As Jaesa stood outside room 6-C, she felt the slight movement of the shuttle beneath her feet. She had two hours before the shuttle would arrive in Ircatra, and she had to make her move quickly. Not just the fate of her home, Ghalsmoth depended upon her, but that of many other cities as well. Why she hesitated, she wasn't sure. Something felt wrong, but that was probably just nerves. Father Keagan Drogan had to be in that room. He had written Countess Rhynsfeld that he would be. Jaesa was his contact.
She placed a trembling hand on the door. Let him be in there. She thought desperately. Taking a deep breath, she turned the handle, and went inside.
A tall, thin man dressed in a black cloak looked up from the ancient book he had been reading as she entered. His long, black hair was tied back with a red ribbon, and strands fell around his strong, handsome face. Jaesa gulped. She'd been expecting someone much older. "F-father?" She asked. He stared at her with eyes blacker than night, seeming a little surprised at her arrival.
Then he smiled, which softened his face. "It's that time already? I have it here." He reached into his pocket, and produced the small boarding pass disc that permitted him to ride the shuttle.
"Uh." She said miserably. "Father Keagan Drogan?" She tried again. "I'm Captain Jaesa Barune. I'm from Countess Rhynsfeld. I'm not here to check your pass."
"I see. Countess? Huh? Father? Hey, wait a minute here, young lady. You're mistaken. I'm not a priest."
"You're not?" Her eyes widened, and she collapsed in the seat across from him. Her shoulders slumped dejectedly, and she bowed her head, trying to conceal her tears. "I-I th-thought he was supposed to be here! He promised!"
"What exactly do you need Father Drogan for, Captain?" The man asked gently, touching her hand with his white gloved one.
"I have something I had to give him." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "You have to be him! You have to be! I checked in Ghalmoth. This room had been assigned to him. If you're not Father Drogan, then you did something to him!" She stood up angrily, and glared at him. "What did you do to Father Drogan, you bastard?!" She pointed her Calax Special 6400 at his head, ready to pull the trigger. "Answer me! Or I'll shoot!"
The man sighed, and looked out the window. "You must be pretty desperate, if you're ready to shoot an innocent man in the head. I'm sorry to say that Father Drogan is dead. Two nights ago, he was attacked in a back alley outside the room he had rented in Sambile."
She thumbed back the hammer, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You did kill him, then! Damn you!"
A smile curved his lips. "I'm already damned. A young girl like you couldn't possibly make it any worse. In any case, I had nothing to do with the good Father's death. The foolish priest had been hunting a group of Vampires, and they lured him into the alley." He stared down at his hands. "Captain Barune, you'd best go home. Whatever business you had with the priest in not worth risking your life over."
"Wh-what happened to the Vampires that he'd been hunting?"
His hands clenched in his lap. "I killed them. I tried to save your priest, but by the time I arrived, he was already dead. I found the boarding pass in his robe, so I thought he might have been headed to the Monastery there. I was going to inform them of his death."
She lowered the gun, and looked away from him. "Then I've failed." She muttered.
"Not necessarily. Where did you want Father Drogan to take this object that you were supposed to give him? You could take it there yourself."
"The palace in Vasna." She slumped onto the seat across from him again. "But it's so far! I don't know if I could do it by myself, and the Countess would wonder what happened to me."
"Don't worry about the Countess. More than likely, if she's the same woman I knew, she already knows of the priest's death. She'll expect you to take care of the matter yourself."
"Huh? You know the Countess?"
He looked at her sideways with a grin, and coughed into his hand. "Yeah. I met her when she was a little girl. I'll get a message to her when we arrive in Ircatra."
"Thank you." She said softly. "I'm sorry that I bothered you." She stood up to leave, but his fingers wrapped around her wrist.
"You might as well share the room with me, until we arrive. I--" His expression turned fierce suddenly, and he shoved her down between the two seats.
"Be quiet!" He hissed.
The door opened a couple inches, and someone threw a small canister inside. A moment later, the door slammed shut, and Jaesa heard the lock click into place. Some kind of foul-smelling gas was leaking out of the canister. "Captain!" Her companion shouted, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Cover your eyes." He slammed his shoulder into the door, causing it to splinter upon impact. He pulled her out of the room, and they ran down the corridor. Midway, three red robed men appeared from the shadows, blocking their path.
Jaesa's companion was grinning evilly. "Are you after me, Xiat? Or are you after the lady?"
"At the moment, Vampire, we have no quarrel with you. We just want the object that the girl carries."
"Vampire?!" Jaesa's eyes widened.
He shrugged. "Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that. Sorry." He turned back to the Xiat. "No can do, Xiat. Why don't you retreat instead?" He suggested. "You know you have no chance against me. I see you are only three. You thought you would have to deal with just a human girl. Little did you know that she would hook up with a Lord."
