FIRST OF VAMPIRES
A Bloodline Vampires Short Story
L. J. Red
Deep in the mountains of the Roman Empire…
Lucian and Aaron had been tracking the murderer for days. Passing through terrorized villages all the way across the valley, then up into the thickly forested mountains. The villagers they had met gave them confused accounts of killers that came in the night and tore through the guards like they were paper. Just one killer, the villagers said, but the body count was so high it seemed impossible it could be one man. A team of bandits? An army?
The people were terrified, that much was clear. The rest didn’t make any sense. Lucian and Aaron knew no enemy army could have taken the valley without them knowing about it. They’d been soldiers for most of their lives, and they knew no neighboring country would have dared send their men this far into the Roman Empire. As for bandits, why attack up here in the mountains? The villagers were poor folk, farmers, there were far more lucrative targets back on the main trade routes out of the Empire.
Still the death count rose; whole villages wiped out in a single night. Lucian and Aaron’s centurion had called them aside five days ago and sent them away from the rest of their cohort to find the killer. He trusted their tracking skills and their fighting abilities enough to send them out alone, but they were starting to wonder if he had made a mistake. This threat was nothing like the bandits and thieves they’d tracked before. This was something far more sinister.
As it grew late on the fifth day, they left the path and made camp in a hollow beside a broad clearing. Lucian had brought down two rabbits with his sling during the walk, and he dressed and roasted them over the fire while Aaron sharpened his short sword with smooth regular strokes.
“Here, give me yours, I’m done with mine,” Aaron said, sliding his back into his sheath.
“I can do it.” Lucian protested. It was his blade to care for, but it did need sharpening, and he still had to tend to the fire.
“It’s all right, brother. I have the whetstone ready, and you’re busy making our dinner.” There was a pause, then in a teasing voice, Aaron continued, “I think that rabbit’s burning on the side.”
“I’ll show you burning,” Lucian scoffed, flicking ash in Aaron’s direction.
“Hey!” He said, pulling back. “I’ll have you know this cloak was handmade in Rome by the finest tailors,” Aaron said in mock outrage, brushing the grey ash from his ratty cloak.
“Oh really? Because it looks surprisingly like the one we saw on that beggar a few miles back,” Lucian said, teasing Aaron right back.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aaron said.
“No?” Lucian leaned back from the fire and pulled out his own sword, passing it, hilt first, to Aaron. “Surprising, because he could have sworn when we left, that beggar was wearing a particularly fine winter cloak, one that looked a great deal like the one you usually wear.” He knew well Aaron’s gentle-hearted nature. A formidable fighter he might be, but there was kindness under that tough exterior.
“Oh?” Aaron turned away so Lucian couldn’t see his smile. “And the bread he was eating looked a lot like the loaf you bought for our dinner.” He shot Lucian a sharp look from under his brows. “You don’t fool me, my friend.”
Lucian shrugged, smiling as well. “Luckily I’m a good shot,” he said, pointing at the rabbits.
“Lucky indeed,” Aaron said with a laugh, and began sharpening his friend’s blade.
They fell into silence, their long friendship let them sit comfortably in each other’s company. This was not the first makeshift camp they’d made in the wilderness, or the first night they would spend under the stars. The night settled around them, the sun’s last rays gradually fading until the only light came from the flickering fire.
A little while later, when the scent of roasted rabbits stained the air, Lucian paused as he leaned forward to pull the meat from the flames. Something had changed. He cocked his head. There was no strange noise, no crack of twigs underfoot or brush of parting branches but something made him look up at the tree line. A man stood at the edge of clearing, where only a moment before it had been empty.
Lucian stood with a shout of warning, grabbing his newly sharpened sword. The man didn’t move. He didn’t even flinch. He simply stood there silently regarding the both of them. With his eyes fixed on the strange man, Lucian heard Aaron stand up, and then the recognizable sound of his blade sliding from its sheath.
“Who are you?” Lucian asked.
The man slowly raised his hands wide, showing he held no weapon and Lucian saw there was no sword at his hip, not even a hunting knife. He was dressed very simply in shades of brown and green, with a long woolen cloak over a tunic and his trousers tucked into leather boots.
“I am a hunter,” he said after a moment, still remaining at the edge of the clearing.
Lucian frowned. “Then where is your weapon?”
The man just smiled shook his head. “May I sit with you a while?” he asked, and gestured toward the fire.
Lucian turned to look at Aaron and saw wariness reflected in his friend’s gaze. They had fought side-by-side for so long, they had our own silent way of communicating. Lucian knew Aaron was as suspicious of this man as he was, but the man had offered them no insult and made no attack. He wasn’t armed, and it felt wrong to Lucian to refuse a traveler the warmth of their fire.
“You can join us,” he said after the silence had stretched out long enough. Lucian settled back down, this time with his blade held securely across his knees. Aaron pulled his blanket back around himself, but he left his sword out as well, and in easy reach.
The man approached slowly, carefully, almost as if he did not wish to spook them further and sat down, leaving a little distance between himself and them. He stretched his hands out towards the flames, warming himself, but Lucian noticed he didn’t seem tense from the chill and he didn’t shiver, almost as if he didn’t feel the cold.
“What brings you here?” Lucian asked.
“I hunt,” the man said simply.
“Hunt what?” Lucian pressed.
“I believe,” the man said, considering him, “that I hunt the same thing you do.”
Lucian frowned. “You’re hunting the bandits who have been terrorizing the villages of this valley?” Alone? He thought. Unarmed?
The man nodded slowly. “That is what I hunt,” he said.
For a moment silence spread between the three of them, then seeming to come to a decision, he said, “My name is Kostis.”
“I am Lucian, this is Aaron.”
Kostis nodded at both of them. “Well met then, my friends.”
Lucian wasn’t sure he was a friend, but he wasn’t sure he was a foe either.
After a moment Lucian pulled the rabbits from the fire, halving one between himself and Aaron, he offered the other whole to Kostis. Kostis smiled when he saw the way Lucian had divided the food but raised his hand in refusal. “Please, keep it for yourself,” he said. “I hunted earlier.” His smile widened and in the firelight his teeth seemed especially sharp. “You eat, my friends, but I thank you for offering. There are some who would not be so generous to a stranger they met in the night.”
Despite Lucian’s urging, Kostis didn’t change his mind, so finally they settled back with a rabbit each and tore gratefully into the tough flesh. They had been travelling all day, and since Lucian had given away their bread earlier, they’d eaten nothing since last night’s dinner.
“Where are you from?” Kostis asked them when they had finished. “You’re not villagers.”
They shook their heads. Did he not recognize their swords? Perhaps he was a foreigner, Lucian thought, before answering, “We are soldiers, we serve the imperial army of Rome. We were sent by our centurion to look into the rumors of the attacks and if they could, deal with the cause.”
“Why did he send you?” Kostis asked.
“Because we are the best,” Lucian said flatly.
“And because we volunteered,” Aaron added honestly.
Kostis widened his eyes. “You volunteered to track a monster through the forest?”
