“Help——someone please help me.” Although he doesn’t even have enough energy to open his eyes, Herbertus is still shouting out for help. His voice, though, cannot be heard from ten steps away. It has been three days since he got lost in this forest without food, and he is almost reaching his limit calling for help, trying to find the way out, or fighting with the animals in the woods. He can barely walk or stand for a long time, so he sits down next to a tree to have some rest and prays for help regardless of whether his voice would attract enemies or hostile animals.
“All I did was searching for some food. I just wanted to find something else to eat. It was not something I could control. You made me like this. So why are you doing this to me right now?” Herbertus mumbles to the Gods though from steps away it looks like he is simply moving his lips and trying to breathe. With only a tiny crack of his eyes, Herbertus can see from the small gaps between the trees that the sky is getting dark. He knows that he shouldn’t sit here anymore. Instead, he should stand up, move forward to fight the way out, or at least find a tree he can climb up or a cave to spend the night in order to avoid the consequence of being eaten by a bear or a tiger. But he has no energy left.
He moves his legs from bending the knees, a position that is not so comfortable but from which he can easily and quickly jump up and run, to a more comfortable position with his right leg slightly bent on his left leg. Herbertus then leans his back against the trunk and takes a deep breath. No, it’s not time yet. Herbertus doesn’t believe this is the time that he is designated to die. No, it shall not be. His life is way too short to be deprived. If the time has come, which it definitely has not, the way he dies will certainly not be hunger or being eaten by some kind of animal because he was trying to get some new kinds of honey from an adjacent village.
“No, it ought not to be like this.” Herbertus mumbles, “Or Aelianus and Cythina will laugh so loud that the whole village will know that I die as a moron.”
It is a rather stupid reason for his life to be taken away by the gods. Herbertus doesn’t want to accept this as his reason to die because, think about it, among people who die as a hero fighting for the state and citizens, or losing the battle between their bodies and the accidents and diseases that were created by the gods, he, Herbertus, died because of honey.
Honey with pumpkins and apples.
It was a nice morning, and Herbertus was awakened by the lights from the window. His family’s insula was on the edge of the insulae buildings next to the street, and his bedroom was at the corner of the second floor facing south, which had excellent lighting in the morning compared with other bedrooms on the other side. The street was quiet because the stores downstairs had not opened yet. But even after it was opened, the same sign outside those stores and the same food there.
Everyone was satisfied with that. Herbertus was one of them. After all, what did one need besides a strong country that provides them a safe place to rest and enough food and the law that regulates the desire for sex as a kind of human responsibility? Everyone shall be satisfied. Everyone, well, at least everyone he knew was satisfied. He was satisfied.
Philosophy is the art of life, they said.
Herbertus learned about the Greeks, the gods, and various thoughts since he was five. Later, he started to think about the meaning of life, citizenship, leadership, and daily routine. “If people eat the same thing every day, do the same thing at the same time every day, what is the difference between this day and the past day? How can one know one is not repeating in a circulation?” Last week, finally, he couldn’t resist asking his father about the question that troubles him for months.
“As long as you realize this is a new day, it is, indeed, a new day, and time does not run in a cycle, it keeps moving on; therefore, time does not repeat itself.” His father, the beloved writer and poet, sat behind his desk in the tablinum, answered in his usual tone, slowly but firmly.
“But how do you know time keeps moving on?” Herbertus was not satisfied with his father’s answer.
“It is what it is. Otherwise, the world will not be able to be the way it shall be.” His father said as it was common sense: “Now, Have you already understood all the knowledge I had taught you yesterday? If not, you are not allowed to visit Aelianus today.”
Herbertus was not paying attention to the last half of the sentence. He nodded and went back to his room while thinking about what his father said.
“It is what it is? Who, then, says what is what it is? What if all of us are just continually sleeping from yesterday to tomorrow, and none of us knows how long we have slept, then does today exist?” Herbertus sat on the chair by the window and realized he had more questions. But he did not plan to ask them immediately since his father might feel like his authority was challenged. And no one would want that to happen.
Herbertus walked back and forth in the room while biting his lips unconsciously. He then recalled Aelianus had mentioned with Cythina days ago that the slaves in the villages added smashed pumpkins and apples into honey. As the son of a libertus, Aelianus knew better about the lives in villages than most of his friends. However, when Aelianus came to visit his family, he never talked about these interesting things but only poets and histories. Herbertus understood because his father would not allow Aelianus to visit again if he acted like a slave.
