“Wait!” The gurgling voice called for me. A claw clawed the upper part of my ankle; I winced at the sharp sting but kept going. Flinging the weighty door open to the unobstructed air, I bolted to the treeline, which wasn’t far. This area was usually secure, streaming with guards, but many were missing. I didn’t question it; this was my only chance.
His gurgles became more transparent; he was healing far too quickly. My hope for escape was diminishing, but I trudged on because facing the repercussions was not an option.
My feet were burning despite the cold weather. The damp leaves clung to my bloody feet while I tried to silently run through the dense woods. Thorns, briars scraped my skin; the moon was still high in the night sky.
No footsteps were running after me; heck, I didn’t even know if they could fly or if it was an old wives tale to scare children. I wasn’t about to find out. My steps hit soft patches of moss-like material. Bright lights flew out, sparkles catching the moonlight as I whipped by. Not the kind of attention I needed. I really sucked at this.
The morning light finally came into view. I might have been running for hours, but it felt like days. My breathing was heavy despite every part of trying to remain silent. It was a fruitless endeavor; even if I could keep quiet, they would still find me.
Their senses were overwhelming; never in my life had I seen such a creature of a high predatory grace. Despite the blood-red eyes, their features were handsome among the men and beautiful among the women. Remembering that beauty is only skin deep came to mind when their true intentions followed once I met them.
Tripping for the tenth time, I stood up, holding my hands to my knees, hyperventilating for a few minutes. I had to keep going, even if I didn’t hear them behind me. They were built to hunt, created to fight their prey tooth and nail. To them, I was a mere human, an easy source for their meal or illicit desires. Shivering at the thought, I gripped forward.
I complain and run through the wild thick of the trees. I was said to be unique, and this night the Duke was to have what he had wanted for the past 6 months. Me on his bed, to be claimed. Though I was dressed in a beautiful nightgown with a necklace around my neck and treated just a bit better than the other unfortunate humans that I roomed with, it was just a curse. The shortened sleeves held lace around my arm, the purple dye the finest that this mini place could offer, I was sure. None of the other humans like me wore anything of the sort. My hair was curled to perfection, tiny bits of mascara to cover my lashes, all the other vampire women huffed in disgust as they left me in the Duke’s cold room.
There was no fire to warm the room, despite knowing humans could very well freeze in weather likes this. Rubbing my arms, I could remember the cold breath that ran up my neck when I thought I was alone. His nose traced my neck; I was too scared to move. The blood rushed up straight to my neck, where his fangs tickled the artery. The sharp serrated knife that one helpful vampire girl slipped to me just the hour before was gripped between my thighs.
“Odessa,” his voice curled underneath my skin. Like nails on a chalkboard, his black claw slithered up my forearm. “I’ve been the only one that has fed off of you since you arrived, and I don’t think the demon in me can resist you anymore. You’ve fed me into an obsession.” The Duke turned his back to me, not expecting me to get off my knees and lunge towards his neck. I’d been the quiet one, the reserved and obedient one. The Duke liked that, and I used it until I could use it to my advantage.
Pulling the dogwood knife between my thighs, I said a quick thankful prayer to the one vampire girl that tried to help. My hand went to his forehead, and the knife slipped in my sweaty hand until it ran across his neck. Slumping to the floor, I jumped off the bed to run.
Shuttering at the remembrance of that monster, I jumped into the creek. My body protested, but it had to be done. The blood needed to be washed away; my scent, the ‘allure’ he kept talking about the nights where he fed on me in his cold room, had to get off me. They could track me, their noses were keen, but this only meant that my body would suffer all the more.
The scratches covered the many holes in my arm where they had fed the past six months; my fingers traced the scared forearm. Vampires didn’t drink from the neck of their ‘food.’ No, neck drinking was meant to be an intimate bonding time between their lovers. Last night, the Duke wanted to take me as his lover, and who knows what would have happened after that.
Dunking my head in the icy water, I emerged with new energy, new life. My feet were cleansed of the blood and jumped from the icy depths, bolting to the North. At least, I hoped it was the North.
The trees grew sparse, less dense, and not as menacing. These giant trees didn’t remind me anything of home. Some had held a glow that hovered around the bases. More significant than that of a firefly, but I didn’t have time to notice because I was running for my life. Running to freedom.
I ran all day, no water or food. My body wanted to crumple to the ground in exhaustion. The scratches on my calf had to be infected; they itched while the cold air flew by. My adrenaline was depleted since there was no sign of anyone coming for me, but I couldn’t be too sure. Finding a tree with branches low enough for me to reach. The once beautiful purple nightgown had rips and holes. Frayed at the knees and dirt in the lace. Each pull on the branch was agonizing until I reached a safe height. Indeed this was high enough to sleep just for a few hours.
By the time I awoke, the sun had started to set. I couldn’t stay still any longer; they could have caught up to me by now. I ran, hobbled for another five hours, and then crumpled into the moss. My stomach and mind protested, saying that this was it; I could no longer continue. Now, here I stand in front of tall trees, in the middle of the mountains. The terrain is much more complicated than the darkened forest I had crawled out of days ago.
