Vampire Code: Dark and Light

“A practitioner has the right to suffer, but a practitioner does not have the right not to practice.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Moment is Perfect

This chapter written with Xantheanmar, who graciously volunteered Aylin to join the story.

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After she finished her homework, Sylvia fired up the computer.

Hannah Fry’s chapter on the mathematics of love got her thinking. Fry wrote so well. Maybe a mathematician could be a writer, too. Mathematics was another language, after all, and if she was good at math, maybe she could translate that skill into writing.

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Sylvia had an idea for a novel. It would be a series of interconnected stories, each one reflecting a mathematical concept.

The first one would be about duality. She didn’t think it would be a love story.

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She wrote through twilight until it was time for her lesson with the Count.

When she arrived at the Straud estate, she found a bookish-looking woman standing near the front steps.

“Whoa!” said Sylvia. “You look like someone I could maybe, actually, talk to! Are you, like, a librarian?”

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“In a way,” said the woman. “Nice to meet you. I’m Aylin. And you are?”

“Sylvia! Sylvia Zoranto!”

“Zoranto. Lady Miranda’s daughter. My apologies. I amend my greeting, Lady Sylvia.”

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“Oh, not Lady,” replied Sylvia. “I mean, yes, my mother is Miranda Zoranto, formerly De Suena, but we’ve dropped all that. Or at least I have.”

Aylin raised an eyebrow. “Heritage is not something easily dropped,” she said.

“Tell me about it!” groaned Sylvia. “Ever since we moved back, there’s been so much pressure. Ma wants me to learn everything, and Papa–he’s been dark for days.”

“And how are the lessons progressing?” Aylin asked.

“Well, some of it is fascinating,” Sylvia replied. “I mean, I love to learn. The book stuff, that is. It’s the practicing stuff that’s kind of weird. Here’s the thing: I love to meditate. I’ve been doing it every day for, I don’t know, maybe three years? But this dark meditation–it just feels weird. Isn’t that like the opposite of what meditation is supposed to be about? I always thought that meditation is about, you know, unity and stuff. That meditation was light.”

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“Darkness is not evil,” Aylin said.

Sylvia looked at her askance. “I like sunlight better, truthfully, though I can’t be in it anymore.”

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have,” Aylin continued, “but never is it so clear as it may be for us vampires. I encourage you to make peace with your darkness, Sylvia, or you may end up like me.”

“But I’d love to end up like you!” Sylvia said.

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Just as she was about to tell Aylin that she found her the perfect role model for the type of vampire she wanted to mature into, the Count joined them.

“Ah!” he said in his nasal tenor. “You’ve met my new pupil!”

“Excuse me, Straud,” Aylin replied. “I didn’t realize she was studying with you. I assumed Lady Zoranto was teaching her own daughter.”

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The Count scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous! Look at where home-schooling has got her. Hillbilly,” he hissed, under his breath.

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“Maybe you could teach me,” Sylvia suggested to Aylin. “I think I might progress quicker under a woman’s tutelage!”

Aylin smiled, and Sylvia felt her heart open. It would be something to learn from her! Why, under Aylin’s guidance, she just might be able to accept her heritage!

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“Enough!” said the Count. “She is my student! I’ll have none f your interference, Missbibliothekar!”

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Je vous avez averti, Straud,” Aylin said. “We’ll meet again, Miss Zoranto!”

Sylvia smelled tar smoke, and two bright eyes were all she saw where Aylin had stood.

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She felt the wings of the bat, before she saw them. And then Aylin flew above her head, darkening the moon.

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And Sylvia was alone with the Count.

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“So easily impressed!” he said. “That’s nothing! Watch this!”

He contracted into a smokey haze, shooting her with his intense stare. Sylvia chuckled. Such a show-off!

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When he landed, it was her turn.

She rose a few feet, feeling the tarnished wings of coal spreading behind her. What had Aylin said? “Make peace with your darkness.”

She felt calm inside, with the stillness of night gathered into a ball at her solar plexus.

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She let the dark center pulsate, pulling her back into the contraction. All this power! If she released the spring, she’d shoot forward. The Count would need to be quick to escape her!

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“That was not the worst,” the Count said, when she landed, “nor the best, neither. It was the middlin’ power.”

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He took a deep breath, and she waited for his final pronouncement.

“And there is truly nothing worse than a middlin’ hillbilly!”

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He turned and walked up the steps.

She waited until the door slammed closed behind him. Five seconds, and the strains from the organ sounded faintly from within.

It wasn’t anger that Sylvia felt inside, but it was a disturbance.

It was disdain. And then she felt ashamed for feeling the disdain, because she really did believe in the value of respecting her elders. And she felt resentful that the Count was her mentor, and not Aylin. She felt envious of Aylin–so independent. So self-contained! So powerful! Willing to stand up even to the Count!

All this conflict inside!

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As she rose into the dark meditation, she let the conflict be. She had the right to suffer, after all.

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have.” She heard Aylin’s words again.

She had the right to suffer, but she didn’t have the right not to practice.

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Darkness has energy of its own, and it swirled within, neither good nor bad, just there, lifting her above her concerns, rising on the tumult of feeling.

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Vampire Code: Veins

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Sylvia loved the quiet hours before dusk. Fresh from school, Zap spread his homework on the dining room table, and, after a fond gaze at her brother, so innocent, so earnest, Sylvia climbed the stairs to the garret studio.

