Light assaulted his eyes as he regained form. He blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the brilliance. Tears the color of blood welled in his eyes. "Gods, Azrael."
"Yes, it takes a moment to adjust, does it not?" A voice behind him as a gentle hand rested on his shoulder. "Come, Megel, sit down and tell me; what has sent you into this spiral of despair?"
'Megel'. The first of many names, the one that he, held, onto the most. Not, because, it was his birth name, it, wasn't. But because it was the name his Sire had given him on the night of his rebirth.
Michael sat, so he wouldn't be looking down at the Elder Kin before him, surprised as always by the renewed realization that he was taller than his Sire. That was the effect Azrael had on him.
Michael sat there looking at Azrael, noticing that his old Master had not changed in appearance in all the time he had been gone. He was still shorter than he was by more than a foot. The same soft brown, loving, eyes set in a face that was, to him, so beautiful that it made him want to weep. The high sweeping brow, the narrow nose and high cheekbones fit so well with the poutish mouth and pointed chin, all framed in soft flowing curls that seemed to almost tumble down his back in a glowing silken wave, shiny and warm, begging to be touched.
The love and total devotion that he felt for the old vampire rose in him, as well as the deep soul-pain and lonely despair that had sent him looking for the only immortal he trusted without reservation. "Master." The pain in his voice was heart wrenching as he fell to his knees before Azrael, gripping his hands. "I cannot stand this era. There is no joy anymore."
Azrael stroked his hair, looking down at the first of his brood, his precious Fledgling, his First-Born. "Poor pet, come, you are too old for this display. Stand. I will not have you groveling, not even to me." It was one of the main reasons they drove their Fledglings off once they became adults. The love was too strong, the need to bend, too submit, too great. If the Fledgling was never driven out, never learned to live, their whole race was doomed.
Well, Megel had lived, had existed without his help for a little over a thousand years, and with the exception of a single call, had done it all on his own. Perhaps it had been long enough. As a member of the Vampyr, he was now old enough to be considered a true Elder. Perhaps now he would be able to keep him with him for a while, just like the old days. The memories and whispered promises for the future were sweet.
Michael rose, ever glad that his nature prevented him from blushing. "Still treating me as if I were eleven and not over eleven hundred." He smiled.
"Well, act your age, and I shall treat you as such." The Elder vampire returned his smile. "Now sit, relax. Before you tell me what has sent you to me like this, have you fed?" Azrael sat on a couch.
"Well, actually," Michael looked down at his hands, "that's what brought me here," he began, trying to formulate the words to explain.
Azrael held up one slender hand. "Wait." His tone was soft, but brooked no argument. "Let me summon Maria." A brief moment as he sent the call. Fury filled his face as he thought of what could have reduced Michael to begging for food.
"No, Azrael," he began. His master misunderstood. "It is not a lack of food that disturbs me, but how I am forced to attain it."
The confused look on Azrael's face was almost comical. So little baffled his once-master and now oldest friend. But before the Elder could form a question, a soft voice from the door drew their attention. "You called for me, love?" A woman, a 'mortal' woman, entered the room.
"Ah, yes precious." Azrael held out a hand to her. She came to sit beside him. "This is Megel, I know not what he calls himself now, but Megel is the name I gave him. He is my eldest Childe." Then to Michael, "this is Maria. She lives here with me." He cuddled the young mortal close.
Michael looked at her. She was not a tall woman, maybe 5'4," with large brown eyes and soft brown hair that fell to her shoulders. Her face was heart shaped with arching brows and a cherub like mouth. 'Delicate' was a good word for her. "She knows?" He couldn't believe it. A mortal knew of their existence and was alive and unchanged. And yet wore no collar.
Azrael laughed, patting Maria on the leg. "Of course she knows. All of my pets know. How else could I feed from them? You mean you 'do not' know?" A look of understanding fell over his face. "How could you? It has been many, many years since last you have come to me. How have you survived, Megel?"
Michael do nothing more than sit there,, mouth agate. Azrael kept mortals, fed from them in his lair, and was at peace with this. "I-I have been living off of blood stolen from hospitals and blood banks. I'm going crazy from it." The enormity of his degradation was painful. He, a once-proud hunter, reduced to prepackaged meals.
"Blood banks." Azrael's tone spoke of the horror and disgust he felt. "Hospitals. Oh, Megel, I have failed you. I should have thought. You should have been tracked down, things explained. We have taken to keeping mortal pets now, we Elders. Hunting is becoming too chancy. Word was spread through the net, I felt certain you would have learned of this." He reached forward, grasping the younger vampire's hand in his. "What have I done to you? How long have you been living like this?"
