Not even one year into life as an immortal and the end already seemed nigh. A blade to my throat and a vampire standing before me who eclipsed my years by over a century, I sneered in defiance though to my peril.
But a foreign temptation was whispering in my ear.
It happened when my eyes caught sight of the armory. Time itself seemed to pause, affording me the chance to study Sabrina's weapons. The same sentiment which tickled at me in the common area – when I admired the Japanese swords on display – came over me again. I did not have the foggiest idea how to wield anything besides a scalpel, but I knew I needed to get to the blades across the room.
If I could ever get off my knees.
Looking at Michael, I held a firm and steady gaze with him as time resumed its normal course. "What are you waiting for?" I asked, indulging in a dangerous smirk.
He pressed the sharpened tip against my larynx, causing me to wince. The sword did little more than create a superficial cut, but Michael's case was stated. "Beg me, neophyte," he spat. "What cause does a useless waste of space like you have to exist?"
"You can't do it." His weapon parted my flesh, suggesting otherwise and causing a thin rivulet of blood to run downward.
Michael scowled, fangs elongated. "I'll make you suffer first if you continue taunting me."
"You can't do it," I continued, "Because if you could, then you would've already."
"Do not try my patience."
"What do you want from me?" I scoffed. "I'm not going to beg you for shit. You know why? Because you bark like the big dog trying to piss on his territory to mark it. You throw around your weight like you own the place without showing any respect in return."
"I have no cause to respect you." Michael's hands began to tremor, his voice descending even further into an enraged snarl. "You're nothing more than a nuisance. Her new little pet I am expected to coddle and train when he has been nothing but a disgrace to the word immortal." The fraction of a pause was just long enough for me to see deadly intent resolve itself in his eyes. "Now, I'll end you like I should have when you were just a pitiful human."
A voice cut through the crowd assembled by the broken door. "Michael!" Poised to drive the point of his sword through my throat, Michael hesitated when he heard Sabrina. My instincts seized the moment and both hands captured the blade. I threw it to the side, knocked Michael off-balance, and leaped to my feet.
Michael hissed, his feet planting on the ground to steady himself as mine took their first steps past him. Sabrina clamored to break through the crowd while I ran for the blades, feeling Michael pursue me all the way. While the weapons in the parlor were intended for show, these swords were more than display pieces. A Japanese-styled one found its way into my hands with sheath flying to the ground in an instant. I swung an untrained blow out of instinct as I whipped around to face Michael.
Our blades connected, saving my neck from a fatal strike.
My eyes widened, both hands wrapping around the katana's hilt. As Michael moved to attack again, I raised my blade and blocked another blow, but the edge of his sword came within a hair's breadth of cutting my cheek. It forced me back, and he took advantage of the opening to slash my arm as I attempted to dodge.
Fangs elongated, I hissed and responded with a strike.
He twisted his sword downward, deflecting my shot. Our blades caressed for a split second before he threw his weight into it and sent me to the ground. I hit the floor. He drove his weapon toward my stomach, but I rolled away from harm and raised my sword when he struck again. Michael gritted his teeth, hesitating only for a second as he paused to study me with his brow furrowed and our swords touching.
Now, I took the offensive. I pushed his blade away and came to my feet.
He and I swung at the same time. Together, we filled the room with the harsh sound of metal clanging. The awkward blows I threw somehow met his, which brought a look of confusion back to the forefront of Michael's eyes. Metal struck metal again. Michael whipped his sword upward and immortal reflexes saved me as I avoided the tip of his blade. I could not keep this up forever, though. The sight of blood staining my shirt invaded my periphery with the reminder I would not outlast my brother in my hunger.
"What do you want from me?" I asked. Our swords intersected again. "To die? To go away? Tell me what the hell you're really upset about, because you've had it out for me from day one."
"You aren't supposed to exist," Michael said through gritted teeth.
I stepped back. Michael stalked forward. We each poised our swords in anticipation of another strike, but neither of us moved. "What does that mean?"
"It means you are a mistake. You want a name? I'll give you one." Michael's eyes shifted to the side, glancing at someone standing nearby. I did not see who before his gaze returned to mine. "I think you should call yourself Flynn."