“A monster?” Lucian scoffed. “You’ve been around villagers too long. It’s a group of bandits, has to be. We’ve seen such things before.”
“This isn’t the first time we’ve tracked a killer. Other soldiers might let injustice go unnoticed. Most officials don’t care about poor villagers disappearing, but we can’t turn away from suffering like this.”
They’d served in the army for a long time now. They’d seen what most soldiers were like, just doing their job, not caring about the people living in the towns and villages they marched through. Lucian and Aaron couldn’t live like that. They were lucky their centurion gave them permission to disappear from camp, or at least, turned a blind eye when they did, but there was always the risk they’d get called back. Told they weren’t allowed to try and help. When that happened… they’d have to decide between the army they served, and doing what was right.
Lucian knew the choice he would make. Bandits had attacked his village when he was young. He had spent the day playing by the stream, catching fish and swimming with his friends, oblivious to the danger. When he returned and saw smoke above the treetops, it was already too late. He’d travelled far and wide, met Aaron in the middle of a house fire, arms red with burns, a tiny child trapped tight in his hands. They’d fought that fire together and been fighting side by side ever since.
Lucian turned to catch Aaron’s eyes. “We joined the army to learn how to fight so that we could protect those that couldn’t protect themselves,” Lucian said shortly.
Kostis nodded and then went silent, looking at them both consideringly.
Lucian threw the bones on the fire and pulled out his blanket. He wanted to believe Kostis was what he said he was, but it hadn’t escaped his notice that the man had asked more questions than he’d answered. Still, there was something impressive about him. He carried himself with confidence. He looked like he belonged here in in the forest in a way that Lucian and Aaron didn’t.
Lucian weighed the blanket in his hands, then caught Aaron’s eyes. After a moment, Aaron nodded, and Lucian turned to Kostis. “Share our camp for the night,” he said, holding out the blanket.
Kostis braced his hands on his knees, then stood, waving off the blanket.
“I came to your fire, not because I needed the rest, but because I wished to speak to you, to see what kind of men you are. I told you he was a hunter. That is true, I am hunting the monster that preys on the people of this valley.”
“Alone?” Lucian asked.
“Alone.” Kostis nodded. “I have… other advantages,” he said but it is been a long time since I faced one such as this monster and this time I would like to fight with allies by my side.”
“Why do you keep saying monster?” Aaron asked.
“What you are hunting is not a group of bandits, it is a monster, something that was once a man, but has lost his way.”
“No man could do what we’ve seen,” Lucian said. “We saw the dead. The villagers were torn apart. The sheer violence of it…” Words failed him.
“Trust me,” Kostis said, his voice like stone. The darkness in his eyes pinned them in place. The night seemed to tighten around them, a stillness falling over the clearing. “I know more of what you chase then you do.” He held their gazes. “You do not seek a mortal man,” he said finally.
The silence of the night seemed to shiver around them. “What do you mean?” Lucian said.
Kostis’ eyes glowed in the moonlight. “There is more waiting out there in the darkness than you know. I will not force you to fight with me,” he said, “but come morning the monster will be slain and I will be gone.” His voice grew somber. “Either I will walk away from this fight or the feral will take me down with him. If you wish to join me, I could use the help. If you do not then I thank you for sharing your fire with me and I’ll let you go on your way.” He let his words sink in and then he turned and began to slowly cross the clearing away from them.
Lucian turned to look at Aaron and saw the same confusion reflected in his eyes. Who was this man? Could they trust him? Then Lucian realized the question was far simpler. Could they let him leave to fight alone? Could they live with themselves if they did?
“We have to go with him,” Aaron said as Lucian was opening his mouth to say the same.
“He must be crazy,” Lucian muttered. He didn’t relish the thought of trying to protect Kostis from a team of bandits. Surely his story of a single monster wasn’t true, but it made no difference. He would not let a man go to his death alone.
They quickly gathered their things and caught up with Kostis at the edge of the clearing. “We will come with you,” Lucian said, speaking for the both of them.
Kostis said nothing, he just smiled.
* * *
They followed Kostis further up the mountain where the forest thickened. Here the tree trunks were placed closer together, forcing them to walk in single file along an old, almost disappeared, animal track.
There was little conversation, Lucian and Aaron were feeling their weariness, but Kostis seemed tireless. At first, they walked in darkness but soon the moon rose and lit their way. In the distance, they heard a rushing, roaring sound that gradually grew louder. The path narrowed further then abruptly ended on a fall of large boulders. In front of them was a wide and stony river bed with a river rushing down from high up in the mountains, clear foaming around the rocks as it wound its way down toward the valley. Kostis squatted on a large round rock that jutted out around the river and gestured for the others to join him.
“Do you see there,” he said pointing, his words pitched just lower than the sound of the river. The full moon shone down on them, and in its light, they could clearly see the opposite river bank. The rocks there were steeper and more jagged, receding back from the river, clustered around a little clearing and then rising into a large cliff. Tufts of grass and patches of mud clung to the slopes, and right at the back of the clearing they could just pick out a dark hollow between the rocks.
“Is that a cave?” Lucian asked.
Kostis dropped his hand and nodded “That is where the monster is hiding.”
“It cannot be a monster,” urged Lucian, hoping Kostis would reconsider. It had to be bandits. They needed to prepare for a fight.
Kostis turned to look at Lucian, his eyes dark and glittering. “I simply ask that you trust me,” he said with quiet resolve. “You do not need to believe me. Soon you will see the truth for yourself. I have fought monsters like this before. You both must do exactly as I say. Can you do that?” Lucian and Aaron found themselves nodding, their agreement pulled out of some instinctive well within their chests. It wasn’t just Kostis’ commanding presence. It felt right to be fighting beside him.
“Then this is what we will do,” Kostis said, bending close and lowering his voice.
* * *
Lucian crouched silently in the undergrowth to the left of the cave. Aaron had disappeared into the darkness on the other side, and Kostis was hidden amongst the river rocks. Like silent shadows in the night, they had picked their way across the ground and settled in to wait. They didn’t have to wait long.
Kostis stepped out from behind a tree and leapt, crossing the clearing in one clear jump and landed with a thump in the center. Lucian’s breath caught. How did he do that? No human could move like that. The night air was chill on the back of his neck and he wished Aaron was beside him, not far over on the other side of the clearing. He tightened his grip on his sword, fear prickling down his spine.
“I know you’re in there,” Kostis shouted. A moment later a shadowy figure came up out of the cave. Lucian’s skin prickled. He pressed himself against the granite rock, drawing his cloak up to hide everything but his eyes. Kostis was right. There was only one man. A monster?
“This is my territory,” the shadowy man snarled at Kostis.
Kostis sneered down at him. “You have no territory,” he said.
“Get out of here!” Shouted the man. “Don’t you know what I am?”
“Are you such a fool that you don’t recognize what I am?” Kostis said. His eyes began to glow with a strange light. The man fell back a step. Kostis smiled and his white fangs were clearly visible against his dark lips.
