The hollowness in my gut was the first thing to break the hunger, and it took me a moment to realize that every other servant was dead.
I hadn’t known them. It shouldn’t matter. We hadn’t even spoken, only interacting when we fought during our nightly hunts for deer or other animal blood. Without them, there would be more for me. I should be glad.
But emotion faded quickly. I fought to keep running, to ignore the command in my mind that told me to turn back and kill the man I had been ordered to kill. Doing so would be suicide.
It was only when I entered the castle gates that I wondered if my master would be angry with me.
The gates soared over my head, carvings of wolves seated atop the iron bars. The castle blocked the view of the mountain that overlooked it and kept it hidden from curious onlookers. Gray stone melded against dead trees.
Inside, thousands of scents mingled, mold mixing with cold stone and dead leaves and the sharp scent of my master’s dogs. The scent of blood wound through it all, and saliva filled my mouth.
I followed the scent, my bare feet silent on the cold stones, and found my master where the stone became plush rugs. A skeleton lay by the door to his room, the bones ancient. A shiver went down my spine, but faded quickly, just like every other emotion or feeling I had. The ever-present hunger replaced it.
“What are you doing here?” My master’s voice chased away everything else.
The vampire who had made me strode closer. His blond hair was tied back with a blue ribbon, and deep red eyes met mine. He frowned, and I ducked my head, curling in on myself like a cur. I should have attacked the hunter and been done with it.
“Where are the others?” my master said, his voice fainter, and the presence of his power lessened on my shoulders and chest.
“Dead,” I managed. “The man was a hunter.”
“Damn.” My master turned on his heel, striding down the hall. With a whisper of his power, I was compelled to follow. He always paced when he thought.
My master’s shoes clicked on the stone floors, the sound loud and echoing down the halls. I heard tiny hearts beating from creatures racing along the floor and outside the open windows, the blazing fast pulse of mice and once the slower beat of a cat that must be hunting them.
“Why did you return?” my master asked. I tore my gaze away from the windows.
“I…I could not kill him.”
“I ordered you to kill him.” My master stopped walking, turning on his heel like a girl in the village who danced for pennies. He was far more graceful, though. “I am surprised you returned. Why?”
I blinked, mind racing. My master stared at me, red eyes steady, his mouth a firm line. His shoulders were thrown back and square. “I thought you might like to know that he is a hunter,” I said, my fangs snapping on the words. “He is likely hunting you.”
“I feed only on the unwanted, the criminals, and the freaks of the villages. I am a boon to those humans. Why did they send a hunter?”
The words brought a strange stabbing pain in my chest that it took me a moment to place. Distant, hazy memories, ones that used to matter, played through my mind.
I had been a freak. A pale freak, with white hair and red eyes who everyone had taunted. I had been almost blind. They said I had been a punishment to my mother for being a whore.
But not anymore. My master made me strong. Nearly two months ago, he had given me new life.
“Well?” My master snapped, bringing me back to the present and to the drafty halls of the castle. “Did the hunter speak to you, make demands, or any such thing?”
“No.” I had not heard his voice. “He killed the others with a solar weapon. He was going to kill me with a stake, but I ran.”
“A solar weapon.” My master’s words were cold. “He does intend to kill me, then, not just you.”
I didn’t respond. There were not many things that could kill a vampire lord like my master, but now I knew that a solar weapon was one of them.
“And now you are my only servant.” My master frowned. “A disobedient servant.” I ducked my head.
“Go and feed on a deer in the forest. Do not enter the city. And stay very, very far from that hunter.” My master waved a hand. “Dismissed.”
Before I could move, my master vanished the way he always did when he was done with me. His command thrummed in my brain, and I headed toward the open window we had passed on our walk here.
The soft wind rushing and the chirps and chitters from the forest quieted the clamoring in my mind that competed with my master’s order. I had every intention of following it—my fangs lengthened, saliva filling my mouth at the thought of a meal, even if it was just animal blood. I had yet to taste a human.
But another part of me wondered, even as I crouched into a hunter’s stance and listened for my prey, about the hunter and what my master was going to do. He had used his solar weapon, but tomorrow night it would be charged again.
Of course, my master was not stupid enough to charge a hunter like we had. He was no mindless servant.
Then again, I supposed as I picked up the gamey scent of deer, I wasn’t mindless either. I had survived.
And I felt sure I would see that hunter again.