Can I Keep It, Chapter 4

Spain

David woke up, which was quite to his surprise. Even more surprising was that nothing hurt. Diffuse light streamed in through a window. The distant sound of waves crashing against the shore filled the air with a comfortable rush. Under normal circumstances, he would have taken the time to slowly awaken to the day. The violent end to the previous day meant there was no amnesia waking up. His heart began to pound as he tried to take in his surroundings. His clothes weren’t wet.

He wasn’t, in fact, wearing any clothes.

He sat up sharply, to find a slender, pale arm draped around his waist. Gerlinde was close to him, still asleep, sleeping the sleep of the dead, and apparently undisturbd by his sudden standing up. He scanned around the small room quickly. A cabin, it had to be, some small tourist location, tropical hardwoods lining the walls. Bright golden sun, the telltale signs of dusk, glowed down through the windows, well away from Gerlinde and where she lay. He turned towards the door, and grabbed the handle.

The wave of panic and uncertainty that ran through him was almost crippling. He came to on the floor, the square of sunlight shifted several inches on the floor, marking the passage of time. His heart was racing, his arms shuddering. Hypnotism. That had to be it. Something that she had done to his mind, some way she had fucked with him, altered his attitudes, his desires. It was the only explanation for what he had felt. He dragged himself to his feet, heart thumping against his chest, and turned towards her.

He could kill her. He could take one of the wooden chairs sat in the room, break it, make a stake, stab it through her heart. Drag her into the sunlight. There were a lot of easy ways to kill a vampire.

Gerlinde lay on the bed. Her expression was serene. Blonde hair hung across her face, over her dark red lips. He moved his fingers to his neck, and found a tender spot. She’d drunk from him. Not much, but any amount was a little unnerving. That thought made him angry. That she’d taken something from him. He looked around the room, trying to find something he could use. Maybe if he did kill her, whatever she had done to his mind would stop. The idea didn’t fill him with the same strange panic and uncertainty that leaving had. Maybe she’d counted on him to not have it in him to kill someone.

He stood over her, staring down at her. She’d chased him for days, now, hunting him down. She’d thrown a cargo container at his friends. At someone he deeply cared about. If that wasn’t the kind of person that deserved to die…

He sank down onto the bed next to her. She yawned, and opened her eyes, smiling as she rested her hand on his hip. “Oh. Good evening, David. I’m sorry about the chaos last night. I was really expecting things to be less… fraught. You are a bit dangerous when you feel you are in a corner, you know.”

“Yeah, surprise surprise.” He frowned. “You messed with my mind.”

“Just a gentle compulsion to keep you close. I’m keeping you from running away. So you’ll give this a chance. So you’ll stay with me.” She smiled softly, sitting up. The blanket fell from her body, exposing a great deal of creamy, pale flesh. Soft hazel eyes met his, and she giggled softly as he turned his head sharply away. “I am not horrible, David. You can meet my eyes. I won’t hypnotize you any further than I already have.” She slowly reached out, and rested her fingertips on his chin, turning him to look her in the eyes.

She was genuinely beautiful.

“Now. It’s nearly dinner. You need plenty of iron.” She winked. “I would not want you passing out.”

She stood up slowly, and walked to one of the two other doors in the room. He was guessing one of them led to the bathroom. The other held a closet, with two sets of clothes hanging inside. One were his clothes, washed and dried, no longer soaked with cold Atlantic water. The other was a very long, and intriguing black silk dress. “That looks… expensive.”

“I have never had nice things before.” She ran a finger down it slowly, smiling, though her eyes were a touch melancholy. “Never had something really beautiful to wear. Power… It is a special thing, jah?” She winked at him. “It allows you to truly appreciate life. Without fear, without limit. Power is the basis of living a good life. If you don’t have power, well, someone might always come along and take your good life away.” She took the silk dress out, and winked at him. “Do you want to watch me?”

David turned his head away sharply, a flush rising up his cheeks.

“Oh, and you seemed so interested in watching me walk around naked. But putting on clothes is somehow dirtier, mmm? Well. I suppose that’s not entirely surprising.”

“I’m with Farida.”

She was quiet for a moment, and tossed him an annoyed look over her shoulder. “What, exactly, has she done that makes you so loyal to her?”

“She took care of me when I was sick. She helped me blend into this world so nothing terrible happened to me. She took me across the sea on her dime just to chase the slim possibility that she could help me find a way back to my world.”

“Is that what love is to you? Being of service? She’s a loyal hound, and is rewarded with your love in return?” Gerlinde shook her head. “Do you think I can’t do the same, and better? I could travel with you. Find your way back home. I could even go with you there, without standing out. I could be with you forever, in a way that she can’t. If your home is as full of humans as I’ve been told…”

He lifted his head sharply at that, eyes widening. “Who have you been talking to?”

“Oh, you want to know that?” The smile spread across her lips. “Then come have dinner with me.”

He frowned. “Where the hell are we?”

“It’s a small island, just off of Vigo. A rather popular tourist site. I thought we would have a romantic weekend in one of their cabins. You stay here with me, for two days. If, at the end of that, you decide that you want to leave, to go back to your dusky doggy, I’ll let you go. In the meantime…” She smiled softly, and turned towards him. The black silk dress fit her immaculately, clinging to her chest, leaving her shoulders uncovered, her pale skin soft and smooth. She really did look stunning, a slit up the thigh exposing quite a lot of leg. She wasn’t wearing any shoes underneath- Or, for that matter, from what he could see of her hip, any underwear.

Her words were still haunting him, though. That question. He hadn’t ever really considered the question of bringing Farida through the portal with him. She’d stick out like a sore thumb. And she had family back home, people she loved. There’d never really been a question of bringing her back with him. But Gerlinde… She could. She could live a life with him in his own world. People would never find out that she was a vampire, if she was clever. The things she could do in his world… Hypnotism, her strength, all of that… It was almost a little bit tempting.

