Deprivation, Part 1.
Devin sighed silently to himself as he sat in his corner booth in the noisy pub. He checked his watch and decided it was time to get to work. With a wave to the bartender, who returned the gesture, the mage got to his feet and exited the smoky building, nodding in acknowledgement to the scattered greetings that came from the locals as he walked by.
He mused about the conveniences of being part of a rural community, however distantly. At the pub, he ran a weekly tab, the kind of credit that could only be earned with a certain amount of trust. The local people acknowledged his presence, even greeted him with smiles, but were respectful of his standoffishness, more so than the kind of city people Devin was used to.
Yes, coming here to begin his sabbatical had been a good idea, after all. "Here" was a small town in the rolling hills of Scotland, where he had rented a small cottage for himself for a few months. He hadn't expected to like the countryside and had only come to get far, far away from the stresses of city life, but surprisingly, he found the open spaces and fresh air not only pleasant, but invigorating.
Luciel teased him that it was a homecoming of sorts, given that Devin had an unknown quantity of Faerie blood in his ancestry. Even though the mage shrugged that notion off as a little ridiculous, he couldn't help but wonder if it was true. Weren't the British Isles the strongholds of Faerie in legendary times?
Still, supernatural descent notwithstanding, he was finding his vacation a welcome break. He had spent the last several weeks studying some texts he had meaning to read, all the while getting acquainted with the local people and keeping an eye out for any potential uses for his peculiar talents. Some careful questions on his part had revealed that these folk were much more inclined to believe in magic than the jaded American urbanites Devin usually dealt with. As the townspeople began to trust him as something more than an idle tourist, they had brought a recent problem to his attention, hoping he might know a solution.
It seemed that in the past month or so a ghost of some kind had appeared in the area. He had been seen by several people, all of whom had been alone at the time -- and none of them could remember anything about the encounters beyond the fact that they had occurred at all. It was as if they had been made to forget.
The witnesses Devin had spoken with all told similar stories of meeting a pale young man who seemed quiet and unthreatening, but beyond that initial contact, they remembered nothing. They also all came away feeling slightly disoriented, even light-headed. Those particular symptoms gave Devin a few ideas as to what was actually going on, but he was unwilling to draw any conclusions without firsthand knowledge.
Fortunately for him, it seemed that anyone out alone at night ran a fair risk of encountering the specter, so tonight he was going to essentially put himself out as bait. He was hoping that by going to the far outskirts of town, he would present an easy target -- or whatever -- for the strange "ghost".
His chosen post was the scenic crest of a small knoll overlooking the pastures on the edge of town. As he neared the spot, he felt a peculiar rippling with his mage-sense, a sensation that was Luciel's equivalent of a reassuring pat on the shoulder. The angel was not present on the Physical Plane, but he was watching over his protégé in his own way. Whatever might happen, Devin had a witness, and a protector, if he should need one.
He doubted circumstances would come to that, however. Since no one who had met the apparition had come to any real harm, he felt safe enough to let his guard down -- at least enough to add some verisimilitude to his nonchalant stargazer act.
The ground was a little colder than he had expected on a late April evening as he lay back to gaze up at the clear sky. After a few moments, he started looking for the zodiac constellations, wondering idly what an astrologer would have seen in the vaulted dome of the night sky. The view was almost nice enough for him to have enjoyed it without a pretense of productivity...almost.
Sometimes he thought he truly didn't know how to relax, how to not be constantly thinking of work, or advancing his knowledge. Luciel gently chided him for it, but it wasn't something that he could just stop doing. Even this trip, which was supposed to be rest and relaxation, had been spent so far mostly in study.
"It's a marvelously clear night." A soft tenor voice, lightly tinged with the local burr, interrupted his musings. The stranger had managed to get unnervingly close in total silence; as Devin sat up with an unfeigned start, he saw a very pale man who seemed to be about his own age standing three feet away, farther down the hill. That pallor alone confirmed Devin's guesses at the true nature of the man, but he kept his expression slightly curious. "Indeed it is," he replied pleasantly, but a little distantly, as if he resented the intrusion.
