“By the name of Baktu, if you bunch of hellions don’t get ready I’ll tell your parents you died years ago!” Nurse Agatha, the head of the Abbey, storms down the Virin corridor. Only twelve hands tall and still more imposing than any of the young that tower over her.
Looking out of the window Malcolm Lanker throws his head back laughing, “that old bat, we can’t be less than half a day from the gates, and with those clouds in the sky we might be lucky to make it before the moon rises.” He stretches pompously, allowing the meager morning sun to bathe across his bare chest. He looks over at his roommate lying in bed with a pillow over his face. Childishly Malcolm tosses the book he had been reading at the others feet.
“She’s old, half-day left, more if it rains,” Niander says without removing the pillow. “And if that’s my copy of Devils in the Dirt I’ll beat you and still make you buy me another book.”
“Yeah, yeah. If you didn’t have so many damn books we might not have been able to sneak so much Dragon’s Blood wine.” Malcolm moves quickly to the door and shuts it. As he locks it Niander sits up and opens the dresser next to his bed and pulls out two copper cups.
“Did we finish the one in Owls Overhead? Of course we did,” Malcolm says holding up an empty book. He smiles gleefully when he shakes another. “Flowers Fools still has a cup each.”
“Pass it over, the horses are cantering rough and you spill.” Niander takes the book, sighs a quick prayer of forgiveness, and tears a tab away from the spine. The opening is just big enough to allow the crimson liquid to pour freely and accurately, and as Malcolm had predicted, just enough for two cups.
The two friends toast to pretty girls and ugly fights, the only type of toast young men know. They walk towards the window of their caravan. Malcolm returns to his seat, Niander leans against the wall and casts a wanton glance to the enormous caravan a few paces behind theirs. Like his, the girls caravan is five stories tall and roughly half that wide. It holds a total of ten rooms and a good sized hall on each floor. The only difference between the two is that the girls have curtains, sadly.
“I’ve been peeking since I woke up.” Malcolm says, lips perched on the edge of his cup, “You’d think with a corner room at the fifth level we’d be silky, but I think their curtains are enchanted. I swear I snuck up on the window and saw one draw itself.”
“Yeah, but it only makes us want it more. You think they can see us?”
“Why they hell do you think I have my shirt off, for your benefit?”
“I wont say I wasn’t flattered at the thought…”
Malcolm chokes on his wine, “blast you to Berial, I am nothing like Florian. He is much to… what’s the word?”
“To Berial with you, may Bar’hural feast on your insides.”
“I’m glad to see Devils in the Dirt is sinking into that thick troll skull.”
“You know, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I was just about to start Dominon De’laurey, but the book is way over there and your voice is better for storytelling than the one in my troll skull,” Malcolm says in a flattering tone.
Sighing out loud and smiling quietly Niander nods at the door. Malcolm drains his cup, tosses it at his friend and runs for the rest of their group. Niander wipes the empty cups before returning them to his dresser. By the time he gets back to the window, and gives another fruitless glance at the girls caravan, Malcolm has returned with four more young men. Malcolm, with his thin and sharp noble features, his father the Lord of StarFell, couldn’t be any more different than the others. Troy Swift has a face like a squashed toad, and the body of a bloated one, his father is a politician. Gregory Gold looks sickly with his pallid skin, sunken and dark eyes and the wispy facial hair of a man one hundred years his senior, his father a banker. Londo Dalhut is thuggish and witless, his father owns half the taverns in Weeping Valley. Michael Stepp, Small for his age with a soft boyish face, both his parents are, like Niander’s father, in the Fell Army.
“Oy, N’ander you been able to see the girls ye’?” Londo asks making his way to the window. “Yu’d think wi yer room yu’d be plastered to a sticky window all nigh’, wun’dya.”
“Honestly man, how the hell do you take up an accent like that?” Malcolm says, pushing him away and having a look himself.
“Ain’ no accen’, jus’ knocked me head when I was two.”
