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Sophia, part 2

Guest Chris Sirn

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Guest Chris Sirn

Part one is written in first person, part two is written in third.

“There’s something I have to show you,” said Sophia. Brutal was confused—he thought she wanted to yell at him for following her into the woods. If he had been in her shoes, he would have been furious. They sat in her bedroom, the door closed and locked, then she reached into her black bag and pulled out a piece of paper.

Brutal looked at the parchment. It was a picture of Sophia’s face—the artist couldn’t capture her pretty smile or cute eyes, but you could tell the drawing was supposed to be her. Above her picture were the words: WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE. SOPHIA BURTON. Below the picture was the following: BOUNTY: 5,000 GOLD PIECES.

“Sophia!” shrieked Brutal. “Who did you piss off?”

A door slammed down the hall. Brutal’s nerves took an uneasy jump as Sophia grabbed the paper and stuffed it under the bed. They stared at the door. Listening. They didn’t hear footsteps, and that was what concerned Brutal the most. Sophia bit her lip, holding her breath as she watched the door handle. About five minutes later, they resumed the conversation.

“The goblins, that’s who,” she said. “I was out for a walk the other night—”

“Out for a walk? In the middle of the night?”

“Yeah, I was walking down Old Farmer Scufflegrit’s Road when I saw a band of those evil things attacking a woman on a horse. It turned out she was the king’s messager, although what message she was delivering I have no idea. The secret kind, considering the hour. Anyway, I intervened and I guess I didn’t know the extent of my own power. There were five of them. I blew one of them so far back that he hit his head on the side of a black walnut tree. I wasn’t trying to kill anybody.”

Brutal gaped at her, not blinking.

“I was just trying to scare them, you know? And apparently it worked. The others fled, screaming something in a different language, calling me this weird name. Incubus. You’re good with foreign languages. What does it mean?”

Brutal didn’t want to tell her what the word meant. He looked down at his hands and Sophia read his face. “Something bad, huh? I don’t want to know. Anyway, once the woman stood up, she looked at me and screamed. Like I was a ghost or something. She jumped on her horse—literally jumped on it—and fled in the general direction the group of goblins had run in. I guess she was really scared.” Sophia looked at him guiltily. “Anyways, after it was all said and done, I went to investigate the fallen goblin. He was unconscious, not dead. He had a bag of gold and jewels, I guess the stuff they stole from their victims that night. It looked like a woman’s purse. I took it.”

“You didn’t!”

Sophia pulled a large bag out from beneath her bed. Brutal opened the top, looked inside, gasped. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He pulled out a necklace made of the most beautiful pearls he had ever seen. He pulled out several more like pumpkin innards. Gold. Jewels. Something that looked suspiciously like a crown (he was actually afraid to touch that one, he didn’t know why, perhaps the thing was valuable enough to buy an entire castle). There was a lamp that looked like it might contain a genie. There was an unusually large coin made of a substance Brutal could not identify. There looked like there might be a spot of blood on the monster’s head on one side. 

“Sophia,” he said. “You’ve got to get rid of this.”

“In case it’s cursed or something?”

“Someone’s going through a lot of trouble to get this back. Especially if you didn’t even kill anybody.” He had studied bounties in school. Usually the law enforcement officer who declared the bounty started with low numbers for petty crimes, then bumped the amount up as more time went by and the fugitive (Sophia the Fugitive, he thought with disbelief) remained uncaught. And even then it was only if the crimes escalated. Some very serious person wanted Sophia dead or alive, and apparently he wanted her now. Brutal let the necklaces fall from his limp hands, as if they were worthless.

He looked up and saw tears in Sophia’s eyes. “I’m scared,” she said.

“I am, too.”


A few days went by with no news. Brutal went about his chores, trying to forget about what Sophia had shown him in her bedroom, how she had whispered so low that he could barely hear her: “Somebody’s after me.” He tried to forget about the bounty poster and the ridiculous price on Sophia’s head. But how much was that bag of stolen goods worth? In the following nights, Brutal had had dreams of waking up and finding a fortune in gold bullions under his own bed, opening the cash box and letting the coins leak through his fingers like drops of honey, like drops of an elixir that could cure the sick and assist the elderly and brighten the moods of the distraught youth of this town. It was like discovering some precious, game-changing resource by accident. It was like a shortcut going from Nobody to Somebody.

Brutal took care of his parents’ horses absent-mindedly, no longer speaking to the animals (did they sense there was something wrong with his mood, he wondered?) because there was so much on his mind. Mostly, when he closed his eyes, he saw Sophia’s sweet face, and the look in her eyes that was so unlike her as she said: “I’m afraid.” When had that sweet girl ever let fear defeat her so?

It was an exceptionally beautiful morning, the nicest day of the summer in fact, when Brutal found the envelope beneath his window. It read “Brutal”, a red line underneath it, indicating it was just for him. When he made certain his Mama and Papa weren’t around, he went around the side of the shed, opened the envelope, and read the contents.

He crumpled the paper up and stuffed it in his pocket. He went back to work on his chores. He carried water buckets to the troughs and forked hay and cleaned stalls. He didn’t speak to the animals. The weather became nicer, the birds sang in a happy sort of way as bumble bees danced in the field behind the horse pasture. When Brutal allowed himself to think about the letter, he thought about the dreams he had about the money under his bed… and how the money later turned into those forbidden black books, calling out to him, telling him what to do. In his dream he stuffed them back under his bed, listening to them call to him from the darkness… only to awake a few minutes later with his brain going haywire, an unspeakable craving speaking out for its drug. For the books. 

