Both this story and "The Lighthouse" (currently running in YARF!) deal, in different ways, with vampire bat psychology. Until a bat decided you were worth talking to, she would have a small voice in the back of her head chastizing her for, in effect, trying to be cordial to a Big Mac. This should not be held against them; it is quite literally in their nature (they were created with magic they themselves are not aware of, which also is responsible for both an inability to thrive without actually hunting live food and an extremely strong innate attraction toward sapient prey). I only bring this up as a partial explanation, if not excuse, for some scenes in this piece which more sensitive readers might find disturbing.
When in flight, the wind is your only companion.
Revar had always wondered just what that was supposed to mean, one of her father's many cryptic wisdoms. But until recently, she had always flown by herself; now, if she wanted to talk to Jemara she would have to wait until they landed. The wind was your only companion because you couldn't hear a damn thing except its roar.
She glanced back at her friend, a few hundred feet behind and struggling to keep up. Flight was one of the few skills Jemara was less proficient at than Revar. The other bat noticed the look, and gestured at the ground with a claw.
Far below, a human was stalking a zoomorph--probably a Melifen, but at this distance it was hard to be positive. Jemara was already dipping down for a closer look; Revar wheeled and followed.
It was indeed a Melifen, blissfully unaware she was being pursued from behind and watched from above. Jemara flew close enough that Revar could see her grin, long teeth dazzingly white against her tar- black fur, and headed down. Revar sighed. "We're going to play vigilantes again, aren't we?" she said to the wind.
Jemara's motivations for the sport were less than noble; if it had been a Melifen stalking a human, she might have just gone on, or perhaps even gone after the victim, although with less fatal intent. It wasn't that she didn't like humans--Revar had considerably less tolerance for the cratures than Jemara did. She just found them immensely fun to play with.
Both the human and his intended victim saw them before they landed; the Melifen screamed and started running. The human backed away, trying not to look frightened, as Jemara came to rest a scant eight feet from him. He pulled out a dagger. "Stay away from me."
Revar landed a second later, just behind Jemara, and he raised the weapon threateningly.
"What--what--" The Melifen was gasping, still backing away.
Revar turned toward her. "We may be saving your life."
Jemara surveyed him, taking in his ripped jeans and leather jacket, unshaven face and scraggly hair, then turned to Revar. "He has a knife," she said mildly.
"I'm not afraid to use it."
Jemara shook her head, letting dyed red hair cascade across her shoulders, and started walking casually forward, looking as peaceful as a vampire bat possibly could.
"Stay back," he repeated, looking nervous now. Jemara didn't break stride. Revar smiled; her friend shouldn't have all the fun. She started walking toward him, too.
When Jemara was within a foot of him, he thrust out with the dagger. It would have been impossible for his comparatively poor visual system to follow the bat's movements then; one instant he was aiming at her side with his full strength, and the next he was suspended in the air above her, one clawed hand gripping his shoulder, the other his thigh.
"Now," Jemara continued, her tone still mild. "What were you planning to do to that pretty little cat?"
"Put me down!" he yelled.
"That's not an answer."
"It's none of your fuckin' business!" The human was obviously furious; Revar couldn't help giggling at the absurdity of railing at someone who literally held your life in her hands. The giggling made him angrier, of course.
"It is now," Jemara said. "You have a thing for cats? Looks like you were quite turned on by her."
"Yeah? How would you know?"
"I have my hand next to your crotch, bright boy."
"Samuel?" the Melifen said, her voice small.
"Bitch!" he said, spitting in her direction.
"I told you I didn't want to see you again!" the cat cried.
Jemara looked over at her with an angelic smile. "Well, maybe we can do something about that."
"I don't want to make trouble with you," the human said.
Jemara laughed softly. "I'm sure you're not going to." She turned to Revar. "Do you want any?"
"I'm not all that hungry."
The human looked between both of them, as if the full implication of his predicament was just now sinking in, and started struggling violently. His captor merely tightened her grip.
"Well, I'm famished." Jemara tilted her head back to stare at her victim, and grinned. "And maybe it's me, but stupid people just taste better."
"Oh..." Neither bat needed to look to know the Melifen was running away in terror.
Revar laughed in spite of herself and moved to stand next to Jemara, staring up at "Samuel." Even by his own species' standards, this one was not going to win any beauty prizes. "Well... maybe a little."
"Put me down," the human said again, his voice becoming a bit desperate. "I have friends. You don't mess around with one of us. When word gets out you're dead!"
"Oh," Jemara said, her expression becoming mock-thoughtful. "So when we let you go, you're going to go tell someone we scared you, and they're going to come and hurt us." She gently lowered him to the ground. "I suppose that settles it, then."
