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Authors: K. J. Wignall

Blood

BOOK: Blood
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EGMONT

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First published in the United Kingdom by Egmont UK Ltd, 2011

First published in the United States of America by Egmont USA, 2011

443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

New York, NY 10016

Copyright © K. J. Wignall, 2011

All rights reserved

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

www.egmontusa.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wignall, Kevin.

Blood / K.J. Wignall.

p. cm.—(Mercian trilogy ; bk. 1)

Summary: A centuries-old vampire wakes up in the modern day to find he is being hunted by an unknown enemy, and begins to uncover the secrets of his origin and the path of his destiny.

ISBN 978-1-60684-220-1 (hardcover)

ISBN 978-1-60684-258-4 (electronic book)

[1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Good and evil—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.W63939Bl 2011

[Fic]—dc22

2011005899

Printed in the United States of America

Book design by Arlene Schleifer Goldberg

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

1

We burned the witches in 1256. It was the last time I really enjoyed a fire—not because of the witches, you understand, even though I was for burning them at the time—just for the pleasure of flames dancing in the night sky and filling the land with their orange glow.

I've never looked at fire in the same way since that night, nor witches for that matter, or anybody else who's
apart
. Perhaps apart is the wrong word, for I was apart even then, in that I was above the people and below God and the King, born into greatness.

Had I not fallen sick, I would have become … But there is no use in talking about what I would have become because I did fall sick and my younger half-brother wrongfully inherited the Earldom, and now he and all his noble line across hundreds of years are long since reduced to dust, the line itself extinct.

Apart is definitely the wrong word—what I understand is the outcast, for that is surely what happened to me when the sickness struck. I was cast out. I was removed from the comfort of my family and friends, from my home, sentenced to a lifetime of darkness, existing between worlds.

If we had not returned from Marland Abbey where we had been in the days previously, my fate might have been avoided. But of course we did return, to see justice done, for the Earl to be seen to deliver his people from their suffering. We returned because that night was ours, our triumph over witchcraft and evil.

I do not remember being bitten. I wish I did, for then I would know the face of the creature who did this to me, and I would have a purpose, to track him down and repay him for the poisoned gift he gave me. But as much as I have tried, the memory of the attack has never returned and I have remained taunted by his absence.

Nor do I remember anything of what happened in the days following my infection, but the years have at least allowed me to piece together some fragment of those events, of the fear and panic that surely reigned in our household at that time.

They thought I was dead, that much is certain, cursed by some devilry. Perhaps they even blamed the witches who were still being reduced to tallow even as my body was found. Whatever fear possessed them, I was probably interred in haste in the crypt, but did not rest, and in the days or weeks following, I was placed in a casket and buried beneath the city walls.

And I was at peace there. The casket rotted around me, but my body remained unchanged. If my father at the end of his life, or my brother at the end of his, had troubled themselves to dig in that withered spot, they would have found my skin unblemished, my flesh untouched by time or worms.

In the year of 1256, the year of my sickness, I was sixteen years old, not as young in that time as it is now. I was tall, too, enough that I was already being called Will Longshanks.

I'm tall even now for my age. I say “my age” because, for all the passing of nearly eight hundred years, I am still sixteen in my person, just as I will be sixteen when you who read this are old, then dead, then forgotten.

2

The more that's known about the world, the more people seem determined to search for what is lost or hidden. There are archaeologists, treasure hunters, and ghost hunters—the legions of the curious—searching for secrets and the places that hold them. They ignore the possibility that some secrets are best kept, some places better left untouched—this bare room, for example, with its one ancient artifact.

It was an open stone casket, buried up to the lip in compacted soil and filled with looser earth. An archaeologist, stumbling upon it, would first have excavated around its sides to reveal the intricate carvings with which it had been adorned. From this they'd have dated it and come to the conclusion that it had belonged to someone of high birth.

The same archaeologist, excited now and ignoring obvious questions—such as why this casket was buried so close to the surface in a hidden chamber deep beneath the city walls—would carefully begin to remove the looser earth, hoping to find the body of the nobleman who'd been interred there.

Regrettably, such an archaeologist wouldn't live to tell the tale because the “nobleman” inside was not dead, but merely at rest.

In the darkness now, the soil inside the casket began to stir and, a moment later, a figure emerged as gracefully as someone might surface from the water in a bath, his face appearing first, then his upper body and arms. He placed his hands on the sides of the casket, as he had done many times over the previous eight centuries, and pushed himself clear of the earth, stepping out on to the firm surface of the chamber floor.