"So, you're going to make this difficult, then. Very well." The man raised his staff. "This is made of rosewood, Vampire. I can kill you with this."
"Can you? Do you really think so?" Jaesa's companion was enjoying himself. Even though he had admitted to being a Vampire, he hadn't harmed her. In fact, it seemed as though he was trying to protect her. She raised her gun at the Xiat who'd been speaking.
"What's your name?" She asked her companion.
"Dhmaru Blood. Lord Blood."
"Lord Blood, you know we can't give it to them."
"Of course! What would make you think otherwise? Besides, I've been wanting to get my hands on a few Xiat members for quite awhile. This is going to be fun! Just be careful. They're Thralls, so they're more than human. Aim for the head or for the heart."
"Blood slaves to a Vampire." He explained.
"Lord Blood, this is not your fight." The Xiat said. "You don't want our Order to hunt you down. We don't mess with the Lords, and they don't interfere with us."
Dhmaru laughed. "Oh, but you don't understand! I'm not like the other Lords." His eyes began to glow red, and Jaesa backed away from him, suddenly scared. "I hunt them!" A low growl began to come from his throat, and he lunged at the Xiat. Fearfully, the Xiat tried to ward him off with their staffs, but Lord Blood was too fast. His claws raked across their robes, staining the floor with blood. He threw one of the Xiat across the corridor, causing him to strike the farthest wall. Even from that distance, Jaesa could hear the bones crack upon impact. The Xiat fell to the floor, dead. He struck another Xiat in the abdomen, and his fist opened a huge, gaping hole in the man's stomach. Blood splattered everywhere, as the Xiat also fell to the ground. Only one remained; the one who had been speaking before. That one took off at a run, and Jaesa aimed her gun at him. Lord Blood placed his hand on the gun, lowering it.
"Let him go." He said. "I don't believe in shooting a man in the back."
"But he'll tell the Xiat!"
Dhmaru Blood grinned. "Yes, I suppose he shall."
"Lord Blood! They must have heard where I'm supposed to take the object!"
"And your point?" He crossed his arms across his chest. "Don't worry, dear Captain. I'll be with you every step of the way. I don't know what you're carrying, but whatever it is, it's come to the attention of the Xiat, and they don't show themselves just for fun. It must be very important. Especially coming from the Countess. I wonder what mess she's gotten herself into this time."
Countess Yuliel Rhynsfeld turned away from the mirror, her knee-length blonde hair rippling around her. In the mirror, the fading image of inside a shuttle was slowly vanishing. Lord Blood, my old friend. Will you be ally or foe this time around? If you don't believe in what I'm doing, you could very easily become an enemy. The only thing I know of that is capable of killing you is right next to you, and you don't even know it. I'd hate to have to use that thing on you, but if you try to stop me, I won't hesitate.
"Lady Rhynsfeld!" The chamber door burst open, and a young woman in a white and gold uniform entered. "Oh! I forgot to knock! I'm so sorry!" The girl bowed her head. "Shall I go out and do it again?"
A pleasant smile spread across the Countess' face. "That's not necessary, Veronica. What is it?"
"A messenger from Duke Falkenburk has arrived. Will you meet with him? He says it's of vital importance."
"Falkenburk!" Yuliel exclaimed in rage. "How dare he! It's not enough that he steals my dear sister, Kasandra from me! Now, he wants Ghalsmoth as well! Give the messenger some tea and bread, then send him on his way."
"I tried that already, but he says that if he doesn't speak with you, the Duke will kill him."
"And he thinks I care? If he doesn't leave on his own, Veronica, you kill him."
"You're of the elite guard. Your duty is not to question your mistress, but to obey her." Then Yuliel's expression softened at Veronica's horrified face. "Veronica, you're fairly new here, aren't you? I'm not a cruel mistress, but I don't tolerate intruders. Lord Falkenburk and I have been rivals for a very long time. He hates me so much that he seduces a girl that I adopted as my sister, and steals her from me. I don't even know if she still lives." A sparkling tear flowed down her cheek, and she turned away. "Forgive me if I'm harsh, but I don't like one of his people in my home. Please get rid of him for me."
"Yes, Lady Rhynsfeld." Veronica said, her eyes determined. "I will do exactly as you ask." She whirled around, leaving Yuliel to her own thoughts.
Now there were two Vampire Lords in Yuliel's territory. Both were deadly and cruel, but the second might prove to be the ally she'd been hoping for. Lord Blood, please don't betray me. I don't want to have to kill you.