“Hmmm, that was the rumor wasn’t it” Gregory says pulling the last chair in the room towards the far wall. “I thought it was because the older boys experimented on you.”
“Shu’ yer face Greg the Dredger, I heard you liked to clean up after a couples had their fun.” Londo winks knowingly at Michael who shuts the door and turns bright pink at the dirty implications.
“Ladies, I think we came here to listen to a story not involving either of you,” Troy croaks importantly, “meaning it is actually worth listening to.”
“Niander, why did we ever bother with these foolish children?”
“Same reason I bother with you. Charity is the best way to make it in the afterlife.” The six young men laugh. “So, little Lord Lanker wanted me to tell the tale of Dominon De’laurey the Devilish Digger of Durial.” The others clapped and cheered, “ well the story begins with Dominon digging a grave for a peasant who died of the Dirician plague. See half a life ago, Dominon dug for pleasure but the cemetery priest thought it would favor the gods of the time to pay the dim Dominon to dig for a righteous cause rather than for the sin that is pleasure. Dominon of course thought it was delightful to dig for two copper a week and a bed to where he could comfortably sleep.”
Now, at the beginning of scalar, when the flowers bloomed and the wind smelled sweet, surrounded by bumbling bees and white winged moths, Dominon dug. During these blue sky days he dug and thought. Thought and dug. He thought of things that could have only been important to him. Things like what held the sun up in the sky, how did the moon know when to come up, and did I just kill an earthworm with the spade or does it now have a new friend. Sometimes, his thoughts would wander up to the body next to the still too shallow grave. Being a dim digger, Dominon never thought to ask the priest how the poor souls had died. No, he much rather think this problem through.
When looking at the body did not help he would try his hardest to remember the poisons the priest would pray the gods would banish from the world. But the names were too hard to remember. So he would move his thoughts to more beastly conclusions. Maybe the person died from choking on a chicken bone. Dominon could attest to the dangers of eating. Had the priest not been there on a few occasion, Dominon would have fallen victim to many a bone. Or maybe the person angered the gods. At bedtime the priest would recant stories of angry gods raining terror from the heavens. One god, Fintri the Golden, would cloak himself in the shadows of young women and impregnate them with hellish abominations that would squirt out of them during their passion fever. Then the abominations would attack and kill the lovers before bursting and leaving a thick telltale haze to linger around the bodies.”
After this particular story, Dominon did not chance a gaze at any of the dead for nearly a season. But today he chanced a peek before he started digging. He had seen plague victims before, but never one so young and beautiful. The priest had always said the plague takes the wicked, but this young lamb could not have done anything more wicked than staying up late to pray by moonlight. Even dim Dominon new well enough not to curse the gods, no matter how much they deserved it.
The grave was dug and Dominion pulled himself out, dusting off he readied himself for the lowering of the corpse. Though years of digging gave this not so young man strength of body, he still felt an immense discomfort when handling the dead. Dominon bent low, giving her sheet a tug to better cover her. A breeze kicked up, taking some of the sheet with it and uncovering the body. Dominon jumped at the sight of her paper white thigh. Or rather at the sight of the Fire Beetles crawling up and down her thigh. Fearing the retribution of Ka’arel, the child god for the young, Dominon did his duty and swatted the dastardly beetles away from the young girl.
“How dare you defile that young woman!” screeched the old cemetery priest. “Demon, Devil and demon still. Dominon I call the god Ka’arel to remove your name from existence.”
Dominon fumbles to his feet. “Father, no I was swatting away the beetles!”
The priest, breathing heavy as he climbs the small hill grunts, “how dare you lie to a man of the gods. I know you were defiling her withering flower” he licks his lips looking at the dead girls pale skin.
Dominon recoils as the mad priest lifts a spade and whacks him with it. He cries out for mercy and receives none. The priest’s anger build and mixes with the thought of the young girls body. He froths with a passion the gods have deemed sin, he wallows in it. When Dominon falls the priest lifts the spade high in the air, it gleams with the horror mirrored in the old man’s eyes.
