342 The Moonshadow Trading Company Short Stories: 3 - The Expansion of Moonshadow I
*Eldovian Era 1713, 7th Day of the 10th Month*
His world had changed so rapidly. First it had been all the usual colours, if a little blurred thanks to the newly returned Moonshadow Lord, but he'd come and left like the sea breeze. Pleasant to both the eyes and the mind, but blowing away before you could have the chance to truly enjoy it.
He'd left something behind as well. The beautiful woman he called sister but was apparently not of the same blood, just like Iah. Except unlike Iah, this Ebony was of the same blood, just not in a way Mathius had been able to understand.
Not until he'd tasted the nectar of the gods for himself.
Her blood was, in short, divine. It tasted so rich and decadent that he feared growing sick of it, but he hadn't been able to stop. Just like with all decadent desserts however, his body had begun to fight back against the very nature of the blood.
It's nature, it's very essence and reason for being was to devour. And devour it had, Mathius could sense no weariness in his old bones anymore. Now his muscles felt young again, his skin and bones harder than stone, and the fiery burning lines that had burned themselves into his waist, curling around from his spine to his belly button, they felt…like a manifestation of his soul.
Still, none of it compared to the hunger. It had ripped its way through his entire being without mercy or warning. He'd barely registered the man being shoved at him until his hands, fingertips ending in lethal looking claws, extended to catch the stranger with ease. Then the two needle-like teeth he'd felt form in his upper jaw had extended and plunged into the nearest exposed vein.
He'd drunk greedily as soon as blood had hit his tongue, unwilling to part with this newfound pleasure. He'd heard stories before of masses of people becoming addicted to a substance, but never had he thought that substance would be blood. It sung to him as he swallowed it, his body humming in melodic response.
Yes, this was all he would ever desire. Nothing else could possibly matter.
"Enough, you are full".
Or perhaps something did matter. The lines that felt like his very soul responded to the voice. It felt like an order. His fangs retreated as he looked up for the source, finding the sound familiar.
His eyes focused as they pinpointed Ebony Moonshadow.
She was dressed differently, no longer in the sheer gown and night-coat she'd worn when he'd entered the room. She looked far stronger now. Not like the sulking child he'd come to comfort, but like a young woman with a weight on her shoulders. A weight she bore beautifully as she stepped forward, pushing away from the wall.
Her signature skirt, without volume and with slits up either side of her legs, swayed when she walked, the dark brown corset covering a clean, white cotton top that scandalously exposed her clavicle and shoulders.
"I know you want to keep going, but the hunger will always tell you that. You need to learn to control it…" her lips moved and Mathius heard the words, the lines at his waist urging him to listen, but he was reluctant to leave the meal in his hands. He bent over to partake again.
An order this time. One his lines responded to enough to cause a hot warning in his being. His eyes darted back up to her, assessing her not as a feeble woman anymore, but as a threat to his delicious meal. She did not look strong. She certainly hadn't last night, but something told him he shouldn't underestimate her because of how she looked.
"Why should I stop?" asked Mathius. His voice sounded different. He frowned at the sound, until he worked out why he sounded so different. He no longer sounded so submissive, so…tame.
"I'm sorry I did this to you, Mathius," Ebony stated. And she did appear to have remorse somewhere hidden behind that serious look in her eyes, "It is my mistake, and I can offer you no excuse that could possibly be worthy of forgiveness. But, seeing as it is my mistake, it is my responsibility to teach you. My first lesson is simple. Learn the difference between when you are satiated and when you are full, and, most importantly, learn to stop at full".
Mathius' eyes narrowed. Stop at full? But why? Why shouldn't he indulge?
"Why?" asked Mathius.
Ebony raised an eyebrow, "If you cannot control your hunger, you will not last long in this life. The Chaos within you with consume you with it".
Mathius frowned, not fully understanding but knowing instinctively that her threat was not a light one. His eyes glanced back down at the open vein before him as it bled, and his mouth watered. Only something told him that if he was to take more, he would be doing so for the pleasure of it, not because he needed it. Was that the instinct that Ebony was talking about? The one that could tell him when he was full?
Mathius assumed so, and pushed the body off of his lap. It was then he seemed to grasp that it was a body. The fearful, dead eyes of the man he could not name stared back at him, and Mathius felt reality slam into him with full force. He looked down at his hand, where claws retracted, and he felt his fangs do the same as he closed his mouth. He looked around, spotting a mirror to the side, and he hurried to it, so quickly he almost smashed into it. He'd never moved that quickly before.
