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Shadow blood, p.15
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       Shadow Blood, p.15

           Jayde Scott
 
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  “Is your husband here as well?” Rebecca pictured the man with cropped mouse-brown hair that hovered at the verge of Jessie’s mind. They had only recently separated and the pain still sat deep.

  “Not this year.” She shook her head. “Maybe next.”

  “I think I’ll take that bath now,” Rebecca said. She didn’t like people asking questions and she certainly didn’t like getting to know them.

  “Sure. I’ll help you with the water,” Jessie said. Rebecca put the glass down and followed her to the adjacent room—a tiny cubicle with a chipped tub and damp-smelling walls—and barely listened as Jessie explained how the water tap worked. A thick stream of brownish water began to fill up the tub. Rebecca dipped her fingertips in and regarded the moisture on her skin intently.

  “As said, it’s just rain water and pretty cold, but at least you’ll be clean,” Jessie continued apologetically. As if Rebecca cared. Her gaze remained glued to the pounding pulse beneath the delicate skin on Jessie’s neck and slowly a plan began to emerge in her head.

  With a last glance over her shoulder, Jessie closed the door behind her and Rebecca was alone with her thoughts.

  The tub was big enough to sit comfortably, even though she could not stretch out her legs. The water made her shiver from the cold. Muffled voices carried over from the living room but she paid them no attention. Dark trickles of cold sweat ran down her spine at the savaging hunger inside her stomach. She was so close to feeding but the time hadn’t come yet. She wasn’t one of the barbarian vampires that once belonged to her maker Flavius’s coven. She was high-born and prided herself on her origin, and as such she’d control her urges and clean up before giving in to her vampiric instincts. So she rubbed her hair with Jessie’s soap that smelled of herbs, then took her time rinsing it out a few times.

  At least half an hour must’ve passed. The water had dyed dark brown with leaves and caked earth when she finally decided to step out of the tub. She smelt of grass and freshness; the scent of neatness, she thought. The way someone like her should smell. Eventually, she wrapped the man’s jacket around her naked body and returned to the living room, ready to claim what was hers.

  But first she needed to get inside their heads again to make sure nothing would disrupt her meal. Jessie was more compliant than the old man, so Rebecca decided to tune in to her thoughts first.

  Chapter 4

  It was late after midnight. The sun wouldn’t rise for another few hours. Jessie stifled yet another yawn. It had been a long day. First the early morning shopping for the trip, then the eight-hour car drive, and now they had an unexpected visitor, who had been in the bathroom for more than half an hour. As another minute passed, Jessie wondered if she should knock and ask the old lady if she needed help, but her eyelids felt heavy and her body too exhausted to move. Tired she took another gulp of water from the glass on the coffee table and slumped on the floor to return to her novel, but didn’t seem as engrossed as before. Her father lay dozing on the big couch, next to the smaller sofa with her sleeping children. The tone of the flickering television set was muted; his snoring was the only sound cutting through the silence of the night. When another yawn snaked its way out of Jessie’s mouth, she closed her eyes. Just for a minute, was her last conscious thought.

  ***

  A smile tugged at Rebecca’s lips. She had been standing in the doorway, watching them, waiting, tuning into Jessie’s thoughts and influencing their minds to fall asleep. With everyone so tired it wasn’t a hard task. However, judging from the way Jessie slept, stirring and mumbling now and then, Rebecca could see she was a light sleeper. If the plan was to work, Rebecca had to act fast.

  Slowly, Rebecca crossed the room in a few short strides. Eyes closed, Jessie sat on the floor with her legs stretched out and her back leaning against the sofa on which the two children were sleeping. Rebecca pulled the heavy blanket covering them aside. The youngest, a boy, was resting with his back toward his sister, a yellow, ugly teddy bear pressed against his chest.

  He was small for his age, almost fragile, and the easiest to fool. Rebecca scooped him up in her arms. His tiny arms wrapped around her neck as though to embrace her. Smiling, she carried him to the adjacent bedroom and put him down on one of the untouched beds, then closed the door behind her and turned to her first victim since her rising.