Lucian gripped his sword hilt tighter, the leather creaking under his grip. What was Kostis? What fight had they stumbled into? Doubts rushed through him. If the man was a monster, then what did that make Kostis?
“This is your only chance,” Kostis said to the man. “Come with me. Control your hunger. Stop praying on the innocent humans in this place.”
“Stop?” the man pulled himself up. “Why should I stop? These villagers, they are nothing, they are just food. Why should I stop? I can do whatever I like to them. I am more powerful than any other creature in the world!”
Kostis shook his head sadly. “You know nothing of the world, fledgling. I pity you.” He took a step closer to the man. “I will do what I must,” Kostis said. “If you do not come with me now, I will have to put you down as you would kill a dog that attacked an innocent child.” He took another step, his expression earnest. “You are more than a wild animal; you are more than a monster. You were once a man and you can be again.”
The man shook his head. “No. I am a man no longer.”
Kostis dropped his hand. “This is your last chance. If we fight, it will be the end of you.”
The man laughed. “That’s where you’re wrong. You have no idea how strong I am… let me show you.”
And with that, he leaped at Kostis. He was fast, supernaturally so. Lucian couldn’t follow him, he moved so fluidly through the night. One moment by the cave, the next on top of Kostis, or at least, where Kostis had been, but Kostis had moved, equally fast, spinning behind the man and gripping him with strong arms. The man screamed and Lucian saw fangs flash white in his face, then Kostis was bearing him up and over his head, thick muscles standing out in his arms as he threw him back towards the cave.
“Now! Kostis roared, and Lucian and Aaron sprung from their hiding places. They closed the distance between them as quickly as they could, but the man was too fast, they reached him as he was regaining his feet, ready to attack Kostis again, a mad, look in his eye, a terrifying strength in his limbs. Lucian knew he had to intervene. They had to keep the man back. Lucian threw his weight forward onto the balls of his feet, raised his sword and leapt, his sword aimed between the man’s shoulders. At the last moment the man spun aside, wide-eyed for a second in shock at the ambush. Lucian’s aim was fouled, his sword sliced across the man’s shoulder and across his arm.
The man screamed and stumbled right into Aaron’s attack. Aaron thrust his sword at the man’s heart, quick as he could, but again the man moved too fast, like a shadow, there and then not. Aaron’s killing blow only just grazing the man’s chest.
Still, they had him now. The three of them surrounding him, Lucian and Aaron with their bloody blades out, Kostis with fangs bared and his hands like claws. The man was trapped between them, his eyes flickering from one to the other.
“You cannot get out,” Kostis said. “You should not have chosen to harm those people. You will die here and you will never again terrorize the people of this valley.”
“They’re nothing,” the man hissed and Lucian could clearly see the madness in his reddened eyes. “We could go now, drink their blood and drain them all dry. Why do you care for humans? Why do you fight with them?” He gestured to Lucian and Aaron. “Why do you care?” He whined and Lucian could hear a thread of confusion running through the madness in his voice.
“If you have to ask,” Kostis said, “then you are further gone than I thought,” with that he sent a sharp look at Lucian and Aaron. The signal. Moving as one the three of them closed in on the man. He didn’t stand a chance. First Lucian dropped low and swung his blade at the man’s legs. He fell backward and Aaron leaped for his torso as Lucian threw his blade aside and went for his head.
They brought the man to the ground, trying to hold him still. Kostis had been clear about this, that their swordplay would only be enough to bring him down, that he had to strike the killing blow. After seeing the man easily dodge their blades, Lucian understood why, Kostis was like this man. A vampire. He had the same speed, the same strength. But how would Kostis kill him without a weapon?
The man was straining under two of them. Writhing and screaming. His sharp claws opening jagged cuts across Lucian’s side. The man got in a lucky kick that snapped Aaron’s head back and Lucian redoubled his efforts to keep the man down. It was like fighting a wild animal. A monster, just like Kostis said. Lucian scrabbled for purchase; his hands slippery with blood. He clawed at the man’s shoulder, his fingers slipping into the wound he’d opened across the man’s side. The man roared, snarling, his fangs snapping close to Lucian’s face.
He couldn’t hold him any longer. His grip was slipping. Then Kostis was at the man’s head. He raised his clawed hand, and Lucian saw his nails were so sharp they glittered in the moonlight. Kostis stood, lined in the silvery light for a frozen moment, then, with one powerful strike he tore the vampires head clean off.
Lucian staggered backward. The body on the ground twisted, headless, with blood leaking onto the forested floor. It kicked and flailed and then, with no warning flared with a faint glitter of red light and collapsed into ash.
Lucian raised his head and met Aaron’s wide eyes across the clearing. They turned as one to look at Kostis.
“What was that? How did you—” Lucian shook his head, shock and adrenaline making his body shake. He felt unsteady, cold in the aftermath of the fight. A man had just collapsed into ash in front of his eyes. He didn’t know what to think, couldn’t believe it. But it had happened. Kostis had said they were fighting a monster, he’d seen the way they both moved. They weren’t human.
Aaron came up behind him and offered Lucian his hand. Lucian pulled himself upright, and with his brother’s reassuring presence at his side, they both turned to Kostis.
“What are you?”
* * *
Kostis was staring at the pile of ash that had once been a man, but at Lucian’s words he looked up. His eyes were black hollows in his face and for a second Lucian’s tired limbs were frozen with terror. Then Kostis tilted his head, light entered his gaze and Lucian saw again the quiet hunter that they had followed into this fight.
“I am a vampire,” he said simply. “I was once a man but I was turned many, many centuries ago into this.” He raised his hands, still black with blood, his nails sharp. “Supernatural strength, supernatural speed but with it comes a darker side,” he said gesturing towards the ash. “Bloodlust,” he said and this time Lucian caught the flash of fangs in his mouth.
“Bloodlust?” Aaron asked, his voice rough with exhaustion.
“You know the lust for violence, I think,” he said. “Being soldiers you have perhaps experienced what the men of the north call a berserker rage.”
Aaron nodded slowly. They had seen men lose themselves in battle. They would forget their formation, forget that they were meant to be protecting their fellow soldiers and run madly into the fight. Lucian himself had felt that strange madness press against his mind more than once, but his brother had always been there, shoulder to shoulder to pull him back.
“For vampires it is even more dangerous,” Kostis said. “We do not eat. The desire for blood is our only hunger. The craving for violence, for food, for the pleasures of the body, they pale in comparison. If you lose yourself to it…” he trailed off and they all three looked down at the ground where ash mingled with the dirt.
“How do you stop yourself from losing yourself to it?” Lucian asked after a moment.
Kostis sighed heavily. “I cannot tell you how,” he said “I can only tell you it is a struggle every moment. Every night I fight the violent side of my nature. The only thing I have found that works is to have a purpose. And this is mine.” He gestured to the ground. “I have made it my life’s work to root out those monsters that prey upon the innocent and the weak. I will not waste these powers I have. Those of us that lose our minds to bloodlust, the ferals, the monsters. I am the last thing they will ever see.”
