By Willow Taylor



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Yes I do
Live without the sunlight
Love without your heartbeat
I, I can't live within you
--from "Labyrinth"

The town seemed quiet and peaceful, sleepy in the predawn dimness. 'Then again,' Victor thought to himself, 'they always do. I can only hope this one is as peaceful as it seems.' With that, he lit another clove, and headed down the hill into the Layne Town.

It seemed quiet enough, as he moved though the morning market as smoothly as any outsider could. Layne Town was a small place - especially compared to some of the cites he'd been in - perhaps a thousand living residents in town, and a bunch of farmers that came in to provide for them. There was a small business district, a bit of trade along the river with a mill, and even more than one place for travelers to stay. Of course, one provided certain amenities that most families wouldn't find except able. So he went to the other place of lodging, a two story wood and frame place with a brightly painted sign declaring it to be the Rainbow's Pot.

"Excuse me, sir?" The innkeeper said, a little later that night. 'Here it comes,' thought Victor with a stifled groan.


"You signed the register as a doctor - " Victor nodded - this was unexpected. "Well, we got a young man that's powerful sick - could you come have a look at him?"

"Sure why not?" Victor said, draining his glass and standing up.

"'Powerful sick,'" Victor grumbled to himself and pushed his handkerchief to his nose. "Doesn't begin to describe it. Powerful stink maybe,' he thought as he steeled himself to get closer to the fevered youth. 'Smells like something's rotting.' Training and willpower was all that made him able to be this close - he wondered how the doctor attending him was managing.

"You'd be Dr. Shelly den," the slight, balding man said, turning to face Victor. Victor would have laughed if the air had been cleaner. The town's doctor had apparently stuffed a lavender sachet up his nose.

"Yes," Angel said, trying not to inhale through his nose. "Look, let's keep this short - what happened?"

"Dere is a legend in dis area about a vampire - she only dakes young men, and just sneaks into their rooms ad night - then dey go to her - and if dere kept from her, dey just pine away - and some go like dis - if dey realize whad she done and resist on dere own. We dink dat is whad got him."

With no small regret, Victor put his handkerchief away, and began looking over the youth. He was right, there was a definite scent of rot coming from this young man. After a moment, he pulled the bandage that was wrapped around the boy's neck. A little late, the doctor moved to stop him, and the dark haired man had to turn away and bite the inside of his cheek to keep from puking outright.

After a few open mouthed gasps of the thick air, he steeled himself enough to turn back and get a better look at what was under the bandage. The resident doctor gave him an impressed and approving look. It was obvious that the boy had been bitten by a vampire or something of the like. But what made it hard to look upon was the maggots and pus that poured out. Logically, Pus and maggots did not cohabitate well - Victor didn't want to think about it.

"Has to be cleaned," he said simply.

"Did dat."

"Then I'll do it again," Victor said, rummaging around in his pouch. He was not looking forward to this. The doctor left the room briefly and then returned with a stainless steel bowl and a clean white cloth, as well as a roll of bandages. Victor nodded his thanks, and produced a clear glass bottle and a thin, silver, scalpel like knife. He wasn't sure what it was about silver that made it easy for blessings to take on it, but he wasn't about to look down on it.

"You may want to leave - what I'm about to do isn't for people with weak stomachs."

"If I had a weak stomach, I wouldn't be here."

"True," was all he could think to say.

Angel was damn well glad that the youth was out cold - because he had a feeling that the gentlest of the things he was about to do would hurt like hell - and not much of it was gentle. But there they were all but bubbling out of the wound, which itself was an angry red. Steeling himself, he wiped the maggots and slimy greenish stuff away from the wound, then made a shallow slit in between the teeth marks. More gunk came oozing out of the wound.

"Aw Shit," muttered Angel under his breath. He made sure his hands were clean, then reached down and gently squeezed at the edge of the wound. Like purging a boil, more of the slime and maggots came out than either he or the doctor were expecting. Every time Victor thought he was done, and wiped it all away with another scrap of boiled cloth, more came out. The bowl began to fill with the mess. At last, what seemed like hours later, all that came out was a touch of blood.

