May the Fourth be with you! Welcome to this week’s update of stories from our writers. Our prompt was:
The color of her blood was the least of my worries.
Today we have three stories to share from this inspiration, with a range of genres: fantasy to romance to horror.
Between an Elf and a Dragon
The color of her blood was the least of my worries, and yet I couldn’t stop myself from yelling, “Why is your blood blue?”
She just shrugged, wiped blue blood from her forehead with the back of one hand, and blocked a blast of dragon fire with the shield on her other arm. “It’s a royalty thing.”
“You’re kidding me!” I protested, ducking another blast of superhot flame. It scorched the tavern wall, and I could feel my hair crackle.
“All right, it’s an elvish royalty thing,” she amended. “Humans just mean it metaphorically. Based on the ones I’ve stabbed.”
I couldn’t tell if she was kidding, and I didn’t like to ask. Besides, I was in the middle of rolling behind an overturned table as the green scaly spat another fireball at us. It set the table ablaze, but that was better than setting me ablaze.
By my count, this made six blasts of fire since we had got into this ill-advised confrontation. The dragon had to be out of flame—they can only manage six shots before they have to eat something to reload. Which would be more reassuring if I didn’t expect the dragon to regard me as fuel.
But it did give us a moment. Ducking away from the burning table had landed me back side-by-side with the blue-bleeding woman, crouched behind the bar. So far, it had proved a little more impervious to flame, but that wouldn’t last long.
An arm’s length away, the rat-like bartender was huddled with his eyes closed, several bottles clutched in his arms, murmuring invocations to various gods. I reached out and plucked the biggest bottle from his unresisting hands, and said to the elvish woman, “On three?”
“Don’t count, just go,” she snapped, and surged up over the bar.
Bottle in one hand, sword in the other, I followed her. As soon as I had a clear line of sight of the dragon in the middle of the torn-apart tavern, I flung the bottle over its head. The dragon reared up to snap at it, providing just enough distraction for just long enough for me to stab its exposed chest. My blade sank in at the same moment that the elvish woman’s sword cut through its neck. In a spurt of golden blood, the dragon’s body collapsed onto the floor.
I surveyed my green tunic in disgust. I was never going to get the bloodstains out.
The elvish woman leaned on her bloody sword, though she wasn’t even breathing hard, and grinned at me. “You’re not half-bad.”
“Back at you,” I said, and would have run a hand through my hair except there was dragon blood on my fingers. I settled for a smoldering smile. Not like I really thought I’d get anywhere with this one, but you know. Habit.
She picked up a hank of torn curtain and began wiping down her sword. “Stop smoldering at me and tell me your name.”
I stopped smoldering. “Lance Shadow,” I said, and sketched a slight bow. “And you?”
“Amaranthae Grezana,” she said, without bowing. “My friends call me Gree. Seeing as we just killed a dragon together, I suppose you can use it too.”
I had only just begun to clean my own sword when the ratty bartender made a reappearance, jumping up from behind the bar and glaring at Gree. “Look at what happened to my tavern! I’ve heard stories about you, and now this—do you know how much it will cost to repair all this damage?”
“Now wait a minute,” I protested. “It’s not her fault that a wizard with a dragonstone decided now was the moment to get careless. You’re lucky we were here to deal with it. It killed the wizard, so no one else could—”
“It wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t here!” the bartender said furiously.
Considering Gree had been sitting by the bar, declining my offer of a drink, when the whole business started, this seemed like complete nonsense. “You can’t just—”
“No, no, he’s right,” Gree interrupted, sheathing her sword. “Things like this tend to happen around me. I ought to know better than to go into taverns, but…” She shrugged again. “Keeps life interesting.” She hoisted up the severed dragon head and gave a nod to the sprawled body. “All those scales are worth plenty, ought to more than cover the damage. We’ll just take the head.”
I might have argued this distribution of property that I felt was half mine, but I make it a policy never to argue with women holding severed dragon heads.
The bartender grumbled but accepted the idea too, and we were soon strolling out into the night.
“I believe there’s one tavern left in this town I haven’t been banned from,” Gree said, dragon head tucked under her arm as we ambled down the moonlit street. “How about another round of drinks?”
“You’re on,” I agreed, and we headed for The Hungry Otter.
It looked a lot like the last place, pre-dragon incident. When the waitress saw the head under Gree’s arm, she found us a table in a back corner, fast.