He started to back away, but she caught his wrist, forcing him to a kneeling position. As he started to kick, Revar was on him, pinning his legs to the ground.
The human's eyes widened, the last vestiges of bravado fleeing his demeanor. "But you said--"
"I said you've convinced me," Jemara said. "We can't let you go." She sat beside him and caressed his cheek with one claw. "As long as we have this moment to share, I thought we could get a little creative. What really scares you, dear?"
He opened his mouth as if to answer; after a moment, a pitiful squeaking noise came out. He began to struggle frantically.
Jemara turned to Revar and giggled. "I swear he almost just told me. You have to wonder how he made it this far without divine protection."
"Please," he said. "I'll do anything--"
"Anything?" Revar said, smiling a little.
"Yes!" His eyes were wild.
"I'll tell you what," Jemara said. "If you can come up with something you can do for us--anything we can't do ourselves that we might want done--then I'll let you go." She turned to Revar. "Is that fair?"
Revar nodded, knowing that it almost certainly wasn't going to be.
"Fine." She turned back to the human, placing one hand on his left shoulder and the other on his leg. "Start thinking, dear. Just don't take too much time." Then her entire pose--changed. There was no movement, no sound; something simply changed, and the blackly humorous air about her was gone. The little zoomorph threatening a much larger human had become a powerful, impassive carnivore closing in on her defenseless prey. When she bared her fangs and opened her mouth wide, he screamed.
Revar felt it, too. The prey's blood scent had increased with his fear; the more terrified he became, the more desirable he was. She bared her own fangs, unconsciously running her tongue over her teeth. When he saw her open mouth, he cried out again, and the delicious smell grew stronger. Revar fought the urge to simply leap forward and bury her teeth in his neck. This was Jemara's game, and even if she didn't approve of the glee the other bat took in playing with her food, she would let her have her way.
The human's eyes darted back and forth between them, and tried to pull away, but their grips had become so strong he might as well have been trying to move a stone pillar.
Revar saw Jemara inching her mouth slowly closer, and started doing the same.
"Oh, God," Samuel moaned. "Please don't. I'll do... I could... I..." He whimpered, shutting his eyes and muttering under his breath.
They were within six inches of him. As they shifted their bodies closer, Revar moved her hand up to the back of his neck, holding it still.
His muttering had increased in pitch when he opened his eyes and stared into Jemara's solid black ones, three inches from his own. He choked, forgetting whatever he had been going to say. Well, that was it, then. The smell was so strong now, Revar was salivating.
He spent the last inch screaming.
When Jemara's nose touched his skin, she seemed to lunge forward, wrapping herself around him and biting into his throat like a child with an apple. Revar tried not to be as melodramatic, but the exuberance of her own attack was uncontainable.
She hadn't planned to drink much, but Jemara had been right--he tasted good. And he was dead, anyway. She leaned against him, one wing around Jemara's shoulder, and shared her friend's meal.
Revar drew back long before the other bat did. The man was still screaming, his lungs working admirably well for someone who had never had a higher brain function in his entire life. Of course, Jemara was going out of her way to terrorize him even now; she wasn't simply drinking from one hole, she was chewing her way across his neck. "That's disgusting," Revar said.
Jemara pulled back, still holding the man in her arms. "No, this is disgusting." Her head darted down, mouth impossibly wide, and she sank her teeth deep into the front of his throat; then she let go of him with her hands, supporting his weight only with her clenched jaws. Then she shook him, like a bulldog with a rag, and ripped upward; he fell back, still screaming, with a stream of blood shooting into the air. Jemara tilted back her head and let it fall into her open mouth for the few seconds before his eyes rolled back, his heart giving up on its now fruitless effort.
Jemara wiped her mouth. "How many times have we been over this, love? People who live on blood shouldn't get faint at the sight of it."
"It's not the sight," Revar snapped.
"You didn't enjoy him?"
"He would have tasted just as good if he hadn't been terrorized."
Jemara snorted. "By the time you got your teeth into him, you were literally licking your lips. Fear is a potent flavoring. Yes, I knew I was going to kill him--so I took advantage of it. It's not as if he would have enjoyed dying better if I had been polite about it."
"I'm sorry," Jemara said in a little-girl voice, looking down at the body. "But I think you're a blight on society, and since I need to feed on someone, it might as well be you. Here, have a nice book to read while I drain you of most of your blood. Since you won't have much time, I've underlined the best parts. 'Kay?"
Revar laughed, shaking her head. "You're missing my point on purpose."