What was it that tied him together with Farida? She had done a lot for him. Was that everything there was to love? Was it a sense of obligation that made him feel close to Farida? Just some idea of her as someone who deserved to be loved because she’d done things for him?

He shook his head. “What did you have in mind for dinner, then? I’m not exactly sure what kind of choices there are for meals on an island.”

“There’s a lovely little restaurant near here. And my favorite thing about the Spanish, they use hardly any garlic in the food they make.” She winked at him. “Do you mind?” She held out an umbrella. “Don’t want to get burned.”

“I could drop it, you know.”

She was quiet for a few seconds, her eyes dropping down towards her feet. “I knew what you were up to. Thinking about killing me. I half-expected you to try. I wouldn’t have let you, of course, but you didn’t know that. When it came down to it, you didn’t want to kill me. You know I’m right for you, David. You had the opportunity to take my life, and you couldn’t do it. You saw me vulnerable, and you didn’t hurt me. This is me showing you that I trust you.” She gently turned the umbrella around, and placed the handle in his palm. “That’s what love is. Not obligation. Trust.”

“You think that me not killing you in cold blood means I love you?” He stared at her for several long seconds. “What kind of life have you lived that that’s your baseline for someone loving you?”

“You want to know that?” She was silent for a few moments, and smiled. This time, it was completely joyless. “Then come have dinner with me.”

David changed into a set of clothes. Two days. That’s how long he had. And he knew that Farida would find him. Farida and Caladbolg would save him. He just had to keep Gerlinde on an even keel in the meantime. He tried to ignore the enamored way she was staring at him as he changed clothes. The sheer level of hunger in her eyes was unusual, a little flattering, and a little frightening.

He took the umbrella from her, and stepped out into the sunset light. It was a broad parasol, and he was able to easily angle it to create a shadowed area for her. She took his hand in hers, and smiled demurely. The view of the island was spectacular. A broad crescent, they were on the north side, in one of half a dozen cabins. A path lead down, ruts in the grass and sand visible from where feet had passed. To the west, the sun slowly sank towards the sea, sitting on the edge, round and golden, the sky fading from red down to a fierce gold on the horizon. To the east, the sky was purple, the city of Vigo lit up spectacularly by the setting sun. “Romantic, isn’t it?” asked Gerlinde, smiling over her shoulder at him.

David would’ve been hard-pressed to disagree, so he simply remained quiet.

“You don’t talk to me much. Do you resent me so much? I mean, if you were to engage me in some actual conversation, I might be a bit more open to answering all of those burning questions.” She was quiet for a second, and then looked at him, her expression slightly pained. “You fell in love with her because she was the first person you met here. Because of a quirk of fate. Isn’t that sad, though? That you’re going to never look for something else, because you like her? That you’ll never look for something-“

“Don’t say you’re better than her,” David said, his voice firm.

“Better for you,” said Gerlinde, her arms crossed. She turned away, and sighed. “You’re loyal. That’s admirable, but loyalty isn’t love.” She kept walking, and David walked with her, the parasol casting a long shadow over her as they began walking down the long ridge of the sand, making their way towards a small restaurant. “They’ve got great empanadas here.”

The two of them sat in the restaurant. She leaned her head on her hands, and smiled, as she ordered. Her Spanish was accented, but still well-spoken. Their waitress was a young woman with skin a few shades lighter than Farida’s and a small lantern held under one arm. She gave them a smile, and then slid away gracefully, leaving the two of them sitting in a small corner of the restaurant. A single candle sat between them, creating a dim, warm light.

It was intimate, the windows broad, giving a beautiful view of the bay, lit by the remains of sunlight. The sun had set, and the light had shifted towards purple. The city of Vigo was visible, shining in the night. Farida was there, with Caladbolg. They had to be looking for him. He wouldn’t give them up.

“You know, you always ran from me. You didn’t give me a chance to explain myself,” said Gerlinde, her eyes half-lidded, as she leaned forward, examining his features with an uncanny intensity. “Why are you so scared of me? Why not give me a chance?”

“Because you want to bite me and suck out my blood,” David said, feeling just a little bit annoyed.

“Barely any! I have self-control. I am German, after all.”

“And you want power. That’s kind of a turn-off.”

She was quiet for a moment, and looked away. “Power is not an evil all on its own. Power is just a way to do things. To protect yourself. I understand… You are not from this world. You probably do not know what it is like. But there are good reasons to want power.” She looked up, her eyes red, but warm. “Sometimes, you simply wish to protect those around you.”

“It doesn’t seem like things are so bad, here.”

“Not now.” She was quiet for a moment. “Germany has not always been as pleasant as it is today. It’s not something I would talk about, but… We of the undead. We used to be far more powerful than we are today. And in those times, long past, we made enemies. I won’t claim we didn’t deserve some scorn.” David sat back as the sound of the waves filtered up from the seaside, through the empty windows. “And of course, we were considered close to humans. We, more than almost anyone else, are said to have lost a great deal when humans disappeared from the world. Of course, I’d always thought of it as old stories, myths, legends. But now…”

“So, what, it’s about recapturing past glory?” David asked, frowning.

“Oh, no.” She smiled. “We do not like to talk of it at the best of times. But, well. There was a war. About seventy years ago. My grandmother and grandfather were German. They had grown up there. My grandmother was worried about what might happen… My grandfather had her move to America, stay with family there. Just for a short while, he said. He would join her soon.” She was quiet for a moment, and David’s stomach twisted a bit. “Well. After that, she could never bear the idea of visiting Germany again. My father wound up coming back, just before I was born. He actually found where my grandfather’s bones were buried. Not the specific bones, of course.” She sighed, and hunched her shoulders. “I thought to myself, sometimes, growing up. ‘Imagine. If there were only still humans. Such a thing would never have happened.'”