“Oh Sophia, what did you do?” he cried as he looked to the distant hills, resting an arm on his planted shovel. He thought about Sophia disappearing into the woods, about whatever dark ritual that had almost taken place before he interrupted it. Was she trying to increase her power? Pushing herself too hard, trying to get better at this Raul stuff in order to protect herself now? If so (and he had no evidence to support this theory, except that he knew the way Sophia thought, or at least he thought he did several months, now he felt like he barely knew her), then it was a bold movie. It was also, in Brutal’s opinion, stupid, reckless, dangerous, and most importantly, a mistake. He would confront her on it tonight. It might mean the end of their friendship, he might even have to get up in her face and start yelling—one of the hardest things for Brutal to do with anyone, let alone her—but he would do it. Enough was enough.

He pulled out the letter. He read it again. She would be here tonight, knocking on his bedroom window at twelve, no more than an hour late. And she would be bringing the books with her.

He thought about what the goblins had called her: Incubus. He was too shy to tell her what the word meant. An incubus was the last thing Sophia was: a sexual vampire.


Brutal heard a knock on his window about an hour after midnight. He had actually dozed off at his writing desk (his parents’ had paid top dollar so he could have this nice desk and majestic chair, hoping it would encourage him to pursue academic ambitions; it hadn’t worked at all, and Brutal couldn’t remember the last time he really sat here and focused on writing anything) when he heard the tap-tap on his window. He stumbled out of a dreamless sleep—not quite true, he’d had a dream, but couldn’t remember what it was—and it took him a moment to remember where he was. Then he heard the tapping again.

The room was dark. He had taken a nap while the sun was still up; how long had he been asleep? Ancient white curtains shrouded the window, allowing him just enough transparency to see through them. He could see nothing. Perhaps an insect? Seemed unlikely, considering there was no light to attract them. If he refused to answer the call, would the one waiting beyond the window use her powers to force his hand?

More tapping. Sounded urgent. A familiar, friendly voice said: “Brutal? Brutal!”

He stood up sluggishly, wiping the sleep from his eye with one balled fist. He approached the window that kept the hot summer night with its full moon at bay. Where it belonged. He pulled the curtains back.

No one was there. He looked from left to right. He supposed she might be crouched down where he couldn’t see her, but—

He unlocked the window, trying hard not to make a sound. His parents heard everything, it seemed. The lock opened quietly, but the window was old and rusty, and it would make a sound no matter how carefully he raised the lower half. He pushed up—CREEEAAAK! It jagged at his eardrums. He pushed a little more. Could she fit through it now? “Sophia,” he whispered. “Is that you?”

No answer. A breeze pushed its way past him into the house. He leaned his head out the window, and then Sophia came around the corner of the house. She wasn’t alone. A goblin had been crouching down behind her, now it stood up tall, holding a sword to Sophia’s back. The dark elf look at the red orc with great remorse, her hands raised in defeat. The goblin’s yellow eyes glowed in the dark, small and pupiless. “You must be the friend,” the goblin said in the most haunting voice Brutal had ever heard. “Climb out the window. Don’t scream. If you scream—”

“I won’t.” But Brutal couldn’t fit out the window. He opened it a little more and it made a loud, screeching noise. 

Sophia wailed in agony. “Don’t let us get caught,” said the goblin. “Not unless you want me to stick my sword in her.”

“Alright. I’m sorry.”

A moment later Brutal was on the porch, and he suddenly realized they weren’t alone. The lights he had mistaken for fireflies had stopped blinking and came closer in the moonlit gloom. He looked at the first goblin and saw that she was smiling, revealing a set of rotten fangs. It took him a minute to realize she was a vampire. And not just any vampire, either. She was an incubus. “Come along, you,” said the goblin. “Come along like a good boy. The hour is late but the night is still young, if you know what I mean.”

Behind Brutal, his curtains flowed in the breeze like ghosts dancing beneath the moon. Tomorrow morning, that would be all his mother found of him when she opened the door to bring him his breakfast. 


The journey was a long and terrible one. Sophia and Brutal had been tied up and gagged and placed in the back of a wagon, where a pair of goblins sat back there with them, watching them with suspicious eyes. Brutal was afraid to look at them for too long, in case he should anger them, so looked out the back of the buggy instead. The other goblins followed them on horseback. No one spoke for the entire trip.

About an hour later, they came to a stop by an old cemetery. The wagon came to an uncertain stop as the goblin with the teeth said merrily from the front: “This is the place!”

The goblins pulled Brutal and Sophia from the back of the carriage and threw Brutal against a tree—a black walnut tree, just like the one Sophia had threw the goblin against. The goblins laughed. Made a snorting sound, at least. Sophia had tears in her eyes, trying to be strong, trying not to weep in front of everybody. There was the clashing sound of swords being bashed together, as if a great battle was about to take place, or the reinactment of one.

“Thief!” said the vampire goblin, pointing at Sophia. “Victim!” it said again, pointing at Brutal. Then, it pointed its finger at the sky, as if inspiration had struck. “TREASURE!”

All the goblins began to cheer and applaud, a picture of merriment. The incubus disappeared into the cabin for a moment as the excitement of the crowd rose to an ear-splitting pitch. Torches were lit. Bonfires were ignited. Cemetery stones revealed their shadows. The incubus returned from the wagon a second later, dragging a heavy black bag with him. He opened the bag and turned it upside down. Books fell at his feet, the cheers rose even higher, if that was possible. They were Sophia’s books. The Books of Raul. The monster picked up one of the books and began ripping pages out of it. The crowd cheered encouragingly. He pulled more pages out, tore the pages to shreds as another, smaller goblin brought over a torch much too heavy for his body. Brutal stole a look at Sophia and saw she was crying.