Michael sat holding Azrael's hands, looking into the pained and horrified face of his Sire. "Almost thirty years. Such a short time in my life, I know, but I swear. If I have to feed that way again, I'll go mad. It's never enough. It sates the hunger, keeps my darker nature at bay, but the heat, the joy--it's as dead as the blood."
"Thirty years." Azrael's soft, sweet voice was reduced to a strangled whisper. "You have held no one for thirty years. Megel, how is it you have retained your sanity? I would be a raving mad thing. The others would have to hunt me out and destroy me. What have I done to you?" It was his fault. He should have made sure, hunted him down and set him on the path himself. But he had respected Megel's flight, held to the laws, refrained from contact. He had set this course, and his actions now reaped a terrible reward. There was a glint of madness in his Childe's eyes, a tremble to a hand that was once so beautifully strong.
Michael looked longingly at Maria. "Azrael, Master." He licked his lips. "Will she--may I--to feel the life again, please. I'd gladly give you again the one hundred years service, just for a taste."
"Of course you can, anytime. I feed so infrequently now that the four I keep are more than enough." He turned to the girl. "Maria, love, he is dear to me. I will not let him harm you. You know I will never let anyone harm you." His voice was soft as he gathered her hands in his. "Do this for me. Grant my Childe your life's blood. I will see you well rewarded."
Maria looked from him to Michael and back. "For you. If any of the others asked I'd say no, but for you gladly." She loved the old bloodsucker. He had given her a home, saved her from an abusive father and a life that had been doomed to be both painful and short. For him she would do anything. For the simple taste he gave her of his blood she would lay before anyone. With his blood came his love. She was bound to him, and as long as he kept her she would never sicken, and age was almost a thing of the past. His blood would keep her young for a long time, and once the inevitable began, it would not be swift enough to keep her from asking for the sweet, gentle, death he had promised.
"Go on, Megel, she is yours, but control yourself. Her life belongs to me, and I cherish it."
Michael fought the urge to snatch her warm body to his, allowing her instead to move into his arms, rest in his lap. "Oh, you are beautiful," he said as her hands pulled his head down to her exposed throat, Maria offering herself to him, freely.
He heard the tiny gasp as his teeth broke the skin, but that was all. After the first taste, he knew nothing else. Only the joy, the heat, the life that had been denied him for too long. He felt her heartthrob with her blood, his body lost in the pleasure of the exquisite joy of her essence, her soul. Never again would he return to the dead blood, any more bags of cold life. He sobbed against her flesh, his voice a gurgled cry as he fed.
*That is Enough, Megel. * Azrael's command, his will, forcing the younger vampire to, pull, away. *I know. I feel your pain, but you can not take more. It would weaken her. *
It was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life; pulling away, licking her throat softly till the blood stopped and the wounds healed. Had it not been for Azrael's will, enforcing, his own, he could not have done it. Too long, it had been too long. He had no control now.
Maria looked up at him, her eyes soft with the heat that his feeding had left her. "Thank you." Her mouth was open and eager as she kissed him, tasting her own life's blood on his lips. It was the one thing that had made the decision to bond to Azrael easy. The incredible joy, and the delightful pleasure, that she always felt when he granted her the honor of his hunger.
Michael caught her face in his hands; mouth feeding on hers as the wonderful bright life that had once been in her now coursed through him. "No, beautiful, it is I who thanks you."
"Let her go, Megel." Azrael's voice broke through. "You must let her go. Your control is not strong. She has given you life. Do not reward her by denying her hers."
Michael pulled away. "Yes, you are right. Thank you, Maria, there are not words to tell you what you have given me. But you should be away from me now. My Sire is correct. I have no
control, and would grieve if my lack cost you your life. Flee from me, sweet, go back to your master."
Azrael took her into his arms, cradling her head against his shoulder. "Do not be afraid, my precious love. Megel will regain control quickly. We will keep him here with us until the threat he poses to humanity is leashed. I will not let him harm any of you. You know this. I am his Sire. My will shall always be stronger than his." He drew a thin steel blade from his boot. "Drink, precious, allow me to reward you." He opened his shirt, and with it, drew a small deep line into his flesh over his left breast. Blood welled from the cut as she lowered her lips to drink. "Yes, go on, pet." His head was thrown back as he gave her a taste of his power, lost in the joy of the exchange. "I will come to you tonight. You will know my love, for now I burn with it."