“You’re so sure that it wouldn’t have? It happened in my world, if we’re talking about the same thing.” David was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry. I can understand why that’d make you want to feel… safe.” He shook his head. “But that doesn’t mean that I love you, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to let you feed from me. Do you understand how easy it’d be, if you were in my world, for you to just… take things over? To become the kind of person who killed your grandfather?”

She frowned at him. “You think I would ever do something like that?”

“Maybe not,” he admitted. “But you’d be capable of it.”

She watched him quietly for another few moments as the waves rolled. The waitress approached, and set down a pair of glasses of water, small slices of lemon floating in it, and a cup of something that smelled faintly of grapes and strongly of alcohol. “Orujo, senora.”

Gerlinde took the glass, and took a stiff drink, tossing it back. She placed the empty glass back down. “You don’t trust me. I can’t blame you, though that hurts, a lot. You ran from me every time, never giving me a chance to tell you how I felt.” She was quiet for a moment, and looked down. “All my life, I’ve been missing something. Every undead has, I think. We’ve been unable to get something we need. Desperately.” She looked up at him. “I need you. And that makes me a bit desperate. I know that’s not very attractive.”

“So, you aren’t really attracted to me,” said David. “You’re attracted to a human.”

“I don’t know,” said Gerlinde, and she smiled. “That’s why I wanted this time. To be together. For the two of us to know each other. So we can decide.” She rested her hand on his, and her fingers were cool, a little clammy even, but her skin was as soft as silk. “Regrets are a terrible thing. I think it would be much better for you to reject me if you know, for certain, that I am not the kind of woman you want. Give it a chance. Two days. That is all I ask.”

David studied her. “Alright. What’s your favorite kind of music?”

“That?… It’s a tough question.” Gerlinde leaned back in her chair, and sipped her drink again. “I’ve always liked instrumental things. Opera.” She laughed softly. “I always loved those Japanese games, growing up, because they had such beautiful music. Their scores were always so grand. Final Fantasy 7 was my favorite.”

He was quiet for a moment, and then he grinned, good-naturedly. “Poser. Everyone says that. There was seriously a Final Fantasy 7 in this world?”

“Yes. There was one in yours? With the succubus, and the cowgirl? Wasn’t that a bit odd?”

“Well,” he murmured. “Not exactly the same, then.” He looked out the window. “I’ve got a lot of questions for you about this stuff.”

“I’ll answer them all. Tomorrow night. Whether you decide that you love me, or not.” She smiled, and looked out the window. “Oh, dear. It’s looking somewhat stormy out there.”

David looked out the window. Thick clouds were growing in the distance. As they watched, a lash of lightning arched from one cloud to another, briefly connecting them with a brilliant blue-white flash. A few seconds later, a roll of thunder filled the air. “Well. Good thing we brought along the parasol, huh?”

By the time the food arrived, steaming empanadas on a pair of plates, the rain was beginning to fall. Heavy droplets fell loudly, a few splashing on the inside of the windows, creating a mild and refreshing spray. It was surprisingly pleasant as the two of them ate, talking about things that didn’t matter. Games, music, stories from their childhood.

Gerlinde was not a monster. She’d perhaps come on a little strong, but she wasn’t a bad person. Thoughtful, enthusiastic, cheerful. She was more comfortable with people, more emotive, than Farida. She would make a great friend. He just wasn’t sure about whether he’d want her for a lover. She fed on humans. Not much, granted, but it was still a worrying precedent.

Gerlinde paid for the food, and the two of them ran home. The parasol provided limited protection; The rain was coming down hard and fast now, pounding down into the sand, raising little craters where it fell. The two of them ran, getting soaked to the bone, till they reached the cabin. The two of them ran in, laughing as they settled down in the room, sinking down onto the ground. David turned to look at her.

The black silk dress clung to her body. The cold rain had soaked in, and her nipples were stiff, visible through the clothing. She leaned back on her hands, smiling, the silk wrapped tightly around her body. Not transparent, but the second best thing. It made it look like she was wearing nothing but shadows, pressed tight against her skin, outlining every inch of her body. She leaned back further, lifting her chest. “Do you like the way I look, David?”

He coughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.”

“Such a cautious answer.” She smiled, and stood up, stripping the dress off slowly. He tried not to look, he did. But the occasional flash of lightning threw the room into stark relief, showing her pale body. Nipples pink, stiff, her body slender. She was a bit more slender than Farida, though still attractive, her hips curvaceous, her bust modest. David tried his best not to stare, but her body was… appealing.
“You could come with us,” said David. He regretted it almost instantly, but forged on. “I mean… Not the two of us together. But you could probably come to Earth. Find someone there. Be happy with them.”

Gerlinde was quiet for a second. Her expression grew melancholy as she stared out the window. “I suppose I could.” She was quiet for another moment. “You know. There used to be stories about vampires. That they would be attached to the first human they ever drank blood from. That no one else would ever taste as sweet to them. Of course, it might just have been a metaphor. The first cut is the deepest, that kind of thing.” She slowly sank down next to him. “Get those clothes off. You’ll catch your death of cold.”

David considered this for a moment. “You’ve already stripped me out of wet clothes once. I guess there’s not much harm to a second time.” He lifted his arms into the air, and she obliged, slipping the shirt over his shoulders. She paused for a moment, and frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s… I was just thinking.” She was quiet for another moment. “I can’t warm you up, can I? If you had Farida here, she could warm you. Make you comfortable.” She slipped closer, and sat on David’s lap. She was chilly, but to David’s surprise, he was warming up surprisingly quickly. Some of that might have been her rain-slick body pressed against him, and how close her eyes were to his. “Ah. I’m not so useless after all, am I?” She smiled, her sharp teeth shining in the dim light. “You’re very warm.”

“I’m not going to have sex with you.”

