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2.

The Basics were ten. According to the bloodline, Constance was the first one. The nine others emerged during a millennium after her, each on every hundred years. Physically and physiologically, they were more advanced than any other creature on the planet. Those who were later called vampires were impure, they were simply humans raised after their death. The Basics were never human, that is why they were perfect and indestructible. The only common feature they had with vampires was that they fed primarily on blood. However, vampires could not digest any other substance but blood. The Basics could process anything they could drink, although blood always remained their most important source of energy and nutrition. No one could precisely determine the origin of the Basics. Even Constance was not sure of it. All she could remember is that at one point she simply started to think and exist, and geographically it happened somewhere on the south banks of Danube. She had no parents, no home, only her instincts. Other Basics had similar testimonials, and they appeared in various other parts of the world. For four thousand years, the Basics enjoyed their limitless lives, fed on humans, fed on vampires. Constance tried to stay behind, in the background, while the members of her bloodline exploited their abilities fiercely. Then, the Philephebos family came. Apparently, a Basic had killed a Philephebos, which started the war between two worlds. The Philephebos dedicated their lives to revenge and finding a way to exterminate all Basics. Finally, after long fights and loses, these humans found a special, black hawthorn tree and broke one of its branches to make a stake. After the stake was shaped properly, the blacksmiths of the family mounted it in gold, leaving only the pointy end uncovered. For some reason, the stake was deadly to Basics, and the Philephebos started eliminating them. Over the course of three and a half millennia, eight Basics died, along with numberless members of Philephebos family.

Constance was spared of the ongoing fight because she spent most of her time outside Europe. Nexus however, did not leave the Old Continent once he moved there. He participated in the fights, suffered many injuries, but always managed to escape the deadly tip of the hawthorn stake. His hatred for humans, Philephebos, and even vampires grew stronger each day. The fights ended abruptly, when Stefania Philephebos was killed by Constance at the end of the nineteenth century. Stefania found Nexus’s house in Istanbul and attacked him, but Constance Morrigan showed up and helped Nexus. Although their paths went apart before that, Constance could not simply deny aid to one of her kind. She broke Stefania’s arms and legs and then fed on her blood, until she finally killed her and cut her in pieces. Then, Constance and Nexus fell apart again. She simply could not forgive him.

He woke up late, with sandwich crusts on his chin and chest. Red light of warning on his answering machine signalled that he had one message. It was Professor Alastair, and he wanted to meet Richard at the university. Richard ran into the bathroom, took a shower, shaved and put on his best suit. He hoped that the Professor would still be in his office when he got there.

Richard Phileph was always a model student. He took all kinds of courses in the elementary and high school and he was good at them, except those sports ones. However, during college he played basketball for the college team, although he did not care much for it. He did it for grades and extra credits. Richard admired the stamina of Spartans and training of Romans, mostly because he was not like them. He was tall, heavy and slow, and as such, he could only serve in the defence and stop constant opponents’ attacks. That is how he got the name the Wall. During the summer before his senior high school year, he had a girlfriend. Her name was Nancy and she was attractive. That was all he could remember her by. Her personality slipped from his memory. He was not truly, hopelessly in love with her, but he would feel better around her. They had dated for two weeks and then they had sex in her friend’s car. Their break up was a result of a mutual agreement, because they both knew that much more was waiting for them. The way he heard it, Nancy later married her neighbour, who was a troublesome man. After some years, he killed himselfm which forced her to move to Middle West, because life was cheaper there for her and her two children.

Mostly, Richard was satisfied with his love life. For some reason, women liked him, although he could have been more handsome according to his own opinion. Sometimes he would look himself in the mirror, and wonder what those women saw in him. He liked good food, and he loved good wine. That is why he gained weight in the last two years, but he refused to change his habits. He graduated as one of the best in his class, but he had never taken a position at the university. After graduation, he worked as a history teacher in a school in Brooklyn. Almost five years later, he quitted and went to Armenia with a group of anthropologists and archaeologists for an excavation. When it was finished, Richard and his friends travelled to Paris for a museum exhibition of their findings. At the gala, he met Virginie and spent the next four days with her in a hotel room. He came back to New York and started to look for a permanent employment. Now, he worked as a consultant for an auction house, assessing the value of their collections.

