Public Post! Let there be vam­pires!

Over two years ago (?!!) I start­ed a project on Patreon for myself. I want­ed to write a dys­to­nia vam­pire bdsm non­con sto­ry. Something vio­lent and prob­a­bly not accept­able to Amazon’s guide­lines. This is the kind of sto­ry I can’t sell, because the audi­ence is so small it just wouldn’t ever be worth the time.

But through direct site mem­ber­ship, this vam­pire sto­ry is pos­si­ble and I’m here to tell you Ashes to Ashes is BACK thanks to you. Here’s how it works.

  • Below is the first chap­ter of A2A, avail­able to all mem­bers and the pub­lic.
  • All site mem­bers will receive updates as I write them every week.
  • All site mem­bers can vote on the kinks and plot twists to come about once a month.
  • Only site mem­bers sto­ry lev­el or high­er will receive back­sto­ry, out­lines, plot ideas, alter­na­tive scenes, etc as they occur to me, with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the sto­ry as it forms.
  • Only site mem­bers at the art lev­el will receive char­ac­ter and scene sketch­es, cov­er art mock­ups, and the first shot at merch if I offer it.

If you’re not yet a mem­ber, check out your sub­scrip­tion options. Your first month is free!

Current mem­bers can change their pledge lev­el at any time.


Ashes to Ashes

 

Ashe scratched at the lat­est tat­too on his fore­arm. They’d inked him again a few days ago and now the scabs were dri­ving him nuts. The let­ter O sat just below his elbow in big bold type. Counting down from there were six names. His cell mates only had one or two names marked on their skin. Rumor said there was a woman with four names two blocks down. Ashe was the only one he knew of with six.

”Stop scratch­ing. You’re going to infect it,” Wes said soft­ly from the bot­tom bunk.

Ashe had been born and bred for his blood. Type O neg­a­tive. Universal donor. He was high­ly prized, but it didn’t gain him any priv­i­leges. He lived in a twen­ty-foot square cell with three oth­er men–two type A’s and a type AB accord­ing to their tat­toos. One cell in a thou­sand on this block, one block in a hun­dred in this town. All stuffed to the gills with what was left of human­i­ty. He ate when they fed him. He worked out when they told him. He read the books they gave him. There was noth­ing else to do.

Ashe dropped his arms to the mat­tress and rolled to the edge. He peered over. ”How did you know I was scratch­ing?”

”You were shak­ing the bunk.”

”I could have been jack­ing off.”

Wes rolled his eyes and turned a page in his book. ”You’ve nev­er jacked off since I was assigned this cell a year ago.”

Ashe grunt­ed and rolled onto his back.

Wes was the most recent addi­tion to their lit­tle room. Rolffe and Glen, asleep in their own bunks, had come in on the same day, almost three years ago, replac­ing two men that had been called for feed­ing and nev­er come back. That hap­pened occa­sion­al­ly, peo­ple dis­ap­pear­ing. Ashe was prob­a­bly safer than most thanks to his blood type, but it was a rel­a­tive thing. He took pains not to aggra­vate them. That wasn’t a gam­ble he was ever going to win.

Wes sighed loud­ly and turned anoth­er page in his book. Then he sighed again. He was sched­uled for a feed­ing tonight and it was at least an hour past break­fast. They’d come for him any minute now. Ashe felt for him, wait­ing was always the hard part, but he wasn’t sym­pa­thet­ic enough to take his place. This was their life: feed­ing, recov­ery, feed­ing, recov­ery until they died  under claws and fangs.

People died of old age in the past. Illness. Accidents. Not any­more. Not for a long time now. Ashe was going on thir­ty in anoth­er year and he was already past the aver­age thanks to a self-preser­va­tion instinct more pow­er­ful than his ego. Wes was the same: sub­mis­sive, polite to a fault, and non-com­bat­ive. That was the only way to sur­vive.

The sound of slid­ing met­al at the end of the block, fol­lowed by a clank, prompt­ed Wes to snap his book shut and shove it under his pil­low. He stood up, pac­ing the length of their cell by the bars, ready to get it over with. Their entire block was silent except for the del­i­cate click of pol­ished shoes on the cement. Anxiety bur­rowed into Ashe’s gut even though he wasn’t the one being sum­moned. He knew that sound all too well and it nev­er end­ed in any­thing enjoy­able.

The click­ing heels stopped pre­cise­ly in front of their cell door. Wes huffed, pump­ing him­self up for the main event. Flooding him­self with adren­a­line in the hopes that would be enough to sate their hungers. Ashe didn’t think it made a dif­fer­ence either way, but he wasn’t about to deny Wes his rit­u­al if it left him with hope.

Their guard was also human, a slave of sta­tus among slaves. Jonathan kept the feed­ings run­ning on time and with­out any inci­dents. In exchange, he didn’t have to donate his own blood to the cause. Throughout his life Ashe had occa­sion­al­ly lust­ed after such a posi­tion. To know with­out a doubt that he wasn’t on the menu was a temp­ta­tion he couldn’t wrap his mind around. Yet the guards were as impris­oned as they were. At least Ashe got out every few days and saw more than this bare cell. Such as those sights were, fraught with vio­lence and worse abus­es.