“Mmm, I wouldn’t expect you to.” She tilted her head, and frowned. “Have you already had sex with that dog-girl?” She leaned closer, and sniffed at his skin. “My goodness. You have. And quite a lot. She’s somewhat wanton, isn’t she?” She grinned. “Is that part of what attracts you to her? Perhaps she’s able to get your blood running with that eager desire to please?” She leaned closer, and planted a kiss on David’s throat. “Why is it that you feel so strongly for her?”

David closed his eyes, and did his best not to lean his head to the side. “She’s shy. But she’s passionate. She’s awkward, but she’s really earnest, too. And she knows that the two of us can’t safely be together, if we go to my world. She’d never be able to hide what she is. But she’s still helping me search for a way home. She’s willing to do that for me.”

“Self-sacrificing.” Gerlinde sighed. “So, I can’t measure up, because I can actually be happy with you.” She stared at David for a moment, and shook her head as the rain continued to fall. It beat against the roof heavily, creating a low roar, the distant rumble of the waves nearly subsonic as they sat together. “I think you play too many games. Love has to be practical, doesn’t it? It has to be something that can last. Otherwise, it’s just… infatuation. Two ships passing in the night.” She pressed a little tighter against him. “Or is that just another reason to reject me?”

“You’re putting a lot of pressure on me,” David said.

“I’m sorry. But I-“

“No, I mean physically.”

“Oh!” She blushed, and adjusted herself, and David let out a sigh of relief as the pressure became bearable again. “So. You do not want to be sexual. But there are other things that we could do.” She was quiet for a moment. “You are afraid of being fed on.”

“Yeah. I mean… Not to be racist here, Gerlinde, but we have a lot of legends about vampires on my world. Sometimes they’re sexy, but they’re always predators. They tend to be… careless.”

“Careless?” she murmured, and shook her head. “You are the only human on this world. The only human I will likely ever meet.” She ran her fingers down David’s neck, teasing it slowly, her eyes close and glowing a luminous red. “I am not going to hurt you, David. I am not going to drink you dead.” She smiled. “Besides, there is an awful lot of blood in a human. And your blood is so rich. I don’t think that I could drink you dead.” She looked up at him. “Please? May I have a little?”

David thought about it. On the one hand, she was asking to drink his blood. On the other… He was curious. He tilted his head sideways. “Just a little bit.”

She nodded, and leaned close. Her warm breath washed over his neck, time and again. The soft sound of her breathing mixed with the rain, a warm and comforting sensation. While she had been cold to the touch at first, her body had warmed with the skin contact, until she was as warm as he was, reflecting the heat, trapping it between the two of them. She shifted slightly, the tips of her nipples dragging across his chest, still firm and perky, though no longer from cold. A slight wetness brushed against his leg as she shifted her stance again.

The bite was slightly painful, and he took a sharp breath, shoulders tensing. The pain faded quickly, though, as quickly as a pinch would. He felt his shoulders relaxing, slowly easing himself onto his back, a sleepy warmth filling him.

It was like spending a day in the cold. Walking through a fierce, bitter winter wind. Feeling the snow scour his skin until it was raw. And then, being wrapped up in a warm blanket, with someone pressed up against him. All of the strength went out of him, but not in an unpleasant or frightening way. It was the weakness of being able to rest. The warm pulse of pleasure spread through his body with each slurp of her tongue. She wasn’t still biting, he realized. Instead, she lapped gently at his throat, taking a few sips of blood each time. A pleasant weakness was spreading through his whole body, not quite like blood loss, but probably related.

He wasn’t quite sure when she stopped drinking from him. Her body rested against his, and she breathed contentedly. “It feels right,” she murmured softly. “Like we were made to be together. Like this is how things should be. You feel good. I feel good.” She traced a lazy finger down across his chest, across the contour of one pectoral, her breath leaving her in a slow sigh, her eyes lidded. The storm continued unabated, the rattle on the rooftop making the warmth all the more pleasurable. David realized that his arms were wrapped gently around Gerlinde, squeezing her against his chest. There wasn’t much strength in his arms, but she felt good.

“Are you sure you don’t want me?” she asked softly. He looked up. He’d not even realized he’d fallen asleep. His head was slightly fuzzy, and there was a faint light visible through one of the windows, the sun rising slowly. He yawned, and blinked.

“What?”

“You seem pretty convinced.” She was quiet for another moment. “I brought you here, because I wanted you to give me a chance. But that’s never going to happen, is it? You already made up your mind, and this is just… pointless.” She crossed her arms. “You want to find out what I know, and you want to let me down easily, because you’re scared of me, but you aren’t going to fall in love with me.”

“Probably not,” he admitted. “I’m not… as scared of you. But…” he slowly sat up. She was surprisingly light, even lying on top of him, and shifted her stance to sit on his lap. “I don’t think I can fall in love with you.” He was quiet for a moment. “But we could be friends.”

“Mmm. I had a boy say that to me when I was sixteen.” She stared down at him, her expression thoughtful, quiet. He lay very still. He’d gambled a lot, just now, on her being reasonable. On her not holding a grudge. He had, in fact, bet his life.

She slowly ran her fingers down his throat. “I said I’d let you go. That I’d give you a chance.” she took a deep breath, and opened her mouth.

There was a sudden bright flash of light, and the door caved in. Bright white light haloed Caladbolg, her expression lethal, her sword drawn. The blade glinted. There were no shadows on the blade, and it glowed internally. “Get away from the human.”

Gerlinde leapt to her feet, and hissed. The shadows leapt from the walls, and wrapped around her, turning her into just another shadow, pressing up against the walls. The stark shadows thrown against the walls by Caladbolg’s light flowed and shifted strangely, like pools of ink. Farida ran into the room behind Caladbolg, her ears plastered almost flat, wearing a tight sweater that had been soaked with rain. The rain continued to pound down outside. She threw herself down at him, her arms going around his shoulders.

