Lounging upon my silky couch, my gaze lingered on the remote as a battleground initiated in my brain. Ever since the vampires took Earth from humanity a year ago, many stations had become compromised. Their hidden kingdoms held so much power that we really didn’t stand a chance. They didn’t hide reality, either. Their news stations, to this day, broadcasted what was true horror for me.
Like someone unable to look away from a car crash, I turned on the TV. The first channel was, predictably, one that replayed movies. It was one of the few that were run by the vampires seeking harmony, and so tried to leave a sliver of normalcy going for those like, well, me. I couldn’t hide from reality forever, however, so I began switching through them.
Eventually, I landed upon a news station. The reporter had a deep crimson gaze, and when she opened her mouth to speak, I caught the sight of her dagger-like fangs. Wincing, I closed my eyes and willed myself to calm down. I needed to be able to handle this.
“In other news, the blood trade is booming. Livestock trades are at their all time high, the business is rather profitable. If you’re looking to get into the market, there are some high price tags on the livestock from self-proclaimed kingdoms of harmony. They protect their livestock very well, and rumor has it that their blood will be mana-enriched soon due to magical training. Some kingdoms advise against antagonizing, what do you think, Eric?”
The camera panned over to a pale man with slicked-back black hair, a prettied-up suit, and a weasel-like smile. He drew his tongue along the pink of his lips, pondering the question for a moment. “Well, Jane, as you know, we strive to be neutral on these matters, but if I were to pick sides, we-he-hell I would most definitely enjoy a good hunt.”
The reporter woman laughed along with him in an eerie manner, and the screen flashed over to a different scene. Jane’s excited tone rang out over a dark landscape with corpses littering the pavement. Tall buildings loomed over the dozens of bodies like a city cage, the dull lights of the street just barely touching on the grisly scene. Fresh crimson stained the street, and off to the side, vampires could be seen ripping into one another with claws and fangs, spilling blood like a river of gore and despair.
My breath caught as I watched what looked like a horror movie scene, but was actually my reality. The reporters went on about the various vampire battles still occurring in major cities that used to be owned by humans, casually laying out those with the current upper hand and predictions about which kingdom would win over which city. All of the cities they showed footage of were previously bustling with human activity, but not anymore.
My shaking hand reached over to the remote, switching it off before I hugged myself, letting out a shaky breath.
This is reality now, I told myself, allowing tears of panic to crawl down my cheeks.
A wave of melancholy crashed over me as I realized how lucky I was. I’d be dead, or worse, if I was in most other cities at the time of the uprising. I feared the vampires a great deal, but King Goliath and other heroes managed to take back this Northeastern United States city from a would-be royal tyrant in 2020. Things were far from perfect here, but we were better off than most of the rest of the world.
I didn’t talk much to my relatives from outside of the country, but I felt a pool of despair within me regarding their fate. They’d moved to the United States soon before I was born, but we drifted apart for various reasons. My true family had been most of my friends here in the city before tragedy struck. My heart clenched as tears began to pour out and down my cheeks upon once again realizing that most had been slaughtered in the conflict.
I told myself to stay strong on a daily basis, but right now was a great time to just let myself break down. I shook with a mixture of panic, grief, and anger as I allowed myself to let go. My body shuddered with emotion until allowing me to drift off into sleep, the nightmares bombarding me once again. I was getting used to them, at this point.
Awakening with a gasp, I took in a deep breath, rolling off of the couch with a loud Ow! Rubbing my eyes, I blearily looked about, checking the clock and realizing it was already noon. I didn’t have much to do, since it was a Saturday, and the first week of classes didn’t render much homework. I was both a professor and student, since I taught the vampires human literature while learning magic myself.
My eyes fell upon the various tomes of magic hanging around my desk, some of which I had already read. I was waiting to practice the magic in class, but I’d have extra lessons since I’d be so busy and wanted to be ahead of the curve. Kelsy and I had already started the process of learning our familiars, or animals we shapeshifted into for travel purposes.
The ‘familiar’ form was a simple magic spell that took mana to maintain, which rendered the user to shift into a small animal, usually one with flight, for an extended period of time. The more practice, the easier the spell came. Unlike true shapeshifters, a ‘familiar form’ did not maintain the user’s mass. It required a constant flow of mana to maintain.
Speaking of which, I snatched up my phone and read a text from Kelsy.
Wanna practice some basic magic today?
After the breakdown I had last night, doing something that would put my mind at ease somewhat, like building up my skills for defense with magic, would probably do me well. We set up a place, and I left toward the bathroom to get ready and head out.
I looked through my closet, which consisted of dark clothing. Today I’d be in casual wear, so I snatched up a black blouse with some lace in the chest area. Tossing on some simple onyx pants, I examined the midnight-sheen of my nails, determining that they didn’t need to be touched up. The gothic style suited me very well, and it was something I embraced wholeheartedly. I designed the make-up of my eyes to emphasize this, layering on the eyeliner and eyeshadow. I finished up things with a lace choker and black lipstick.
After rubbing some floral lotion on the copper of my skin, I gave myself one last glance in the mirror before giving a nod. Tossing on a light jacket, I headed out into the campus, noting the clouds gathering in the sky. I didn’t recall a report on rain, so I figured we could practice in the forest just fine.
The first week of Cobratongue University had gone successfully, though some of the students leaned on the eerie side. Some vampires I passed side-eyed me curiously, their gazes falling to my wrist in an attempt to see if I was open to be fed from. A shiver ran down my spine at that thought, but I gave them an awkward smile anyway.
Some students actually wandered up to me and struck up a conversation about the current literature assignments from my class, which was light work to start things off. The normalcy of that coming from mostly vampires was disorienting, but I didn’t mind it all that much.
