PT 3: Abandonment
Cabal glanced at the ceiling over his head, hearing the wind rattle the ancient frames of the church around him. While the sound of the storm had pulled him away from his reading, he was grateful for the distraction. What Lilith had written – what he could imagine of her treatment and reactions were angering.
How could the church not know what she was? When did all this take place that vampires and dhampirs weren’t common knowledge?
The only plausible thing that came to mind was this occurred shortly after vampiresella was introduced into the world. The virus decimated vampire numbers. Early on, the vampires who survived the humans’ biological weapon didn’t realize it had also revived the race’s ability to procreate, and not just with their own kind.
It could very well be that Lilith was born in that initial flux and her human mother would have no clue. Whatever vampire had seduced her surely wouldn’t have given himself away for what he was.
The other information that was like acid in the back of his throat was Lilith herself. The idea that the church had convinced Lilith that her very existence was sinful galled him. The poor thing was ill prepared for fighting off her hungers, for throwing even a modicum of control over her instincts.
Cabal was lucky in that regard, growing up with his vampire parent had given him support and training on how to recognize his need, how to control when to feed. He fully understood what he was from the moment he could string two words together.
This poor girl had none of that. Lilith had no one to guide her, no one to explain why she craved blood every so often, and no one to teach her how to control herself until appropriate to feed. Her father had done her a huge disservice in that regard.
The church used that against her – falling back to unfounded superstition to explain what they couldn’t understand. Yet they used their little “devil-spawn” for their own gains.
“Makes me sad to be counted among the ‘righteous’,” Cabal muttered, stroking the cross laying in cold repose atop his shirt. He turned to the mummified body. “Try not to judge us all by these men, Lilith. Every organization has their share of misguided souls.”
With a sigh, Cabal went back to reading Lilith’s account of her life.
“The priest has died. The Lord has taken him into his keeping. The deacon, from how frail he has become, won’t be far behind. While he should have stepped into the vacated spot the priest left behind, he has recognized his is no longer capable of heading the service.”
“The boys have become men in their own right, and a new generation has moved up to take charge of the affairs of the church.”
“What do you make of it?”
The two men stood across the room staring at her. They were whispering, but had yet to figure out that she was very capable of understanding what they were saying. Something about her dismayed the two men who now headed the church.
“She hasn’t aged a day,” the deacon uttered, shaking his head incredulously. “Lilith looks exactly the same as when I was a boy.”
“I know! The previous generations report the same thing,” The priest answered, sounding scared. “The devil has rooted in her flesh so thoroughly it has preserved her.”
A chill went through Lilith at the words. She wanted to shout at them that it wasn’t true. But that would give away the secret of her ability to hear them. It would probably give them another reason to “purify” her, because only a creature conjured by the devil would have the ability to hear what was being whispered across the room. Or so they would believe.
While she had grown accustomed to the purifications for her continued inability to stop craving blood, she didn’t wish extra sessions on herself.
After long moments of the discussion about her unchanged appearance, both men walked up the stairs to the main floor.
Lilith raised her shackled hand, examining it closely for the first time that she could think of. Pale, smooth skin backed her hands, ran up her arms. The appearance of them was only marred by the scars peeking out from under the welded shackles trapping her wrist. Lifting her hands, she traced her features. She could only imagine what she looked like – never having been afforded the vanity of a mirror in her life. Her skin was pale, her hair was brown. She was thin. These were things she knew only because she could see them.
Her face – she only had the power of her touch to determine a ghost of what her appearance was. She knew neither the shade of her eyes, nor if she was freckled like she saw on many of the men who came through here during their daily duties.
Lilith’s fingers reported smooth skin on an egg shaped face, high, soft cheekbones, subtle flat brows. Her lashes were long and soft to the touch, and when she narrowed her eyes they meshed together to veil her sight. Her ears were small and rounded – her nose also small and somewhat pointed. Many times she wished for one small peek at her looks.
Many hours later the deacon returned to the basement with her meal.
“Good evening, Lilith.”
“Good evening, Adam. Congratulations on your appointment to deacon.” She lifted her eyes as he settled within arms-length of her hearth.
“Thank you, Lilith.” In an unusual show of kindness, the deacon held out Lilith’s plate.
She stared at the offering and then allowed her eyes to flit up to the deacon’s face. Tilting her head in confusion, she slowly reached for the meal. There were several hesitant pauses, as if there was some trick being played – one where she was the punch line.
When her fingers brushed the plate and the deacon hadn’t revoked the offer, she slowly closed her hand around the edge and drew it closer. She didn’t begin eating immediately.