Once we were settled in with a mug of ale each, I decided there was no point in wasting more time. This wasn’t the kind of woman who’d appreciate my holding information back. “So. I have a confession to make.”
She leaned back in her chair, ale in one hand, and smiled—but it was a more wolfish than inviting smile. “When you offered to buy me a drink earlier, you were hoping to sleep with me?”
“No,” I said, considered, and amended, “Well, yes, but you already knew that, so that wasn’t it.”
“Is it that you’re still hoping to sleep with me?”
I considered that too. Killing a dragon had, if anything, made her more attractive, and she’d been enticing enough to begin with. But it had also put her into the category of possibly too dangerous to attempt. Not that I wouldn’t have said yes if the offer was made. “Sure, but it’s not going to happen, is it?”
She was still smiling. “No.”
“I thought not,” I agreed, took a long swallow of ale, and said, “I wanted to confess I’ve been looking for you. Do you know how big the bounty on your head is?”
She stopped smiling. “I try to keep up, yes. Who sent you?”
“No one specific, I’ve just picked up general word.” I reached into my tunic and pulled out a bundle of rolled parchments. I spread them out on the table. “Let’s see. Your sister wants you alive, 500 gold pieces. Your brother wants you dead, 250 gold pieces. The King of Soswesh wants your head, 300 gold pieces. The Wizard of—”
“You know each one you name gives me one more reason to kill you,” Gree interrupts.
“I know,” I said, and raised my hands in a gesture of surrender. “Notice how I’m telling you, all honest and up front? I’m not trying to capture or kill you. And if it helps, I didn’t know who you were until you started bleeding blue.”
“All right,” she said, tone still wary. “So what do you want?”
I tried my most winning grin. “Do you need a partner?”
“No,” she said, without grinning back.
“Do you want a partner?” I amended. “We made a good team with that dragon—”
“I didn’t need your help.”
“I didn’t need yours either,” I said, without stopping to assess if it was true. “But the fact is, anyone who can make this many people this angry has the potential to earn a lot more than I might get by handing you over to someone. With your skills and my connections—”
“I do not need a partner,” she reiterated. “And you wouldn’t live to hand me over to anyone.”
“All right, but I really don’t think you’re seeing the potential—”
“Haven’t I seen your face before?” a low thunder of a voice announced.
Gree and I both looked up to see a man whose size matched his voice looming over our table. He had an ax on his back, a snaggle-toothed grin, and very large biceps. With all the wanted posters spread out on the table, we wouldn’t get far pretending Gree wasn’t who she was.
She sighed. “So much for a quiet drink,” she said, reaching for the sword by her side.
Before she had it more than halfway out, I rose to my feet. “Good evening, friend, Lance Shadow here, Bounty Hunter Guild member in good standing.” I held up the engraved medallion with the Guild’s symbol on it, hanging from the cord around my neck. “Didn’t I see you at last year’s convocation?” I had not the slightest idea if I had, but it was possible. I’d seen a dozen or so men who looked a lot like him. “As you can see, I have prior claim here. Best to just move along.”
Thunder Voice looked at my medallion, then looked at the severed dragon head on the table, then looked at my medallion again. “Yeah. Well. You’re lucky you got here first.”
“And I am overcome with gratitude for my good fortune,” I said smoothly. “May it be yours on your next hunt.”
Thunder Voice just grunted, but turned away. It’s not like bounty hunters don’t steal each other’s bounties. Of course we do, all the time. But it’s officially frowned on by the Guild, and there were too many witnesses in the vicinity for him to make the attempt. Or maybe the dragon head was a good deterrent.
I resumed my seat, to find Gree glowering at me. “You do not have a claim on me.”
“Well, we know that, but he doesn’t,” I pointed out.
“And he’ll probably jump us once we’re outside anyway. And I could have handled him just fine right now, thank you very much.”
“Both perfectly true facts,” I acknowledged, and sipped my ale. “But by doing it my way, you’re not banned from the last tavern in this town that still lets you in.”
This thought seemed to strike her. She drank down the rest of her mug in a thoughtful silence, and I let her think.
Finally, as she was getting down to the bottom, she said, “I might let you travel with me. For a while. On a trial basis.”
“Fine by me,” I said with a grin. I tried not to put a seductive edge into it, but it’s hard to turn off.
Maybe that’s why she said, “And you’re still not going to sleep with me.”