"No, you're missing mine. You've got to get over this tragic hero complex, love. We're not noble creatures. Villains may not have many friends, but they have more fun. And they always get the best lines." She yawned, stretching her wings.
Revar folded her arms. "Now I'm going to go out of my way to find humans in this one's gang to catch, and it's your fault. 'Stupid people taste good,' indeed."
Jemara started walking. They were some two miles out from town, near the side of a deserted dirt road. "Bring steak sauce."
Revar caught up with her friend, glaring at her.
"No, really. There was this human who kept annoying me at a bar. When I got fed up I opened a bottle of steak sauce, held him down on a table and poured it over his neck."
"And he said, 'You wouldn't dare.'" She shrugged. "I didn't take very much, but I had to take some. It adds an interesting flavor."
"Of course, it didn't really work." Jemara grinned. "When he recovered, he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'If I get poisoned and they tell me it's because I have steak sauce in my bloodstream, I'm going to send real vampires after you.' I said, 'What, you have undead friends?' He said, 'Worse. Lawyers.'"
"You didn't kill him, did you?"
"Of course not. Anyone who can insult me after I've fed on him deserves some respect." She dabbed at her face. "Do I still have blood on me?"
Revar sighed, pulling a handkerchief out of her pocket. "All over your face. If you won't stop torturing your food on moral grounds, you might stop on the grounds that you're a lot less attractive when you look like a slaughterhouse floor." She wiped Jemara's face dry. "You're still going to have to splash water over yourself. Hold on a minute." She ran back to the body and put the soiled cloth over its ravaged neck.
"Oh, that looks much better."
Revar coughed, feeling slightly uncomfortable. "You know I'd rather not kill my meals."
"I'd rather not, either. But when it tells you it's going to come back with lots of its other little food friends and kill you because you had the unmitigated gall to stop it from raping its ex- girlfriend, you really shouldn't waste any anguish over it. Who knows. Maybe in his afterlife, he'll get points for doing something nice as his last act. Instead of committing another crime, he selflessly fed two starving vampires. Maybe his gang could set up a foundation in his name, where bats from all over could come and curl up with a nice, juicy stupid person."
"Stop it." Revar tried not to laugh, but it was a losing battle.
"Your problem is you're just too nice, love. It was their idea to make us outcasts. Besides, you're a fine one to get self-righteous about playing the big bad monster. If I remember correctly, the last human you lifted over your head, you lowered his neck into your mouth and held him there while you drank. Tell me that wasn't just a wee bit melodramatic."
"He was a thief."
"Dear, I think you'd like nothing better than for all the humans in Ranea to shrink to six inches tall so they'd be snack size, and squashable when you weren't hungry."
"I would not."
They walked on, reaching the town's edge. Jemara walked into the public bathhouse; the water was rank, but would smell much better than dried blood would. "Now what?"
"I don't know," Revar replied. "The night's still young."
"How about dessert?"
Revar flashed Jemara a reproachful look.
The red-haired bat cleared her throat. "I was thinking about ice cream, fluff-fangs."
"Oh." Revar colored slightly under her fur. "I don't know if I can really afford--"
"Nonsense." Jemara scooped Revar into her arms, ignoring the other bat's squeal of protest, and started marching forward. "Are you going to come peacefully, or am I going to have to carry you all the way?"
"If you don't put me down I'm going to bite you."
Jemara looked at her and grinned. "That could be fun if you do it right."
"Put me down!" Revar shrieked.
"Oh, piffle." Jemara set her down, ignoring the looks they were beginning to attract from passersby.
Revar straightened her clothes, pulling her half-shirt back into place and brushing down her fur. "That's so... so...."
"Undignified?" Jemara suggested.
There was only one ice cream shop they knew of that would be open this "late." The counterman knew them by sight, and was civil, if not aggressively friendly, so they always sat at the shop's bar.
"Two large mocha shakes?" he said as they entered.
"Unless you have blood as a new flavor," Jemara said, sitting down and smiling.
The fox frowned disapprovingly. "You're both sweet ladies. Try not to go out of your way to scare off my customers, hmm?"
"You have no sense of humor," she pouted.
As he returned with the shakes, he smiled slightly. "Well, I could ask you what you've been doing with your evening, but I might not like the answer, eh?"
"We'd rather not tell you anything that might incriminate you," Revar said.
He threw up his hands. "It's already too late for that. You might not tell me anything, but when some thug comes in on the evening shift and talks about one of his buddies being found dead with his throat slashed and barely enough blood in him to fill a tumbler, I can put it together."
Jemara grinned slightly. "We're harmless. Really."