Jonathan grunt­ed at Wes. ”Not you, AB. They want the O.”

Ashe’s gut looped. This was a change in the pat­tern. Changes in the pat­tern were nev­er good. They were sadis­tic in their rit­u­als. He twist­ed on the bed and exchanged a wide-eyed look with Wes. His cell­mate pressed his lips togeth­er and breathed hard. Had they changed their minds about Wes because he’d done some­thing wrong? Or did they just have a crav­ing for type O tonight? He’d just been sum­moned three days ago, he couldn’t give much. They knew that though. They kept strict records. He scratched his arm. They could prob­a­bly smell how much blood he car­ried around inside him.

”Today, gen­tle­men.”

Ashe jerked toward the edge of the bed and dropped down. On his low­er bunk, Rolffe squint­ed at him with con­cern. Even near-comatose with blood loss he under­stood there was some­thing wrong when the sched­ule changed. But what was any­one going to do about it? With three quar­ters of the block always uncon­scious in recov­ery there was hard­ly fuel for a riot.

So Ashe shook hands with Wes firm­ly, exchang­ing a nod of courage, and forced him­self to step up to the cell door where he offered his wrists for the shackles–and his life for who­ev­er had called for him. Jonathan’s boots clicked on the cement as they walked, echo­ing in the eerie silence. Ashe prayed he’d come back whole.

–//–

Vote:

A vam­pire Ashe has nev­er met before has sum­moned him for feed­ing. It’s clear this vamp is low on the sta­tus poll and has some­how gained a more pow­er­ful vamp’s favor in order to bring a type O up to his par­ty. But things don’t go well and the vamp decides to kill Ashe!

What does he do?

A: Pit the vam­pires against each oth­er and run for it while they’re fight­ing.

B: Appeal to the vampire’s ego to keep him around as a sta­tus sym­bol.

–//–

Just beyond the hold­ing gate, the hall­way bloomed into a pub­lic wash­room. Several free­stand­ing pil­lars in a line act­ed as show­ers and while the water was per­pet­u­al­ly cold, Ashe rel­ished the chance to be clean again. Jonathan propped him­self up in one cor­ner, eye­ing Ashe out of duty more than inter­est. This was a well-estab­lished pat­tern and Ashe had no inten­tion of devi­at­ing.

He stripped effi­cient­ly and hit the but­tons of two oppos­ing show­er heads at the same time. They crossed over Ashe’s chest, tight­en­ing his lungs with the cold, but the water was clear and tast­ed so sweet. He drank his fill; it was the only fresh water he would get until the next time he was called. At the base of one of the pil­lars was a bot­tle of soap. The con­tain­er had long ago lost its label, rubbed away by water and count­less hands. The liq­uid inside smelled like mint. Ashe poured it over his head gen­er­ous­ly and washed him­self from top to bot­tom. Yes, it was man­dat­ed, but Ashe was almost will­ing to vol­un­teer his neck in exchange for this quick show­er. Almost.

He rinsed him­self clean rough­ly and took a final mouth­ful of water just as the show­ers clicked and shut down. The last spurts of liq­uid trick­led down the tow­ers, wash­ing the soap bub­bles into the drain. The whole pro­duc­tion last­ed two min­utes, total, any longer and he’d be stuck with sham­poo in his hair as the water shut off auto­mat­i­cal­ly.

Ashe grabbed the sin­gle tow­el fold­ed on a bench against the wall. It was almost dry. Ashe had to be one of the first peo­ple called this evening. By the end of the night the tow­el was use­less, soaked with the water of dozens of peo­ple. He rubbed him­self down from head to toe, scrub­bing the water out of his hair last. Being clean was impor­tant but dry… not so much. They want­ed his blood, not his charm­ing looks.

In fact, Ashe didn’t know if he was any more or less hand­some than any­one else. Reflective sur­faces were non-exis­tent in the cells and he’d nev­er seen enough water in one place to look back at him­self. He occa­sion­al­ly caught glimpses in the glass pan­els in some estates, but there was nev­er any time to linger over what he might see there. He knew his hair was get­ting longer because it tick­led his ears and the back of his neck, and when he and Wes stood against each oth­er, Ashe was the taller. Of the four of them in the cell plus Jonathan, Ashe had the dark­est skin. But the col­or of his eyes? The angle of his jaw? Ashe didn’t know the details.

He pulled the tow­el down over his face and the stub­ble of his jaw scratched against the fab­ric. Ashe fold­ed it and noticed a stack of pressed clothes on the bench. His out­fit for the evening. ”Do they want me to shave?” he asked Jonathan. Ashe rubbed his knuck­les against his jaw, test­ing the length of it by feel. He was still in the awk­ward prick­ly stage from the last time he shaved.

”It wasn’t men­tioned,” Jonathan said.

Which could mean any­thing at all. He wouldn’t shave since it hadn’t been request­ed, but some­times that was an over­sight. They didn’t grow hair like peo­ple did. Not the same way. Sometimes they for­got that humans nev­er stopped grow­ing theirs. Luckily, it wasn’t Ashe who would be pun­ished for the slip, but the Lord’s assis­tant or mon­ster-in-wait­ing.