The flash of dark hair, red eyes, clawed fingers swept through my vision. A flap of wings blew past my ears; a yip left my lips while I stumbled down into a deep revene. My hair tossed into the branches, my fingers gripped the jagged rocks. Nails ripped from my fingers, and a jolt of pain in my ankle shot through my body.
My back came to a halt at the base of a vast, dead tree. My forehead was bleeding, and there was no way I could walk to a stream to rinse away the blood. If there even was a stream nearby. Luckily, it was a ravine, and the wind wouldn’t blow my scent around for the vampires to find me as quickly. My eyes drooped in exhaustion; my heartbeat could be felt in my ears. I needed shelter; I couldn’t just sit here all alone.
Several flying animals, a bat? A sparrow? Firefly? Flew past my head. For a minute, I thought they could be fairies, but that was obscured; no such things existed? Then again, vampires did; witches did. That was how I came to the Duke. Could they exist too? My shoulders slumped, pulling my body and crawling around the tree. A sliver of an opening was just large enough to fit my tiny body into the trunk.
A defeated moan left my lips, dragging my indeed broken ankle into the decaying tree. I couldn’t see the large blue moon anymore if I sat just right, hiding me from the outside world.
It was the bluest of moons I had ever seen; I don’t remember the last time I saw it with such color. My eyes were playing tricks on me; it had to be. Being able to see the sky was a wondrous feeling. I didn’t see it for months sitting in a drippy basement. All the humans missed the sky, the sun. Several of the girls wondered if there was even a sun anymore. After running for two days, I didn’t even stop to look at it.
The weakness of the run, the adrenaline leaving my body, the faux feeling of finally feeling safe and free. I wasn’t bound in the human cage. No, my ankle now bound me here, and who knows if I would actually live past this night.
My throat swallowed a bit of spit, coating the scratchy part. No relief came; I sighed defeated until a rumble of thunder in the distance caught my attention. This was both good and bad, my scent will be washed away, but now I will be freezing.
To die a free woman was better than a blood and sex slave. This I was sure of. I could rest, close my eyes and let the dark spirits take me away in my sleep if they were feeling merciful tonight. That sounded much better than being forced to love a vampire who had drunk my blood for the past months. It was much better to have a choice.
The rain began to pour, darkness swept over the sky, and the blue moon was hidden behind the clouds. All became quiet, no longer hearing the light pattering of small animals. They all had crawled up into their burrows to get away from the cold rain. The dead tree above was keeping me dry, thankfully. The water hit the side of the bark with a slap and trailed down the thick tendrils of the roots that I was sitting in. Particular tendrils curled up, looking like a bowl. It filled quickly with water.
Sitting up with a groan, I put my lips straight to the natural bowl, drinking down as much as I could. It was clean, refreshing. Becoming overwhelmingly thankful, I began to cry. The first time since arriving to this land, I finally cried. Grateful to be free, grateful to be far away from the hell that I survived from, I leaned back into the tree.
Besides the pain in my ankle, I was happy. For this moment, I knew I was going to survive. Not sure how, but I would endure. No more complaining, no more feeling sorry for myself. When I wake, as long as my body willed me, I would continue on, for me.
My eyes blinked, but it was no longer dark the next time they opened. The rain had stopped, and wet soil filled my nose. It wasn’t quiet. However, loud whooshing sounds came from the bottom of my tree stump. A cold, damp mushroom brushed my toes. I squeaked involuntarily. Slapping my hand over my mouth, the mushroom moved again and sniffed harder. A paw came through the tree stump and started to dig a hole.
The paw was massive, hairy, and claws as long as my fingers. I didn’t come this far to be dug out by an animal. Trying to use my good foot, I pushed the mushroom, now realizing it was a nose away from me. It was a fruitless endeavor because I barely moved it.
It sneezed and pushed forward again, humming a tune to the rhythm of its paws. At least it wasn’t biting me yet. “Please don’t,” I whispered. “Please don’t eat me.” Sounding pathetic, a grunt caught the animal’s attention, and it scampered off not too far from the tree. Leaning forward, my head came closer to the hole, taking in the brightness of the outside.
My eyes widened at the sight that I saw. The animal sat patiently, wagging its tail, pushing the leaves, and debris staring up at nothing to be called short as a Viking warrior.
His chest was bare; tribal tattoos, scars, and scrapes littered his chiseled body. One large scar went straight through his eye, causing the hair to not grow on a portion of his eyebrow that led down his neck. Tight braids held his long hair at the top while the sides of his head were shaved. His facial hair was a dark beard; some bits of beads adorned it that touched his collar bone. Sweat dripped on his forehead while he adjusted the leather straps crisscrossed over his body.
Once he petted his animal, his eyes met mine; his animal crossed between a wolf and tiger, panted his tongue in my direction. Despite fearing everyone and everything since my arrival at that blood bank prison, this man didn’t scare me like the vampires did. His eyes held warmth, but his body and face were stiff with impending questions.
What was he going to do to me?