I would have gasped and run if I could move, because his eyes were the color of molten gold. Our tribe’s stories said only Demons and Devils had such eyes. They glowed with what once might have been a firey passion that had cooled to something else—arrogance? Hate? Ambition? Defiance? I couldn’t quite tell, but that something drove this stranger was very apparent. His white brows were shaped as Sphinx wings, framing the golden eyes and a straight, stubborn nose. His skin was as white as the marble of Emeria’s Temple. His cheeks were a bit sunken, as though he could use a good meal of sugar potatoes stuffed with hartebeest fat, but his bone structure was fine and strong. His pale lips twitched slightly as he saw how I stared, and he came toward me.
I felt no pain, but sensed that my wound must be terrible and that I had lost too much blood. I should just close my eyes and go to join Aklua and my mother, and my father, likely all of my brothers…I thought, but could not look away from the stranger’s face. He was very close now, and the scent of lavender and oiled leather filled my nose. What a strange man, I thought.
“You look as though you would speak,” he said, his voice still rich but soft, now. He lowered his gaze and it lingered on my mouth. I could only blink in response. The stranger whispered something foreign and made a quick gesture of dismissal. Sensation leapt back to my body in full force. Weakly, I tried to move my hands, but he held my wrists firmly in a cool grasp.
“Don’t. You will only make it worse.” He sighed. “Have you nothing to say? The spell was to make it painless for you. But you seemed…unsatisfied.”
The pain from my wound was dizzying, but I knew if I passed out…I looked up to the stars and tried to bring my consciousness forward to meet them, to give me just a little more time.
“Nothing?” he said, his voice low.
“Stay,” I finally hissed. It came out a feverish command.
“As you wish,” he said. “If I had planned to leave, I would have.”
“Why did you…”
“Worgon? Because I despise ugliness.”
“This is not…”
“No. It is a tragedy.” His voice was heavy. Forming words was becoming difficult, but the fact that he kept interrupting did not escape me.
“You…enjoy tragedy,” I whispered. His mouth twisted before he could control it.
“I live with tragedy. Appreciating the meaningfulness of tragedy is very different than enjoying it.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” he said after a moment, his gaze dropping again to my lips. It was my turn to react. A fragment of a laugh came out as a hopeless, choked gasp. I realized with astonishment that he was bantering with me. As I died.
I could see myself in his eyes. I was the color of a Shade and my gaze was intensely sienna in its feverishness. My dark hair was fanned around my shoulders, caressing my face like the grasping branches of the willow. There were long shadows at the edge of my vision.
“Death’s ‘round you. But coming…for me.”
“You speak truly,” he murmured, looking away. His profile was quite handsome. I recalled how he’d made such fools of the Vampires that destroyed the only life I’d known, and then I knew what I wanted.
“Stop it.” A whispered command.
“What do you mean?” he said sharply.
“I…I…I know…what you are,” I forced the words out, my eyes burning into him, forcing him to look into my face. He did, and an expression of repulsion overcame him.
“Foolish—” Now it was my turn to interrupt. I desperately forced what little breath I had into words.
“You do not care for me. I am…a stranger. But you care for what I am, what I stand for,” I couldn’t see his face anymore, as all was black. “Youth. Beauty. Hope,” my voice sounded small and foreign.
“Letting you die, now, would be to save you,” he sounded angry. “Youth and beauty,” his words echoed down to me. “But not innocence.”
“I…was…never innocent,” I tried to say, but it could be I merely thought it. I fought to tell him more, but my words fled away from me down a long, dark canyon into deep, endless, starless night.
The pain of being fed upon was nothing to the pain of being reborn. I screamed and screamed in my head but heard nothing emanate in the darkness. I couldn’t move, for he was holding me tightly in his arms. His mouth burned against my neck, but I clung to him instead of pushing him away as the pain demanded.
I felt my fingers become strong again and I clutched his silken hair, his cool skin. My senses returned tenfold and his scent of lavender and leather engulfed me. I writhed in agony to be rewarded by my muscles responding to me as never before. I wrapped my legs around the stranger and yanked his face free from my neck. A bit of liquid ran down my throat and the sting was no longer debilitating, but gratifying.
I slipped my tongue over my teeth and, satisfied at what I found, smiled at him in the dark. I pulled him down to me and put my lips gently to his forehead, to his cheek, to his lips. He took hold of both my wrists again and pushed me back down into the earth. But this was very, very different.
For hours that first night, we lay together. I don’t know why more of the rebel Vampires didn’t come after us. Perhaps it was his magic. I lay under his fur cloak (I think it was wolf, but a kind foreign to Zendikar) that appeared from nowhere. At one point he left me for an hour and returned with a freshly killed corpse. He told me I needed to feed, and the remnants of my human awareness argued so with my new hunger that I retched again.
“You must be sick to death of vomiting by now,” he chuckled, and I could have struck him. He took out a small flask, ornately dressed in embossed leather and made of some kind of dark but silvery metal. “You know, this is the only item I have had made indestructible,” he mused aloud as he unscrewed the cap, which was set with a gorgeous iridescent white stone, “that must tell you a lot about me.”
He handed me the flask and bid me take a long drink. I did, though it tasted like poison. I coughed, bewildered.
“Again,” he ordered. I obeyed, and at the end of the second sip I found the amber liquid didn’t taste so bad and in fact had a faint scent of sea and smoke and the tang of conifer trees.
“Now,” he said, taking the flask and pushing my head toward the corpse, “feed. Feed, or you will perish and all of this will have been a waste. In that case, I might as well have let the filthy raper Vampires take you, and not added to the burden of my aeons of guilt.”