Noting the less than warm welcome, the stranger smiled charmingly and came a little closer, seating himself far enough from Devin to not seem overly pushy, yet near enough to speak at a conversational volume.
Devin took a moment to examine his visitor. Of course, he was handsome; these creatures usually were. He was tall, several inches taller than Devin and of a heavier build than the wiry mage. His pale face was crowned with long, feathered platinum-blonde hair, most of which seemed to be tied back in a loose braid at the moment. All in all, he presented a picture which some might call angelic, but Devin knew better.
The man met Devin's scrutiny with another disarming smile, his startlingly violet eyes glinting with mild amusement. "Here on vacation?" he asked quietly. "I've seen you around town, but only just recently."
Devin nodded a little guardedly, immediately distrustful of the stranger's friendly demeanor, though he concealed his suspicion. He was, after all, playing a clueless out-of-towner.
The pale man grinned at Devin's seeming reticence, and offered his hand to shake. "Allistair Douglas," he introduced himself.
Devin briefly considered lying about his identity, but didn't see any real point in doing so. His work was much too obscure for the man to recognize his name. "Devin Mercure," he said after a moment of hesitation, shaking Allistair's hand and quickly letting go.
"Pleased to meet you," the taller man said, sounding as if he honestly meant it. "Enjoying a lovely night for skywatching?" he asked casually, resuming his opening topic.
"Yeah... Don't get skies this clear back home," Devin replied diffidently. Was this how Allistair had tricked his other victims? By engaging them in innocent conversation?
"Home being the States, yes?" Allistair waited for Devin's nod of confirmation before continuing, "Ahh, you do have that Yankee accent." His teeth flashed in a teasing grin.
The mage wished he had a retort, but the truth was, he found the man's slight accent, combined with his measured, thoughtful speech, intriguing and just a little charming. Again, he wondered if Allistair had simply charmed his victims into trusting him -- which, unless Devin was quite wrong in his guess, would be easily accomplished by such a creature.
Seeing that there was no reply to his little sally, the pale man shrugged and looked up at the sky. "An excellent night for seeing the stars indeed, though I notice Scorpio isn't visible at this time of year."
Devin looked at him sharply, unable to conceal his surprise. Of course, Allistair could have randomly named the sign, or perhaps he was a Scorpio himself -- but the smug cast of his lips told Devin otherwise.
"It's very clear in your actions what your sign is," Allistair said by way of explanation. Devin relaxed a little physically, but his mental and magical guards were up. He didn't believe one bit in the "characteristics" of the Zodiac signs, so he immediately suspected some mischief on Allistair's part.
"That's a pity to hear," the mage said with a hint of irritation, his grin a little forced. "I always hope to defy stereotypes."
"I don't hold much in them myself," Allistair said offhandedly, not as if he were rushing to agree with Devin, but merely to register his own opinion.
"Really..." Devin drawled, shooting the other man an openly distrustful look. He was getting tired of the silly pleasantries; it was time to get to the point.
"Mr. Mercure?" Allistair's pale eyebrows lifted in graceful curves. "Have I said something wrong?"
His innocent tone merely grated on Devin's nerves. "It's not something you said, Mister Douglas," he said with a scowl, his tone mocking the other man's polite form of address, "it's something you are."
"Scottish?" Allistair asked, sounding amused.
"Drop the act," the mage snarled, irritated by Allistair's continued air of politeness. "It doesn't take all that much skill to recognize a vampire right in front of me."
Allistair reeled back as if he had been slapped. "And so... you think I'm here to prey on you?" he said very quietly, a note of pain in his voice.
"I see that you've been very circumspect in not killing any of your victims," Devin pressed on coldly, not hesitating in the face of the vampire's sudden withdrawal. "So I'm not fearing for my life tonight." He flicked his right wrist, dropping a spell-tag into his hand. "But maybe you should be."
"Judge, jury and executioner?" Allistair asked softly, but with an edge to his voice. "I somehow thought you better than that."
