The snow was coming down in big, heavy flakes as the last rays of sun disappeared under the horizon and gave way to the round, full moon. His soldiers headed back to their stronghold, but His Royal Highness, Prince Lucian Saybrien stayed behind to enjoy the fascinating aftermath of the bloody battle.
Shoving his heavy sword back into the scabbard around his waist, he spun around on his black stallion and absorbed the scene of destruction his ruthless army left in its wake. Hundreds of vampire corpses lay abandoned on this frozen snowfield; their immortal blood morphing into bright red chips of ice that glistened in the moonlight. It was yet another bone-chilling testament to the undeniable, savage power of his will. Yet another victory. Yet another petty rebellion squashed under his lead. His father would be pleased because he had proven once again that he was a true king in the making.
Resolved not to leave any survivors behind, he rode further into the endless river of death, employing his sharpened senses to listen for an occasional heartbeat, a quick intake of breath, or a stifled moan of pain. Insolent fools, he thought as he inspected the tortured expressions on their paralyzed faces. The weaklings from the lower castes should have known they could never pose any real threat to the empire. Even though they lacked in size, the ruling dynasty had a secret ingredient in their weapons that made them powerful enough to take on an army of thousands without breaking a sweat. It was serolium metal; a rare compound discovered by his ancestors that had a fatal effect on immortals. For that reason alone, slaughtering these idiots was so easy they didn’t even need to employ any real effort into the mission.
Satisfied every single one of the rebels had been killed, he was about to follow after his army, but then he heard it. A soft mewling sound, followed by a strangled sob. His forehead creased with confusion as he neared the source of the noise. This was no dying vampire. No, it sounded more like a small, frightened animal that was trapped and calling out for help. Whatever it was, he could now smell its blood and recognize it belonged to a mortal.
A plain, useless mortal still breathing in the middle of a freshly made vampire cemetery?! That was outright ridiculous...impossible...and yet...the scent was unmistakable.
The moment he located his target, his brows lifted at the unexpected sight of a human child. The intruder was none other than a petite little girl with porcelain white skin and long, ebony hair. Unaware of his presence, she was sobbing next to her dead mother’s body. As though caught in a trance, she ran her minuscule fingers over the bloodied gashes in the woman’s snow-white dress, then pulled at her motionless arms, begging her to wake up so they could go home.
He attempted to rationalize this strange situation but still couldn’t come up with a reason why, or even how, these two humans ended up in the middle of a violent clash between two vampire castes. But he was determined to find out, so he finally cleared his throat, commanding the little girl’s attention.
She froze for a split second, then slowly lifted her head in his direction. Her big, tear-stained eyes collided with his, and the first thing he noticed was their unusual turquoise color. For a few silent heartbeats, they merely stared at each other, her small arms wrapped around her weakened body as she shivered from the cold in a paper-thin grey dress. Fragile humans, he inwardly scoffed at the little girl’s misfortune, his eyes trained on the flakes of snow stuck to the wavy strands of her disheveled hair. She was chilled to the bone and no doubt at the brink of death. He contemplated whether or not he should just leave her to her own devices when she suddenly spoke up and bravely broke the silence.
“My mommy is asleep,” she whispered in a small voice and motioned towards the deceased woman. “Can you please wake her up?”
The inexplicable urge to laugh bubbled to the surface as he held her hopeful, innocent gaze, but he pushed it back. He didn’t know what kind of reaction he expected from this miniature creature, but it definitely wasn’t this.
If they ever got the privilege to be in his presence, humans always reacted with instant terror, and they had every reason to do so. He was a Saybrien, the most powerful of his kind. A vampire without a single trace of taint in his blood. A merciless warlord, known far and wide as the prince of death. But even he had to admit this clueless mortal child wouldn’t be aware of any of these things.