As if making sure that it was possible, he looked back over at the bed where he'd been sitting, then came to the conclusion that it was not physically possible for him to cross here in an instant. He glanced at Ebony as if to confirm his thoughts, then turned to his reflection.
His clothes were soiled with blood, his skin paler than it had been before. Though, his eyes shone with a life that hadn't been there before. His features…where once they had been that of a man growing old, now they looked to be of a man in his prime. At the latter end of his prime perhaps, with crow's feet on the edges of his eyes and wrinkles around his mouth and forehead, but there was just a part of his appearance that seemed, younger.
"You…what happened?" asked Mathius, reaching up to touch his face.
Ebony sighed, "Like I said, I don't expect to be forgiven…I was hungry, stupidly believing that I could handle it. When you came in and practically refused to leave, I couldn't help it. The instincts took over and I indulged. When I realised I'd drunk far more than I should have I…I panicked. Then I turned you".
"Turned…you mean you made me like you? Like Mr Moonshadow?" asked Mathius, turning to face Ebony in disbelief.
Mathius didn't know whether to feel angry or not. This certainly wasn't a life he expected for himself, but he felt incredible. Far better than his aging human body had been. Surely if he was like this he'd be able to help Moonshadow far more efficiently. In saying that, he knew barely anything about what he was.
"The bathroom is through that door. I retrieved some clothes for you that are on the bench in there. Wash up first, then I'll answer what I can," said Ebony.
"And what you can't?" asked Mathius.
"Rassa is back," said Ebony. It surprised Mathius. It had been less than a week, surely he hadn't gone to the mines and found land and properties as he'd set out to do in that time. Iah had mentioned him being back within a fortnight but Mathius had not believed it.
"He is?" asked Mathius.
Ebony nodded, "He…He sensed it when I turned you. He is the First of us, the most powerful and most knowledgeable. I'm not fully done with my own training and have yet to fully awaken, so despite it being my responsibility as your Sire, I cannot teach you everything".
"Sire?" asked Mathius.
"The one who turned you," said Ebony, "Rassa is mine and Aegin's Sire. I am your Sire, but because Rassa turned me-"
"He can sense who you turn as well," Mathius concluded, his eyes thoughtful, "When he said you were family, I sensed he meant it through blood, but didn't quite understand. I get it now. I can feel my bond with you. It pushes me to listen and obey".
Ebony nodded, "Yes, it will, but only if I will it too. Of course, you have your own free will".
"And if that free will does not wish to listen?" asked Mathius, his eyes straying to the bodies around the bed.
Ebony's eyes narrowed, "What if your next victim was Iah?"
Mathius's gaze snapped to Ebony. The thought had not occurred to him. He had only been concerned about the divine taste of the blood. Indeed, the thought of more blood was intriguing no matter who it came from, but that was what finally pulled him from his hungering spiral. He may have known Iah for less than six months, but that didn't change the fact that he greatly admired the young woman. She'd cared for him, respected him, and given him a position when many others had turned him away. If she ended up like the bodies on the floor before him…
Mathius's gaze dropped in shame, "I…I understand".
Ebony nodded, "Wash up. I'll take care of the bodies".
Iah startled as she entered her office, not expecting the figure that was relaxing casually at her desk. Hand on her heart as she took a deep breath, Rassa turned to look at her.
"Morning," said Rassa.
"I thought you were in Eldovia," Iah said.
Rassa nodded, "I was. I came back last night".
Iah sighed, "Well, not that it's not good to see you again, but I thought you said your business would take a few weeks. It's barely been one".
Rassa nodded, "Yes, Ebony…well, I suppose there is no way to break this to you easily so I'm just going to come right out and say it; Ebony was being irresponsible with her eating habits and happened to make a meal out of Mathius when you sent him to look in on her last night".
Iah's eyes widened, "Ebony…ate, Mathius?"
"Well, she drank his blood," said Rassa as he stood, "Quite a lot of it actually, to the point where there was no way he would have survived, and then in her guilt she turned him".
"Turned…so he is like you now?" asked Iah.
Rassa raised an eyebrow, "You're taking this surprisingly well".
"I'm really not," said Iah as she grabbed the arm of the nearby couch and pulled herself into it to sit down, "This is not a problem I can deal with this early in the morning".
