Snow drifted lightly onto the roof of an Inn. The snowy season had begun again, as it did every 81 days. Inside, many of the folk who inhabited the land, travelers and those who had sunk into a routine that involved the place daily, moved casually throughout the building, keeping their heads down or conversing with wanton abandon in equal measure.
A booted foot kicked the unlatched entrance, and it dropped to the floor with little resistance. Several men and women dressed in identical rubbery grey coats marched in. They wore goggles, those thingies (a word recognized by the New Oxford American Dictionary) that surgeons wear around their mouths, and simple yet surprisingly fashionable bowler-esque hats. Most notably, they wore around their necks forest green candles that smelled of wild roses. The head among them’s was a bright red, which was clearly how you knew he was in charge. Most of the customers took immediate notice, but most importantly, an albaz woman named Ralund tensed the second they first had entered the building. They had finally found her. But that was impossible. She had been extremely careful. This was probably a random inspection. In fact, maybe they were just passing through the town and needed a place to rest.
“We have tracked our suspicions to this exact inn,” said the head among them.
Wildly, she tried to think back to when she could’ve possibly messed up.
“Two days prior, a Dwergaz of Tajlyndic birth came to us, reporting that he believed himself to be infected with the blood plague of Dorson.”
Several people began to mumble, but most of the others just stared blindly, not really understanding the technical speak, probably like the audience reading this.
“We confirmed his fears, and after performing the proper precautions, killed him. He reported that he was staying at this very inn one night, when he awoke to quick rustling and a strong smell of copper. Minutes after that was when the bleeding really started. He came to the doors of our Ichen Delegation, and it is therefore our responsibility to find the person responsible.”
“Or persons,” chimed in a younger member behind him. “As was my personal theory.”
“Yes, of course, persons is entirely plausible. The wound did seem big enough for two.”
Finally, it came back to Ralund. He had the wrong blood type, poisoning her; she must’ve injured him further in her confusion. And awoken him. And infected him. But, she was deathly ill for hours after that. She concluded that it was actually really terrible for all involved parties.
“So you’re saying that you believe a vampire is in my Inn?” asked the tender. “Because, this must’ve been what? Four days ago? They’re surely gone by now.”
“Wrong, my friend!” enthusiastically shouted the younger Ichen delegate before rushing over to the tender, very nearly tripping over a broken chair in her swiftness. “There have been several complaints of neck pains for months now from those who’ve stayed here. This Dorson disciple has clearly been staying here for quite a long time.”
The tender backed up into the wall, but the Ichen delegate just got closer, the scented candles around her neck beginning to smell unbearably strong and artificial.
“Why are you so worried? Maybe you’re the vampire!"
“Please excuse her,” said the leader. “She’s been investigating those cases for a long time, but everyone else, including, as I have to admit, myself, dismissed the reports as a reflection of the quality of such an establishment. No offense.”
“I think I have to take offense at that one.”
“That’s fine, it wasn’t a command. But this is, so pay attention. Everyone in here is possibly a vampire. Now, I expect full cooperation on your part when we herd all of your customers outside and wait ’til Sunset, which is in,” the man pulled a watch from his coat and checked it. “Oh, really?! fifteen minutes!? How I despise the snowy season. Could Ichen have not negotiated with the other spirits to get rid of it during her time on the council?”
As the Ichen Delegates prepared to move the contents err people of the building outside, the tender grabbed the man by the arm. He slapped his hand away with a swiftness rarely seen.
“Do not put your filthy hands on me! Do you have any idea how many germs accumulate on the palms of those in the service industry!”
He stopped for a second and took a deep breath. “Now, we have complete permission from the mayor to do this. And I trust I will not have to tell you that, as the owner who spends nearly every hour of his life here, you are one of our key suspects.”
“You heard them; Everyone outside!” shouted the innkeeper.
Ralund quickly stood up from her chair and went outside, making sure not to be seen lagging behind.