  She knew Jessie was about to wake up long before the woman opened her eyes. Rebecca hid in the shadows behind the door, her back pressed against the cold wall as she tuned into Jessie’s thoughts once more, watching her every step through the woman’s eyes. Jessie’s mind was still dazed and pliable, but there was also defiance, as though, in spite of Rebecca’s strong mind control, Jessie retained a morsel of her will.

  ***

  Confused, Jessie opened her eyes and peered around her, not sure what had startled her. The television set was still flickering with images of a late night talk show while her father snored in front of it, unfazed by the glaring light. She figured it was just an animal or maybe her reoccurring dream of falling that woke her up. And then she remembered their visitor.

  The watch on her wrist said 1:15 a.m. Time to show the old woman where she could sleep before Jessie carried the children to bed. As she stood, stretching her legs, she noticed the blanket on the floor. Her daughter, Stephanie, was still asleep, but Brian was gone. Slightly uneasy, Jessie scanned the room and then looked under the table. Ever since her husband left, the boy had started to sleepwalk—not on a regular basis, but the few times she found him sleeping on the floor or in the spare room were enough to worry her.

  A sound, like slurping or soft gurgling, carried over from the bedroom. Maybe Brian had been thirsty. Jessie inched closer and opened the door, then breathed out a sigh of relief. There on the bed was her little boy, sleeping, safe, with his teddy bear still clutched to his chest. She bent forward to kiss his forehead when she noticed how cold and quiet he was. There was something so terrifying and wrong about him, she stumbled backwards, her mind not quite able to grasp the fact that he was dead. The unmistakable smell of blood reached her nostrils a moment before she opened her mouth to scream for help, but the sound never found its way out of her throat. Something hard hit her over the head and she slumped to the floor, fighting the sudden faintness threatening to overwhelm her.

  ***

  The biting scent of fear hung heavy in the air. Rebecca’s gaze focused on the tiny beads of sweat dotting Jessie’s forehead as she lowered over the twitching body on the floor. “Don’t worry about the girl,” she said softly. “I’ll take good care of her.”

  Jessie’s pulse thudded against her fingertips. Rebecca lowered her mouth when Jessie’s leg hit Rebecca hard, then once more, followed by angry yelps. They always fought, not realizing that they stood no chance against an immortal, centuries old vampire.

  With an exaggerated sigh, Rebecca slammed her fist into Jessie’s chest. She heard the bones break as Jessie’s head fell back, surprise written in her gaze. And then her face grew ashen as hot waves of pain shook her body.

  “You wanted it the hard way,” Rebecca said, ripping her throat to shreds, her gaze all the while focused on the dying woman beneath her, not in the least minding the little girl standing in the doorway, watching her with big, terrified eyes.

  After what seemed like hours, Rebecca finally returned to the living room. The old man was still asleep, unaware of the tragedy unfolding in the adjacent room. He was the strongest out of the bunch, which was why she chose him to be the last. Brian and Jessie’s blood had strengthened her but she instinctively knew it’d take a few more days of feeding and resting to regain her previous glory and powers. Until then, she had to be careful because she wasn’t invincible. Yet.

  The moment she sat down beside him and inched closer, her fangs elongating, his eyes flew wide upon; his hands moved up and wrapped around her throat, surprising her.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed.

  She lashed out to esc
ape his iron grip. Weakened from centuries of not feeding, he seemed strong, strong enough to force her to the floor, and pin her with his weight. She dug her nails into his skin, but instead of pushing him away, she fought to draw him closer as her fangs prepared to bury themselves into his neck.

  His punch hit her hard across the face. She drew in her breath rapidly and pushed him hard, her long fingernails scratching, digging deep into this flesh, and managed to roll him on his back. Her lips found his throat, her mouth conquered the hollow of his artery, her teeth buried themselves into his skin. Hot blood rushed onto her tongue. She tried to swallow as fast as possible so none of the precious liquid would go to waste.

