A shriek rent the heavy air followed by raucous laughter and malicious taunts. Istvan shifted to look down into an alley below where a woman struggled in the grip of three males. They pawed at her, groping her body with lascivious intent, while she snarled obscenities at them, fighting their grips. Since the Fall, all women had become fair game for "breeding". The term infuriated Istvan on many levels. Women equated more than walking uteruses with heads to him.
"Leave me alone, you bastards!"
"Hold her still, Mickey. I'm gonna get my cock in that mouth to shut her up." The speaker grabbed her face with one hand and unzipped his fly with the other.
In the past, Istvan had kept his distance, refusing to aid the men in their hideous pursuits, but not stopping them either. Coward. A silent snarl twisted his lips as he leapt from the ledge, landing lightly on the street behind the last man. Tonight he'd remedy that, at least for this woman.
"It's never wise to put something you value in the mouth of someone with teeth." His voice, rusty with disuse, stopped the action before him.
"Who the fuck are you?" The man named Mickey turned on Istvan, his fists bunching at his sides.
Ah, so many options to answering that one. "I'm the original Good Samaritan, and I see nothing wrong with your hands."
"What the fuck do our hands got to do with anything?" The third man wore a scar across his left eye, sealing the lid shut.
"I'm sure you can use them well enough to empty your tiny balls without forcing someone else to do so. Hell, you could probably use each other if you had the intelligence." Derision dripped from Istvan's words.
"Let me go!" The woman yanked at their hands, but whimpered when Fly Guy tightened his grip on her face.
"You should do as she says." Istvan settled his body into hunting mode, sliding one of his daggers from its sheath.
"Why should I, asshole? Who the fuck do you think you are?"
"I don't need to think, I know who I am."
Istvan darted behind the scarred man, slicing his throat in a single slash. His grunt became a panicked gurgle as he fell. Fly Guy released the woman to get to the pistol hanging on his hip, but Istvan tossed a rusted scrap of metal at him. He drove his shoulder into Fly Guy's chest, knocking him down. Fly Guy collapsed with a roar, his hands scrabbling for purchase on anything.
The stench of unwashed male filled Istvan's nose as he drove the dagger into the other man's gut, slicing open his belly. He rolled away and stood, ignoring Fly Guy's agonized wail as his intestines slithered out onto the ground like wet worms. Istvan scanned the alley for Mickey, but he'd fled in the melee. So had the woman.
Istvan inhaled as he crouched beside the dying thug, wiping his dagger on the man's tattered clothes. He focused on the whimpering body and listened to his stomach growl. I'm hungry. A slow grin twisted his lips and exposed his canines.
"What the fuck are you?" The thug tried to scramble away, but his legs had stopped working.
The simplest answer seemed best. "Death."
Istvan struck the thug's neck and savored the coppery goodness sliding down his throat. It didn't matter how disgusting the men were on the outside. They always tasted sweet on the inside.
He wiped his mouth and licked his fingers when his belly gurgled with satisfaction. He'd taken more than usual, but this guy had no more use for it. No reason to waste good blood. It would keep him fed for at least two days.
Istvan kicked the body under a nearby Dumpster and climbed back into the roof of the building beside him. Voices carried through the echoing walls as the wind kicked up, but they wouldn't look for him above them. Men had grown both soft and arrogant, depending upon their numbers to keep them safe.
Heh, safe. None of us are safe.
Loneliness howled at him from the locked box he kept in the back of his mind and he shoved it away. Not much you can do about it now. The world had ended, and as the old children's book had said, "Alone is something you'll be quite a lot." Fifty years stretched behind him since the Fall and all of them faded into a blurred mass of similarity. He had a home and he had sustenance. What more could he need?
A little non-edible company would be nice.
Unfortunately, everyone was edible to the Noctivenatori. Vampire. The other term belonged to another time, when people had the benefit of education and memory. Everyone knew the word “vampire.” Easy to remember with the connotation to strike fear into the hardiest of beings. Most of the time it dissuaded marauders and thugs from coming after him, but not always. There were still gangs out there who kept hazing rituals, and facing something like a vampire always made a good story. Even if Istvan was tired of playing along.
Fortunately, he had the ability to make himself “invisible.” True invisibility wasn’t possible, but he projected a suggestion to anyone around him that nothing of interest existed, and their gazes slid away. Not many were out tonight and he slid through the shadows of the empty city without the need of his ability.
Remarkably, a few of the street lights still worked, the automated systems from before the Fall still working. LED lights lasted damn near forever, especially with rechargeable batteries. Most of the streetlights’ batteries were too high up for people to scrounge so the lights remained. They didn’t do any favors to the buildings, though. Most were gray, faded husks with black, gaping windows like derelict eye sockets. A few even had caved in from decades of abandonment.
He missed the thriving cities sometimes, with their lights and music and life. That’s not strictly true. No, what he missed most was the possibility of interaction, connection, passion, and love. Like the broken, ghostly buildings around him, his life had become gray and lifeless, and he suspected he’d be the same if something didn’t change soon.
He left the city behind, the buildings giving way to a single two-lane road that led up the steep cliffs above. Someone had long ago built a tower there, but Istvan had never learned why. He’d originally thought it was a lighthouse with its observer’s deck and the top room with large glass windows. But the city sat too far inland. The next guess was an observatory for the stars, but there’d been no remnants of a telescope. Whatever it had been, Istvan moved in, repairing the ingresses and egresses to be fortified against people and weather.
As he reached the base of his tower, motion above him caught his attention. Something humanoid and bristling with crossed swords scaled the tower’s wall.
Who the fuck is this?
He sprinted to his door, the antique key already in his hand. Despite the man’s head-start, he seemed to be moving slowly. Istvan didn’t stop to think. He let the door thud shut and raced up the spiral staircase spanning the height of his home. He reached the tower room just as the figure eased its way over the outside railing as if exhausted and in pain.
Istvan paused, waiting for the intruder to get up. Who the hell would climb all the way up here? Shaking his head, he crept toward the western windows. The man outside scrambled to his feet and staggered along the balcony, his attention outward as if he heard something. Istvan held his breath as the man shuffled in front him.
Despite stooping from exhaustion, the man was tall and his light hair stood out against the darkness beyond. He shook his head as he shuffled on the concrete of the balcony and his hands rhythmically tightened into fists at his sides. The blond locks brushed the middle of his shoulder blades in a tight bundle of dreads, but couldn't hide the breadth of his shoulders.
If he wasn't an intruder, I'd invite him in for tea.
Istvan shifted to the balcony door and pulled it open on silent hinges. Mutters from the man on the other side of the balcony filled the still night air and Istvan approached with caution. None of the words made much sense. Something about saving the world and the dregs of humanity after the Fall. Istvan stepped into his direct line of sight and crossed his arms over his chest.
The blond man spun, sprouting blades in his hands like claws. But before he could do more than take a step toward Istvan, his eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled toward the railing. Istvan leapt to grab him before he tumbled off the balcony.
“Well, that’s a hell of a greeting.”