"That's the worst of it?" the doctor asked with no small trace of hope as he removed the scented cloth from his nostrils. Victor was himself breathing a little easier. He went over to the fire place and crouched down, starting a small blaze and then dumping the purged mess from the bowl. The fire smoldered, and Victor stoked it.

"I'm afraid not Dr..."

"Peterson. Edmund Peterson."

"Wound has to be cauterized now, and that's gonna be worse." Victor looked up at Dr. Peterson and gave a wry grin. "Be worse if the boy was conscious - but at least now there's a chance he'll live."

"You've seen something like this before, Dr. Shelly?"

"Something." Victor stared into the blazing flames and made sure that the mess was completely burned. He poured a little of the liquid from the flask into the bowl and swished it around. It sizzled faintly.

"What is that?" asked Edmund.

"Holy Water," Victor said, and stood up, tossing the liquid onto the fire. "And it's going to do more than sizzle a bit on the boy."

"Well, Shit."

"Yeah, something like that. We'll talk later - if we wait too long to cleanse it, we may have to purge it again."

"Not something to look forward to."

"Well no." Victor slowly poured a bit of the holy water onto the wound. It sizzled and bubbled most unpleasantly. The youth, who hadn't really moved since he'd fallen asleep began to twitch fiercely.

"Hold his shoulders would you - I have a feeling I'm going to need all of this," Victor said. Together they held the boy down as Victor continued to pour holy water over the wound. From time to time another maggot or whatever they were - they sure looked like maggots, would wiggle its way out of the wound as if it was burning. After a while, just as Victor was about to run out of holy water, the wound stopped smoking as it had been, and the youth turned over to a more restive seeming sleep.

"Bless you young one," Victor muttered as he bandaged the wound.

"Will he be alright?"

"Now? Yes - unless he gets reinfected he'll be fine. I'm not sure how soon he'll be up and around though."

"I think you were right, and we should talk," Dr. Peterson said.

"Oh I'm looking forward to that, Doctor." Victor was all but scalding his hands - Edmund didn't know how the young man was handling it - he was wincing from the clouds of steam alone. "I'm called Angel by most people," Victor said scrubbing ruthlessly, as if afraid of taint, which in all honesty, he probably was.

"Well, you can call me Doc, it's the only nickname I ever had."

"Okay - Doc, what it appears to be official designation, by the way - These things are nasty as hell, and about three times as hard to get rid of as any other type."

"Damn it," swore the doctor. "The nearest Guild House is a week's ride away."

"Why don't you have a hunter here, if this thing has showed up before?"

"Guild said it wasn't that much danger - we only lost about one boy a year to the rot."

"That's the guild all over," Victor said, mouth set in a thin hard line. "Well, I can get rid of it, providing you give me cooperation."

"Angel, boy, after the miracle you worked with that boy, we're gonna give you more help than you can handle, if I know this town."

"Well that may just be enough, Doc," Victor said with one of his small smiles.

The boy's mother was amazed, he could never quite get past the feeling that she was looking for wings every time she took a good look at him. Of course that was how Victor acquired his nickname, but it was still embarrassing as hell to have people gush all over him about things that anyone who'd had the knowledge could have done. Anyhow, his fingers still felt dirty, and he wasn't going to be happy, until he got away to the church and had a chance to wash them again. Not that it looked like they were going to give him that much time alone for a while. If they'd let him, the boy's family would have put him up in their house. That was just a trifle too friendly for Victor's taste. Besides, any time now, Shaper would catch up. And not too long behind him would be Amy.

It wasn't that Victor didn't appreciate their company sometimes - heck most nights he REALLY appreciated Amy's company - it was more than he was unused to traveling with other people. Victor was sure that if he gave himself time, he would get used to it, and come to expect it. But he'd fallen into that trap before. Once you got used to something, it would, invariably be destroyed, or leave or be sullied. So he was keeping his distance. It made for some long nights, and some aggravating arguments with Shaper, who had pegged Victor, perhaps rightly, for someone who couldn't keep his nose out of trouble. And just by keeping that opinion foremost in his mind, Shaper really drove Victor up the wall and effected his performance.

He did manage however to get the town elders aside with a map of the area, and together the came up with a few likely sites where the rot vampire might be laired. Victor decided that he'd look into them the next day - possibly with a few extra supplies.


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Within You © 2000 by Willow Taylor

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