Shaking his head, he jumped off his horse and approached the little girl, never breaking their eye contact. Given the fact he was ten times her size, he was convinced she would try to flee, but she didn’t move an inch. Even when he knelt down to match her height, she had yet to shy away from his threatening presence. It was then he realized the girl’s courage was not an act of conscious bravery, but rather a consequence of deep shock. After all, those shiny turquoise eyes had seen the horrors many grown members of her kind would not be able to stomach without breaking down. And how much more could she handle? Her body was freezing; her hands soaked in her mother’s blood. She was beyond terror...traumatized to the point of becoming numb.
Somewhere in the back of his dark mind, he decided to deal her a swift death and free her from her misery. But first, he’d try to satisfy his growing curiosity and ask her a few simple questions.
“Tell me, little human,” he muttered in the gentlest voice he could muster, reaching for a strand of her charcoal hair. “How did you get here?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I went with M-Mommy. She said to be a good girl and listen to her.”
He smirked at her juvenile explanation, then rubbed his chin. “And were you all alone when you crossed over to the vampire territories?”
She nodded, but he could tell she was way too young to understand the question. Since she could be of no help, it made no sense to continue this conversation. Deciding to put an end to this matter, he reached for his sword, then paused and returned his eyes to the little girl. A sudden voice sounded in his mind, and an unusual, heavy pressure settled on his chest. Don’t do it like this...don’t terrify her more than necessary...
Unable to make sense of his strange reaction, he exhaled in frustration and asked the first thing that came to mind. “Do you know how to count?”
She lifted her fingers, stared at them for a few moments, then slowly shook her head.
Great! Typical human incompetence!
He sighed, annoyed and so ready to get this over with. “It doesn’t matter. Just close your eyes real tight and don’t open them until I tell you to, okay?”
She blinked a couple of times, as though questioning his intentions, but then did as she was told and closed her eyes shut.
Once again, his hand neared his sword, and he was about to reach for it when a pair of tiny hands suddenly wrapped around his wrist and made him halt.
“Wait!” she shouted, her eyes once again wide open and filled with innocent pleading. “Mommy is still asleep. Please...help me...please...try to wake her up...”
Slightly taken aback by her repeated demand, he had no idea what to say, so he simply forced his lips into a brief smile with the intention to reassure the small helpless creature in front of him. But all his action did was make her previously trusting eyes widen in sudden realization.
Her small hand trembled as she pointed her index finger at his face, and he realized the child had seen his fangs. The long, sharp, snow-white fangs that could rip her skin open and allow him to drink the last drop of her sweet, unspoiled blood. It would only take a moment...
He gulped. These sudden violent thoughts were the result of his bloodlust. It was meant to drive him to a moment’s insanity so he would attack and feed. The urge to drink was his highest instinct. Nothing could overpower it. No creature was safe when a vampire succumbed to his dark nature and started hunting to quench his insatiable thirst.
But Lucian was no ordinary vampire. He was a Saybrien prince and an heir to the Lessandrian throne. It was unbecoming of him to act like a wild animal. He was always able to control his urges and only fed when he really wanted to. But the bloodlust was always there, threatening to erupt to the surface...which was why he was shocked by the swift switch that suddenly happened in his mind for no legitimate reason whatsoever.
After the initial excitement, the thought of taking the girl’s blood now disgusted him, almost to the point of making him nauseous. He couldn’t understand why he would feel this way. After all, she was but a human. A tiny, petrified, helpless human. What the hell was wrong with him?
His hand flew to his sword. These strange feelings didn’t matter. He was going to kill her. That was what he was supposed to do. But the moment his fingers touched the sword handle, it felt as though his skin connected to the searing hot metal, and he was forced to let go. Observing his severely burned fingers, he released a soft sizzling breath, and uttered a few angry curses of choice, furious at this unexpected turn of events.
The little girl whimpered in fright, provoking his attention.
Something inside him softened, almost against his own will, and he extended his hand toward her, heeding the instinct to suddenly whisper the most peculiar words.