Ashe dressed. He’d been giv­en soft under­wear and an ele­gant pair of slacks. The silky shirt was bright white, the bet­ter to show off Ashe’s future blood­stains, and ruf­fled a bit down the front. It even had but­tons at the wrists. His feet were left bare, no socks, shoes, or a pair of slip­pers. That would make the next part a lit­tle uncom­fort­able.

Beside the cor­ner where Jonathan had leaned was a sin­gle door. It had no knob or bar to open from this side, so even if some­one escaped from their cell, there was nowhere to go but into anoth­er one. From the block to the show­ers and through this sin­gle door was the only way in or out. Jonathan banged his fist on it twice. An eye-sized slot was yanked open from the oth­er side just long enough to assess that Jonathan was there. The slot snapped closed and two heavy bolts clanked. The door opened.

Artificial light streamed into the pub­lic show­er, yel­low and strange. Ashe stepped out­side, leav­ing Jonathan behind and trans­fer­ring him­self into the care of an unknown human dressed in thick wools against the bit­ter cold. A cor­ri­dor of dirt and bare rock stretched before them, huge chain link fences arc­ing far over­head. To either side, mass­es of peo­ple hud­dled togeth­er against the cold, dressed in the same plain shirt and pants that marked them as pris­on­ers like Ashe. These groups of suf­fer­ing humans were all A pos­i­tive blood-typed. The most com­mon, and most worth­less. They weren’t giv­en food and were for­ev­er exposed to the ele­ments. Every win­ter, the snow­storms wiped most of the pop­u­la­tion out. People left here, out­side the prison blocks, but unwel­come in the estates, were des­tined to die and not worth the effort to kill.

For avoid­ing this fate alone was Ashe thank­ful for his trea­sured O neg­a­tive blood. It kept him warm, fed, and alive. When he was killed it would be at the mer­ci­less claws of a mon­ster. A quick, if messy, end.

The cold air bit at Ashe’s nose and passed right through his ruf­fled white shirt. He hunched as he marched down the breeze­way, try­ing to avoid the worst of the rocks. It was a quar­ter mile from the blocks to the tran­sit sta­tion and he knew the length like he knew his own hands. Lingering wouldn’t do him any good. At least the bit­ter weath­er kept the A pos­i­tives in their dis­tant groups. In the warmer months they swarmed the fenc­ing, beg­ging, or just piss­ing on any­one who walked by. Ashe had lost his sym­pa­thy for them long ago. Their fate was not his own and there was noth­ing he could do about it.

His hands and feet throbbed with cold by the time he passed through the whis­per-silent slid­ing doors of the tran­sit sta­tion. In anoth­er two hours this room would be full of peo­ple wait­ing for their mag­car to zip them around to their assign­ments. Ashe had trav­eled in a mag­car once and found it to be a nau­se­at­ing expe­ri­ence. Upwards of sev­en peo­ple crammed into such a small space was unnat­ur­al. The lev­tax­ies were much more direct any­way, and after that first trip Ashe’s assign­ments had been to more dis­tant, and more wealthy, estates than the mag­cars sys­tem was designed to sup­port.

Ashe approached the one teller booth with a light on and nod­ded at the human man behind the plex­i­glass. ”O neg­a­tive,” he report­ed, ”Ashe.”

”Gate three,” the man said with­out check­ing his com­put­er. It was unlike­ly many O neg­a­tives were sched­uled to come through here this evening.

Ashe found gate three. The sleek black machine on the oth­er side of the bars, how­ev­er, was not a lev­taxi. Ashe hes­i­tat­ed with his palm over the scan­ner that would allow him through the gate. First they called him instead of Wes, now one of the mon­sters’ per­son­al lev­cars was here to take him to his des­ti­na­tion. He couldn’t imag­ine what was wait­ing for him at the oth­er end of this ride.

With trep­i­da­tion, Ashe pressed his hand to the scan­ner. A green light pierced his skin, so intense Ashe thought he could see his own bones. Then the light was gone and the bars unlocked. He stepped toward the dark lev­car. Its side door lift­ed up and away auto­mat­i­cal­ly. There was no appar­ent dri­ver or even a flight con­sole. The door closed qui­et­ly behind him, forc­ing Ashe to shuf­fle into a seat or be pinched.

He sat. The lev­car smooth­ly accel­er­at­ed into the air.

Unlike every lev­taxi he’d been in before, this ele­gant lev­car had pan­el after pan­el of glass around the mid­dle. Ashe pressed him­self to the win­dow in fas­ci­na­tion. His view tilt­ed as the lev­car ascend­ed and, for the first time, he saw the entire build­ing in which he’d lived his entire life. Sickly yel­low lights out­lined the mas­sive walls, cast­ing creepy shad­ows along the bare dirt where clus­ters of A-types hud­dled for warmth. the entire com­plex was a huge cube, five, maybe six sto­ries tall. Monolithic. High fenc­ing sur­round­ed the com­pound, far more space than there were A-types this late in the sea­son, and four quar­ter-mile walk­ways extend­ed from each of the sides. So Ashe’s exit wasn’t the only one after all.

