Myra put down the pencil and stretched her fingers. Her eyes ran over the last paragraph she had written. Her heroes were now facing a thunderstorm and fighting to find their way through the woods. Myra grinned. Writing came so easily out here—she had already written over twenty pages while Alerie slept.
She tilted her head to the side, listening. The rain had stopped. She walked to the wall and peeked through the crack between the shutters. The sun had started to rise, but the clouds were so thick that it was impossible to see much apart from the dark shapes of rotting trees.
Myra walked downstairs, put out the stove, and picked up her jacket. It was already dry and felt warm around her shoulders. She returned to the bedroom and stretched. She had to wake up Alerie—now that the rain had stopped, they could resume their journey. They had lost some time already, but still had a very good chance of reaching the Rose Gardens well before sunset. Myra reached out to shake Alerie, but her hand stopped midair and her eyes turned to her notebook.
She was almost done with the current chapter. She would not get another chance to sit down and write before they accomplished their mission, and there was still so much she wanted to say. The words were fresh in her head, burning to be written down. What if she forgot it all before she had the chance to put her thoughts on paper?
Myra took her pencil once again and went on writing. The journey could wait. They would have many hours in the Rose Gardens before darkness fell, and a few minutes would make no difference.
She kept writing on and on, the words flowing through her mind faster than she could write them down. Just one more paragraph, she thought. And then, just one more.
Alerie stirred, and Myra quickly pushed the notebook back into her backpack. “Alerie,” she called. “The rain stopped.”
Alerie blinked and stood up, instantly alert. “What time is it? We should get going.”
“About half an hour after sunrise,” Myra said and took her jacket from the chair. “Our clothes are dry already, so we can leave right away. We are good on time.”
“We are already behind schedule,” Alerie said. “We were supposed to be in the Gardens already.” Her eyes widened. “Give me your jacket,” she whispered.
“Why?” Myra whispered back. She complied, startled by her friend’s urgency. To her shock, Alerie wrapped it around her burning torch. Darkness fell over the room. “What are you doing?”
“I had to put out the light, and all around us is wood,” Alerie said. “Look.” She tapped on the crack between the window’s closed shutters.
Myra squinted and saw a few lights not far away. “Vamps?” she breathed. “Do you think they saw our light through the crack?”
“I saw theirs,” Alerie said, “Ours must have been easier to spot, and they have better eyesight. Stay here and watch them. I’ll go and bar the doors.”
Myra laid down her backpack and took out a gun and a crossbow. She squeezed the gun’s handle, her palm starting to sweat. She swallowed hard. This was not good. Even if they fortified the house, they could not defend it for long. They were only two against…how many? She squinted through the crack, until her eyes focused on the figures; there were about ten. Not good at all.
The window had no glass, only two sets of shutters, one that opened on the inside and one on the outside. The crack between them was too small to shoot through, but it gave her a good vantage point. And, despite Myra’s fear, she could not help but stare in awe.
She had met only a few vampires in the Resistance’s prison. She had never seen many of them at once, and never out in the open. And now she was observing them in their natural habitat as they interacted with each other. Curiosity won over terror, and she looked more closely.
Vampires preferred long hair, she noted, men and women alike. Whether this was some current fashion trend or they were imitating their Prince, she did not know. Not only was their hair long, it was also well maintained, even if not always tastefully. One of the male vampires, for instance, clearly hailed from what had once been northeastern Asia, and Myra expected his hair to be jet-black and perfectly straight—just like Zack’s. Instead, it was curled and bleached to a strange orangey color.
Their clothes followed a similar trend. Each of them had apparently put great care into picking their outfit, with varying degrees of success. The garments combined a hodgepodge of styles from the different places and periods the vampires had lived through, mixed with more contemporary and practical clothing. Kimonos and high-heeled boots, leather jackets and saris. Heavy woolen ponchos, fez hats, khaki pants, Victorian shirts and vests, jeans, red and purple turbans, sometimes put together in seemingly impossible combinations.
“So these are our enemies,” she whispered as Alerie returned and crouched next to her.
