“Hold it…. Hold it!” Ares exclaimed, looming over me as I stared up at him. I took in a deep breath, clicking my beak. I ruffled my feathers, poofing them out and trying to focus on keeping form. At the moment, I was a barn owl, with dark facial feathers as well, since this was a melanistic morph. The void of my gaze was fixated on the powerful vampire as I stomped my claws upon the ground.
The sights around me were morphed, more pristine but far more confusing, and that had nothing on the sounds. I had to get used to the enhanced manner of sensing the world in this form. The familiar form required a lot of training to maintain, and luckily any Earth humanoid could use it. Meaning, any human that set their mind to it.
Admittedly, I was delighted when I learned that the only limit on magic was based on personal training. Sure, it took decades to reach legendary status and become highly dangerous, but such a trait reminded me of any career prior to this whole world-changing mess. Science, literature, law… magic was the same. Years to master, but incredibly potent when it was.
Anyway, my focus was broken by a ruby-throated hummingbird off to my side letting out a shrill chirp and shimmering. In the next instant, Kelsy was lying there on her side, her glasses on the ground next to her. Her chest was heaving, and she was holding her head. Not long behind her was I back to normal, sprawled out and letting out a weak groan as well.
A clapping noise, followed by a loud whoop, met my ears. Ares was cheering, fistpumping into the air and saying, “You both held it for fucking three minutes this time! You’re working so hard, I’m so damn proud of you!”
Filled with a sense of confidence, I allowed an overjoyed smile to spread on my face. A few moments later, I sat up, beaming at Ares. Cecelia wandered over and held out two bottles–one was filled with water, and the other a shining, deep blue liquid. I accepted both, chugging down the surreal liquid first.
The sensation of revitalizing lightning rushed through my entire being, and I knew by what others told me that a deep blue tinge joined the sea-green of my gaze. Filled with the fuel that was required for my magic, mana, I felt better already, though I would need to rest despite this. New mages always struggled with mana consumption because practice used so much of it. Luckily, the world was full of ley lines, which held an abundance of the magical fuel, previously unknown to humans. Since, well, we erased it from our history.
“Good job today, you both,” Cecelia commented, patting both Kelsy and me on the shoulders after helping us up. “We’ll be initiating formal magical training for you soon. You both are professors, so it’ll be… more intensive, on top of your other work. Are you sure you can handle it?”
“HELL YEAH THEY CAN!” Ares butted in, coming up from behind Cecelia and wrapping his arms around her affectionately. He nuzzled into her neck, then glanced over to us, giving a wink. “They’re going to be badass someday. Like you, dove.”
“I’m also starting off, you big excited puppy,” Cecelia grumbled, wearing a light smile and a bit of blush once again. Kelsy and I exchanged a glance, no doubt finding this interaction adorable.
I cleared my throat, saying, “Thank you both. I’m confident we can handle it. Things are… difficult. But we’re managing. And we’re determined to train up so we can protect this city when it needs it. Considering the world has gone to hell, any place of harmony will need all residents strong. Even if it takes years, we’ll get there.” My tone was firm, and my resolve was unwavering.
After chatting a bit more, we all parted ways, Kelsy heading out to set up her biology class some. I made a mental note to set up some assignments for my unusual students. Catering to vampires who knew nothing about humans of the outside world, and that sometimes looked at me like I was lunch, could be difficult, but I managed.
As I walked back to my apartment, I exchanged some kind words with some of those very students, who at least were very polite. The curious gleam to their eyes, and hunger for more knowledge, was extremely promising. The fact that they were here, when much of their kind had taken over and were rampaging, allowed me to relax.
Thank goodness not every vampire has the mentality that humans are just prey, I thought to myself. Inevitably, my thoughts shifted to Jasper, and a shudder ran down my spine. The confrontation that struck such deep fear into the pit of my stomach with regard to him ran through my head.
Late at night, shortly after Elapid City had been liberated from a vampire tyrant known as Ash, I’d been walking down the street. The utterance of a spell caught my attention. “Fulguri!” The feminine voice that yelled it struck me as familiar, and the panicked tone quickened my pace. Cecelia, a friend I had made shortly after the city was liberated, was in trouble.
I rounded the corner, and several yards away I spotted three people facing off. My friend was in the arms of a vampire with long crimson hair, ivory skin, and the build of a football player. His dagger-like fangs were against her throat, and he was staring down another vampire–Ares.
I heard Ares angrily demand for the enemy vampire to let Cecelia go, but my mind shifted focus at that point.
I had to do something to help!