"Flynn, eh?" I smirked in defiance of the veiled insult. "I like that. But if I get you to your knees with my sword about to give you a tracheotomy, then I think I deserve the right to name you back."
"Name me what?"
"Robin." I paused to regard Michael. "Seems like a good name for such a pompous prick."
"So be it then," Michael said. I watched his rigid posture relax a bit, his mouth opening to issue more condescending banter. He began to say, "I'll not give you the chance," but his drop in guard worked to my favor.
I was already moving with the first word.
Ignoring it all – the dizziness, the hunger, the anger – I summoned a form of focus I had never experienced before. The movements played out in my mind before they even commenced. I leaped for Michael and swung my sword in a confluence of instinct and vampire prowess. No sooner had he spoken than I landed before him and knocked his weapon from his hands. The attack set Michael aback. Too stupefied to respond, he could not block the sweeping kick to his knee that sent him crashing to the ground.
He fell. The tip of my blade pressed against his throat, drawing blood. Michael's eyes widened as they met mine.
I held the sword steady. "You were saying?"
"Child!" Sabrina's voice cut through the heat of battle. I felt a hand touch my shoulder, but did not turn to look at my mistress. She persisted just the same. "Let him go. I will reprimand him in private."
Michael and I continued to regard one another, but there was a difference in the gaze he returned to me. I could not put my finger on it at the time. A small dose of fear, perhaps? A subtle awe? Maybe a fledgling form of respect rising to the surface? Whatever the matter, I withdrew my blade and allowed him to stand. Then, I looked at Sabrina.
She furrowed her brow at the expression on my face. "What is it?"
"I like the sword," I said, smirking in a manner that hinted at the dark side who wanted out again, who hungered for blood to make up for his weakened condition. He knew exactly what he held in his hands. He held fate. "I'd like to keep it, please."
Sabrina did not respond. I turned from the field of battle, walking past stunned bystanders and stepping over shards of wood with sword in hand. I made it to the threshold separating the two rooms before Sabrina ran for me and grabbed my arm, coaxing me to face her. She held the disregarded sheath out toward me. "You forgot this, dear," she said. As I reached for it, she leaned in and kissed my cheek, whispering, "Dark killer Flynn, go do what it is we immortals do."
The name resonated in my ears with decadent sweetness. Another identity. Another life. Someone other than the Peter stopping me from vampire fulfillment. I nodded at Sabrina and slid the sheath over the blade while I walked past my brethren.
Everything changed from that point forth.
Walking to the stairs, I passed a mortal familiar assigned with managing our affairs and shot him a hungry look. The short, wiry human scurried away like a petrified mouse. I grinned. The added sense of power draped about my shoulders like a coat of arrogance and clothed me even as I entered my room.
I kicked displaced furniture aside and set the sword onto my dresser. Stripping off my violated shirt, I tossed it on my bed before walking into the bathroom to clean the blood from my mending wounds and freshen up. A woefully sparse collection of clothing greeted me when I opened my closet. Pushing back various hand-me-downs gifted to me upon my awakening, I uncovered one item donated to me by Michael himself.
A black suit, perhaps the most contemporary piece of clothing my older brother owned before he passed it down to me. It was tailored to his lankier frame, but our overall similarities permitted me to experiment with a different style. The more formal attire with its inky, midnight hue contrasted against my pale skin in a curious, yet satisfying, manner.
I wore it onto the streets to sate my hunger with a proper feed.
That night, I brushed past an unassuming mortal girl and followed her into a club. She lost several pints of blood and her life in the back of the establishment, with the suit-clad devil that lured her there gone long before anybody found her lying face down in the remnant spilled from her jugular. My feet possessed the stride of a killer entirely unlike my previous self when they touched Philadelphia asphalt again.
I returned to the coven. The smile I shot Rose as I passed caught her attention and halted her conversation with Rebecka. The latter still wore splatters of blood across her dress, but said nothing and parted company with Rose without one word of protest. Rose floated toward me with lithe footsteps and pressed her body against mine, a million intentions stated in that one action.
The sounds shaking the walls that night were of a much different nature than the ones in weeks prior. Claw marks and puncture wounds littered my body. The name called in the throes of passion reverberated in my ears, cementing my new identity in decadence. When I closed my eyes to rest, I slept much sounder that morning than I had since my earliest days as a vampire.