“Yeah, a motley band of peacocks,” Alerie said. “Unfortunately, they fight better than they dress.”
A face popped right in front of the crack, and Myra stifled a scream.
Alerie rushed to the table, broke off a leg and handed it to her. Without thinking, Myra shoved it through the handles of the inner shutters, effectively barring the window.
“The other windows,” Alerie called as she reignited the torch and secured it to the wall. “I’ve already blocked the front door, and all other doors leading here.”
Three more windows remained in the room, and Myra frantically grabbed a chair and broke off a leg. They were on the fourth floor. Had the vamp climbed up the wall? Were there any others?
Her question was answered when someone tried to break the window shutters Alerie had just barred. There were vamps at two of the windows at least, trying to get in. She had not even seen them approach. They were not a part of the main group she had observed; she was sure of that.
Out of the corner of her eye, Myra saw Alerie look at the map for a long moment before she held it over the flame until it turned to dust. Wild banging sounded from all four windows, and she and Alerie exchanged a panicked glance. “Get ready,” Alerie said, raising her gun. “We shoot at the first vamp who comes in.”
A loud thud from behind made Myra turn around. Someone was at the door. Alerie had barred all doors on the way, but the windows at the adjacent room remained vulnerable. The vamps must have gone through and come to the door. She shivered. There were vamps inside the house.
“I saw at least ten around the torches,” Myra said. “Who knows how many more might have come here unseen?”
“I’ve escaped direr situations,” Alerie said, pointing the gun at one of the windows.
“Have you?” Myra doubted that, but now was not the time to panic. The window burst open and she and Alerie fired at the same time.
One bullet hit the vamp in the throat, and the other in the chest. He hissed and pressed a hand against his chest wound, but remained standing. Myra raised her crossbow. He was weakened now, and slower. She had to act before he had time to recover.
She fired a wooden arrow, but missed his heart. The projectile hit the vampire in the shoulder and propelled him a step back. He pulled the arrow out of his flesh, broke off the metal tip and hurled it forward while Myra reloaded, but failed to hit her.
Alerie released her arrow before Myra could fire. It struck true this time, hitting the vamp straight in the heart. He fell to the floor with a thud, limp and lifeless, and his skin grew pale and taut in seconds.
Myra was taking quick, ragged breaths as she lowered the crossbow and raised her gun once again. They had done it. They had killed a vampire. This had been the first time she had engaged the enemy in combat, out it the open. And they had done it. She had no doubts now. Alerie and she could kill the Prince once they met him.
“One down,” Alerie said. “Dozens to go.”
A second vampire crawled out of the open window, and another after her. Just then, two of the three barred windows and the door burst open at the same time. Myra gasped and took a step back as more vampires swarmed into the room, pointing swords, daggers, arrows, and guns at them.
She recognized the bleached-orange-haired vampire she had seen earlier—so the vampires she had observed had joined the fray after all. He raised his bow and fired two arrows in rapid succession, and Myra yelped as her gun was knocked out of her hand. A quick look showed her he had disarmed Alerie with the other shot.
An idea came to her then. It was a desperate gambit, but she knew nothing could make their situation any worse. After all, their vampire prisoner had claimed some of their people opposed the Prince.
“Rim sends us,” she called. “We’re here to help you get rid of the Prince.”
The orange-haired vampire laughed. “I am sure His Highness would love to hear that. Too bad we are not taking you to him.”
Alerie raised her crossbow, but another vampire shot it out of her hand. “You’ll kill us, then?” she said, glaring at their attackers. “I can assure you, we’ll take many with us.”
The orange-haired vampire grinned, exposing his sharp teeth. “I wonder how you plan to do that. You mistake our intentions—we will not kill you. Surrender now, and we will let you live.”
“They want us to surrender so they can torture us for information,” Alerie whispered, and he rolled his eyes.
“No point in whispering, we can hear you perfectly well.” He frowned. “You are wounded. Did this fool throw some blade at you?” He glanced at the dead vampire on the floor. “I thought my orders were clear.”
Only now did Myra notice the crimson spot on her friend’s shirt. The vamp had not missed after all. “Alerie…”
“I’m fine,” Alerie said.
