i bleed in the desert
Descending the mountains was something I never thought I would get excited for. Seeing the vast sand dunes made my mouth hang open. This was my first time seeing a desert. Despite the nothingness, I was still taken aback by the sheer expanse of it.
The three of them went down with ease while I was still trying to balance myself on the unpaved path. Kei and Irus tried to help me, but I insisted on going down alone. I wanted to at least take care of myself when it comes to mundane matters like this.
Hindi pa kami nakakababa nang tuluyan nang huminto silang tatlo. Kei started setting up a camp while Irus collected twigs and boughs to create fire. Moria leaned against a tree trunk, and she gestured me to come over.
"Uhh . . . we're not going to cross the desert?" tanong ko nang makaupo ako sa tabi niya.
"Not yet, lady. The day is already breaking," she replied, and I realized it was already dawn and the sun might peek through the clouds in a few minutes. "There are no shades in the desert, and he will surely die if we start crossing now," he added while looking at Irus pitily.
Ilang minuto pa ang lumipas ay nagtago na si Irus sa ilalim ng cloak. He positioned himself on a well-shaded place so he wouldn't get hit by the sun's rays. Moria also waved his hand and the branches of the tree where Irus was resting raveled with each other as they moved toward his direction, creating a cocoon-like quarter for him.
"He'd be more useful if we travel the desert at night," she commented.
Sumandal naman si Kei sa puno malapit kay Irus. He set up traps around us and made the fire even larger.
"Are there any Katteris here?" I asked while staring at the four-foot campfire. We didn't necessarily need fire to keep us warm as we were already undead. Kei would only start a fire if there were any potential threats from Katteris.
Kei snickered. "Oh, something worse."
I wasn't sure if he was joking but Moria grumbled upon his comment. But something worse than the Katteris? Don't tell me there are a lot of mages here? But would a fire be enough to keep them at bay?
"I don't want to encounter one. They are gross," she grimaced.
"But it can't be helped," Kei remarked. "The desert is their territory."
"As long as we avoid their lairs, we're good."
Their faces were grim and whatever they were talking about made me nervous. If even those three didn't want to encounter them, how dangerous could they be?
"So . . . what's waiting for us in the desert?" muli kong tanong.
He smiled coyly. "Well, of course, the ghouls, lady."
Hearing their stories about ghouls made me the bloodsuckers look cute. They said ghouls are the fastest and have the sharpest claws among the undead creatures. They also travel in packs and can devour a whole human in less than a minute using their powerful jaws and poisonous teeth.
What's worse was they don't have an easy weakness. Sunlight could only slow them down but more so annoy them. They could be killed by fire, but it should be hot enough to char their bodies. That meant an ordinary fire like this was useless and could only slow them down.
Hindi ko na tinanong pa kung ano ang itsura nila dahil parang bumaligtad na ang sikmura ko nang marinig ko ang mga iyon.
It was already bright when Kei decided to sleep. After night-travelling us numerous times these past few days, he must have been drained. Meanwhile, Moria remained silent as she stared into the distance.
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla na lang nawala ang suot kong cloak. It reverted to the charmed bracelet around my wrist. Moria's gaze shifted to me.
"Time's up, I guess?" she uttered.
"Does it go back after some time?"
"Well, it depends on your bloodline and power."
"Oh." There was a minute of silence between us. "S-Should I use my blood again?" I asked.
"No need, lady," she replied. "I have already set up a protective barrier. Besides, using your blood this time might alert the ghouls. We're near their territory, after all."
That was my cue to not argue anymore. Hearing my blood and ghouls in the same sentence was enough to send shivers down my spine.
Noon came and Kei finally woke up. He said he'd explore the woods to get some garlic, hawthorns, and wild roses—the weaknesses of bloodsuckers and mages. Moria gave him a side-eye after saying that, but it looked like he didn't notice it.
Naiwan kaming tatlo habang hindi pa rin gumagalaw si Irus mula sa kinalalagyan niya. Halos isang oras ang lumipas bago nakabalik si Kei. He was holding two pouches full of apotropaic items. It was a long and arduous day of not doing anything so once the sun had set, we immediately started moving.
Irus carried the bag and remained at a distance since it might affect Moria's abilities. My legs started trembling when we stepped into the desert. The dry wind blew harshly, and the cold was pricking through my skin and bones. Kung ano ang ikinainit kaninang umaga ay siya namang kabaligtaran ngayong gabi. The desert felt like a winter country all of a sudden.
Moria led the way while Kei stayed behind me. Unlike the woods, walking through the desert was nerve-racking because we were completely exposed to anything that could attack us. It was harder to walk on the sand, too, since it requires more strength.
"Why can't we just night-travel like the usual?" I asked as exhaustion started to build up.
"The desert is too vast," answered Kei. "I'll use it once we can see the city. If I use it now, we will still be in this desert, and we might land on the ghouls' territory."
Okay. That made sense. Mas mabuti nang gamitin namin iyon kapag siguradong makakarating kami sa city proper kaysa mas maligaw pa kami rito sa disyerto.
