Vampire of the Mists | Chapter 10 of 39

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3178 Views | Add a Review

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THE QUEEN’S PRIDE OUT OF EVERMEET ROCKED SERENELY in the inky water of Waterdeep harbor. A playful night breeze stirred the catamaran’s ropes, which slapped noisily against the boat in the relative quiet of the late hour. The wind increased, causing the standard to snap energetically, its heraldic image of a gold tree against a dark blue, star-filled sky billowing. In the distance, buoys chimed friendly warnings. The smell of fish and brine hung heavily in the cool, damp air.

From the safety of an alleyway, a lone figure gazed longingly at the catamaran. Selune’s light turned the gold elf’s skin and hair to a pearly white and his worn blue tunic to a gray similar to his cloak and breeches. Faded silver trim on the tunic still caught the milky radiance of the moon.

Jander Sunstar was tall for his race, nearly five foot nine, and slender. His features were clean and sharp, softened with remembered pain. Elven ears tapered into graceful points, almost—but not quite—lost in the flowing gold of his hair. The boots that made no sound on the water-swollen boards of the dock were of supple gray leather and reached to mid-thigh. A dagger, simple, and sheathed, adorned his left hip.

Jander’s silver eyes were filled with sorrow. How many decades had it been since he had seen a ship from his homeland? Glorious Evermeet, land of beauty and harmony. He would never see it again. Thin, long fingers closed tightly about the cape, pulling it closer to hide him from prying eyes.

The elf could bear no more. He turned away and moved quietly from the dock and into the heart of the city that men called Waterdeep. That place, too, had been his home for a time, before the wanderlust had called him to his doom.

Jander seldom ventured into the city anymore. It was becoming too crowded for his liking. He lived in a small cave beyond the city limits, where there were still trees and silence to be found. There Jander indulged his innate, elven love of beauty and nature by planting and tending a small garden of night-blooming flowers. Tonight, though, a great need drove the elf to steal into the Dock Ward. He moved in absolute silence with a deadly purpose, his gray leather boots making no sound along the cobblestones. Jander ignored the taverns, shops and warehouses. He was heading for the worst place in the city, where the most tortured souls on Toril wept away their meaningless lives amid squalor and pain. The elf turned a corner, his sharp features gaunt with hunger, his gray cape fluttering behind him.

Money could buy cures for just about anything in Waterdeep. There was a cleric for your wounds, a mage for your good fortune. Sometimes, however, the gods would not listen to the prayers of their priests, and sometimes spells went wrong. Horribly wrong.

Once, the unfortunates whose mental illnesses could not be helped by magic were locked away in cellars or cast out on the streets. Some particularly vicious people even arranged for their inconvenient mad relations to “disappear.” Today, though, in the civilized year of 1072, there was a place for the incurably insane.

As he approached the large wood-and-stone building, Jander winced. Even outside, the cacophony exploding within pained his sensitive ears. Madhouses were places of more horror than haunted castles, he mused; here truly could be found the wailings of the damned. He did not enjoy coming here to feed, and did so only every few years, when the great thirst would not be slaked with animals’ blood. Steeling himself for what awaited him within, Jander stepped up to the door.

There were two main cells in the asylum, one for males and one for females. Other, smaller cells housed inmates who were too violent for the main cells and those few pathetic souls whose former sex had been so distorted that it could not be distinguished. As a rule, Jander never entered the individual cells. He might be a vampire, but he could take only so much pain and ugliness.

He was nothing but tendrils of mist at first, creeping through the cracks in the wooden door of the women’s cell. The mist took on color—blue and silver and gold—then a being that some might have mistaken for an angel stood where the formless fog had been.

Torches in sconces too high for the inmates to reach provided ample illumination. Too many of the lunatics were afraid of the dark for the place not to be lit so. Straw and moldering pallets covered the floor. There were chamber pots, but few of the inmates used them. Every few weeks, the city-appointed keepers would remove the inmates and douse the area with bucketfuls of water, a process that did little to sanitize the filthy place.

With the grace of a cat, Jander threaded his way through the scattered madwomen, turning his blond head this way and that, his silver eyes raking the scene. Some of the lunatics scattered at his approach, to huddle whimpering in corners. Others ignored him. Some even fawned on him. From these he gently disengaged himself.

It had been nearly half a century since he had been here, and he recognized none of the inmates. Some were fairly normal-looking, old women whose minds had faded and then quietly disappeared altogether. Some were misshapen monstrosities, victims of spells gone awry or perhaps even deliberate malice, who howled their anguish as they huddled in corners. The saddest were the ones who were almost sane, who could have functioned outside with a little aid but whose relatives couldn’t be bothered to help them.