“It’s all right, little human. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He had absolutely no intention to say something so utterly useless, but he could not deny he truly meant it. Something inside him would simply not allow him to take this child’s life. It was as though his own powers had turned against him in order to shield this meaningless mortal from his wrath. It was completely out of his control...he had no choice but to surrender to this insane urge to protect her even though he had no idea how he was supposed to do that. The only humans he ever came into contact with were his blood slaves, and caring about their wellbeing had been the furthest thing from his mind. They were nothing more than a source of nourishment, and when that source dried up, it would be replaced by another. It was as simple as that. But not with this little girl...
The sound of her chattering teeth snapped him out of his thoughts. Relentless, violent shivers racked her body and her eyes became spaced out and glassy. If he didn’t do something to warm her up, she would freeze to death. Without a word, he instinctively reached for the fur collar around his neck and arranged it over her quivering shoulders.
“Well, if it isn’t the prince of death fussing over a human child. What a lovely surprise...”
His younger brother’s mocking voice sounded in his ears, and he cursed under his breath, devoured with absolute fury. Thanks to their immortal black stallions, one of the Sabriyens’ many advantages included being able to ride without producing a single sound, and it just so happened to be his brother’s favorite method of transportation. Had he not been so distracted with the girl, he might have sensed his presence in time to create some distance between them. Instead, now he was going to have to find some messed up way to explain the inexplicable and get his brother off his back.
“Etienne, what the hell are you doing here?!” he demanded without looking away from the girl.
“You were gone for a long time so I thought I’d check on you, brother,” he explained simply. “Although I must admit, this is the last thing I expected to encounter.”
“I can imagine. You were probably hoping against hope to find me dead, or at the very least mortally wounded...”
The comment sounded like a harmless, sarcastic remark, even though it was anything but. Lucian was well aware there was little his cunning brother wouldn’t do to get his hands on their father’s throne and become the next king.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Etienne said in a pleasant voice. “I would never wish ill on my family. Now tell me, what are we going to do with the child?”
"We are not going to do anything, Etienne,” Lucian scoffed. “The battle is over...I want you to leave.”
The bastard shook his head and made a tsking sound. “Oh, come on...can’t I stay for the show? I want to watch you feed. Perhaps, you might be considerate enough to save a couple of droplets for me. You know a child’s blood is a real treat, and I darn well deserved it after a tiresome day like this.”
Lucian glanced behind his shoulder and bit out in a threatening tone, “I’m not going to feed on her, and neither are you.”
“So, what are you going to do with her?” Etienne demanded, glaring at the tiny human. “Leave her all alone in the snow? She’ll get eaten by wolves, or freeze to death by the morning. You know as well as I do killing her now would be more sensible than either alternative. Besides, all this fighting made me really hungry and she looks so damn delicious...”
The girl whimpered in absolute terror and burst into tears. Lucian could tell she was falling into an even deeper shock. If they continued scaring her, her little heart might just stop beating forever. The thought made him more restless than he cared to admit, and he shot Etienne a furious glare.
“Etienne, I said no! Now get lost before I lose the last of my patience!”
Etienne narrowed his eyes and a wry smile twisted his lips. “Of course, but not before you tell me what is going on. Truly, I hate to pry, but my curiosity is killing me...I mean, she’s wrapped up in your collar and you’re refusing to drink her blood. I must be missing something, but I just don’t see what is so special about this dirty human commoner!”
“You’re not missing anything, Etienne,” Lucas retorted. “Look at her. She’s just a little girl. There is absolutely nothing special about her.”
He pulled at the reins and pushed his stallion forward. “Then you shouldn’t mind if I have a taste...”
“But I do mind,” Lucian blurted out, then paused for a few moments, weighing his words with caution. “Not because I care about the mortal, but for the simple fact I refuse to indulge your childish whims. Get your dinner elsewhere...there is plenty of flesh to feast upon here.”
