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Golden lights danced before my eyes, bending around the smoke spilling over my lips. Embers flew off in the breeze as I flicked my cigarette one last time before letting the unburned butt plunge.
Beneath my feet, Rome was glittering the same as it does in my oldest memory. The ancient stone of the Colosseum held firm as the day it was built under my weight. The same wild winds licked my face and played with my hair while the same noise tickled my ears. The city’s beauty whisked my spirit away as it entranced my mind without the slightest resistance on my part. I became so tangled in the city’s spell that hours could have went by and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Minutes later though, my back pocket began to vibrate, interrupting my reveling. I slid the Blackberry out of my jeans and lowered my eyes. I squinted at the overly bright screen, it stinging my eyes in the night. Reading the message, I sighed and blew out the last cloud of fumes I had been holding in my lungs.
Placing my phone back in my pocket, I proceeded to walk off the ledge without hesitation. With the ground rushing towards me, my legs bent and I landed with perfect poise. I nonchalantly crossed the street, getting into the black convertible Maserati I had parked there no more than ten minutes prior.
My short chocolate hair and glistening grey eyes filled the rearview mirror for a moment until I adjusted it. With the injection of the key, the engine sparked to life. I sped into the street without warning, horns blaring behind me.
With the tires squealing at every turn and the engine purring like a lion, I saw the infuriated glares of the drivers I recklessly weaved between. If they only knew what I could do on two legs, they would thank God I was in the car.
After almost causing several more accidents, I pulled off from the main road and into a side street, stopping next to a park. I yanked the key from its place with a sharp turn of the ignition and hopped right over the door of my car.
I raced through the park in complete silence, my legs carrying me faster than my car’s wheels could ever hope to. Dark silhouettes raced across my sight, my carefully calculated movements allowing me to maneuver past each with ease.
By the time I counted to three, I ground my feet to a halt, ripping up the grass beneath my converse. The scent of mortal and immortal blood wrapped around my nose as I heard a panicked shout to my right. Just as I turned, a young boy rushed out of the bushes and tripped.
My eyes peered through the darkness of the night as if it were daylight and examined him carefully. He couldn’t have been older than mid-teens and his clothes and flesh were equally torn as if by a thousands thorns. Dirt and sweat were combed into his hair and trickles of blood were smeared against his skin.
“You can’t run forever,” a cold voice said from the shadow of the trees the boy had run from.
My ears twitched at the voice and I cracked a pearly smile. I let a ghostly chuckle loose. My ethereal voice hung in the air, bouncing between the trees like a demon’s in a nightmare.
The foreign voice soon took form from the darkness with four light thuds. On the final step, the park’s lamps revealed the murderous young face to my eyes. Listless blue eyes hidden behind a mane of golden hair scrutinized my face, then my body.
As he stood tall, slender lines of light flashed around him at random intervals, like a spider’s web catching the moonlight; all of which stemmed from between the fingers of his balled fists. The black fabric of his collared shirt lay tight against his slender torso while fitted ripped jeans hung low on his waist.
Noticing how my presence seemed to stop his assailant, the boy scurried along the ground and hid behind me.
“Julius Caesar,” the man smiled. Another small burst of lights shot around him as he bowed. I lifted an eyebrow in mild confusion at his instant recognition of my face, despite never having met before this moment.
“All the ancients possess skin white as marble, but only the great Gaius Julius Caesar bears infamous silver eyes as yours.”
“Father Alessandro, I presume?” My guess seemed right as he smirked.
“My reputation precedes me I see? Though no immortal that I’ve met knows my face and lived to tell the world.”
“Father Alessandro Sfroza, the only of the Vatican’s hunters to wield the Crown of Thorns—long carbon fibers near invisible to the eye except for the occasional glare. Each strong enough to slice clean through steel with enough speed, yet so light that they can float in midair. You’re one of only two men I know in existence who practice the art with prowess. ”
Alessandro exhaled heavily and widened his smirk, crossing his hands.
“Being stabbed 23 times may not have been enough, but this will be.”
With a single motion of his hand, the carbon fibers hovering around him twanged and shot forward. I quickly grabbed the collar of the boy behind me and dashed away with blinding speed. To mortal eyes, our bodies simply vanished in a veil of shimmering air.
The tree just behind where I had been standing snapped clean in half a split second after my departure. Alessandro looked back and forth, trying to find us just moments after he missed. After landing on a thick branch in a nearby Olive tree, I ran my hand over my burning cheek. When I pulled it back, blood was smudged across my fingertips.
“Stay here and be quiet,” I almost inaudibly whispered to the boy with near incomprehensible speed.
Before he could part his lips to either respond or object, I nimbly leapt out of the tree, passing from branch to branch in complete stealth.
“Either you’re not bad, or I’m becoming less spry in my old age,” my voice eerily echoed as I began to circle the priest along the treetops.
“You look good for your age—especially since you were murdered in your fifties.”
“Repeat something enough times and get enough people to repeat it and history will record it as a fact,” I replied. “I mean, how would it have looked in textbooks, Rome being ruled by a teenager. That’s why they tacked on some 25 years to my name. Shave them off and things will make more sense.”
“Oh, I’ll shave off more than years!”
The tree beneath my feet gave way as it collapsed into an explosion of splinters. But despite the trap, I evaded the whooshing fibers with utter grace that angels would be jealous of. The shadows wrapped around my body as I moved, completely hiding me from my hope-to-be-assassin’s eyes.
“Tell me Alessandro, why would the Vatican send one of their top hunters after a newborn? I don’t understand the logic in using a bazooka to swat a fly.”