“You aren’t going to steal him,” hissed Gerlinde from the shadows. Her voice echoed strangely, diffuse, not seeming to come from any one place. “I won’t let you just take him.” The lightning flashed, and David saw her, the only shadow that remained in the brief flash of light. A feminine, curved silhouette, clinging to the ceiling of the cabin, just above and behind Caladbolg. He opened his mouth to warn them, but he felt a sudden wave of dizziness wash over him.

Gerlinde sprang down, silent as an owl, her white teeth flashing in the night, towards Caladbolg’s back.

The sword moved in a single smooth sweeping motion. It rose into the air, past Gerlinde, and struck her shadow, cast by Caladbolg across the ceiling. Gerlinde’s movement was arrested as suddenly as if she’d been on a noose, and she was left dangling from the ceiling. The sword had gone through the shadow of her feet, and now the German vampire hung upside down.

“I have been slaying your kind since time immemorial,” said Caladbolg, her voice soft and full of fury.”I felt the bloodloss you inflicted on my human. The power you were trying to steal from him.” She turned her head towards the window. “Sun-up will be upon us in a matter of a few minutes. The blood you have taken from him will burn in your cursed body. You will die by fire. As is only fitting.”

“Let her down.”

Gerlinde and Farida turned towards David, staring. Caladbolg just kept her eyes on Gerlinde. “You have been in the clutches of a vampire. Her death will free you from her wiles. You will thank me for this.”

“I’m not in her damn clutches! She was about to let me go!” David looked up at Gerlinde. “You were, right?”

She turned her head away.

“Thanks for being helpful. I don’t want her dead, Caladbolg. She didn’t hurt me!”

“I could feel you, though,” said Caladbolg, frowning over her shoulder. “She drank from you. She had you on the verge between life and death.”

“A little death, mmm?” asked Gerlinde, smirking. Farida paused for a moment, and stared between David, and then Gerlinde.

“You didn’t.”

“No!” said David. “I… let her drink some of my blood, but we didn’t do anything more!”

Farida slowly looked David up and down, licking her lips. Her arms were tight around his shoulders, squeezing him a bit ferociously.

“He was very chaste,” said Gerlinde, rolling her eyes. “You must have trained him well.”

“Shut up,” said Farida, frowning at the vampire. “What the hell is wrong with you? What kind of person kidnaps someone like that?”

“Maybe someone who wants to have a talk without the family dog getting involved with things,” said Gerlinde, her eyes narrowed.

“You were going to hurt him! I could feel his soul barely clinging on!” said Farida, growling softly. “How do you think I found you two, huh?!”

“Maybe it’s those magical dog skills. Able to find your master wherever he is.”

“He is not my master! I’m not into that kind of stuff!”

David leaned back, and groaned softly. “Gerlinde. Please. Tell me what you were talking about. That woman who told you about me, and stop doing this… hypnosis thing to me.”

Gerlinde narrowed her eyes. “Promise to bring me with you. You said you were willing to take me along. I’d rather be in your world than this one. This one is wretched.” She crossed her arms. “If you do, I will tell you everything.”

“You are hardly in a place to negotiate,” said Caladbolg, her stance relaxed, one hand on her hips.

“Caladbolg, let her go. And put on some clothes.” David sighed. “In fact, I think everyone could do with some clothes.”

Caladbolg was silent for a moment. Then the sword reappeared in her hand, sheathed. Gerlinde let out a squawk as she hit the ground, and shot the sword a hostile look, but shortly afterwards, all of them were dressed once more. Gerlinde sat on the bed, in the silk dress, one leg extended to show off her thigh. “So. You will bring me along with you?”

“Yes. If you tell us what you know.”

Gerlinde sighed, and stood up, frowning at the distant light. “I suppose. I do not know all that much about her. She had the most beautiful eyes.” She looked off nostalgically. “I met her in Germany. She told me that you would be coming this way, that you would arrive on a ship. She was dressed like a fortune teller. She told me that she knew I was seeking someone.” She looked at David. “She said his name was David, and that he was a human.”

“What do you mean by beautiful eyes?” asked Caladbolg, her expression stiff, tense.

“Well… they were strange. There are plenty of people with yellow eyes. But her eyes were like…” Gerlinde waved a hand, trying to find the words.

“Gold?” asked Caladbolg, her voice very soft.

“Yes.” Gerlinde frowned. “Yes, I suppose that sounds about right. How did you-“

“A Dragonlord.” Caladbolg’s fist tightened. “What was her name? Where did you meet her?”

“She didn’t say.” Gerlinde frowned. “A Dragonlord? But they’re… They died out, not long after…” She paused, and shot David a look. He shrugged. “How are you sure?”

“I have killed three Dragonlords. I can taste them. Their touch on things.” She narrowed her eyes. “She sent you after David. She must have. But why?”

“Wait. Seriously? Dragonlords are a thing? I thought they were just, like, a conspiracy theory,” said Farida, frowning. “You’re telling me that there was seriously a caste of Dragons? Secret rulers of the world?”

“Not secret. They were always open about their dominance. They were the ones who united Mystics in war with humanity,” said Caladbolg, her arms crossed tightly. “If there is any being, any creature that could possibly have been responsible for pushing humans away to the other side, if there was anything that could be blamed for this depraved world, it would be the Dragonlords.” She shot David a look. “And if there is any force that could bring a human back…”

“But why?” David said. “Why banish us just to bring one back?”

“She didn’t say,” said Gerlinde. “But she told me that she wanted to meet you. She didn’t say how she would find you.”

“The Dragonlords were the mightiest of Mystics. Capable of destroying armies. Capable of matching the greatest of heroes. Capable of breaking even one like me.” Caladbolg ran a hand down her stomach, frowning darkly. “We have to avoid her.”

“I think we have to find her,” said David. “If what you’ve said is true, she might be the one who can figure out how I could get back. And…” He was quiet for a moment. “Did the Dragonlords depend on humans for power?”