He smiled at her briefly and then sighed. “How long have you been here Lilith?”
She paused halfway to bringing her bread to her lips. The morsel settled back on the plate as she regarded the man. “I do not know the reckoning of my time here, Ada…I mean, deacon. I have been here almost as long as I can remember – which is in no way an accurate counting of years. You are the fourth deacon I have known in my time here.”
He regarded her for a long time, before his eyes lost focus and he began verbally calculating. “Hmmm, I started as a Choir Boy at ten. You were already an adult by then. That was forty years ago.”
Lilith blinked, forgetting her hunger as the intrigue in this information sank in. He sat there studying her. Thoughts seemed to bleed into and then fade from his head as his expression continued to subtly shift.
“I don’t believe what they say about you, Lilith.”
Lilith blinked heavily, flabbergasted by his admission. “You do not think me possessed of the devil, eternally preserved to be his vessel here on Earth?”
“If that were the case, Lilith, I don’t think those chains would hold you. Lucifer would not possess a vessel that would be so limited.”
“Blasphemy…” she whispered, leaning away from the man. “Priest Armando would strip you of title if he knew.”
The deacon smiled. “Yes, I know this. Which is why no one else but you has been told these heretical thoughts.”
“Why?” Lilith shook her head. “And what do you think I am then if not of the devil?”
“There have been rumors,” Deacon Adam leaned closer, “rumors of creatures who possess the outward appearance of humans – but who are vastly different – more deadly and animalistic. These creatures crave blood as their sustenance.”
He watched her intently even as she reeled back.
“They were once thought to be legends – myths. I’ve seen proof of their existence recently and am less likely to discount them.”
“What are they?”
“Vampires.” Fear came into the deacon’s eyes.
Lilith began negating that claim, even when she had never heard of these creatures before. “My mother was human…a member of the town, Adam. I cannot be one of these creatures of which you speak.”
“But according to reports, your birth was the result of a one night stand. Your mother had never met your father before – he wasn’t around after that night, either. It is very possible that he was a roaming vampire who took a fancy to your mother – who seduced her.”
Lilith’s throat got tight.
“I believe your desire for blood is a genetic drive written in your DNA by your father’s influence, Lilith. While it isn’t natural by human standards, it IS by vampire standards.”
Lilith completely forgot protocol of her visitor’s station. “What are you trying to say, Adam.”
“Were it up to me, Lilith, I would free you from these bonds. You have been unfairly punished for something you have no control over.” Adam frowned. “After subtle inquiry I can tell you that Armando won’t agree with me. So I cannot act at this time. However, I am charged with your welfare as Deacon.” He handed her the ornate leather mask. “Hide or destroy this as you desire. You need never fear retribution from me when your hunger comes. Catch as many rats as your hunger dictates. I will make sure that the evidence never comes to Priest Armando’s attention.”
Lilith could feel how wide her eyes had gotten. “No more punishments?”
“Not if I can help it Lilith. You – we all – are God’s creatures. No one punishes the lion for hunting down the zebra.” He smiled at her, and a warmth she never felt before broke through the constant chill in her thin frame. “I promise you, when I become priest – this bondage will end permanently. You will be free to go – or to stay as your heart desires. I have no fear that you will prey on me or this town.”
“Thank you Adam.” She took his hand in hers. “You have always been so kind to me.”
“You’re welcome.” He began to rise, but not before squeezing her hand gently. “Remember, no one else can be told what I’ve confided. They may stop me if they know what I intend.”
“They will not hear it from me.”
Adam was as good as his word, so far as turning the other cheek when she fed on the descendants of that first jack and jenny. She would hide the carcasses, as she always did, in the pile of refuse of her day to day living. The deacon would merely scrape the pile more tightly together and then dispose of the evidence. Nary a word did he speak about the larger than normal pile of refuse.
He was kinder to her than any previous generation of clergy in the church, and would even take the time to chat with her and share in her readings of Bible passages.
Hope grew in her as the decade passed, as it came closer to Adam’s ascension to the level of priest. She could see and feel how Priest Armando was beginning to fail, how sickly he was becoming. It would not be long before he handed the mantle over to her friend.
With all the evidence in Adam’s actions she held a higher hope still that he would follow through on his promise to free her of the only life she could ever remember living.
Lilith wondered as she curled up in the depression of the hearth what freedom would feel like. She had never known such things, and was unsure what she would do with herself once these shackles had been cut from her limbs.
She considered that she might try to stay here with the church – to continue to help them reinforce the word of God. That would be a purpose she was familiar with.