He looked up at them “It has worked so far, and I have been doing it for a very, very, long time.” He smiled sadly and silence fell between them, the only sounds were the rumble of the river and the whistling of the wind between the trees. Lucian swayed, blackness threatening his vision for a moment. He was exhausted. They’d pushed themselves hard on their trek in the day, and now the threat was past, he was feeling all the aches from the fight. His mind felt stretched, pummeled with this new knowledge, this new world that had opened before him.
“It is late,” Kostis said finally, “and you are both covered in blood. Come we can clean up here,” he gestured and led us back to the river.
Kostis left them where the rocks made a shallow pool and continued himself a little further on, Lucian thought he was giving them privacy to recover from what they’d seen.
“Here,” Aaron gestured to Lucian’s cloak and Lucian pulled it off and handed it over to him. Aaron laid it on a flat rock, taking off the rest of his clothes and throwing them over it. Lucian stripped as well, feeling the pull of tired muscles and the sting where the other man… no, the feral vampire… had struck him.
“Let me see your face,” he asked Aaron, remembering that kick the feral had got in. Aaron turned his face to catch the moonlight. Lucian whistled between his teeth. “That’s going to hurt in the morning.”
“Hurts already,” Aaron grumbled, poking his jaw gingerly. “Didn’t lose any teeth though,” he said running his tongue over them.
“Perhaps Kostis will lend you his,” Lucian said, half joking. Aaron caught his eyes.
“So, you noticed the fangs.”
“Hard not to.” Lucian glanced behind his shoulder, but Kostis was busy washing himself, water falling over his broad back.
“What do you make of it?” Aaron asked, stepping into the cold water.
Lucian shook his head, following him out into the pool. The water was icy, but it woke him up, cleared his mind from the haze it had been in. “I suppose he did tell us; we just didn’t believe him.”
“More fool us,” Aaron said ducking his head and rising from the water with his dark hair slicked back. Lucian stepped into the deeper water, his feet slipping on the rocks, and did the same. It was too cold to linger. They left the river once the blood and dirt were washed from them, and used their cloaks to dry themselves before getting dressed once more. Lucian thought fondly of the fire back at the camp. Probably burnt down to nothing by now.
Kostis had finished bathing and approached them. “Where will you go now?” He asked.
Lucian traded a glance with Aaron. “Back to our cohort,” Aaron said, but there was a thread of uncertainty in his voice. Lucian felt the same confusion within himself. Could they return to their old lives now they knew what was out there?
Kostis nodded, rubbing his hand along his jaw. “I have never offered this before,” he said slowly, “but… you two. I was impressed with how you handled yourselves. I could use companions on my travels. It is no easy life, being a vampire, but then, it is no easy life in the Roman army, perhaps you are used to hardship.” He caught each of their gazes in turn. His eyes dark as midnight, and Lucian knew suddenly what was coming. “I will turn you,” Kostis said, “if you want it.”
Lucian stared at Kostis unable to reply.
“There is a risk, however,” Kostis continued. “I will not lie to you. The turning does not always take. You two are strong, but sometimes strength makes no difference. It’s not about your body, it’s about what’s in here.” He tapped his chest, then his head. “Your heart, your will. It is a risk; one you must be willing to take.” He let his hand drop. “I’ll give you some time to think it over, but,” he looked up at the sky. “Dawn comes soon and I must be on my way before then. I cannot give you long.”
Lucian sat heavily on a rock.
“Become like him?” Aaron whispered. “Become… a vampire.”
Lucian shook his head. “I don’t know what to say.” He looked at his friend. We’ve done plenty of crazy things together…”
Aaron barked out a laugh. “That mission in Crete?”
“Rooting out those smugglers in Sicily?”
“Oh no, the job in that brothel back in Rome.”
“I still think you make a prettier woman than—” Aaron kicked his ankle. Lucian raised his hands in surrender, laughing. “All right. All right. I won’t bring it up again.”
Lucian leaned back, staring up at the night sky. The laughter had released the tension in him, but it hadn’t fled entirely. Become vampires. How to answer that question?
They’d served Rome for too long, it no longer needed them, just two soldiers amongst many. They were tired of fighting the same wars, fighting for land, not for a true cause. Here was a chance to make a real difference, to help people.
“We wouldn’t be able to go back,” Aaron continued, “not if we decide to take his offer. They want humans, not… that.” He gestured to where Kostis was standing, leaning back against a tree trunk, his dark shape almost blending into the night. There was something impressive about him, even still, an otherworldly power. The same strange intensity that had made them trust him when he approached their fire.
“The war is over,” Lucian said. “We were on our way back to Rome; we could leave the army there. We’ve served our term, and the empire has many soldiers. Kostis is alone.”
It was true Rome didn’t need them, but Kostis? If they hadn’t been there with him, would the feral have taken him down? And then what would have happened to the villages in this valley or the next valley, or the next? A slow resolve began to form in Lucian’s chest. They’d joined the army to protect people, not take territory after territory for the glory of Rome. Rome was already great enough; it didn’t need them. These villagers did. Kostis did. They couldn’t leave him to fight alone.
“We have to do it, don’t we?” Aaron said.
Lucian nodded. It would be a lie to say part of him didn’t want it. Supernatural strength, supernatural abilities? Who wouldn’t? Yes, there was danger in it too but he was a soldier, danger was nothing new to him. Lucian rose to his feet and together they approached Kostis. He read the decision in their faces before they could even voice it, and smiled at them.
“How does this work?” Lucian asked.
“Very simply,” Kostis replied, his fangs sharp. He beckoned Lucian forward first. Lucian stood before him, a slight tremor running through his frame. Kostis eyes glowed, magnetic, two deep pools that seemed to suck Lucian in, smoothing away his fear until only his resolve was left. “Good,” Kostis whispered. “There’s nothing to fear here. I have you.” He gripped Lucian by the shoulder, his other hand tilting Lucian’s neck to the side. “This will hurt,” he said thickly, “but only for a moment” and then he brought his mouth to Lucian’s skin.
* * *
Lucian felt the scrape of his fangs, a sharp piercing pain, and then sudden languor rose smooth and hot from the base of his spine and all the way through his limbs. The pain in his neck turned into pleasure, like sinking into a hot bath, or curling into a warm bed.
Lucian was in darkness, his heartbeat thrumming heavy and loud. It was the only thing he could hear. Like the resonating beat of a drum, it thundered through him, slower and slower with every beat until finally, it stopped. Lucian floated, untethered from his body. Then, a tiny pinprick of light appeared, it felt far away from him, calling to him. He moved without his body, cried out without a voice to speak, he urged the light closer, desperate now, he strained towards it. The darkness rippled around him, calling him back, telling him with wordless thoughts to rest, to give up, to let the light go. For a second, he wavered. It would be so easy to rest, to let go…
But the light flared brighter and the steep core within Lucian refused to give up. He wouldn’t rest, he wouldn’t give in. He was going to reach that light, brighter and fiercer with every moment until finally it broke above him, fracturing into brilliant white that lit every inch of his being. His body was on fire. His every nerve awake.
