modesty as I was, in fact, quite renowned for my work on blood transfusions and surgeries. There was no use lying to the man, so I simply told him that his assumptions were correct. His eyes lit up with something I could not quite decypher as he expressed to me how his suspicions were confirmed as I sampled blood from the corpse of the poor William. He seemed fascinated for a moment, expressing how marvelous it was to meet me, or at least something like that. Suddenly, looking at him, I felt like I knew the man, but could not quite place the feeling…

- Have we met?

- I attended three of your seminars before the war. I have the utmost admiration for your research. And what a turn of fate! England’s most esteemed blood specialist returns to London a vampire!

I groaned at the word before I could even fathom keeping the sound in. That word again! From a so-called man of science, to top it off! He laughed and assured me that the role of science was indeed to refute myth, but when myth walked among us, as I so vividly was proof? Apparently the Brotherhood of Saint-Paul’s Stole had dedicated its purpose to the study of such anomalies. Intriguing, that I could not deny, especially as he claimed that there was still so much for me to learn. That could not have rang more true than it did. Suddenly, he became more serious, halting the boat and leaning in towards me until his elbows rested on his knees, a very serious look on his face.

- Well. Then let me be blunt. Join my staff at the Pembroke Hospital. As a physician! I suspect you’ll not find a better post of employment to contemplate your… predicament.

- This. Is. Sudden. I was returning home to see my sickly mother. But, alas, that was before contracting this… affliction.

- Doctor Reid… Take a moment to consider. The post would be for the night shift, providing a good explanation for your absence during daylight hours. You’ll be adequately reimbursed and have a place to hide. I even had the forethought to bring you some clean clothes! So… What do you say?

I looked at him again, taking my time, this once. He looked and seemed honest with his demand and the gains outweighed the risks. Or, at the very least, that was what it appeared as, while he gingerly awaited my answer. I sighed before looking ahead, filling up my chest in a moderate attempt at pride, before accepting his offer. Swansea was beaming, taking my hand before shaking it vigorously. Promising this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and, for once, I could see a flicker hope in the distance. In the shape of a massive hospital, as Swansea steered the boat forward. As he did this, I hurried over to the trunk near the back, careful as this floor was much less stable than the warehouse we had left, and fished out a new chemise, trousers and even a nice overcoat that was long enough to hang loosely around my calf. A feat in itself to find clothes that fit my tall frame, it was another to find that even the shoes were the right size. This man truly was looking forward to meeting me. By the time I was done dressing myself and discarding the ruined garments, we had arrived to our destination, greeted by a woman with a charming accent, the likes of which I had rarely heard.

- Doctor Swansea, thank goodness! I was beginning to be concerned.

- Worry no more, Nurse Crane, for I bring good news!

Even at the back of the small steamboat I could see the dried blood on the hands and uniform of this nurse as she started briefing Swansea on what had happened today. Two patients, dead, and one resignation from a certain nurse Scow. Oddly enough to me, my newfound friend simply waved it all off and promised to make the necessary arrangements as he got out. He smiled and presented me to her as I tried to exit the small craft, fitting the coat around my neck, while he also handed her mister Hampton and told her to find him a nice bed. He helped me getting out, of course, not letting go of my hand as he praised the nurse that had barely acknowledged me as she made her way towards the staircase separating this sidewalk from the hospital. I listened to him as he babbled while still shaking my hand, urging me to ask miss Crane any questions I had.

- Duly noted. Thank you, Edgar.

- Your assistance is required Doctor Swansea, immediately!

- Welcome aboard, Jonathan! We’ll catch up after my rounds. Coming, Nurse Crane! I’m coming!

Blinking as Edgar finally let go of me to go help the poor mister Hampton that seemed so out of it, I stared at the man. That made me wonder if he had paid any attention to our conversation, but he probably was too detached from the situation to notice us trying to move him around in the first place. I tried to walk past the trio, but it was clear that this way up was closed. Hm… Perhaps there was a way around?

I went forward, hoping to find another way up before it suddenly hit me. Stumbling under the craving that crashed upon me with such force that I almost lost footing, I looked around to see what caused all of this, panting as my gums ached for my teeth to release. Everything was red, there was a commotion, two glowing vessels, then only one as the other vanished. I couldn’t grasp what the voice was saying, only the pained groans as the light dimed ever so slightly.

- Rotten or pristine, each heart contains the seeds of life! Drink at this river. Dry it all!

The voice… The one I had heard after… After what? God! I could not even remember. All I could do was walk towards the light, the slowing heartbeat being the only sound I could focus on. The sweetest and enticing song of it all… As I neared, something else seemed to take over, something… Dark. Powerful. Something that knew better than I what it was that needed doing.

- Oh, come on, ya bastard! I won’t bite!

- Sir, please? You’ve lost too much blood. Calm yourself.

- You think I didn’t notice? Stop your staring and get me to the hospital, you arse!

Anger flared deep inside my chest at the words and I had trouble stifling the growl that wanted to come out. My voice, however, was dripping with venom and unhidden threats.

- Insult me again and I’ll put an end to your misery right now.

- All right, all right, sorry. I’m in pain ‘ere! Me guts are spilling out on to the street and you’re jabbering on!

The wounds on him were indeed nasty. How I was able to make such observations was beyond me, but the man remained where he was. Hoping. I assured to him that he was in good hands with me, a doctor after all. He seemed to calm down a little more with this simple talk and the knowledge of my name.

- Urgh… Name’s Clay Cox. Now, I’d appreciate you helping me to a better place , Doc.

- Follow me, Mister Cox. Let me assist you to that better place.

I could not help but grin at the vicious joy that this unfortunate play on words that this man had just done brought to me. Right before gripping his head, locking eyes with him and beckoning to him with some powerful trick of the mind.

Come with me...

His eyes glazed over and I felt some of my power connect me to him, rending me able to guide him wherever I pleased. To do whatever I pleased.

- Bring this fading light into the shadows; dance with him the dance of light and death.

The voice again. Beckoning. I saw no reason not to obey and neither did whatever force it was that had me and Clay so entranced. I watched him limply turn his back to me, ready to be guided along before I started moving, only to stop in a small alcove that must be serving as some kind of stocking space for the hospital. There, shadows were thick, even with the small lanterns and, most importantly, I felt it was away from prying eyes. I looked at the man whose body was gently waving under the spell that he was held under. Hunger consumed me and I had little want to resist the red song that this heartbeat was tempting me with.

It was too much, my body ached for this light as I gripped his head, baring his throat to my sight before I felt my fangs suddenly sprout from my gums. I shook as I anticipated the rush this all would bring me, the feeling of bliss and relief that would empower me. I bared my teeth, growling.

And then I struck.