Without further thinking, he heard his mother calling for breakfast. It was exactly the same thing as yesterday, the day before yesterday, and thousands of days before.
What would the honey taste like if they put pumpkin in it? Herbertus could not stop thinking about that. Would it be like one put pumpkin and honey together in the mouth, or would it be a completely new flavor, say, like meat?
One would never know if one never tried, they said.
After breakfast, Herbertus brought his cotton bag and rushed to Aelianus’s place. His friend was just about to work at a new construction site.
“The place with strange slave food, do you know where it is?” Herbertus asked directly.
“Why do you want to know about that?” Aelianus seemed shocked when he heard Herbertus mention slaves.
“Do you know where it is?” Herbertus asked again, looking directly into his friend’s eyes.
“Just go west from the street next to your place, and you’ll notice it. It’s not far.” Aelianus answered with confusion, “Why are you asking?”
“A little adventure!” Herbertus patted on Aelianus’s right shoulder with excitement in his voice
“You ought not to…”
“If we do exactly what they asked about, then we ought not to become friends, remember?” Herbertus smiled with confidence, “I’ll be back before dinner, and if nothing goes wrong, no one else would know about it.”
Apparently, one should not be so confident about something one is not familiar with. Herbertus sighs after failing again, standing up even with the help of the trunk. Dinner time has already passed, and after three days Herbertus finally stops thinking about the honey with smashed pumpkins and apples. He even starts to miss the cold, simple, and tasteless vegetables and the stinky fish leftovers that are always on the dinner table.
It went just as he planned. He borrowed Aelianus’s simple shirt, trying to blend in with the Plebeians. The weather was great, and no one noticed or recognized him as he quickly walked by. And he almost reached the destination—he saw the farms across the field. Just when Herbertus thought about what kind of tone he would use to talk with the slaves, and whether he would have to pay for whatever he was going to get, he heard the noises of a collision not far on the other side of the field. Herbertus, recalling what’s father had taught him regarding this situation, quickly jumped into the pumpkin patch to hide.
Then he recognized the soldiers rushing from Rome to somewhere. there must have been some conflicts happening not far from here—maybe they finally started to conquer those cities nearby.
Herbertus struggled with whether he should go back as quickly as he can because it was not a good idea to bump into soldiers, no matter theirs or the enemy. But the village was so close to him that he could smell the sweetness of the pumpkin honey. He looked around and found exactly what he wanted—another path.
Gods never cut off all the roads one has, they said.
It was not exactly a path, but a forest, on his left hand, and connected with the other side of the village. He could get into the forest, which was a better place to hide compared with the patch. The only problem was that he had to walk faster or even run. Otherwise, he would not be able to be back before dinner.
He successfully got into the forest without being noticed. But this forest seemed so endless and dark. Herbertus couldn’t even find the path he got in after minutes’ walking inside it.
Herbertus wonders whether his father will exile him if he successfully makes it back home. The sky is completely dark right now, and he even does not have the energy trying to stand up. He plans to sleep here regardless of what might happen. Life, rest, and sex. Three fundamental human desires never fade away even though he sees no hope.
“No, this mustn’t be my destiny. Someone please help me.” Herbertus mumbles. He barely makes a sound.
If he dies here, and nobody is around, does he really die?
“So, what is your destiny?” Herbertus hears a calm voice with hesitation. Ō! His heart is asking himself right now. Yeah, what is my destiny? Isn’t that the question for the Gods?
“I don’t know, but it’s definitely not this.” He answers, then laughs in his mind. He is crazy enough to talk with himself right now.
“If you don’t know what your destiny is, then how can you know this is not your destiny?” The voice asks again.
“It’s… Whatever. Why am I even arguing with myself?” Herbertus takes a deep breath and tries to sleep.
“I am not yourself.” The voice continues.
“Then why are you here?”
“You called for help, and you woke me up.” The voice finally has some changes in tone when it mentions it has been wakened.
“Whatev——What??” Herbertus suddenly realizes that he might not be talking to himself. Someone actually has heard him. He opens his eyes and sees a man with red eyes and long black hair, abnormally tall, standing in front of him.