When I opened my eyes the next evening, it was as though I had experienced a second awakening. My tongue still tasted the woman I murdered the night before and my hand buzzed with the recollection of holding the sword. While I did not see Michael in the hallowed halls of the coven, I crossed paths with Sabrina in the main vestibule as I returned from another outing.
My mistress placed her hand on my shoulder, stopping me. I studied her, eyebrow raised, while her fingertips brushed across the fine linen of my suit. "Did your brother give this to you?" she asked.
I nodded. Sabrina shook her head and raised her eyes from my lapel to my glasses. "You need a few of your own, my dear. I will summon a tailor at once. For now, come to my quarters. I have something I'd like to discuss with you."
"As you wish, Sabrina," I said. She flashed a seductive smile and I followed her up the stairs, marveling over the change a day brought with it. The people who passed us all looked at me in a different manner, word having spread by then, no doubt, of the coven second-in-command being brought to his knees by an untrained neophyte. Where once their gazes were laden with disdain, now I saw the same expression on their faces I had seen on Michael's at the finale of our duel. The experience was intoxicating.
"What do you want to talk about?" I asked, as we approached the door to Sabrina's penthouse.
Sabrina nodded at the stocky bodyguard beside the door. Paul only offered me a quick glance. "We shall discuss this in more detail inside, but I believe I have an offer that will interest you." A deliberate pause followed while her eyes traced over me. "Flynn."
A wicked smile surfaced in response, one I could not have contained if my life depended on it. She chuckled in response. "You like this new identity?"
"Yes, I do, actually." My smile broadened.
She raised an eyebrow at me, her grin never wavering. "Well, I believe we can help you make some good use of it, child." Sabrina turned before I could answer and opened the door to her private quarters, pausing to allow me to step inside ahead of her.
I stopped, though, the moment I saw him standing in her living area.
Michael raised his head, his eyes studying me longer than they did Sabrina. Standing in front of a leather couch with a book in hand, he lowered it onto a table and then straightened again, slipping one hand into a pocket. He did not flash condescension or loathing, but gazed at me, neutral. I had not crushed the elder vampire's spirit, but he did not regard me as an inferior nuisance any longer, either.
Sabrina closed the door and preempted any exchange of greetings. "I believe we are on the dawn of an epiphany, my dears," she said, stepping past me into the room where Michael stood. "And while I should be reprimanding you both for that childish little fight you engaged in, I'm actually tickled that it happened."
My mistress sat in a matching leather chair and crossed her legs. Her eyes studied me. "Well, come. Sit." Sabrina pointed at another chair. "Robin and I have a proposition for you."
"Robin?" I stepped forward, remaining standing for the time being.
Michael looked away. "What's fair is fair. I accepted your wager and you bested me."
"I think it's splendid," Sabrina said, a chuckle in her voice. "Flynn and Robin. Suits both of you, if you ask me. You wish to act like a pair of brigands? Then you will wear their colors." Her amusement dissipated as quickly as it surfaced. "Now, sit."
I lowered my frame into the chair and watched as Michael – Robin – did the same. He settled onto the couch, his focus on Sabrina, which compelled me to regard her as well. Sabrina glanced between us. "As I said, I should be handing out punishments for the spectacle of last evening." Her eyes settled on me. "You, for insubordination to a second-in-command and the blatant lack of respect you have displayed toward him."
Sabrina looked next at Robin. "And you, for threatening the life of a member of this coven. You know what type of punishment I exact on those who threaten my offspring. You acted as though a mortal child, not a vampire of your years, and should count yourself fortunate I do not send you into exile."
Robin dropped his gaze toward his hands resting on his lap. "If exile is the punishment for..."
"Oh, stuff it. We have spoken of how you are going to pay your dues." The red-headed vixen turned her attention back to me. "Prior to that little debacle, I believe you and I were talking about gifts and talents. You only seeing a curse and me telling you the talents would emerge when you embraced what you are." Her grin resurfaced, in all its decadent wickedness. "And then I witnessed you with that blade and saw a prodigy in the making. Tell me, dear Flynn, have you ever wielded a sword before?"
I scoffed. "The only thing with a sharp edge I used before was a scalpel." I stifled adding the butcher knife assassination of my former paramour to my resume.
