He awoke as he had many nights before, in darkness. But he knew the enemy was gone.
It always seemed to return, ensnaring the world with a brilliant and terrifying glow. Brilliant, because it was beautiful. Something within his chest fluttered at the sight of it. But terrifying- terrifying because it's warmth was but the precursor to unbearable pain.
The sky turned purple. The world turned gold. But his skin blackened and burned.
Anthony recoiled from the memory and opened his eyes, but the darkness persisted. The smell of damp earth filled his nostrils as he flared them, tipping back his head. There was no reaction from him as loose soil fell from the darkness and rolled down his cheek.
It would have seemed a shallow grave, were someone to ever discover him. He, a very dead- albeit surprisingly fresh corpse. At least until he burst into flames. That is, until the enemy turned its gaze elsewhere. Then and only then would he become animate. As he was now.
The ground underneath the neonate shifted, and like he was suddenly bathed in ice water the Kindred snapped alert, willing himself to rise for the surface--
--only to plummet downwards, landing in a heap of dirt and worms. He cursed, or at least he tried too, only to end up snarling as he rolled out of the dirtpile and twisted his body into a low crouch. His eyes widened against the darkness and started to burn as it peeled away, revealing a lithe silhouette stood before him.
"Hell, you were right." the foul smelling creature- a man, he guessed- rasped hoarsely. They were a short, thin and ragged figure with a long hood thrown over their head, effectively hiding their face. The edge of the hood ended at their nose, leaving their mouth visible. It curled into a hideous smile, exposing jagged and uneven yellow teeth set into rotting gums. The beings upper lip was split almost completely down the middle, but if it was a wound it was ancient, healed and hardened long ago.
Anthony stared at the ...thing, his eyes boring into what he could see of their face, he felt the familiar burning behind his eyes as he attempted to force his will onto them.
The thin robed being shuddered..and laughed. And laughed, and laughed, and laughed. It was far from pleasant, like sandpaper grinding against sandpaper. Something wet rattled against the walls of their throat until finally the being attempted to calm themselves down. A dirty hand flew to their mouth so they could bite the edge of their knuckle, but they continued to giggle, shoulders trembling so hard Anthony thought the thin creature might shake its own bones loose.
"Wow baby! That's real scary. But why don'tcha just calm down? Some other Kindred might not find a neonate like yourself trying to use your powers on them so God damned cute." Anthony was sure of it now. It was a man, though the low rasping voice made it very hard to tell. The robe made it even harder.
What was left of the robed creature's lower lip puckered, and Anthony winced as the skin strained, and cracked. Splitting open from the outside to the inside.
Instinctively, Anthony flared his nostrils --but the smell that wafted from the other man made him recoil with a violent retch. The robed creature was foul, like heaps of hot garbage and shit dropped into a sulphur pit.
The reaction had the hooded being doubling over to laugh all over again before waving a dirty and claw tipped fingers in Anthony's general direction. "S-st-stop ahah- s-stop!" He growled through the laughter.
Frowning, Anthony found his burning ache for blood momentarily forgotten, almost crushed by a wave of nausea that made him nearly topple backwards. Once it passed, he slowly straightened to stand, eyeing the other warily.
The robed creature cocked his head, then he reached his dirty hand towards his the edge of the hood obscuring his face and slipped his claws beneath to peel the seemingly moist material away from his head.
Anthony felt his brows pulling together as he studied the thin, foul smelling creature's features. His head was tall and skinny, but caved almost completely in on the right side. Long, misshapen bat like ears protruded on either side of his face, riddled with holes and notches that made Anthony think something- or numerous something's- was eating away at the creature's flesh.
Clumps of dirty red hair clung desperately to the creature's disfigured skull, which the thin creature patted with his dirty hand upon seeing Anthony's attention on it.
A moment of tense silence passed between the two beings, one, knowing far more than he let on; the other not even know what he was. And it was Anthony, the latter of the two who broke the silence, although it was some effort for him to summon the will to speak, and the words felt strange as they tumbled from his mouth.
Before Anthony could finish the sentence, the dirty robed creature narrowed his bulbous eyes. All traces of humor gone from his ragged form in an instant. He straightened, and although he didn't actually get any taller Anthony swore the creature seemed to suddenly fill the entire tunnel with his presence alone.
Instinctively, Anthony felt the familiar pain of the fangs hidden within his gums sliding free, elongating far enough to completely dwarf his canine teeth.
