249 The Vampire“s Return*
The ship crawled. It was so slow as it navigated through the rocks and reefs that surrounded Herguard that Aegin often had to question if they were moving at all. He couldn't even see Ebony up in the crow's nest, her calls telling him incrementally that she was in fact still up there.
Though her calls weren't all that common. Talo was getting more help from those who had spread out along the sides and bow of the ship, telling him if he was going to run aground or not.
Aegin, tired and sore, rested behind Talo on the Quarter Deck with Alistair and watched Lovisson integrate into his element as if he'd never left it.
"Do you think he's enjoying himself?" asked Alistair, a small smile on his lips as he pointed at Talo.
Aegin nodded, "It's the one place he outranks the rest of us, of course he's enjoying it".
Talo spun around, "I heard that".
"Rocks to port!"
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Talo spun back quickly to direct.
"Aye, you're quite the sailor, now keep your eyes ahead so you can prove it," said Alistair.
Talo grumbled his annoyance but did as told. Alistair turned back to Aegin, his amused smile dropping slightly, "You okay? You look pale".
"Just tired," said Aegin, "Ready for a long bath and an even longer nap".
Alistair nodded, "I think that's on many agendas once we reach the mainland".
Alistair's eyes strayed over to where Layton stood on the starboard end of the main master's lower yardarm, hanging out dangerously close to the jutting rocks.
"Layton! We ain't in the Arena anymore, no need to risk your life boy, get down from there!"
He stood to make sure Layton followed orders, and Aegin was left alone.
He shifted, a sharp pain coming from the cut in his arm. He frowned, then turned to look at his arm again just as they broke through into the open ocean.
Cheers and cries of relief and joy rose up around him as Aegin looked at the cut there. It had barely scraped the skin before. He hadn't worried about it. But now the cut had darkened, nearly black. And it was no bruise.
"Aegin?" asked Ebony. Aegin hurriedly covered his arm and looked up as she came up onto the Quarter Deck, "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Fine," Aegin smiled at her, but she didn't look all that convinced, "Really, Eb. I'm just-"
A thunderous boom sounded above them. And as everyone's eyes were drawn up towards the sound, Aegin froze. He knew that sound. He'd heard it before. He'd heard is the night that a shadow had covered the moon.
Everyone's eyes were drawn up to see the shadow of a huge bird emerging from the clouds. The wings flapped again, and a gush of wind was directed down. Then, a figure dropped through the smoke and fog, past the sails and rigging, and landed on the deck with a solid thud.
The figure stood to his full height, his wings seeming to fold and disappear into his back. He was simply dressed with no adornments bar a silver bracer that peeked out from under the sleeve of his long black coat. The coat itself was buttoned at the front to his waist, then opened to reveal breeches and boots. The coat also had a deep hood that was drawn up over a pale face.
The figure was intimidating and seemed to radiate a sort of dominance that made everyone instinctively take a step back, but the way he carried himself, as his head turned to scan the faces before him, he was ethereal.
Aegin watched, shocked, then relieved, then angry as the figure's eyes slowly drew towards him and Ebony. He thought the same name as Ebony spoke it, "Rassa".
The figure stepped forward, and a gust of wind blew over the people before he appeared right before them. He stopped, his deep brown eyes had a reddish tinge to them as he looked at them before he reached up and pulled his hood back.
There was silence between them, then, his anger rose as this man, this person he had viewed as a brother but who had abandoned them, just stood there. Aegin rose to meet his eyes.
"You've got some nerve showing up now of all times," Aegin spoke, his tone low.
Ebony twisted between him and Rassa. Clearly she didn't feel entirely the same way. Not that Aegin would drag her into this, whatever it was.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there," Rassa spoke slowly. It was definitely him, and that only made Aegin feel more pain. He was here. Finally. Though his next words seemed somewhat impressed. Like he hadn't entirely believed that Aegin and Ebony could get out themselves. Like they were useless without him, "Though it appears you didn't need me in the end".
"Oh it appears that way, does it?" asked Aegin as he stepped forward, "Sorry you couldn't play the hero again".
"Aegin!" hissed Ebony, "You know that's not how he meant it".
"Isn't it?" asked Aegin as he looked at Ebony, "Then where by the gods was he, Ebony? We thought he was dead! We watched his line flicker for months then fade entirely. Then, just as we've finally gotten a chance to escape on our own, it reappears again? People, even if they aren't human, don't just come back from the dead, so where by the gods were you?"
Aegin spun a glare on Rassa who looked somewhere between sad and angry. He had no right to be angry. He wasn't the one that got left behind.
"Nothing I say will be an excuse enough to appease the anger I see in your eyes," Rassa replied, "Anger that is well-founded. I was a coward. I ran before I even realised what I was doing, and by the time I did it was too late to correct my mistake. I can apologise, and I will, but first, I think you need to sit down".
"Don't tell me what to do!" shouted Aegin, then he stumbled, his world suddenly tilting.
"Aegin?" asked Ebony as she caught him, "What's wrong?"
Rassa spoke, his words like a death sentence that crossed over the ship like a wave, "You were poisoned".
Aegin frowned, the shook his head, "I'm fine".
But he clearly wasn't, as the next moment he was overcome by a coughing fit. Ebony reached out to take more of his weight as his energy started to leave him rapidly, and he fell to his knees, his body crumpling despite his will to remain upright.
"Aegin!" called Ebony, then she turned to Rassa, "I don't understand, everyone else died within seconds, why has it taken so long for him?"
"It was only trace amounts on his skin, it took longer to affect him," Rassa stated as he took Aegin's weight from Ebony. Aegin wanted to push him away, he'd rather fall hard than have Rassa touch him right now. Not when he was angry. Not when he had no way to reconcile that anger, "But he is poisoned, I can smell it".
Ebony looked up to the Madame, "The antidote, where's the antidote?"
The Madame looked forlorn as she spoke, "There isn't one. The Master believed that anyone affected by the poison wasn't worthy of living".
Aegin caught Ebony looking at him, tears springing to her eyes. Was this it? He was just going to die like this? He could feel his heart beating erratically in his chest as he throat started to close. He felt so cold and so hot at the same time. It was exhausting and painful, his world started to turn dark.
"Aegin? Aegin!" called Ebony, trying to keep him awake.
Rassa's voice came again through the darkness, "I'll meet you on the shore".
Ebony replied, confusion in her half-chocked words, "What do you mean?"
Aegin vaguely felt his body being lifted up from the hard deck, and Rassa's voice sounded right next to his ear, "I'm too selfish to ask him what he wants, and frankly I'm not sure I'd want to hear the answer now anyway".
Aegin felt a sort of jolting rush as he felt the ground disappear from beneath his feet. But he was so weak he didn't even bother holding on. He didn't need to, he felt something strong and stable holding him instead.
"I will not let you die," Rassa's voice spoke, "You may resent me for eternity, but I will not let you die when I have just found you again. Endure it, Aegin. You are stronger than me, I know you can".
Aegin wasn't so sure. He'd lived through the Arena and imprisonment on Herguard, but he'd had Ebony. Rassa had lived through the darkness in the depths of Jerrica alone and treated as nothing more than an animal. Would they have survived if their situations were reversed?
He hadn't the time to have his question answered, for the next second he felt two long needle-like things pierce the side of his neck.
Fangs. Rassa was drinking from him. But...couldn't he make the pain go away? If so, why did it hurt so much? He wanted to scream but couldn't, and as the darkness closed in around him.
Just as he was sure he couldn't feel anything, that his body was so weak and his soul so distant that he'd never know life again. It touched his lips. It tasted sweet, rich, and full of power.