"You're starting to like it," said Cross. "Aren't you?"
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"What? Falling off of tall buildings?"
The wizard laughed. "No, no. I mean the whole thing. Being a vampire. Being able to fall off of tall buildings and survive, and all that."
"Are you sure you can't think of anything else about this mysterious stranger of yours? No idea what he might look like? Maybe what age he was?"
"He had a very strange voice," I said. "It was difficult to make much of it."
"Hmm..." Cross rubbed at his chin. "If only we knew more..."
"I won't go back," I said. "They will be watching for me now."
"No, no, I wouldn't expect you to go back," said Cross. "You've done more than I had any right to expect from you already. Which reminds me: I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier. I snapped at you, and I shouldn't have. Can you forgive me?"
"Yes," I said.
"Wonderful." Cross said nothing for a moment, but gave me an appraising look. I waited.
"Did I ever tell you," he said. "That out of all my followers, I trusted you the most?"
"Yes," I said. "I believe you did."
"Well, it's still true." He said, and sighed. "I had expected Morphine to end up as my right hand in the beginning. She seemed so zealous, so into the spirit of the thing. It was my mistake to assume that she was always that way. Surely you must know by now..."
"Know what?" I said.
"Morphine is very much a manic-depressive, as well as being paranoid and prone to wild imaginings- none of which is optimal for a leadership position, naturally. It was my mistake not to see it from the first, but it is not a mistake I will make again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Cross stepped behind the concessions counter and knelt down beneath the register. He rummaged around for a moment, grunted, and came up holding a long, thin parcel etched with silver. It gleamed mellowly under the lobby lights.
There was a metallic rasp as Cross slid the sword from its sheath.
"This," he said. "Is the gem of my collection- or used to be, when I had a collection. Most of the other bits and pieces burned long ago in an office fire. This, however, I managed to save. I knew it would be useful, some day." He leaned over the counter and offered it to me hilt-first. I grasped it.
And nearly dropped it on my toe. The sword was incredibly- almost supernaturally- light. It floated in the palm of my hand, balanced evenly near the hilt. The blade itself was long, double-edged, and tinted ever-so-slightly blue. I turned it sideways and the edge seemed to disappear: It was ribbon-thin.
"You'll never find another blade like it," said Cross. "At least, not in this world. That sword will never lose its edge, never catch on flesh or bone. You could cut down trees with it, if you wanted to."
"Interesting," I said.
"You could say that. It certainly looked nice on my walls. However, I now have a much nobler purpose for it."
"And that is?"
"I'm giving it to you," said Cross. "As a symbol of our movement, and of your elevated status in my eyes."
"Hopefully, you will never need to draw it in battle- or maybe not so hopefully, if the blood-lust is up, hmm?- but if the need arises, I'd rather you than any other of my constituents. Should we make it through these dark times safe and sound, it's yours to keep. Do with it as you will, I will not interfere."
"What is it?"
"This distinction bothers me," I said.
"My elevated status, you said. Elevated above the others?"
"Well...in a way, yes. What's so wrong with that? All wars need leaders."
"I do not wish to put myself above Morphine, Jeremiah, or Christy."
Cross sniffed. "Awfully sentimental of you, Renton. That's uncommon for a vampire, I should think."
I said nothing.
"Oh fine," he said. "If you're so worried about your precious distinctions, consider yourself a leader among equals. Does that suit you?"
"It will do," I said.
"Fine. Anyway, keep the sword. Practice with it. I think you'll come to like it quite a bit." Cross grinned. "It has a way of growing on people."
I waved the blade around. It seemed to slice through the air itself, meeting no resistance at all. It made a low, almost melodic humming as it moved.
I offered it back to Cross. He looked at it, then at me. He raised his eyebrows.
"Keep it for now," I said. "I'm tired, and I don't want to accidentally chop off a limb."
The wizard shrugged. "Fine by me," he said, and put it back under the cash register.
I bid him goodnight and went upstairs to find Morphine.
Up on the rooftop:
We sat in our usual spot at the edge of the roof, legs dangling out into the abyss, saying nothing. The night was overcast. Scuddy, discolored clouds raced out of the west and across the sky- as though they had seen something particularly frightening out beyond the forests. A chill wind blew out of the north. Fall was coming.
Morphine sat motionless at my side, her eyes turned out over the peaked rooftops, toward the western horizon. Searching. She had been exactly so when I had found her, and in the minutes since I had sat down next to her, she had not stirred an iota. I was beginning to worry.
"Morphine," I said, and heard the wind tear the words out of the air before they reached her. I tried again. "Morphine. Is everything all right?"
Slowly, like a particularly old and rusty machine, her head turned toward me. Her hooded eyes met my own. Her mouth opened.
"I've...been trying to cry," she said. "But I can't. Because I'm dead."
"What made you want to cry?" I said.
She tilted her head, but said nothing. I was contemplating asking her again, when she spoke.
"Do you ever feel...like something's missing?"
"Yes," I said. "All the time." I gauged myself internally. "Or at least, I used to."
She blinked. "Don't you still?"
She sighed. "I am."
Morphine turned away from me, and looked out across the rooftops once again. "Do you ever think," she said. "That maybe we were meant to be born into darkness somewhere else? Do you think maybe this isn't even the right world for us?"
"What do you mean?" I said,
"I...I don't know. I just...I..."
"Tell me," I said.
"I don't see Vincent in my dreams anymore. I think He abandoned me." She turned and buried her face in my shirt. I put my arms around her and hugged her as best I could.
"Why can't I cry?" she said into my chest. "Goddammit, why can't I cry!?"
I held her. And waited.
She sat back from my chest and looked at me, her eyes large and frightened. "Renton," she said. "What's wrong with me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why am I like this? Why am I all fucked up? I'm such a bitch- and I'm sorry for being a bitch. I...I love you. I want you to forgive me. Can you forgive me?"
"Yes," I said.
"Do you love me, too?"
Silence. She wasn't looking at me anymore.
"You know," she said. "When I was first made a vampire, I felt so wonderful...I can't even describe it. It was like the best orgasm I've ever had. It was perfect. But it isn't anymore. Every day that goes by, everything seems to be slipping away from me, making me someone I'm not. I feel like...like everything is changing, and I've been left behind. Maybe I have."
A cold gust of wind struck us, and she shivered.
"I'm not cold," she said, "Not outside, at least. But inside...I feel like every day, part of me is dying a little more. All my feelings are going away. Everything feels dead and cold. I want to be angry, but every time I try, it gets that much harder. I don't know what's wrong with me, Renton."
Funny that, said a voice in my head. She's been dying...I've been coming back to life. Aloud, I said: "We should go back inside. It will be morning soon."
"Yes. Yes, of course..." Her eyes were far away.
"Do you want me to sleep with you?"
She turned. Put a hand to my face. "Yes."
Someone's hand on my shoulders, shaking me. It would be Christy, of course, come to tell me that Carissa had found me. It would need to explain myself again, but it would be alright in the end. She would understand.
"G'way," I told the hands. "Want to sleep."
"Renton." Morphine's voice was cold. Frightened. "Renton, get up."
I opened my eyes. "What's the matter?"
"It's Jeremiah," she said, and then, in a tone of voice that bespoke a family tragedy: "He's gone."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.