“If you’re…safe,” I began, and he jumped a little as I broke the silence, “then why didn’t you want to tell me? Why did you say it would be dangerous for us to be together?”
“Because being with me would inevitably put you in contact with other vampires,” he said. “Possibly those who aren’t Stregoni Benefici.”
“Stregoni Benefici…” I said it slowly and thoughtfully, liking the sound of it. “Is that Italian?”
He nodded, staring at me perplexed, as if I asked the strangest question. His perplexed stare began to turn to one of incredulity as if realizing I might not actually be so frightened after all.
“The Stregoni Benefici,” I repeated, enjoying trilling the ‘r’. “What is it you do exactly, being good vampires?”
He paused, but when he spoke again, he did not answer my question, instead saying softly, “Chrystine?”
“You’re not afraid, are you?”
He spoke it as more of a statement, yet I could see the hope blazing in his eyes.
“No,” I said. “More bewildered than anything.”
“And you still trust me?” he said, eyes pleading his need to be sure.
“I’ve always trusted you,” I replied. “Besides, I promised, didn’t I?”
He smiled. I noticed again just how white and perfect his teeth flashed and could’ve laughed, but deciding it best not to, simply smiled in return.
“Now, where were we?” he asked.
“The Stregoni Benefici,” I reminded him.
“Oh, yes. Well, we have basically only two purposes. First, to fight against, and destroy, evil vampires as much as we can. Second, to wait for the Golden Healer and protect her when she comes.”
“The Golden Healer,” I echoed. “Who is she?”
Aaryn stared at me as if waiting for something to sink in. As it did, my eyes widened again.
“Me?” I breathed.
“You have the golden thumb and toe, don’t you?”
“And the cross?”
“Yes, but what has that to do with anything?”
“It’s quite a long story.”
“I’ve plenty of time,” I assured him, though I would’ve stayed and listened even if this wasn’t true, both out of curiosity and because the feeling crept in that he wouldn’t really let me go without hearing it anyways.
“Good,” he said. “It begins over a thousand years ago, when the first vampires were, well, ‘created’, if you will.
“An evil sorceress created them. She was known as the Dark Enchantress.” His eyes suddenly transformed into dangerous green flames as he spoke of her, flickering with a new darkness, a danger foreign to those eyes as he mentioned her. I shuddered to even think such a look could exist in those perfect, green spheres.
He continued, “She was once a golden healer like yourself. She, too, was born with a golden thumb and toe. But she used it for her own selfish will, eventually for evil, and–“
“It turned black,” I gasped in horror, not meaning to interrupt him but already drawn into the story. My reaction seemed only to please him as he smiled his half smirk in amusement.
In school we learned of legends warning of the misuse of the golden thumb, but there was only one such elf ever recorded in our history. I shuddered to think that such an evil being could really exist.
“She feeds off evil energy,” Aaryn continued, the green flames of his eyes growing darker as he spoke of her. “The more power she gained, the more evil energy she needed to sustain that power, so she made us. I was among the first of her…creations. We could attack others and multiply, for with every attack our numbers grew and so did her power. She could just sit back and watch her power grow. And once she was strong enough to resist all the most powerful fairies, she could strike, take over not only her own world, but ours as well, and any other worlds that might be out there.”
He paused what seemed a dramatic pause as my heart pounded. Yet beyond feeling horrified, I sat captivated, enthralled.
“What became of her?” I asked.
“She still exists,” he said, his expression darker than ever, and I gasped. I’m sure my eyes grew twice their normal size by now. “She still exists in her world, drawing evil to her through the vampires she’s released both in her world and our own, as well as other worlds we’ve probably never even heard of. She is nearly strong enough, strong enough to destroy us all…”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“That’s where you come in.”