Gulping, I hurriedly reached into my bags, searching for something, anything, that could help. Things were escalating quickly, and in my panic, I couldn’t think straight. Without hesitation did I snatch up a heavy literature textbook and bunch up my muscles, rushing up from behind the car they were fighting in front of and hurling the book at the red-haired vampire.
“Leave them alone!” I shouted, my eyes blazing with a new, protective fire. I refused to lose even new friends to bullies like this. Not a wise decision on my part, but a decision nonetheless. Perhaps my actions would distract this asshole, or something.
Then, however, the consequences of my actions caught up immediately. Inches from my face appeared a burning red gaze, strands of his red hair falling into his eyes. A horrifying mixture of both curious and starving swirled within the depths of them. In a matter of seconds, I was in his grasp and facing my friends, unable to get away.
My heart pounded in my ears as I froze, the power radiating from the vampire horrifyingly apparent. His hand was around my throat in a threatening manner, squeezing just slightly. In panic, I choked and gasped, thrashing about to no avail. The vampire’s smooth, amused voice sounded by my ear. “Friend of yours?”
I heard Cecelia shout my name in concern, but doubted there was much she could do. I closed my eyes and whimpered, not wanting to accept this fate, but having no other choice.
Ares’s voice replied to my captor, “She’s not for you to devour either, Jasper.”
Then, I felt him bend down, loosening his grasp on my neck and moving his clawed hand. His nose touched the skin of my neck as he took in my scent, forcing my panic into overdrive. My stomach clenched as I waited for my throat to be torn out.
Jasper replied, “What a shame, she smells delicious. The combination of her perfume and blood is reminding me of how famished I am. Out of respect for King Goliath, however, I will not dine upon his humans until permitted to. This beautiful one has just issued a challenge.”
W-what did he mean by that? Suddenly I was released and pushed toward my friends, tears gliding down my cheeks from the experience. Jasper’s gaze lingered on me for a moment before I actually heard his voice in my head. “You will be my prey, pretty human. Your choice to challenge me is admirable, but I have caught scent of your blood. I will have it.”
Jasper and Ares then spoke together for a while longer, but I drowned in my thoughts at the terrifying prospect of being hunted by a vampire. Someone who I’d find out, later, was a vampire king.
Snapping out of the memory, I rubbed my arm and shuddered, telling myself that I needed to keep things together. So, I had a vampire king lusting for my blood. I’m sure everyone had to deal with that every so often, right? I let out a light chuckle to myself at that sarcastic thought.
The most frustrating part of all this, though, was that since Jasper had arrived here, he’d been like a curious pup or something. None of it made any sense. I recalled the first time he tried to approach me and ask about the college. Clearly he knew nothing about how free humans worked, since he was so confined to his kingdom previously. Apparently, vampire kingdoms, prior to the world-changing event, had been very well-hidden.
When he walked up to me, I snapped at him to leave me alone. I feared him, and after his dark promise, I wanted to keep him as far away from me as possible. He had a shocked, confused expression when I did so, but he listened to me. He avoided me as I walked around campus, should he spot me walking toward him.
He was trying to learn more about modern human culture in the United States, what was left of it, anyway. Not to mention cultures around the world as well, through, for example, literature that I taught. Therefore, he was in my class. During the first few days of classes, he remained silent, listening intently, but avoiding eye contact with me. This almost felt like he wanted to connect and talk things out, but had no idea how.
I cursed myself for caving, too. After class one day, I approached him, and had the delightful confusion of seeing him tense up and grow nervous. As if I was going to yell at him again. He was one of the most powerful vampires on the planet, and here he was acting like that? Anyway, I apologized to him and explained that, fine, I would be open to helping him learn more about the college in general.
He’d perked up, and ever since then, had returned to following me around every so often and asking questions. Now, I’d need to deal with giving him a tour tomorrow.
I scowled, arriving at my apartment again and tossing my bag to my couch. Making my way to my bed, I threw myself upon it, my ebon hair spilling out all around me. Magic practice was already intense, and we were just in the basics. This was going to be a long year, that much I knew.
I let the tension leave my muscles as I settled in for the night, soon enough getting up to go to the bathroom, shower, and return to bed in my nightgown. Pulling the blanket up over my head, I willed myself to sleep, convincing myself that keeping friends close but enemies closer was likely the best course of action. I could keep a better eye on Jasper if I interacted with him more than less.
And… maybe, just maybe, I could work on convincing him that his ‘humans are livestock’ mentality was completely wrong. Certainly a work in progress on that angle.