It was never enough. Maria knew the cut was healing even as her mouth locked onto it. But it was all she had these some precious few sips from the creature that held her life. She moaned as she sucked, biting his flesh. She wanted more, always, for only when she was like this, held in the vise of his grip, his very essence flowing into her, that she truly believed she was loved. It flowed into her with his blood.
"She has a blood bond with you." Michael was amazed. "Yet she is mortal."
"Of course she is, and a delightful one at that. I would have to drain her to the point of death and then force my own blood back into her veins, as I did with you, to transform her. She belongs to me. My blood is in her. Neither she nor any of the others will ever betray us, for to do so would mean her death, a painful, brutal death. Do you not remember? You were mine for over two years before I offered you the night."
"So is she to become my sister?"
"Gracious, no." Azrael hugged her once more. "Go rest, pet. I will come to you soon. Let me get Megel settled, first"
She smiled her eyes bright. "It's about time, love. You're going to have to do something about this soon, take a fifth. A man this time, or the girls and I are going to attack you. You have gotten lax Master, and we suffer for it."
He swatted her as she rose. "Yes, I guess I have been neglecting my duties to my ladies. Alas, I am only one man. Perhaps while Megel is with us, we can see about giving you four a chance to store up on affection."
"Just so long as you remember that we still need another. None of us seek any man other than you. It would be impossible, but if we had one here, who understood . . ."
Azrael shook his head, smiling with tolerant affection at the girl. "So I am to blood bond with some poor male, solely to give my precious four a play-toy. We shall see. I do not need a fifth; my needs are small enough that I have no fear of feeding too often from any of you. But perhaps I could work something out. Now go, I will see you shortly."
She stopped at the door. "Azrael." She turned to look at him. "I love you."
Azrael returned her smile, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. "Never doubt mine." They were his, body and soul. Never would they dream of thinking a thought that he would not approve of. For they were his, and freely called him, Master. "Oh, the life. We must show you how to claim mortals for your own, Megel."
"But you said she's not, Chosen. Without the promise of life eternal why would she be willing to . . ." It confused him. Why would anyone be willing to be a walking meal without the incentive? Oh he had seen mortals that would blindly obey them, had helped his Sire with their taking and control. But to keep one un-dominated and unchained in his own lair?
"You forget the power our blood has, Megel. Though immortality will never be hers, I have granted her more years that she ever dreamed possible. She will live to be over one hundred fifty, and remain as beautiful as she is now. And once the deterioration sets in, she will be spared the ugly months. For I will drain her, let her die as beautiful as she lived."
"She knows this?"
"Oh yes, she begged me to take her quickly at the first onset. The aging will be cruel. She wants no part of it."
"So that's the way of it; you appeal to their vanity."
Azrael shook his head. "Much more than that, Megel. I saved them each from lives both brutal and short. I granted them safety. No one will harm them ever again as long as I live. I offer them comfort; I offer them my love. You know well how feeding affects a mortal. When I go to her tonight, she will be ready for me. I have had them attack me after a feeding before. So you see, my offer was too fine. They all gladly gave up their freedom and their lives to me in exchange." He had to admit to himself, it was a wonderful set-up. As he explained it to his First-Born, he was again filled with the overwhelming sense of self-gratification.
The thought of someone harming Maria disturbed Michael. She was the first mortal he had ever known that not only knew what he was, but was willing to let him feed from her with no promise of eternity. He felt a surge of protectiveness. "So is the animal that abused her so still walking around in the light of day?" Michael asked in a voice sounding of darkness.
Azrael's smile turned cold. Yes, Megel did see the advantages to this. The freedom of never hiding, of the willingness of a bonded mortal. It easily replaced the thrill of the hunt within him. Total adoration and submission were as heady as fear and flight. "No. At Maria's request, he died. But I never drew the first drop from him. It is very important to win the respect and gratitude of your pets quickly. It helps them during the first few months that they are bound while you sleep, until the change completes itself and their minds become yours."
"You tied them up?" Michael had a hard time seeing Azrael bind anyone. When he had served his time in the beginning, he had merely been locked in a room.
Azrael saw the direction Michael's thoughts were going even as he thought them. "Yes I know, it was different for you, but you were to become one of us. I had to let your pride and self-esteem remain intact. But they will never become one of the Vampyr. I had to convert them totally. That is where they have gotten this belief that I am ignoring them by my lack of amorous activities. For the first year, I spent time with them each night, dominating them completely until they were mine without thought. They would never dream of disobeying me, for not only do they know how swift their punishment would be, but even more importantly, so much of my blood flows in their veins that they could not conceive of failing me, for to do so is akin to failing themselves."