Etienne chuckled. “I am the prince of Lessandria. I would rather starve than feast upon the rotting blood of these traitors. This creature right here, however...” His eyes reddened and focused on the frightened child yet again. “You know what...I think I know what’s the problem. Naturally, everything has a price, so how about we strike a deal, brother? I’ll trade you my finest blood slave for this child. Trust me, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. She’s a young obedient woman with the sweetest kind of blood...completely broken in...and prepared to warm your bed night after night.”
In a desperate search for protection, the little girl grabbed Lucian’s wrist and pushed herself against his massive torso, holding onto him so hard as though her very life depended on it. He expelled a long, exasperated breath. His brother had often grated on his nerves, but up until this moment, he had never felt the urge to kill him.
“You’re wasting your time, Etienne!” He shot him a warning glare. “I have more than enough slaves and I’m not interested in your leftovers. If you want to drink from a child, go find your own. This one is mine.”
“Yours?” he demanded, his eyes still frozen on the child’s quivering form. “And pray tell, what exactly defines her as yours, Lucian?”
An instinctive urge boiled up inside him. Without giving it a second thought, he tilted the girl’s head to the side and sank his fangs into the sensitive skin of her neck. She screamed at the unexpected action, and then stilled in his arms. The venom in his saliva made her paralyzed. He could have ended it right then and there, but he drew nothing. Instead, he released a small portion of his own blood into her system, thus marking her as his own. Even though her skin would heal without scars, he had just created an unbreakable bond between them.
“There,” he muttered, leaning away from the girl. “I believe this is proof enough the child is mine. Are you happy, brother?”
Etienne stared at him with widened eyes. “You marked her. You fucking marked a worthless human child with pure Saybrien blood! Have you gone completely insane? You are a goddamn prince, Lucian! Father is going to be furious.”
Lucian grinned. “Then you better not waste your time and hurry up to tell him before someone else beats you to it and spoils the fun.”
Etienne shook his head, still shaken by what he had witnessed. “You know, for a future king, you can be a stubborn bastard! I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but I’m going to get to the bottom of it!”
With those words, he spun around and quickly rode off into the night. Lucian and the girl were left alone yet again. He had to figure out what to do with her and he had to do it fast. Even though it was what he yearned to do the most for some insane reason, taking her back to the palace with him was not an option. Having her in his presence was dangerous!
He brought his eyes to her dead mother. Stupid woman. He was still none the wiser as to why she took the risk of crossing the border between the human and vampire territories with her young daughter, but it was clear he would have to be the one to rectify the matter. Despite his better judgement, he scooped the girl in his arms and secured her to his stallion. He then quickly climbed behind her and slapped the reins against the animal’s back, setting them into motion.
The girl panicked and kept glancing behind her shoulder, pleading with him over and over again not to leave her mother behind.
Eventually, he grew tired of the child’s constant whining and leaned closer to whisper in her ear, “Calm down. Mommy’s asleep. She’ll come to get you when she wakes up. Don’t worry.”
“Do you promise?” she asked in a small, defeated voice.
He released a heavy sigh, suddenly feeling like a huge bastard for what he was about to do, but he had no choice but to lie to her. “Yes, little human, I promise. You and your mother will be reunited very soon. Now be quiet.”
Lucian didn’t ponder too long on where he should take her. If he wasn’t going to kill her, the only other sane choice was to bring her to her own kind. The border to the human territory was not so far off, so he rode in that direction, pausing a few feet away from the very first house of the nearest human village.
He took her in his arms and gently lowered her to the ground. Now their paths were about to split, he contemplated trying to end her life one last time. Etienne was right. Father would be absolutely furious with him when he found out what he had done. This entire situation could hurt his reputation. No matter how much the idea disturbed him, he was itching to prove to himself nothing was out of the ordinary and this damn child had no power over him!
But as these ominous thoughts invaded his mind, the little girl looked up at him and asked the most unexpected thing.
“Are you really a prince?”
A brief, incredulous smile twisted his lips at the absurdity of the situation. He was able to kill thousands of vampires and humans in the blink of an eye, but he couldn’t lift a finger against this tiny, helpless mortal.