“I am not sure, to be honest,” said Caladbolg. “They claimed they did not. And it would be strange for them to banish humans if they did. On the other hand, it might explain why they have disappeared.”

“The only dragons left are in Italy,” said Farida. “They’re the ones who run the Church of the Dark God. I think the current Maam is the only Dragon there is. Right?”

“Maybe,” said Gerlinde, and shrugged. “I don’t pay much attention to religion. It’s more a thing for… well. Americans.” She coughed meaningfully. Farida rolled her eyes.

“Fine. Okay, so, we go to Italy. If this woman is trying to find you, she’ll get there eventually.” She rubbed her chin. “Let’s see… We can take the train systems across Spain, to Zaragoza, cross into France…” She took out a phone, and studied it, frowning as she examined it, already putting together a plan. “Cross through France, a detour to see Paris, then down through Switzerland, into Italy… We should be able to make the trip in a couple of weeks. Visit the cathedral at Zaragoza, hit up France, then make our way through Bern, down to Milan, Florence, then Rome…” She smiled. “We can even take a ship from Naples to Cairo, from there! We could visit Egypt!”

“Ugh. Egypt.” Gerlinde frowned. “I can see why he likes you, though.”

“Well, of-” Farida paused for a moment, and her cheeks flushed. “Ah… We should get back to Vigo, first! We got a ride on one of the pleasure-craft. A very nice man agreed to help us get out here to catch our ‘friend’.”

At some point during the talk, the storm had finally died off. The sand was still wet, but the walk down to the beach was relatively dry. A long dock had several boats tied to it, one of them a small powerboat. The sun was rising slowly, and Gerlinde held her parasol, shielding herself from the sunlight as it grew stronger. For a moment, she drifted closer to David, and spoke very softly.

“I’m not going to give up on you. You said that you couldn’t fall in love in two days.” She smiled. “But we’ll see what the future brings.” Then she was walking forward, onto the dock, sitting down in the powerboat, and drawing a blanket up from beneath the seats to cover herself.

It was about 8 AM by the time they got to the Vigo train station, nearly a day and a half since Gerlinde had confronted him on the tanker. “Was that captain alright?” David asked, suddenly feeling a note of concern.

“Yes. He thought he just passed out from drinking too much.” Caladbolg cast a glance at Gerlinde. “Not strictly inaccurate.”

“Ugh.” Gerlinde held the parasol high, glowering. “I only took a couple of drinks. It was like shotgunning Everclear.”

“Shhh,” murmured Farida, as they stood on the train platform. “We’re going to have a long trip. Going to be at least a day on the train, we’ll spend a night in Zaragoza, and then the next afternoon, we’ll be on our way to Paris. Going to have to take a bus for a lot of that.” She stretched, and took David’s arm. “Now, if you two don’t mind, I’m going to take David to the dining car. I’m starving.”

The two of them sat down in the dining car. The train rocked from side to side as David looked around the dining car. It was surprisingly nice, leather upholstered seats offering a place to sit as the waiter brought around a dish of well-sliced jamon, the thin slices of meat smelling salty and savory at the same time. He took a slice, and nibbled at it for a moment. On a whim, he lifted his foot to run it along Farida’s calf. She let out a soft little gasp, and shivered. “Thanks for saving me.”

“I didn’t do much. I just found you.”

“That’s what saved me.” David smiled, and held out his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Farida took it. The soft pink pads of her paw were warm against his skin as she blushed, looking around, as though expecting someone to berate her for being affectionate in public. “How did you find me?”

“I don’t really know.” She frowned. “I felt like I could feel you, but I might just have been imagining it. It was strange. I thought it was because you were…” She looked down. “It was scary. Caladbolg freaked out when she found out that I could feel you. She was probably certain you were about to die.” She took a deep breath, and shook her head. “So… you two were naked.”

“Yeah,” David said, for lack of a better response.

“Are you into her?”

“Not as much as I’m into you.” David squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry to worry you.” He took her other hand, and squeezed both of them, a little more firmly. “But I’m not ditching you for a crazy vampire girl.”

“Are you sure? I mean.” Farida smiled, and it was a little fragile, but she seemed happier. “I bet she’s wild in the sack.”

“Yeah, but I bet she’s not as wild as you.” David grinned, and slipped out of his chair, sitting down next to her. Farida stiffened slightly, but when he leaned in to kiss her neck, she let out a little groan. “Don’t tell me you’ve got a thing for vampires?”

“Of course n-“

He wasn’t quite sure what drove him to bite her neck. Perhaps it was an imp of the perverse. He bit gently, but just hard enough to make her feel it. Nobody expected the moan that bubbled out of Farida, the sound growing as she arched her back, grabbing at him, her refusal dying in a soft moan that made David’s pants just a little too tight.

He looked up, and saw her face had darkened with a flush, her back stiff. She coughed as several people around them stared, and at least one man with scaled hands chuckled and clapped softly.
“Pardon us,” said Farida, and stood up quickly, grabbing David by the shoulders. At first he thought she was dragging him back to their cabin to hide. Then she opened one of the bathroom doors, and pushed him in with surprising strength. He found himself suddenly in very close quarters. She was pressed up against him, the small bathroom cubicle just barely large enough for the two of them. The distant rumble of the train’s wheels on the tracks were drowned out by her deep, ragged breaths. The antiseptic smell of the chemical toilets was drowned out by the scent of Farida. She’d spent all night searching for him, and hadn’t had a shower. This was not an unpleasant thing. She smelled warm, and slightly musky, a scent that made him hungry. She grabbed his shirt, paws tightening in the fabric.

“Do that again,” she hissed.

He obliged her, resting a hand on her cheek, and tilted her head to the side. He leaned in again. Farida’s skin was soft, brown, and smelled faintly of earth, the scent making his head warm. He stiffened, and then gave her another firm bite. A shudder ran from her ears down to the tip of her tail, her legs turning to jelly even as her grip tightened on his shirt. Another long, erotic moan bubbled up through the air, her hips pressing sharply against his. Her tail began to wag quickly. “So, this is an interesting fetish.”

