Life wouldn’t ever be the same since they ripped the world from humanity’s grasp.
Staring out of the bus’s window as rain pattered against it, my eyes narrowed. The sea-green of my gaze reflected back to me as I stared out into the night. The streetlights flashed hauntingly against the soaked streets as dark storm clouds engulfed the night sky.
The feelings of melancholy, powerlessness… and hope, too, permeated the air. Just a smidgeon of hope. But it was there.
“Luna, are you alright?” came a soft, feminine voice beside me. I turned my head, fixing my gaze upon a woman with flowing hair dyed ebon with streaks of crimson. A black floppy hat was set on her head.
Despite her warm smile, I could see the same trepidation I felt reflected in Kelsy’s hazel eyes, which stared out from behind square frames. Her black nails drew over the pale-ivory of her skin slowly, the nervous tick rearing its head in full view. Not that she noticed.
“…I’m fine,” I lied, studying my own nails, painted similarly to hers. My silken black hair fell over the tawny-brown, unmarked, skin of my shoulder, a noticeable contrast to Kelsy’s due to the lack of wounds. Puncture wounds dotted my friend’s flesh, as if she’d been mauled by some wild animal. Reality, unfortunately, was far darker.
My eyes fell upon the bracelet she wore on her wrist, sending shivers down my spine. It blinked with a red light every so often, indicating that it was active. On the center of the ‘accessory’ was a golden cobra ready to strike. The sigil of Elapid City. No longer Elmgreen, a formerly ordinary city near the shoreline of northern New England, United States. This place belonged to the serpents now.
Noticing my stare, Kelsy cleared her throat. Now, her hand reached up to fumble with her necklace, an odd little thing with a metallic DNA strand hanging off of it. Appropriate for the Biology professor. “You don’t need to worry so much, Luna. It’s not like I was forced into this program, or anything. I know it’ll take some time to get used to the changes. But I can make a difference with this–and I’ll be safe!”
“You’d better be,” I said sternly, allowing a light sigh to escape my lips. “At least they can’t ambush you at any time they’d like since your bracelet indicates the ‘scientific study’ status. This ‘Marked’ system is very helpful for the peace here, no doubt. I understand that the bracelets indicate they are ‘on the job’ and allowing vampires to feed from them for a huge sum of money, all willingly. A few moments of fear some nights lead to prosperity for many. But it’s…eerie. ”
“Oh bother, my research will make the lives of those people even better–and the vampires too. They worry more than you might think, Luna. We have among the few on the planet, here, who really want to make an effort to maintain this harmony,” she assured me. I had to nod, knowing she was right.
My stare shifted back out the window as the bus came to a slow. People began to shuffle out of the vehicle, my friend and me included. Snatching the umbrella from my side, I opened it to reject the rain. My mind was overflowing as it was, and I didn’t need a soaking to add to that.
Kelsy let out a sigh, pouting slightly as she wandered down the street along with me. “I wish we would have gone out a few hours later than we did! I could have caught so many frogs in this weather. Look! The rain is coming down harder now. Aw well,” she complained, causing me to smile and shake my head. The world might have changed forever, but that scientist would always be on the lookout for small animals to catch, study, and release. I enjoyed helping her, though I preferred a long book by an open fire.
“Hm, well there’s always another day,” I said as we walked, my eyes set straight ahead. Despite the rain, the city was bustling tonight, and we passed by some rather interesting characters. Red eyes gleamed from the shadows, eyeing us like wolves would to some deer wandering the forest.
They won’t attack you. You aren’t marked, I told myself, closing my eyes for a moment. And Kelsy’s band is special. The timeframe ended a few minutes ago.
When I opened my eyes again, we passed by a tall gentleman in a suit with dark skin and hair shaved short. His red eyes gleamed as he inspected us like the rest, his eyes falling down to my wrist. Seeing the lack of a bracelet paired with my stare, he widened his lips slowly into a smile, which then parted into a dangerous smirk. The gesture wasn’t lost on me–he was flashing his fangs in a threatening manner, as if questioning why I was out among the other humans who allowed vampires to ambush them.
I wet my lips nervously, turning my head away as we walked onward. The sight of his teeth was extremely unsettling. No fantasy literature on vampires had prepared me for this. We’d gotten it all wrong. For, rather than two fangs, he had an entire mouth full of them. The mouth of a true carnivore. Kelsy had explained to me that it all made sense. Why have dull teeth if you never ate vegetation, she asked?
That didn’t make it any less creepy.
“How does it feel?” I asked suddenly, out of earshot from the hungry vampire that’d eyed us as we’d passed.
“What do you mean?” Kelsy asked, her attention turning to me. She’d been consoling a caged frog, assuring that it’d go home as soon as it was tagged.
“To be bitten,” I said, rubbing at my arm as if having felt it myself.
“Oh, well, it feels–”
That’s when a low, masculine chuckle rang out from just up ahead, and I groaned upon realizing he was someone I recognized.
Dyed-red hair spilled down his back, soaked as he didn’t bother to shield himself from the rain. A black T-shirt reading ‘I Bite’ in red clung to his flesh, highlighting his powerful musculature. He was built like a football player, the bleached-bone-pale of his flesh dotted with laceration scars. He loomed at a height of over 6 feet, much taller than either Kelsy or me, as we were just over 5’. His crimson gaze was fixed upon me as he wore an eerie, crooked grin that displayed the full array of his dagger-like fangs.