Herbertus tries to stand up and run, but his leg muscles are not listening to him. As he is falling and about to land on his face in the grass, one cold hand touches his shoulder and stops him. He leans back on the trunk and gives up running. It doesn’t matter whether the person in front of him is a soldier of the opposition or the leader of the council. At least he will not die in hunger or become food for some wild animals.
“What is your destiny?” The person asks again.
“Ehhhh…. I don’t know.” Herbertus looks down. The person’s eyes are like an abyss, trying to suck his soul out just by looking at him. His father used to say that a real wise man can be distinguished only by looking into his eyes, and Herbertus finally understands it now.
“So whom shall I ask if I want to know what your destiny is—if that is not rude?” The person asks the strangest question Herbertus has ever heard in a clear voice.
“Maybe the gods? But there’s no way you can meet them before your death…” Herbertus hesitates, “Or you can put several animals on the altar and see if they will reply to you. But firstly, you have to figure out which one to ask…”
“Did someone you know who has already died ask them, eh, the gods, in person, and tell you their destinies?” The man in the black cape stands still like a statue while asking.
“Wh-what? Don’t be ridiculous! How or could I know if they are dead?” Herbertus starts to think that this is a prank. Herbertus wants to take this person to his father if he is not a slave or enemy because no one will ever be mad at his own questions anymore if they’ve ever talked with this person.
“Is it possible to give me some food before we continue this conversation? I will always be grateful for your kindness.” Herbertus asks quickly before the person starts another question. If his father were here, he would definitely condemn Herbertus’s inappropriate behavior. But what if this person is the enemy? It is highly possible based on his outfit, the way of talking, and those questions. No one in Rome acts like that.
“Food?” The person frowns, “I don’t keep food. I just get someone when I need it.”
“There is a slave village not far from here. Just ask them for any fruit or bread.”
“Okay, fruit and bread.” The person nods and leaves in a blink. In less than a breath, the same person stands in front of him with a piece of dark brown bread in one hand and an apple in the other, “Are these what you’re looking for?”
Herbertus holds his breath for a few seconds. How is that possible? Is he a true god? Herbertus decides to cease his questions and focus on food first. After all, he can’t run without energy.
“Yes, yes, they are.” Herbertus raises both his arms.
The person puts the bread and apple in Herbertus’s hands and stares at him. Herbertus gives up on the stone-hard bread as soon as he touches it. It’s too hard for him, and it’s not like he is picky. That bread is just impossible to eat. He does not dare ask the person again for food—what if the person is a god and decides that he is too greedy? And he still has an apple, which is better than nothing. Herbertus holds the red apple in his left hand and bends his left arm to his mouth. The apple is incredibly juicy and sweet, almost too good to be a real apple.
He finishes it quickly. Although he is still sleepy, Herbertus feels the energy coming back to his body slightly.
“I will always remember your kindness. Everyone calls me Herbertus. Do you mind if I ask you your name?” Herbertus leaves out his family name just in case the person, or god, tries to find his father later.
“You can call me Cassina.”
Herbertus notices hesitation in the person’s voice. Then, he realizes something unbelievable, “What? You are a female?” The person surely doesn’t seem nor sound like one.
Herbertus almost wants to give up the conversation. It’s the first time in his life, besides the little kids who don’t even know how to talk, he’s met someone who doesn’t know their own gender.
“Can you reproduce offspring with your body?”
“…No…?” The person sounds unsure.
“Then you are a male, and you can’t be Cassina! That name is for females.” Herbertus shouts, “Cassius… maybe?”
“Okay, Cassius I am. You are the first human I’ve met since I have woken up, and no one ever calls me by my name. Not even my fellows.” Cassius answers with a slight smile.
“Wait, the first human? Are you not human?” Herbertus finally realizes what is not right when he notices Cassius’s fangs. The way Cassius talks makes him seem out of touch with any human society, and he distinguishes himself from other human beings. Red eyes, black cape, fangs, and abnormally fast speed.
“You are a vampire, aren’t you?” Herbertus asks with excitement, “I know Vampires are real things!”
“Vampires?” Cassius reacts exactly as Herbertus assumed he would, like he never heard of these words. He acts like he has no idea who he is or what he is. Like he is a newborn who hasn’t met anyone or anything yet. Like he is a whole new creature.
“Yes, vampires. They’ve been in poems for centuries. Those evil, immortal creatures that represent unholiness and tempt the devout.” Herbertus looks at Cassius from top to bottom, and continues, “Allegedly, they have red eyes and fangs and drink human blood.”