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She selected her favorite brush, an old camelhair with a thick, soft bristle that had belonged to her grandfather. When the canvas was dry, it made a sandpaper shoosh, like the sound of her father’s hand when he brushed snow off her wool coat. When the canvas was wet, it made not a sound, but instead spread a butter sensation through the handle and into the index finger and thumb of her left hand.

She’d always painted left-handed, though most practical things, like holding cups or books, she did with the right.

She knew what they said about hands and hemispheres, and she liked to think that her body and mind had naturally chosen the most effective cross for each task.

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“Sylvia! Only half an hour until your lesson!” Her mother called up. “Have you done your homework? Stop what you’re doing and finish it before you go!”

These new lessons that she was forced to take interrupted the golden hour. Like her mother before her, Sylvia had acquired a mentor. Or rather, one had been foisted upon her. This was one of the reasons they’d moved back here, her mother confessed.

“You must have a mentor,” her mother had said. “You’re of the age. The powers, my dear! And Count Straud is simply the best. You’ll be like me, my love, learning from only the best.”

“You can teach me, Ma,” Sylvia protested.

Her mother blushed.  “No, dear,” she said. “It wouldn’t be seemly.”

The first lesson was scheduled for that evening. Sylvia dreaded it.

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Sylvia pulled out her calculus text and opened it to the chapter on the mathematics of love, written by Hannah Fry:

“Love, as with most of life, is full of patterns and mathematics is about studying patterns.”

Maybe that’s why she hated these new lessons, she thought. They interrupt the after-school pattern. She sped through the math homework.  If that’s the case, she realized, it would be no matter: soon enough, new patterns will form, and maybe she’d come to love them as well.

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Zap, finishing his own homework, had launched into a story when Sylvia walked through the kitchen on her way to her first lesson.

“So that’s why sunlight makes you burn up!” he was explaining.

Their mother smiled. “That’s an interesting theory, son,” she said. “But I think it has more to do with pigmentation than retribution.”

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Sylvia raced up the hill to the Straud estate. She’d spent many nights in the oak forests on either side of the lane, following owls and looking for newts and salamanders.

But she’d never gone through the gargoyle statues or under the cast-iron archway. She’d never walked up the steps nor rattled the bronze door knocker.

She jumped, it sounded so loudly!

The door swung open of its own accord, and Sylvia followed the sound of an organ playing Bach.

The music stopped abruptly.

“You look nothing like her!” said a high-pitched nasal voice.

“Like who?” asked Sylvia.

“Miranda De Suena,” he replied. “You cannot be her daughter.”

“Oh, but I am!” Sylvia replied.

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“No!” hissed the Count. “Her daughter would not be dressed in flannel! Like a hillbilly! Like a boy! Where is your silk? Where’s the lace? And why does your hair look like snakes?”

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“I didn’t realize adherence to stereotypical fashion was a prerequisite,” Sylvia answered. “Maybe my wardrobe can get me out of these lessons, then!”

She turned and began to leave.

“Halt!” The Count shouted. “You have your mother’s walk! I am convinced. Come back. The study will begin.”

For hours, they practiced harnessing the upward currents of energy. They began with breath work.

“You must breathe in from the soles of the feet,” the Count demanded, “and exhale through the crown of your head.”

It came easily to Sylvia, thanks to her experience with meditation.

“Now open the crown,” the Count instructed, “to let the energy enter. It will circle through your body and flow up your spine.”

Sylvia, tracking the flow of breath in one direction, opened herself to the flow of energy in the other, and soon, she felt herself lift of the floor.

“Good, good!” said the Count. “How long can you stay there?”

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He left her hanging.

She heard organ music rising up from the basement, and suspended in mid-air, she lost track of time. The music played, but it sounded without pattern–this was no Bach. Lost between discordant notes and wide spaces, Sylvia couldn’t tell how long the music played, how long she remained suspended.

She woke in a heap on the floor, with silence stretching around her.

Thirst had woken her. The Count was nowhere to be seen. His castle was empty. She looked through the icebox–not a single carton of plasma.

Through the window over the kitchen sink, a purple light caught her attention. The veins of a tree glowed.

Sylvia had never seen a tree like this.

She raced out to get a better look.

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Was it the tree of life?

She caught a whiff of a blood-like scent, and her thirst raged.

At the end of a gnarled branch hung a glowing purple fruit. That’s where the scent came from. Sylvia picked it without thought, jammed a hollow twig into it, and drank.

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Slowly, the veins of the tree pulsing, she sipped the glowing fruit. It didn’t satisfy. But it did erase.

The craving grew weaker. Her thirst died. If the fruit of this tree could kill her thirst, then it was the tree of life, she reasoned.

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The moon still stood high in the sky.

The door to the castle was open. Sylvia returned. The Count was nowhere to be found.

Sylvia discovered the old organ in the basement. It had an even richer sound than the one upstairs that the Count had been playing when she arrived.

For the rest of the night, Sylvia explored the organ’s keyboard, testing the voices, letting her fingers become familiar with the touch of the keys, finding her way through a simple prelude in C major.

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The music flowed like veins,  branching, pulsing, extending from the organ through her.

She fell back into place.

A few hours before dawn, she headed home, running down the steps onto the cobblestones.

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She’d survived her first lesson.

Her teacher didn’t like her. She knew that. But he’d taught her. She couldn’t put into words what she’d learned, the learning had happened on so many levels. But she could feel it. It felt like power.

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