"Mmm-hmmm. Most of the dock lowlifes around here are more worried about one of you catching them than the Guards." He paused, looking a little embarrassed. "Uh, when you're looking for... for...."
"Sapient food," Jemara supplied cheerfully.
"Uh, yeah. Do you look for thugs?"
"When we can," Revar said quietly. "We try not to kill people when we feed." She sighed. "I haven't ever deliberately killed someone who I didn't think deserved to die."
"You don't have to talk about this if you don't want to. Hey, you should just know that whether you're trying or not, a lot of people think you're working at cleaning up the waterfront the hard way. You have a few fans."
Jemara sat back, looking genuinely stunned for one of the very few times Revar could remember.
"And you also have a lotta enemies." He leaned over the counter. "You both sometimes give me the willies, but I like you. Watch yourselves out there." He headed back into the supply room.
"Well," Jemara said.
"I wonder if I've let people die I wasn't... sure deserved it," Revar said thoughtfully, staring at her drink.
"Don't get melancholy on me. We're supposed to be heroes now."
"Only as long as the Guard keeps looking the other way. We've certainly attacked more than a few innocents when we were hungry and obvious thugs weren't around. From what I understand, their tolerance for vigilantes only stretches so far."
She shrugged. "We can't worry about tomorrow." Then Jemara smiled. "I'm really tempted to look for Sammy's friends."
"Resist it," Revar said, finishing her drink.
Shortly they were back on the street, wandering toward the waterfront. As they rounded a corner, Jemara put a hand on Revar's shoulder and pointed to a store window.
It was a thaumaturgical apothecary. The sign she was pointing at read: TYNDA BRAND MINIATURIZING SALVE, 1 oz., V 4000.
"Don't start again," Revar snorted.
"Come on. With that much you could make at least a dozen thugs into hors d'oeuvres."
"It probably doesn't work on living things. And there's something really... sick about that."
"Only if you don't really think about it. Would Sammy have done much worse if I had popped him whole into my mouth? Hell, it'd probably have been less painful."
"I know you. You just figure it'd be more terrifying."
Revar shook her head. "Anyway, it's four thousand vars."
"Only if you pay."
She yanked Jemara back down the street. "Sorry, I'm not going to let you mess with a magic shop's burglar protection. I want to return home with you in your normal exasperating state, not as a furry torch."
"You never let me have any fun." Jemara slouched as they continued walking.
When they reached the waterfront, Revar sat down on a dock, dangling her legs over the ocean's darkened surface.
"You seem even more morose than usual," Jemara observed.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. This is one of your moods again." She stood behind Revar, rubbing her shoulders gently. "You're not going to stop being a bat, and that means you're not going to stop needing to hurt things to live."
"I don't want to stop being a bat." Revar laughed. "Just a few minutes of flying is all it takes to remind me of that. But...." She looked up at her friend. "Sometimes I really wish you weren't so... calm about being violent. You bring out things in me I'm not sure I'm comfortable with."
"Oh, love." Jemara sat down beside Revar, cuddling her close. "Have you thought about how other races eat? Every animal they go after is killed. Most of the ones we feed on aren't. I've never believed that terrorizing sapients will win me any morality awards. But I don't see how raising hundreds of times more non-sapients to be used as food and killing all of them puts our prey in a more righteous position. Just a more self-righteous one."
"No, you're right." Revar sighed, leaning forward.
"But you've never liked hunting."
"I love hunting. What I don't like is the killing. Except that I know I won't think about that during a hunt. Or a feed."
"That doesn't make you evil, fluff-fangs. It makes you a bat."
Revar sighed. "You never think about things like this, do you?"
"Not for a long time. I've never been too bothered about what I am, and what that means doing."
"What do you do when you're depressed?"
"Get a chocolate milkshake."
"When you're really depressed?"
"Find someone I won't feel guilty about killing, and spend an hour or two playing with him." It was said matter-of-factly, the way some people might say, I go out to a concert.
Revar laughed weakly. "That's certainly not what I'm looking for."
"Don't knock it until you've tried it."
"Perhaps." She shook her head. "So now what?"
"I'll take a wild guess and say you're not in the mood to go gang-hunting. We could just spend the rest of the evening at home if you'd like."
Revar nodded and rose gracefully to her feet, taking Jemara's hand, and they started to walk back to their flat. The course took them along the waterfront for another half-mile, then back into dark alleyways.
"We're being watched," Revar said.
"I noticed that." Jemara shrugged. "I think they've been there ever since we left the ice cream shop."
"If they're going to attack us, I wish they'd hurry up and get it over with."
"They've been staying well out of sight. Perhaps we have something of a reputation."