The growing population of Waterdeep had led to an increase in the number and variety of inmates. Most of them were human, although here and there Jander recognized the squat forms of dwarves or halflings. There were, thank the gods, no elves. Over in one corner of the damp, chilly place, one woman methodically tore at a bleeding stump of an arm with a hand that was covered with scales. Her legs were also reptilian and ended in the clawed toes of a lizardman. The expressionless face was completely human. Another lay almost at the vampire’s feet, shielding her head with her arms. As Jander stepped over her, she shifted. The vampire flinched. The face she turned up to him was completely featureless save for the red slash of a mouth.

“They’re coming, you know,” a voice bellowed in his ear. “All those eyes on their stalks, waving at you, and the mouths, the mouths …” The madwoman became completely incoherent and began to suck on her fingers. Jander closed his eyes. He hated this place. He would take sustenance quickly and leave.

His method of feeding did little actual harm to the inmates. Jander could materialize within the cell, partake of enough fluid to last until the next time his hunger demanded human blood, and disappear. Seldom did he even drain enough of the precious fluid to leave a victim weak the next morning. The keepers had no reason to check the throats of the patients. Consequently, the small, insignificant marks were never noticed.

One woman lay huddled on a dirty straw pallet toward the back of the stone enclosure, separate from the rest. At first glance, she didn’t look much different from the regular inmates of the asylum. Her long dark hair was tangled, and her pale limbs were dirty. She wore the ugly brown shift that was the standard garb in the hellhole. Hardly more than a scrap of material, it offered little protection against the damp chill of the place and none at all against the fumbling of the demented inhabitants. Perhaps feeling his gaze, she looked up.

She was quite shockingly beautiful, and a soft cry of pain and wonder escaped Jander’s lips. Though her hair was matted and filthy, it must have been a captivating shade of auburn once. Her eyes were large and shiny with tears. Even as he watched, they filled, and drops coursed through the dirt on her pale face. Her lips were pink, perfect roses in a porcelain face, and they trembled slightly. The vampire had not seen such beauty in far too long; he certainly never expected to see it here. Captivated, he went to her and knelt beside her. She kept her luminous brown gaze even with his.

“I greet you,” he said, his voice sweet and full of music. The girl did not respond, only continued looking at him with huge, soft eyes. “My name is Jander,” he said, keeping his voice gentle. “What’s yours? Where are you from?” Her lips moved then. Jander tensed, hoping, yet no sound issued forth. Disappointment filling him, he got to his feet. She still gazed up at him trustingly. Gods, so beautiful … Who could have sent her to this horrible place?

“I wish I could take you out of here,” he told her sadly, “but I couldn’t look after you during the day.” He turned away from her. She gasped and reached out for him, her eyes filling with tears again.

“Sir!” she sobbed, holding her arms up to him. Jander didn’t know what to do. Fully five centuries had passed since anything beautiful had deigned to touch him, and here was this tragically radiant girl reaching out for him. He hesitated, then sat down beside her and tentatively folded her into his arms.

“Shh, shh,” he soothed, as if she were a child. He held her while she cried herself to sleep, then he laid her back down on her pallet. The vampire rose, careful not to disturb her, and then tended to his hunger elsewhere in the room.

His heart was lighter than it had been for several long and empty years. Jander had found something beautiful in a hellish place, something that wasn’t afraid of him. It had to be nurtured. He knew he would be back tomorrow night.

And so he was, bringing with him real food—meat from a traveler’s fire, bread, and fruit pilfered from a careless shop owner. Vampires made excellent thieves, Jander had discovered, although few of them needed to pursue such a profession.

“Well again,” he greeted her. She stared up at him, then her lips curved in a cautious, fleeting smile. His heart turned over, and he smiled broadly in return. The elf sat down beside the woman and handed her the food. She stared at it, confused.

“It’s food,” Jander explained. “You eat it.” He mimed putting the bread in his mouth. The girl still didn’t understand. Jander would have eaten a bite himself, just to show her, but he could no longer digest anything but blood. A scuffling at his back gave him an idea. An old woman was staring hungrily at the bread.

“Watch,” he told the girl, and tore off a chunk of bread. The old woman grabbed at the offered food and chewed hungrily. The dark-haired girl smiled and nodded in comprehension. She rose with purpose and began handing out the food he had brought to the other inmates, glancing back at him with a happy smile.

Jander had to laugh, even though he was annoyed. The girl needed food; she was positively emaciated. She shouldn’t be doling out what he had brought her.

He bolted upright. The lovely madwoman moved among her fellow inmates with a deliberate sense of purpose, sharing her food with practiced grace. As though she had taken care of people before, Jander thought. He was by her side in an instant, turning her to face him.