The crowd began to chant in unison: “Rar! Rar! Rar! RAR!” The midget goblin lit the remains of the precious book on fire, and the book exploded in a blue flame that shocked the crowd silent, then when it fell to the earth with a defeated scream, the crowd began to laugh and cheer with delight. Next came the second book, then the third. The exploitation continued until all the books were destroyed, a smoldering mess of ashes that danced away in the wind. The crowd continued the rar-rar-rar chant (which Brutal decided meant “more more more”) as the incubus waved its hand in an exaggerated motion towards Sophia: time for the real show. One of the goblins lay down a slab of rock that looked like it must weigh a thousand pounds and had been used to behead countless enemies they called “outlaws”. Apparently this bed wasn’t intended for beheading however. They began to gesture for Sophia to lay her head down on that cold anti-pillow where she would be introduced to a new species of sleep. They dragged Sophia by firelight towards the stone as she struggled and thrashed, screaming no no no. How did Brutal play into all of this? Was he supposed to be her first victim once her unholy conversion was complete? Or was the plan something more?

The bonfire grew into a something bigger as they threw the remains of the Books of Raul into its ashy pits, causing everyone’s shadows to expand into the shapes of giants dancing in hell. They forced Sophia to kneel and put her neck on the line they had drawn for her on the stone. The vampire came closer, polishing its teeth with a comb that must have served for their toothbrushes. The crowd laughed. The vampire grinned—was there any smile as horrible as that of a vampire's? An exceptionally large goblin made itself at home behind Brutal, forcing him to watch the defilement of his friend. 

“Don’t take this personally,” the incubus said to Sophia. “We’re doing this because you’re practicing the Forbidden Craft of Darkness. We have to do everything in our power to stop you. Vampires can’t practice Raul. No one knows why—if anything, you would think vampires would be one of the most powerful spellcasters—but it’s true.”

“Garlic,” said the midget goblin.

The incubus regarded him with an uncomfortable glance, then it went on: “We knew what you were trying to become the second you casted that spell. That was why that young woman ran from you, even though you were her rescuer and we were her captors. I’m sorry, but we can’t let you carry on with what you were doing.”

The crowd became very silent. Brutal could hear the snap-snap of fire cackling from a nearby torch. Wind sighed through the trees. The vampire leaned over her now, prepared to draw blood from her, when suddenly someone screamed. 

Heads turned. The cry had come from the rear of the crowd. One of the spectators had fallen to her knees, hollering and hollering as if she’d been stung by a spit bee. “What’s going on back there?” said the vampire, then someone else began to scream, too: “I’m blind!” The firelight began to weaken. There were now a low growl coming from the darkness, but it wasn’t coming from a witch or something watching them from the darkness. 

It was coming from Brutal.

The vampire overlord looked at him as Brutal struggled briefly against the ropes that held him captive, then without a thought (or perhaps realizing the extent of his strength) he broke the chains that held him. 

He looked at the vampire as the crowd looked back and forth between her and the ones who had screamed. “Now hold on a minute," the vampire stammered. “Wait just a darn minute. You heard what we said.”

Brutal didn’t know it, but his eyes had gone yellow, his red skin paling, his muscles growing bigger beneath the moon’s candlelight. A deep voice, not his at all, issued from his mouth: “You ruined my books, you bitch.”

The crowd gasped. No one had ever spoken to the high priestess that way before. But if she had any intenion of laying down the law, she wasn’t going to do it right then. “We didn’t burn all the books,” she said. “We still have one. It’s just not here.”

“You’re lying," said Brutal. His teeth began to hurt, as if he had eaten too many sweets and was craving more, then he realized his teeth were growing… what the old-timers called the sweet tooth.

The crowd went on watching. “You burned the books. The ones I spent my entire life writing.”

“He’s insane!” said the goblin holding the staff, but the words died on his lips as his eyes met those horrible yellow cat’s eyes glowing from Brutal’s face. According to legend, the original writer of the books had been a scrawny man who couldn’t beat up a bug. He had spent his entire existence cultivating his brains, not his brawn. If this figure standing before them was who he claimed to be…

The smell of Brutal had changed, too. He now smelled of garlic.

The overgrown goblin in charge of guarding Brutal (he was nearly twice Brutal’s size) said from behind Brutal’s back: “I will destroy you if you take another step.”

“Antoine, no!” said the priestess.

But it was too late. The freak of a goblin had put his hand on Brutal’s shoulder. Brutal slowly reached up and gently put his hand on the goblin's. He began to squeeze.

“Aarrgh!” the giant screamed. Brutal squeezed a little harder. The goblin fell to his knees before the gasping crowd that had suddenly forgotten how much fun they were having. “Alright, now,” said the priestess, as if Brutal were the one doing something wrong. Maybe from her point of view, Brutal was. 

“Don’t do that, now. He didn’t do anything bad.” She gestured to Sophia, who tried to look up at them with her sweat-drenched face.

“What we did to one person does justify hurting every single one of us.”

Brutal snapped his fingers. Someone else screamed. A woman. My hair is on fire, my hair is on fire. The crowd had apparently seen enough. Something his father once told him began to run through Brutal’s head. His old man had returned from a hard night of partying with a black eye. After an argument with is mother, he later told Brutal in private: “Bars aren’t as bad as everyone says they are. Going out on a Friday night, playing pool with great people, doing a little dancing, doing a little drinking, it’s all a lot of harmless fun. The problem is that there’s always those one or two people in the crowd who have to ruin it for everyone else. The bigger the crowd, the greater the odds, and the more fun the party is, the more it runs the risk of getting out of control.” It looked like that one person had just showed up. Except this party wasn’t over. Far from it.

Brutal watched the goblins running away, then he chuckled so lightly that only the vampire heard it. “No, no, no….” Brutal said playfully. Assuming he even was still Brutal at all.

