Blood drips from the edge of my blade. It plinks into the water, staining it in red ripples. I watch the blood swirling, twisting in strings into the pond. I feel numb. Hollow. There's an emptiness inside me that won't go away. I drop to my knees and my sword slips from my fingers, driving itself point-first into the bottom of the pool. Blood spreads out from it, clouding the once mirror-like water. Only my sword's handle shows above the scarlet water, wrapped in black shark-skin and inlaid with glinting eyes of onyx. It's a beautiful sword, and now it's been quenched in blood.
I hunch over my knees, shutting my eyes as my pale--nearly white--hair makes a curtain around my head. The hollowness is still there inside me. Ataru said it would go away. He promised. He told me it was easy. He said I would never regret it. I knew what I had to do, and I did it. But I hadn't counted on this feeling in my gut, eating me up. I thought it was what they called... guilt. Something only humans felt. I am more than human. I shouldn't feel guilt. I have a job to do, an important job. But still--but still--
I open my eyes and raise my head, blinking back the poisonous droplets forming on my lids. They'll let my soul out if they fall. My sword quivers in the pool, as if struck by the moonlight. I sigh.
"My lord," I whisper. "My shadow-god. Why do I feel this way? I carried out the Pact! I did everything they said I should. Ataru told me--Ataru told me--" My voice chokes off into silence. I can't pray to the shadow-god, not with this... this guilt inside me. It's unclean. It makes me not fit for his presence. I should cleanse myself, but for that I'll have to add my blood to the scarlet stains on my sword, and I don't think I can. Shadows help me, I've gone soft. This should never have happened. Can I go back to Ataru now? Won't he see into my heart, with those burning black eyes, those eyes that can see all my secrets?
I am not allowed to feel human emotion. I should not feel human emotion. I am more than human. I serve the shadow-god. I guide the human race along their path of suffering. I cull the undeserving. I'm a shepherd, of sorts. There're no shepherds anymore, because there're no animals to herd. The humans killed them all, which is why they need us. That old man would've died soon anyway. He was using food that could be better spent on a child, or a pregnant mother. Shadows knew, there were few enough of those among the humans. He was underserving. One for the culling.
So why do I feel this way?
I clench my fists and stand to my feet, pulling the sword, dripping and clean, from the reddened pool. The sword is clean, like my heart was before I felt this... guilt. I flick the water off it and hold it to my face, staring at my reflection in the shining silver-white blade. There's red rimming my eyes, a sign that my soul almost burned its way out with the poison. But I'm safe. It hasn't escaped from me yet, and it never will. I clench my fingers around the handle, my knuckles going whiter than they already are. I stare into my own eyes on the blade, my pink irises, my huge pupils. I blink. I can't bring myself to. I know I should cleanse myself. The sword needs to taste my blood before I can return to Ataru. But I can't let it. I don't know why. I should be able to.
I sigh and sheath the sword without a flourish, ramming it into its sheath with a snick. Where am I going to spend the rest of the night? With the... guilt eating me up, I'm not safe from the shadow-god's servants. The things that stalk the dark, those things that should serve me--they'll sense what's in my heart, and punish me for it. I push my hair back, tying it with a ribbon I always wear around my wrist, and put up my hood. If I'm to be out here all night, I'll have to brave the sun. The sun is for humans, not for Pale Ones like myself. Not all those who serve the shadow-god are Pale Ones--only the strongest.
Which is why I should not feel like this.
I place my mask over my face and slip away from the pool, moving silently without trying to. I've been moving silently my entire life. Humans don't move like this. They tromp around in their big boots, crushing the ground underfoot and announcing their presence to everything within a mile. I've been told I hate them. I used to think I did. But my heart isn't strong enough to. The guilt tells me so. I growl and speed my run, leaping over obstructions in my path and running up a tree. I grab a branch and swing to the next one, and the next, until I'm out of the tiny wood and into the broken wastelands.
These lands, the humans made them what they are. Another reason what I did was right. Another reason not to feel guilty. How would I ever explain this to Ataru? He would think me dead when I didn't return tonight. If I came in tomorrow, he would ask where I'd been. It was unheard of for one of us to not come back the same night we went out. I'll need a story, but I'm not a Storykeeper. I'm not creative. But... I can say the humans saw me. Shameful, but not as shameful as this--this guilt. Ataru will punish me, but I culled the flock, and I have the old man's blood to prove it.
But those eyes of his....
He'll see into my heart. I doubt I can keep my secret. He'll know everything. My hesitation as I looked into the old man's eyes. The way I gagged when I tasted his blood on my tongue. The guilt I felt by the pool. My plot to lie to him. And then he'll kill me. I have no doubts. But I have nowhere to go! What am I to do? I'll decide... tomorrow....
I duck into a husk of bricks, some structure destroyed long ago by the humans. I curl up in the corner, in a place no sun can reach, and put my head in my arms. Moisture wells into my eyes, and I blink it away. My heart must be too weak to keep my soul inside. I have to face it now, now that all this has happened and everything's gone so horribly, horribly wrong.
I'm not fit to be a vampire.