"The scandal of the world is what makes the offence; it is not sinful to sin in silence."I am an addict. It has been three days since I last weakened.
Alone in the silty twilight, in a dusty ditch surrounded by unmarked graves. I close my eyes and think maybe I can resist the temptation, tell myself I can live without it, just as I did yesterday and the day before.
This isn't what I imagined for myself.
The wind shifts, carrying on it the fresh scent of blood. I take deep heaving breaths, of a man starved.
I could never feed in the Plague territories. Hunting down my flight-mates just seems wrong. Treacherous and disloyal. What if they know my family? What if they've helped rear me when I was young, and I don't even know it?
Better to not take that risk.
But the blood, it calls to me, twisting deep in my gut, a bone-deep longing that I just can't ignore.
A band of travellers are camped on the edge of the Contagion, skirting the Arcane fields. It's simple to creep, under the cover of darkness, to a travel-weary watchman half-asleep on his post. One bite, and an injection of venom, and he is limp and trembling in my grasp.
Just this once, I tell myself. Just one more and I'll stop.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, and he groans in acknowledgement? Protest? As I drag him away into the twisted tendrils.
His heart is pounding rapidly, and the more it beats, the more my mouth waters. Oh how I long to bury my teeth within his flesh, to suck that sweet ichor until he is nothing but a pallid, dry husk.
Anticipation and self-disgust tangles in a nauseating duality, and the rest of the world blurs away as my senses hone singularly onto him. Prey in my crosshairs.
It's too much. I need it. I need it. In a flash, my teeth sink into his neck again, piercing directly into that vein, and a burst of potent flavour immediately hits my tongue. My eyes roll back in their sockets and I almost sob with relief. I gulp down one mouthful, then other. For the first time in days, I feel alive again, instead of some mindless zombie brought to my knees by this insatiable craving.
As I take my fill, pulling harsh and desperate, his pulse starts to stutter, his breath growing slow and shallow. In a lucid moment, I rip myself away and pull back, gasping wetly, the rich taste of blood and the heady rush of exhilaration fading away into the now familiar sour aftertaste of crushing guilt.
I never wanted to hurt anyone.
I stumble away, putting some distance between me and the unresisting body of some stranger. What have I become, preying on the hapless in the night? I remember a time when I had both morals and dignity, friends and family. In a different life, foreign and so far out of reach of my unworthy hands.
I find myself inching back towards him, as if drawn tightly on a string, and I consciously force myself to turn away. His life depends on my restraint. Though in that moment, I felt that I had about as much control over this as he.
No more, I vow. No more.
But I am an addict, and the thing about addiction is that it tends to pull you in deeper. Addiction is not satiated.
My victim groans, jerking and breath quickening as if caught in some nightmare. The sound draws a flinch out of my whole body.
"I'm so sorry," I apologise again, inadequate even to my own ears, words dissolving uselessly into the stifling and musky air. The impassive stone slabs and buried bodies around me offer neither judgement nor forgiveness.
I stare unmoving at the pebbles on the ground and mud between my claws for a long time.
It's the crack of dawn that breaks my silent vigil, and I quietly bring my victim as close to their border as I dare. His every shallow breath is like a prayer, and I am hypnotised by every rise and fall of his chest. I whisper a soft goodbye and steal away, undeserving of the bright and the good and the living. The Arcane mountains in the distance are painted pink and gold. The valley still remains in shadow.
I wallow in self-reproach and pass the day in a daze. Before I know it, pale moonlight is washing over the Contagion again, and casting flickering shadows on the stones.
My belly has been slowly building with need. That fist of bloodlust that closes painfully over my whole body. It burns and burns until once again it forces me out, a nameless depraved thing patrolling the border of the Scarred Wasteland. I am a slave to my vices. Another evil of the night. A wandering contagion.
There is a sliver of moon and a splash of stars, and the light outlines a face and glistens on a track of tears. A mouth moves in a silent apology that no one hears.
I am an addict. It has been zero days since I last weakened.