I debated whether or not to share this post for Fandango’s Friday Flashback, as it was kind of an experiment when I wrote it. I’m not sure how it will be received…but here it is anyway!
This story, readers, is the thing I meant to post yesterday. I’ve been thinking about the idea of Gothic fantasy for a while, being a lover of both, so here is my attempt at writing it. It’s been a long time since I wrote anything in the Gothic literature vein that I so adored during my high school years.
In the meager light of the shaded lantern, I could see that the vial was full. At last. I could breathe again and did so, inhaling the scent of freshly-tapped blood. I had accomplished the worst part of my task. I only needed to stop the bleeding and slip away without being seen. I didn’t think either would be difficult; no one except me was stirring at this hour of the night. Yet the prospect of failure set my heart pattering like that of one of father’s experimental mice. I had once held one in my hand as he cast a spell over it. Its tiny heart thudded beneath my forefinger before the onslaught of magic killed it. I had never assisted in a mouse experiment again.
Tucking the vial into my coat, I thought hard. What was the spell again, the one meant to stop the flow of blood? Versanguis psyatas, that was it. Extending my hand downward over the incision, I whispered them the way Lord Arturix had drilled them into my brain. Arturix, my father. I was doing this for him. He needed his blood stores refilled. And I, the defective son, the blemish in his renown, had succeeded where he insisted I would fail. He couldn’t cast me away now, now when I at least showed some promise. That was my purpose, the driving force behind the tiny cut of my blade, the stealing of blood, the careful journey through the manipulable dark.
The crimson trickle slowed and stopped. Only a tiny scar would remain by morning. The man’s head lolled on his pillow, mouth slightly open, eyes shut but twitching as the spell did its work. My work complete and the vial in hand, I crept to the window, closing the shutter on my lantern as I scanned the street. Empty. Not a soul in sight. The night breeze swept the hair from my eyes and cooled my damp forehead. I landed on solid ground a moment later. Wild elation fueled my speed until, breathless, I arrived at the edge of the wood, at the bottom of a stone stairway. Only a climb left between me and father now. Granted, I had to climb an uneven set of steps reaching over a treacherous chasm, but I had done that in my sleep. I adjusted the lantern in order to see better. Blinded by the abrupt flare of light, I glanced away and saw myself mirrored in the air.
Shock loosened my grip on the lantern. It fell and rolled away into a patch of scrubby grass, but I didn’t retrieve it. I couldn’t. Fear had turned my body numb and it would not move. A specter? Of myself?
Relief caused my knees to buckle. Father had mentioned that on occasion a mirage of oneself would appear after the stealing of human blood. I had nothing to fear. Why should I, the son of the most acclaimed dark sorcerer of the age, be afraid anyway? I was being foolish.
Clutching the blood vial, I started up the winding stone to our gate. The chasm on either side, separated from me by an iron grating, yawned blackness into my face. I kept forward. Wind whistled past my ears, not a welcome wind as before, but a hissing, whispering one that carried with it an image of the man whose blood I had just taken. I have nothing to fear, I hissed back. I, Anaron, have just accomplished a task my father denied me, one he doubted I could ever do. But here I stand!
The specter loomed up before me. I swerved to avoid its outstretched hand and stumbled, catching myself on the iron railing. As I did so, the vial slid in my sweaty fingers. It dropped. I couldn’t catch it in time. Glinting in the moonlight freed from the scudding clouds, it tumbled into the black maw of the chasm.
Choking and sick with horror, I felt a band of ice fasten around my chest like a manacle. The world spun and I found myself plunging into darkness. Rock walls rushed up past me. I didn’t have enough breath to scream. A tremendous thud sounded close by and pain knifed through my abdomen. I still couldn’t breathe. I doubted I would ever breathe again. Then the serpentine grip on my chest released and I sucked in a ragged gasp of air.
There was no sign of the vial. I could see nothing apart from the faint white glow of the specter a few feet ahead of me. Weak with despair, I struggled to my feet. I had fallen on a shard of jagged rock. My side bloomed with blood. Panic rose in my stomach. I hadn’t yet learned any spells to reverse a wound like this. Perhaps I could conjure some sort of light. I willed a flame into my fingertips. Nothing. My magic had fled. I could only follow the specter into the darkness, swearing on the heart of my dead mother that if I lived, if I survived this wretched place and Lord Arturix didn’t kill me, I would not steal blood again until the proper time.
As I crept along, feeling the clammy walls of a tunnel on either side, the specter’s opacity grew. I could see now its features now: eyes like mine, its hair, nose, limbs, all an exact duplicate of me. The tunnel narrowed; and, fearing suffocation or entrapment, I stopped. I could no longer resist the oppressive terror that now consumed me. Sapped of magic, bleeding and sick with failure, I could only keep going. Step by fumbling step, bent double under the weight of rock, I followed.
Abruptly the tunnel walls disappeared. In the specter’s faint light I saw that we had entered a cavern. The wound in my side throbbed. With my last shred of power I attempted a feeble spell, the same as I had used—was it minutes or decades earlier?—on the man in the upstairs room. Nothing happened. At least, nothing that would help me. A flaming insignia as tall as Arturix himself materialized in the air. My failed spell must have triggered it. I staggered back. I knew that symbol. I wore it on a cord around my neck. My father had named it as mine. It blazed for a moment, so brightly that I was forced to shield my eyes. When I looked again, it had gone. In its wake a wave of dark magic swept over me, a depth of darkness that I never before encountered. Wounded and powerless, I knew the truth. I was lost. The chasm had swallowed me, just as it had the precious vial that would make me worthy.
The specter had vanished. I was completely alone. Crawling forward, holding my gashed side, I found a slab of rock, fashioned in the shape of a bier. The surface…the surface was occupied. I could not tear my eyes away. An awful presence commanded me to look, and I had to obey.
The corpse was none other than my own. Retching and delirious, I collapsed at its side. I was dead. And if I was dead, who was the figure now trembling in the tomb where his own body lay? Was it Anaron, son of Arturix? Or was the spell-ridden corpse—for only a terrible dark power could so skillfully preserve the likeness—was that he who had traversed the night in order to regain his father’s favor? I did not know. I knew only the terror of my discovery and saw only the vial of stolen blood clutched in the corpse’s hand.