"Which makes this all the more of a wonder to me." She shook her head. "You creatures truly are born with that proclivity."
She flicked her hand to the side in a dismissive manner. "Never mind, dear. The point is, what you did transcends astonishing. I think we need to cultivate this."
The way she suddenly regarded me caused a shiver to run up my spine. Sabrina opened her mouth wide enough to flash fangs at me "You liked that sword, yes?" she asked. I nodded without bothering to consider the question. Sabrina nodded as well. "This is why you wanted to keep it. You have a pull toward it, don't you?"
"Yes, I do." I furrowed my brow. "Even before I stole that sword off the wall, I was looking at the display weapons in the parlor and felt something strange. Like something was..." I pointed to my ear. "...Whispering at me."
Sabrina's expression turned amused. "Child, you hear too many voices. You need to put that all behind. I need you to have your wits sure and steady. Robin is going to teach you how to properly use that blade. I am going to keep an eye on you to see how you progress. You might have great things in store for you."
"Robin's going to teach me?" I looked at him as his eyes shifted toward me. A smug grin enveloped my countenance. "Didn't I just beat him in a sword fight?"
"Don't get cocky, neophyte," Robin said, a dash of annoyance bubbling to the surface. "You barely won. Had I not been so incensed, I would have impaled you before you found the opportunity to play dirty."
"Sour grapes?" I asked.
"Hardly." Robin scoffed. "You swung the sword like a madman. No discipline to it whatsoever. There were only two things working to your advantage." He raised a hand, lifting fingers to enumerate his list. "Passion and instinct. One could have just as easily resulted in your demise and the other is what took over when you had no idea what the devil you were doing. If you want to do anything other than throw a piece of steel around and pray for impact, then you have need of instruction. A lot of instruction."
"Alright." I looked at Sabrina. "So, if I learn how to use the sword correctly, what's going to happen?"
"Oh, there is much more to it, my dear. Not only learning how to use the sword. Learning a love for the blade as a whole. I believe you have it in you to become a virtuoso." Sabrina uncrossed her legs and slid forward in her seat. "Robin will instruct you at first. If you do well with him, then I will summon the best instructors from the four corners of the world to train you. You fancy the Japanese blade? I will have somebody direct from Japan come to this coven to ensure you become a god with it. And Robin will teach my blade-wielding assassin how to become a shadow and a myth."
"An assassin?" I asked, a queer rush of excitement springing up from the depths of my soul, awakening the sadist inside that much more. My mind spun, dizzy with the prospects. "You think I can become an assassin?"
Sabrina flashed her decadent smile once more. "I think you were born for it, Flynn."
The rest of the conversation flew by like a blur, a matter of formalities and little more. Sabrina dismissed Robin and I, leaving us to depart together with a heavy silence hanging between us. His eyes remained fixed ahead of him, his mouth pursed in thought.
The change in tenor begged to be recognized.
"Why did you get in my face last night?" I asked as Robin closed the door to Sabrina's private quarters.
Robin paused, looking at me with a scowl. "'Get in your face?' For God's sake, speak English." He shook his head as he looked away. "You have need of learning more than sword skills."
"You're going to teach me how speak properly now, too?"
"Whatever it takes."
Robin fell silent, but did not walk away just yet. "What provoked your outburst last evening?" A smirk punctuated my question. "Is that better?"
"It's a start." Robin's eyes returned to mine. "Personal matters which are none of your business."
"Then at least explain 'Flynn' to me."
"A child of red," he said smoothly. "The name comes from my native country. You are a vampire, brother." He looked me over from head to foot before staring me in the eyes. "Start behaving as such."
Robin turned and started for the stairs. I did not give pursuit, allowing him enough time to put distance between us before I followed his path to the second floor. It was just as well that we would not encounter each other again that evening; the bruises of a wounded ego were apparent in Robin's behavior and I was yet adjusting to my new way of life.
I slipped into my room and was reminded of the chaos of the past few weeks when I took stock of the mess that had accumulated. I began to sort through the wreckage, bent on finding the contentment and order I once possessed. The changes taking place by my hands and beneath my skin were relished equally, like a taste lingering sweet on my tongue.
The knife-wielding mortal, transforming into a bloody assassin.
Only fitting to see Peter off by the same razor edge which made him a killer as well.