A wall of fire burst into flames, surrounding the cemetery in a circle, lighting up the night sky. Not everyone could stop in time. Some of the goblins hit the wall and their cries could barely be heard over the roaring flames. The vampire clutched his face in shock and screamed at Brutal to stop it, please stop it, oh can’t you see they’ve had enough? Burning bodies emerged back from the flames once they realized the wall was too thick to run through, and they collapsed to the ground. Those around them—the ones who were closest to the water troughs—somehow managed to hold on to their wits long enough to dump the water onto the victims, but there wasn’t enough to go around. “They’re dying!” said the vampire. “Do something! Save them!” And when he saw the red orc only watched her with great interest, the vampire said to Sophia, “Witch! Save them! Cast the spell of Orma-Gha!”

The ones in charge of holding her looked at the incubus with a shocked expression, then suddenly worked to untie Sophia. She stood up and looked at them with unreadable eyes (Brutal always thought she had a great poker face, she used to beat him at chess every time they played), then she turned around and snapped her fingers.

Rain began to fall. 


After it was all said and done, Sophia came over and sat beside him, putting her arm around his shoulder. “Are you alright?” she asked.

Brutal stared at his hands, as if to ask himself what he had become. His knees trembled. He pulled away from her touch, as if he didn’t want anything to do with her, but she pulled him closer. Above them, a shooting star streaked across the sky. 

“My face has changed, hasn’t it?” he said. Sophia smiled sadly and looked down at his hands along with him, where large claws had grown in place of his nails. 

She took his hand and held it. “Are you thirsty?” she asked.

“Thirsty for what?” 

She didn’t answer, as if that were answer enough.  Then she asked, “Is the ghost still inside you?” 

Brutal shook his head. “I think he took his magic with him. But he changed me. I can feel it. I can feel it in my teeth…” A pause. “I’m a vampire now, aren’t I”

Sophia’s brain, working at a million miles a minute in spite of her calm demeanor, thought about what they were going to do. What future was there for a vampire? Well, plenty, if you wanted to join the Dark Murderers. In addition to that, he was a red orc. Sooner or later his new set of urges would get the best of him. Then that damned cult, the main target Sophia had set out to destroy, the whole reason she got involved in this witchcraft to being with, would discover Brutal.  She knew these thoughts were going through his head; at some level he must know what he had become, or was turning into. And what that would mean to their friendship, among other things. She looked off into the distance, pushing these thoughts away.

“I’m not joining the Dark Murderers, in case you’re wondering,” he said. “I know what they did to your family. I know what they’ve done to others. I’ll never join that... that... band of…”

But they both knew he would. Eventually. Sophia stood up, still holding his massive hand. “Come on,” she said. “I have something to show you.”

Brutal looked up. “Where are you going?”

Sophia gestured for him to follow her, a deep frown knitted on her face. “You’ll see.”

She let go of his hand and disappeared into the woods. 

Brutal watched her go, confused, then he rose to his feet and chased her. 

Fireflies blinked in the woods, a place full of moonlight and pale shadows.  A chipmunk scurried past him along the path. And there was a path, although how the dark elf could spot such an obscure thing was beyond him. He could barely see her figure in the woods, a dark silhouette that was part of the woods around her, and struggled weakly to keep up with her. 

How did she know where she was going, he wondered? Had she been here before?

Some time went by. They came to a clearing in the forest, and Brutal found himself looking down a canyon, a giant canyon that took his breath away. A waterfall rushed into the creek below, majestic in the moon’s soft glow.

Sophia began to make her way down the canyon’s side and he wanted to tell her he didn’t think this was such a good idea. He had already lost track of where they had come from, and when they needed to make their way back…

“Sophia?” he said.

No response. Like an apparition, she seemed oblivious to his presence.  He stumbled after her, becoming more worried. 

They came to the side of the pool where a waterfall poured in. There were more fireflies here than there were in the woods, as if they were throwing a party or something.

“There,” she said.

Brutal looked to see where she was pointing. A small cave beneath the rocky side of the cliff, put together by layers upon layers of stone. “I don’t think that’s safe,” he began, but she was already on her hands and knees, crawling into the cave. He would be damned if he was following her into that place; one, if he got stuck (which was highly likely, considering what a big guy he was), then they both would be stuck. Another thing, he had a fear of small places… although it seemed like his fears were becoming less and less important… another side-effect (or benefit) of being a vampire?

“Don’t follow me!” Sophia shouted from the hole, as if she had read his mind. Or was there another reason she didn’t want him to follow her?

Sometime later, she emerged from the cave, dragging something tied to her feet. A purse. He stared at it, as if curiosity had gotten the best of him. Once she was free from danger, she opened the purse and pulled something out.

“What is it?” he asked.

“My notebook. I took notes of all the texts while I was studying them.”

Brutal took the bound paper stack and flipped through the pages. “The whole eleven volumes? I can’t read a thing.”

“I know what the words mean. If you want to be a good student, you have to know how to take notes fast. And no, it’s just part of the text. The rest of it is hidden elsewhere.”

Brutal began to smile through his tears. So, while trying to rid Sophia of her texts, they had actually done her a favor. Now she was the only one who had access to the information.

“It was part of the plan,” she explained. “The ghost of the man who wrote these books spoke to me. He lived in the books he wrote. And I know how to read minds.”

Brutal became very silent. He took a step away from her. “Whoa. Wait a minute. What are you saying, Sophia? You mean you knew all of this was going to happen?”

“I said I can read minds. I can’t see the future. The ghost wanted them burned. He spoke to me in my dreams. He said these books were constantly being hunted down, not just by the goblins. They were trying to wipe out all the remaining copies. He wanted me to transcribe them, so that they may live for another thousand years or more. He was supposed to take over my body when the spit hit the fan, but then the goblins threw us a curve.”

