The Mind’s Armor – Chapter 1

Daelynne’s attention didn’t leave her bottle of celebratory whiskey when the vampire entered the tavern’s common room. His arrival only registered in her awareness because of the spray of rain the raging wind outside carried in before he could close the door. Nature had little joy to share on the night of the Sixth Unification Gala it seemed.

Or maybe the tavern was sunk under Daelynne’s own personal little storm cloud. A faint upwards flicker tugged at her lips. She could appreciate a little hate from nature. It would fit her mood so charmingly.

So would more whiskey, she decided. She reached for the bottle to refill the cheap glass she was forcing herself to sip from. Drinking straight from the bottle would have been more efficient, but she’d done that before and the bottle always emptied out well before she was ready to stop drinking. The forced pacing of filling the shot glass ensured that she’d get to enjoy every miserable, bitter drop of the nameless rotgut she hadn’t yet paid for.

It also ensured that Half-Cut Joe, the dwarf who ran the place wouldn’t try to double charge her, claiming he’d taken the first bottle away and brought her a second one. She’d had a discussion with Joe about that sort of thing before, but since they’d only broken each others faces and not any of the furniture or liqueur stock, Daelynne was still tolerated as a patron and Joe wasn’t doing time in the Watch’s jail.

The vampire intruded on Daelynne’s consciousness again when he made the mistake of bumping her table. To his eternal good fortune, she’d just lifted the whiskey bottle but hadn’t yet begun pouring the next drink.

Daelynne snaked a hand out, fast as a lightning bolt, to catch the empty shot glass. That she managed to do that only after the table tumbled over and shot glass glass hit the floor was a was a reflection where the missing two thirds of the bottle had gone, but she wasn’t in the mood to contemplate that.

Sparks of rage flared in the depths of her soul as she looked up at the vampire and forced the wheels in her mind to turn.

He hadn’t slammed her table intentionally. The idiots standing to his side had shoved him. These were the same idiots who’d been bragging all night at their prowess with women when not a single one of them was with a female on a night of authorized excess and wanton abandon.

“Watch it,” Daelynne said, the drink rendering her voice deeper and more hoarse than she’d guessed it would.

“My apologies,” the vampire said.

He was tall, but thin and pale, like many of his kind were. Daelynne didn’t look many people in the eyes, and vampires in particular were dangerous in that regards, but she scanned his face anyways.

His features were solid and handsome enough. A good balance and symmetry between cheeks and eyes, nose and mouth and chin. A touch too angular to fit Daelynne’s tastes but he could have been popular enough based on appearance if not for the overwhelming red of his eyes and the pulsing red veins that spread outwards from them.

The vampire was smart enough to close his mouth after speaking but Daelynne knew his fangs would show the moment he spoke. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t a threat.

Satisfied with his answer, she turned her gaze away from him and focused instead on the bottle in her hand. The vampire hadn’t feed in days from what she saw, but the tavern wasn’t a place for feeding. She wasn’t in any danger and, more importantly, neither was the whiskey, so she could let him slip away, the same as she wanted the rest of the world to do.

“That’s right you’re sorry,” one of the bravos from the other table said.

The vampire tried to ignore the men, but another one of them grabbed his hand as he

started to walk towards the bar.

“We don’t like your kind here,” the second bravo said, in case his gesture was mistaken for a mark of affection.

“Then let me pass, and I will be out of here sooner,” the vampire said and snapped his hand free from the bravo’s hold. Without waiting for an agreement from the table of boisterous men, the vampire crossed the room to the bar and began speaking quietly to the bartender.

Daelynne looked around for her shot glass, but it had rolled somewhere, or shattered, or possibly both. She was two thirds of a bottle past caring, and since her plans for pacing her consumption had fallen through so tragically, she got to work on disposing of the unsightly third that remained.

“Should have made him leave right now!” one of the men at the table said. He made sure his voice was loud enough to resound to the bar and back. Everyone in the small tavern had to hear what he wanted to say, most especially the target of his ire, who was ignoring the men in favor of his conversation with Half-Cut Joe.

It was a mistake. Daelynne wasn’t interested in either party, but she could see the mistake the vampire was making even from the depths of the bottle she was plumbing.

Ignoring the men wouldn’t get him anywhere. They were too worked up. It was a gala night, a kingdom-wide celebration of the beginning of the king and queen’s rule six years ago. People were supposed to be partaking in wild, unruly fun and yet the men were stuck in a meaningless little bar, drinking the same horrid crud they drank every night, with the same horrid, cruddy company they were always saddled with.

It’s always possible to fall farther in life. Even hitting rock bottom allows people to keep digging their hole deeper, but that wasn’t the problem these men had. They had jobs and lives and responsibilities but that wasn’t enough. They wanted power, and in the vampire they found a target they could abuse with little expectation of societal scorn.

Daelynne was willing to bet that half the men across from her truly believed that they were in the right to be up in arms against the intruder. Vampires had a terrible reputation and there were certainly ones that strove to live down to the worst that was said about them.

The one at the bar wasn’t in that mode though. He might have been terrible on any other night, but either natural inclination or his present circumstances kept him restrained. The men who were convinced of their righteousness wouldn’t believe that, and the other men didn’t care in the first place.

Whiskey sloshed around Daelynne’s mouth and no burning sensation followed it. It was just sour, bitter, foul swill that should be spit back into the bottle it came from. The cap had rolled away long ago though, so Daelynne swallowed and took another swig. No matter how awful the stuff was, it was never quite awful enough.

Another few sips and at the bar, the vampire and Half-Cut Joe concluded their brief business. Daelynne didn’t bother looking to see if either was happy. No one else in the tavern was, and there didn’t seem to be a reason for them to be the exception.

While Daelynne struggled to down another gulp of the ruinous sludge in her bottle, the vampire left, taking the side door in preference to another encounter with the table of belligerent drunks. Sensing their prey escaping, the men stood in unison, a silent signal passing between them, the collective urge towards violence given release and form.

Duty tugged on Daelynne’s unwilling sleeve. Beneath her cloak, the sigil she wore called to her to stand up, to stop what was absolutely about to occur.

The weight of duty’s tug was less than the weight of the bottle in her hand though, and far less than the weight of the contents she’d already imbibed. No one would care. Either way. She could sit in the bar or she could venture into the storm. No would comment or even notice what course of action she chose.

Once, maybe, the sigil of the Dawn March had been a true promise, an unbroken oath. If so though that was far before Daelynne’s enrollment in their ranks. Since she’d donned the All Seeing Badge, it had looked outwards with nothing more than a blind eye. The mark of office on her breast was so tarnished that it’s call was drowned by even the last falling drops in an empty bottle.

With a sigh, Daelynne sagged into her seat and tipped her head back. The swimming, falling, emptiness that she sought eluded her though and her thoughts remained. She was trapped with herself until whatever pitiful dregs of alcohol there were in the whiskey could rally and overwhelm her senses.

“Want another?” Half-Cut Joe asked. He was clearing the table of the men who’d left but had an eye on Daelynne’s empty bottle.

“Sure, reinforcements are always good,” she said.

“Fine,” Joe said. “Pay for that one and I’ll find its twin.”

Daelynne grunted. The idiots had left without paying, so Joe was worried about the night’s take. Somehow, everything always become her problem.

She reached to her waist and slumped into her chair further. The commander had docked her pay for the last week, and so she’d run up dry. Through the too-thin haze of the cheap whiskey, she remembered her empty purse being the reason she’d settled on Joe’s place to spend the gala evening.

“Just bring the bottle,” she said. “I’ll pay for them both later.”

“Got a shipment coming in tomorrow,” Joe said. “You’ll pay now.”

“Two bottles now, and I’ll pay you for four,” Daelynne said.

“You’ll pay now or I’ll have those Watch boys back for your hide,” Joe said.

“Those guys were Watch?” Daelynne asked, her lassitude and disinterest taking on a new hue that was speckled with a dollop greed, and a smattering of repressed aggravation.

Nominally speaking the Dawn March’s charter involved oversight of the local Watch. So it was Daelynne’s professional responsibility to ensure the Watch was acting in an ethical and responsible manner. More importantly though, the Watch was paid before the gala. Which meant each of those men were flush with their week’s pay.

Daelynne rose onto feet that should have been more unsteady and rolled her shoulders.

“Where are you going?” Joe asked.

“Need to get your money,” Daelynne said, looking towards the door the vampire and the men had left through.

“That’s the Watch you’re dealing with there,” Joe said.

“I don’t think they ever told me that,” Daelynne said. “Maybe one of them will mention it if it’s important.”

Half-Cut Joe looked up at her and rolled his eyes.

“Bring back enough for their drinks too then,” he said.

Daelynne threw the hood of her cloak up over her head and didn’t make any promises. A full purse was nice to have, and Joe’s accounting for the watchman’s tab would inflate based on however much he could guess she took from them.

It didn’t take the “All Seeing Brilliance” of the Dawn March’s motto to observe where the vampire and the men had gone. The road was empty thanks to the pounding storm, but the sounds of a struggle were clearly audible over the rain and thunder.

Whispering simple words, Daelynne advanced on the alley and felt the mantle of her Pact settle into the material world.

Mystical energy coursed through her, energizing her body and mind as she soared through an inner transformation and joined with the slumbering spirit bound to the glyph on the back of her left hand.

When she stepped into the alley, she saw the half dozen men of the watch and she saw the vampire. The watchmen were smiling, demon grins of violence and power and the lust for both surging from their hearts. The vampire was not so cheerful. He lay against the wall, pain etched in every corner of his face and throughout his body. The watchmen hadn’t been able to work on him long, but they’d begun their task in earnest and without reservation.

That’s what Daelynne saw when she entered the alley. What the watchmen and the vampire saw was something very different. As Daelynne stepped into the mouth of the small space, they saw a figure clad head to toe in armor. In her hands lay a blade of flat iron with a seething glow. When she moved, she didn’t so much walk forward as slice through the air and space between them.

With six on one odds, the men had felt comfortable in their chances against a starving vampire. Against the Pact Warrior who stood before them, they would have fled even if they’d had ten times their number.

But she was blocking the only path out of the alley.

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