Cassius slightly nods. Herbertus takes a deep breath. His heart beats so fast that he has no doubt it could run away from his chest. A real vampire. Now he knows why Cassius asked those strange questions about gods and destiny—what else would people expect from a creature that represents unholiness and death? And of course, he doesn’t carry food—why would he need food that humans eat when there are countless fresh food sources around him? Just minutes ago, Herbertus was rejoicing that he wouldn’t be the food of some beast, but now he sees that he is still a walking food source—well, sitting food source, to be more accurate.
Turns out my destiny is to become the food of the ultimate enemy of humans. Worth it. Totally worth it. If Aelianus knew, he would be so jealous of me. Aha, this is probably the bravest way to die—to fight with the ultimate enemy of mankind. Herbertus stares at Cassius, with no desperation on his face but proud and hateful even though Cassius hasn’t done one thing that’s hostile to him. It’s humans’ duty to fight evil vampires. And if he is not powerful enough to fight with Cassius, Herbertus wants to die with dignity.
He sees Cassius approaching him slowly with a straight face and closes his eyes, trying not to reveal his fear. He can even smell that death is approaching. Guess his father is wrong because honorable death doesn’t make it less scary.
Herbertus feels a cold hand on his head. Then darkness falls.
Cassius still doesn’t understand what just happened.
Cassina was sleeping and having a long, strange dream. In this endless dream, someone, or something, repeatedly told him about what he should and shouldn’t do and showed him the disastrous consequences of eating garlic and drinking holy water. Sunshine, as they said, is strictly forbidden. One of his fellows, Robin, was giving a speech about how meaningless human lives were and how they should destroy the humans when the proper time came. At first, Cassina was trying to remember everything in his dream, but then he got tired. He got so tired in his own dream, but didn’t know how to wake up. So he just wandered around on this endless street until he heard someone far away calling for help. The voice wasn’t loud; the meaning wasn’t clear; the language wasn’t familiar. So he ran toward the voice. Although he could run fast, it seemed like he could never get to wherever the voice came from.
Suddenly he opened his eyes in his coffin.
Cassina saw only darkness, but could still hear the voice calling for help. He realized that he had awakened from that endless dream and could finally get some rest. But there was something in the voice attracting him. Something motivated him to stand up and to figure out what was happening.
The coffin was not covered with a lid. Cassina got up and stepped out of the coffin. His feet touched the stone in the room, and he felt something new. Something he had never heard in his dream. It was like the taste of the freshest newborn blood, the smell of snow in the coldest winter, and the light of the brightest star in the middle of the night.
So he rushed out after putting on his black cape, the only thing in the room other than the coffin, and in a blink stood in front of the kid who was calling for help.
Cassina could tell from the smell that this kid was young and innocent, but not so fresh and energetic—not his primary choice of food. And then the kid, Herbertus, started to talk about things that made no sense to him, which made him wonder how long he had slept. While he was still trying to figure out the logic between gods, destiny, and death, the kid told him that he couldn’t have his own name because he couldn’t reproduce. But what does reproduction have to do with names? Cassina was so confused. In the endless dream he’d had, everyone either just existed or was transformed by a simple ceremony. If he wanted to have offspring, he would only need to bite them on their neck and feed them his blood. After three days of sleeping, they would become his direct blood offspring, literally.
But Cassius is a good name. He thought. And it is just a symbol anyway. Then Cassius it would be. He nodded slightly, recognizing his new name.
Just when Cassius wanted to ask more about this ‘Vampire’ thing, the kid fainted.
Cassius is trying to figure out what just happened.
After sleeping for gods only know how long he is disoriented. And hungry. Cassius is hungry. He’s standing in the middle of somewhere he’s never been, and there is a child lying in front of him in a mysterious condition.
A child. A mortal. A mortal child who has just described Cassius as his nemesis. A meal for him. A fresh and delicious meal. A meal that he doesn’t want to eat. His mind screams for blood. Blood. He needs a meal now. But he doesn’t want to feed from Herbertus.
Today, Herbertus doesn’t seem delicious at all. He is not energetic enough. But then again, it just isn’t right to eat something that needs his help. It’s just not right.
Cassius suppresses the screaming in his head and holds back the hunger.
Even since Cassius realized he is a living creature, he’s been alone. He does have some fellows, but they hardly ever meet each other—things like him were born to be alone. But now, he can’t just leave Herbertus here after hearing his call for help. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know where Herbertus lives.