Lilith must have fallen asleep. For the loud rumble awoke her from it with a start. She could hear the shuffling of many feet above as well as shouts of dismay. Soon they were drowned out as the rumble grew louder and louder until the very ceiling above her head and the floor below her feet shook and trembled and rattled. Dust filtered through cracks from above, stones worked their way out of the ancient walls to tumble in small piles to the floor. Lilith backed as far as her chains would allow in an effort to gain protection from the incessant motion and roaring sound. She thought she heard glass breaking, and a shrieking wind tearing through the openings above. It was steadily getting hotter in her room, and normally she would welcome the heat – now however it was as ominous and foreboding as the rest of the madness tearing through her world.
Unconsciously, Lilith had begun praying, her lips moving with the words of her prayer even when her throat was too frozen with fear to push sound past her vocal chords. She remained at the end of her tethers, tense and scared and praying while the thunderous sound peaked and then slowly died away.
Even when the eerie silence on the other end of that cacophony settled in, Lilith remained in that tense and uncomfortable position. Her breath was coming in heaving gasps, her eye darting wildly about the area, while her heart made extra effort to escape her chest.
Slowly – reluctantly – Lilith made herself relax. She scooted more towards her hollow, trying to get her breathing and heart to calm down long enough to pick up external sounds.
Beyond a continuing wind sneaking in through an open window, she could hear no sounds. Shaking her head and denying such lifelessness, Lilith strained harder trying to trick some sound into her addled senses.
No footfalls – no groaning, crying, or whining. No frightened chatter from the men who lived and worked in this place of worship.
“Hello?” she called. A bold move to be sure, when most of the time she was trying to avoid garnering the men’s attentions. She paused, holding her breath even and trying to discern a response to her query. “Hello? Deacon? Priest Armando? Anyone?”
Each question was met with silence.
“Can anyone hear me?”
Cabal found it hard to breathe – pain laced through his chest – tears burned his eyes. He was unable to help recalling his own blind flight from the nuclear bombs – knew exactly how the girl felt about the world turning upside down.
He at least had a choice of flight.
Lilith hadn’t had that luxury.
Cabal made himself calm down – tried to remain objective as he continued to read through the last few entries in the book. It was very difficult to do knowing what the dhampir’s final fate was.
“I am alone. The congregation has stopped coming. I have heard no other soul in the church for a long time. I am afraid whatever that thunderous noise and violent shaking was has claimed them.
“Similarly, no more creatures are around to be summoned – they have either died from what happened above or have already sacrificed their lives to sustain me. I am frightfully hungry with no way to satiate my need. I have tried to free myself from this prison, but as always the bonds are too tight, too secure for me to worm my hands out of them. My strength is nothing against their might – even when I was stronger. Now I am weak, growing more frail as the weeks go on. Something is terribly wrong, my hair has begun to fall out…sores now dot my skin. I cannot go on like this.”
Cabal had known his share of hunger, but never like Lilith was describing. He had never been in the situation where there were no prospects at all. Granted some of the prospects were dicey, but there had at least been a way to fill the need. How cruel a fate would it be to starve to death?
The last entry was written so sloppily Cabal had a hard time deciphering Lilith’s words.
“I am so weak. I cannot tell if it is hunger, or this dread sickness that has befallen me. A snake managed to find me…and I consumed it whole – only to be violently ill moments later. My hair continues to fall out – I cannot stay warm – and the hearth has gotten so cold of late.
“Ash has sifted down from above. I have gathered as much of it as I can together and used it to repack the mask – I hope that it will be an acceptable stand in for the ash of the martyr. I purify myself one last time, in the hopes that God will forgive me this sinful life.”
Cabal drew a shaky breath, still flipping through pages in the hopes of finding further entries. Nothing more was written. Dropping the book, Cabal peered over at the huddled form.
“What a waste,” Cabal uttered. He moved closer to the desiccated remains. “When the weather lifts, I’m finding you a more suitable resting place. You don’t deserve to remain here.”
Cabal remained for another day and a half, even when the storm passed. He had strayed around the church grounds until he found the skeletons of a cemetery. Unfortunately the ground was frozen solid, and he was forced to wait for the warmer weather to soften it some. By the end of the second day, he had dug Lilith’s grave, burying her with her bible, all the while saying a prayer over her remains.
He marked her gravestone with a simply constructed cross, finding an ashy remnant of the occupations fire, he wrote across the horizontal piece: “Lilith – circa 2143 – 2403”
He crossed himself, nodded at the grave site and headed back for his Mandalay.
“Rest in Peace, Lilith. It’s long overdue.”