She looked across the water, trying to keep her eyes dry. A fish jumped out of the pond, then dived back in expertly. Brutal stared at Sophia, speechless.

“I don’t know how they found out you were my friend. I assume they kidnapped you to get at me. Then, for some reason, the ghost chose you over me. He was supposed to enter me and fill me with his powers… powers not revealed in his books. Instead, he possessed you, performed some cheap parlor tricks for fun, then disappeared. But not before he turned you into a vampire.” Sophia shrugged and frowned at her feet, where she toyed with a pebbled beneath her toes. She blushed. Brutal felt his teeth become more prominent.

“You did this,” he hissed.  

She looked at him, her eyes widening. “Brutal,” she said in that tone she always used when they were kids and he was about to get mad. Cautious. Borderline afraid. But it wouldn’t work this time. Brutal looked down and realized his hand had tightened into fists.

“I’ll never forgive you,” he said with tears in his heart, the one that wouldn’t meet its appointment with the wooden stake until several hundred years later. When that happened, the king’s best knight, the one known a Hercules, kicked open the dungeon door of the abandoned castle and found Brutal nestled away among the spider webs and rats and ancient darkness. By then Brutal had become the feared and notorious king of all vampires in all of the land, had conquered many countries, had spilled gallons of blood. Quite different from the teary-eyed young boy he had once been before this summer, a red orc who felt guilty about killing bugs so he captured them and released them from his bedroom window. His death would be quite the dramatic event, the long, dark future of the all the land hinged on whether the young hero was successful or not. But to a great extent, the damage caused by Brutal’s reign would prove to be long-lasting, to say the least.
Sophia continued to stare at him with dawning fear, and he fancied he could even hear her heart beating. Perhaps he could. Striking his old friend would prove to be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. No. He would not strike her. It was decided. Not then. He turned his back on her, stomping away with his shoulders hunched, like a child who’d been dealt some injustice from a parent he’d trusted to always do the right thing.

“Brutal, wait!” she cried, but he didn’t so much as slow down. She watched his bulking presence disappear into the woods, leaving her to face the night alone. 


When Brutal got home, he didn’t return to his bedroom. Instead, he walked past his home like it was a toy he had outgrown, his hands behind his back , as formal as a grown up. He walked back into the woods and entered the fields where he had seen the butterflies earlier that day, when his life had been so different. There were fireflies here now instead of butterflies. They made him think of hell. He found an apple tree he had planted when he was very young. He sat down beneath it like he had many times when he was a child and had gotten in major trouble in school, unaware he was recycling his childish motions. What on earth was he going to tell his parents? His father would kill him, no doubt. He would kill him like a rabid dog that needed to be put down. But wouldn’t his mother’s heart be broken if she woke up the next mornig and found her son’s bed was empty and the window was open?

The noble thing to do would be to confess everything, said a voice inside his head. He imagined it was the voice of his ancestors. Let them destroy you. Before you go nuts and hurt someone. 

And he would go nuts, he knew it already. The berserker rage of the orc, combined with animalistic urge of survival that was the vampire's only objective? In fact, he could already feel the thirst for blood falling upon him for the first time. He felt like he was about to lose complete control over himself, like he was having a nervous breakdown or something. Privacy made it a little better, but if he had been around someone else… or worse, if he had been in a crowd of people, what would he do? Drop to all fours and start barking like a dog? Humiliate himself? Start lashing out? Start breaking necks with his unweildly strength?

This is your destiny, whispered the voice again. Like a fighter who just happened to be born with one arm considerably longer than the other, you’ve found your knack. You’re a perfect storm of accidents that came together to from a perfect weapon.

Brutal, who had never been good at anything in his whole life, who had been bullied around by those smaller than he and which only added to his humiliation, stared up at the stars and the bats and the tree tops that glowed in the moonlight like it was a weakened sun, became accutely aware of how terrifyig the night really was. His sense for such things had been sharpened. He could hear things in the shadows that he could never hear before. 


“Apparently there were no survivors,” said Angle the Rock-Hearted. The cult leader, Sirius, knelt down in the grass beneath the burning sun and touched the grass. Scorched. Hell fire. He knew by the burn and the smell. At first he had been excited when he’d heard the news, now he just began to feel… afraid. And what an unfamiliar emotion it was! The last time he’d truly felt such a beautiful thing had been years ago when he had been a teenager, before he had joined the Dark Murderers. Back then he had not been expected to last long; he had been “the runt of the litter”, according to the Former Black Sage and Head Scout, Arthur Guild. Now Sirius had risen to a position of power, and he ruled his division of the cult with an iron fist, had lost his sense of fear upon his admission. He had listened to scary stories with his mates around the campfire many a late night, had tried to feel something, but came up empty-handed. He was like a brilliant musician slowly losing his hearing. But he was feeling it now; he was feeling loud and clear, unexpectedly, out of nowhere, like a sucker punch or a funny joke from a boring man. He didn’t know how quickly his emotions could grow and flourish, how quickly they could consume a man if he wasn’t careful. 

“Sirius?” said Angle.

The cult leader rose to his feet, trying to hide his emotions—some skills one never lost, it seemed. “The practitioner of this witchcraft…” He seemed to have lost the nerve to speak. “Is practicing a forbidden form of magic. Forbidden and dangerous. I need to know who the spell caster was.”

“One of our witches senses it came from a red orc, sir.”

Sirius had been drinking from his canteen when suddenly he choked, spitting up the water in way that turned heads from his dark brothers and sisters. He looked out into the woods, over the hills, towards the mountains. “It’s a mistake,” said Sirius. “Red orcs are not talented in the art of spell crafting. To my knowledge no one is this talented.”

“Sir,” said a goblin in one of their trademark black cloaks. There were tears in his overgrown eyes, suggesting this massacre had hit him particularly hard. “Pardon me, I was eavesdropping on your conversation. I found this on one of the victims.” He held out a piece of parchment with a frown.

