"Branwyn! Wait up!" a young woman called out to her friend. She was rushing along the forest path to catch up to Branwyn, who was waiting for her. Her hand was resting on her plump belly, as if to keep the baby inside of her from falling out. Her long black hair was streaming out behind her.
"Eira," Branwyn greeted, a smile on her face. The blond woman waited patiently for her six-month pregnant friend to reach her. "How's the baby?"
"She was kicking again this morning. She's going to be strong, just like her father and her brother."
"How is Bowen? Branwyn asked. Bowen was Eira's two-year-old son. He had recently gotten ill with the summer sickness.
"That's why I'm here, actually. Do you have any more of those herbs you gave us before?" Branwyn was the village midwife and had given Eira medicine for her son, which had helped save his life.
"No, but it's a full moon tonight. I can get some for you." The two friends had resumed walking down towards the stream, Branwyn's original destination.
"I'll come with you and help," offered Eira.
"No!" Branwyn said loudly and quickly. At Eira's startled look, she added, "I mean, you need your rest."
"So do you," Eira pointed out with raised eyebrows.
"But I'm not pregnant. You are," Branwyn reminded in her best I-know-better-than-you-listen-to-what-I-say voice.
Eira glared at her for a few seconds, then suck out her tongue. It didn't stay out for very long because both girls burst into laughter. It was a familiar routine for both of them. They had been friends before they had learnt walking, and all their arguments, no matter how trivial or serious, ended in that fashion.
Branwyn was glad she had been able to distract Eira from her original offer. It was too dangerous to go out after dark, even if Eira would be travelling with the Slayer.
Not that Eira knew of Branwyn's duty. Only Branwyn's father, Colwin, who was her Watcher, and Branwyn herself knew of her identity.
Her mother had also been a Slayer. Olwynn had been called into service when her daughter was four and had died less than a year later. Branwyn had come into power just six months ago, but had always known of her heritage and had been training for it her entire life.
Both Branwyn and Eira were seventeen years of age and the latter had been married for three years. Branwyn had always regretted not telling Eira of her secret, but the most important and stressed rule of a Vampire Slayer was not to let anyone know.
While Branwyn was reminiscing, Eira was planning. She was sick of everyone treating her like an invalid, just because she was pregnant. She made up her mind to follow Branwyn that night. Her uneasy conscience was settled with the thought that it was only fair that she help Branwyn gather they herbs. They were, after all, being picked to save her son's life.
Branwyn gathered her things. She decided to bring extra weapons with her just in case. That night was not only a full moon, but also the Feast of Gwydavius, which marked the start of a series of vampiric rituals that would last a year. Ultimately, they would result in the destruction of mankind unless they were not stopped. Branwyn was determined to cut off the snake's head, so to speak. If the current master, whose name no one knew, died, the rituals would end with him. Branwyn grabbed a basket and set off.
When Eira saw the healer leave her house with her basket she gathered up her skirts and followed her friend silently. Branwyn started off for the woods, unaware of her second shadow.
Branwyn headed towards the vampire's quarters. If she were fortunate, she might face this group's master and if she were extremely lucky, she might be able to kill it and avenge her mother's death. She was too caught up in her thoughts to notice Eira until she heard the pregnant woman scream.
Eira was concentrating so hard on not being heard that she didn't notice the man sneak up on her. At least, Eira thought it was a man when she first noticed him out of the corner of her eye. But when she turned her head, her opinion changed instantly. What she saw was a thing with a twisted face and fangs. It was growling softly and Eira screamed.
Branwyn immediately sprang into action. She pulled the advancing vampire away from her still screaming friend. She kicked it a couple of times, it kicked her a couple of times, she staked it, and it collapsed into a pile of dust.
"Eira! Are you alright?" asked Branwyn. She ran over to the raven-haired woman. Eira was leaning against a tree, her breath fast and heavy from fear.
"I'm fine," she gasped, fighting to regain control over her racing heart. "What was that?"
But Branwyn, once reassured of her friend's safety, couldn't control her temper. She yelled at Eira, "What were you doing! You shouldn't have followed me!" Fear more than anger, motivated her response.
"I was going to help you get the herbs. But what was that thing?" Eira was breathing steadily now, but her eyes were still a little wild.
Branwyn paused, thinking her answer through before speaking it aloud. "Come back with me and I'll explain everything when we get home."