Lucian realized his eyes were open. The light around him was moonlight. The pain was the feeling of a thousand threads of cotton in his clothes rubbing against his skin. He was awake, lying on the ground beside Kostis. But the world had changed. He pushed himself up and caught sight of Aaron stretched out beside him. Terror rushed through him, fiercer than anything he’d felt before.
“He’s fine.” Kostis’ voice came from beside him, and Kostis’ hand landed heavily on his arm. Lucian tried to throw it off, but it was like pushing against steel. The surprise knocked him free of the grip of terror and he looked over at Kostis. “He’s fine,” Kostis said again. “You were both strong enough to live through the turning. He lives. I can sense him in the bond.” His voice turned wondrous. “I had forgotten. I have been alone so long.”
Kostis released him and Lucian pushed himself upright, stumbling to his feet. The world was remade, everything looked sharp edged, more real than before, like he had lived in a dreamworld and had only now awoken to reality. The moonlight spread its cold white light across the sky and picked out the shining leaves above them in silver. Stars stretched across the heavens so many and so bright it almost seemed like daylight already. The sound of the river was a cacophony, and yet under it, he could hear the wind whistling past individual leaves. He could smell the fresh scent of loam and pine. In the distance, he could see a fox picking its way along the river, he could hear birds shuffling in their roosts on the branches above.
There was one noise he couldn’t hear, he realized with a strange chill. His heartbeat, his breath. Both were silent.
Aaron suddenly shot upright, gasping, and then his eyes widened and Lucian knew he was seeing the world through his news senses.
“Merciful heavens, what is this?” Aaron said, breathless, staring at the trees around them.
“The world as it truly is,” Kostis said, and Lucian could hear the smile in his voice. “Welcome back.”
Kostis gave them a little while to get used to their new senses, but Lucian noticed him glancing up at the sky more than once. Finally, he clapped his hands together and stood.
“You are vampires now. You are free to do as you will. We have no king, no leaders. Our only law is that we do not harm the innocent. If you wish to find your own territory, to make your own vampires and to create your own court around you, you may do so.”
Lucian knew that wasn’t what he wanted. “I thought you wanted us to go with you?”
“I do,” Kostis said, but when I asked, you weren’t vampires. I offer you one last chance to leave, to go your own way, there is no shame in it, you have much to experience.”
Lucian didn’t need to look at Aaron, he knew how his brother felt. It was like their minds were connected, like they could communicate without words, so much more than the easy familiarity they had as humans.
“We don’t wish to leave you,” Lucian said firmly. “Whatever there is to experience in this new life, we will find it together.”
Kostis looked at Lucian, his eyes cold and glittering in the moonlight. “It is not an easy life I lead,” he said. “I have no territory, no home, no court. I have made no other vampires. I have devoted my life to finding the worst of our kind. Those who have gone the furthest astray, who have lost themselves to bloodlust and madness. I seek out the evil that humans cannot fight, those that use their magic and their powers against the innocents. Those that dwell in silence and in secret. I root them out. I fight and I will continue fighting until I have no more strength left in my body. One of these days this fight will kill me and I will die alone and unremembered.”
“Not true,” growled Lucian stepping forward and resting his hand on Kostis’s muscled shoulder. We will fight beside you, and if you fall, we will remember you.”
Aaron came up on Kostis’ other side. “For as long as we live, we pledge ourselves to fight alongside you.”
Kostis smiled. “welcome then, to my Bloodline.” He placed his hand over Lucian’s and his other on Aaron’s shoulder. For a second Lucian’s vision was overlaid with a shining triangle with three points connected by golden filaments. He knew one was Kostis, shining bright between them, and Aaron and himself as tiny shining jewels connected in a vast and mysterious darkness. Then Kostis dropped his hands and stepped away and the vision that had trembled before his eyes faded into the moonlight.
Kostis tilted his head and looked up, not at the moon that shone so brightly but to the east, where the faint stain of dawn had already started to spread between the treetops.
“Then let’s go. There’s no time to waste.”
* * *
The path that had seemed narrow and treacherous before, was now lined in silvery light, every branch and curling root easy to see and avoid. Lucian’s footsteps were silent, just like Kostis and Aaron’s beside him. In fact, if it wasn’t for that strange glowing bond between them, it would be as if he walked through the night alone. They walked fast, without even pushing themselves, they sped through the forest. The journey that had taken a full day before now only took a few hours. They weren’t even out of breath. In fact, other than to talk, they didn’t need to breathe at all.
“Are there other vampires like you?” Lucian asked Kostis.
“Like me?” Kostis laughed. “Not many. A few. Our kind are not as solitary as I am. Most of us prefer to build a court, to turn others into vampires and bring them into their Bloodline, as I have done with you two. Most vampires would settle after turning their first vampires, find a territory to claim.”
“No, I have always wandered, sought out the places where I was needed most.”
Lucian fell silent. He recognized that urge. He loved Aaron, his brother in arms, but he had never felt as settled in the Roman army as Aaron had. He’d always felt that need, that pull that led him out into the darkness.
“Of course, then there are the soulmates.”
“Soulmates?” Aaron asked from Kostis’ other side.
“What?” Lucian scoffed, surprised, “Like in the stories told to children? You cannot mean—”
“Oh, I do,” Kostis said with a flat stare. “You can accept this”—he waved his hand towards his mouth to indicate his fangs—”and all that you’ve just seen, yet you cannot accept the idea of soulmates?”
Lucian shook his head. “A myth, surely.” But as he said it, he realized he was now a living myth himself. A blood drinker, a supernatural beast. How many other stories may be true? Shapeshifters, witches, demons… but soulmates?
“The other half of your soul,” Kostis went on, his voice taking a resonant, dreamy quality. “The one person in all the world that completes you. The soulmate bond, it’s stronger even than the tie between fledgling and maker, between brother warriors. Soulmate pairs are powerful, unstoppable. But… rare.”
Have you ever found your…” Aaron began hesitantly.
“Never,” Kostis said shortly, then he sighed. “We live for a very long time. It could be that she hasn’t even been born yet. But… I believe there is more to it than that. Soulmate pairs, when found, they fiercely guard each other, and something about their power, it attracts others to them. Intensely powerful bloodlines are formed around soulmate pairs. The bonds strengthen between the entire court. Throughout history we’ve seen it, the stories that are written about those courts… the miracles they achieved. Turning back entire armies, saving nations, destroying enemies.” He was silent for a moment. “If I found my soulmate, I would rejoice, but part of me would be afraid, because soulmates are never found without a reason.”
“What kind of reason?” Aaron asked.
“War,” Kostis said.
* * *
Kostis had refused to talk more on soulmates, and what he meant by that ominous word… war. Lucian knew war. He had lived it over and over again, seen battle after battle and fought enemy after enemy all for the strength of Rome.