"You made them your slaves?" Yes, oh yes, the thought ran like quicksilver through him. To own such as she who had granted him his sanity's return.
"No, you were my slave, one of my own whose life was mine. Maria, Jenna, Valerie, and Nicole are my pets. Just as you would with a hound, when I trained them it had to be to my will and word. Though I found no pleasure in my discipline, I knew that if I failed to housebreak them properly, we all would be sorry later."
Michael moved forward quickly, so fast that only one of his own; kind would see him move, to grab Azrael's hand. "Teach me how to do this, Azrael. I must have this."
"How often do you feed now Megel, once, maybe twice, a week?"
"I am having to feed every three days on the blood from the banks. It was always never enough, and with no life, it only kept the darkness chained. I was never at peace."
"Once you become accustomed to feeding on live donors again, you should quickly reduce your hunger to once a week or so. You need at least two, or better three at the beginning. Once you have mastered your lusts, you can drop it to two and let the third finish out her life. Although if you removed one, it would drive home to the other two the fact that they are replaceable. It is sometimes a good idea in the beginning to remind them of their place in life."
"Have you ever--?"
The look Azrael gave him answered his question before his Sire could form the words. "Me, starve one to death? Gracious, no, I have killed thousands of them in my lifetime, hundred of thousands, but to viciously torture one to death like that. Monsters they call us. And a monster I would be in truth if I could do that to one of my sweet charges. But you are not I, and in your youth, brutality might be a means you need to use until age and power enable you to possess them as fully as I do."
Michael shook his head. "No, you don't give yourself enough credit Azrael, Master." He tilted his head ever so slightly in respect. "You trained me well. There is no mortal alive that can refuse me anything I desire, if I choose to take it. Nor would I be any more able to torture one of them than you would. I have never condoned cruelty to animals. So how do I do this?"
"I would suggest at least one of the three is male. Dominating a member of your own sex is thrilling in its own way. Especially, if he is heterosexual. They struggle so with their new life and its needs at the beginning." He stroked Michael's cheek, smiling softly. "When they do finally give themselves to you freely, oh, my precious Childe, the feeling of joyous power. It far exceeds anything you have ever felt, and from that point on they might laugh with you, talk to you as if you were their best friend. But in the dark, as they offer their throats to you, and beg your touch, the sweetness of that first feeling will echo again. For a man will submit himself more completely than a woman, solely because they were never taught how as they grew, and so they learn it as an adult." He looked at Michael, a soft, far off look in his eyes as he recalled the first time he had fully taken him. "I have never felt again what I felt that first time you came to me without being fed from first and begged my passion."
Michael closed his eyes as those old, powerful memories rose in him again. It had taken him over five hundred years to undo the need to bare his throat in submission to his master, and now those feelings surfaced again as he lifted his chin to Azrael's seeking mouth
He welcomed the sharp pain as Azrael's teeth broke through his flesh. It ran like lightning through his body to shoot through his loins as his life became part of Azrael's in this, the most intimate of moments. No lover's embrace was ever so total as when one gave oneself up to feed life to another.
Azrael had missed this so much. Maria was right; it was time to choose another male. Oh, to have one that he could totally possess. Could his surrender be sweeter that the one he had now? Was it possible to even come close? He had to know.
He straddled Michael, pressing him back against the couch as their mouths locked together, feeding as much on his power as Michael drew from him.
"When?" Michael's body was no longer his. His whole core zeroed in on the Elder, his Master, and his life.
"Now," Azrael pulled away, with Michael almost drawing him back. "The night is early. I know where to go. Let me teach you how to pick out those who will welcome the offer once the shock of the abduction wears off. I may grant Maria her request, yet. You have just reminded me how much I love you."
"Now?" Could it be so? Was life really going to be that kind to him?
"Yes, now. You will stay here with us until you have finally broken him or her, and Chosen a second and third, so that you do not feed from her too often."
"Him, if I am going to do this. I might as well be like you, and my first be male. That way he will have my full, complete, and undivided attention."
"Excellent. Now remember, it is not good to take them younger than eighteen or nineteen. You want them to look old enough to be away from their families. There is an area close to here where runaways and the like congregate. They seem to migrate together. Safety in numbers, I suppose. Remember to cloak yourself. Only your intended victim must know that you have chosen him. No one must remember our being there."
"Yes, I know, of course. Now, Azrael, let's go now." The Elder Nightwalker nodded and took his hand as they fled this plane of existence to walk the Dark Paths.