Authors: Lori Perry
by Lori Perry
Copyright 2011 Lori Perry
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from either the author or the publisher.
The shadows crept across the path winding through the woods. Anastasia crouched behind the rusted gate waiting for her mark, close enough for the drifting cobwebs to brush her cheek. She paid them no heed, even as the resident spider dashed past the bridge of her nose; nothing was more important than finishing this job. For weeks the village had been plagued with gruesome killings, terrifying the residents. With nothing left to defend themselves, and a desperate need to secure the remaining lives, Anastasia had been sought for her
From the age of ten, she had been forced into intense training with knives, swords, and all other manor of weapons provided by her parents. Grueling physical activity prepared her for her destiny; a legacy passed to her by birthright.
"You must do it again!" Her father bellowed after she missed her mark. "Do it correctly or you die, Ana!" Her small shoulders hunched toward her ears. While other children of her village were learning to weave baskets, sew, or bake bread and other mundane tasks – Ana’s small body was brutalized by her physical training.
"I'm trying, father!" Anastasia cried breathlessly. Not yet coordinated, she was forced to reenact the same move over and over until her body had memorized the action. Without thought, she ducked, rolled and threw the dagger, sinking the blade deep into the center of the objective.
"Dare you speak back to me, child!" Biting back tears, Anastasia lowered her chin knowing the blow would come followed by a night in the freezing barn as punishment. "Had that been a vampire, we would all be drained lifeless and t'would be your doing! Cry your pathetic tears out of my sight!" The pain splintered in her temple as the back of her father's hand met her head. Still, she forced back her tears, waiting for him to leave her before she let the pain show.
Though her mother would plait her hair early in the day, by evening it was tangled and matted to her head, filled with all manner of debris from throwing herself to the ground during training. Laughs and pointing came from the other children – the ones she wished with everything in her being she could switch places with. Then they would suffer as she did – and perhaps she could make jest toward them.
She cursed the memories of her father and turned her attention back to her task. He was close, her skin tingled when one of
neared and this one had not been careful; tearing a path of blood across hundreds of miles. He must be newly turned to be so reckless.
She reached for the small pouch held secretly at her thigh containing the little sugared lemon drops,
. When the bright sourness hit her tongue, her shoulders lost their tension and she remembered the kindness of one child long ago.
It had been a particularly excruciating training day yet she had somehow made her father proud; the viciousness she showed toward her pretend kill had won him over. The child must have noticed the look on Ana’s face – the sense of accomplishment for completing the drill without being beaten shone as she walked through town to her home. Tucked behind a pyramid of wood for their fire sat the child, waiting for Ana to return. If he thought he would go unnoticed by her, he was sadly mistaken. But it seemed she was not the one he was hiding from. When Ana’s father entered the house, the boy snuck from behind the firewood – arm outstretched with a small yellow sweet sitting in the center of his hand. Ana hesitated before plucking it from his palm and tucking it swiftly in her mouth. The taste was like nothing she’d ever known.
She had played the game a thousand times, and was almost bored of the pursuit. Palming her dagger, Ana shifted her weight and readied to spring. The training she'd been subjected to turned out to be quite essential in her success; she almost wanted to thank her father for his commitment to her future,
With her back to the crumbling brick wall, she scanned the path, the tree line and every shadowed crevice lining the wall separating the countryside from the small village. A wave of excitement washed through her as the impending fight was within grasp. She hated the wait, but the sweet taste of lemon on her tongue reminded her of victory, she kept them handy to reward her hard work after a fight. There had been a time when she resented her ability to kill the un-killable, to track the invisible; not anymore. The plague had long since taken her family and she refused to become attached to another living being - after putting the last one of them in the ground.
A yowl from the woods to her left made her duck farther into the brush as she waited for the vampire to emerge. The unfortunate victim was a scavenger dog - slowly limping from the violent assault. It wavered on severely damaged legs before Ana and then collapsed a few feet from her
; a decoy.
The vampire leaped from a tree branch landing on the wall above Ana. She spun, shoving off against the gravel and cart-wheeling to her feet as he landed in a crouch where she had been sitting. His face was distorted in animalistic fervor as he smiled with the animal's blood dripping from his teeth. There was nothing that shocked her anymore, she anticipated things bursting from the shadows and vampires falling from the sky.
"You're one of
vampires then?" Tipping her head toward the animal, she spun the dagger in her hand readying for his attack. "I thought you only ate animals out of necessity. Perhaps you're not skilled enough to catch a human." Ana chided the drooling vampire, trying to provoke his attack. She crunched the last bit of lemon drop between her teeth, licking little bits of sugar from her grin.