Sirius took the paper. Looked at it. Jaw dropped. Grinned. “You’re kidding me?” he said, but it wasn’t a real question. He showed the paper to Angle.

“A dark elf,” said Angle.

“The name.”

He struggled to read it. Sirius rolled his eyes. “It says Sophia Burton. One of the few surviving members of the Burtons. Remember them?”

Something loud fell in the woods.

The conversation among the Dark Murderers fell silent. Another deep chill of excitement ran down Sirius’s spine, an unpleasant one. Somebody asked him something he didn’t quite hear. Sirius drew his staff and motioned for everyone to be quiet, then he approached the woods.

A bird chirped at him from the treetops. The leaves rustled mysteriously. He took another look at the crudely drawn image of “Sophia Burton”. It looked like something from one of his worst nightmares. Goblins were notoriously bad artists, but this was an accomplishment even for them. He looked at the reward number. He looked at the spot of blood on the bottom of the page. He scrunched his face up, a child trying to figure out a difficult puzzle, then looked back up at the woods.

“I don’t like this,” said Angle.

“If you decide to go charging in there, I got your back,” said the goblin angrily.

“Let’s not be foolish,” said another voice behind him—Angelica Chains, presumably the witch who’d seen the orc with her second sight. “We don’t want to get massacred ourselves.”

Sirius didn’t hear any of them. He walked to the woods and called out: “Who’s there?”

Silence. Deliberate silence, he felt. He didn’t like it. 

Something about this woods had always put his back up and made him no good, ever since he was a child and his father would let him get lost on his own, leaving him to find his way back, all in the name of making him “a man.” One particular occasion Sirius had heard a rustling behind some bushes, Sirius, believing happily that it was his father, only to have it turn out it was a bear. Luckily his father intervened on his behalf in the last moment, saving Sirius’s black soul, but the experience had scarred his infant mind. His father had laughed it off, then screamed at Sirius for crying at the dinner table that evening. It was those hands he remembered most after all this time, how his father beat him at the dinner table with his mother and all his sisters watching. Even now as Sirius approached the thicket of trees and bushes and saw grass, he felt those old feelings from his childhood, his happiness when he heard “his father” in the woods, how he’d pulled back the bushes...

Sirius entered the woods with his staff held high, as if trying to prevent a baby from drowning even if it meant drowning himself. The leaves were packed together very thick, making it damn near impossible to see through this sea of green, but he wasn’t a child anymore, and he had his family with him, his real family, and no matter what happened he knew he could depend on them. And, far more important: They could depend on him.

 “What do you see, sire?” said the goblin at his back. He heard the scissoring sound of the stunted creature rubbing both his swords together. “Is it her?”

Sirius pushed his way through the bushes, almost stumbling into the clearing where the noise had come from, dropping his staff clumsily—something he hadn’t done in years, a mistake only acceptable if one was a newbie. The goblin bumped into him as well, stabbing him in the back hard enough to draw blood, but Sirius found he didn’t have to voice to scream. He stared into the clearing with a quivering lip and bloodshot eyes, feeling every nerve in his body standing on edge. The goblin saw for himself what Sirius had seen first, and he gasped loud enough to make Sirius jump. “What’s going on over there?” Angle called out, but neither of them answered.

The two of them looked upon the great bear of the woods. Judging by its size, it must have been at least fifty years old, which was old in bear years, but the animal had reached the end of its life, because it lay lifeless on the grass. Its throat had been slashed. Or bitten, as the case might be. There was very little blood on the grass, indicating the bear might have been killed somewhere  else, then dragged here. The Great Bear was a sacred animal to the goblin clan, the most sacred of all sacred beings, the image of the god was that of one of these bears. To kill one of these creatures was such an obscene act—

The goblin pushed Sirius out of his way and stood in front of him, tears in his eyes, feet and hands spread, mouth hanging open in shock as he stared down, as if someone had dropped a stack of antique dishes. Who would do such a thing, or even bother, especially when there were no survivors from the massacre?

“What do you see?” Angle shouted from the wall of leaves, on the verge of panic. “My lord, WHAT DO YOU SEE?”

The goblin fell to his knees at the animal’s head, motioning as if he wanted to cradle the poor creature’s head but not daring to because his hands were unworthy. Sirius had never seen such a perfect picture of a man in mourning. And it wasn’t man, it was a goblin. ‘If only an artist was here to paint this scene,’ Sirius thought as he looked at the sunlight breaking through the treetops, casting a heavenly light upon the scene. He thought about stepping forward and touching his friend on the shoulder, perhaps even saying some word of comfort, no matter how lame his imagination was. But it felt sacrilegious, so he turned and walked out of the clearing, head down to hide his emotion. For Sirius was a goblin, too.

He walked past Angle and Angelica as they asked him a question he refused to answer—“What did you see?”—then they rushed past him. A moment later, he heard their screams.

He returned to the field where the massacre had taken place, the rest of the Dark Murderers (the ones he had brought with him, anyways) watching him with firmly shut mouths and wide eyes. They all looked so young. 

The group stared at him expectedly, as if expecting a speech. Instead, he said, “Come on, boys. Let’s get this mess cleaned up and send word to the families.”

“Was it really a dark elf that killed these people?” asked one of the minions. “Was it a witch?”

“No,” Sirius finally admitted, thinking of the hulking corpse of the bear. “It might have been a red orc, after all. One who found and read the books of Raul, and who’s actually crazy enough to practice them. We need to spread the word.” He paused, then added: “Fast.”