The lev­car banked away from the cam­pus and the win­dow went black. For a moment Ashe thought it wasn’t a win­dow, but a dis­play screen, then he spot­ted yel­low lights in the dis­tance. A sea of lights that float­ed in the dark­ness. Separated from the com­pound by miles of unlit ground was their city. It glit­tered with move­ment, lights blink­ing and chas­ing across the ter­ri­to­ry. As the lev­car approached, the lights divid­ed into lines and blocks and col­ors: maglev trains rushed below him, lev­tax­ies flew in rivers, per­son­al lev­cars dodged over entire build­ings. Huge adver­tise­ments cast swaths of col­or across the streets. Every sur­face was paint­ed in light.

And the move­ment! Ashe had nev­er seen so many things mov­ing at once. It was amaz­ing noth­ing crashed. His lev­car swooped over a mag­train mov­ing so fast the green lights on its roof were just a blur. Then the car banked around a huge build­ing and Ashe rushed to the oth­er win­dow, breath­less. Every rec­tan­gle of glass was lit from with­in, show­ing off room after room of plush car­pet, green plants, and one of them at each desk. They moved from room to room, talk­ing with each oth­er and it all appeared so struc­tured. Well of course it was orga­nized and struc­tured, they wouldn’t have it any oth­er way. This had to be one of the offices he’d heard about. A tow­er of busi­ness where the low­er castes worked for their meals.

Then the lev­car banked away and Ashe was left with an over­whelm­ing impres­sion of life that didn’t jive with his under­stand­ing at all. The city was a bus­tle of activ­i­ty. Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thou­sands of them all liv­ing and work­ing in close prox­im­i­ty. There had to be fights for dom­i­nance and social posi­tion con­stant­ly, but Ashe hadn’t seen any blood.

He fin­gered the ruf­fled white col­lar of his shirt with a frown. The ones who called on him for feed­ing seemed to take spray­ing blood as an art form. It didn’t usu­al­ly mat­ter whose. But then, he’d only inter­act­ed with the upper caste of rulers. Perhaps they were more inclined toward vio­lence? They cer­tain­ly seemed obsessed with it, and Ashe had wit­nessed at least two fights that had changed the hier­ar­chy of those around him. If the low­er caste of work­ers were more coöper­a­tive, they prob­a­bly got a lot more done.

The lev­car began to descend and Ashe real­ized he’d been tak­en beyond the edges of the city. The sea of lights dwin­dled to pock­ets of bril­liance tucked between rolling hills. The indi­vid­ual estates of the upper caste. Entire clans con­tained in a sin­gle prop­er­ty, scram­bling for influ­ence with­in and among them­selves. Each one of the crea­tures was over­whelm­ing­ly dead­ly, and accord­ing to sto­ries entire clans had worked togeth­er to cre­ate the world as Ashe knew it now. He couldn’t imag­ine fight­ing off an indi­vid­ual, let alone a coali­tion of clans, so it was no sur­prise human­i­ty had fall­en.

The hum of the lev­car wound down sud­den­ly. It came to rest pre­cise­ly between two iden­ti­cal oth­ers and the side door slid up and open auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Ashe climbed out and checked him­self quick­ly. No wrin­kles in his pants, enough fluff in his shirt. The details were crit­i­cal when meet­ing a new one.

He’d been deposit­ed in some sort of park­ing space thick­ly sur­round­ed by trees, and by the num­ber of oth­er cars, there was an event hap­pen­ing. That explained why he had been called instead of Wes. Someone inside was try­ing to impress with Ashe’s O-type blood. Which meant he prob­a­bly wasn’t going to die tonight. Bleed, yes. Oh yes. But he couldn’t be a prize to show off if his heart stopped. Ashe took a deep breath and marched toward the bright slid­ing doors that glowed just beyond the park­ing. There was a cer­tain con­fi­dence he could place in their egos that unwound a thread of ten­sion in Ashe’s gut. He was a valu­able pawn in their nev­er-end­ing quest for social sta­tus and one didn’t destroy some­thing valu­able on a whim.

The slid­ing doors made no sound. Not one Ashe could hear, any­way. But the par­ty hushed and Ashe stilled in the door­way as a hun­dred red eyes turned in eerie uni­son to face him. Their bod­ies stilled. He would nev­er get used to that. The silence was thick enough to choke on. Every sin­gle per­son seemed to hold their breath and their blood-red eyes were fixed like they’d been carved from stone. They took him in from head to toe, set­ting them­selves apart from human­i­ty in so many ways with their still­ness. As if Ashe, or any­one else, need­ed a reminder. Ashe could nev­er mis­take them for any­thing oth­er than what they were.

Vampires.

Ashe broke through the oppres­sive stat­ue-gar­den of still­ness to bow low and cast his eyes down to his bare feet. He stayed there for a slow count of five, then anoth­er, before the crea­tures’ atten­tions broke away from him in a wave of motion from the door to the back of the room. Conversations con­tin­ued as if he’d nev­er entered. Ashe took a deep breath and straight­ened. With the ini­tial sub­ser­van­cy observed, he had a chance to sweep the great room and find the mon­ster that had called for him. He’d nev­er been to a gath­er­ing this large and none of the faces he spot­ted were famil­iar, mak­ing his task a bit of a guess­ing game. He didn’t have a name, either, and with­out any oth­er means, Ashe took his first step into the par­ty.