Revar smiled a bit. "Feeding on your opponents probably does that."
Even when they turned on the glow-torch, the flat would have been dark by most species' standards; a human would have trouble seeing anything except the dull orange light itself. Jemara sat down on the bed, quickly stripping off her clothes. "Much better," she breathed, stretching out across the mattress.
Revar followed suit, sitting up in bed and taking a book down from a shelf beside her.
"You're not going to read again, are you?"
She gently rapped Jemara's head with the bookcover. "Just because you choose to be illiterate doesn't mean I have to. Reading is a luxury I haven't had until very recently."
"You weren't able to read until very recently. And it's my fault you learned," Jemara grumbled, burying her face in a pillow. "Just what the world needs. A vampire bookworm."
After a few minutes, Jemara pulled herself up to sit against Revar, her head resting on the brown bat's shoulder. Revar stroked her red hair absently.
Then she became aware of Jemara gently nuzzling her neck.
She set the book down and pulled back, looking at her friend. Jemara started, her eyes clouding over with an uncharacteristic timidity. "I didn't mean to...." She looked down at the pillow, clearing her throat. "Offend you."
Revar stroked down her back lightly. "You didn't. But you surprised the hell out of me. I've heard of 'sisterly kisses' before, and I'm fairly sure that wasn't one."
"Oh, fluff-fangs." Jemara closed her eyes. "How long have we been living together?"
"And sleeping in the same bed. As close as we already are...." She shivered. "I love you so much. And you're so pretty...." Her voice trailed off.
After a moment, Revar slid down, pressing her muzzle against Jemara's neck, and returned the nuzzle. Jemara stiffened; when Revar drew back, the red-haired bat was wide-eyed. Revar smiled sheepishly, reaching up and turning off the light.
Jemara nestled against her, the way she had off-and-on since they had been sleeping together. It felt better than ever.
"Revar?" she whispered shortly.
"Am... I expected to keep sleeping chastely with you?"
There was a long silence, followed by a sigh. "I've never... made love... to another woman. The idea makes me a little nervous."
"Thank you." Jemara snuggled a bit closer.
Almost five minutes passed before Jemara spoke again. "I want to go back and get that shrinking salve."
Revar laughed in spite of herself. "Cut it out. What would you do with a bunch of hand-sized humans?"
"Party favors?" she suggested. "Dip them in chocolate."
"Sorry." She giggled. "I'm also struck with this perverse notion of dropping a little human between your legs and trying to fish him out with my tongue."
Revar remained very quiet, breathing heavily.
"Whoops. I really did offend you with that one, didn't I?"
"What offends me is how much that idea turns me on." Revar groaned. "I'm trying to get over my prejudice against humans, and you're making me fantasize about using them as sex toys. Some help."
Jemara laughed wickedly.
Revar rolled to face her, then kissed her on the muzzle. Jemara let out a muffled squeak of surprise, then returned the kiss, wrapping her wings and then her legs around Revar and locking muzzles with the same fierceness she went after prey with.
When they broke off, Jemara laughed softly, then nuzzled Revar's ear. "I don't want you to do anything you can't live with, fluff- fangs."
Revar made a soft, purrlike noise of contentment. "If I get uncomfortable, I'll tell you."
Jemara moved her face against Revar's again; shortly they were exploring each other's bodies more intimately. Revar grew more, not less, comfortable as the nuzzling progressed, and when she found herself licking Jemara's thigh, feeling her friend/lover trembling around her, she let herself do what came naturally. Jemara sucked in her breath, her hands gripping the backboard for support, and moved her legs across Revar's back.
By the time Revar had rolled over to allow Jemara to return the attentions, the backboard had been shattered. The part of her mind still worrying about such things hoped the bed would survive the night. They couldn't afford to replace it.
When Revar woke up the next morning, Jemara was already gone, but that was common. She watched the light fade from the apartment's one window as she made coffee.
Jemara returned before it was completely dark. "Hello," she said, throwing a bag on the table.
Revar opened it and peered inside. "Donuts?"
"Yes, donuts. We're having company."
"Four members of Samuel's gang. I passed them on the way here. They're armed and look quite angry."
"Wonderful." Revar took out a donut and bit into it. "Why do you look so happy about having four humans planning to kill us?"
She smirked. "I know a little bit about how to get around magical burglar alarms, fluff-fangs." She reached into her pocket and held up the jar of shrinking salve, along with a matte-black applicator wand.
"Oh." Revar's eyes widened. "Oh, you wouldn't."
A loud, threatening banging came from the door.
"You wouldn't," Revar repeated.
Jemara smiled innocently.