  His eyes grew shiny and delirious. And as the last drop of blood left his body, so did his life, fading slowly, her unspoken name carved on his lips forever. He died in pain, his fingers caught in her thick, growing hair, the way many more would die once Rebecca found her way out of the woods and into the nearby towns and cities.

  Chapter 5

  Taking a deep breath, Rebecca tried to wipe off the blood dripping from the corners of her mouth, but only managed to smudge it all over her face. She floundered as if awakened from deep thought, evincing no emotion. Pushing the man’s corpse away from her, she sat up with an energizing shudder, and went about skimming through Jessie’s clothes, deciding on a shirt, jeans and ballerinas. It wasn’t her usual attire, but her beautiful French gowns and satin pumps were a thing of the past, just like the people she had once called her novices: Aidan and Kieran McAllister, Clare Buchanan, and many more, some of which still lived, others she killed with her bare hands. The time had come to look for new apprentices, and preferably ones that were more loyal than the last bunch. She sniffed the air twice before she located the little girl under the table.

  “Come on. We have to go,” Rebecca said sharply. The little girl, shivering like a leaf in the wind, crept out of her hiding place and Rebecca lifted her in her arms.

  Firewood was piled up to a big heap in front of the cabin, partly covered with a tarpaulin to keep the cold season’s dampness away. The girl’s heart beat fast against Rebecca’s chest. For a moment, Rebecca just stood in the door, one hand lifted to stroke the child’s cheek, enjoying the different sensations of being alive again: the cold breeze on her face, the crunching leaves beneath her clad feet. She turned her attention to the sky; the stars had not come out to greet her return. A strong wind ruffled the autumn leaves and filled the air with the smell of mud and oncoming winter. And a fine winter it would be, Rebecca thought, smiling. The kind of winter people would talk about for millennia.

  At last, with the girl still clutched to her chest, she left the hut behind and began her journey to the nearest city. The path was stony, bedded with leafs and twigs. For a long time the only sounds she heard were the noises of the night. Insects buzzing. Animals scurrying through the thicket. Owls calling from their hiding places in the trees high above her head.

  The woods stretched on for as far as she could see. In spite of being tired, her legs kept moving along the narrow path that had to lead somewhere eventually. Every now and then her gaze turned to the left and right, then up to the canopy of falling leaves that barely filtered the moonlight. The stones cut into her skin, but the pain was no more than just an inconvenient challenge on her way to revenge. The thought made her hasten her pace.

  Eventually she reached a highway. In the distance a few lights dotted the sky. It was already dawning and the gloomy colors of the night were slowly fading. The girl stirred in Rebecca’s arms. Rebecca put her down and brushed the girl’s curls out of her face to regard her features. “We need to find a place to sleep,” she said.

  “But it’s almost day.” The girl’s eyes mirrored her curiosity and intrigue intermingled with fear. She liked that and decided to keep the girl alive for a bit longer.

  “Where I come from we sleep during the day.”

  “Is Mommy going to be okay?” the girl asked.

  Rebecca nodded. “Don’t worry about her. You have a new mommy now. Now, come along. We need to hurry.” The little girl hastened her pace. That made Rebecca smile again. “I don’t know your name, my little leaf.”

  “Stephanie. Brian used to call me Steph,” the girl said.

  “You may call me Rebecca. I suppose Brian was your brother.” Rebecca grimaced. “Well, I don’t like your name at all. I shall call you Marianna, for it was the name of the mother that gave birth to me hundreds of years ago, long before they came to take me.”

  The girl regarded her curiously. “Did you have to go with them like I had to leave my mommy to come with you?”

  “No, not exactly, but don’t ever talk of it again; not unless you’re old enough to ask questions and to understand why your mother was of no use to us.” Rebecca’s voice was serious, maybe even a bit harsh, but she figured her tone was justified. The girl needed to learn a few lessons before she could join the coven Rebecca was about to create.