"Like I said before, I don't like people thinking that they know who I am." The mage climbed to his feet, glaring down at the vampire. Despite his harsh threats, he was in no hurry to slay Allistair; he was more than a little curious about this strange creature who drank blood and chose not to kill. But Allistair didn't need to know that. "And I don't even know on what grounds you can think to know me..."
"I've been watching you," Allistair said simply, with a sad little smile. "When I discovered that you were a mage, I had some hope that you could help me, but --"
"Help you?" Devin interrupted. "Help you do what?"
"I..." The vampire smiled ruefully and shook his head, as if unable to explain. "I hate being a vampire," he said finally, pinning Devin with his bright stare. "I would give a good deal -- pay a good deal -- to be human again."
Devin just stared at him stupidly for a moment. "You -- you want me to cure you?" At Allistair's nod, the mage abruptly sat back down again. "But I don't think it's possible..." His mind was already racing through the possibilities. Intellectual curiosity was always one of his faults, and this quandary was one of the strangest he had ever encountered.
"I will pay you, Mr. Mercure, to determine if it is possible or not." Allistair smiled faintly. "Even if you discover it is possible, but you simply can't achieve it yourself, if you have information for me to take to a greater sorcerer, your services would have been well bought."
Devin bristled a little at the implication that he would not be capable of producing such a cure himself. "If you think I'm not up to it, why ask me? Why not go seek out some 'greater sorcerer' yourself?"
The vampire smiled at Devin's irritation. "Firstly, I needed to speak to someone who would actually listen to me before destroying me. Your being here in town gave me a chance to do that, so it's a bit more luck than anything."
Devin only snorted in reply. Luck, indeed -- and not of the good kind,
as far as he was concerned. Being hired by a vampire!
"And?" he prompted, waiting for Allistair to finish.
"You said 'firstly'; that implies more to follow," the mage said acidly. "Unless you misspoke." Perhaps the wretch thought that Devin's services would be cheaper than an older mage's. Probably true, but the vampire had implied that he was willing to pay a considerable amount, so that didn't seem right.
"Ah... There is another reason, yes," Allistair said musingly as he stood, holding his hand out to Devin, who rose without the offered assistance.
"And that would be?" Devin pressed, his annoyed scowl firmly in place.
"Hmm..." The vampire made a noncommittal sound and looked at Devin, a hint of a smirk on his lips. "You shouldn't mar your face like that," he said lightly, reaching out to tap one finger against the deep frown-mark between the shorter man's eyebrows.
Almost instinctively, Devin's hand came up to slap Allistair's arm to the side. Glaring venomously at the vampire, he opened his mouth for an angry reply, but before he could do more than draw a breath, Allistair leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips.
For a brief moment, the mage was too surprised to push Allistair away, but he quickly brought his hands up to give the heavier man a sharp shove. The vampire only backed away a step and caught Devin's hands in his own, smiling at the mage's obvious discomfiture. "The second reason..." he cleared his throat, "..is somewhat harder to put into words." As he spoke, his almost crystalline gaze was focused intently on the mage.
Devin's face was slightly flushed in embarrassment and anger. He knew of the hypnotic powers vampires were reputed to possess, and was not going to let himself fall prey to them. "You will not dazzle me," he grated, trying to pull his hands away. The unused spell-tag he had drawn earlier fluttered to the ground as he found no freedom from Allistair's strong grasp.
"No...I suppose I won't. It's just as well; there are some things that are much more worthwhile when they're honestly earned." The vampire smiled enigmatically and seemed about to release Devin's hands before he blinked and refocused on the mage's face.
Devin realized too late what the odd change in Allistair's expression meant. He couldn't reach his spell-tags with Allistair's hands grasping his wrists, and he was loath to call Luciel; despite the danger he was currently in, he was sure that the vampire would not kill him. Still, he wasn't all that eager to be fed upon. "Don't do it, you damned --"
The pale man pulled Devin closer, holding him in what would be a warm embrace
in a less threatening situation, and whispered a plea for forgiveness before
sinking his sharp teeth into Devin's neck. Trying not to panic, as all of
his instincts pressed him to do, the mage began to breathe slowly in an attempt
to calm himself and slow his blood flow.
