Once, he was a living nightmare who stalked the Welsh countryside, referred to by his countrymen in terrified whispers as Blaidd, the wolf. For hundreds of years, the vampire Blaidd drank deeply the blood of Europe and North America, with laughter and revelry.
But then something changed.
This is Blaidd’s story. And Morcant’s.
This is a story about the unmaking of a monster.
“Are you tired, Adlais? We can stop to rest if you need to.” Her husband’s voice was soft and uncertain.
The young woman smiled. “No, Morcant, I can keep going. I am not as delicate as that.”
He pursed his lips. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say you were.” They walked a few more paces down the lonely hill road. “I will get us horses soon. My father is letting me do more of the work now. I should have more money—”
“Is that what worries you? No, Morcant, I am fine. You make enough money—which is not to say that you may not make more if you wish.” She blushed, not sure if she was saying the right thing. She had only been a wife for a month, and it still felt strange. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband. Well, she didn’t, but she thought she would one day. Soon, perhaps. Even though their fathers had arranged the marriage, she already felt fondness for him and thought he felt some for her. His father and hers had been friends for many years. When her father wanted to buy a certain plot of land and his father wanted to ensure Morcant would have the support of a wife and the ability to start a family soon, the match was made with little consultation of the parties involved.
Adlais didn’t mind. At eighteen, she was more than ready to take the task on—in theory, at least. But Morcant was ten years older than her, and she’d been casually acquainted with him when she was a child. It was a strange thing to know a person as a child knows an adult and then later be given to him as a wife with very little warning. Morcant was a blacksmith like his father, and she admired his strength and appreciated his kindness toward her.
Yes, she thought she might come to love him before long. He seemed to be a man worth loving.
On impulse, she reached out and took his hand as they walked. Surprise registered on his face, but the next moment he squeezed her hand and gave her a small smile.
As they approached a large shade tree, a young man stepped out from behind it.
“Oh!” Adlais gasped. Morcant tightened his grip on her hand. The young man grinned. “You startled me,” she said. He seemed to be her age, but Adlais didn’t know him. He was dark-haired with sharp eyes and a face that was attractive despite a slightly too-large nose. “You’re not from here, are you?”
“Adlais, let’s keep on,” Morcant said gruffly, tugging her toward him as he walked around the young man.
“I’m not,” the youth replied, “but I think I might stay a while. The view is ravishing.” It took Adlais a moment to realize that he wasn’t referring to the lush, green countryside that surrounded them. His eyes had never left her body.
“Oh,” Adlais said again, uncertain.
Morcant had never stopped walking and was now tugging her along more insistently as he tried to give the young man a wide berth. “If you don’t mind,” he growled toward the young man, “we’ll be on our way.”
Suddenly, the man darted a step toward them and snatched Adlais’s wrist. She cried out and tried to pull away. Morcant tried to pull her toward himself while reaching a threatening hand toward the young man with an angry shout.
“Ah-ah!” the man warned, at the same instant whipping a blade up to Adlais’s neck.
She cried out again, louder, and Morcant released her hand in shock. The young man took the opportunity to pull her back several paces away from her husband, toward the tree.
“Unhand her!” Morcant shouted, his eyes wild with panic.
“I will,” the youth said casually, wrapping an arm around Adlais’s waist from behind, “but not yet.” Adlais felt him press his face into her neck and breathe deeply, then heard him let out a low groan.
“Morcant!” she cried, but he stayed frozen in place, his terrified eyes locked on the knife at her throat.
“Don’t worry, Morcant,” the man drawled. “This won’t take long. You’ll be on your way soon enough.”
“No! You vile creature!” Morcant lunged toward them a full step, but froze again when the knife pressed into Adlais’s skin and she cried out.
“One more step and she’s dead,” the young man snarled. “I swear it.”
Morcant stood, quivering with rage and fear, even as Adlais begged him with her eyes to do something. But she couldn’t think what he could do, or what she could do to help herself. Her heart thundered with terror as the man shoved her toward the tree, keeping a hand tight on her waist so that she had to throw out her arms to stop from slamming her face into it, unable to step away from him.
“Morcant,” she pleaded, but he did nothing.
The young man bent down and whispered in her ear, “If either of you try something, my knife is a moment away.” She took a shaking breath and nodded her understanding. “Oh, but do feel free to scream if you want. No one’s close enough to hear you anyway.”
So she did. Even though she knew it was what he wanted, that for some reason her terror gave him pleasure, it was all she could do. As the strange man hiked up her skirt, she cried Morcant’s name. When the pain came, she cried it louder and louder. Even as Morcant made his own cries, lashed to the ground by the threat of the man’s knife, she yelled his name, then shouted it, then screamed it. It became almost a prayer, focusing her mind on just getting through this and getting back into her husband’s arms.
Finally, the man released her and shoved her back toward Morcant. He caught her, both of them weeping with pain and fury. He touched her face, kissed her, and then ran howling toward the young man, fists raised to strike.
The man turned, his hand darting out as he dodged Morcant’s blow. There was a strange moment of stillness, a look of surprise on the young man’s face. And then Morcant staggered back and looked toward Adlais with surprise of his own. When she saw the blood on his shirt, she screamed and ran to him. His knees gave out, and she couldn’t hold him up. He collapsed onto the grass, whispering words of apology to her.