  A few minutes later they reached a white plate with an inscription. The printing was bold and clear, indicating the name of the village. They kept on walking and reached the first buildings with dark windows, tiny backyards and meticulous frown lawns. The groomed hedges looked like someone had been at them with a ruler and a pair of scissors. Rebecca could smell the scent of mowed grass, blossoming rosebushes, and manure, of normalcy and urban boredom.

  “We need to find a place to hide,” she said, looking around.

  “I know somewhere not far away from here. It used to be a cowshed, but mommy said nobody’s using it now. Brian and I used to play hide and seek in there.”

  Marianna led the way through a maze of narrow side roads. They passed the last house in a cul-de-sac and kept on walking past a field with grazing cows toward a flat structure made of dark timber.

  “This is it,” Marianna said needlessly as soon as they stopped in front of it. The shed was locked. An iron lock dangled from a rusty rod that crossed the huge door. “It’s closed.”

  “I’ll break it open,” Rebecca said. She wasn’t keen on the idea because passers-by or the owner might notice the lock gone, but what other choice did she have?

  “I know another way inside.” Marianna pointed at a loose panel. With barely more than a flick of her wrist, Rebecca ripped it out of the wall and squeezed inside to scan the shed, then rearranged the panel back in place, and looked around. A thick layer of dust covered the floorboards. Morning was breaking. She could see the lightening sky through the tiny holes in the ceiling. To her right were a few stacks of hay. They might not be impenetrable but she hoped they were dense enough to shield her from the deadly power of the sun. The usual sense of tiredness washed over her and made her bones as heavy as iron. Quickly she buried herself beneath the hay, just in time to meet the unconsciousness that seizes a vampire during daytime.

  Chapter 6

  When Rebecca awakened the next evening, she found herself lying on the bare ground by the loose floorboard. Marianna was resting at her feet, her little head pressed against Rebecca’s knee. Her long brown curls shimmered scarlet against the green cloth of her jacket. A bright candle was lit on a table next to them. Beside the candle, a dirty glass stained with dried wine served more or less as decoration.

  Rebecca turned her head to one side than to the other, carefully stretching the muscles of her neck. She raised her hand and realized her skin still looked old, not as haggard as before, but she hadn’t healed as quickly as she would’ve liked. Still far too weak, she knew she wouldn’t win the battle just yet. First, she’d wait until her powers grew, and then she’d find her master, Flavius.

  “Marianna.”

  The girl turned around. In the golden light of the setting sun seeping through the few wood panels she looked a bit older than Rebecca thought. Maybe ten years old. “I lit the candle because I was scared,” she said. “I thought you were dead.”

  “Of course not.” Rebecca got up and wiped off the hay from her shirt.

&nbs
p; “You were talking in your sleep,” Marianna said.

  Rebecca cocked a brow. “Was I?”

  “Yes. You were saying strange things about a prophecy and darkness and eternal winter.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. “Where do you come from?”

  Rebecca hesitated for a moment. Her memories begged to be released, shared with someone who might be willing to listen, even if it was just a child. “My beginning lies far back in the Older Days that have been lost and forgotten,” she said, her eyes fixed on the pounding artery beneath Marianna’s soft skin. “The world was full of creatures like me. And there were strangers in the night whose names nobody dared to mention, for they were the inhabitants of darkness, priests and priestesses of the forests and the rain, treacherous warlocks, lords of the elements, and then there were the shadows of the night, emperors of your most evil nightmares.”

  “But where have they vanished?”

  Rebecca smiled at the girl’s fascination. Children were like that, easily captured, trusting. “They haven’t, dear. At least not all of them have ceased to exist. Some may be gone, their dismal souls howling with the wind. Others still linger in the Eastern parts of the world, where they live forlorn, hidden in the darkest woods and the deepest caves, where no pursuer can follow the bloody trails they leave behind.” Rebecca sighed and turned her gaze to the girl, looking into wide eyes gleaming with interest. The little one wasn’t scared. It was a good sign. “What a shame you live in a time that preserves no knowledge of the ancient legends that used to be told hundreds of years ago.”

  “Please, Rebecca, tell me more of these stories. You surely know them all,” Marianna begged.

 
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