Ralund did her best to ignore the sun shining on the back of her neck, ignoring what must be happening in her veins, trying not to imagine in vivid detail the slow death she was undergoing. The first beads of sweat began to seep from her forehead, and she looked around to catch the end of a glance from one of the delegates. They were already suspicious! Ralund tried to think of something, but nothing came to mind. A few persons down from her, someone spoke up.
“Why aren’t you just checking for fangs? That seems like a simpler solution to me.”
Before any of the other delegates could answer, the enthusiastic one piped up in a frustrated manner.
“Dorson disciples don’t have fangs, you stupid, superstitious nutmeg.”
“Nutmeg?” asked the man, looking to those to his left and right. Both shrugged.
“Vampires aren’t the experiments of some bored, young sorcerer dabbling in biological machinations! The virus was brought into this world by Dorson himself, one of his oldest and most resilient epidemics!”
“I just thought they had fangs. . .” the man whispered before trailing off.
“Well they don’t! I swear, it’s people like you who lead to these things getting so out of hand. I swear to Ichen.”
This gave Ralund an idea.
“Hey,” she said. The women turned to her. “So are we just waiting for one of these people to burst into flames?”
Just from the laugh lines visible beneath the goggles, Ralund could see her face contorting. “They don’t burn! Why would they burn!? That doesn’t even make sense! What sort of microorganism causes combustion!?”
Ralund’s plan was working. Attention had moved from the suspects to one very passionately upset woman.
“The blood cells die. Sunlight puts the virus into the lysogenic cycle. Clearly. This is stuff you’d all know if you’d just read the Ichen Delegation’s free pamphlet, but apparently everyone is much too busy to.” She rolled her eyes (not that anyone could see), and then, noticing the staring, moved to the back of the group.
Ralund could feel her neck cooling, the sun finally down. She stopped herself from sighing in relief, and waited until the Ichen leader motioned for everyone to go inside. As she took her first steps she could feel her legs wobble. She had already waited too long since her previous victim, and that fifteen minutes had forced her hand. Tonight she’d have to find another.
As she came close to the wooden building’s front door, which was now splinted in the middle from the earlier kick, the same women who had berated her earlier for a lack of knowledge tossed something at Ralund, and instinctively she grabbed it. As soon as it touched her skin it burned.
“Merdune, what are you doing!” shouted a delegate.
“The iron, it burned her!” she replied.
“She just dropped the heavy metal sphere you threw at her. I swear, I’ll never understand why Bernfyn sees so much in you.”
Merdune, not content to allow this insult to slide, retorted.
“Even you should be able to tell she clearly recoiled in a burned manor.”
“Just come inside Merdune. Bernfyn is waiting for everyone.”
The two left to go inside, but Ralund lingered, rubbing her now pale white palm. Merdune knew.
That night, Ralund listened in suspense as Bernfyn debated heatedly with the innkeeper. After a long back and forth, Bernfyn agreed for him and the others to stay at a larger boarding house except for any residences who wished for their protection. Ralund payed careful attention to who agreed and who refused to be watched all night, and noticed a particularly tipsy looking man heading to his room. He’d be the one. Before he went to his room, she called him over, and easily coaxed his room’s location out of him.
After the last patron had went to bed, Ralund stole the tender’s copy of the room key and headed to the stairs leading to the second floor, creaking up the old wood as quietly as she could.
She opened the door, and inside saw the man, asleep like a rock. Inns with bars were really good places to prey. With a razor in one hand and a slip of parchment in the other, she began to work, making a slight cut around the neck. She let a drop hit the parchment, and then licked it. A universal donor, just what she needed. She made another incision, and began to funnel the copper smelling blue liquid into a tube. When the smell hit her nostrils, her saliva began to mix with something, forming a pastier substance. She sucked it back down. Ralund needed the blood to clot. It mattered now more than ever that as little evidence as possible was left behind. She carefully dabbed at the wound with a cloth, placed the tube securely in a pouch at her side, and returned to the cozy hallway outside. It wasn’t much blood, but it would hopefully be enough to get her through the night.