“If you ever tell anyone I’m into this-” Farida paused, clearly trying to think of an appropriate threat. “I’ll do something. And I don’t know what it will be, but it will be bad.” She pressed her face into his shoulder. “Bite me again.”

“Vell, of course, young maiden,” David murmured, drawing on childhood memories of vampire puppets. Farida let out a soft groan, and he began to deliver another bite to her throat, and then another.

The breaking point on teasing her came and went, as she yanked down her pants, and turned around, pressing her hips up against his, grinding her moist crotch against his, staining his pants. He was quick to oblige her, unzipping his pants, letting them drop around his ankles, and pressing against her. She grabbed his hips, stopping him from penetrating her, and held up a small black square of plastic. “Condom.”

A second later, he was buried inside of her, breathing hard as he pumped his hips against hers. She let out a soft moan as she returned the favor, her tail wagging against his chest, the tip swatting his nose gently. He squeezed it tight at the base, and she let out another low moan, looking over her shoulder. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, panting as she pumped her hips. “Keep moving!” she insisted, pumping her hips once against his. He gave the tail a tug, and she whined, pouting at him. “Don’t tease me right now! You went and got me all worked up, I really need this!”

He leaned forward, and caught her lips in a kiss, quieting the complaints. She moaned into his mouth, her saliva sweet as he bent forward. The angle was a bit awkward, but it felt too good to stop. He pressed his hips against hers harder, and slid an arm around her, grabbing her chest. The kiss broke after a moment, and he let go of her hair to brush her hair up, exposing the nape of her neck. Then he bit her there, gently.

Her pussy tightened almost unbearably, a shiver running through her as she cried out with pleasure. A sudden flood of something wet dripped down his thigh, as he came with her. The two of them leaned against the wall, supporting each other in a complicated arrangement. She flushed, and looked over her shoulder at him. “You really prefer me?”

“Yeah,” David murmured, and kissed her on the lips. The two of them wiped things clean gingerly, getting back into something that approached cleanliness, though there was no chance of smelling like they hadn’t just had sex. David opened the door, and tried not to look guilty as Caladbolg tilted her head, standing not two inches from the door.

“Are you sure that we have to bring Gerlinde with us? Or look for this Dragonlord?”

“Hello, Caladbolg,” said David, giving her a firm look. She put her hands on her hips, glaring.

“She threw a shipping container at us.”

“You did draw a sword on her.”

“And she kidnapped you.”

“Yes, I know. This isn’t my most well-thought-out plan.” David shook his head. “We’re still going to be bringing her along. For three reasons. First, it means we know where she is. Second, she might be able to help us spot the Dragonlord. And third… I kind of don’t want to leave her on her own. She had a point about why she wanted this power.” He looked over at Caladbolg. “I don’t want to leave her behind for the same reason I don’t want to leave you behind.”

Caladbolg was quiet. She turned away from David, her arms crossed tightly. “That is absolutely unfair.”

“Accurate, though,” murmured Farida.

“Come on. Give her a chance.” He squeezed Caladbolg’s shoulder. “What do you have against vampires, anyway?”

“They take away humans,” she murmured, her expression dark. “They turn them into more of themselves. They’re infectious. I cannot think of something more despicable.”

David sighed, and squeezed her shoulder again. “I understand. But she hasn’t. And she doesn’t. Just try to give her a chance.”

“Mmm. For you.” She glared, but there wasn’t much heart in it.

David spent most of that day in the train, reading through one of the paperback novels that Farida had bought along the way. She read the newspapers at the same time, keeping track of information. The Grave Robbers story had drifted off of the headlines after about a week and a half since their last escapade, which meant that they could be a bit more comfortable about traveling. The Aachen cathedral was still drawing record numbers of visitors, though.

“You said there’s a cathedral in Zaragosa?” David asked, as he finished a chapter, placing a thumb in the book to keep reading in a moment.

“Yeah. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. One of the biggest cathedrals in the world to the Dark God. And there are no legends of it being a place of humans or anything like that, so it should be safe for you to visit!”

“Who exactly is the Dark God?” David asked, leaning his head back.

“A pagan belief,” said Caladbolg, her expression dark. “He was the god of the Mystics. He betrayed the god of the Humans, and sold him out to the authorities of Rome, six hundred years before I returned to the water. A dark being. One of the Dragon Lords.” She shook her head, her expression fierce. “I remember this cathedral. The Apostate James saw the Dark God’s patron there, and built a shrine to her. Great crusades were fought to burn that place to the ground.” She glared out the window.

“Let’s not bring her along,” murmured Farida. “She might get people a bit miffed.” A little louder, she continued. “Anyway, Caladbolg, most people think the Dark God was just a metaphor. For the respect of authority, for obedience to a higher power, for the understanding of one’s place in society. The False Prophet was supposed to represent the transgression of boundaries. Not that I really believe in any of that stuff.”

“Mmmm. I always thought it was a bit silly,” said Gerlinde. “Practically no one is devout in Europe nowadays. There have been quite enough wars over that kind of thing over the years.”

“It was all painfully real,” said Caladbolg, her expression fierce. “That you have forgotten it does not change that.”

That put an end to the conversation quite effectively, and they sat quietly together for the rest of the trip, Farida studying her books, Caladbolg staring out a window, and Gerlinde sprawled across a seat, sleeping peacefully in the shadowed part of the cabin.

Despite Farida’s protests, no one in the group was willing to stay behind while David went to the temple. In all honesty, he was glad for that. The cathedral-basilica was appropriately tremendous. Great greek-style pillars lead to high arched domes that towered what seemed like an easy hundred feet or more over their head. The massive arches seemed to be built for giants to stride through, rather than the merely human-sized Mystics who walked through the place. Each pillar was brilliant white, and alcoves off to the side of the pews contained dozens of renaissance era paintings, great statues, and more golden paint- or, for all David knew, actual gold- than you could shake a censor at.

