FOLLOW THE BLOOD
In SZEJNA’S REVENGE, the astounding conclusion that played out in GAILENE’S VOW threatens to tear apart the vampire nation, and start a global war with humans. Only Szejna, a vampire who looks 18, but is so old she’s lost her memory, has the solution to the coming Armageddon. But to find it, she must share her blood with her nascent protégé, Zondra, and together, journey back thousands of years to ancient Rome. In the present, while Szejna teaches Zondra how to use her unique abilities, they unintentionally resurrect dreadful vampires from beyond death, bent on retribution and world domination.
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
Georgetown, Washington D.C.–present
Blood is my need you cannot fathom. I belong to the viscous fluid within my veins; it does not belong to me.
Though what I am has been known by various names throughout millennia, today I am called vampire. Numerous legends are attributed to us as to what keeps us alive, even if no one understands why. We feed upon the living, taking that which allows them life so we, in our selfishness, may survive.
For many years I had no remorse for my victims, as a suckling babe has no guilt at the breast of its mother. When we are turned, we are born again. This is a very literal event. It took hundreds of years for us to understand that there were other ways to exist, to rise above the constant necessity…to live rather than subsist.
I am Szejna Naftali of the House of Shaya. My house has lasted half a millennium, and now resides in Georgetown, the first settled section of Washington, D.C. This quaint sliver of the old city along the Potomac River retains its history and charm, for much remains as it was over two hundred years ago. Physical homes are very important to most vampires, as we tend to occupy them for long periods of time. I’ve been in mine since it was built in 1781, or so the records show. I’ve always been content to let the past remain separate from my present: tampered-free and unexplored.
But now, because of the current events which recently transpired, I am forced to go in search for that which I had willingly given up: my history.
The battle between the House of Starling and Gailene’s creator, Fenton Ryder, ended by cruel circumstance, averting a vampire war. None of the houses had wanted such a situation, and I, in my small part, had persuaded the North American Council of Elders to remain neutral. Though I had no desire to guide or influence vampire politics or the longevity of the race, I could allow no harm to come to Zondra.
Because of my conceit, I didn’t believe, as so many others, that Zondra’s blood would or could cause any defining circumstance to alter the sad course of vampire history. As far as I knew, after Zondra had ended her family’s two century long feud, nothing changed in the world, vampire or human. Except for me. At the moment Zondra turned, for me to be near her became an excruciating agony. My connection to Gailene’s blood flowing through her veins was as powerful as if Gailene lived still.
For more than a century I had successfully diverted my debacle with Gailene from my thoughts…until Zondra made her appearance. Being flush with those feelings once again was bad enough, but now the numinous force with which Gailene’s blood invaded my being was something as incomprehensible and desirous as the life-giving fluid itself.
After the showdown between Gailene’s house and her progenitor Fenton, the Starlings retired to Night Song Manor. I could not attend such a gathering as my head and heart were in turmoil. No one from my house had perished in the battle, so we vanished without the courtesy of taking leave. Actually, I went into a swoon and my grandchildren hurried me home and laid me in my bed in a near catatonic state.
I was unable to stop the self-incrimination from saturating me entirely. I feared the path in which those poisoned thoughts could lead, but had no control over their insistent nagging. I had no choice but to let them wander where they would.
(Section removed that is major spoiler for first book.)
I fell into a coma, which induced my body into hibernation, the dread of every vampire, for we are helpless and beholding unto others for our safety. It wasn’t like today where various machines can be hooked up to us, keeping our bodies looking as natural as if just back from a holiday feeding frenzy. Even as late as the 1860’s, not much had changed over the many years I had existed.
Instead of being placed in a stone vessel, as was tradition, I was put in a copper tub. Everything else remained the same. Because I was kept in that copper tub completely submerged in my family’s blood, my body didn’t desiccate until my appearance took on that of a leather replica of a person, my skin shrunken taut against depleted muscle and bone. Every vampire who succumbed to hibernation feared wasting away to the extent of that of an Egyptian mummy, the likes of which grace the glass cases in the British Museum.
Vampire blood does not coagulate, but still, that life-sustaining nutrient had to be replenished once a month. O, the courage of my family to protect and care for me, for their sacrifice was great. I was lucky, as it were, for my family was large, and enough blood could be gathered that none would be overly taxed. But it did mean they had to feed more often, and obviously, that brought greater risk of discovery, for I stayed in that dour condition for a quarter century. When that part of me deep within decided to come back—what modern day occultists call “turning away from the light”—I rejuvenated within hours, to everyone’s astonishment.