“Dear gods,” he whispered, “you weren’t born this way, were you?”

She smiled serenely at him and continued with her task. He was shaken, filled with a sudden delirious hope. If she had been sane before, might she become sane again? Might he be able to bring her back from the brink of madness?

One thing was certain. He had to try.

Prior to meeting his “flower,” Jander had merely existed, going from night to night, taking nourishment from animal blood. He tended his night garden, finding comfort in working with the soil and watching things grow. Since he had become a vampire, he had lived as an outcast from all the things he had most loved when he was alive.

But his undead state mattered not to the mysterious young woman in the asylum. She always seemed pleased to see him, even if she spoke in little more than fragments of words he did not recognize. Over the coming weeks, Jander finally succeeded in making her eat what he brought, and she began to gain weight.

One night, toward the beginning of fall, they sat together. Suddenly she tensed, drawing away from his embrace, a worried frown on her lips. “What is it?” Jander asked.

The girl seemed not to hear him. Abruptly she got to her feet, her attention still directed inward. Growing concerned, Jander reached up to tug gently on her dress.

The girl screamed, sparking accompanying shrieks from the other inmates that built to a hellish crescendo. She began to wring her hands, every muscle in her thin body taut with what appeared to be sheer terror. Frantically the madwoman glanced about, as if seeking an escape. She moaned low, the cry of a trapped animal, and hurled herself against the wall, clawing at the rough stone with her fingers, then pounding the unyielding surface desperately.

“No!” Jander cried. Swiftly he was by her side, pulling her away from her single-minded task. His strong golden hands closed tightly about her wrists. She struggled against him for a few moments, wailing piteously, then went limp against his chest. Bloody handprints dotted the stone wall, and a warm dampness trickled down onto his long fingers. She had cut her hands quite badly, and her palms and lower arms were sticky with blood.

Jander licked his lips, his hunger whetted, his silver gaze held by the torchlight flickering on the redness. Then he dragged his eyes back to the girl’s. What he saw in their depths moved him.

Something flickered, like a candle flame. It was so brief, he hardly believed he saw it, but there it was. A flash of sanity, clear and bright as the sun on water, came and went.

“Oh, my little one,” Jander said brokenly, “what happened to you?”

That was the first time he had seen her mysterious frenzy, but it was not the last. The contrast between the woman’s wretched state and the serenity she displayed most of the time pained the elf. She would be fine for several days, perhaps even weeks or months. Then, without warning, her inner calm would shatter, and she would again try to claw her way through the solid stone, desperately attempting to flee from some pursuing horror that existed only in her mad mind.

Jander did what he could to protect her from her self-inflicted pain, pinning her arms behind her back or to her sides, occasionally holding her in a grip so tight no movement was possible. She would eventually quiet and become the tranquil flower she had been previously. After one such outburst, Jander held her as the tension ebbed from her body. He allowed himself to rest his head on her hair, content that she was no longer struggling. She pulled back a little and looked up at him, and her lips moved soundlessly. Jander tensed. She placed a hand to her heart and babbled a strange combination of sounds. He shook his head, not understanding. Again, a meaningless gibber and then, quite clearly she said, “Anna.”

Jander was dumbfounded. “Is that your name? Anna?”

She nodded, her eyes alert.

“I’m Jander,” he said and was surprised at how keenly he wanted to hear his name on those sweet pink lips. Anna had again retreated into herself, however, and the dull glaze dimmed those wonderful eyes. There would be no more speech from her that night. The vampire was not distressed. There would be many nights to come in which he would, he was confident, win Anna’s trust and, he hoped, restore her sanity.

Winter was hard on the inhabitants of the madhouse. Jander stole some blankets and tried to keep Anna as warm as he could. He wished he could simply leave the warm woolens with her, but the guards would notice and grow suspicious as to their origins. It wasn’t until spring that he won his next victory.

Jander had materialized in the cell just after twilight had bled to black. His garden was in full bloom, and he had collected a small bouquet for Anna. Perhaps they would win from her that radiant smile he had glimpsed a few times before. It was only after the mist congealed into his slender form that she recognized him, smiling a welcome that lit up her face and made her look sane again. She reached up to him, like a child to a beloved parent who has been too long away.

He placed the fragrant gift in her arms. “For you, my dear,” he said, his silky voice filled with gentleness.

Anna buried her face in the flowers, then raised her large, soft eyes to his. “Sir!” she cried happily, tossing the flowers to the stone floor and hugging him tightly.

Joyously he returned her embrace. As he held her affectionately, he gradually became aware that his feelings for her had changed. Until that moment, he had thought of her as a wounded young forest animal, in need of gentleness and care. He had attended to her so, denying the truth that now rushed to be revealed. Whether he wished it so or not, Jander was deeply in love.