The rest of that summer came and went. Sophia didn’t see Brutal at all since that night when she told him the truth, and at some point she finally worked up the nerve to knock on his front door. No one answered, not even his parents. At the time, Sophia thought nothing of it, although she still noticed all the windows were dark. Had he perhaps told his parents the truth of his condition? Were they keeping the house dark to help him? 

Summer eventually left and fall rushed in to take its place. Things changed. Sophia didn’t leave for a university, and she watched as the younger students headed off for the school she once thought of as home. She was happy not to have to wake up so early, and yet she felt a sinking feeling in her heart just the same. This shift in her inner world was unexpected; could it be she loved her old school, as well as her teachers and her classmates?

Her parents began to put more pressure on her to get out of the house and attend a university, but she managed to dodge the bullet for another semester. Saving up money from her job at the library, and all that. Unfortunately, she had a lot of things on her mind, but here was a strange thing—her dedication to her real studies had not floundered, had in fact flourished. There was something cold and heartless that made her eyes tear up, knowing that the tragedy involving Brutal and the grief that accompanied it had not stopped her progress in her work, as it often did to characters in the old storybooks, but had actually launched her dedication to another level. Or perhaps it was a good thing, about that she couldn’t be sure of. It seemed like she wasn’t sure of much of anything, these days.

At some point she finally had enough. It was time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. She stormed down the grassy road by herself on that cold, beautiful autumn afternoon, trying to be like her father and fight the tears in her eyes. She would take action. Yes. She would put a stake in the heart of the vampire that haunted her these past several months (an expression of her mother’s, which no longer struck her as quite so funny) and confront Brutal—break into his house, if it was necessary. If he screamed at her or hit her, then so be it. There were things that could be done. She had read about it in her books. Vampirism could be reversed. It was very difficult to do, yes, but she would help him. Would embark on the quest herself, if it was necessary, and retrieve the ingredients. She would cast a spell on him, if it were necessary, to make him succumb to her requests. 

By the time she reached Brutal’s home on that fateful day of October 12th, the tears were gone from her eyes, the growing pain in her chest had been vanquished like a ghost, and she held her head high. The optimism of the little girl she had once been, the optimism her father had fallen in love with years ago (as well as everyone she met) now radiated from her once again, and that was no magic trick. This would work. She knew it would. Brutal had had plenty of time to cool off; it was unreasonable for him to be as angry as he had been on that night she last saw him. Now they would work together towards a solution. She began to swing her arms a bit, merrily, without realizing it.

Sophia came upon the house and was shocked to see Brutal’s parents had let the house fall to shambles. Quite frankly, the place looked abandoned. The grass was overgrown along the flower patches, the flowers themselves were non-existent, the windows retained that ominous darkness from her last visit. No sounds that she could detect. She made her way up the unkempt path to the sagging porch, suddenly all eyes and perk elven ears.

One of the porch windows was broken. She looked in, couldn’t see anything, then knocked softly on the front door. No answer. She had a feeling (one of the magical psychic premonitions that occasionally came to her kind) that there was no one home. Nor would there be anyone home for a while. She also got the impression she was unwanted here, but whether the sentiment was directed at her personally or to guests in general, she did not know. She knocked again anyways. 

After a few minutes, Sophia decided she’d had enough. She thought about crawling through the window, tried the doorknob instead, and found it mysteriously unlocked. She pushed the door open—CREEEEAK!—and looked inside.

Too dark to see anything. “Abra-cadabra,” she said disinterestedly, and a small ball of light appeared on her middle finger. It cast enough light to illuminate the room with a pale glow like moonlight, and Sophia peered around, her face carefully set and expressionless. Apparently Brutal had indeed told his parents about his conversion into vampirism. Apparently they had not taken it well. Apparently there had been a fight. Sophia stepped into the house, only to step on the tail of a mouse—squeeeeak! It scurried away from her, leaving her alone in the house.

She crept into the familiar living room where she had spent a good portion of her childhood playing with a baby Brutal, the two of them playing hide-and-seek (Brutal’s game) or chess (Sophia’s). She felt the premonition from the porch disappear. She could no longer tell if she was alone or not, but instead detected something else: Something wasn’t right. She didn’t know what it was, but she had a bad feeling, like when she’d head off to school and forgot to bring a major homework assignment but didn’t realize it, only knowing vaguely that something was wrong. This feeling was sort of like that, except not. It was a darker feeling, like dread. But she wasn’t afraid here. She refused to be afraid here, and she refused to be afraid of him.


The single word seemed to bounce off the walls as it echoed through the house (since when did this house ever echo?) and she found she had to force herself to take a step forward.

She walked through the ruined room. She stepped on something. She looked down, picked it up, examined it beneath the moonlight. A picture. A portrait of Brutal’s parents on their wedding day within a wooden frame, the glass shattered as if by a single pitched stone. Sophia felt a chill go down her throat and into her guts. She set the picture down on what remained of the shelf beside her, looked forward with concern, then continued her journey.

A grandfather clock stood in the shadows, marking the time with a slow tsk-tsk-tsk. It was a very old clock, and it marked the time much more slowly. Its opinion on what time it was was way off. Sophia entered the dining room and found what she was looking for.

The dining room door opened soundlessly, as if it understood what game they were playing, and Sophia poked her head inside. The dining room was strangely neat. A coffin stood in the corner of the room, like the grandfather clock had. This was not unusual; families often kept caskets in their homes, in case a family member died abruptly, which was very common. The coffin was closed, locked tight. A note had been hammered to the lid, folded up, with little pink hearts drawn on it. Sophia approached the pine box, telling herself she wasn’t afraid, tore the letter down, read what it said.


My name is Brutal Lethem. I am not insane. I am not inside this coffin, so don’t bother opening it. This is my confession. Yes, I am a vampire. I know you are all coming to get me, I kept all of your “death threats” and put them in a box beneath my bed, so everyone can read them and know 

Half a page is scribbled out here.