Eira opened her mouth to protest, but took one look at Branwyn's determined face and quickly closed it again. They walked back the way they had come, once again in silence, but this time both aware of each other's presence. Branwyn's strides were long and fast and Eira had to run to keep up with her. Yet she dared not complain; Branwyn's stony face and clenched fists were a dead giveaway of her anger.
When they reached Branwyn's house, her father was still up reading at the table. "Why are you back so early?" he asked without lifting his head. Then he lifted his eyes to see Branwyn's friend. "Oh," he said in surprise. "Hi Eira." He paused for a second then asked in a puzzled voice, "Why are you here?"
"She followed me," Branwyn stated in an unemotional voice.
"Oh," her father said once again, followed closely by a third, more understanding, "Ohhh. What happened?" He chose his words carefully, in case there was still a chance Eira didn't know about Branwyn's supernatural alter ego.
"We were attacked," Branwyn said.
"Will someone please answer me?" Eira was almost hysterical by then. "What was that thing?"
"That," declared the Watcher, "was a vampire."
"A what?" Eira asked, puzzled.
"A vampire," Branwyn picked up from where her father left off, "is a creature of the night. They are demons who inhabit dead humans, ones that another vampire fed off of. What you saw was a vampire ready to feed."
"What do you mean, 'to feed?'" Eira had a suspicion she didn't really want to hear the answer, but at the same time felt compelled to know.
Colwin took up the explanation. "Vampires survive by drinking human blood. If the human in turn drinks some of the demon's blood, they will turn into a vampire too. If they don't, they simply die. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Eira had been following along, nodding at appropriate times, and looking suitably horrified at other times. She asked the only question that was bothering her. "How do you and Branwyn know this?"
Branwyn exchanged a look with her father. She took in a deep breath and let it out again. That was the question she had been fearing all along. She didn't want to answer it, but knew she couldn't put it off any longer. "Well," she said reluctantly, "ever since there were vampires in the world, there has been someone to keep them from taking over. One girl in whole world, the Slayer."
"She is the chosen one, the one with the power to kill them," Colwin continued.
"Branwyn?" Eira asked in amazement. "Branwyn is the Slayer?"
"Well," a pause, "yes."
There was another pause while Eira digested all of the information and Branwyn and her father sat in deep thought. The latter knew the two friends had a lot to talk about and neither of them would say another word in from of him, so he quietly got up and left.
Eira sat and stared at Branwyn for several more seconds before she asked, "Why didn't you tell me?: Her eyes were open wide with curiosity.
Those eyes were also accusative and Branwyn couldn't bear to look at them. She found herself unable to meet her friends gaze.
Eira repeated, "Why didn't you tell me?" her voice louder this time.
"I-" her voice faltered. What could she say, how could she answer that question? Branwyn had often wondered it herself, especially during her earlier years.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Eira exploded. "We've been friends all our lives. Best friends! And you didn't tell me something this important. How could you?" The rant went on for a little longer. Branwyn just hung her head in shame and took the abuse without a word.
"I'm sorry," she said with a small voice. A couple of tears dripped down her face. She looked up to see that Eira was also crying. "I wanted to. I really did. But I couldn't. I wasn't allowed. I'm sorry." The Slayer held her breath. She hoped her secret wouldn't ruin the friendship she had with the girl who she loved like a sister.
"What do you mean?"
"I wasn't allowed to. It's a rule. I really wanted to, but I couldn't. I'm so sorry," she repeated, her face twisted with anguish.
"Why weren't you allowed?" Eira asked.
"The Watchers are afraid that anyone who knows will be in danger. I was afraid that if I told you you'd get hurt." Tears were flowing freely. "I'm so, so sorry."
The dark-haired beauty simply said, "I should go now." There was no hint of forgiveness in the words.
Eira left and Branwyn just sat there and tried without success to keep from sobbing. She had just ruined her deepest friendship, one of her only friendships, to be honest, all because she was the Slayer. Suddenly her sacred duty didn't seem as important anymore. Her effort was useless and Branwyn fell asleep sobbing.
The next day was a blur to Branwyn. She remembered trying to talk to Eira without any luck. Her friend ignored the Slayer except to slam the door in her face. When Branwyn returned home, Colwin informed her that they were leaving for the city that night. The answer to the unasked question, "Why?" was related to a prophecy and the Watcher left it at that. Branwyn started to pack and she and her father were at an inn before she really woke up and realized what was happening.
"Da," she asked, "Why are we here?"
The Watcher had already explained to his Slayer, but the father knew what his daughter was going through so he patiently repeated the short version. "Now that the Feast of Gwydavius is over, the vampires will start feeding in full force. As this is the largest settlement around, it is most probable that the vampires will come here. And since you are the Slayer, you must go where they go."