As she turned the ragged corner to the staircase, she saw the innkeeper waiting for her, halfway up the ragged steps. She would’ve been worried, but with the alternative of who could’ve seen her in that moment, this was almost a relief.
“So you’re the one!” he said, malice in his eyes. “Do you know what this is going to do to my business?”
“Sorry,” replied Ralund as sincerely as she could muster, (which was not very sincere).
“This Inn’s been run by my family since it was created, nearly two centuries ago! If I lose even one regular, I’ll be ruined, and another one of those imperial places will open up.”
The topic then changed to an angry rant about the rise of large business, and how it was becoming increasingly harder for the little guy to make it big in the modern world of industrialism. Rather than interrupting, Ralund decided to let him keep going on this tangent, hoping that he would tire himself out and be more subdued. It worked.
“So,” she began politely, this time with more success at being sincere. “I take it that you’re going to help me get out of this, right?”
“Now why would I do that? Did you listen to a single word I said!?”
“Did you listen to your own? A vampire at your inn could ruin your reputation. But, if that Ichen cult never finds anything and is forced to move their investigation elsewhere. . .”
“Then my reputation would be rescued, yeah yeah. I get what you’re saying, but the Delegation already has a report of an attack.”
“But the town police don’t. And the word of the Ichen Delegation has little effect on the common people. If I can get out of here without being noticed, it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”
The man thought for a moment, something Ralund could assume he didn’t have to do often.
“Fine,” he said, satisfied with her explanation. “But I don’t want you back here after they leave.”
“Also, they’re insisting on taking blood samples from anyone that leaves. I don’t know what your plan is for that.”
“I just need enough new blood to trick their test. If you just give me the keys. . .”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He handed her his keychain. “But I don’t want any more vampires in my Inn. Do you understand?”
“Don’t worry, I’m always careful. I’ve been here for months with only one incident. As you know.”
The man glared at her before heading back down stairs.
The next day, the Ichen delegates returned, wheeling in a foul smelling cart covered with a tarp. Bernfyn addressed the crowd.
“Last night, the rest of our group arrived with our tests, so if everyone would just organize themselves into an orderly line.”
No one did so.
“Alright,” he responded, authority in his voice. “The sooner you all cooperate, the sooner we can find this vampire. And the sooner we find this vampire, the sooner we’ll be able to leave this disgusting, filthy hovel.”
They continued to stare at him, a mixture of blank faces and grimaces amongst them.
“Once we’re gone, there will be no one left silently judging you’re disgusting way of life, you pigs.”
Reluctantly, a line formed, and everyone participated in increasingly bizarre tests, ranging from smelling musky grass pulled from beneath the snow drifts in the south to balancing a plate on one’s nose. Ralund smiled as she returned to the back of the line. Who were the superstitious ones now? Those as paranoid as the cult of Ichen are quick to believe anything that could possibly protect them, she guessed.
Finally they came to their last test, and this one did cause Ralund’s stomach to curl. Each person was forced to smell a vial of blood, followed by an inspection of their saliva, looking for the hemophilia causing compound. As her turn came closer Ralund closed her eyes and bit into her arm as hard as possible, drawing blood, and then began to desperately suck the spit back. Her turn came and passed without any noticeable change in the consistency of her saliva, and once again she was back to her table in the corner, waiting for everyone to fall asleep.
That night, Ralund crept up the stairs and began to test the blood of the inn’s guests. She unlocked the door to a room in the middle of the hallway and entered quietly, stooping over the person asleep in the uncomfortable sheets. As she prepared to make an incision, the person jumped out of the bed and slammed Ralund up against the wall.
“Well then,” said Merdune, for once her angular, chalkish dwergazian features not being obscured by the Ichen mask and goggles. “It seems like I was right.”
Ralund tried to talk, but Merdune’s thumb and index finger pushed at the lower back of her jaw.
