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Blood Artist

 Luca crumpled up another sketch and tossed it aside. He sighed and set his supplies aside, then began to clean up the sea of paper balls littering his studio. He glanced at his easel. The base sketch was fine, he supposed, but it felt like it was missing something. For the rest of the evening Luca had been hunched over his sketchbook, trying to make a better version, but none of them were quite right. He dramatically collapsed on the couch.
 What was missing? What feature could he possibly add? Or perhaps it was too much?
 It had been too long since he’d made good art. Art that made him feel something. Art he could be proud of. He wanted that passion, that spark back. He covered his eyes with his arm. He wanted to block out the world, block out everything, particularly the bright chandelier shining directly into his retinas.
 He was roused from his thoughts by the sound of clanking metal and shuffling feet. Longshank, his undead servant, came shambling up the stairs and into Luca’s studio, carrying several art supplies.
 "Thank you, Longshank,“ he said. "You can just set those by the desk over there.”
 The decrepit courier did as he was told, then approached the couch and stood before his lord.
 "What?” Luca said.
 "Graaahh,“ Longshank said.
 Luca moved his arm to look at Longshank. He had planned to dismiss the fiend, but he paused. He examined every inch of Longshank’s face, observing every dip and wrinkle and shadow. He moved to Longshank’s armor, noting the fading colors that blended together, the way the light reflected off its metallic surface.
 Maybe this is what Luca needed. Maybe he just needed to get back to basics, do something technical just to get the juices flowing.
 "Go sit over there,” Luca said, lurching off the couch. Longshank obeyed, plopping himself on the stool in the center of the room, while Luca rushed over to the desk for his art supplies. He briefly scanned the inventory list, struggling to decipher Longshank’s terrible penmanship. Dr. Cadius jacked up his prices again. Bastard. Luca resolved to pay him a visit later.
 He grabbed one of the smaller canvases (no need to waste a larger one on a mere exercise) and set it up in front of Longshank. Next he extinguished the chandelier and began setting up an array of candlesticks to get the perfect blend of light and shadow. Luca roughed out a base sketch as fast as he could so he could get to painting.
 He laid out his supplies on a nearby table. As he uncorked the first bottle, he felt a slight vibration as the magic seal was broken. He took a sniff, though he knew it was ill-advised. There were many substances and venoms to alter the color and consistency of leech-regurgitated blood, but there was nothing that could make it smell any better. Still, it was better than using the fresh stuff, which would of course be an unthinkable waste.
 He filled the wells of his palette and began mixing. A little adarasta venom in one, a little moonflower juice in another, one unaltered, and the rest with custom blends he’d developed after years of trial and error. Before he got to painting, he took a moment to get himself a drink.
 Filling his glass, Luca inhaled deeply. This was the good stuff, fresh as the day it was drawn from the vein. He took a long sip. Mmm. Deliah Mathers from across the river. He savored the taste for a few moments before moving toward the canvas.
 Hours passed in a blur. His brush flew across the canvas in shades of crimson, pink, purple. Over time the canvas becomes Longshank, encapsulated in ruby vignette. Luca felt alive again, he felt renewed, ignited, he felt.
 At some point he realized the work was finished. He staggered back as if waking from a stupor, and fell onto the couch.
 "Thank you Longshank,“ he said, reaching for his glass. "You can rest now.”
 "Graahh,“ Longshank said, then shambled out of the room.
 He took a sip from his glass and choked. One day, he’d remember not to put his drinking glass next to the paint water, but today was not that day.