I was starting to be less anxious after walking for a while, but both Moria and Kei suddenly halted. They immediately assumed their defensive positions and I got so rattled that I didn't know what to do.
Kei cursed under his breath. "We step into one of their lairs. My apologies, lady."
Irus appeared in front of us, his rapier ready. Then I felt my skin tingling because of an ominous presence. I couldn't see anything at first but a few seconds later, shadow-like figures started surrounding us.
My stomach churned as one of them stepped forward.
"Meat," he leered in a gurgling tone.
Bloodsuckers were hideous, alright, but ghouls were a different kind of nasty. Their long, hairless arms and legs were as muscular as a person. Their gaunt faces, protruding mouth and sunken eyes looked like a hybrid of hyena and a human corpse. Most of all, hearing them speak as if they were gurgling, was the most disturbing thing.
"Eek, not humans," the largest ghoul commented in disgust. "Vampires . . . but one is a delicious meat."
I felt Kei getting ready to night-travel us but before he could even move, the ghouls lurched at us in an unbelievable speed. Everything happened so fast that I didn't realize my body was already pinned down. I screamed as I saw the ghoul's repulsive face a few inches from mine. I tried pushing its face and arms away from me, but I grimaced as I felt its greasy skin against my palm.
I could hear my retainers' voices from a distance, but they seemed to be busy with the rest of the pack. The one holding me down was the largest and the one who spoke to us earlier. He showed a sinister smile as he stared at me hungrily.
His sharp claws started digging through my skin, and I yelled in pain as I felt my flesh getting torn. In retaliation, I reached for the ghoul's face and dug my nails into its cheeks despite its revolting texture. I imagined my nails getting longer, just like when I collected blood from the kid before, and they did.
The ghoul screamed in agony as my sharp nails pierced through his face, but what surprised me was the purplish black coloration that appeared around that area.
"You . . . a bloodline power . . ." he uttered in horror as he clutched his now discolored face.
I scuttled away from it while clenching my bleeding arm as hard as I could. Scared that it would attack me again, I picked a twig lying near me, despite knowing it would do nothing at all. But something strange happened. The ghoul's body started twitching and he wailed in pain. The next thing that happened left me aghast.
I watched in horror as the ghoul's body contorted in an impossible angle. Dark blotches covered the entirety of its body, and few seconds later, it dried up, as if every flesh and organ inside it had withered away.
My brain could still not process what I was witnessing, but my senses abruptly came back to me when I heard Moria shouting. Worried, I turned to their direction, but immediately regretted it upon seeing more than a dozen of ghouls running toward me. Just then, I realized my blood and the death of one of them triggered them to attack me.
There were simultaneous explosions of sand around me, but even that wasn't enough to slow them down. I was surrounded in a second, and my retainers could not come to my aid as they were still fighting against the overwhelming number of ghouls.
I'm alone now, I thought. Once again, I felt helpless. No matter how hard I tried to avoid death, it was hellbent on chasing me down.
The ghouls collectively lunged at me, and I screamed at the top of my lungs as my last resort. All the frustration and fear that I had bottled up for the past few days exploded, as my eyes and body felt searing hot. The only thing that I could remember right after was my flesh getting torn by their powerful jaws and teeth.
I was getting devoured by them, and nothing would remain of me. Huh. What a pathetic way to die.
Kei's voice snapped me out of trance, and upon getting my bearings back, images of my death flooded my mind.
"The ghouls!" I screamed as I tried to get away, but every part of my body hurt so bad.
Kei tried to keep me down, but he winced upon touching my shoulders. "Calm down, lady, we're safe now."
I stopped short after hearing that. We were safe? Were the ghouls gone? I . . . I didn't die?
"Don't move yet, lady," Moria said.
Doon ko lang na-realize na nasa gilid ko pala siya. Napansin ko ring suot ko na ang cloak ko. She was dressing the wounds on my left arm, which looked awful, to be honest. My skin was torn, and I could literally see some of my flesh and blood. Agad kong pinagsisihan ang pagtingin doon dahil pakiramdam ko ay mahihimatay na naman ako.
On the other hand, Irus was pacing restlessly behind her, seemingly avoiding to look at my state.
The three of them seemed to be fighting against the urge to touch or even look at my blood. Somehow, I felt guilty for making them feel like that.
I cleared my throat and tried to shift the topic. "W-what happened to the ghouls?" tanong ko.
They exchanged nervous looks, and simultaneously glanced at the right side. Sinundan ko ang tingin nila at napaawang ang bibig ko sa nakita. Lumps of black, crumpled figures were scattered around us, and some were starting to disintegrate into black powder. Don't tell me those were . . .
Moria gave me a meaningful look. "The rest ran away. And those . . ." she trailed off while looking at the lumps on her right. "You killed them, lady."
In my head, I already knew those were the ghouls that attacked me, but I still stifled a gasp after hearing Moria's confirmation. I remembered them tearing my flesh while I could barely keep myself from standing. They overwhelmingly outnumbered me, and I thought I had no chance to survive. What the heck happened?
I stared at my wounded hand. What exactly did I do?