Colwin took one look at Branwyn's blank face. It told him she hadn't taken in a word. With a sigh, he explained for a third and a forth time before understanding slowly crept into her eyes.
"I'd better go then." Branwyn grabbed some stakes and left with a peck on her father's cheek before he could utter a word.
Hunting wasn't hard. 'Da was right,' Branwyn though, 'The vampires have come here.' She fought with more passion than usual, venting all of her anger while slaying the demons. Anyone who knew what happened would have pitied the vampires she killed, even though they were the inhuman monsters and she the champion who kept them from destroying the world. She didn't go back to the inn before the sun was hanging low in the sky. Branwyn dropped into bed and was sleeping before he head reached the pillow. Colwin came in to see the sleeping beauty on her bed. He let her rest for most of the day.
When the Slayer finally started stirring, the sun had begun to set. Colwin spoke up. "Wake up angel; it's almost night again."
"What?" Branwyn shot up, suddenly wide awake.
"You slept the whole day. It must have been an exhausting night."
"You let me sleep all day?" Branwyn yelled.
Colwin hushed her. "Shh, you needed it. You've had a rough couple of days."
"But still-" she protested and was interrupted by a firm voice.
"No buts, you needed it."
Branwyn quieted down when she realized there was no hope of her winning the argument. Instead she let her father persuade her to join him for supper before she set out for that night's hunt.
The day became a week, became two weeks, became a month, became two before Branwyn and Colwin returned home. Branwyn had fought with herself for the entire time she was gone and had come to a conclusion; she had to try to make up with Eira. The friendship was too great to give up without a fight. Branwyn was now standing in front of her friend's door, but her hand frozen. Three times she started to knock and three times her courage failed her at the last possible second. Even fighting vampires and other demons of the night was harder than this. Finally, Branwyn was able to rap her knuckles against the wood of the door. It swung open to reveal Eira and Bowen standing there. The younger one gave a squeal of delight and launched himself at Branwyn.
"Bran! Bran! You're back!" was the only thing she could decipher. The boy went on for several more minutes before Branwyn could convince him to stop.
The elder just stood there wide-eyed in stunned silence.
The two girls stood there for several minutes, just staring at each other, sizing up the changes over the last two months. Branwyn noticed how much bigger her friend was. Eira now looked every day her eight months, and more. Branwyn, on the other hand, had grown thinner and paler, looking sicker than she had ever looked before.
"Eira," Branwyn finally said, the name spoken softer than a whisper. Her face plainly showed how scared she was to see her friend again. Would Eira forgive her? Or slam the door in her face?.
"Branwyn," Eira stated. Her stunned look slid into a smile. "It's you! Are you okay? I'm so sorry!" Eira moved to the side and ushered the Slayer in. "Bowen, go help your father. Now." Slowly, and protesting greatly, the little boy left.
When the two adults were alone at last, Eira asked concerned, "Branwyn, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Will you ever forgive me?"
"Of course I will," she was shocked her friend could think differently, "And I'm sorry too. I really wanted to tell you, but it would've been too dangerous."
Eira didn't vocalize her it, but her body language made it apparent she didn't agree with her friend. Instead the dark-haired girl asked, "But are you ok? What happened? I was so worried."
"Yes I'm okay. Da and I had to go to town. The vampires have pretty much set up camp there."
"Oh," Eira frowned, "Then why are you back?"
Branwyn gave her a sad puppy dog look and asked woefully, "What? Don't you want me here?" She sniffed dramatically. "You've made me sad." Her bottom lip was out in a full pout.
The pregnant woman just glared at the person across the table until both of them started laughing. "Seriously, why are you back?"
"There's another big feast day tomorrow. I have to get them at their lair."
"Branwyn," Eira was concerned, "that's too dangerous. You can die."
"I know," Branwyn stated grimly. "But someone has to do it, and I'm the only one that can."
"Let me help,"
"NO!" she yelled. "You can't. It's too dangerous."
"I'm not going to let you go alone," Eira softly told her, "I'm your best friend. I can't let you do that. And I know how to get there." Her voice was taking on a sharp edge. "Either we can go together, or we go separately. But I am going."
Eira had made up her mind. They argued for what seemed like hours before Branwyn gave in. She saw her friend's determination and stubbornness and knew Eira would go either way but would be less likely get hurt if they went together. The rest of the day was spent back with Branwyn's father, planning and preparing for the next night's attack.