“Yes, little human. I really am,” he replied as the last thoughts of mayhem and murder faded from his system.
She blinked. “And a vampire?”
Her eyes widened and she breathed in profound wonder, “A vampire prince...”
“And what do you know about vampires?” he asked, intrigued by her peculiar reaction.
She visibly gulped. “I know they’re bad...and mean...that’s what mommy always said...”
“And what else did mommy say?”
“She said vampires are ugly monsters,” she mouthed softly, staring at his face. “But you’re not ugly...you’re beautiful.”
Lucian chuckled, once again revealing his fangs in the process.
Her little hand flew to her neck, and her features settled into a worried expression. “Are you going to bite me again?”
He shook his head. “No, little human, I’m not going to bite you.”
“Then what are you going to do?”
“Something much worse.” He sighed, gazing straight into her deep turquoise eyes. “I’m going to make you forget this ever happened.”
She parted her lips to continue her innocent, childlike interrogation, but before she got a chance to make a sound, Lucien leaned the palm of his hand against her forehead and employed his ability to erase the entirety of her memory. His kind could do that...play with the human mind in any way they saw fit. He knew this action would probably induce an everlasting confusion within the little girl, but at least she got to live.
Falling victim to his powerful hypnosis, her body swayed forward. The very moment she passed out, he caught her in his arms and carried her to the threshold of the small cabin occupied by humans. Then, he returned into the darkness together with his stallion and waited until a tall man opened the door. Baffled by the unexpected sight, he attempted to wake her up. But it was of no use. The girl would be asleep for a while. Alarmed by the commotion, the rest of the residents joined him on the small porch. A woman and two children...a boy and a girl. They attempted everything they could think of to get the little girl’s attention, but nothing worked. At last, the man ordered everyone to return inside. He then took the sleeping child into his arms and carried her into his house.
“Goodbye, little human,” Lucian whispered to himself, having every intention of never seeing her again.
Satisfied with the outcome, he finally headed back to his own home. The girl was no longer an issue. His father would probably throw a fit and confront him about this, but he had no doubt he would be able to convince him he had taken care of the matter. And as far as he was concerned, the matter had been taken care of.
There was only one thing he could not undo. His mark had created an invisible bond between them. In a sense, she belonged to him now, and other vampires would stay away from her because they would subconsciously sense she was claimed by another. Many humans would kill for the kind of protection this little girl had received by pure coincidence. In all probability, she would never come to realize how lucky she had been to escape his clutches with both her life and the added bonus of this gift he had bestowed upon her out of sheer instinct. She would never remember him, but he would always feel her presence, no matter how far away...
By the time he returned to the palace, it was brimming with gossip, and his mother, Queen Constantia, immediately informed him The King was beyond enraged and had requested for Lucian to see him as soon as he set foot into the palace.
But unlike most individuals, Lucian never cowered in front of his father. He approached King Salem’s throne with his head held high, and slightly bowed. The only thing that irked him was the presence of his brother Etienne, who was right there, smirking by their father’s side, entirely too amused by the situation.
Lucian diverted his gaze from his brother and met his father’s eyes. “You asked for me, Father.”
“Lucian, what is this talk of you marking a human child?” The king’s voice bellowed across the hall as he gripped the seat of his throne. “This better be a misunderstanding.”
Lucian shrugged. “I’m afraid not, Father. Etienne is right. I did share a bond with the little girl.”
“You what?!” The King demanded in fury and sprang up from his throne chair. “Have you forgotten you were a Saybrien? You know it’s your utmost duty to protect the purity of our blood. How could you have been so stupid?”
“A spur of the moment,” Lucian replied in an even tone, casting a brief glance at his brother. “Etienne grated on my nerves, so I did it for shock value.”
“You better not tell me you brought her here!”
“No, Father. Of course not.”