When he entered the Professor’s office, his assistant showed him a place to sit and wait. Voices were heard from the other room. One was deep and strict, and the other one was quieter and crying. Then, a student came out of there, her face was wet of tears and sweat and her eyes were red. She rushed by Phileph and the assistant, avoiding to look at them, and shut the door loudly when she left the office.

“She was cheating. She tried to forge her final paper,” the Professor said and shook hands with Richard.

“I apologize for not coming earlier. I have just heard your message,” Phileph replied.

“Don’t worry, my boy. You gave me enough time to show the true meaning of justice to this cheater. I don’t understand why they enter the studies if they think of presenting someone else’s papers as their own. Mike, get us coffee,” the Professor said and took Richard to his office room.

“Why did you want to see me, sir?” Richard asked.

“You were my favourite student, Phileph. And you know me, so you know that I don’t say that to everyone. But, you weren’t exactly university material. I thought it might have been too much of an obligation for you. I’ve been hearing about your travels and excavations. You see it yourself, you are a field type, not a classroom one.”

“But, excavations weren’t a full time job. Besides, it’s more for young people.”

“You have a point. Thank you, Mike,” the Professor replied when his assistant brought in two steaming cups of coffee.

“Then, what do you plan to do with me?”

“I want to offer you a job here.”

“Just like that? All of a sudden you remembered me?”

“Not really, I have to be honest. I meant to call you earlier, but there was no vacancy. Now, however, the situation has changed. Also, a friend of yours and mine had come to visit me, and mentioned you.”

“A friend? Who?”

“I think you know. It’s Constance Morrigan,” Professor Alastair said. Until that moment, Richard did not even remember her. Entire last day was like a dream, surreal and misty. He suppressed her, and stopped thinking about her request. Now, she was there again, in front of his eyes, with a demand he was not ready to fulfil. Richard’s stomach dropped.

“So, I can thank her for this,” Phileph said.

“Don’t think I’m doing this for her. She simply reminded me of you,” Alastair said.

“We’ve known each other for ten years, you could have called me whenever you wanted to. If there was no vacancy, you would make one for me. Admit it, she put you in a corner,” Richard replied changing his voice. He did not want to speak about Constance’s nature, but waited for Alastair to mention it first. It was a way to see if her story was actually true.

“She is very influential and very persuasive. But, I could have said no to her.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Richard. I don’t know how much you are familiar with her, but she’s not some kind of a monster under your bed. She is wise, and the years have given her the experience. You can’t get everything by extortion.”

“Is it true? She told me something about herself… It’s hard for me to accept it.”

“I felt the same in the beginning.”

“How? I want to know how? Is it magic, or a curse? How can she be like that?”

“Basically, it’s only biology. She is not human, although she looks like one.”

“She cut her arm which healed immediately. I saw it. It’s not just biology. There must be something else, too.”

“Lizard regenerate, they do regenerate, Richard. Cats see in the dark, and cheetahs are fast. Think of it as if nature took one quality from each being and put it together in Constance,” the Professor said. Richard was still suspicious. Could he believe Constance? Could he believe the Professor?

“You speak of her with admiration.”

“She is to be admired. And next semester, you will come here as my assistant.”

“She asked me to do something…”

“I know, she had told me.”

“And what do you think about it?”

“Constance is serious when it comes to that. I am sorry for her decision. I became accustomed to her, and I will miss her.”

“Yes… I’ve known her for a day, and yet a feel a strange warmth when I think of her now. She is truly unusual, as a person.”

“When are you leaving?” Alastair asked.

“Leaving where?” Phileph was confused.

“Morrigan told you about the dagger, the stake?” the Professor replied.

“She gave me papers to read about it, but she didn’t mention going anywhere…” Richard said.

“The stake is in Istanbul. You will have to go there in order to perform the killing,” Alastair said.

“She told me nothing about the location of the stake. But, why is it in Istanbul?”

“It was left there by Constance, after she defeated Stefania Philephebos. The Basics cannot touch or be near the black stake without suffering great pain and sickness. Since she couldn’t take it with her, Constance placed it in the hands of a local tailor, for safekeeping. Morrigan didn’t know how to destroy the stake, but this way she could at least know where it was, protected from the members of your family,” the Professor explained.

