Everyone dreams of immortality. To be free of society’s boundaries, free of death, is a wish so deeply longed for that’s we’d do anything to achieve it. We’d sell our souls, drink blood, invest in black magic, and whatever else we can do for a chance to become immortal.
For some of us, immortality is nothing but a fantasy that we use to escape our frustrations. For others, it’s a scientific challenge that should be explored and researched.
And, for a select few, immortality is a curse.
Valerian Torr paced the roof of his apartment as he watched the busy street below him. He was jealous of their freedom, their mortality, and the careless way their lives intertwined in the knowledge that it would, inevitably, end.
They were lucky.
Valerian’s throat tightened in hunger as a coppery scent wafted on the breeze. He followed the smell and found a homeless person with a large gash in their forehead. Valerian sighed as he bent to examine the wound.
“It’s not fair, is it. You spend your life struggling to survive, only to get mugged for your valuables in the dead of night. Here, let me see.”
He gently took their chin and lifted their face to the moon. It was a young woman, and she averted her eyes as he examined her head. Valerian wiped the blood with his handkerchief and nodded.
“There, you’ll be fine now.”
She stood up gently and hung onto the wall until the dizziness passed, then began gathering her things. Valerian handed her a bag covered in mold and felt a small twinge of pity for this bedraggled creature. When another wave of dizziness washed over her, Valerian helped her sit on the curb.
“You should rest. You might have a concussion.”
“I’m fine. I need to find my stuff and get home.”
“Home?” Valerian asked, amused. The woman paused.
“Well…What I call home.” She looked at the bag in her hand, then at Valerian.
“Thank you for your help. I’ll be fine.”
There was pride in her voice that Valerian respected, and he nodded.
“Of course. However, your injury could get infected without proper cleaning and some rest. Shall we go to a hotel? My treat.”
Her eyes lit up with hope, then dimmed.
“I’m not a prostitute.”
Valerian grinned. “Of course not. I merely wanted to offer you a place to stay and a warm bath. That’s it.”
The woman thought about it, then nodded.
“I accept. Thank you.”
Valerian bowed and followed her out of the alleyway. They soon came to a small motel set back from the main road, and the woman pointed at it.
“There is fine.”
“Very well. How long would you like to stay?”
Valerian went to the front desk and booked her a room for the week, paid in cash, and brought her the key.
“Room 223 is all yours.”
The woman took the key and tried to hold back tears.
“Thank you. How can I repay you?”
“Tell me your name.”
“Adara. Adara Grim.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Adara. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”
Valerian left Adara in her hotel room and retreated to the shadows of his apartment. Taking out the bloodied handkerchief, he reluctantly squeezed a few drops of blood into his mouth before tucking it back into his pocket. The flavor reminded him of summer days spent working in the fields, and Valerian let out a sigh that was full of nostalgia, longing, and regret. He knew he should leave Adara alone, that getting involved with her would only lead to more suffering, but she had intrigued him.
Somehow, he would see her again.
A few days later, Valerian heard a knock on his door. It was the middle of the day, and he had been enjoying a lazy morning with his favorite book when the interruption came. He put the book on his immaculate side table and warily went to the door.
“Open up, brother. We need to talk.”
Valerian opened the door and admitted a pale, dark-haired man wrapped in a cloak of shadows. Valerian motioned to the couch.
“Have a seat, Darius. What can I do for you?”
Darius shook out his velvet overcoat and took a seat on the black leather sofa.
“You know why I’m here, Valerian. You haven’t brought us an offering in decades, and Meron is worried that you’ve forgotten your vows. He is a patient man, but patience only lasts for so long.”
“Ah, yes, well, tell the master that I’ve been busy.”
Darius grinned, his teeth sharp against the soft light.
“Oh, but we have. We’ve given Meron every excuse in the book, but he doesn’t believe us anymore. He wants you.” Darius leaned in conspiratorially, “There’s a rumor going around that Meron is ready to ascend, and a lot of us are betting you’ll end up as his replacement. You were the best of us, after all.”
Valerian paced his living room in agitation.
“Maybe I once was, but not anymore. I have no desire to take Meron’s place, no desire to be among my kind anymore. I’m out.”
Darius looked offended.
“That hurts me, Valerian. To hear my blood-brother talk about abandoning the family for good! Why it’s positively shameful.”
“Oh, cut it out, Darius. You know I’m serious this time.”
“You were serious about it ages ago, too, but you always come back. It’s who you are, Valerian, and no amount of human-loving behavior is going to change that. Speaking of,” Darius said as he looked around the room, “you haven’t got one stashed away, have you? Day travel makes me hungry!”
Valerian went to the fridge and pulled out a crystal decanter full of thick, red liquid.
Darius poured a fingerful into the nearby whiskey glass and took a sip.
“Eh, it’s not nearly as good as the fresh stuff, but it’ll do.” Darius examined Valerian. “Have you been feeding regularly? You look terrible.”
Valerian glared at him. “Don’t you have somewhere to be, Darius?”
Darius nodded and drained his glass. “Sadly, yes. You weren’t the first lost sheep on my list, and I have a few more to find before nightfall.” He stood by the door and covered himself in shadows once more.
“Oh, Valerian, before I leave, you should probably bring Meron a tribute. You know, for old time’s sake. I’d hate for the Venari to catch wind of your betrayal.”
Valerian gave a half-hearted nod before closing the door behind Darius and snapping the deadbolt shut.
If Meron had asked for him specifically, Valerian had no choice but to answer. Otherwise, the Venari, an elite group of trained assassins devoted to Meron, would destroy him. As much as Valerian longed for mortality, he’d much rather find death on his terms, and not on the terms of immortal assassins with an appetite for torture.
He had to go, and he couldn’t go empty-handed. He needed a tribute to ease Meron’s fears and bring him back into the council’s good graces.
Luckily, he knew just where to find one.
Part 2 coming soon!