The vam­pires ignored him. He was human, and there­fore beneath them. If any of them were hun­gry he couldn’t see the signs. No glow­ing eyes, no descend­ed fangs or fierce ridges of bone over their fore­heads. The room had an odd lack of humans for feed­ing and Ashe didn’t like the idea that he was first to arrive. His stom­ach dropped a bit with a new idea: what if he was the only one who had been called? In a group this big there’d be a riot for his blood. Ashe repressed a shud­der as he walked deep­er into the room, sur­round­ed now by mon­sters that only breathed in order to speak and only spoke in order to lie. His new tat­too itched and he scratched at it. It drew atten­tion. A vam­pire dressed in drap­ing red locked eyes with him. Ashe instant­ly dropped his gaze to the ground and spot­ted shiny black shoes under the lay­ered gar­ment. He pressed his hands to his sides, but it was no use. The vam­pire grabbed his arm and turned it upward, expos­ing the tat­toos. O-neg­a­tive. Universal donor. The creature’s fin­gers spasmed tighter, pos­ses­sive, then with a jerk Ashe was released. He looked up, but the vam­pire had already turned away and rejoined their small group. None of them glanced his way. Ashe dropped his arm and tried not to scratch at the tat­too. The six names below his blood type had saved him, no doubt, but he need­ed to be more care­ful. Not all of these mon­sters were so eas­i­ly kept in line.

Some trick of the light had Ashe going in cir­cles around the great­room. He squint­ed at a vam­pire in a flow­ing gold gown, con­vinced he’d seen them just a moment ago in anoth­er group. Their dress glint­ed with light and daz­zled him. Ashe turned around, intent on find­ing the door to ori­ent him­self, but he was too deep into the room and there were social­iz­ing vam­pires from wall to wall.

”Lost, lit­tle one?” a vam­pire purred. Ashe dropped his eyes before he bowed to the voice. It belonged to the gold-draped vam­pire. The heavy fab­ric hugged their hips and pooled at their feet like liq­uid glit­ter. ”Who do you seek?”

Ashe closed his eyes tight­ly. He didn’t know, and that wasn’t a good answer. Unfortunately it was the only one he had. He straight­ened, ready to answer, and start­ed when he found him­self on the oth­er side of the room. The gold vam­pire was gone, or rather, they were still sev­er­al feet away, talk­ing with a group, while Ashe was in a dif­fer­ent place. Something was wrong. How had he moved here, and did the gold vam­pire have any­thing to do with it? They didn’t seem mad at him for not answer­ing the ques­tion. In fact, they act­ed as though Ashe hadn’t ever been there.

This had to be some kind of vam­pire trick. He couldn’t explain it, but Ashe was just a human. O-neg­a­tive, but human regard­less. A toy, a meal, and lit­tle more. His heart raced and Ashe had to force him­self to breathe even­ly. He wiped his hands on his pants and closed his eyes again to start over. He need­ed to find the door to ori­ent him­self, then locate the vam­pire that had called him. Ashe opened his eyes.

He had been moved again.

The expe­ri­ence was so unset­tling he jerked and released an invol­un­tary yelp. A vam­pire chuck­led. This time he stood fac­ing a reclin­ing crea­ture in a grey suit. Their head was speck­led with short, dark hair, and two of their four fangs had descend­ed. They were smil­ing at Ashe. ”Humans are so enter­tain­ing to play with. So eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed. Like clay.”

This had to be the vam­pire who had called him. Ashe recov­ered him­self and bowed low, remain­ing there until he spot­ted a slight ges­ture from the suit­ed crea­ture to offer him­self. Ashe went to his knees eas­i­ly and lift­ed his tat­tooed arm for inspec­tion.

The vam­pire slapped his hand away and rushed him. Ashe half expect­ed it since their fangs had been down already, but he still fell back under the vampire’s weight and shook as the bite pierced his neck. Two spots of sharp pain spread into a throb­bing mess of ache in the span of a breath. The vam­pire clutched him like he might be tak­en away by force, nails dig­ging into Ashe’s arms pos­ses­sive­ly. Their breath was cold on Ashe’s neck and the creature’s dry skin made Ashe’s hair stand on end. They sucked at Ashe’s neck in puls­es, growl­ing between each one like a threat­ened tiger. Ashe’s blood flowed from his body, pushed with each heart­beat. His fin­gers were cold. Ashe’s breath short­ened as he became light­head­ed. How much blood was this crea­ture going to take? He couldn’t donate much but they knew that. They were sup­posed to know that. They were sup­posed to care about things like that.

Ashe grunt­ed as the vam­pire wrenched his fangs free, tear­ing flesh with them and leav­ing Ashe bleed­ing and near uncon­scious­ness on the floor. He blinked up at the bright ceil­ing while the flow­ing clothes of the vam­pires around him seemed to cir­cle in slow motion. His neck throbbed. Ashe couldn’t feel his fin­gers and he was pret­ty sure there was a chunk miss­ing from his throat. He jerked invol­un­tar­i­ly, blood­loss burn­ing through his body from head to toe.