I raised my eyes to him, aflame with rage and indignation. He smiled. My head felt hot and my tongue was coated with the burn of the flask contents. I looked at the body before me and found it not so repulsive. I blocked out my humanity, and accessed the instincts of my new self. I lowered my mouth, and fed.
“Good,” was all he said.
He stayed only seven more days in Bala Ged. For the first day, we did nothing other than eat and sleep. Or at least, I ate and slept. I do not know what he did except that I feared nothing while I rested and awoke stronger and sharper with each nap and meal. He asked me questions while I was awake, I would answer, and he seemed to store the information away for later. They were all very…militaristic, as opposed to intimate, questions, such as, “How many times have you nearly drowned?” and “In your human life, how many leagues could you run before shortness of breath or muscle failure forced you to stop?” He would pester me with his inquisition until I grew restless, and then I would pester him in my way until he relented.
Those days after my turning were the most exhilarating time of my life. I discovered I had a strong intuition, and he advised me to leverage it whenever and however I could to my advantage.
“Politics are as important, if not more, than raw power,” he intoned in that way he had of being elegantly dour.
“I presume you apply this concept in your own pursuits quite often?” I said. It was the second morning after he turned me, and I was more interested in staring at my new reflection than listening to his constantly patronizing statements. He sensed the irritation in my voice and glowered down at me. We were camped on the bank of a small lagoon, and I was mostly naked, on all fours, and looking over the edge of the water at my new face. He was standing, combing his hair with a gilt implement that I also had no idea he had on his person until he produced it from thin air.
“Perhaps,” was all he said, parting his hair on the right and combing it down the sides. I looked back down at myself. My eyes, formerly rather orange-brown, had turned white. White on white made my new eyes look huge. My hair, brown before, had darkened to a shiny, obsidian black. My skin had only whitened a few shades as I was so pale already from my Kor heritage, and the rest of my features were the same: smallish straight nose, full lips, oval face with a large forehead. I did notice that the aftermath of feedings left my lips stained rosy and that my physique had become somewhat less soft and girlish and more sinewy, mostly in my hands, feet and forearms.
“If you’re done preening, we shall start training,” he said dryly. I sat back and glared, furious with the tone he’d taken ever since we’d…done what had been done.
“If you’re done preening, I am ready for whatever it is you would like to do to me next,” I snapped. He stopped in the middle of buckling on his sword. Then he was on me in a flash, pulling back my head with an iron grip on my hair.
“First thing you need to learn, little Vampire, is that the race you are now affiliated with has a long and rich history.” He bent my head back further. I gasped in pain and struggled to rise from my knees. “You will call me Master,” he said, leveraging his hold on me so that I couldn’t get up. He jerked my head again and I whimpered.
“The second thing is…do not…” he paused and flung me away from him, throwing me down into the mud as he released my hair. “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” he finished lamely, before turning and stalking into the jungle. I took a handful of mud and threw it at his retreating shoulders, hoping to splatter it all over his fine embroidered tunic, but I missed wildly, not used to my new arm. I waited for him to come back, but he did not. So I washed myself off in the lagoon, and followed him.
That day’s lessons turned out to be all about physical combat. In a clearing there in the jungle, he told me about choosing weapons—assessing them for appropriateness for my size and strength—and had me try them. A whip made of vines, a simple wooden club, a dagger he pulled from only-God-knows-where, and his own baleful dark-steeled sword—which he would not let me even hold until I swore up and down that I understood not to touch the blade. I sweat, I cursed, and stumbled around wearing scraps of fabric he tore from his own shirt when I complained about indecency. I swung clumsily till my muscles ached and after that, he made me practice for two more hours. When the dagger was finally being thrown within a few feet of the target, and I could execute the most brutish of strokes with the club and sword, he said we were finished for the day.
That night was like all the others. Except that I was sorry I had accused him of taking advantage of me, and tried to show him such. He must have felt poorly after the lagoon scene as well, for in the morning there was a lotus blossom tucked behind my ear, and I certainly hadn’t put such foolishness there myself.
Days three and four were similar in that we trained from dawn till dusk as I attempted to learn how to use my new form, and he endeavored to observe my inherent potential and continue to educate me about it. After some tests that involved meditation and spells, he proclaimed I could sense mana but not use it, and he said that would be useful as well. After timed tree-climbing, sprinting, and several rounds of grappling, he stated that my strength and resilience were good, but nowhere close to amazing for our kind. He had a great many opinions on everything.
“I will lead through honor and intelligence instead,” I smiled at him, cleaning my sword. I had claimed it from a caravan we had raided in the night, and kept it because it looked like his. It was simply steel, though, and had none of the dark powers that his did—powers that could turn the most fearsome creatures to dust. Powers that caused the blade to pulse with burning cold and ripples of black mana.
“The worst leaders lead from behind,” he said, with a tug on the hem of my makeshift loincloth. “Given the placement of your particular assets, you’re going to be an awful commander,” he winked. It was a terrible joke. I laughed, and he acknowledged it with a shrug. It was one of those odd moments where he was very informal, and very human in his interaction with me, if it is accurate to say coarseness, affection, attempts at comedy, and warmth are human traits.
The fifth day he was completely formal, and cold. Dawn was still hours away when I woke and saw him standing in the moonlight at the edge of our camp.
"We are going to kill the rest of the rebel group that sacked your village," he said without any particular emphasis as he shined the buttons on his leather overcoat. I sucked in a deep breath.
“That is what you desire, is it not?” he said, eyeing me harshly. I felt dizzy. I remembered Aklua’s last desperate gasp, crushed in his throat…my mother’s cry, the defilement of our home, of my dignity. I nodded slowly.
“Tell me what you would like to do today, then, Apprentice,” he said, looking at me with his radiant eyes the color of a setting sun.
“I would like to kill those who murdered my family, Master,” I replied without hesitation.