Death and Decay

The original blog post with this story can be found here; it is copied below:

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Humans can smell the decay of a body a few hours after death. It’s sweet and repugnant all at once, candy-sticky and gorge-inspiring. This sense of smell works a little differently for my family: we can smell the decay of a dying person before actual death. See, the human body is equipped with everything it needs to live and die when it’s born – including the bacteria that that takes over at death, turning body to fertilizer. In a human lifetime there’s a constant battle between bacteria trying to keep the body alive, and the bacteria trying to decompose the body. It jumps at any chance to try. And when someone is dying, the bacteria begins its process. We can smell it.

So when the smell of death hit me, as my brother and I frantically bound the gaping holes on the neck, thigh, wrist of the girl bleeding out on the cold concrete floor – panic seized my chest.

Panic. What a funny thing. A sensation I hadn’t felt in years, perhaps decades. It froze me where I crouched, my movements stopped in denial. It flooded my head and made me stupid.

Her heartbeat – it changed. Stuttering. The tune of death’s march. The blood loss was critical, dangerous even in normal circumstances, with access to healing or medical care.

It was 20 minutes to the nearest hospital. This abandoned building was far from any civilization. Even with my speed, it was too far. I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could make it with her injuries. Panic opened its jaws wider.

There was nothing here. I had no blood, no medicine, no doctors, in the middle of nowhere. All I knew was how to kill. I’d gotten to her, and it was too late. She was going to die. I’d seen this so many times. They all died so easily… they all just died.

Twin spikes of grief drove up through my chest and my brother’s and rolled over us like a black wave. Our minds, ever connected, amplified it until I felt like I was drowning. It was inevitable: they all died, ripping from the world, bright lights extinguished I barely had the chance to see.

My eyes burned.

Her end was going to break me. She wasn’t just a bright life in the world; she was an incandescent sun that made the world less weary, that made the centuries feel lighter. She made me feel like living, instead of decaying in my own mind as death was a gift I would never experience. I’d barely had the chance to know her, I’d barely scratched the surface of who she was, and she was being taken from me.

She stopped breathing. Silence stretched. Pain ripped my chest open; my brother’s weary acceptance felt like a hit –

NO. NO. NO, DAMN IT.

Rage gave me breath, gave me clarity. I lunged onto my knees and hovered over her, tilting her head back as I covered her mouth with mine and breathed into her lungs. Her chest expanded with what I’d forced into it. Her heart was still beating; I could supply the oxygen.

I didn’t have the ability to speak so I ordered my brother through our link: Get Druindar. If you can’t find him, anyone who knows what to do. And blood. As much as you can.

Brother… he began.

I violently shook off his hand when he placed it on my shoulder. I was one of the most powerful creatures on the planet goddamn it – I was going to save this girl’s life. She was mine to protect, she was mine. It was going to be different this time. I was changing the story. I would not live without her. I refused.

I lifted my head to suck in air, immediately forcing it into her lungs. What could I use in this building? – this stinking lair of the strigoi. There was nothing here I knew, and no one I could ask, because I’d already killed them all in my pursuit of getting to her. She needed a transfusion. And more than that; her body needed more than just blood. My brother had to be fast, and I had to keep her alive.

You’re not moving, I snarled at him.

“Nothing will be here in time.”

My mouth broke from hers for a second. “I’ll keep her alive!”

Druindar was a goddamn magic healer – I should have made him come with me. I should have forced him to come to this place where I knew she was being sucked on. I wasn’t used to interacting this closely with humans, their fragility. I was a fool. I had to prepare better; no more fucking around.

Regan was dialing someone on his phone: he was helping. Grudgingly, afraid he was buying into my desperation and just delaying the inevitable, he was helping me. Good.

She needed blood and medical attention.

Blood and magic, if at all possible.

Blood and magic.

Blood magic.

I froze for a second. No. It would never be that easy. It couldn’t. My teeth clenched. In all probability it wouldn’t even work; at the very least it wouldn’t work how it was supposed to. But the idea was burrowing into my brain like a parasite. There was no way my shitty existence would make it that simple, but intent, intent changed all kinds of magic –

Her heart skipped… stuttered… all thoughts wiped from my head.

BAM. Her heart slammed hard, then raced, frantically trying to keep her flesh alive when it didn’t have the liquid nor the oxygen to provide. The relief her heart hadn’t stopped tasted like bile.

No more options. This was it.

Blood magic.

I had her in my arms in a second, her body limp weight in my arms, tucking her head between my shoulder and my cheek. She smelled like death and decay and her. Haste was necessary; I couldn’t breathe for her while I held her, and I wasn’t risking brain damage. Regan startled, staring at me. I’d shut down our link without realizing it; he didn’t have access to my head as I raced down the dark concrete hall. That was probably good, because my idea was reckless and irresponsible and born of panic, and he’d try to talk me out of it.

I’d seen a blood collection room when we’d stormed this godforsaken hole, it should have what I needed.

My family – we had a lot of magic. An insane amount of magic. The only problem was we couldn’t actually use it. We can only use it as physical fuel. To do things like make us strong, or fast, or indestructible. But we can’t wield magic.

But there was a lot of magic in our blood.

There — the room. The door was hanging off the one hinge, almost obliterated from when I’d come through it the first time. Regan was on my heels as I shouldered open the remains of the door, lying her on the metal table in the center of the room. It was the worst kind of blasphemy that I laid her on a place where countless people had been drained of their life. But I had no time for sentiment. I held her jaw and felt her chest expand as I breathed for her again. 76 seconds she’d been without. Within safe limits.

