[excerpt chapter from The Blood of Cha’Vlad]
Siuana Mu’Fai lived in a world of lush greens and browns, the smell of dew on the grass and leaves waking her in the morning, and the robust scent of earth warmed by the sun sending her to sleep every night. The centuries had been kind to the former queen and her people. The longevity engendered by the Vladian mutagen had given them all the time they had desired to explore the intricacies within the water, soil, plant, and animal life of their home. The magic of nature had become their religion. It gave them peace in otherwise brutal times. It had given them new life in the face of death.
It had also given them power.
The Mu’Fai – so named because Siuana was their leader – had developed a strange and useful affinity with the planet. They could read the earth and sky. They could blend in with any environment, becoming nearly or completely invisible, like chameleons. They found that certain plant combinations could enable them to heal, control others, and ease suffering. When they loved, the world around them flourished, and their skin glowed with an unearthly golden light. They appeared as benevolent gods to many of the natives, and had become the salvation of quite a few of these less advanced creatures as the primitive mortals fled the clutches of the barbaric behaviors of Cha’Vlad and Li’Khan for the relative safety and comfort offered by the Mu’Fai.
Her only wish was that the mutagen that had gifted her people with such wonders had destroyed the other Houses instead of imbuing them with the same long life. Their continued presence sapped the morale and strength of the Mu’Fai tribe at times. The bloodlust of Cha’Vlad and the monthly animalistic transformations of Li’Khan only served to remind her people of how much had been lost.
Sometimes she was surprised by her own reflection. Sometimes she expected to see a monster staring back at her. And it was their fault. All of it. All of the negativity and uncertainty that threatened to overwhelm her at times was due to their sustained life.
Their ranks had grown over the centuries: a side effect of their mutation. One of them – she wasn’t sure which one, and didn’t really care at this point – had finally taken the life of one of the natives – humans, they called themselves – instead of searching out animal flesh. The next evening, that native had become one of them, genetically altered and cursed for life, if you could really call such an existence life. She had never been of a scientific mind, but the way she figured it, an exchange of bodily fluids – saliva, most likely – had been the principal factor in precipitating the change.
It was yet another reason to fear and loathe the other Houses. The only gift they had to offer was pain and suffering. They were nothing but a filthy disease.
“You’re thinking about them again, aren’t you?” asked Harkin, suddenly behind her. Her husband placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. Her hair smelled of fresh, warm herbs, her skin of lavender with a hint of mint. It was a combination that never failed to soothe and calm. “Don’t let them get to you so, love,” he whispered, “Time is on our side.”
Siuana had felt his presence long before he had spoken, and now turned to face him. “Yes, but it’s on their side as well.” She encircled his waist with her arms, leaning her head wearily on his firm chest. Harkin simply held her until she was ready to speak again.
“Harkin, they bring out the darkness within me. And I hate it. I hate them,” she admitted. “I wish we could find a way…”
“Don’t say it, Siuana,” Harkin interrupted, his handsome face now sporting a frown. “Dark thoughts lead to dark deeds. You don’t want their blood on your hands… no matter how much you despise what they’ve become.” He pulled her within his comforting embrace.
“You’re right,” she sighed. “You’re always right. We’ll just have to continue on, like we’ve done for the many lifetimes we’ve spent here. Perhaps someday a solution will present itself.” Siuana looked into Harkin’s emerald-gold eyes and smiled. “Maybe even a solution that will bring us all back together again.”
She didn’t believe her own words, but she knew they would ease her husband’s concerns.
He could hear the song within the water as it surged swiftly over the small rocks and pebbles of the stream, caressing them smooth as it made its way to its final destination – probably some distant river, or maybe even the vast ocean to the west. It tinkled, like soft bells, each droplet creating a separate harmony that, when combined, composed a symphony of beautiful sound. A breeze rustling through green leaves gave reply. A songbird within the branches of the trees chirped a refrain. He reveled in the beauty of the music surrounding him, but it was nothing compared to the melody within him.
Marvalen La’Fai perched on his toes at the water’s edge, lost in the majesty of the cosmos. When he closed his eyes, he could feel invisible lines connecting everything together, joining the earth and water to the trees and sky. The beauty of it almost always brought him to tears, as it did at this very moment.
He laughed, the resonance of his voice adding its own timbre to the chorus that enveloped him. Nothing brought him more joy than being alone in the forest with his thoughts and music. It was something the rest of his people understood, but none of them to the extent that he did.
He knew what they said about him when they didn’t think he could hear. They thought his mind was perhaps a bit on the feeble side. They believed that anyone who spent their time watching trees and chuckling at babbling brooks must surely be slow of thought and weak of will.
He didn’t mind. He preferred to let them believe what they wanted to about him. He wasn’t the kind of person who needed to argue everyone into submission. He didn’t need to be seen as a leader or an intellectual. He knew the truth about himself, so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.
Marvalen had discovered the secrets of this world. He had the ability to see everything as it truly was. He could even see into the hearts of others, and he knew whether their motives were sincere or not.
Of course, he didn’t exactly parade this information around. It didn’t seem important to reveal to others what he saw as the only possible truth. He was happy and content to remain in the background, an observer of life. Even his parents were unaware of his profound gifts.
But there was one who was very aware of what Marvalen had to offer. And, more than anything, this someone wanted to take by force the power Marvalen possessed.
Veral Ni’Vlad, son of Draken Cha’Vlad, lurked in the darker shadows nearby where the trees grew closer together. He watched with greedy eyes as Marvalen La’Fai communed with the life around him. His mind churned with jealousy as he watched the beauteous smile on Marvalen’s face. The Fai man practically glowed, so great was his power. Veral wanted that power for himself. He wanted it badly enough to kill for it.
Veral had secretly kept tabs on all of the Vladians, even the Mu’Fai, though they had broken ties with the rest of their people and did not claim a Vladian heritage anymore. He hadn’t been interested in Marvalen at first, assuming – like the rest of the Mu’Fai – that the boy was mentally damaged in some way. But as the Fai boy had grown into a man, Veral had come to an understanding of what was really going on. Marvalen wasn’t quiet because he was slow; he kept to himself so that he could hoard the power he had gained, sharing it with no one.
This didn’t sit well with Veral. Had they remained on Vladia, Veral would’ve one day become the ruler of all of them. They all would’ve had to answer to him. It was he that deserved all power. Not some golden-skinned, half-witted waif.
To add insult to injury, Marvalen even consorted with the primitive humans. He talked and laughed with these mortal beings, and had even loved one or two. Veral had watched in disgust as the Fai man had lain with one of the women on the soft floor of the forest. She had been comely, yes, but still nothing more than a primitive beast. The she-beast had even borne two of Marvalen’s children: twins, a boy and girl.
The children had disappeared when they were around the age of seven. The Mu’Fai had conducted an extensive search, but had eventually given the children up as lost. They assumed that the twins had wandered off and perhaps been ravaged by wild animals, but no one really knew for sure.
No one, that is, but Veral.
He smiled to himself. The two youngsters had been a tasty treat. And since their change, they had lived among the Cha’Vlad ranks, serving Veral, and even calling him father. He was looking forward to the day when their true father discovered what had really become of his pups.
It was a day he had long dreamed of, and if the days to come went according to his plans, Veral would have the pleasure of introducing Marvalen La’Fai to a new kind of pain.
After all, suffering and pain were Veral Ni’Vlad’s favorite things in all of life… aside from the red, wet blood that usually accompanied the two emotions.
That, he loved even more.