“Understood,” I said, putting my hands up in surrender again.
“And you are not my partner. I may decide that you can be my sidekick.”
“That’ll be fine,” I agreed, and silently concluded, for now.
I’m a blood connoisseur. Most vampires are by the time they’ve existed as long as I have. We don’t like to talk about age, too many years of life without any external changes to mark them, so let’s just say I’ve seen the rise and fall of several well-known civilizations in my time. And over the years I’ve traveled the world, never spending too much time in any one location. There is a cost to never aging physically.
Humans do not realize it, but the food they eat causes subtle changes in the taste of their blood. Differences that I quite enjoy. The essence of basil and oregano in Italy. Red pepper and jalapeno in Mexico. Soy sauce and garlic in Szechuan. I’ve spent years tracking down the best locations to add depth and interest to the flavor of the blood I must imbibe. And though I like many tastes, it is the intense rich flavor of cacao that makes my mouth water and sets up a craving deep within me.
I frequently congratulate myself on two actions. First, I always give my…donors…pleasant dreams as payment for my dinner. And second, I’ve honed my ability to take small amounts from several humans in each area, being careful that none know of my visit. At the most, they are, perhaps, a bit tired the next day.
There is never any talk of supernatural beings when I leave a location.
I have spent the last hundred years or so posing as a business man. I go to a location, spend a couple weeks in a good hotel enjoying the sights and scents — and tastes. Then I move on. I’ve never spent more than six weeks in any one location since 1906. I made the mistake of staying in San Francisco for several years and became a bit too well known, forcing me to fake my death in the earthquake that year.
Although I move frequently, I find myself drawn often back to Switzerland. It’s become one of my favorite destinations. They adulterate the beauty of dark, deliciously bitter cacao by adding too much milk and sugar; still their blood has a lingering taste that I find irresistible. I have frequently dreamed of finding the perfect cacao flavored blood. And wished that, if I ever did, that I would never, ever have to leave.
Who was it who said to be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?
I was sitting in the bar of my hotel near the Andermatt train station in the Swiss Alps, drinking a glass of dark red wine. Yes, vampires can drink alcohol, though our bodies burn it off immediately so we can not experience more than a fleeting tipsy feeling. I was trying to decide how long to stay on this trip. I felt restless and unsure if I would even stay for the full two weeks I’d planned.
Then she walked in.
She was amazing. For a brief moment I thought she was a vampire. She had the pale skin, dark hair and dark eyes. But hers were the color of bitter chocolate, not black. And as she drew closer, I could hear the fierce, strong beat of her heart.
I nearly stood when she drew near but managed to stay in my seat; she was human – she wasn’t for me.
Then she took the seat next to mine and leaned over, her long hair falling in a gentle curve around her left breast. My eyes lingered there longer than was polite before I looked back up, into those dark eyes. They were gleaming now, a hint of interest shining in their depths, and for a moment I felt like I could sink into them like sinking into a vat of chocolate.
I reminded myself sternly that she wasn’t for me.
“You are new here,” she said. There was the slightest difference in the cadence of her voice that made it clear English was not her first language. She continued, voice low and sultry, “What is your name?”
“Matthew,” I told her. I had used many names over the years, but Matthew was my favorite.
“Matthew.” She drew out the syllables, caressing them with her tongue. “That means ‘Gift of the Lord’,” she said and smiled. Her teeth were a bright white against the vivid red of her lipstick. “Are you indeed a gift?”
I nearly choked on my wine. This was the most intriguing woman I’d met in years. I had to remind myself, for the third time, that she wasn’t for me. But this time, I couldn’t quite force myself to believe it.
“What do I call you?” I asked.
“My name is Drakkina.”
“Drakkina.” I tried to roll her name over my tongue like she had with mine but didn’t think I’d succeeded. I added quickly, “Did you know that means dragon in ancient Greek?”
She paused in the process of sipping the drink the bartender had placed in front of her, though she hadn’t said a word to him. She was a regular here, then.
She looked at me speculatively. “Not many know the meaning of my name. I’m…impressed.”
Remembering what she’d asked about my name, I returned the favor. “Are you indeed a dragon?”
She laughed suddenly, deep and throaty, and invited me to take a walk and watch the moon rise over the Alps. And though I told myself to say no, instead I rose to my feet unsteadily, as if the wine had actually gone to my head. I followed her outside and strolled by her side.
