I may have survived the hunter, but I knew my new life wouldn’t last long. Once the others had talked to me, weeks into my turning, about a servant who had taken blood from a human from the village to the east without master’s permission. He had been the oldest, according to the female among us, and had finally lost his mind completely. It happened to all of us, eventually, turning into animals.
Master had killed him. It was fitting, I supposed. He would kill me too, if I didn’t obey.
A strange fear froze me in place at the thought, and wind scattered the scent of the deer I had been tracking. I wondered if all vampire servants feared death the way I did. The others had rushed to their death without thought. And I had already died once, in a way, hadn’t I?
I remembered very little of it. My master had stood over me, his blond hair a halo in the light of the streetlamps. The cloying scent of alcohol and my own vomit, and the trash that had littered that alley, still singed my nose in my memory.
“Do you want to die?” he had asked, his fangs sharp and long. I had thought he was beautiful.
When I opened my eyes again, it was to the stone wall of the castle and to a hunger that never left.
The scent of the deer blew with the breeze again, thicker and pungent. Prey was close. My memories scattered like leaves as I broke into a silent, loping run.
The deer stood out in my enhanced vision, standing like a fool in the light of the stars. I leaped, closing my hands around its neck.
It’s hooves drew fiery trails down my sides and a lucky kick caught my knee, bone popping. I held on, sharp fingernails digging into the fur of its neck. My jaw clenched, my fangs puncturing the skin of my lip. If I bit now, I would miss the vein and spill precious blood on the leaves.
Verterbrae cracked, and the animal went limp. My vision fuzzed, drool dripping from my mouth as I leaned down to finally sink my fangs into my prize. It was strange not to have others fighting me for it.
In a short time, I had sucked the animal dry, my mouth filled with the coppery taste of life. It infused my body, filling me with energy and power. My knee cracked once more as the kneecap slid back into place, and the pain of the torn skin faded as it mended itself.
I stood, the dark night a little brighter with the energy of the deer’s blood within me.
“Hold there,” a voice demanded, and I whirled.
The hunter emerged from the treeline, a crossbow in hand. In his other hand he held a lantern, and it took me only a moment to realize it was another solar flare. He had come prepared.
“You,” he said. “Servant. Stop right there.”
My muscles thrummed with power from the deer. If he hadn’t been holding two weapons and my stomach wasn’t full, I would have killed him by now.
He stood upwind of me, and I wished I could scent him. He stood without a trace of fear, his hands steady. I was probably faster, but I couldn’t be sure. Of course, if he wanted me dead he would have fired by now.
Wind gusted, and the scent of the deer wafted back into my nostrils.
Something flew overhead, the near silence of a hunting owl. I studied the man before me, his well-formed features, tight slacks and short dark hair.
“You are controlled for a vampire’s servant,” the hunter said. “No desire for human blood?”
I tensed. “I am not permitted human blood.” Saliva filled my mouth at the thought of it. Of course, if I killed this man, I would have it.
“Are there others like you?” the hunter asked. He had not moved an inch. “Other servants, aside from the friends of yours I killed?”
I tilted my head. “You think I’d tell you?”
“How long have you served your master?”
I took a step back, some primitive part of my brain firing a warning. I opened my mouth, showing my fangs. “Don’t press your luck, human. You won’t kill me.”
The hunter did something then that I did not expect in the least.
He relaxed, dropping his guard. The crossbow lowered, and he took his thumb off of the switch to the flare. He stood straight, facing me like a man. “I am Johann Malire, a hunter of the 5th order. I was sent here to make the vampire lord in this area answer for his crimes in the villages of Timet, Lorash, and Penthorn.”
I blinked, and for a moment I anticipated killing him. My legs tensed, my mouth opened, and my hands curled into claws.
Another gust of wind brought his scent. Masculine sweat, pine, a spice that was probably something he chewed, and underneath it all, a tinge of fear.
He was afraid, and yet still he addressed me like an equal. Not even when I was human had people spoken to me with such respect.
I relaxed. If he was afraid, then why had he dropped his guard like that, if he didn’t have some sort of trick?
“So, servant,” Johann said. If he was aware of how close he’d come to death, he didn’t show it. “Tell me your name.”
I opened my mouth, then froze.
My master never referred to me by name. People and places danced through my head of my time as a human, fleeting images of other people taunting me, my time drinking in bars and in alleys, and an old woman’s face.
But I didn’t have a name anymore.