As if she somehow sensed the change in the elf, Anna clasped him closer still, one small hand gently playing with the soft gold hair at the back of his neck. Emotions that had hitherto been as dead as his body suddenly flared to new life. Passion mixed sharply with the thirst of a vampire; the scent of her blood was overwhelming. Jander yielded to all his emotions and, with a groan, kissed Anna’s throat, his fangs emerging quickly and purposefully. Yet he was gentle as his sharp teeth pierced the white flesh of her neck; his was the embrace of a lover, not a predator. And if she gasped a little with the first quick pangs, she did not pull away.

Jander was about to materialize in the asylum when the voices reached his ears. He flattened himself against the door, a blue and gray shadow, and listened intently to the voices within.

“Such a pretty thing,” came one, gentle and warm.

“Aye, indeed,” the second agreed. Jander recognized the voice of one of the guards. “Been that way for over a hunnert years. Me grandfather used t’work here, and she ain’t changed since then.”

“Really? Oh, poor child. Look! I think she understands me!”

“Ah, she’s just foolin’ ye. She don’t understand nothing. Ain’t for a hunnert years.”

“Yes, you said so.” The voice was significantly cooler than before. Jander grinned to himself. Any champion of Anna’s was a friend of his. He shifted his position and placed one pointed ear to the stone.

What the guard said disturbed him. Had she really been trapped here, unchanging, for over a century? Mentally he ticked off the seasons. Time was nothing to a vampire, but he was shocked when he determined that he had been visiting Anna for over a decade.

The kind voice continued. “Lathander is the god of hope, and hope comes fresh every day with the dawn. Don’t forget that, my son. What caused the woman’s suffering?”

“We think it’s a spell, sir. Don’t nobody stay that way that long without it being caused by some kind o’ magic.”

Jander tensed, his hands reflexively balling into fists. Magic! That would explain a great deal. He fought to quell the anger that welled up inside him at the mention of the arcane arts.

The elven vampire hated magic. Once, it had been part of his very nature. He still had a bit of elven magic at his control; his skill with the soil was only a minor example. Over the years, however, magic had failed to aid him in truly important matters. He did not trust it even in good hands, and to hear that Anna had probably been the focus of some evil spell enraged him. He deliberately forced himself to be calm and listen.

“Has anyone tried to remove the spell?”

“Nope. She’s got no family, no one to pay for it.”

Jander chewed his lower lip nervously. If the cleric of Lathander tried to free Anna from the magic that had kept her alive all these years, he might very well kill her. Apparently the priest had the same thought. “I would try, but I’m afraid to. It could be dangerous.”

The guard laughed, a harsh, nasal sound. “What kind of a life has she got? Dead might be better.”

Jander’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Perhaps,” came the voice of the priest, definitely icy, “if you took better care of your wards, this place might not be the sewer it is. I shall speak to your superior.”

The vampire heard the sound of the cell door opening and melted back into the shadows. He watched as the priest of Lathander strode out, inhaling the fresh air gratefully. The human was young, only in his mid-thirties or so, and bore himself with a quiet grace. He wore his brown hair long, and his robes, though beautifully colored in shades of gold and pink, were simple. From his bearing and what he had said in the asylum, the priest ranked high in Jander’s eyes. Besides, the elf had always favored the teachings of Lathander “Morninglord,” the gold-skinned god of dawn and beginnings—at least, he had favored them up until the great darkness had fallen upon him, barring the dawn from his sight forever.

Once the guard had resumed his position outside the women’s ward, Jander transformed into a mist and crept inside. He went to Anna at once, gathering her in his arms and holding her tightly.

“Magic. Magic has done this to you. Oh, Anna.” Suddenly overwhelmed by his empathy for her plight, he placed his hands on either side of her face and kissed her deeply—and started back in surprised pain, one golden hand reaching to touch his smarting, bitten lip.

Anna, caught up in her frenzy, screamed and pounded the walls. As always, Jander was beside her, calming her. When the moment had passed and she looked at him, her eyes were full of remorse. Jander embraced her tentatively, relieved, gently bridging the rift that he had unconsciously caused.

He did not ever try to kiss her again. Somehow, that token of affection triggered something in her mad mind.

“Who did this to you, my love?” he whispered, holding her tenderly, not expecting a response.

“Barovia,” she said, surprising him.

Barovia. The word sat oddly on the vampire’s tongue as he repeated it. Was it a person’s name, or that of a place, a word in her strange language for an action or idea? He had no way of knowing. All he knew was that something or someone connected with the word “Barovia” was responsible for Anna’s present condition.

He would find out what … or who.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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