Everyone wanted to know if I dreamed during that time and I told them no, that it would be impossible to dream when your brain is dried up and shrunken. But I lied about that. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps I didn’t want anyone else to think that becoming a desiccated corpse was a good thing, a way to wile away the years when we get bored from being alive, yet are too frightened to end our miserable existence. My astute grandchildren pointed out that I was never desiccated during that time, but appeared as if sleeping in a vat of blood.
Being in hibernation isn’t like sleeping and it isn’t like dreaming. For me, it was completely living my life over again.
Gamala, Golan, Roman Protectorate–68 CE
Szejna knew her eyes sparkled when she smiled, for she had practiced before the bronze hand mirror she stole from the Roman soldier. Her three girlfriends, huddled around her in the small bedroom of her friend, Dara. They were enamored of Szejna’s new possession, which she told them she found while helping to reinforce the stone wall along the northeast quadrant of the city.
Dara brought her face alongside Szejna’s. “Even in this miserable light, your eyes glimmer so. I think some hidden joy…” she winked at her girlfriends, “or mischief lay behind them.”
Szejna smiled brightly as she handed the mirror to Dara. “O, but you know how I love flattery, precious Dara.”
The girls laughed and angled for a view of themselves in the mirror. Szejna didn’t mind passing the mirror around so her friends could admire their golden reflection in the dim light of the flickering oil lamp. Now, she had a secret to share, because to be vain was a sin.
Dara pulled her up thick hair to the top of her head. Her tiny hand couldn’t manage the bundles of natural ringlets that fell past her shoulders, and she laughed when cords of stray hair fell back across her face.
“Oy, but I have enough locks for ten girls. And as coarse as a camel’s tail!”
The girls doubled over in laughter.
“But you are so lucky, Szejna,” plump Esther said. “Your hair is ever so fine and shiny. However do you do it?”
Szejna smiled in jest and made a show of tossing her mane, the ends whipping her backside.
“Just born lucky, I guess.”
Tall, angular Miriam leaned over Szejna’s face. “And just where were you luckily born, pray? We so envy your unfettered ways. Your parents must be very accepting.”
Esther added her own wonder. “My parents would never allow me to paint my eyes. Momma says only harlots paint their faces—” Esther cut herself off. “I’m sorry Szejna. I didn’t mean that you’re a…you know.”
Dara laughed. “You don’t even know what a harlot is, Esther. Maybe you gave Szejna a compliment.”
Esther stuck her tongue out at her friend. Szejna pulled Esther to her, arm around her waist.
“I give my parents my days for work, that the nights may be my own. I may do what I want as long as I don’t break any of God’s tenets. I don’t think God cares if I wear makeup.”
Dara laughed and tried putting a serious tone to her voice. “O, but I think God is very angry at you, Szejna. Surely he’s sent all those Roman soldiers here just to clean your face.”
The girls laughed together, but Esther and Miriam sported unsure expressions.
Szejna took the opportunity to redirect the conversation. “So, where are we off to before curfew, tell?’
Miriam lit up. “Uriel and his friends have guard duty on the precipice tonight.” She gathered the gazes of the other girls. “We could bring them some food.”
Dara rolled her eyes, but didn’t contest the suggestion. They each understood their options were very limited since the town had come under siege. Szejna started for the door, giggling in lilting glee.
“If you girls are finished admiring yourselves in my mirror, why don’t we get out there and give the boys a chance?”
The girls cut off their gaiety as they left Dara’s abode, for shows of joviality in these trying times, if not a sin, were certainly not in decorum. With somber faces hidden under the shadows of their tikhlach, head-scarves, the girls made their way along the narrow cobblestone streets through the constantly flowing crowds of agitated people. Almost every man carried some sort of weapon, whether spear, sword, or farm implement. Gamala had become one giant battlement.
The warrior citizenry thinned out the higher they climbed. At the south end of the city where the affluent held quarter in opulent houses that towered into the sky, only true militia posted guard. The arduous walk up the steep incline and multitude of steps was normally not a concern for these teenage girls, but tonight, Szejna felt the power waning from her the more she pushed on. By the time they reached the precipice, Szejna was panting and needed to sit on a curbstone to catch her breath. Dara came back to her as Esther and Miriam continued up the narrowing corridor.
“What ails you, dear?” She stooped by her friend. “O my, but even in this faint light you look peaked.”
“Be not concerned, dear friend. It’s lack of rest and nothing more. I think to work the long day, then play into the late eve with my friends, has taken its toll.”
“Surely you are right. Wait here and I will advise the girls that I’ll walk you to your home. I’ll return anon.”
Szejna clutched Dara’s arm as she turned to go. “Please, I appreciate your concern, but need not take you from your pleasures. A slow walk down to my quarter will do me good.”