The two girls snuck out in silence the following evening, shortly after the sun had set. They walked along the path, either uttering a word, but both in complete awareness. They would be ready for anything that popped out at them.
Nothing did. The Slayer and her friend reached their destination without incident. Still nothing happened.
Branwyn looked around, a stake in her left hand, a sword in her right. Eira stood still and got out her own weapons, stakes and holy water from one of the nearby sacred springs. All of a sudden it happened.
Hoards of vampires descended upon them, one after another. The mortals were separated as the fought the demons.
Eira, although a trained and excellent fighter, was not used to fighting demons of inhuman strength. On a normal day she would be able to hold her own against a couple of them at a time. Unfortunately it wasn't a normal day; Eira was pregnant and a baby slowed her down greatly. She was lucky the vampires hadn't considered her a dangerous enemy. Only one of the undead was fighting her at a time.
After dusting five or six of the monsters, Eira lost hold of her weapon. The creature currently fighting with her picked it up.
"How do you like it?" he snarled. The thing thrust the stake towards Eira's heart. The girl screamed and moved to the side at the last possible second. She grabbed another stake and plunged it into the demon, which turned into dust.
Eira noticed a sharp pain in her left arm and looked down at it. Apparently the stake hadn't missed her completely. It was lodged it her upper arm and blood gushing out of the wound.
Meanwhile Branwyn was doing fairly well. She had several cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. She just killed the vampires one by one, staking some, decapitating others. About twenty minutes after the first one attacked, she heard Eira's scream. The Slayer finished the last demon and looked at her friend.
"Eira!" she exclaimed when she saw the girl. Branwyn ran over to her companion and cursed as she looked at the wound. "I'm going to have to pull this out," she said. Eira nodded, and Branwyn added the unnecessary, "It'll hurt."
"Just do it," Eira said and braced herself for the pain. She gave a whimper as Branwyn started to pull. When the stake was out, the healer caught her friend as she fainted.
Branwyn gave a sad little smile. "It's better this way," she whispered and bound the wound with part of her skirt she had ripped off. Then she stood up and went to face the Master.
The Master was an extremely old vampire or at least that was what Branwyn had been told. She had never before seen him. Her breath caught when she finally lay eyes on the arch-nemesis. He was neither handsome nor ugly, looking neither young nor old. There was a sense of agelessness about him. He looked like any other vampire, but Branwyn could feel power oozing off of him.
"You," he said in his deep, rich voice, "must be the Slayer."
"You," she mimicked, "must be the Master." Branwyn whipped out a stake and hurled it at his heart. He stepped aside and it harmlessly hit the cave wall and fell to the ground.
"You will have to do better than that," he said.
So she did. They dueled, they fought, they traded insults, they circled around each other again and again. The fight dragged on and on. At last the Master got the upper hand. He grabbed a hold of Branwyn's neck, brought her close to him and started to feed. As Branwyn began to lose consciousness, she gathered the last of her strength and reached for a hidden stake. The Slayer stabbed the Master's heart.
"No, I can't die!" the demon said as he did just that and the body slowly disintegrated. Branwyn collapse beside the dust.
Eira awoke to a dull, throbbing pain in her left arm. She shook off the last threads of sleep and remembered what had happened.
"Branwyn!" Eira cried out. Ignoring the protests her body gave, she stood up and went to find her friend. Footprints led her right to Branwyn. Her friend was being drained by the Master. Eira looked on, horrified and helpless when the Slayer surprised them all by staking the vampire.
Eira rushed over as her friend fell to the ground. "Bran, Bran, can you hear me?" Eira gave the Slayer a little shake but Branwyn didn't respond. Eira began to panic. "Wake up, wake up," she repeated over and over to no avail. She silently started sobbing when a check for a pulse told her Branwyn had lost too much blood.
"Push, Eira, push!" said the urgent voice. "Just a couple more pushed. That's it. I can see its head. Here are its shoulders, and it arms. You're doing great."
A high pitched shriek rang through the air. The midwife smiled at the new mother. "Congratulations. It's a girl." She gave the infant to the sweaty Eira.
A little while later when guests were finally allowed in to see the new baby and her mother, Colwin asked, "What's her name?"
"Branwyn," was the reply. Colwin's eyes silently thanked her. Life had been hard for him since Branwyn had died, and Eira knew he would soon join his daughter and his wife.
The man looked down at the baby and gave a short gasp. Eira looked into his eyes and knew. She didn't need to be told that her babe bore the mark of the Slayer.
Revised January 27, 2001