"I'm perfectly able to catch a stupid human," he said, blood splattering between his teeth as he spoke, "especially fragile little females like you." His implication was clear and Ana lost her grin, visions of the past flashing through her head. Snowy white nightgowns stained red with blood; tiny bonnets and rose embroidered blankets ravaged on the floor. Slowly he stood keeping his eyes locked with hers. Ana knew they could move with unmatched speed, but had been trained to overcome that obstacle; plan your attack before it begins; see where the blade will slide into the skin, where you will take what's left of its soul. Within a breath he was in front of her with his large hand wrapped around her throat and pointed fingernails digging into her flesh as he lifted her effortlessly.
"I'm going to enjoy sucking the last drop of life-blood from this pretty little neck." Her toes pointed, scraping the ground. She allowed a smile to alter her expression from enmity to amusement as she concentrated on slowing her breathing, letting her heart rate drop. They maddened easily, unable to control their emotions when they were newly turned, which was something valuable she had learned from her father. She allowed him to get closer, his arrogant assumption that he had caught her made her smile stretch farther.
It was too young to realize, she had caught
Anger boiling behind his reddened eyes, the vampire crossed the distance to a tree slamming her into it. Ana felt the rough bark puncture the skin at her hip and then warm blood trickled down beneath her breeches. There were more scars on her body than she could count; every one a souvenir from battle. This would be no different. The blood-sucker made a fatal mistake, he left her hands free. Ana smiled at his lack of skill and forethought, this would be one of her easier kills.
"Do your worst." She sighed as his grip tightened. He couldn't kill her this way; her blood would be worthless to him if it stopped flowing through her veins. With an angry growl he threw Ana to the ground, pinning her still by the neck. The injured dog gave a sharp whine of pain as the vampires boot knocked its leg, distracting her with its suffering.
The distraction prevented her from turning her fist in the fall, her dagger skidded across the gravel just out of her reach.
She watched the dagger wobble on its hilt. As she twisted under him, little shards of rock scraped patches of skin from her arms. Still, she didn't panic. What would that get her? A long time ago she learned that panic made her concentration falter, leading to disaster.
"You taunt me?" Bloody spit sprayed against her cheek, the red in his eyes darkening. "Not wise. This could have been pleasurable for you. Now the pleasure will be all
." His hand was replaced with his forearm then fingers encircled her wrist. The full weight of him crushing her ribs.
Her last battle lost to a newborn vampire? Had this fledgling never heard of her before?
Ana's body went limp under him. She wouldn’t fight, not when that was obviously part of his thrill. And he hadn’t quite gotten into the proper position for her to unseat him; she almost faked a yawn to get him moving. The vampire's expression twisted with slight confusion.
"Did you change your mind?" he licked his lips. "A vampire's kiss, ahhh, there is nothing to match it." His tongue darted out licking the skin at her wrist.
Her stomach turned.
Nothing like it?
It was pure repulsion to her. Part of her father's training was taking her to the sight of vampire attacks, exposing her to the carnage; to the victim's half-eaten and torn apart bodies.
"You must destroy any creature that performs these acts, without thought." The stench of blood and rotting corpses stung Ana's eyes. "Do you understand, child? You must devote yourself to the destruction of these beings."
"I understand." Turning, Ana emptied her stomach, and then was quickly punished for her weakness.
Swallowing hard against the bile in her throat she let her eyes fall to the side; staring at the leaves brushing against each other in the breeze. Calmness washed through her as she felt his fangs against her skin. She'd been bitten before and had no fear of turning, though the foulness they carried in their mouths would surely lead to a nasty infection. She'd kept Old Mad Mary in business these last four years buying her blood poison cures alone. She'd buy some of her lemon drops tomorrow as well. As the inevitable repositioning of the arm across her throat came, Ana smiled; now the beast would die.
Cold air rushed against the front of her body; the weight had been lifted - or torn away rather - by something she hadn't seen; something too quick to distinguish. A high-pitched squeal followed the crunching and snapping of bone just out of her line of vision and the branches of a nearby bush trembled and shook from a ferocious attack - then halted with a thud.
Ana rolled to her side peering into the darkness trying to find what it was that had taken her kill, and saw nothing; though the feeling of eyes on her prickled her skin. As quickly as she could, Ana grabbed her dagger, relishing the feel of the heavy blade in her hand once more. A shallow panting emanated from the copse of bushes the clash had erupted from moments before.
An animal? But what animal could best a vampire?
There was no tingle to her skin, no warning that what hid there was an enemy; yet it destroyed the other vampire quickly, without alerting the young savage. She searched the darkness again until the panting had ceased. There needed to be evidence the vampire was dead; she needed to prove that the village was saved before she would receive her gold.
But what was in those bushes? Perhaps an older, more skilled vampire casing his prey?
Had it killed the young vampire to secure its own dinner?