As he gradually relaxed, Devin's memory flitted back to the first and last time someone had taken his blood. Sikhander, the thane of the Naga demon clan, had fed upon him to gain the strength imparted by the mage's part-Faerie blood. Of course, the demon was not specialized for blood drinking like a vampire, so he had simply wounded Devin and lapped up the spilled blood like an animal.
This... felt very different. Having never been bitten by a vampire before, Devin found the sensation of having the blood drawn out of one's veins quite disconcerting, and totally unfamiliar. He wasn't sure if the strange combination of dizziness and an intoxication of the senses was typical, or if it was something unique to him or to Allistair. It was not entirely unpleasant, but he wasn't about to just give in, even if he was fairly sure that the vampire would not drain him to the point of death. Trying to fight the urge to let himself slide into a warm sort of semi-consciousness, however, was like trying to tread water with weights tied to his limbs.
Still, it was hard for him to be as angry at Allistair as he had been at Sikhander. Being bitten by a creature who was (reluctantly) acting according to his nature was quite a different circumstance than being attacked by a sadistic, power-hungry demon.
The thought of Sikhander's drastic increase in power reminded Devin that letting dark creatures take his blood was probably unwise. What was the strange supernatural blood doing to Allistair?
Even as that crossed Devin's mind, the vampire moaned in a note of surprised ecstasy. The sensual sound made Devin shudder uncontrollably for a moment, but Allistair's hold on him didn't loosen until he finally pulled away several heartbeats later, holding the mage out at arms' length.
"What are you?" the taller man gasped, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. He looked even more disconcerted than Devin felt.
The mage smirked, even as he felt his knees buckling. It had not been a
long feed, but Allistair had drained him enough to make him feel rather faint,
and he would have fallen if the vampire had not held him up. Mentally
cursing his weakness, he called out across the Planes to Luciel, who promptly
appeared, his rarely-displayed scimitar in hand.
"S'awright," Devin mumbled as the angel came to take him from Allistair's arms.
"Your protector finally makes an appearance," the vampire said with a respectful nod to Luciel, his voice still not as steady and self-assured as it had been earlier.
"You have good eyes," Luciel said in a markedly unfriendly tone, glaring at the vampire. "I was not aware that the dark blood bestowed spirit-sight."
"It doesn't," was all Allistair offered in reply. The angel
continued to glare, his silver eyes narrowing.
"To answer your question," Devin interrupted in a quiet voice, getting the attention of both vampire and angel, "I've been informed that I'm some part Faerie." His eyes were closed as he concentrated on staying conscious, so he did not see Allistair's incredulous look.
"I...see. Devin, I..." The vampire sighed and took a moment to consider his words. "I am very sorry to have done this to you," he said very softly, sounding sincere. "I hope that you'll still consider my offer." Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked away. Devin opened his eyes to see the man disappear into the dark fields beyond the edge of town.
"He wants to hire you," Luciel said in quiet disbelief, shaking his head.
Devin nodded tiredly. "Can we talk about it later? I'm feeling kinda light-headed at the moment," he mumbled crossly.
"Just relax, then," the angel chuckled. "Low on blood and still as charming as ever."
The mage only growled at his jocular guardian before finally letting himself slip into a black, dreamless sleep.
Poor Devin, can't he ever have a normal social life? ;)
Originally, "Desperation" was supposed to come at this time (and
I've already started writing it), but I thought this story up in the middle of
that, and through some rather wriggly maneuvering, managed to put
"Deprivation" next. Amusingly, this changed the story after
"Desperation" in quirky ways that I like better than the original
plan. But I'm getting ahead of myself. ^^
The next chapter's short and mostly introspection, but that's because the 3rd chapter is a very long conversation. O_o Into Devin's head we go!