“I find no trouble in helping—”
“Please, join the others. I’ll be fine.” Szejna stood and gave Dara a warm smile. “Be off now, as I will take my leave.”
Dara stepped in and gave Szejna a light hug, their cheeks touching. She pulled back with alarm as her fingertips went to her cheek.
“Szejna! You’re so cold.”
Szejna backed away. “I am but tired. A good night’s sleep and tomorrow will find me refreshed.”
Turning away, Szejna started back down the steep pathway. She felt Dara’s troubled eyes boring into her back. Before she went far, the lane curved and she was free from the sight of her friend. A few houses further, Szejna turned into a tiny walkway between two residences. The back of the houses opened upon a tight causeway which overlooked the roofs of countless houses as they sloped away over the face of the hill where no free space existed. Halfway down the grade, the structures abruptly stopped at a massive stone wall.
Beyond the extended wall, a new city of tents, banners, and torches had arisen: an entire legion of five thousand Roman regulars encamped along the entire expanse of the Daliyot Stream, the city’s major water supply.
Szejna looked to the left, northeast, across the lower confines of the city where she lived, past the new wall and up to the commanding bluff where the multitude of torchlights was greater than the entirety of Gamala. Two Roman legions, including the army of Agrippa II, as well as paid mercenaries, formed a metropolis three times greater than her city of nine thousand.
All the day long for the last month, Roman machines had hurled stones, darts, and arrows into the city from the overlooking cliffs. Throughout the night the residents would repair that which had been torn asunder. And bury the dead.
Szejna went back to the main road and worked her way through the circuitous city streets to the northern most wall built in haste by Josephus the year before. It was verily thick at almost four times that of her five-and-half-foot height. She was confident, as was everyone in the city, that no army could breach such a defense. Though water and food were rationed, the tiny spring within the walls, and foodstuffs stored in the caves and mines, would see them through.
Alas, none of this planning took into account any of Szejna’s needs. She alone had to attend to the matter. If she were lucky, she could venture out and return before curfew.
With goal in mind, Szejna backed into a dark corner away from the guards and workers forever repairing the walls. In a blink, she ascended the wall like a sensuous lizard, and dropped down on the opposite side. The space between the wall and the opposing camp was further than a man with a powerful bow could fly an arrow. The closest Roman sentries to Szejna were turned away, conversing with their friends.
She sprinted across the open field in three heartbeats, hugging the ground like a shadow. The sentry stationed at the entry to the path, which led to the upper encampment, readjusted his helmet from the sudden wind that had twisted it on his head. Szejna left the main trail and followed obscure paths known only to the locals. The trace led around the edge of the bluff behind the pitched camp where during daylight, soldiers felled trees and built massive machines for future assaults on her city. She had never seen the likes of such powerful contraptions, and worried greatly that those commanders within her town wouldn’t be prepared for the coming of these immense beasts.
Arriving onto the plateau, Szejna worked her way between a vast field of tree stumps, cut chest high, unmoving like a dwarf army of silent warriors. Sentries stood watch, ringing the desolate field, as if someone might make off with the stumps. Szejna moved stealthily around unrecognizable constructions until she was within a whisper’s length from one of the sentries. She made herself known by approaching a bit clumsily.
The guard spun around quickly, spear lowered toward her throat. “Halt there, and name yourself!”
Szejna’s lilting laugh came back to him. “My name will inform you of nothing, Centurion, but my body will calm your anxious ways.”
The soldier smiled as Szejna stepped into the light of his torch, for he saw no threat from the demure young woman. He planted the shaft of the spear into the hard-packed earth. “Come closer, little goddess of the night, and let me see you plainly.”
Szejna stopped but an arm’s length away and raised shy eyes. “To truly see me plainly will cost you some coin, Centurion.”
The soldier laughed. “I’m no Centurion, fair one. Nothing but a lowly discen, a trainee learning the way of the catapult.”
Szejna joined in his laughter. “Please forgive my inadvertent advancement of your rank.”
His lustful gaze moved over her body and returned to her face. “Are you a Jewess from yonder besieged city?”
Szejna stepped closer and brought her eyes up. “Will my place of abode stop your cock from rising, master? Even a Jewess needs to eat. Tonight I am here to comfort boys like you…for a price.”
Perspiration formed on the young legionary’s brow.
Szejna giggled. “With new knowledge of your inadequate rank, I may be persuaded to lower fee for certain charms.”
The discen licked his lips. “What do you demand, beauty?”
Szejna smiled coyly. “What do you offer?”
To read more of ORIGINAL BLOOD: Szejna’s Revenge,
please go here: