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In That Old, Dark Place

In that Old, Dark Place At first, Marcell thought that he was back in the Bastille in Paris. It was dark, and cold, and drops of water plopped down on his head. That happened sometimes, when you lived as long as he had. You got confused as to where and when you were. The headache certainly didn’t help. He rolled over, groaning, and only managed to get a mouthful of straw. Spitting, he sat up, and blinked blearily through the gloom. When was his execution again? No, no, that had already happened. His head rolling on the floor, the screams of the crowd. Hell of a problem to reconnect his head to his body. But now, where was he now? Cindy. He had been with Cindy, they’d stopped in that town... Oh god, Cindy! Was she here? What had they done to her? Marcell tried to stand, but his head spun and he fell back down again. Whatever they had given him to knock him out was still kicking his ass. That was the one weakness of his curse, he supposed. Any foreign substances couldn’t work their way out of his bloodstream very quickly because... well, it didn’t usually pump correctly. He needed something to push it out. He needed blood. Marcell concentrated, trying to hear all of the breathing and heartbeats of any small critters nearby. This was a prison of some sort, there were always rodents around. But after a solid minute, he realized that the were none. Someone had eliminated all of the vermin from this prison. Somehow. Slowly, Marcell’s half cloudy mind began to realize what this meant. If there were no vermin, he would start to starve, and if that happened... he tried not to think about the times he had lost control. He tried to stand again, slowly this time, using the iron bars of the cell for support. “Hello?” he called out to the dark. “Hello? Please, someone. You need to let me out. For your own safety. Someone, please.” But there was no response. Just the echo of his voice in the darkness. “Dammit,” his head fell as panic rose in his gut. “Dammit!” “Shouting ain’t gonna do you any good,” came a voice from next to his ear. Marcell jumped backwards, for the other person’s safety more so than his own, even though he wasn’t starving quite yet. He blinked through the darkness, trying to make out the figure who was leaning on the bars to the right of his cell. “Jumpy, ain’t ya?” the figure laughed. Marcell’s eyes adjusted quickly, and he saw that the figure was a woman, tall and broad-shouldered, her black hair more like a tangled mane around her nearly lupine features. She wasn’t normal, he could tell right away. Normal people didn’t have bright yellow eyes. “Let me out,” he begged. “Please.” She laughed again, nearly more like a raspy cough. “You’re new around here, hm? And a little confused, as well. I’m in a cage same as you. They don’t let us strange types out. Ever.” “You’ll have to forgive me,” Marcell replied, the darkness spinning slightly. “You’re absolutely correct.” “Meh, we all were just like you at one point,” the woman shrugged. She opened her mouth to continue, but was interrupted by a distant sound. It almost sounded like... a crowd. “Looks like it’s starting soon,” she sighed. “I’m very sorry for what’s going to happen next. You better tell me your name so someone will remember you.” “What... are you talking about?” “Quick, before I can’t remember.” The urgency in her voice startled him into action. “It’s Lucius.” “Lucius?” she repeated. “Mine’s Ruby. Nice to meet ya. Again, sorry about all of this—” A long, harsh creaking sound drowned out her last words as a hatch in the upper wall of her cell stuck a little before sliding open. Marcell flinched, before he saw that the light wasn’t coming from the sun, but the full moon. That was good for him, but with a start, he noticed, not so for Ruby. She stared up at the moon with an almost intense fascination, and then... she began to change. She doubled over, clearly in a great amount of pain, and Marcell could hear the sound of her bones cracked and breaking as they visibly shifted under her skin. Hair burst from every inch of her as she grew and most of her clothes ripped and shredded from the force. Ruby buried her face in her hands, which were dripping with blood from the violent emerging of claws, and by the time she looked up again her face was unrecognizable. Marcell found himself staring into the elongated face of an enormous wolf, the only familiar feature the cold, yellow eyes that glowed in the dark. “Oh,” he muttered to himself. “That’s probably not good.” From far away, the roaring of the crowd once again reached his ears. It sounded like it was coming from somewhere above him, and something about the tone disturbed him. They sounded intense, nearly bloodthirsty, like a crowd in a coliseum. Marcell had never understood the appeal. It was too real for him, he supposed. Just then, he heard a mechanical whirr, and in an instant, Ruby’s cage was pulled away from him into the dark. “Ruby?” he called. But that was stupid, she probably couldn’t have responded anyway. His voice echoed around the space, now that he was alone. But not for long. He looked upwards as he heard the whirring noise again, just in time to see a rudimentary mechanical arm reach down from the black to grip the bars of his enclosure, and he was thrown against the side as it was dragged violently across the floor. And then, suddenly, there was light. Right in front of him, a bright, white spotlight. The door to his cage was opened, and the iron itself shook, like he was a fly on someone’s arm. The crowd past the light was near deafening. Marcell stumbled forward across the dirt and squinted as his drugged eyes adjusted to the light. Glancing around blearily, he realized that this didn’t just remind him of a coliseum, is was one. He was walking across a dirt basin, the crowd was up on bleachers and boxes all around and above him. The only feature was a raised platform in the center of the arena, on which a kid with white hair was speaking into a microphone. “Now I don’t know about you,” his voice boomed over the crowd. “But I’ve always wondered about that eternal question: who would win in a fight? Werewolf? Or vampire? Are you all ready to see?” The sheer volume of the crowd nearly made Marcell pass out. “Well alright, then. Here we go. Ready?” The kid raised his hand in the air. “Fight!” The platform cranked over to the side of the arena on a track, and Marcell could see what was on the other side: Ruby, foam dribbling from her massive jaws, hackles raised. As he yellow eyes turned and saw him, she roared, and began to run in his direction. It took Marcell a solid second to realize what was happening, to see the mass of black fur pounding across the packed-down dirt towards him. But then he felt the heat of her breath on his face and dissolved briefly into mist, dodging to the side. The crowd got louder. No, please don’t, the noise was only making this more confusing. Why were they fighting? Where was this? Where was Cindy? Was she also in a cage somewhere? Awaiting this same, gruesome fate? But as these questions barreled through his conscious, so too had the massive werewolf recovered and was now also barreling towards him. He dodged again, and once more Ruby clutched at thin air and skittered away. “Only one can come out of this alive,” the announcer kid warned. “Not long now until the sun comes up...” Marcell couldn’t see beyond the high sides of the arena, so he had no idea if the kid was telling the truth or now. But regardless, Marcell wasn’t a killer. Of course, he had done so before, you couldn’t possess his curse and not lose control once in a thousand years. But he had no guts for it. He had never killed in cold blood. But as Ruby came towards him a third time, and he once again dodged to the side, she was ready for it. She caught him with a massive paw as he rematerialized and slammed him into the ground. Her claws dug into the bare skin of his chest. Her jaws opened wide, revealing huge, yellow teeth. This was it. She was about to bite his head off. This was going to hurt. But wait a second, there was one way to stop this fight without a death: disable the fighter. If there was no way for one side to end the fight, the crowd would get testy. Ignoring the blood that began to trickle down his hands, he grabbed both sides of Ruby’s jaw and pulled. She fought back, he gritted his teeth, and after what felt like an eternity, he heard a crack, and the lower jaw gave. It half dangled there as Ruby bellowed in pain and the crowd gasped. This was it, he’d done it. She couldn’t kill him—or probably even maim him enough to fully disable him—so the fight was done. But as Ruby reared up again, he’d forgotten that a werewolf’s bloodlust was not as malleable as his own. Nearly gargling on her own bloody spittle, she reached up a clawed appendage and brought it down on his chest. Marcell squirmed, crying out in pain. He tried to dematerialize, but the world was flickering in and out too much for him to focus. This was it. He’d lost. Worst part was that no matter how mangled he got he’d still be able to feel all of it until the sun came up. Mercifully though, it seemed like he was going to be unconscious for most of it. From far away, he heard someone scream—was it his name?—and then there was darkness.

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