“Nope, you’re not biting I’m afraid. I’ve got you stuck like a snake.”
Finally, Ralund raised her leg as high and far back as she could manage while pushed against the wall, and sunk her knee into Merdune’s stomach, causing her to crumple. Ralund fled and Merdune followed, rushing to put back on her slick coat as she gave chase.
In the hallway, Ralund’s triumphant fleeing was blocked by two other Ichen delegates, both of whom drew slightly curved blades with iron tips from their belts. Merdune emerged behind her.
“Well then, it would seem we’ve actually caught a disciple of Dorson. Aim for the arteries. Try to bleed her.”
The two in front of her lunged, both missing as Ralund swiftly moved backwards, an unhealthy amount of epinephrine being pumped into her veins. Merdune swang blindly, missing and almost taking off an ally’s head. Trained swordsmen they were not.
In spite of this, three people is much too dangerous when you are unarmed and equally untrained. As ralund began to slow, the unchecked epinephrine taking its toll, she changed tactics, ripping the surgeon thingy from one’s face and touching his cheek. He shrieked and fell backwards, only being stopped from crashing into the floor by Merdune.
“I’ve been touched! I am infected!”
“You’re fine,” replied Merdune, pushing him back up. He continued to kind of hop back and forth, but remained a fair distance. The other missed his thrust, and Ralund pulled his collar down and sunk her (perfectly human) teeth into his shoulder. He too shrieked, although less out of panic and more from the excruciating pain as the pasty venom touched his wound.
“Alright, I’m done,” replied the other, dropping his sword and placing his hands up. Shaking, he moved to the room Ralund and Merdune had emerged from, latching the door behind him.
Ralund fled yet again. As she reached the bottom of the stairs she saw two more Ichen delegates guarding the door to the outside. She stopped for a moment, but then with no other choice charged, pushing them from her way as she ran into the night. Merdune was right behind her when one of the delegates stopped her.
“Merdune! Where is your mask and goggles?”
They grabbed her, holding her back.
“No, get her! She’s the vampire! She’s the one we’re after!”
“I cannot believe you would do something so foolish as traverse the deadly world of civilization without your mask! You have put us all at risk!”
The arguement continued, with the guards completely oblivious to Merdune’s words, but Ralund did not hear, as she was already crouched at the edge of the forest. It was snowing again, but she just had to ignore it. She turned to continue running, but felt something puncture her leg, forcing her to the ground. Behind her, Bernfyn, accompanied by another delegate, approached. He placed his crossbow on his side.
“So, what shall we do?” asked the accompanying member. “You know, I hear the Emperor is paying money to anyone willing to sell a vampire to a University.”
“No. We have to kill and then burn her, just as we do with checkered knights. She is too dangerous to be kept alive, and sending her off to those sorcerers to find a cure is beyond pointless. Even the best among them takes years to replace the blood.”
As they discussed this, Ralund had begun to crawl, hoping beyond hope for a lucky streak. At this point, there was nothing clever left to do. She could hear the two’s conversation petering out, and began to accept her fate, when she heard a third voice address them.
“Bernfyn, Bernfyn, it is terrible! Merdune traversed civilization without her mask and goggles!”
“I do not know, sir. There were two others, claiming to have been infected. We disposed of both, but do not know what the appropriate response is to Merdune’s infraction.”
“I will handle it,” replied Bernfyn, sadness in his voice at the actions of his best pupil. “I will leave right after,”
He turned to see that Ralund had disappeared, her bloody imprint already covered by fresh snowfall.
As her heart began to calm, Ralund grasped the bolt and prepared to rip it from her leg, but stopped just short. Without it she would bleed out in seconds. She curled up in the snow, trying to ignore the cold, too much even for her reduced senses. But the blood plague wouldn’t let her die, at least not like this. At least as long as she kept refreshed. She reached into the pouch at her side, taking the tubes she had filled, and began to drink.