“So, where is she now?” he asked in a somewhat calmer voice, lowering himself back into his seat.
Lucien wasn’t stupid. If word got out he had spared the girl, his father would unleash every single one of his faithful bloodthirsty subjects to find her and kill her. He still didn’t understand why he cared, and he wasn’t prepared to analyze the nagging feeling any further, but this one last time, he would take on the role of her protector.
“Dead. You don’t think I would be stupid enough to leave a human child wandering around with the protection of my mark? It was just for fun.”
“Fun?” the king demanded, incredulous.
Lucian peered up at Etienne and smirked. “Yes, Father. Fun...and quite a bit of spite.”
“Did you drink from her?”
“No. I dealt her a quick death with my sword.” He reached for the weapon, half-expecting it would burn him again, but he pulled it out without any difficulty, and held it in front of his father, hoping the bloodstains from the earlier battle would manage to pacify his fury. “Here, Father. Is this proof enough or would you like me to retrieve her body as well?”
Lucien was bluffing, but he knew his reputation preceded him and he counted on that fact more than ever before. His father knew he was a cruel and unforgiving man. In his lifetime that spanned over almost five centuries, he had killed hundreds, if not thousands of humans. What was one more child?
And he was right. Just as he had assumed, King Salem suddenly dropped the matter and sent him on his way. Even Etienne’s childish protests couldn’t rekindle his interest in the little girl. The topic was off the table for good.
Irritated beyond belief, he excused himself and headed to his quarters. The moment he entered, his gaze flew to the frightened creature cowering in the corner. His blood slave. She would serve as an excellent outlet for his frustration.
“Come here, slave,” he ordered in an icy cold tone.
She shivered, struggling to get up on her feet and stumble toward him. He did nothing to help. Instead, he simply waited. He could hear her heartbeat; could taste her fear and see the despair on her tired face, but he didn’t care. Compassion didn’t become him.
Then why did you spare the girl?
The question gnawed at him, but he forced it back into the murky depths of his mind where it belonged. His eyes darted towards the quivering form of a terrified girl who now stood before him.
Perfect. Little. Snack.
Without a single trace of warning, he grabbed her face and she whimpered in terror. He couldn’t blame her. She knew what was to come. She knew he didn’t play fair...or nice...
Tilting her head back, he exposed her neck. The skin that used to be smooth was now filled with blue marks and red spots from his previous feeding sessions. His fangs hovered above her collarbones, inching closer, and the slave panicked.....almost as though she sensed this time would be different.
She didn’t get to finish the sentence because he violently sank his sharp teeth into her soft flesh and gave into the savage urge to satisfy his bloodlust. The girl was rendered paralyzed and she screamed in excruciating pain as he slowly sucked away her life essence. His ability to play with the human mind made it possible for him to ease her suffering, but he didn’t bother to show that kind of mercy to any of his blood slaves. They were insignificant toys...easily disposable...replaceable...unworthy of his interest and attention.
The girl spasmed in his arms and then went completely silent. She was dead. He took too much. Methodically removing his fangs from her skin, he let her body drop to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Savoring the rush he always experienced after feeding, he closed his eyes and focused on this fresh vibrant energy coursing through his veins.
Suddenly, a distant image sprang to the forefront of his mind and his peace was abruptly disturbed by powerful emotions of fear and confusion. He knew at once it was the bond he had shared with the little girl. He could feel her distress and tell she was crying herself to sleep...somewhere far, far away from him.
Her misery stirred no sympathy within him. After all, she was just a human child. Just another worthless creature meant to roam the world that would someday be ruled by him. He might have spared her life for some mysterious reason, but he didn’t truly care about her, and he never would. She was slowly becoming nothing more than an irritating afterthought.
Even so, when he closed his eyes that night, the foreign feelings of loneliness and desolation infiltrated his system. A tiny human soul was desperately calling out to his, and it took about all his willpower to ignore it...but ignore it he did...and if need be, he would continue doing so for the rest of eternity.