He stood for a second and felt the inside of his right forearm, instinctively searching for wounds that he knew had long disappeared. As he did this, he breathed in deeply through his nose, his acute sense of smell dissecting the air for any sign of life. His senses confirmed what he also already knew, that he was alone there, and he relaxed and walked along the short passageway to the neighboring chamber.

He lit candles, preparing his eyes for the violent lights he knew he'd encounter in the world above. But even the dusty yellow flames seemed to burn his retinas, and he closed his eyelids against the stinging glare, opening them little by little until his vision adjusted.

So there he stood, naked and white-skinned, a boy of sixteen, but looking a little older, already tall and muscled. His hair, still disheveled and dirty from the soil, was dark and wild and long enough to reach his shoulders. His fingernails and toenails were long, too, as if they'd kept growing, albeit slowly, during his hibernation.

His name was Will, short for William, though he couldn't easily remember the last time anyone had called him by that or any other name. Nor had he ever been addressed by his true title, for by rights, since his father's death in the winter of 1263, the boy standing in the dulled candlelight had been, and always would be, William, Earl of Mercia.

As soon as his eyes had adjusted, he picked up one of the candlesticks and carried it through into a third chamber, not because he needed it to see the way, but because he didn't want to be reacquainted with the smarting pain of light every time he came back into the room. To be in the light was always a discomfort, but he was used to it now and so it was better to stay that way.

The third chamber was the least like a room. For the most part, it was a natural cave into which an opening had been made. On the far side, an underground spring trickled into a small pool, the water flowing away from there through a small crevice into some deeper channel.

Will settled the candlestick and stepped down into the pool. The water was winter cold, but its temperature hardly registered with him—it was water, nothing more, a liquid for washing away the dust that clung to his skin and hair. It took him only a few minutes and then he stepped out.

He picked up the candlestick and walked a fading trail of wet footprints back into the main chamber. He opened the chests on the far side of the room and stared at them, almost as if reminding himself of the contents. Yet, despite the years he'd lain dormant, it was all as familiar to him as after a day's rest.

If he'd been pale before bathing, his skin was now bordering on translucent. Rather than dry himself, he took scissors and cut the nails on his fingers and toes. He trimmed a small amount from his hair, too, leaving it long.

Finally, he took a cloth and dried the remaining water from his skin. Then, almost as an afterthought, he reached into one of the chests and drew out a looking glass. He held it up and studied his own reflection.

Over the last two centuries, since stories about people like him had become popular, he'd read on many occasions that he would produce no reflection in a mirror. Perhaps others would see nothing of his reflection, but he'd never failed to see himself and, like so many of the myths that surrounded his kind, it amused him that people were so far from knowing the truth of his condition.

His features were fine, befitting a nobleman, his eyes were green, his skin soft and smooth. Though he was adult for his age in other regards, he'd produced not even the beginnings of a beard at the time of his sickness. It had troubled him for the first hundred years or more, showing him up for the youth he was, but he'd long since come to appreciate the convenience of not having to deal with shaving.

But Will wasn't staring into the glass to admire his own face. He opened his mouth, revealing the long canines that had once again grown into fangs, the lower set smaller, the uppers long enough to puncture flesh.

He looked at them and felt a mild frustration that they had returned during the years he'd been at rest. As was often the case with corpses he'd seen unearthed, it was his hair and nails and teeth that continued to grow while the rest of him was frozen in time.

He took a file and carefully set to work on the four pronounced fangs, grinding them back down to something that resembled those of normal people. The file made a metallic grating sound against the enamel of his teeth, and the action vibrated through him and filled his mouth with powdery debris, but he felt no pain.

When he'd finished, he dropped the file back into the chest, went to the pool, and washed the bone dust from his mouth. He dressed then, black boots and trousers, a black shirt, a long black coat—he had no way of knowing if it would look appropriate, but it had been plain enough for him to blend in from 1813 onwards and he had to assume it would still suffice. He took a handful of items from another chest and placed them in the pockets of his coat, and at last he was ready.

It had taken him the best part of an hour, not bad considering the sleep from which he'd recently woken, but he was becoming impatient. He could sense that night had fallen in the city far above, and he knew that before he did anything else, he needed to feed. It was unfortunate that it always had to start like this, that someone had to die for the benefit of his well-being, but that was the nature of his sickness. He needed blood.

BOOK: Blood
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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