Two vampires face off in a deadly bet that has the winner claiming everything the loser owns--including the loser's innocent, unaware human offspring.
This short story is part of the Blood Claim print anthology.
“All you have to do is nod and I’ll end this quickly.”
William Pray stared back into Malcolm Crane’s harsh blue eyes and made very sure he didn’t move a single muscle that could be taken as a sign of agreement. He wasn’t going down that easily, no matter how much agony he was in. He couldn’t afford to.
Malcolm huffed cold air into William’s face, making his eyes water. “You never did know when to cut your losses and surrender graciously, did you, William?”
“Just a part of my charm.”
Malcolm grinned and then buried his fangs deep into William’s exposed shoulder, sucking blood and life from his opponent, just a little, just enough to weaken him further. As he pulled back, he tore viciously at William’s skin, leaving a gaping wound that trickled precious blood onto the tarpaper roof of the abandoned apartment building. The wound showed no signs of healing anytime soon.
He ran a fingertip through the puddle of blood created beside William’s battered face, drawing crude symbols on the roof’s surface just far enough away that William could see them if he strained his neck and rolled his eyes. Malcolm knew William wouldn’t be able to resist looking, and he couldn’t. All vampires knew the ancient language. It was part of the conversion, a genetic imprint passed on to the newly converted, innate knowledge all vampires possessed after their awakening.
The symbols leapt from the gritty surface, their meaning searing into William’s brain, unlocking his final waning reserves of vampiric strength. He surged up, his one still-functioning hand around Malcolm’s thick throat. It was a pathetic attempt, but one William had to make. He managed to catch Malcolm by surprise, enabling him to throw the vampire off enough to roll on top of him, pinning Malcolm to the rooftop.
He tightened his fingers around Malcolm’s windpipe before he remembered vampires as old as Malcolm didn’t need to breathe. A malicious smile on Malcolm’s face chilled William to the bone.
“Poor choice of defense, but I applaud your efforts to fight back.” Pale gray-blue eyes studied him thoughtfully, a sudden intimate interest beyond the approaching victory lighting them. It would have made William blush if he’d had the blood to spare.
“You always could surprise me...in so many ways.” Malcolm’s stare turned colder still, and his lips twisted into a biting smirk. “I hope it’s a trait you’ve passed on to your offspring.”
William tried to pull back, but Malcolm held him in place and rolled them over together. A sharp metal roof vent impaled William through the back, and he screamed into the humid, still dawn-tinged air, the sound more an animal than human. With a powerful thrust, Malcolm used his considerable weight to crush William all the way down to the to the tarpaper surface.
Malcolm Crane had been taken in his thirty-second year of life during a bloody, vicious Celtic war. A celebrated, successful leader and brutal warrior, his body had been preserved for all time in its hard, thick-muscled perfection, honed by a human life of battle and grueling physical labor of the ancient times. Malcolm was broad, hard, and chiseled like a statue that paid homage to the perfect male form.
William’s body reflected his prior life as a photojournalist. He was medium height, slender of build, with a keen mind and zero fighting skills. The most exercise he had ever done as human was jogging. He was no fighting match for Malcolm and he knew it, but there was more at stake than his undead existence. The blood markings Malcolm scrolled into the rooftop told him as much. But the pain, the pain was unbearable, agonizing, consuming.
Through the haze, William sensed Malcolm staring at him. He blinked to clear the tears of agony away and face his executioner with as much courage as he could gather.
He’d gambled everything he had in this long-awaited battle with Malcolm — his fortune, his power, his property and his very existence. He hadn’t lost easily. Partly because that wasn’t what Malcolm would want and partly because William had hoped if he gave the ruthless ancient a glorious win, the old warrior would be merciful and not take everything William’s losing would entitle him. He had only been a vampire a few short years, but he had planned wisely, accrued power and wealth trying to make up financially for his sudden absence from his mortal life. He had been a creature of the night covertly arranging to pay college tuition.
William didn’t care about his power or even the properties and money that he had hoped would go to his mortal heir, but there was one thing William didn’t want Malcolm to claim. One very important thing he had to protect even if it was with his last breath. But he knew now that was lost as well. Knew it as clearly as he knew he was moments away from slipping out of existence.
He shuddered with the effort to pull in a breath deep enough to make his words heard, not caring if they sounded like a plea. “Don’t make it hurt. Don’t make him suffer, please.”
Malcolm ran two fingertips down William’s less damaged cheek, the touch sensuous and possessive, but with an element of hesitation.
“Why should I do that, William? What has earned him that privilege?”
Lying inches from Malcolm’s handsome, angular face, with Malcolm’s weight crushing down on him, William accepted the intimate touch in death that he had refused to accept in life.
He had always been attracted to the man physically, but Malcolm’s sometimes brutally cruel warrior nature had been too great a barrier for William to ignore. It had even brought them to this closing chapter in their relationship. In the long run, Malcolm did not take rejection well.
“My dying request.” William shivered and gasped, life draining away alarmingly fast, but he found enough will to lock stares with Malcolm hovering over him. He watched as Malcolm’s cold glare churned to something dark, heated, and unspoken. “If you ever loved me at all, show him mercy.”
The dark look froze, quickly replaced with a bitter stare. “Mercy?” Malcolm chuckled and traced the outline of William’s swollen lips. “What is that?”
“Yes, mercy.” Malcolm’s fingers moved with William’s mouth as he talked, and William didn’t bother to shake them off, even going so far as to let his tongue flick against them as he moistened his lips between words, using all the weapons at his disposal to sway the vampire. “Have you lost touch so completely with humanity that you forget the meaning of the word? Isn’t that one of the coveted traits of the finest of warriors? Mercy with victory?”
Malcolm’s response was low, guttural, and cruel. “You know nothing of being a warrior nor of me!”
Now, even with nothing left to lose, the older vampire’s ability to thrust paralyzing menace into mere words still made William cringe, but it didn’t stop him from fighting back with more words of his own.
“I know you’ve won. I’m not sorry to leave this life. You’ve won this battle and, with it, everything I possess. If you’re still are a true warrior, show him mercy. Don’t lose touch with the human you once were, Malcolm. Don’t lose yourself completely to this unholy existence. Please, don’t make him suffer because of me.”
“Always the altruist, even now when brute strength would have served you better.” Malcolm’s sneer had lost some of its sharpness, the bitterness replaced by a glimmer of something William read as grudging respect or maybe veiled affection.
He used it to push home his point as his last breath escaped his crumbling body. “You are the most powerful, Malcolm, the winner. But what will show the better man? The brutal winner or the merciful one?”
Malcolm’s nostrils flared, his cold eyes narrowed, and William’s heart sank. “Brutal or merciful, the winner still takes all.”
With a last defeated sigh, William’s spark of unearthly life faded and his body turned to ash, dissolving under the weight of Malcolm’s body, leaving the ancient vampire lying in the dust of the man who had once been his most steadfast detractor and his unachieved fondest desire.
His own hand was full of the ash that had once been William’s left hand. Malcolm rolled the gold wedding band left behind in his palm. He read the inscription, then slipped it into his pocket as he rose to his feet. He didn’t even try to brush the ash from his clothes.