What would a vampire war look like? He shuddered to think. All that supernatural strength, the fury and violence of their fight with the feral but repeated a hundred, a thousand times. Entire towns, cities would be leveled, countries destroyed. No wonder Kostis refused to speak of it.
They followed the path out of the wood and turned toward the village, dawn was beginning to lighten the sky, and Lucian felt it like a tightness in his skin, a prickle of unease. He noticed Aaron shooting wary looks at the coming sun, but Kostis didn’t slow or show any hesitation, so they kept their silence and followed him until they reached a farmhouse on the outskirts of the village.
“We will rest here for the day.”
Lucian traded a look with Aaron. “The daylight, does it… harm us?”
Kostis twisted his lip. “Harm? No, but we are creatures of the night, we move between shadows. The daylight is too harsh, too bright, it brings a kind of sickness, slows our movements. Too long in the day can sap your strength, scramble your mind. Always you should seek to rest during the day and travel at night.”
“What if you are far from any settlement?” Aaron asked.
“Then build a shelter and snatch what rest you can,” Kostis said, “But here, perhaps we will be lucky.”
Lucian wasn’t so sure. They had been met with suspicion enough as soldiers approaching a small homestead. In his experience, villagers were always wary of outsiders.
In the grey dawn light, he could see the farmhouse was a squat stone building with a barn beside it. His sharp hearing picked up the sounds of the family waking, the cows in the shed lowing gently. He was amazed he could hear it all so clearly.
They approached the house and Kostis knocked sharply on the wooden door. After a moment they heard the thump of footsteps, the rasp of a latch and then the door creaked open. An old man stared warily out at them.
“Hello my friend,” Kostis said, his voice smooth, acting like he hadn’t noticed the old man’s suspicious gaze. “We are weary travelers, seeking a place to sleep for the night. I see you have a stone barn here, perhaps we could rest there a while before we continue our journey.”
“Rest in my barn? Why should I let you—”
There was a noise behind us, the creak of the barn door and Lucian turned to see a young woman struggling with a pail full of milk. He quickly walked over to her, at the last moment remembering to slow his steps to only human fast. Still, she startled, her gaze snapping up to his face when he stopped before her. He caught the pail before she dropped it, and smiled gently, careful to hide his fangs.
“Let me help you,” he said, lifting the pail, which felt as light as air to him.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, staring up at him with wide eyes. They approached the others at the door, the woman transferring her gaze to Lucian’s companions.
“Get in here” The old man snapped, and the woman quickly looked away from her scrutiny of Aaron and Kostis.
“He was only helping me with the pail father,” she said. “Are you here to kill the beast?” She asked them, clearly noticing the swords Aaron and Lucian had at their waists.
“The beast is dead,” Kostis said, and Lucian could hear the satisfaction in his voice.
The woman’s eyes widened for a moment as she took in Kostis’ lack of weapon, then she looked him over again, this time her gaze lingering on the stretch of his shirt around the barrel of his chest, the thick muscles in his arms. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Surely father, we can offer these men a bowl of food and a place to rest after the work they’ve done?”
“We do not need any food,” Lucian said, remembering what Kostis had said about the hunger for blood replacing the hunger for food. Both humans looked at him in surprise and he realized how strange it looked for a weary traveler to refuse food. Kostis leveled a quick glare his way, before stepping in. “We have our own provisions,” he said. “We won’t trouble you, we’re just looking for a place to rest. “
The woman nodded, ignoring her father’s glare. “Of course, we can do that. Here,” she gestured for Lucian to leave the pail by the door. “Follow me.” Lucian felt the old man’s eyes on his back as they walked away from the house.
The woman pushed the barn door open and crossed the threshold. Lucian went to follow, but something held him back. An invisible shield filled the doorway. He stared at the door in confusion until he felt Kostis’ hand on his shoulder.
“A moment, brother.”
The woman turned back to see what was taking them so long.
“May we enter, my dear?” Kostis said.
“Oh, yes,” she said bashfully.” Of course.”
The shield disappeared the instance the words left her lips and Lucian would have stumbled if not for Kostis’ hand on his shoulder.
“We cannot go where we are not invited,” Kostis said quietly, before crossing the threshold.
In the barn, the woman showed them to the hayloft, where sweet smelling hay made a welcome bed.
“I, um, I apologize for my father, he’s been afraid for so long, the beast…”
“You have nothing to fear now,” Kostis said gently, resting his hand on her arm. Lucian saw the way she looked at him and, smirking, he retreated up the ladder into the hayloft to give them a little privacy. Aaron came and sat behind him.
“Don’t need food?”
Lucian shoved at his friend. “I didn’t think how strange it would seem,” Lucian whispered.
“Humans who don’t need food seem plenty strange. Don’t worry though, Kostis covered well enough.”
“That young woman certainly seems willing to forgive him any strangeness.”
Aaron laughed softly. “Oh, you noticed, did you?”
Lucian heard the creak of the ladder and then Kostis climbed up beside them. “What are you two fledglings laughing about?”
“Nothing.” Aaron replied, better than Lucian at playing innocent.
“Made a friend?” Lucian barely finished speaking before Kostis was beside him, his hand hard on his back as he pushed. Lucian fell, head over heels over the side of the hayloft. He yelled as he fell, sure he would land on his head, but he seemed to have all the time in the world to tuck his feet under him, spin right way up and land softly as nimble as a cat.
“Better friends than enemies,” Kostis said casually from above as if he hadn’t just thrown Lucian off the edge of the loft. Lucian glared up and saw Aaron’s head poke out, the flash of concern disappearing as his friend saw Lucian had landed fine. Lucian spat hay out of his mouth and then, judging the gap, tensed and sprung, not needing the ladder to land lightly back on the hay.
Kostis had spread his cloak out and was feigning sleep, so Lucian let it go with a quiet huff, pulled his cloak around him and settled in. He could feel the sun brightening outside and with it a sleepiness sinking into his limbs.
It was late evening when he awoke. At first, he lay there in the twilight, trying to locate what had wakened him, then he heard it again, a soft footfall outside the barn. Lucian carefully raised himself up onto his elbows. Aaron was lying beside him; he could see the glint of his open eyes. Across from them, Kostis was already at the ladder, his head tilted. Lucian hadn’t heard him move. Kostis gestured for Lucian to stay there and leapt off the edge of the loft into the barn. Moving slowly, barely shifting a single strand of hay, Lucian crept to the edge to watch. Kostis settled into the shadows, and the barn door began to open.
Whoever stood outside cast a slim shadow into the barn against the sunset, and he realized who it was a moment before the young woman stepped in. She pushed the door shut behind her and looked up, squinting into the darkness. She couldn’t see them he realized, though to his vampire senses, the barn seemed bathed in light.
She took a hesitant step forward. He looked to Kostis, wondering what he should do, when Kostis moved, slamming the door closed.
She spun and stared up at him, a breathy gasp escaping her mouth.
“Looking for something?” Kostis teased, his eyes on her, hypnotic, as he stalked forward.