---know what you said to me. I am not in this house, nor do I have any intention of returning, either to this house or to this land. Don’t try to find me. I am beginning my new “life” somewhere far away. That is all you need to know. I hereby leave my personal belongings to a dark elf named Sophia Burton, whom I consider to be my only friend. 


Sophia stared at the note in disbelief, then at the coffin. Something wasn’t right here. The note didn’t sound like Brutal at all. She looked at the note, looked at the backside, looked at the front again. Hearts. It was a forbidden sign in these parts, for it was the sign of the incubus. The bad feeling began to grow. She wondered if Brutal had cast a spell on this place or something, but that didn’t make sense. He was a vampire now, the ghost had left his body, he couldn’t perform a card trick if he wanted to... Could he?

She looked out the window and realized the grandfather clock had been right, after all—goodness, how did it get so late? The walk to this house must have taken longer than she thought. She took another look at the note and saw Brutal had added something else.

P.S. I love you, Sophia.

Sophia thought of that shattered picture frame of Brutal’s parents on their wedding day and felt another ice cube go down her throat. The feeling of dread inside her suddenly escalated into something else, consuming her, telling her she needed to get out of this house NOW, to run out the front door (if she could make it that far) and onto the road and chase that setting sun as fast as she could. She felt like she was having a nightmare. Dear gods, what was wrong with her? She almost followed the message and left the room, but then she heard the thump come from down the hall.

It came from Brutal’s room. She listened. No more thumps, but she heard something else. Papers being shuffled. A pause. More sifting. Sophia looked down the narrow hallway, brow furrowed in concern, then she slowly approached the door.

She held her ear up to the door. Nothing. Looked at the crack between door and floor. Was that a soft beam of light? She waited for an unknown length of time, and when there was no more sound, she pushed the door open.

She almost screamed. The lamp by the desk had been lit, flooding the room with cheerful light. The box with the letters Brutal had mentioned lay on his bed, open. A small figure sat on the bed with its head down, reading the letters. It slowly raised its charred head (the creature had been burnt to a crisp) and Sophia realized it was the goblin with the teeth from the other night. The inferno had not killed her—she was a vampire, after all—but it left her disfigured, and she stared up at Sophia with empty eye sockets.

“I caught you,” it said. “I tricked you, and now I can see you!”

Sophia felt like her legs were about to give out. She leaned against the wall for support. The charred thing was rushing towards her now, still holding the stack of Brutal’s hate mail in her broken hands. “I can see you!”

She took Sophia’s hands into hers, as if they were old friends. “He came back for me,” she told Sophia. “He returned that very night, found my body, and carried me home. I can never leave this house, but you better go now.

“The notes are cursed,” said the vampire. “Unfortunately for me. There’s nothing I can do anymore. Won’t you please help me?”

“You’re crazy,” said Sophia, snatching her hands away. She had not forgotten how the witch had burned her books, how she had humiliated Sophia in front of the crowd, how she had ordered Sophia to save her people. As if she were taking advantage of her kindness. As if she knew Sophia was a good person all along. “Where’s Brutal?”

“He set that damn trap for somebody, and I was the first one to fall for it. I’m so weak. Won’t you please help me?”

“What did he do to you?”

“I’m reliving my worst memories. I can’t stop thinking about them. They’re in my face. But I can see your face, now. I didn’t think I’d be able to pull myself away from those words, but I did.”

“You came here to kill him.”

“Yes, ma’am. I came here to put a stake in his heart myself, but apparently I was late to the party.”

“What happened to Brutal’s parents?” A renewed sense of terror flooded Sophia’s adrenal glands. “Tell me! Where is Mr. and Mrs. Lethem? And their infant son?”

The vampire shook her head dreamily. Sophia was losing her. She slapped the goblin who had desecrated her books, and when then that didn’t work, she slapped her again. Several of her teeth actually flew out of her mouth, two of them fangs. Now we’re even, Sophia thought, then somewhere beneath the surface of her agony: Were Brutal’s parents dead? Surely it couldn’t be so; she loved his parents as much as she loved her own parents, almost as much as she loved Brutal. 

But if anything happened to that child…

The vampire collapsed to her knees. Sophia cradled her head, gently lowering her to the floor. She heard a noise somewhere on the second floor. Another pound came from the wall on her right. She was unwelcome here. Something had decided her time was up. What the hell was wrong with this house? Sophia tried to pick up the goblin, her only connection to Brutal’s whereabouts, but she was too heavy. Sophia began to pant heavily. So this is what it feels like to be on the verge of panic, she thought.

Sophia dragged the goblin out of the room and down the hall as she heard a scream from upstairs. Another scream answered it from outside. She began to sweat profusely, losing her grip on the woman who was probably a lost cause, anyways. Sophia’s heart pounded furiously.

Out into the dining room she went, where the picture of Brutal’s parents watched them from the shelf. The grandfather clock suddenly chose this moment to give up the ghost and stop ticking. Loud noises came from upstairs, and suddenly she heard a door swing open and slam shut. She made it out the front door and dragged the lifeless body onto the porch where she still wasn’t moving, the house growling at her beneath the full moon. Sophia tripped and fell to the pavement with a yelp, then jumped back up and continued to drag the body onto the grass.

“Stay away!” shouted a voice from the upstairs window—a pale face with sunken eyes and long teeth.

“You’re not welcome here!” said another from the front door… not fifteen feet away from the two of them, but still hidden in the shadows. Sophia dropped the goblin onto the ground, not knowing she was dead, not knowing the predator in the coffin—the one that had witnessed Brutal’s defiance on Elric Fable’s Day—now emerged from the house to descend upon her at last. “Wake up!” said Sophia. “Wake up, wake up! WAKE UP!”




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