Gerlinde stopped at a fresco of some scene from the days long past, the marble carving reaching out from the wall, sculpted into the face of half a dozen Mystics. Farida read through a wikipedia article on her phone. “They said that the False Prophet was a human who fooled Mystics into submitting themselves to his will, making them his Apostates. They defied the true word of the Dark God until a brave man, possessed with the will of the Dark God, lead the authorities to the False Prophet. Then, he simply… disappeared.”

They approached a large, glittering shrine. David stared at the central pillar for several long seconds, trying to decide whether to say something or not. It was clear what it was. There was absolutely no argument to be had. But it couldn’t be. Right? They had to have more taste than that. Finally, he sighed, and bit the bullet.

“That’s a penis.”

“Well, yeah,” said Farida. “Lilith is a pretty sexual being. What were you expecting?”

“Not that,” said David, turning his eyes away from the altar, and its statue. That didn’t seem precisely holy to him, but he wasn’t one to judge other’s beliefs. “This is all… weird.” Then he paused, and looked closer at the pillar. A name was carved into it. “Judas?”

“The Son of the Dark God. The Dark God was in three parts-“

“Yeah, I know Catholicism.” David frowned. “In our world, I guess we remembered the ‘False Prophet’ as Jesus. Judas sold him out for 30 pieces of silver, and then hung himself out of remorse- that’s what I’d always heard.” He looked around, making sure that nobody devout had just heard him, as Caladbolg frowned.

“That sounds vaguely similar to what I heard. The Mystics killed a man of peace and brotherhood. Of course, it became just another excuse for war, then. So it always has been with their kind,” said Caladbolg, her eyes narrowed, as she looked to the side. “Somewhere in this country, Tizona lies dormant, sleeping away the ages.” She sighed. “I would awaken them, but they would likely not join us on this quest. Better for them to sleep than to take away their hope.”

“Do you know where Tizona is?” asked David, frowning. “Maybe we could find her?”

“I am afraid I do not. I know vaguely that she was here, somewhere- I can feel the aura of power that once surrounded her. But she could be anywhere.” Caladbolg sighed, shaking her head slowly, steely hair swaying around her face. “Is your curiosity sated, human?”

“Yes,” said David, casting another nervous glance around them. Caladbolg was not being quiet, but there were few people here at this late hour. “Let’s get to that hostel you found, Farida.”

The hostel was pleasant enough, and they settled down for the night. Gerlinde grumbled a bit, and made her way out to check out the nightlife while the others were busy. Farida made it an early night. David, however, found himself having trouble sleeping. After a few minutes, he sat up, and found that there was no sign of Caladbolg.

After a brief moment of sheer panic, he noticed her outside the front door, standing in the moonlight above. He pulled on an overshirt, and stepped out into the brisk night. It was cool and dark on the streets of Zaragoza, and under the moon. It was a full moon tonight, silver light pouring down around the two of them, making the street lights practically unnecessary. “Are you okay?”

“No.” She sighed, and there was the distant rumble of a plane flying through the night sky, the doppler effect giving it a descending pitch as it passed. “Why did the humans leave us? Why did our spirits remain here? With the Mystics.” She spat out the last word, and gritted her teeth. “Why couldn’t we have been with you?”

“I don’t know,” David said, softly, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“We just wanted to be your tools! We just wanted to protect you from things! Why did the damned Dragonlords have to tear us away from you?!” Her voice echoed across the buildings, pain transparent on her features. She threw her arms around David, squeezing him tightly. “And you don’t want revenge! You don’t care anymore! You don’t care that we were trapped here, abandoned, because of them! You-“

The words broke down into sobs, tears running down his shoulder as Caladbolg clung to him like a life preserver, her breaths coming out ragged, barely able to hold herself together. David softly squeezed her around the shoulders. “Of course I care. And I am sorry. But killing people isn’t going to make things right. It’s not going to change what happened, or make you any happier. But I am going to bring you with me. And… who knows?” He smiled. “Maybe the rest of you can come, too.”

“I can’t forgive them,” said Caladbolg. “I won’t.”

“Everyone who hurt you,” murmured David, “is long dead. Those wars are over.”

“You don’t know that,” murmured Caladbolg. “Especially the way we’re going. If a Dragonlord is involved with this, you may not get a choice about whether or not there is a war..”

She slipped out of his arms, and brushed her eyes. They were still slightly reddened from the tears, but she walked sharply into the building, leaving David with his thoughts.

Opening a new path almost always led to war. When people got closer together, there was friction. Every time people travelled to a new land, there was conflict, and death. But there were positive sides, too. Trade, intermarriage. Culture evolving under the pressures of two places being brought together. David leaned up against the wall, and looked around. Even without humans and mystics in the same world, there was still war. There was still violence. There had still been a fucking Holocaust, and didn’t that just figure.

He still didn’t know if he’d even find a way to return home. But if there was a way, other people might be able to use it, too. People like Caladbolg, Tizona, Charlemagne’s Palace. They weren’t humans, but they were people, and they depended on humans. That was enough that they deserved to be able to return home. And his motivations weren’t just for others.

He looked in the window. Farida lay in the double bed that they were sharing, one arm over her eyes, a leg trailing out from under the blankets, her tail curled up against her legs. She looked adorable, paws opening and closing as though trying to grab at something in her dreams. He thought of her soft brown eyes. He thought of never seeing her again. He thought of her never seeing her parents again.

It might have been a bit selfish, but he didn’t want to leave her behind. He wanted to be able to see her, again, and again. He wanted to be with her, without either of them having to give up their lives. That wasn’t wrong. He was sure that couldn’t be wrong. There had to be a solution.

But he wouldn’t even know until he found the way home. Then he could start worrying about a happy ending.

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