"I, Little Bird, am Kindred. Just like you. Just like the owner of these very tunnels and the Domain which you've been, I suspect, unknowingly causing one hell of a bloody mess in." The thin creature spread his gnarled claws out by his sides and his lips twisted into a horrible mockery of a smile.
Anthony stared at the creature in utter confusion, and the hideous smile on his equally hideous face faltered.
"Oh don't worry, I don't mean exactly like you. You won't have the pleasure of growing sexier and sexier, one slow and incredibly painful disease at a time like yours truly." The creature swept low to perform a dramatic bow, one that might have been worthy of a theatre star.
"..Still," the creature rasped softly, straightening so that his large, inhuman eyes were fixed on Anthony's face. They narrowed into thin slits, through which only a terrible blackness seeped. "we are, all of us, cursed. So the old stories would have us believe..." Suddenly the creature came closer, so close that all Anthony could smell was the distinct scent of rot permeating the air around the smaller male.
He tried not to breathe, gazing down at the creature. So close now, the only thing Anthony could think to do was bare his still exposed fangs and unleash a deep growl from the very depths of his throat. The whole tunnel seemed to vibrate as a result.
But the creature just tipped his head to one side and bobbed his ugly head expectantly. "Yeup. Judging by the way I found you all nestled into the Earth like that and your continued attempts to try and intimidate me even though it isn't working leads me to believe..! Drum roll please!" The creature carried on speaking without even pausing to take a breath. "You're probably a Gangrel. Lucky you, the Vulture just might take you in as part of her herd, as long as you promise to behave!"
Anthony stared at the creature, a corner of his mouth twitching in time with his eyebrow as his irritation threatened to explode through his skin. He didn't understand anything the creature was talking about, and he was standing so close to Anthony now that he thought he seriously might vomit from the stench.
"Kindred? Gangrel? What.." Anthony grimaced.
"And Nosferatu-" The creature spouted.
"What-" Anthony gasped.
"-and there's the Ventrue, the Brujah.. Malkavian's, Tremere, and Toreador..." The creature wasn't even paying attention to Anthony anymore, counting on his claws as he went.
"I belong to clan Nosferatu, in cause you were curious. My name's Chopper, though. And I'll be your handsome guide on this lovely evening." The creature's mangled lips seemed to smirk, though it was impossible to tell.
Anthony stared at the creature, waiting for him to continue. But when he didn't, the taller male tipped his head backwards and rubbed the back of his neck. "I have no idea what the hell you're even talking about. What's a Kindred?"
The creature stretched a gnarled claw out to poke him in the chest. Anthony felt the urge to shrink away from the other man's contact, but forced himself to remain where he was, gritting his teeth.
"You are." Chopper said, as if he were speaking to a child. When Anthony continued to stare at him, Chopper shook his hideous head and reached up towards his left ear, inserting just the tip of his index claw within it to pluck out a round black device just large enough to fit snugly within his ear.
He chuckled warmly, then he shook his head from side to side, as if amused by something that Anthony clearly wasn't understanding.
"Well, kid. I don't know how to tell you this.." Chopper slapped his clawed hand down upon Anthony's shoulder with such force that at first he feared the creature might tear it off. For being so much smaller, so much skinnier than Anthony, Chopper was evidently the stronger of the two."..but me and you, we're vampires! At least, that's the human word for what we are. Meh, what do they know, anyway?"
Chopper snorted, and a moment later his horrifying rasping laughter filled the dark tunnel around them.
"Tell you what, kid. You come with me to meet the Baron, and I'll explain what I can on the way there. Sound good?" Chopper pulled his hood up, leaving only his mouth exposed.
Anthony felt himself frowning, slowly nodding his head. He needed answers, one way or another. And a way to end the vicious kill-sleep-kill cycle he seemed almost ritualistically bound too might not be such a bad thing, either.
"Great! Follow me!" Chopper turned away from Anthony with a bob of his hooded head and started walking briskly down the tunnel. He stopped only long enough to make sure that Anthony was following close to him, explaining that there were many corridors and tunnels branching out all over beneath the UW Arboretum, much like cracks in a broken mirror.
As he listened to the other man talk, Anthony couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd stepped into another realm. Maybe, he really did die those few weeks ago when that monster tore its way through his friends. Maybe, he thought briefly, maybe I'm in hell.
But if this was hell, than surely he was a demon.