For hours, we spoke of nothing and everything.
It was the sensation of the sun’s approach, calling deep in my bones, that ended our night. We were strolling arm in arm by that point, the air cool enough that she didn’t notice the chill of my skin. I stopped and sighed, already regretting the end of this moment. “I have to go,” I told her. “I have a…meeting I need to keep.” That seemed as good a way as any to describe meeting my daily hours of mini-death.
They say vampires can’t die like humans, but humans only die once. We must die every single day.
Drakkina didn’t press me to stay. Instead the sound of her voice, deep and soft, sent ripples across my flesh, as if awakening parts of my body from a long sleep. “Can I see you again?”
“I’ll be in the bar at 7:00 pm,” I told her recklessly. Though she couldn’t be for me on any long-term basis, I could enjoy her company while I was here. I just couldn’t allow myself to feed from her. I had very strict rules separating people I spend time with and those that are food. I think humans say not to play with your food. My maker told me not to defecate in my own backyard. I don’t believe either of those statements is quite accurate for my circumstances. I prefer to say don’t snack on those you call friends.
We spent each night of the next two weeks together. I was going to have to change my reservation at the hotel if I wanted to stay much longer. And I couldn’t decide. I’d never felt such opposing desires. I wanted to stay with her. It was like a craving that I couldn’t bear to give up. And I knew I had to leave, quickly, before I could no longer bear to go.
Though I suspected it might already be far too late.
Still, that night I brought up the date I was supposed to leave, only two days from now.
Her dark, compelling eyes met mine and I felt as though I was falling inside them, deep into the center of her being. In her was the same pain and loneliness that was always a part of me, separate from all those around me. And deep within those eyes, I could swear I saw the possibility of changing that. Of belonging with someone.
I jerked away, appalled. She was human. I couldn’t belong to her!
She touched my arm, fingers gentle yet surprisingly strong. “Tonight is nearly over,” she said softly. “If tomorrow is to be our last, let us spend it together.”
I knew she didn’t mean just spending time as usual, walking and talking, and hesitated. My desire for her blood had been growing every night we spent together. I hadn’t given myself time to feed on others since I’d met her. I told myself there hadn’t been time to find another donor, but knew I had no real desire to feed from anyone else.
To my shame, the potential for disaster wasn’t enough to make me say no. Instead I lifted her hand and kissed her fingertips. “Tomorrow then.”
On that, our last night, I took her to my room where I had champagne and strawberries waiting, but she barely looked at them. Her lips curved in a smile as she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around my neck. Our bodies met and clung and moved against each other, until at last, breath fast and gasping, she growled playfully. “I don’t know who you are, mortal, but I’ve broken all of my rules to be with you.”
I barely heard her. The passion of our joining had nearly stolen my reason. I’d never felt this before, in all my long centuries. Unable to stop myself, my teeth slid gently under her skin and the taste of her blood flooded my mouth with the most exquisite flavor – thick and rich and slightly bitter. As if I was suckling cacao from her veins. Sharp bursts of energy pulsed through me. At that moment I felt as if the myths human told could be true; tonight, I could fly.
I fought my instincts to continue to drink my fill. Humans only had so much blood, and of all the humans I’d feasted from, I couldn’t bear to bring harm this one.
That realization might have come too late. I feared that I’d gone too far as her heart began to slow alarmingly. I pulled away, muttering prayers I hadn’t known I remembered, begging a God I no longer believed in to let her be alright, bargaining with any who would listen that I would do anything, give up anything, if only I hadn’t harmed her.
I brushed my thumb over the small incision on her neck that was already healing and sat back in alarm. Her blood wasn’t a normal crimson. It was a deep, rich brown, like 90% cacao.
I don’t know how long I would have stared at the strange color of her blood, but her breathing stopped altogether.
My limbs began to tremble, and the strength drained from my body. “No!” I said and desperately pulled her against me, as if my already dead body could somehow restart hers.
I held her tightly, tracing my fingers over her face, feeling something inside me start to wither away, knowing I would never be the same.
Then her eyes opened languidly. “Not mortal after all,” she slurred. “Vampire. That’s good.” Her eyes no longer looked human. They looked like a cat’s eyes. Or rather, like those of a dragon. The deep brown had spread, and a vertical pupil glowed golden in the center. They were mesmerizing. She flicked her tongue over those perfect white teeth, though the canines were longer and sharper than I remembered.
