There were no doubts in my mind that Ajit knew I was up to something. We had slept huddled together like cats since Devika and Vivek’s cult moved into our sanctuary, but when I brought Aarti home, I kept close to her, helping her adapt to a life of sleeping all day and remaining awake all night, not that she would need that training. The Blood changes your body’s natural instincts. But I saw the narrowed glances he gave me as I tucked food I didn’t need beneath my sari.
What surprised me the most, though, was that my mother and uncle didn’t seem to notice the scent of a human child around them. Then again, perhaps, they believed I had decided to become like them and take worshippers.
Hmm. Never. They didn’t care enough to pay attention.
And I can be thankful for that. The glow of health came back to Aarti’s skin; her belly no longer protruded from malnutrition; her dark eyes shone like pools in the moonlight.
The time was coming to give her my blood. To sire her.
That term makes me laugh.
Sire. It’s masculine.
Aunt Kali is far from masculine. She’s the reason a line of vampires exists. She’s the mother of adult vampires. Every single adult vampire can trace their creation back to her in some way, from her four fledglings, Akshay, Pepi, Mandawuy, and Odeserundiye.
I digress yet again, but how could I not by that? I suppose one of her fledglings coined the term. They were all men who never had the choice—well, except her last, Odeserundiye—so they probably felt they were taking some kind of power back over their existences. Perhaps if I had been an adult when I was changed into what I am—someone who felt they had total control over their life—I would need that, too.
To get back to my story: The time to sire Aarti was upon me.
I’ve discussed morbid curiosity with you before. One of mine was Kali siring. We were thousands of miles from one another, but I slid into her mind to watch how she did it. I watched it hundreds of times, trying to make out how she knew when to stop drinking and when to give her blood. Watching her turn Akshay and Pepi, who were her only fledglings at that time. Trying not to be disgusted as she did so against their wills, trying not to smell their fear in her memories.
You’ll know when. A voice I hadn’t heard in centuries.
I snapped out of her mind, crawling back toward the stone wall. She knew I was there. I trusted the words and never went back into her mind.
“You’ll be scared, Aarti.” My eyes avoided hers as I told her. “Not just a little either.” I shook my head. “I’ve watched Aunt Kali’s memories…” Tears ran down my cheeks at the thought of the same terror in her, my chosen one, the girl I protected while she struggled to survive on the streets.
“Scarier than watching you kill that man?” Her voice cracked.
I nodded solemnly. “It’s… knowing that it’s happening to you.”
Her slender shoulders squared—I could swear she’d grown an inch taller in three weeks from the care I gave her!—and she stood in front of me with the confidence of a war-seasoned general. “That man you killed wasn’t the first person I watched die. I saw the fear in old women and men who had strangers slit their throats, those who wanted to steal their last bit of food and water.” Her nostrils flared. “Children who went with whoever promised them…” Her mouth twisted. “Maybe they got the life they wanted. I never saw them again.”
I met her gaze, her irises the most beautiful darkest brown, almost black. “I continue to underestimate you when I know better.”
Aarti had everything that evening. A supper of grilled lamb and shrimp, fried barley cakes, pomegranates, figs, and wine, which we admitted to one another tasted so foul—wine is an adult taste, to be sure! I played my harp and beat my drum, and we sang… songs lost to people today.
Then Aarti looked at me. “I’m ready.” Those eyes so full of purpose. “Are you?”
I drank the remnants of my wine, though it was sour and burned all the way down my throat. “I am.”
You’ll know when. How I hoped Aunt Kali was right! I needed to know, so my Aarti would become like me.
“Lean back. Close your eyes. Give me your arm.”
The girl did as instructed, giving me one last look before closing her eyes and extending her left arm to me. Aarti yelped as my fangs sank deep in her wrist, sweet blood flooding my mouth, and she pulled away in vain, fear washing over her. Her body tightened like the strings of my harp.
But Aunt Kali was right—I knew exactly what to do. It was nothing like the wanton abandon of feeding from Indu. I slid into her panicked mind. You’re safe, Aarti. Just breathe and know I’ll never let harm come to you. She relaxed back against the wall, my words doing their job, as I listened to what happened in her body—her breathing growing shallow, her heart slowing, brain becoming dim.
Instinctively, I stopped drinking. I can’t remember having any conscious thought when it happened; I just knew. My teeth sank into my own wrist, and, cradling Aarti’s head, I placed it over her mouth. Blood dribbled from her slack lips for a few moments, then she latched onto my arm with inhuman strength, her fingers digging into my flesh, bruising me. My own brain grew fuzzy, ready for sleep, but the instincts prevailed yet again. My arm moved, throwing her off into a corner of my chamber.
I ran to her, disgusted by my own behavior and worried that I had injured her. Her gaze met mine and her mouth opened, but her transformation started before she could manage a word. Her slender body curled into a tight ball, only a squeak leaving her parted lips. I wrapped my arms around her, trying to remember my own transformation but unable to—I’d been so feverish then—but knowing from Aunt Kali’s memories from her own unwilling fledglings that it was a quick process. “It won’t take long, Aarti. I promise.”
And it didn’t, though it must have felt like hours to her. Her limbs unfolded like flower petals blooming in the sun, her fingers flexing, feeling the floor and walls around her. Dark eyes studied the room, the curiosity and awe unmistakable. She inhaled, releasing an mmm, at what fragrance, I didn’t know. “Shreya?”
“Yes?” I crawled closer.
“Can you smell that? Samosa?”
I inhaled, catching the scent, albeit far off in the streets above us. A smile split my face. “I can. They smell delicious.”
“And… can… can you hear…everything? All the voices, noises, and thoughts of others?”
I nodded. “Yes, but you learn to shut them out. I’ll teach you.”
“Yes, please, I want to learn…” Aarti sat up. “But I’m so hungry right now.”
To be continued…