Much to my dismay, he answered my question, his voice being the last I wanted to hear right this moment. “Hello there, daring human. You seek to know what it’s like to be bitten? Well. I can gladly demonstrate for you,” he purred, like a lion reassuring a rabbit.
Kelsy drew closer to me, letting out a breath. She whispered, “Isn’t he a visiting king? The one you threw a book at? What is he doing here?!”
Unfortunately, Jasper answered that too.
“King of Arachnida, you are indeed correct. Professor Luna did in fact throw a book at me when my brother and I were having a slight disagreement. As for what I’m doing here, I followed the scent of something delicious, so here I am,” the vampire said, sneering toward the scientist.
Taken aback, Kelsy furrowed her brow, but didn’t break her stare on the jock-like vampire. The hearing of his species was eerie. I wasn’t sure if the point to his ears helped him with that, or if it was just an aesthetic trait of natural-born vampires.
Regardless, I scoffed, planting my hands on my hips. The damn vampire might intimidate me, but I wasn’t going to let that rule my actions by any means. “I don’t think anyone asked you, Jasper, she was talking to me. Do you go out of your way to act like a creepy stalker from a young adult novel, or are you naturally this obnoxious?”
Startled at my bravado, Jasper tilted his head, reaching up to tap a black claw upon his chin. I resisted the urge to shiver at the sight of them, having witnessed vampires using said claws to rip their enemies limb from limb without hesitation.
Jasper’s eyes sparkled with curiosity as he looked back to me now. “Mm? What novels do you speak of? You are amusing, Luna, quite the fire you hold. But alas, there is a different reason I’m gracing you with my presence.”
I rolled my eyes at his prideful demeanor, shooting a glare toward Kelsy as she stifled a snicker. She knew how much I bitched about this particular vampire. I’d only been trying to help my new friends, since it looked as though Jasper had been about to attack them. Somehow my actions drew his attention to me, something I feared though I tried not to show.
“Oh? What is it, then?” I finally asked, giving a sigh.
“As you know, I am attending your lovely university upon request of King Goliath. I am still learning my way around, but you know yours far better. Therefore, if you have availability, I would greatly enjoy a tour of campus,” he said, the tone of his voice shifting to a hint of eagerness.
A long silence coagulated around us, and I ran my hand through my silken hair, considering his question.
Jasper is dangerous. His attitude toward humans has been made very clear. He sees me as lesser, and prey. I should turn him down now and tell him to leave me alone. Perhaps he’d listen. But… this could also be a chance to show him that his mentality is entirely unreasonable, I thought to myself.
When my eyes darted back to his, I felt a surge of shock rush through me. The delay in my response hadn’t prompted anger or impatience. His deep crimson gaze faltered, and he furrowed his brow, his tongue drawing over his lips not in hunger, but as if his nerves were shot. Was he afraid that I’d say no?
I decided that this was the perfect time to test him.
“What if I’m too busy, or don’t want you around?” I asked flatly, staring him down as he unbelievably shifted his gaze away from mine. He could rip me limb from limb so easily. In the blink of an eye, a twitch of a claw, my blood could be splattered all along the pavement. Yet his expression dropped, as if he’d been rejected from some major party he’d been looking forward to.
“Then I would no longer pester you about it, and I would find my way about on my own. I merely seeked to have company, and despite your questionable bravery, I find you highly intelligent, especially after reading some of your works,” he replied.
Raising a brow, I realized he meant my articles in the college newspaper that I reported on every so often. Perhaps he also meant the novel series I worked on from time to time. Regardless, I sighed, satisfied with his response. He’d passed the ‘test’ I had set up for him.
Meanwhile, Kelsy was looking back and forth between us like an observer trying to take mental notes for some sort of study. She’d said not a word since Jasper replied to her, clearly not wanting to butt into this exchange.
“I see. Well, if you can agree to behave, I suppose I can show you around,” I said finally, watching him perk up like an excited puppy.
“Excellent, when?” he asked, his voice a tad too casual. The bastard was burying his excitement.
“Sunday. Best not let classes go into the second week with you having no sense of direction,” I muttered. Satisfied with this, he nodded and shimmered, morphing into a large flying fox (the bat, not a winged vulpine) and taking off into the night. Drama king.
Groaning, I placed a hand on my forehead, giving Kelsy a sideways glance. “Great. What did I just agree too? Jasper’s a brat. He’s stuck up, thinks humans are livestock, is only here because King Goliath saved his life, and has the most incessant attitude.”
Kelsy clicked her tongue, reaching up to adjust her floppy hat. After verifying that the frog in her care was still just fine, she straightened up, her hazel eyes falling upon me. “Well Luna, I think he wants to get to know you more, maybe? Seems like you’re the first human to stand up to him. This could be dangerous, or it could be fruitful. You should be careful though. OK? Want me to come along?”
I rubbed at my arm, my eyes falling upon the murky sky that still spewed out a storm. In fact, the weather was starting to become more intense as a grumble of thunder snarled in the distance. “Yeah, I’ll be alright. You told me a few hours ago that you’ve a lot to set up for classes on Sunday. I’ll be fine alone, don’t worry. I’m not afraid of him,” I lied.
Kelsy was skeptical, but obeyed my wishes with a nod. We continued down the road until an apartment building came into view, one with smooth black brick a few stories high. Those offered on campus were of quite good quality, I had to admit.
We called it a night as the storm raged on, and I mulled over showing Jasper around campus in a few days. I wasn’t sure if my decision was the correct one, but I refused to let fear win this time.