Then the sky turns dark. The wind whispers the name of the child god. Dominon roars with a fire not not known to him. And the priest falls dead into the grave, dead, savaged and broken beyond recognition. Dim Dominon diverts his gaze from the dead priest only to have it fall to his blood drenched and broken hands. He weeps. He wails. He suffocates on the thought of what he just did, what he did to a man of the gods. To the man who took him and gave him love.
“Don’t you dare feel for that man.” A whisper that would have gone unnoticed had Dominon not been at a loss for breath. The young girl, wrapped in her death rag, lays a delicate hand on his broken fists. “He killed me.”
“He may as well have,” She whispered. “My father beat and abused me, and this man absolved him every Twenty-fourth day. Now I am left to walk this earth with every other broken child.”
“I am sorry.”
“Do not feel for me, feel for all of the fathers you will brake in my name and in the name of Ka’arel. Dominon, Devil of Durial.”
The room erupts with cheers, only Michael stays quiet buried under Malcolm’s blankets. Troy walked over to Niander and clapps a fat sweaty hand on his shoulder, shaking his head as though not able to believe the brilliance of his friend.
“You all act as if I created the tale, I’ve only passed it on.” Niander says with a convincing humble air, though secretly rather pleased with himself.
“And this boys, is why our young Niander gets all the attention from the Caravan behind us.” Malcolm says shooing Michael off his bed and dropping onto it heavily. “Shall we have a drink?”
There is a collective grunt of agreement, even shy Michael licks his lips and locks the door. Cups and books are passed around and another toast to pretty girl is gives sound. And then the young men return to a weeks long conversation.
“What do you think we’ll have to do once we get to Weeping Valley?” Michael asks.
They all go quiet, each one remembering their favorite story of graduates past. Some say they had to fight a Death Mother, a monster of legendary savagery. Others talked of having to fight each other in a bloody vie for for a spot to be part of the society. And some told, in whispers, of being dragged into the bowels of the Monastery and forced to endure the darkest of trials. All of these stories share one commonality, only the strongest are allowed to carry on the traditions and take the ranks of the Vampire race.
“I hope we get to kill each other.” Malcolm says, draining his cup.
“Why?” Michael asks, not able to mask the fear in his voice.
“If we can’t off our own, what makes you think we are worthy of joining the Fell and demolishing the cretins that seek our end?”
After another pregnant silence, Niander murmurers into his cup, “I would not expect any of you to let friendships stop you from taking my life.”
“Here, here!” Troy croaks.
“Never crossed my mind.” Gregory breaths.
“Ne’er me,” Londo whispers.
“I would never.” Michael cries.
Niander and Malcolm look to one another. They both nod as an affirmation to this oath. Then Niander’s eyes wander to the window, and falls off his chair. “The twins you fools!”
The six young men, Niander getting to his feet, run for the window and crowd around. All watching as Ariana and Ariel Pinker laugh and wave out of their own, both wearing slightly transparent lace shirts. They, and other young men lucky enough to have been at their windows whistle and snide. Troy throws open the glass and shouts, “Show us your -”
But with a thunderous clap he is shot clear across the room and into the far wall. The window shuts and the glass goes opaque. From the angry yells all around, so have all the other windows in the caravan. Even as the friends help Troy up, they laugh mercilessly at their friend.
Taking refuge in another cup of wine, Troy waves away their mock-worry and curses them all to Berial. Their conversation turns to what a wonderful sight the twins would have been after a week of travel. Malcolm assures them his waiting will be for not, having already been invited to a dinner party at the Pinker house. Troy of course bleeds jealousy but manages to keep it out of his well wishes. Michael, the only one with legitimate concern for his friend, invites him over for a meal when they all get settled. He retracts his invitation when Londo explains what Malcolm meant by dinner party. More laughter and wine is passed around, while each keeps the upcoming trials close in mind.