Lucian tensed ready to leap in. What was Kostis planning? She was innocent, he wouldn’t harm her, would he? He felt Aaron shift beside him and knew he shared his confusion.
“I know what you are,” the woman said. Lucian and Aaron froze. It felt like all the air went out of the barn. Everything was silent, still, then Kostis took another step toward her and Lucian saw his expression hadn’t changed, still that teasing intensity. He wasn’t afraid.
“And what do you intend to do with that knowledge?”
“I came… I came here…” she seemed distracted, almost confused. Kostis raised his hand, moving ever so slowly, and lifted a lock of the woman’s hair behind her ear. She trembled when he touched her, Lucian saw her body shake and heard her heartbeat quicken.
“I came to offer you my blood.”
* * *
Her words dropped into the silence like a stone into still water. Lucian’s fangs thickened in his mouth, his hearing sharpened and her heartbeat now seemed a drumroll.
“Your blood? What makes you think we want that?”
How could Kostis be so calm?
“Because… because the beast drained his victims dry, because my friend said she saw a man, a man with glowing eyes and sharp teeth who only came out at night. Because I don’t believe any human could have killed that monster. I think only its own kind could have brought it down.”
“And what if we too were monsters?”
“She shook her head. I don’t believe you are. You wouldn’t have asked to enter the barn; you would have just taken what you wanted.”
“You took a great risk coming here.”
“Did I?” She stepped up to Kostis and Lucian was surprised at the boldness she showed.
“Tell me, was I wrong? Are you a monster too?”
There was a silence for a moment, then… “No,” Kostis said, his teasing smile turning a little more real. “And your offer is appreciated, my brothers and I, while we do not eat food, still feel hunger.”
“Oh, are they… she squinted up at the hayloft. Kostis signaled for them to drop down. They landed on the dirt floor beside her and she jumped back, her eyes wide. Lucian knew his fangs were out. She tensed as they approached but she didn’t run.
“Are you sure about this, little rabbit?” Kostis teased.
“I’m not a rabbit,” she said, turning back to him and raising her chin. “What do you want me to do?”
He smiled widely; his sharp, white fangs revealed. “You need do nothing, my dear, just let me.” And with that, he slid his hand around her waist and drew her to him, gently tilting her head to her side to expose the long, smooth arch of her neck. Hunger for blood rose in Lucian, dragging him closer towards his maker. He could smell the woman, the blood under her skin.
Kostis ran his tongue over the tips of his fangs, then like a snake catching its prey, he bit down on her neck. Standing in front, watching, Lucian gripped his hands into fists to stop himself from tearing them apart, sinking his face into the wound and drinking deep. The hot, fresh scent of blood stained the air. After an eternity, Kostis raised his head. The woman was limp in his arms, her gaze heavy lidded. She looked debauched; her hair mussed from Kostis fingers running through it.
Lucian blinked, realizing he’d been so distracted by the scent of the blood, he’d missed Kostis calling him. “It feels good to her?” he asked Kostis.
Kostis smiled with bloody lips. “I’ve never had any complaints.” He gently turned the woman so that her back was to his chest. Lucian took a step forward, his fangs thick and aching, desperate to bite. But he forced himself to wait. His muscles locking in place “What if I take too much?”
“Don’t worry,” Kostis reassured him. “I’ll stop you.” Still Lucian hesitated. He knew himself, his control. He knew the violence he could unleash was so much greater now. The hunger inside him, it was like nothing he’d known.
“Trust me, Lucian,” Kostis said again, and the bloodline bond was warm in his chest. “I’ve got you.”
Lucian bent his head to the woman’s neck, and drank.
Blood flowed down his throat like the sweetest of honey, like fire in his veins, like life itself. It was glorious, delicious, unlike anything he’d ever tasted. He wanted more, he wanted it to last forever. He lost himself to it. He could hear nothing but the rushing of her blood, the thump of her heart, all taste, all scent was tied up in his hands on her shoulders, his mouth buried in the curve of her throat.
Until, suddenly, his maker’s hand was on his shoulder, pushing, inexorably strong. Lucian strained to take another drop, to take more, to take everything, and he was torn away mercilessly. Thrown across the barn to hit the floor. He snarled, leaping back upright, but Kostis stood between him and the woman, his eyes glowing bright, his hand outstretched. “Come back to yourself,” he said firmly, and pulled on the bond, deep in Lucian’s chest. Lucian pulled up, the haze on his mind receding until finally he stood tall, himself again.
“I told you I had you,” Kostis said with a smile, resting his hand briefly on Lucian’s shoulder before turning back to Aaron. Again, Kostis took up the woman, and this time Aaron drank. Again, he had to shove Aaron back, and Lucian saw the bloodlust recede slowly from his friend’s eyes as he returned to himself.
“Well done,” Kostis said shortly, casting his gaze over both of them, before returning to the woman. Tearing off his undershirt, he pressed it to the wound to stem the bleeding. “You will have to hide this,” he said, pulling the girls scarf close around her neck.
“I can do that,” she said, her voice still rough with the edges of desire. She swayed toward him and Lucian realized giving her blood wasn’t all she’d come here to do. Kostis looked down at her reassuringly, then he slid his arm around her waist, holding her securely, then, stepping between Aaron and Lucian, he leapt up into the hayloft, taking her with him. Lucian heard the wet sound of kisses, the slide of cloth. The woman gasped.
“Well,” Lucian said, licking the taste of blood from his lips. I suppose we’d better find somewhere else to sleep.”
Aaron snorted. “If we can, depending on how loud they get.” A handful of hay flew down from above us to hit Aaron on the head. Lucian was startled into a laugh at his friend’s put-upon expression. Aaron pulled the strands from his hair like an affronted cat.
They went over to the other side of the barn where sacks of grain were stacked in a corner and stretched out on top of them.
Lucian’s body was buzzing with energy, he understood why Kostis would want to work out that energy with the human woman, and he had to force down the twist of desire at the moans that drifted over to them. The woman had given all three of them her blood, that had to be enough. He wasn’t sure she’d have the energy to tumble in the hay with three vampires rather than just one. And anyway, she’d been interested in Kostis from the start.
“Shame she doesn’t have any sisters,” Aaron said, reading my thoughts.
Lucian ran his hand down his face. “Don’t tempt me,” he said, turning over and dragging a sack over his ears. “Wake me when the sun is down.”
* * *
It wasn’t Aaron that woke him. First, he heard Kostis shout his name, and next Lucian was launched into wakefulness. Full night had fallen, and he felt refreshed. His vampire senses unfurled, taking in Aaron waking beside him, Kostis leaping down from the hayloft and the slow sounds of the woman he left waking up. But more than that, from outside he picked up the sound of people, a crowd of people making their way along the path from the village towards the farm.
“What is it?” Lucian asked Kostis.
“Perhaps nothing, perhaps…” Kostis looked in the direction of the sounds, then back up at the hayloft. Lucian followed his gaze to see the woman looking over the edge, wide-eyed with confusing.
“We stay,” Kostis said decisively. With that he strode to the barn door and threw it open.