And those sensuous lips curved into a wicked smile as she purred, “Your kind aren’t the only ones that like to bite.”
Please note, our final story today is recommended for mature audiences, for some violent content.
The color of her blood was the least of my worries. Its crimson stains spread throughout the white carpet, soaking into the baseboard. That wouldn’t be easy to clean up. More importantly, though, her body was now in several pieces on the floor. Gavin’s face, normally so soft and beautiful, stared down at his mother’s corpse in wide-eyed shock. When I reached out a hand and wiped some of his mother’s blood from his cheek, he finally came to, leveling his gaze at me. Even now, their chartreuse shimmer was intoxicating.
“You didn’t have to tear her into pieces,” he said, voice trembling.
“I’m sorry, love, but she surprised me.”
He returned to staring at the pieces of his mother strewn across the hallway. The silence grew awkward, so I attempted to fill it.
“Anyway, we knew this had to happen sometime soon. Remember, I told you you couldn’t fully accept your new life if you still had ties to your old one.”
Gavin nodded slowly, and I savored the memory of the night I finally bestowed the Gift to him, flashes of heat, sweat, blood, and the soft, illuminating glow of the full moon shining on our naked bodies.
I’d been looking for a Fang Brother for years. Unfortunately, my last relationship ended messily, though I learned some important lessons from it, as we do from all mistakes. Namely, that it was generally considered bad form to devour your partner’s cat. But I still carried a piece of him with me. The bones of his index finger made a wonderful necklace.
Anyway, the point is, the journey to finding a true Fang Brother was a long and arduous one. The various men that I deigned to introduce the Gift to always proved in some way unsuitable. But then I met Gavin in the checkout line at Wal-Mart as I was buying a box of omeprazole. Cat meat aggravates my acid reflux something fierce. I was smitten with him instantly. His flowing, flaxen hair, his soft, pillowy lips, his aforementioned shimmering eyes. We ended up having a conversation for nearly 15 minutes. The other customers behind me were pretty irate, but nothing mattered to me then but Gavin.
Our relationship had to be kept discreet, least of all because of my plans for him. He was still a young pup of 21, in his junior year of community college, and I was a 45-year-old man, at that time working as an Uber driver under an assumed name. Despite these setbacks, we frequently found time to meet, coupling together with ravenous hunger. I admit that, deep in the throes of passion, I sometimes let the beast out, leaving scars across his once-smooth back, but this only seemed to increase his ardor for me. Indeed, his own insatiable desire made me confident that he was the right recipient of the Gift. In those quiet, solitary moments together, he often shared vivid fantasies of violence and pain, cravings that he claimed to have never shared with anyone. Yes, he was perfect. He just needed a little push.
When I finally informed Gavin of what I was and revealed myself in my true glory, he was shocked, as many of my previous lovers had been. But, instead of screaming hysterically and running from me, he approached on quiet, expectant feet, and ran his hands through my fur. I explained the mechanics of bestowing the Gift, and he accepted me gladly. He slept against my belly that night, sated and basking in his newfound power.
We had been making tentative plans to leave together for several weeks now, but always the thought of his mother stopped him from going through with it. Though our devotion to each other was strong, his ties to his former life were rooted deep. But it seemed that it had been a blessing in disguise when his mother discovered us coupling in his bedroom. As weak-minded people like her are wont to do, she immediately set to screaming and shouting, threatening to report me to the authorities. Never mind that what we were engaged in was perfectly legal. Unfortunately, if she had contacted the cops, then my rash of previous incidents would most likely be discovered. So I acted quickly.
And now, here we were, staring down at a bloodbath in the hallway. Then, an idea popped into my head, one that would solve our problem.
“We could eat her,” I offered.
Gavin, still tethered to the emotions of his former life, balked at the suggestion. But I took his face in my hands, stroking his cheeks gently with my thumbs.
“Don’t think of it as your mother. Just think of it as taking another step into your new life. Remember what your first consumption of flesh means. The sealing of your Gift, the completion of your transition from man to beast. I promise that when you sink your fangs into her yielding skin, you’ll feel sated like you never have before. And then you and I will truly be one.”
Gavin thought a moment, glancing from the gory remains back to me, and then nodded. I smiled, pulling him into a deep, enthusiastic kiss.
“Good boy. Now,” I said, reaching for a dismembered arm, “where would you like to start?”