“You’re not turning her into a strigoi, are you?” my brother asked with cautious humor. He was being deliberately calm. I could hear him assessing my mental state, trying to figure out how far gone I was.

His statement didn’t deserve the dignity of a response.

Find a blood collection unit.

He stiffened as he realized my intent. Or maybe he’d read it off of me. Arguments brewed in his head – all the ones I’d been thinking already; what we were, what it meant, that it could just kill her – and then they fell away as he was ripping open doors of cabinets, throwing things off counters as he searched. He thought I was delusional and was going to suffer even more at the end of all of this; I didn’t give a rat’s magical butt hair about his opinion.

He barked out a laugh.

Her heart stuttered…

We both froze. My hearing amplified as I listened, turning the small sounds in the room nearly deafening.

THWUP… thwup-thwup… THWUP… thwup …

Death was here.

REGAN!

He blurred as he moved, abruptly at my side. Our thoughts were in tandem; I tilted my head back as he jabbed smoothly, the needle sliding into my jugular. He didn’t need to be careful; dragon curses knew it wouldn’t hurt me. He’d found one with a giant syringe, meant to draw out a lot of blood at once.

Fucking bloodsuckers.

I caught glimpses of images from Regan: my blood sliding into the clear tube thickly, gleaming red. It’d seen a lot of blood. I’d seen a lot of my own blood. I’d never cared so much about it before.

Anxiety hit in waves. This could kill her. She could have an allergic reaction and her body could fight to kill itself. For all intents and purposes my brother and I had O- blood, not that our blood could really be put into a human category. From studying ourselves we knew it was bizarrely without markers or distinguishing traits, exceptionally ‘clean.’ And filled with magic. Magic that could turn on her. Or simply decay in her veins.

The wait was agonizing. Her heartbeat was fading, the counting of final remaining numbers, no surety which would be the last. Nausea twisted my gut, another novel sensation I hadn’t felt in decades. It seemed to take eons for him to fill the giant syringe with dark thick liquid from my body.

Then it was full. I was over her head, breathing through her blue lips. It had been 32 seconds for her without air.

Regan took her arm. There was a large vein in the elbow that was most accessible for transfusions and often used in the field; he had to be incredibly careful not to blow the vein.

“Are you sure?” Regan murmured.

Do it, damn it.

His focus sharpened, his fingers moving along her elbow as he found and palpitated the vein. Then he lifted the needle – which suddenly looked huge, despite Regan mentally snapping that it was the right size – and gently slid it into her vein. His thumb moved to the plunger and he squeezed.

With as long as I had lived, with everything I’d experienced, most everything becomes monotonous. There were few events that really changed anything, after you experience change over the span of centuries.

But this had the potential to change everything. None of us had ever done something like this before. We’d never given bits of ourselves to another person, only inanimate things, in tests. It was unprecedented in my family.

Maybe that would be why it worked.

Regan continued to press down glacially slow. I knew it was important, so he didn’t blow out her vein, but I had to strangle panic and impatience all the same. My heart hammed inside my chest, and in bizarre echoes it seemed connected to my blood sliding into her veins. It felt like a part of my soul went with it. I was still breathing for her, hyperaware of her heartbeat, her skin, the sounds her body made as organs fought against shock.

I hadn’t spoken Gaelic in decades, yet mother’s prayer sprang so easily to mind, muttered against her lips, it was like I’d been saying it every day. I almost wanted to laugh at the childish reaction; Regan definitely did.

Despite the cheesiness… a prickle across my skin made it serious. Intention changed magic.

It had to be enough.

The first syringe was empty, into her veins. She wasn’t convulsing, her skin wasn’t reacting… her body had to be accepting it. Please, of all dragon’s mercy, let her be accepting it.

My brother stabbed me in the neck again, and we repeated the process. Heaviness filled the air, stuck to the walls, weighed down the pathetic light in the room. This had to work. My blood was powerful. I was giving it to her to save her life. Magic was all about intent. It had to work…

We did it again. And again. Regan was calculating in the back of his head, making sure we didn’t give her too much, or too fast. We fell into a rhythm, a pattern, fulfilling a set of actions that would be completed over and over without deviation from perfection. Only when something changed would our actions change; we were machines, razor focused to our tasks.

She coughed.

I reared back. She stilled again.

Silence stretched.

She coughed again, and sucked in a breath, her lungs expanding on her own, her body jerking, her face screwing up. For a horrifying second it looked like death spasms.

But her heart was beating. Beating stronger, more surely; incorporating a part of myself into her system, using it to revive her. I could hear the shifts in her body, shock still crashing through her, death battling against her body’s natural rhythms.

I’d been frozen for several seconds now, but I couldn’t seem to make myself move. I just kept measuring her breaths as they filled her chest, over and over, almost unable to believe it. Regan finished the syringe and turned to me for more blood – she still needed more – his expression blank even as I felt his cautious relief through our link. There was so much more to be done; transportation to a hospital, monitoring her for adverse reactions to my blood, getting every damn healer and doctor I knew to look over her, preventing retaliation against her for what I’d done to find her. But I’d done it. I’d yanked her back from the brink of death.

“She needs another half-pint of blood before we try to move her,” Regan said.

I nodded. My hands lifted from her head, where they’d been to hold her in the correct position for resuscitation. I hesitated, then lowered my hands to her hair, stroking it back from gently her face. She suddenly felt fragile as glass, I wasn’t sure if I should be allowed to touch her.

It took me a few moments to register, having been so focused on the mechanics of moving oxygen from my lungs to hers to really breathe or recognize air.

The smell of death no longer hung around her.


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