Firelight faintly lit the night, and the crowd of humans slowly grew closer. Angry faces, men holding weapons and at the front, the old farmer.
“There! There they are!” he shouted.
Aaron growled from beside Lucian.
“Peace brother,” Lucian said gently.
“What is this?” Kostis said loudly, stepping out of the barn and walking towards the men fearlessly.
“We know what you are,” the farmer said. “These men came into the village two days ago looking for the beast that has been attacking our town. The monster. We didn’t realize there were three of you.”
“We killed that monster,” Lucian snarled as he and Aaron followed Kostis out.
“Lies,” the farmer spat. “These hunters know what you really are.”
“Hunters,” Kostis growled, a world of hatred in his voice. “Always too late, always after the wrong prey. You do more harm than good.” He stalked forward, uncaring of the way the hunters spread to circle the three of them. One man stood in front of him. He carried an expensive looking sword at his hip and a thick, black cloak over his shoulders, richly patterned.
“Tell me, how much gold did you squeeze out of the villagers in two days?” Kostis spat. “Their whole year’s wages I’ll bet.”
The hunter sneered. “We get paid for killing monsters like you. They’re happy to pay it.”
“You trick them into paying it, you mean. I know your kind. If you can’t find a threat, you create one. Or you blame some innocent child for your crimes. ” Kostis turned to the farmer. “You’ve been tricked old man.”
“No…” The farmer hesitated, but looking at the hunters in the firelight seemed to give him strength. “No, you’re wrong. You are the monsters!”
“Father? What have you done?” A shout came from behind them.
“Damn.” Lucian heard Kostis swear under his breath as the crowd turned to see the woman, hurriedly buttoning her dress as she emerged from the barn.
Lucian realized Kostis had hoped to lead the humans away from the barn to give the woman time to slip away unnoticed. Clearly, she hadn’t understood his plan.
“Lyria? What are you doing with them?” Her father rushed towards her, but the hunter struck out with his arm and held him back.
“She’s been corrupted!” the hunter cried. “Take her.”
“Over my dead body,” Kostis snarled. “Get them,” he ordered, and Lucian leapt for the nearest hunter. His fangs slid into his mouth and he snarled as he threw the man away from the woman and pushed her roughly back, out of the fight. Not a moment too soon.
The hunters closed in on them. Kostis was tied up facing off with the lead hunter. Aaron was holding two men back on Lucian’s left, and Lucian ducked under a swinging sword strike from his right. He tucked his legs under him and turned it into a roll, coming up directly facing his second opponent. The hunter, as stocky as the leader, shoved his hand in Lucian’s face. Lucian, expecting a blade, flinched back, but instead all the hunter had in his hand was a crucifix. Lucian froze for a moment, then rolled his eyes. “That’s not going to work.”
Lucian bared his fangs in a grin.
“I’m a vampire, not a demon.
“You have no soul.”
Lucian glared. “You’re cheating honest villagers, attacking women and you think we’re the soulless ones?”
He didn’t wait for the hunter to reply, just slammed his fist into the side of the hunter’s head. He wanted to rip him apart, but he held himself back. Killing these hunters would just waste their time and cause further trouble for the farmer and his family. He could see Aaron had the same idea; the hunters were already moaning on the ground behind him.
Lucian spun on his heel and kicked the other hunter hard in his chest. The man stumbled back, his sword swipe going wide and Lucian sped in close, gripping the man’s wrist and tightening until he heard the bones scrape. The sword fell from the hunter’s nerveless grasp and thudded onto the floor. Lucian tugged the man close then headbutted him hard. The hunter fell in a boneless heap and Lucian straightened his head to see his brothers had dispatched their own opponents. The hunters were either unconscious or twitching and groaning on the floor.
“There. It’s done,” Kostis said, and he stalked towards the farmer who had fallen to the floor at some point during the fight. Kostis was reaching for him when there was a shout and the woman ran past and flung herself over her father’s body.
“Don’t hurt him.”
Kostis reared back and for a second Lucian saw hurt flash across his maker’s face.
“I would never—”
“Please, please, don’t hurt us.”
The woman was trembling and Lucian realized she hadn’t heard Kostis; she hadn’t even listened to him. He looked around again at the hunters on the floor. How long had that taken them? Seconds? Only one hunter had had enough time to draw his sword, the others still wore them on their hips. They’d taken them out in moments. Moving supernaturally fast. To the woman it must have seemed like violent magic.
“You can’t stay here.” the woman said, raising a fearful face to look at us, so different now from when she’d entered the barn. “You can’t stay here. You have to go. Please, just go.”
Lucian wanted to shake her, to tell her they’d protected her, that they’d done all this for her and the other villagers. But Kostis simply stepped back and raised both his hands.
“Very well. We will leave.”
He gestured sharpy for Lucian and Aaron to fall in behind him. They walked silently back towards the road, the night closing around them.
The silence lay heavy over the three of them until Lucian couldn’t take it any longer.
“How can you take it? Don’t you hate them for not trusting you? How can they act like that? How could she—”
“She is just a human.”
“But we protected her,” Aaron said.
“Yes. But we are not human,” Kostis said, his eyes dark. “Never forget, we are not like them. We don’t do this for their thanks or their acceptance.”
“But if all you do is protect them and they just hate you for it, then what’s the point?” Lucian snarled.
Kostis grabbed him, slamming him back against a tree. The impact was so hard, pine needles rained down around them. “Take that back. This is our duty. This is why we have these gifts. We protect them for the sake of it. We don’t do it for payment like those pathetic hunters, and we don’t do it for thanks. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Lucian gritted his teeth. He wanted to shout at the injustice of it, but what Kostis was saying made sense. He’d been looking for something true, a cause to lend his sword to. Not for glory, not for payment, but because his soul hungered to fight for good.
Kostis felt Lucian’s rage lessen and he eased back.
“Feral vampires, like the one we took down, are the ones who create the fear. If you want to blame anyone, blame them. Don’t blame the humans. You cannot blame the sheep for being afraid of the wolf.”
Aaron stepped up beside them. “But you cannot deny it is grating, for her to offer us her blood, her… body, and then reject us.”
Kostis twisted his lip, then shrugged. “Who knows. We live long lives. Perhaps one day we will each meet someone who doesn’t run from us, who doesn’t turn away from us.”
Lucian traded a skeptical look with Aaron. Soulmates again. Kostis may have believed it, but Lucian wasn’t convinced.
“I see you think I am a mad ancient. Fine. One day you will learn, and he hope I’m there to laugh at you both.” He slapped the back of both their heads, and even their lightning quick reflexes weren’t fast enough to avoid his supernatural speed.
“Enough. We have a long journey ahead. There are reports of a wild shifter in the south. We will walk through the night.”
Kostis led them back to the path and within moments, the night had swallowed them whole.
Can vampires have soulmates?
Hundreds of years later Lucian and Aaron are called to Chicago where a supernatural killer stalks the night, and Lucian is drawn to a feisty cop sworn to protect her city.