“But then, my family travelled to the United States and refused to deal with demons such as her and others. Besides, if the stake made her feel so ill, why didn’t she simply sit next to it and wait until it drained her of life completely? I think that my involvement in this is just a complication,” Richard protested.

“Feeling ill is different from dying. The presence of the stake weakens the Basics, but it takes an action by the hand of Philephebos to end their life. That is the code. That is the rule that imposed itself and was determined by the nature of the stake’s creation. The will of the Basics and the will of the Philephebos family are irrelevant,” Alastair said.

“She needs to explain everything to me. She didn’t mention the trip to Istanbul at all. And I don’t want to get the position of your assistant if she asked you to give it to me,” Richard said.

“No, don’t say that. It’s high time that you settle down. Regular job is something that you need. I’m your friend, as much as I was your mentor in the past. Accept my offer, and believe me, it is only my decision. Morrigan’s words were a reminder, but the call was mine,” the Professor assured him. Phileph sighed. His entire world changed yesterday, bringing him confusion and fear. Professor’s offer was a light in the current dark, a good opportunity for him. It was also a sign of hope that he might have a regular life after he takes care of Constance. He would do this favour to his old Professor. He respected him. But, at that moment he pitied him as well. Alastair was a man of great mind and wits, and yet he was brought down to the level of someone’s food. He was Constance’s hamburger, an afternoon snack. Weren’t we all, food? One day, Richard would become food for maggots and worms. Those little creatures would feast on his corpse, as much as Constance enjoyed Professor’s blood. Having that in mind, Alastair was at least honoured to feed such an amazing being as the Basic Morrigan was.

“Thank you very much, Professor,” Richard said and got up. He had nothing more to say. The Professor nodded and shook hands with him at the door.

“I will submit files for your application. Send me your resume in the next few days, just to please the norms,” Alastair said.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have it on your desk by upcoming Monday,” Phileph replied.

When he left the university building, strange chills overcame Richard. It was July, it was hot, but his hands felt cold. He felt unease. He got a job, he needed to celebrate. Richard walked into a bar, and ordered a dry stout. He had never drunk it, although his co-workers recommended it all the time. Now, the time was right, he had a good reason to try it. However, he was not sure how it would fit together in his stomach with a no sugar coffee he just had. Richard drank one mug quite easily. He asked for another and got it with a smile from a bartender. She was cute. And then, he remembered. He should have called Jenny. Willing to correct his mistake, he dialled her, but she did not answer. She was probably still upset. The bartender smiled at him again. He met Jenny at another bar about a year ago. It appeared that bars were his hunting territory. Would she accept going out with him? The bartender was sending him signals, but he grew tired of girls and women who expected him to make the first move. Over the years, it was becoming harder for him to do it. It lost every significance and sense to him. On one occasion, he was so bored and annoyed that he openly approached a girl in a nightclub, asking her if she wanted to have sex with him. He received a negative response and a slap, but he was satisfied with his own honesty. She probably wanted him to compliment her, start a causal talk. He did not have time, or the nerves for that. Richard would have to go through all that trouble, and for what? To hear her say that she would think about it? The bartender was waiting for him, he was watched with eyes full of desire, but he remained cool. Even if she smiled sweetly, it would not change anything. That did not work with him. His duties in the next several days were stopping him from beginning something serious. He had to tell Jenny, in a way she would understand without thinking he was cheating on her.

He drank three more mugs of beer and felt nauseous. He paid, and got up, noticing that his legs had become heavy. As if he was walking on sand, the ground was absorbing his steps and it seemed to him that he was not moving at all. Somehow, he reached the bus station, and then his home.