Cassius decides to bring Herbertus back to the castle with him for a while. At least until Herbertus wakes up and tells him where he lives.
Cassius holds Herbertus and moves in the direction he assumes will lead him back to the castle. He has a decent memory, and he almost never forgets things. But not this time. After twelve failed attempts, Cassius finally sees his castle. It’s a giant stone structure with black wall decorations that stands in the middle of a forest. Between the castle and the front gate, the garden surrounding the castle is full of dark green bushes.
It’s a large castle. No one could correctly imagine how many floors are there simply by looking at the outside of it. No one knows it. Neither does Cassius. He only knows that there is a coffin in the foyer, and this is his castle. It’s not like he built it or something. It just exists with him. Someone had told him in his dream that this is his castle. Then his castle it is.
Cassius doesn’t know who built it or when–It just exists, like Cassius himself.
Cassius steps into the castle. He puts Herbertus into the coffin, the only furniture in the main hall, and rushes to the nearest village.
Herbertus is human, and humans don’t drink human blood. But why do they eat? Cassius decides to grab whatever these humans have on their dining table. It’s almost midnight, and the entire village is in darkness. Cassius kicks the door of a house. It seems like this house belongs to a large family because there are so many kinds of things on the table. Cassius has no idea which one is the right food, so he lifts up the whole stone-made dining table—it’s not heavy at all for him—and returns to the castle without being noticed.
He puts the dining table next to the coffin and looks at Herbertus. Cassius is not sure what to do next. Should he wake the child? Or should he put Herbertus into cold water?
Cassius recalled something Robin had once shared with him in a dream.
“Human’s sleep at night, Cassius,” Robin said. “Humans sleep, but we do exactly the opposite. We do not sleep at night because we are enemies.”
If Herbertus is sleeping, then he will wake up tomorrow morning. If not, Cassius will figure out what to do. Cassius decides to find some food for himself. He walks out of the foyer. But in less than a second, he comes back to the foyer again. Cassius takes off his cape and carefully covers it on Herbertus. Although he feels nothing, Cassius remembers that humans would feel cold when the leaves start to fall on the ground.
Cassius walks out of the main hall again. Although he is just walking, his walking speed is faster than the flying speed of all the birds in the world. In seconds, Cassius has arrived at another village and finds an old man who is sneaking into others’ fields.
This man doesn’t smell like his favorite food type, but since he almost can’t surpass his hunger, Cassius decides to ignore his picky taste buds. Cassius grabs that man who is trying to sneak into his neighbor’s house just like he grabbed that dining table, sucks almost half of the blood in the body from his neck before he screams, and leaves the unconscious man at the edge of the forest. The man doesn’t even have the chance to think about what just happened before losing his sense of the world. His stomach is full again. Cassius walks back to his castle.
Cassius gets in the foyer. Inside the castle, there is nothing but darkness, but that’s no problem for Cassius because light doesn’t play a part in his sensory system. He checks on Herbertus, who seems still to be sleeping, and walks upstairs. Cassius has never been to the upper floors of it, nor is he aware of what else is in this castle other than the coffin, the dining table, and Herbertus.
Walking around, Cassius finds nothing but emptiness. The whole castle is empty. Completely empty. There are four more floors upstairs and no basement. And a ridiculously large garden with no other living creatures except bushes and grasses.
A coffin, a dining table, a human kid, and himself.
Cassius stands in between the bushes like a Greek statue. He doesn’t move, nor breathe. Without noticing how long has passed, Cassius finally moves when the darkness starts to fade away.
He checks on Herbertus again and notices the abnormal redness on Herbertus’s skin with the help of the light. It seems like a human sickness, something Cassius has no idea how to deal with. Creatures like him never get sick. Creatures like him never have any changes in their bodies. So he stands beside the coffin, wondering whether Herbertus’s body will adjust itself.
Cassius has so many abilities, but making wishes come true is not one of them. When the darkness comes again, he feels the same thing that woke him up before. Herbertus lies in his coffin without making a sound, but Cassius hears his calling for help. Something is attracting Cassius in Herbertus’s voice. That’s something Cassius never had.
It’s the desire to be alive.
Cassius still doesn’t know what to do, but there’s something he could try. Without hesitation, he bites Herbertus on the neck. Then, Cassius feeds the human kid his blood.