Like an angel, the vampire’s face hov­ered over him. They were sur­round­ed by glow­ing lights and Will had always told him that’s how angels were depict­ed in all the sto­ries. Sent from heav­en, ter­ri­ble and beau­ti­ful. That did describe the vam­pire, but Ashe was pret­ty sure angels were sup­posed to help their peo­ple. He’d have to ask Will again. He couldn’t remem­ber the sto­ries. The details were slip­ping away into the black edges of his vision.

”Your blood is always the most deli­cious,” said the vam­pire.

Ashe squint­ed a bit at their face. He hadn’t met this vam­pire before, right? How would the vam­pire know his blood?

”O-neg­a­tive is a del­i­ca­cy. It’s the only thing I drink any­more.”

Right, his blood type. Of course. Ashe nod­ded his under­stand­ing and let his eyes close. He was so tired and the cold was seep­ing up into his arms now. He felt heavy.

”Hey, hey, open your eyes.” The vam­pire pat­ted Ashe’s face and he strug­gled to focus again. The vam­pire showed his fangs in a rough smile. ”You don’t get to sleep, I have to drink you dry first.”

Ashe grunt­ed and the sound gur­gled a bit as it passed up his throat. An ache start­ed to bloom in his neck where the vam­pire had bit­ten him, spread­ing like a slow, dark bruise from his col­lar­bone to his jaw. Ashe worked his mouth again, forc­ing some­thing like words through the throb­bing ache. ”Feed again… lat­er?” The words scratched his throat like the vampire’s fangs, bleed­ing out and swal­lowed by the grin­ning teeth above him.

”How quaint,” the crea­ture said. ”It thinks I’ll keep it around like a doll.”

Ashe’s gut twist­ed with fear, but the cold seep­ing into his limbs buffered it. He knew his hands were shak­ing but it was like a dis­tant thing hap­pen­ing in anoth­er place or time. For some rea­son, this vam­pire had no inter­est in keep­ing Ashe alive, either as food or to show him off. Apparently killing an O-type was their way of flaunt­ing sta­tus. Ashe wasn’t ready. He hadn’t been pre­pared for this strange vam­pire par­ty, the mind trick, the feed­ing. Nothing about this was famil­iar or nor­mal. Why had he been cho­sen?

In a last-ditch effort to save him­self, Ashe offered his tat­tooed arm again. Lifting it felt like haul­ing an entire moun­tain up with one hand, but it was that or bleed qui­et­ly out on the floor like so many oth­ers. ”I’m… claimed.” Under his O-type ink was a list of vam­pire names, dif­fer­ent crea­tures who had fed from him at one time or anoth­er. Ashe’s under­stand­ing of their cul­ture was lim­it­ed to the few min­utes or hours he was called to feed them every few weeks, which left him with a bro­ken lens to know them through. Regardless, he was pret­ty sure the names on his arm meant some­thing.

”Yes…” The vam­pire grasped the under­side of Ashe’s fore­arm del­i­cate­ly. Ashe let the moun­tain weight of it fall into their palm. ”Yes, you were claimed by  once. I killed them.” Casually, the vam­pire flexed their free hand and a set of five, dark claws, hooked like an eagle, grew from each fin­ger. They let one come to rest on Ashe’s arm, on the inked name of Yesoph, and care­ful­ly, as if Ashe were some­thing del­i­cate, that claw sliced into Ashe’s arm right through the name. ”Hmm,” the vam­pire said as they tapped their claw down the list. ”Heakta will be upset to lose you. Marsh is not worth my time. Illia–” The vampire’s hand spasmed tight­ly around Ashe’s arm. They threw the limb at Ashe where it bounced on his chest, sting­ing from the cut, but only ooz­ing slight­ly since the major­i­ty of his blood had already been tak­en. That was a bit con­cern­ing.

The vam­pire spun away from Ashe and growled to anoth­er he couldn’t see. ”You didn’t tell me it was claimed by Illia! What is this?”

”He offered his arm to you. It’s hard­ly my fault you didn’t check.” The voice was deep­er than the feed­ing vampire’s, more like vel­vet. In his fad­ing, deliri­ous state, Ashe thought it might be nice to feed that one. They sound­ed more sophis­ti­cat­ed.

”You promised me a meal. This is hard­ly sat­is­fy­ing–” The vampire’s words choked off when a dark-skinned hand grabbed their throat and lift­ed them into Ashe’s vision. They scratched their claws into the beefy arm hold­ing them aloft, and though the flesh split and yawned, no blood flowed. The strength in the arm nev­er wavered.

”Our deal was for an O-type, noth­ing more. Disparage my word again and you won’t sur­vive long enough to regret it” The sus­pend­ed vam­pire choked and squirmed. Eventually the dark hand opened, drop­ping them back to the seat of the couch and out of Ashe’s vision once more. ”Now see to your food before it expires.”