I passed by several brick buildings before coming to the treeline of the woods near campus. Kelsy and I were going to meet at our favorite spot for practice. I smiled as I walked by several pine trees swaying in the wind, taking in the scent of the forest. A grey squirrel passing on by turned to stare at me inquisitively, dismissing me as I moved on.
Eventually, I came upon my friend in a clearing. She was sitting by a rock, wearing her usual dark-floppy hat, black clothing, and lab coat. She was writing in a notebook, humming to herself as she studied several ants crawling about in front of her. The biologist was so lost in this activity that when I cleared my throat, she gave a yelp and a jump. So much so that her glasses were dislodged somewhat.
“Luna! Oh bother, you scared me! How are you?! I am so excited to start learning!” she said, giving a few heaving breaths and struggling to her feet. The fair skin of her cheeks was tinged with an embarrassed red. Her smile was far brighter than her clothing, and mine reflected that.
“Yeah, I’m a little nervous. But I bet we’ll be golden,” I replied, running my nails through my hair.
Suddenly, a series of loud roars rang out through the woods, causing both of us to freeze. Thud! Thud! Thud! I let out a yell and dove out of the way, grabbing Kelsy’s arm in the process to ensure she didn’t get run over by the monster barreling through the area.
For, running about on a single pair of legs, was a truck-sized gigantic reptilian beast. Razor-sharp jet-black scales covered its body, and the midpoint of a trunk-like torso branched off into three heads. The jaws of this monster were long, like that of a crocodilian. Rather than attack us, though, it skidded to a stop before slamming into a group of trees. That’s when we spotted the person upon its back.
“WOO! FUCK YEAH THAT WAS BADASS!” a masculine voice cheered. From the back of the now disoriented hydra leaped a fairly punkish vampire. He stood at almost a foot taller than Kelsy and I, wearing a crooked smile that showed off an array of dagger-like teeth. Several piercings displayed on him, including many hoops down his pointed ears, spider bites, and hoops on his eyebrows. He had a side-shaved haircut at medium length, the tips of it a crimson red. The ivory skin of his face and neck was littered with scars. He was dressed in an array of leathers and chains and wore a spiked choker; I recognized him immediately.
Kelsy spoke up first, with, “Ares! How did you–why did you–” She was clutching her floppy hat to her chest, her eyes widened in fear once again.
“Hiiiiii students!” the vampire purred, turning toward the hydra again and giving a whistle. “Thanks doll, for yer help!” The hydra turned to stare at him, giving him a six-eyed glare, letting out a snort. Ares turned to face us, brushing himself off. “That’s Sky. She’s visitin’ campus and let me do that for my dramatic entrance. Though I don’t think she understands me well. I asked her through those that can speak to lizard-creatures and serpents, ya know, queen lady. ANYWAY-Z, have ya been practicing? I know we established your forms before, but now we need to work on letting you hold it. Do you have your mana?”
Kelsy let out a breath, smoothing her lab coat and straightening up. Now, her eyes fell upon the hydra, and she gawked at her in silence for a moment. Sky, no doubt grumpy from the endeavor, turned and stomped off, but didn’t miss a chance to knock Ares down with a swift flick of her thick, gator-like tail. The scientist burst into giggles at this as Ares lay there dazed for just a moment. “Oh Ares, I’ve been far too busy to practice, but that’s why we’re here now! And mana… mana… oh dear…”
Ares sat up and let out several boyish giggles. “Hey, no worries, the dove–”
He was interrupted by a loud cooing noise as a mourning dove flew from the shadows of a few pine trees and landed upon his shoulder. The bird’s feathers were red on the breast, as if it was splattered with blood. It wore a very withering glare as it looked upon the punkish vampire.
“Oh, speak of the devil!” the vampire chuckled, giving us a wink. I just shook my head, facepalming. The dove pecked his ear a few times before leaping off and onto the ground. After a shimmer, it turned into a woman taller than us, but shorter than him. She had long white hair with streaks of deep blue that was tied back tightly. She was garbed in tight black leathers, which brought out the pale of her skin. Her eyes were a deep electric blue, and they held the intensity of a thunderstorm.
I smiled at the arrival of Cecelia Smoke, a newer friend of mine, also human, that I already was close to. She’d gone through a lot, but had come through strong. Right now, she placed her hands on her hips, her sky-painted nails tapping against her pants. “Are you looking for trouble on a constant basis, Ares?” she grumbled, then turned to look at us. Her eyes brightened a tad, though such an emotion was hard to see from the murk of a deep sadness they still held, like the dark of a storm.
“Hey Cece, glad to see you. How’s the first week of classes going?” I asked casually, as if a vampire hadn’t just stumbled over with a hydra.
“Going well. I’ve learned a lot, but have a long way to go. You two aren’t too far behind me, to be honest,” the woman replied. She flexed her fingers and took in a deep breath. “One day I’m going to be a legendary mage, though. I know it.”
“Fuck yeah you will be!” Ares replied, walking up behind her and wrapping his arms around her abdomen. He leaned down, resting his chin on her shoulder and giving us a goofy grin. A tinge of blush showed on Cecelia’s face, but otherwise she ignored him for now.
Kelsy chimed in, “I’m looking forward to seeing how long we can hold form today. Thank goodness we have a magic teacher here! As… odd as he is.” She motioned toward Ares and gave a giggle.
“HEY! I love trying to help you widdle humans learn magic, even if I can’t use it as strongly myself due to my natural powers. What are we waiting for?! Let’s get started!” he said, his voice dripping with enthusiasm.