The air was tremulous. Breathings and heartbeats were audible and exhilarating to The Elders. They hadn’t been this close to life for too long.
The Sanctuary was cold and hostile to the new-bloods, who were sitting at the rectangular marble table in the middle of the chamber. They were waiting patiently for their validation, a final test to prove themselves. If their souls were worthy for The Elders to take, then their works wouldn’t have gone to waste.
After daybreak, Sharon would never be the same. She was one of the best warriors in the new-bloods but she was still nervous. Their masters could easily detect the humans’ nervous pulses, the different smells of perspiration and arousal. Some of the vampiresses were already impatient, touching their younglings too fondly to the human’s good.
Not Lady Tarja.
She was still. Still as the Sanctuary had been standing for thousands of years; as a sculpture, immovable like the finest stonework, with beauty and poise that reminded Sharon of diamond and granite. Her master was impossible to be even more refined because she was already divine. Lady Tarja’s hair was the blackest night that would reflect a million stars; her skin was smooth and pale as the milky-moon. But Sharon couldn’t promise whether Lady Tarja’s hair was silk or satin, nor that her skin was as velvety like the inviting darkness. Sharon den Adel, who swore to protect their holy union’s lair, a new-blood who had yet to turn fully, was in absolutely no position to think of her master in any way blasphemous, including the way Lady Tarja’s spellbinding greens always seem to shine brighter when she asked for guidance, or the nearly visible upward-twitch of her lady’s blood-red lips that could be perceived as satisfaction when Sharon won, all bruises and cuts after trials of simulated combats.
She was in no place to think if Lady Tarja was particularly fond of her. Sharon tightened her fists on her lap. The Elders expected the best from us. I would not let them down.
Sharon raised her head, and never found the original target to land her gaze.
“You seem contemplative.”
Lady Tarja had transported herself right behind Sharon’s seat. She sounded curious, not dismayed. Sharon inhaled and exhaled. Her lady’s nearer presence calmed and exhilarated her all at once.
Sharon could never get enough of her master’s captivating, lyrical accent; it was feminine and deep—a clean, pleasant tune that always stirred Sharon’s senses even if Tarja wasn’t using her hypotonic super-abilities. Sharon had not dared to ask where or when her master was born, but she had deduced after thousands of years Lady Tarja must have traveled, seen, and learned everything so where she originated wouldn’t matter anymore.
“I am thinking about what I would like to do, if I passed the test.”
“No you are not.” Sharon was glad her own voice didn’t shake, but frightened beyond words of Lady Tarja curt, immediate response. Tarja sounded amused rather than angry. Sharon kicked herself mentally: her master was reading her mind. “But what do you want to do if you should past?”
Lady Tarja moved one centimeter closer. Sharon could tell from the wind-shift and the trail her master’s unique scent, thanks to years of relentless training. The hair on the back of Sharon’s neck stood as she stared ahead. There were no Elders in front of her anymore; every one of them had made their choices upon the restless young-bloods.
And Lady Tarja picked her.
“I want to learn. Everything.”
Sharon meant it. She said those words like her last because they could be; after sunrise if Sharon didn’t past the examination, her fate would be expiration. She would part this world to join a thousand ancestral others. Her soul would unite with The Sanctuary and it would also be an honorable way to go, but Sharon preferred the alternative. She wanted more. Every cell in her lean, shapely body, every scar that marked her skin and every time she struggled in the dirt, were proofs of how desperate she wanted it. Sharon wanted to walk the earth for eternity and she was not afraid of the darkness as long as she had someone like Lady Tarja by her side, to lead to guide and maybe…
To know and to cherish?
“And you shall.”
Sharon jumped to the sudden contact. She turned her head slightly, and saw a feminine hand that had casually laid upon her; on her clothed shoulder Tarja’s fingers were splayed elegantly, adorned with delicate ruby rings that represented every bit of her regalness. Her long nails, painted pitch-black, were not pressing into Sharon’s flesh in any way imposing. Sharon found the pressure of the hand reassuring, and remembered the first time her master spoiled her with touches like this. It was one snowy winter when Sharon had to skip training for a high fever. Lady Tarja paid her a visit when she was on the edge of entering coma; the vampire touched her burning forehead, and passed over words of blessings. Sharon didn’t know whether it was the touch or the blessing that did the work, but she got better the next day after that. She carried that fragment of memory with fondness and gratitude, because it certainly wasn’t the last time Lady Tarja displayed affection.
Sharon knew her Lady’s reply was not only to her literal answer. She was suggesting if Sharon was worthy to be a vampire, the Elder would have much more to offer. There would be chances for connections and companionship, the kind that didn’t have to be secretive.
