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Excerpt: Aria & Will

The door just a few feet to Wilhelm’s right kept opening and closing with the flow of visitors, an incessant ballet to which he was all but oblivious.

At first, most were going in. Wounded humans who had realized that the small cut they had wanted to put a bandage on might need a few stitches after all. Friends, humans and vampires alike, who were coming to check on those soldiers who had been taken from the battlefield before the end of the battle. Parents called in to say goodbye to their loved ones, or to hold their hands and wish for the best.

Regular visiting hours wouldn’t start until ten in the morning, but nurses and hospital personnel had stopped trying long ago to keep visitors out of their ward after visiting hours on battle nights. All they asked them was to be quiet, and to keep their visits as short as possible.

Eventually, the stream reversed, and patients and visitors started leaving. Most were silent as they went, but the salt of tears was heavy in the air.

An overhang a few feet long protected the entrance of the hospital, but from where he sat, Wilhelm could still see the sky. The inky darkness lightened as he watched without really seeing, the blue coming from behind the hospital and spreading toward the horizon. It slowly turned from the color of a stormy sea to that of the purest mountain lake. Occasional clouds drifted through as light as foam, and just as ephemeral.

At noon, the sky was so blindingly white that Wilhelm had to close his eyes. But behind his closed eyelids, the white persisted, shifting from one moment to the next until it took the form of a sheet drawn over a still body. Wilhelm jerked, his first movement since he had sat down on the concrete with his back to the hospital wall. When he opened his eyes again, the sun was drawing a thin line just beyond the edge of the overhang.

The line thickened as the sun started moving lower toward the horizon. Then it lengthened. Wilhelm kept his eyes on it, and to him the line barely seemed to move at all. Only when he blinked did the sunlight appear to jump forward. Jump toward him. It did so until there were only a couple yards left, and minutes were all that separated it from Wilhelm.

“Hello, Will. You missed our afternoon meeting.”

Blinking slowly, Wilhelm looked up, following the pressed uniform pants and shirt until he found Bergsen’s face. The man was looking at him through a blank mask, the same mask he wore at Guard funerals. Wilhelm didn’t know what to reply, so he kept quiet and lowered his eyes again. Just behind Bergsen, the line had leapt again.

“Will…” Bergsen sighed as he squatted down; his eyes were now almost level with Wilhelm’s. “What do you think you’re doing here?”

Wilhelm shrugged. After hours of remaining still, his muscles protested at the movement, but he silenced the pain and kept it out of his voice. “Nothing. Just enjoying some fresh air.”

Shaking his head lightly, Bergsen snorted.

“Fresh air? It smells like burned meat to me.”

It took a few seconds before the words slid far enough into Wilhelm’s mind to begin to make sense. He sniffed, and the scent clinging to the air—burning flesh—made him frown.

“Come on, now, my friend, you’re scaring the nurses.” Bergsen’s hand closed over Wilhelm’s right shoulder and he squeezed, pulling up lightly. “Let’s go in, and they’ll put some bandages on these burns.”

When Bergsen looked down, Wilhelm followed the movement with his eyes, and was surprised to discover that his left hand was red and blistered. His face felt tight and sore, too.

“I didn’t go in the sun,” he protested, taking Bergsen as witness. “Why…”

He couldn’t finish. It didn’t make sense that he would be burnt. He hadn’t moved all day, remaining by the wall beneath the overhang.

“Of course you didn’t go in the sun,” Bergsen said, gently pulling up on Wilhelm’s shoulder again. This time, Wilhelm stood at the prompt. “If you had, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. But you were close enough to sunlight to do the trick. What the hell were you thinking?”

Bergsen’s hand remained on Wilhelm’s shoulder as he led him inside, past those doors that had opened and closed so often during the day. Wilhelm wondered suddenly if anyone had come to see Aria. He stopped in the middle of the lobby and turned his face toward Bergsen. The words tore his throat like crushed glass but he pushed them out anyway.

“She’s dead.”

Bergsen looked away and nodded. “I know, Will. I know.”

He motioned for a nurse, and she showed them to an examination room. Wilhelm sat down on the table, and at last Bergsen let go of his shoulder.

The words kept coming now, despite the pain, despite the uselessness of it all. After hours of silence, they refused to stop rising.

“I was going to tell her… I had decided, after we talked this afternoon. I was going to wait until the fight was over, and I would have told her. I would have told her I… I would have… But it doesn’t matter now, does it?”

The nurse cleaning his hand wasn’t giving any sign that she had heard a word he had said. He looked at Bergsen, who as before turned his gaze away. Bergsen never did that, some part of Wilhelm’s mind supplied. Not unless he was keeping something from someone.

“What is it?”

Wilhelm refused to hear Bergsen’s protests that nothing was going on and simply asked the question again until the man sighed.

“Well, maybe you’ll get another chance to tell her.”

At Wilhelm’s blank look, Bergsen sighed yet again and passed a hand through his thinning hair. “Cambria. When the orderlies went to take her body, he wouldn’t let them. He said he turned her.”

Continued in Aria & Will