Did blood have an expi­ra­tion date? Ashe guessed that made sense, though it seemed to be a pret­ty short win­dow. The lights whirling on the ceil­ing start­ed to bloom togeth­er in shades of gold that briefly took the form of the gold-dressed vam­pire. The vision bled out into a wash of col­or before long. Darkness began creep­ing in at the edges, bring­ing a weighty exhaus­tion with it. Ashe sighed and leaned in, hap­py to final­ly have some rest.

His body was jerked upright and some­thing hot, too hot, was pressed into his mouth. It swirled over his tongue–a blaze of liq­uid fire–and choked him. He tried to cough but the thing pressed to his mouth was immo­bile and Ashe was forced to swal­low. He snort­ed, forc­ing the burn­ing liq­uid up and out his nose where it over­whelmed his remain­ing sens­es. Everything was fire and spice. It filled his lungs and his head and his bones, dri­ving the cold from every limb like the hound relent­less­ly pur­sues the fox. His body seized.

He was dropped to the floor. Ashe curled onto his side, cough­ing, eyes tear­ing, throat and nose burn­ing. He gasped for air, cer­tain he was dying and sud­den­ly, mor­tal­ly, afraid of what would come next. His chest heaved. A deep, unnerv­ing tin­gle began in his gut and spread across his skin. It seemed to focus at his throat. The sen­sa­tion made him gag. Ashe rolled up to his hands and knees, dry heav­ing. Just as quick­ly, the sen­sa­tion was gone and, with an abrupt­ness that spoke of vam­pire tricks, Ashe was whole and hale.

He could breathe again. The fire was gone, so was the tin­gling. His throat didn’t ache and he had none of the symp­toms of blood loss that he’d been cat­a­loging before. No light­head­ed­ness, chill, or exhaus­tion. He blinked at his hands on the mar­ble floor, then brought one up to touch his neck. Just the fin­ger­tips, just a graze. But there was no pain. No ragged, open flesh. He stroked his fin­gers down his throat and found a twist­ed scar instead, healed. ”What?” His voice croaked, stretch­ing an unused patch of scar tis­sue for the first time. Belatedly he spun around, seek­ing the vam­pire who had fed on him and the appar­ent deal­er who had brought Ashe from his cell into this bizarre new world.

They were both star­ing at him, unblink­ing. Unbreathing. Undead.

The dark-skinned vam­pire was tall and whispy thin. Their eyes were so pale they almost had no col­or at all, only white with small dots for pupils. Their suit was equal­ly pale, stand­ing stark­ly against their skin, no doubt a delib­er­ate effect. One sleeve was torn where the feed­ing vam­pire had clawed them raw. The dark flesh hung open, expos­ing the bone beneath, but didn’t bleed. It didn’t appear to both­er the crea­ture in the least.

”It’s alive,” the feed­ing vam­pire spat. ”Take it back to its cell.”

”I’m hap­py to pro­vide a replace­ment–”

The feed­ing vam­pire snarled, ”I don’t want any more of your favors. Our busi­ness is con­clud­ed.”

”Very well.”

The dark crea­ture didn’t bow when he stepped away, an insult the feed­ing vam­pire bared their four fangs at, but let go with­out a word. One dark hand, as human as any­thing, grasped Ashe around one arm and hauled him to his feet. The grip was tight, bruis­ing, but Ashe was so grate­ful to feel it, to know he was alive, that he stum­bled quick­ly after his escort lest they decide to release him. He need­ed to feel that grip and know this was real, because noth­ing else about this night made any sense. He had to know with­out a doubt that this wasn’t anoth­er trick of a vam­pire mind, toy­ing with him.

The vam­pire marched him through the gath­er­ing and crea­tures part­ed before them like water, nev­er look­ing but nonethe­less know­ing that they passed. With laugh­able ease they head­ed direct­ly for the glow­ing glass doors, con­firm­ing again that Ashe couldn’t rely on his own sens­es to know his real­i­ty. It was cold out­side. Ashe flinched at the first blast of chill, notic­ing the vampire’s hand on his arm cooled to match. Then he was being thrown into the black lev­car, the same one that had brought him here. Ashe stum­bled and col­lapsed against the far side of the car. He went quick­ly to his knees. His shoul­der smart­ed where he’d crashed against the seat but it was a minor pain. Nothing com­pared to the burn­ing fire they’d forced down his throat.

Ashe bent low over his knees. He wasn’t sure of the pro­to­col when a human was hand­ed over to a dif­fer­ent crea­ture in the same night. Did this vam­pire out­rank the first one? Clearly some polit­i­cal move had been made. Ashe made him­self small and reviewed the pro­ce­dures he knew. The vam­pire seat­ed them­selves in the lev­car, knees gen­tly nudg­ing Ashe into the cor­ner, and a moment lat­er they were air­borne.

At a loss, Ashe offered his tat­tooed arm for inspec­tion. It was cus­tom for a human to be assessed before a feed­ing and while Ashe was unsure this vam­pire want­ed to feed, he didn’t know what else to do. He turned his arm under­side up and lift­ed it. As he did, Ashe saw the list of names under his O-type ink. The top name, just under the O, was illeg­i­ble. A pale pink scar had oblit­er­at­ed the name and, no doubt, the claim that vam­pire once held. They were dead, Ashe remem­bered. Did that mean there was room for a new claim? Did this vam­pire want the spot?