Rassa sighed, "Well, he's not your problem at the moment he's Ebony's. Seeing as she turned him it's her responsibility to teach him".
"The one who wasn't mature enough to work out when was the appropriate time to feed is now teaching someone she turned when she didn't have full control of her faculties?" Iah ground out.
Rassa walked over to Iah, "We all know that Ebony made a mistake, but I can sense that she is not the one you are angry with right now. It was not your fault for sending him, Iah".
Iah turned away, "I…I was the one that brought him into this company, that put him in harm's way, how can I not-"
"Iah, becoming a Vampire is hardly something I'd ask you to consider when employing new staff," Rassa stated, "The whole concept is rather new to this world, so regardless of whether it is within the company or outside of it, once people find out there will be those who are against us. We will make mistakes, but our path is one of Chaos, and if we choose to punish ourselves for those mistakes we will not be able to accept ourselves. We are not human, and I will not see my people condemning themselves with human logic. In saying that, I apologise to you for the grief it may cause you, and of course Ebony will be punished in her own way for letting her hunger get the best of her. She will be punished because she is now forced to become a role-model and a teacher to Mathius".
Iah sighed. She understood that Vampires were not the same as her, but their logic made little sense, "I cannot promise I will not be angry at her".
"At least reserve your judgement for a few weeks, then you can speak again with Mathius and hopefully this can be resolved," said Rassa.
"A few weeks? You want me to wait a few weeks to see Mathius?" asked Iah.
Rassa nodded, "My business has not concluded in Eldovia, I left Kit and Olly in Varkevia after purchasing land and a building there".
"Varkevia? I thought you wanted to set up the warehouses somewhere remote," Iah stated.
"I do, I purchased land at the southern end of the Seisin Mountains for that," said Rassa, "Before I leave tonight I'll review the staff recruitment lists you've prepared and set up those gifts for you".
He was moving too quickly away from the issue, his lack of remorse for Ebony turning Mathius was clear. Like he'd fully expected it to be a possibility. She'd always trusted Rassa, but seeing him so…uncaring. It threw her off course and made her begin to question a lot of things.
"I…I don't understand you," she admitted.
Rassa paused, looking down at Iah, "I don't expect you to. Even if I answer all the questions swirling in your mind you will likely still not understand. We are not alike, Iah. At least not yet".
"Not yet?" asked Iah, meeting his crimson gaze.
"I will not offer it now as you will likely reject me given the circumstances. But you have done much for this company in my absence Iah. I could not ask for a better friend and servant. I would be loath to see you grow old and leave me. To leave Moonshadow. So, I would offer to turn you, but only if you want it, and only when you are ready," said Rassa, "I will be cruel though, and tell you that becoming like us is likely the only way you will ever understand our ways".
She stared up at Rassa, shocked. Yes. She would reject him now. Absolutely. After what had just happened to Mathius? It seemed illogical for her to put anyone else in the same danger Ebony had put them in. The very thought of being a vampire was repulsive. Right up until Iah met Rassa's gaze.
She considered his words. Being human, she would grow old. She would not remain with these people forever as Rassa and Ebony and now Mathius would remain. It would surely be strange, twenty years, or even ten years in the future, to look at the others and her own reflection and know that the gap between them was only bound to grow. Their agelessness would become something she could not escape. Her fate as a human was absolute. She would die someday. And Rassa looked genuinely sad at the thought.
They were different, that much was clear. But they didn't have to be.
"I need…to be alone," Iah stated, turning away from Rassa's sad, yet knowing eyes.
"I'll come back this afternoon then to see the lists. I'll be down in the basement, then in the room you've cleared out on the second floor, if you need me. Mathius and Ebony will likely be out most of the day," Rassa stated.
Then, with a breeze that stirred the loose papers in the office, he was gone. Iah sighed, putting a hand on her head as if to catch it from falling from sheer weight.
She really should have listened when she'd told herself never to expect the normal with Rassa. Yet, hear she was feeling sad and sorry for herself after not taking her own advice. Would she learn this time? Or would she have to be shocked then wallow in her own self-pity again? Was there a point where she'd just become immune to it?
Iah knew the answer to that. But it was too early in the morning to deal with the death and rebirth of a friend and trusted colleague, let alone the prospect of eternity, so instead she called one of the workers to bring her some tea and set to work on the lists Rassa had said he wanted to discuss.
Work. Work would help. Work and Tea.