"Um, Lord Blood?" Jaesa began as the shuttle slowed down for arrival at the station in Ircatra. They were sitting in the public car, waiting. Lord Blood had decided that since she was a target for the Xiat that the best thing for them to do was remain in the open. The Xiat would not attack, if there were other people around. "The sunrise is only an hour away. What are we going to do? I doubt we can find a room to hole up in within that short of time."
"I have friends in Ircatra. With a little bit of gold, they would put us up for however long we wish. We're only going to stay until nightfall, though. There's a shuttle leaving for Cauldin at midnight, so we'll buy passes before we leave the station." He leaned back against the seat, his eyes closed. "Heh! You'll need new clothes, too. You shouldn't be dressed in the Countess' elite uniform. That'd be like shouting 'Here I am! Come get me!' While I'm sleeping, you should go get yourself something else."
"I don't have any money." She told him.
"No problem. I do. The Countess can pay me back later. She'll be glad, knowing that you're in my care. It's better to be my companion than some filthy priest's, anyway."
"You don't like priests very much, do you?"
"Nope. Anything that hunts a Vampire that hunts other Vampires is a nuisance. They only get in my way." He opened his eyes to wink at her. "Besides, priests are dull! You'll have more fun with me."
"Yeah, and you'll probably get us into trouble all the time, too. I think you like to fight too much."
He laughed. "You're probably right."
Jaesa looked at the window. "We're almost there. Lord Blood--"
"Oh, stop being so formal! The name's Dhmaru. At least, for now it is. And I'll call you 'Jaesa'."
"Hey! I didn't give you permission to do that!" She looked down. "But all right. I mean, after all, we're companions now. To be so formal towards each other would be ridiculous."
"Exactly!" He grinned. "Glad you understand."
"Um, out of curiosity, what's the difference between a normal Vampire and a Lord?"
"Age and power. The Lords have been around for millennia, and the older you are, the more powerful you are."
"And how old are you?"
He winked at her again. "That's a secret."
The overhead speakers clicked on, and woman's voice announced; "Please remain seated until the shuttle comes to a full stop. This is for your safety. Thank you."
"Well," Dhmaru said, standing up, "Shall we go?"
"Huh? But she said to remain seated."
"Yes, well." He coughed delicately into his hand. "There will be about ten of the Xiat waiting for us when we leave the shuttle. If we leave quietly through the back, they'll never see us. Do you want the other passengers to get caught up in our problems, or do you want to jump ship before they see us?"
She stood up quickly. "Let's go!"
"I thought you'd see it my way." He said, taking her hand, and pulling her towards the back entrance. She practically had to run to keep up with him.
The shuttle was still moving as they jumped out the back. Dhmaru caught her, and gently lowered her to her feet. "Didn't want you to clonk your head." He said in explanation. "Anyway, come on. There's got to be an emergency route to the surface from down here. I'd rather avoid causing human deaths if I can."
"I thought Vampires hated humans."
"And humans hated Vampires. I know all about that. At one time, I couldn't have cared less about humans, but that's changed. I don't harm them, unless I have to."
"What about having to feed?"
"Well, I don't have to very often. Another benefit of being so old. But even when I do feel the hunger, I hunt only vagrants, unless I can find another Vampire nearby. I'm a rare kind of Vampire that can feed off its own kind, without ever having to drink human blood. I discovered that when I killed my own family. By drinking the blood of another Vampire, I can steal their strength and power as they die in my arms."
"You'd think such a thing would make you power hungry." She said, walking quickly beside him.
"Perhaps." He agreed. "And maybe it has. I decided long ago that my duty was to hunt down the other Lords, and their children. If I grow stronger along the way, so be it. There's been only one other Vampire Lord that I came across that I'd been reluctant to kill, and that's only because she shares my own beliefs that humans must be protected at all cost.
"Well, here it is." He pointed to the ladder that he'd paused by. "This will take us to the surface. Well, you. I've got to stay down here. We wasted too much time. The sun is beginning to rise."
"Come back to the station at nightfall." He reached up to the pendant around his neck. "Take this to an inn called Eirlore, and show it to the proprietor. His name's Ollie. He'll set you up with a room to get some rest. Remember to get yourself some clothes." He handed her pouch filled with coins. "Don't go crazy with it, all right? We need that to get us the rest of the way to Vasna."
She started up the ladder, then glanced back down at him. "Will you be all right?" She asked.
"Don't worry about me. Worry about yourself. Keep your gun handy. I doubt that the Xiat would dare follow you to Eirlore, but if they do, Ollie will take care of them."
"Thank you, Dhmaru. For everything." She climbed the ladder the rest of the way, and opened the lid to the surface. She looked down one more time to see that Dhmaru had vanished.
Dhmaru watched her from the shadows, and his eyes narrowed on something he saw down the length of the tracks. A wide, evil smile split his face. Time to hunt. He thought.
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