The lev­car tilt­ed, hum­ming slight­ly beneath Ashe’s knees and hand. The vam­pire ignored his prof­fered arm, if they even saw it. Ashe risked a glance up. The vam­pire wasn’t breath­ing or blink­ing again, as though the pre­tense of human­i­ty had been for the ben­e­fit of the par­ty and noth­ing more. A small light glowed amber on the side of their head, right above their ear.

Projected imag­ing skit­tered across the vampire’s pale eyes; orange, blue, and green. Details too small for Ashe to make out. Ashe lift­ed his head a bit more, fas­ci­nat­ed despite him­self. What tech­nol­o­gy was this?

The vam­pire glanced at Ashe, all the detailed lights blink­ing off in the ges­ture so that he was fixed to the floor by white eyes. Ashe dropped his gaze instant­ly, inch­ing his tat­tooed arm up anoth­er hair in offer­ing. There was a moment of ten­sion between them where Ashe feared he would be pun­ished. He’d looked up with­out per­mis­sion and this vam­pire, like all oth­ers Ashe had met, had no rea­son to with­hold the vio­lence that qui­et­ly churned inside. Ashe was noth­ing worth sav­ing.

Except… Except appar­ent­ly for the vam­pire named Illia. That tat­too had saved his life, tonight. Whatever pow­er Illia held, the feed­ing vam­pire feared it.

At length, the white stare flicked back to its for­ward posi­tion and Ashe was released from the ten­sion of threat. He wouldn’t die just yet. It was prob­a­bly appro­pri­ate to thank someone’s god­dess for their mer­cy. Ashe made a note to ask Wes about deities as well as angels.

For the rest of the trip, Ashe kept his arm up in offer­ing, lock­ing the mus­cles in his shoul­der when the joint began to ache and protest. This was the small­est of pains he’d col­lect­ed tonight. It was noth­ing to ignore it. The vam­pire was so still as to be a stat­ue. Utterly immo­bile. Deadlike. The only sound in the lev­car was Ashe’s uneven breath­ing, expos­ing his con­fu­sion and lack of con­fi­dence. The lev­car came to rest at the tran­sit sta­tion with a soft hiss as it docked. The door behind Ashe lift­ed upward. Familiar fil­tered air rushed into the car. For sev­er­al addi­tion­al heart­beats, Ashe remained in posi­tion, wait­ing for the vam­pire to dis­miss him. Or do any­thing else, real­ly. He wasn’t about to fuck up right at the end of the night.

Eventually their vel­vet voice said, ”Leave.”

Ashe scram­bled out of the car and through the sta­tion, only breath­ing full again when he ran for the guard­ed and locked out­er door of the cell block. He was allowed inside. The heavy clunk of the lock was far more reas­sur­ing than Ashe had ever felt before. He col­lapsed onto the show­er room’s bench, hands shak­ing, breath ragged. He stared at the scar deform­ing his fore­arm, then ran his hand over his neck, still in dis­be­lief. He’d been dead, or near enough, and some­thing had brought him back. Something so hot it scald­ed him and smelled like a spice he didn’t know. That some­thing had healed him. Completely. It fright­ened him.

”Looks like they had fun with you tonight.”

Ashe jumped on the bench. He stared wide-eyed at Johnathan. How did the guard know what had hap­pened? Was there some sign that his mind had been played with?

”You’re cov­ered in blood, get in the show­er.”

Ashe looked down at the slight­ly ruf­fled white shirt. It was red from his neck to  his pants, bright with his own blood. Tacky. There had been vast­ly more impor­tant issues tonight than a soaked shirt but all of a sud­den it rep­re­sent­ed every­thing. Ashe tore it from his body, pop­ping but­tons and seams as he did so. He couldn’t get it off fast enough. The pants fol­lowed. Then he stum­bled into the show­ers and spent his full two min­utes soap­ing him­self from head to toe over and over and over. Until the water ran clear, then ran pink again when he scrubbed him­self raw. He couldn’t wash the scars away, nor the mem­o­ry of the mind games that had turned him around in the great room. He couldn’t scrape off the vis­cer­al sense-mem­o­ry of fire slid­ing down his throat nor the unnat­ur­al, eerie tin­gle that fol­lowed. Ashe shud­dered in the water and hugged him­self. He let it pound against his back, his chest, his face, gasp­ing for air and shak­ing hard enough to slide on the tiles.

He jerked when the water shut off with a click.

Jonathan had his clothes on the bench. Ashe dried off as best he could with the damp tow­el, changed, and fol­lowed the guard with­out a word. He scratched at the tat­too on his arm, shud­der­ing when his nails ran over the new scar. Something had changed tonight. Something Ashe didn’t under­stand. Something that scared him. He didn’t want to see that dark vam­pire in the light suit ever again.

He climbed up to his bunk as soon as Jonathan opened the cell. Wes tried to talk to him, asked him too many ques­tions, but Ashe just shook his head. He want­ed to sleep. He want­ed all of this to be an extend­ed mind game. When he woke up tomor­row night his neck wouldn’t be scarred, and that pale-eyed vam­pire would just be a bad dream.


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