Chapter 3 - Contract
In the three months since they were first contracted to hunt these creatures, Rowan primarily gathered that they weren’t human or any breed of vampire she encountered in her travels. They did not feed, or loot, but they invaded, slaughtered and disappeared. She found no reason or rhyme in their actions. They showed no mercy and didn’t spare the women, infants, children, the elderly, house pets or farm animals.
Wealthy men paid the human mercenaries, with whom she served, to see to the interests of their people. Instead, they lost half their number to this strange foe. The creatures were nearly indestructible, immune to daylight and their talons contained poisoned barbs which broke off in the flesh of their victims. The venom killed a grown man in minutes, and vampires suffered for days before succumbing to the same fate.
The contract no longer mattered to any of them. They sought vengeance for their deceased, justice for the innocents murdered and there was no way to get either on their own. Humans had no chance against these critters and Marcus had the ear of the vampire King, perhaps he would bring an army to exterminate the vermin plague. This was the reasoning among her fellow warriors, but Rowan suspected there were already too many of the creatures and that they might even be able to kill a vampire of Marcus’s caliber.
Rowan did not voice these opinions to them. She also didn’t admit her concern that vampire kind had finally discovered an implacable, and undefeatable enemy. She refused to accept either the notion or the impact this may have on humanity.
She ignored her impulse to distrust this summons in the hope that they might help, but facing them, Rowan discovered herself at a loss. She couldn’t decide what approach to adopt with them or how to talk to them. She felt tense, out of her depth, for the first time in years. For the life of her, and despite her resolution to avoid Alena as much as possible, Rowan couldn’t keep her gaze from wandering to her sibling. Her emotions gravitated between resentment and curiosity as the child who dreamed of a family, vied with the woman who only learned of love that it destroyed. She didn’t expect that anyone would abide her presence this close to the vampire princess; she never even saw Victor in person. One half of her avoided looking directly into Alena’s eyes in dread of the contempt and rejection she expected. The other half challenged her to look, to learn the truth and allow the stupid sentimentality of her inner child to die its final death.
Their eyes met and held. The world briefly seemed to stop and shrink until only the two of them remained in it. She had the oddest sensation of staring into a mirror. The same mix of uneasy hostility, guilty curiosity, resentment, jealousy, pain, heartache, and longing reflected back at her. There were other darker feelings too, but she suspected the same was true for her. The absence of either scorn or outright rejection made Rowan hesitate and reevaluate her expectations. Marcus might be hard to read, and he hid his opinions too well behind that watchful expression of his, but Alena wasn’t. Not to her. They had too much in common.
Finally, life confronted Alena with the child, nay, woman, no, creature her father’s lust for a mortal created. She refused to call what he felt love. How could a man like him, so utterly vampire in his view of the world, have loved a frail and inferior human, especially when married to a vampire female like Carla? Carla loved him blindly and ignored his faults. She remained at his side even when he told her about the human and the coming child. It took a while before she realized her mistake in assuming Ilse was a fling, and that the fetus would abort as nature intended. Jealousy opened a door in Carla that couldn’t be closed. It corrupted her mind so subtly, but steadily, that no one noticed the first signs of madness in her.
Alena’s heart ached inside of her chest for the past, but she couldn’t help being curious too. Despite everything, she had loved her father. When she was younger, she idolized him until he disillusioned her with his choices, but her love for him remained. Neither could she entirely ignore the effects his decisions had on their lives. She lost Carla the day Victor confessed his love for Ilse. Not all at once, but little by little. Anger stabbed through her heart, along with grief, and the understanding that her father caused the death of both their mothers. He might not have physically killed Carla, but he shattered her soul. He actually killed Ilse, and she couldn’t understand why she didn’t see hatred in Rowan. If anybody had a right to that sentiment, it was Victor’s other child. Yet she couldn’t deny that being this close to her sister, slashed open old wounds and opened the door to emotions that were much rawer than she realized.
Rowan watched Alena’s reaction with an unreadable expression as Alena’s face revealed her agony in a flash of unchecked emotion. Rowan’s eyes became briefly vampire, betraying a glint of her own strong feelings, almost like reflected light. It was there and gone in an instant.
She hated to acknowledge the stab of pain in her chest, refused to admit that knowing her sister suffered and seeing it, was not the same thing. Up close and personal, such things hurt. Just when she finally thought she was immune to pain, life had to remind her that only the dead and the heartless did not suffer and she was neither.
Rowan purposefully shifted her gaze to Marcus before she offered him a cursory bow of respect, which was actually a show of contempt. She didn’t want to be there as much as they did not want her to be there, and she had to play her part, didn’t she? She owed them nothing, and they owed her nothing. In the normal course of things, their paths may never have crossed. She would act the role assigned to her, and when she left, she would save her friends on her own. She couldn’t believe she naively thought it possible for them to pretend that Victor’s shade didn’t stand between them like the proverbial elephant in the room.