He entered the house, looking around as if he did not know where he was. Everything he touched was buttery, as he tottered across the room. Drinking on a hot and steamy day was a bad idea. His heart was beating fast and loudly, and he fell on the floor. Richard had to reach the bathroom in any way possible and make himself vomit. Yet, his strength abandoned him. Maybe he simply needed to sleep through his sickness. Phileph had a strong headache and his stomach was twirling and howling. His state was not that serious, but he started thinking about death. He thought of everything he read in Constance’s scrolls, particularly the warning of how a person could become a vampire. Vampire’s bite did nothing, turning into one was a completely external matter, a matter of accident. So, what if he died and a crow flew over his grave? Or a fox jumped over it? Or his place of eternal rest was struck by a lightning? If he became a vampire, he could have everything he always wanted. But, there was a problem. He could not stand blood. Drinking it would be disgusting. And he would have to give up all of the delicious food. Steaks, wine, cakes, it would all be forbidden. Richard was crawling on the floor, coughing and spitting. If he ever woke up, it would be the worst hangover he experienced in his life. And he did not even drink that much. Phileph had longer and stronger nights of bonding with alcohol. He was sweating and breathing fast. Someone was at the door. The monotonous sound of the doorbell was upsetting him. Richard growled and waved with his arms in anger, as if that would stop the ringing. He was hitting the floor with his fists, trying to make any noise so that he could be heard. Whoever was standing on the outside could help him. That was why he screamed, out of pain and out of despair.

“Rick? Are you there?” he recognized Jenny’s voice.

“I’m here…” he barely uttered and saw her running to him.

“What happened to you?” she asked nervously and put him on his back.

“I had some beer and I got sick,” he explained.

“Come here, on the couch,” she lifted him as much as she could, but he coughed and threw up on his shirt and her hands.

“I’m sorry…” he whispered.

“It’s alright,” she replied and wiped her hands with his sleeve. Richard took off his jacket, because it was too tight. Jenny helped him sit on the couch and brought him a bucket from the kitchen, in case he started vomiting again.

“I’ve called you…” he said, covering his head with a warm towel she gave him.

“I know, I saw it,” she replied.

“And why didn’t you answer it?” he asked.

“I didn’t have time. It’s good that I’m here now,” she said.

“In the next few days I won’t be at home,” he decided to inform her right away.

“Look, if you want to break up, just say it. We’ve never said that we are exclusive. I had that one night stand besides you.”

“I don’t want to break up. I’m telling you the truth, I won’t be here.”

“It must have something to do with that woman…”

“She had offered me a job. There was no way I could have refused it.”

“When are you coming back?”

“I’ll let you know. There is good news. Starting with next semester, I’ll be an assistant of my old university Professor. I think these are the chances I must not miss.”

“That’s great. I’m happy for you, I really am. You’ve always said you wanted to work as a professor. This is the beginning of your university career.”

“I’m too old to have a university career now.”

“Don’t say that, you never know.”

“What will happen to us, Jenny? Where am I on the list of your choices?”

“You’re quite drunk if you’re asking me this.”

“Tell me…”

“You’re ranked highly… But, it’s just that we don’t look like a couple. I don’t have a feeling that we are a couple. It’s more like we’re friends who occasionally have sex.”

“Yes… And you’re too young to be committed to only one man.”

“Commitment comes when the need for it is felt. I don’t think the age has anything to do with it,” Jenny said and got up to prepare him tea. Jenny was good. Richard wanted to confess her what Constance actually was, but those kinds of secrets should not be told. He was still sick, but at least his headache stopped. He felt better.

“What tea are you making?” he asked.

“Mint tea, it will take care of your stomach,“ she replied.

“Thank you,” Phileph said when Jenny brought him a cup of tea.

“When you finish it, I’ll leave,” she said and smiled.

“Alright, but take care. I’ll call you tomorrow,” Richard said.

“There’s no need, I’ll visit you in the morning, just to check on you,” Jenny replied.

When he was left alone, Richard listened to the sounds around him. He heard cars driving down the street, dogs barking, neighbours arguing. Where was Constance? She probably jumped from one rooftop onto another, admired the stars above her and once again thought about her decision.

Actually, she was in the library, surrounded by the writings as old as history itself. Constance was studying a drawing of the stake, which was supposed to be driven through her heart. Faces of people she lost were showing up in front of her. Perhaps, she had no right to demand Richard to kill her. She should stay alive, forever in remorse for what she had done. She went to the bookshelf, adjusting the position of a Chinese lunch and tea set and a baroque cup. Sometimes she wanted to smash all the objects in her possession, which confined parts of her past. Epochs were carved into them. Those objects were a reminder that different times came by and went away, but she remained the same, locked in her body.

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