Myra paled. It appeared to be a stomach wound, but the bloodstain was large, and it was hard to say where exactly the arrow tip had struck. This was bad, very bad. Her friend needed immediate help.
Alerie was right. If they surrendered, the vampires would most likely interrogate them. A quick death was preferable, and who knew what these monsters had in store? Besides, Myra was not sure she trusted herself to keep quiet under torture. She had never tested her endurance, and had no desire to. Yes, fighting to the death made the most sense.
There was only one problem with that option: Myra had no intention of dying. She clenched her fists, trying to stop her shaking. If they did not surrender, the vampires were going to kill them. There was no way around that. The vamps would bite them and suck them dry. There would be pain, and blood, and fear.
Myra bit her lip, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down. The vamps would bite her, their sharp fangs piercing her skin and flesh, and they would devour her like she was some animal shot down for food.
“If we surrender,” she said, “will you take care of my friend’s wound?”
“Of course,” the orange-haired vampire said.
“Myra, that’s a bad idea,” Alerie cried.
Myra looked at her, trying to meet her eyes and give her some signal. It was not cowardice, she told herself. If they refused, the vampires would either kill them, or injure them badly and capture them anyway. It would mean the end of their mission. Surrender bought them time. Perhaps an escape opportunity would present itself later, and the risk was worth it.
She held her friend’s gaze for a moment until Alerie nodded. Myra smiled and nodded back. “We surrender.”
She tried to fight her panic as the vampires took away the stake at her belt and bound her hands. She had been helpless before, but now was worse. She had no means to defend herself. They could do anything they wanted to her, and she could do nothing to stop them.
Myra struggled instinctively against the vampire tying the rope around her, but it made no difference. She took a deep breath, trying to fight her panic.
“Yong, should we interrogate them now?” a female vampire asked.
The orange-haired vamp shook his head. “No. Resistance members are tough. We will get nothing out of them here. We will take them to the Dark Cell.”
“The Dark Cell is occupied,” another vampire said.
“No matter,” Yong said. “We can keep them in the dungeons until it is empty.”
Resistance members are tough. Myra was not at all sure she was tough. And what was that supposed to mean, anyway? Had they tortured other Resistance members?
Don’t panic. This was to be expected. The vamps were planning to torture them; she had known that when she had surrendered. It mattered not. She would find a way to escape.
“You said you’d help my friend,” she said.
“I did,” said Yong. “I need both of you alive and healthy for long enough to speak. Natalia, take a look at the wound.”
The vampire called Natalia knelt down, and Myra’s heart sank as she looked at Alerie. Her friend had appeared well only moments ago, but was now deathly pale, her face bathed in sweat and her breathing labored. Myra felt bile rise in her throat. The vamps would patch Alerie up, only to kill her slowly later.
Myra gasped when Natalia tore Alerie’s shirt and wiped the blood from her stomach, revealing a large blue-black bruise. “What are you waiting for?” Myra snapped. “Stop the bleeding.”
The vampire looked up and shook her head. “The arrow tip has hit her liver. The internal bleeding is strong. She will not survive the road to the Palace without surgery.”
“Well, then,” Yong said. “Let us not waste the fresh blood.”
It took Myra a moment to realize what the vamps meant to do. “No!” she screamed. “Wait, no, please, we surrendered. You said you wouldn’t kill us if we surrendered!”
Yong shrugged. “I did, but she is dead anyway.”
“Please, there must be something you can do to help her. You didn’t even try. Please, just try, I’ll do anything!”
“Anything?” the vampire raised an eyebrow. “Would you tell us how to find the Resistance’s hideout, then?”
Myra froze, her blood draining from her face.
He grinned. “I did not think so.”
Yong made a gesture with his hand, and two vampires bit Alerie’s neck, while Natalia bent down to drink the blood from the open wound. The vampires’ skin grew pale, almost transparent, and Myra could see dark veins running underneath; veins, carrying Alerie’s blood. Alerie gasped, too weak to cry, but the scream that tore from Myra’s lips was loud enough for them both.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING THIS FAR!
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