“I don’t want to fail you.”
Out of the blue, a large dosage of courage infused in Sharon’s heart. She grasped onto her master’s hand and swung her body around, until she could look at Lady Tarja in the eye when she tilted her head up.
The vampiress didn’t flinch. Her expression was perfectly neutral, with the same impassiveness. However, her jade greens shone a different light now, like the colors of her eyes were iridescent and the shades were merging, like the flickering of a fire that had been burning for centuries.
Her hands were soft. So soft that Sharon was afraid to let go. Maybe once she let go, all of the things she knew would crumble to dust.
“You won’t. You shouldn’t be fretful, my child.”
The vampiress slipped her hand gently away from the new blood’s grapple, only to sweep the human’s hair to expose the shy column of Sharon’s neck, all done in a simple, platonic fashion. As soon as the cold air hit the warm skin, Sharon gave an involuntary shiver that elicited an unexpected smile from The Elder. It was a predatory one, the lack of mysterious element making it almost unreal; Sharon had never seen something so pure and true. She could see the laugh-lines and joy on the vampire’s face, and it was when she was struck with realization: her master was still capable of emotions and so many other things. Lady Tarja didn’t lose herself to the darkness; she had maintained to be a human and the bride of the night.
“Are you proud of me? Who I have become and…how I have gotten here, earning the privilege in this sacred place?”
The flames in Tarja’s eyes burned brighter. The room was filled with exchanges of final words, all nonsensical to Sharon and Tarja. Their proximately had been exclusive because Sharon no longer cared about the space around her, only the one that she was sharing with the gorgeous vampire.
“My answer does not matter.” Tarja said quietly, the smile on her face dimming into something solemn, with gaze hardening to wistful ruthlessness. But Sharon still detected warmth from her master even if vampires were cold-blooded, undead beings. “This is a question only you could answer.”
Sharon gulped and inhaled deeply. It was an internal battle of belief, a war she had not always been good at. Fifteen years of preparation had trained her mind into liquid iron; at desperate times, her unyielding will always come in useful. Highly disciplined, Sharon became better at differentiating self-deception and faithful thinking. However, it was still a big difference between what she knew of, and who she was. She wanted tonight to be the last where breathing was required, not conditional. She hoped for a challenging future of power and wisdom. She craved a chance to prove herself and earn a place in time. Was she ready for what she was wishing for?
A gust of heated wind rushed into the frosty room on cue. Lady Tarja’s hair danced in the breeze, and as the first sunlight bled into The Sanctuary, Sharon thought her lady was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. The light tinted the raven-haired vampire in golden excellency. As Lady Tarja leaned in, her hair shimmered with every hue of sublimity.
Sharon tilted her head in obedience, revealing the creamy slope of her neck. She closed her eyes because heaven was too close, and a mere mortal could never stare into the sun.
The bite exploded into a sea of pain and bliss. Sharon didn’t know she was always at the murky pit of sensations, when now the entire world came into existence in their full meaning. The robin singing in the forest. The stream that was flowing in serenity then gathering into a waterfall. The orchids blossoming and withering. The snow falling and the cicadas’ crying.
The blood that was being drained; the energy cycle that was formed. She felt everything.
The consummation was complete. Sharon opened her eyes.
Colors boomed. The people around her weren’t the same. Those who failed to strike a bond had perished to the sun. Sharon could hear the low hum, and feel a tremor left in the air, the evidence of life for whom had just been gone. This was the first suffer for Sharon to take; seeing the comings and goings would be a norm from now on. To reign and to be the Heads of Darkness, Sharon had to sharpen a mind to carry these losses.
One hand on the back of the mahogany chair for support, Sharon stood up shakily. She turned sideways to meet her master’s eyes.
Tarja was right there for her. After taking Sharon’s blood, she was not still any more; she was vibrant and buzzing with an angelic halo. When Sharon reached out to touch Tarja’s face, she didn’t dodge from the tactile, childlike movement. Her skin made the tips of Sharon’s fingers prickle, and she was wrong about how the alabaster surface would feel like. It was not only smooth but electrifying, sending shivers all over Sharon’s newly transformed body.
The smile that climbed onto the corner of The Elder’s lips was passionate in all the vampire’s brilliance, showing her piercing, pearl-white teeth. The kindness and care softened Lady Tarja’s cheekbones and jawline and all the other sharp edges. It was like Tarja was impressed and ecstatic, like she was proud of Sharon.
The newborn vampire smiled along, proud, and stronger than ever.