He laughed at my analogy and coyly responded, “I wasn’t sent after the boy. He crossed my path by chance, so I decided to have some fun. You’re nephew must have been near when I began my chase, since I doubt you being here at this very time and place is a coincidence.”
“True, but I don’t understand why you’d waste your time.”
“Demons don’t belong in this world,” he yelled into the night in every direction since he had no idea where I was.
“Would you kill a lion for slaughtering a lamb?” I asked in midair. “The answer is you wouldn’t, and my kind are no different. Lions have ten times the strength of a man, same as us. Lions have fangs, same as us. Lions can see in the dark, same as us. Lions can run down a man, same as us. Yet, why does the lion deserve the right to live if we do not?!”
“Because you are unnatural!”
I dropped to the ground and put myself before the priest. I lifted him clear off the ground by his neck before his feeble mind had time to realize it.
“What is it about me that is unnatural?!” I growled, my fangs blatantly extended for the world to see. “The fact that I eat when I’m hungry? The fact that I crave air when I’m choking? Or is it the fact that my heart aches when it’s been broken that makes me so unnatural to you?!”
“You just don’t understand.”
“Then make me understand it!” I roared.
Before I got the response I wanted, I loosened my grasp and let gravity take him in order to elude the slicing wires coming for my neck. I left the sanctuary of the shadows once out of his range, now back in the place where I had originally made eye contact with the priest. I stood with patience, letting the fresh air calm my body and bring my control back.
While I carefully concocted my next move, I peered into his eyes as he lay on the ground, trying to decipher his thoughts and predict his next course of action. The contours of his face remained still as a mannequin’s as his eyes reflected my own glowing grey eyes. But as I looked at him, his glare shifted upward.
I followed his gaze and watched the stars in the sky beginning to fade as the moon crept towards the horizon and its sister prepared to enter the sky.
“That is what makes you unnatural. No man fears the day,” Alessandro acidly declared. I held my tongue and kept my temper in check, trying to avoid another life threatening outburst.
“I have a proposition. If you walk away, I’ll turn my back and everyone gets to go home with their heads. If you don’t, you’ll fall before me without me ever taking a step.”
Alessandro picked himself up, narrowed his eyes, and chose his fate by snapping the Crown of Thorns like the reigns of a wild horse. I watched the light glare off each fiber as they approached, prepared to kill me like Christ’s crown had killed him.
I closed my eyes with a sigh before hastily pulling the three diamond studs from my left ear and placing them between my fingers in a fraction of a second. I waved my hand in a circle, seemingly grabbing at nothing. As I did, the fibers tangled around my hand and went tight, eager to slice my hand to pieces. But the moment the chords met the hard diamond, they twisted around my hand and fell into my control. With a single tug, the fibers ripped open Alessandro’s palms, nearly taking his fingers off.
“It’s nature for two predators to slash at each other’s throats until only one remains,” I told the priest as he fell to his knees in pain. I extended my arm in a sharp motion, the invisible wires’ twang echoing.
Blood burst out of Alessandro’s sides as he cried out in pain.
“Remember when I said you were one of two men in existence who could wield the Crown of Thorns? Well I’m the other man.”
Tears of blood began to run down his arms as I pulled tighter on the filaments binding his arms against his sides. I slowly walked closer as I began to address him.
“Did you honestly think I was bluffing? Or were you so full of yourself that you thought you could singlehandedly defeat one of the greatest generals of all time?”
“Go ahead. Kill me. After all, I’m just another human. Nothing to a great vampire such as yourself.”
“Men are so quick to believe what they wish to be true.”
“Let me kill him!”
I jerked my head to the right at the call. The boy from earlier was charging at us with immortal speed like a bull blinded by rage. The moment he got close enough, I struck him in the chest with my forearm. As if running into a steel girder, he fell to the ground.
He had a feral fire burning in his eyes and beastly fangs hanging from his jaws.
“If you kill him, I will kill you,” I scolded.
I loosened my hold on the filaments and let them drift up and away into the ether. I bent down before Alessandro and looked right into his glassy gaze.
“You’re going to walk away from this, Father. Something a lion following nature’s law would never let you do.”
“Why?” he hissed.
“I may be war’s greatest player, but I am more than intent on staying off its board. I will not kill for the sake of killing as you would. Because no matter what the Vatican tells you, God only forgives those who truly seek forgiveness for their sins. And if I were to kill you right now, I would never be forgiven for it, because I would never be sorry for it. I won’t become the beast the rest of the world so very much wants me to be. After all, a man is judged by the actions he takes, not the body he carries them out with.”
I stood in silence and turned to the boy.
“The less attention you draw to yourself, the less attention the Vatican will give you. And keep your conscious as clean as possible, because it is going to stay with you until the day you die, that I promise you.”
After giving my two cents, I slowly began to walk away. I one by one put the diamonds back in my ear before pulling my Blackberry out again. My thumb flew across the keypad before I put the ringing phone to my ear.
“Octavian—I dealt with it. Alright. Ciao.”
I put my phone away right as I got to my car and slid into the seat.
Before me, dawn was beginning to lift herself into the night from behind the Seven Hills. Ray by ray she struggled into the sky. The sunlight began to reflect off the silver of my lighter as I held it up to ignite another cigarette and blew out a sinuous cloud of poison.
The boy stumbled out of the park and ran up to the side of my car.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”
He nodded and hesitantly took a step back, like he didn’t know what to do now.
I sighed before reluctantly saying, “Hop in.”
Before I even finished my sentence, he was sitting next to me with his seatbelt buckled, a big smile stretched across his youthful face. “My name’s Valen.”
I rolled my eyes at his enthusiasm before letting my foot became as heavy as lead on the accelerator, racing against dawn before she claimed the last shred of my domain.
Raleigh, North Carolina
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