“No!” she screamed. “No! Morcant!” She watched the life leave his eyes, weeping over her husband’s body, wailing his name at the indifferent countryside.
Adlais didn’t see the look of surprise on the young man’s face turn to curiosity as he examined his bloodied knife. She didn’t see him lick his thin lips or the grin that grew on them as he studied his handiwork. She didn’t see him step closer, circling behind her.
But she felt his hand in her hair, yanking her head back. And the blade of his knife as it slid across the tight skin of her neck. And she heard the man’s soft huff of pleasure the moment before she collapsed on Morcant’s body and joined him in death.
The human man raped a woman as she clung to her infant, and the vampire watched silently. It had taken him the better part of a year to find this man—and he was, the vampire could tell, only a man and not a demon as the locals believed. Ignorant country folk were always so quick to label anything unknown and frightening as a demon. The vampire should know; he himself had earned such a moniker. They called him Neidr—“snake” in the local tongue—and the vampire thought it suited him well enough. He was in need of a new name anyway.
This one they called Blaidd, meaning “wolf”, for a ruthlessness and brutality that had, in little more than a decade, become legend. When Neidr first heard the name whispered from the mouths of wary travelers in the night, he wondered if another vampire had, like him, traversed the channel from the continent in the wake of the Normans. But there were reports of this Blaidd attacking during the day, and Neidr’s curiosity was piqued further. If such a gloriously brutal killer truly existed among the humans, he had to see this for himself.
And now he saw. The man was like an animal. Like a beast. Even, yes, like a demon, though Neidr did not believe in such things. The way he ravaged the woman as if she were not one of his own kind, as if she were nothing at all, impressed and amused Neidr.
He almost felt bad for the woman, for the way she stayed quiet, only letting out small whimpers as she clutched her infant to her, protecting it, as if she thought the two of them would survive the night if only she didn’t fight. But as the attack went on, her passivity annoyed him. This scene would be so much more entertaining if she fought the man.
When the man was done, he released the woman for a moment, only to grab her by the hair and rake a blade across her throat. Once to kill her. Then again, just to watch her bleed. Even from his place beside the trees, hidden even from the moonlight, Neidr could see the wild look in the woman’s eyes as she realized her silence had been for naught. As she fell, the man snatched the crying baby from her arms. He looked at it for a moment, his head cocked, as if deciding what to do with it. Carelessly, he tossed the infant into the gutter along the road, where it splashed and sputtered and cried. Alone, cold, and possibly drowning, the child would surely be dead by morning, if not sooner.
Neidr laughed aloud at the pathetic, doomed creature.
The man called Blaidd crouched into a fighting posture, brandishing his bloody knife. Neidr strode forward, glancing from Blaidd to the woman’s body. “Walk away, old man,” Blaidd snarled.
Neidr laughed again and said in a hearty, good-natured tone, “Older than you know, my boy.”
His fearlessness confused the man, who didn’t attack even as Neidr walked closer. “I don’t believe you would let me walk away,” said Neidr conversationally. “I believe you’d kill me as soon as my back was turned, whether you think I meant to call for help or not.”
One side of Blaidd’s mouth jerked up at Neidr’s correct guess before the confusion stalled him again.
Neidr held his hands out to show he was unarmed and helpless. “You’re welcome to try.”
Blaidd hesitated only a moment, then leapt forward. He slashed at Neidr with fury and artlessness, but Neidr simply stepped aside, knocked the knife from the man’s grip, and kicked him to the ground. Neidr had moved so quickly, Blaidd had not been able to react. He stared up at Neidr from the mud, fear beginning to edge out the anger in his eyes.
Blaidd lunged forward again with a shout of annoyance, diving toward Neidr, and the vampire again dodged the blow, this time twisting Blaidd’s arms behind his back, holding him in place. The man struggled fruitlessly in Neidr’s grasp, his movements growing desperate as he tried and failed to get away.
“I am not here to punish you,” Neidr said into the man’s ear, his voice smooth and calming.
Blaidd stopped struggling, his breath rasping and heart pounding. “What, then?”
Satisfied that Blaidd wouldn’t attack again, Neidr released him. “I had to see for myself if the stories were true. You’re a real menace, dear boy.” The word lingered lovingly on the vampire’s tongue. “Did you know that? They speak your name as if you come from hell itself.”
“I don’t care what they think,” the man spat.
“No, clearly not.” Neidr chuckled. “You’re above them already. Why should a predator care what his prey thinks of him?”
“Who are you?”
“I am called Neidr, as you are called Blaidd.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “What are you?”
Neidr smiled, allowing his true face to show itself. Blaidd started, but didn’t run. “I am also a predator.”
Blaidd staggered back a step. “What—what do you want?”
“A companion,” said the vampire. “A son. Long life and strength beyond reckoning is a dull, lonely business. And you, my boy, are highly entertaining.”
Seconds passed as the vampire’s offer sank in. A grin slowly spread across the man’s face. He walked forward to stand before Neidr and bared his neck for the vampire’s bite.
The last drunken customer stumbled out of the bar, and Hafren closed the door behind him. Another night feeding and watering a few locals and handful of travelers had drawn to a close. It wasn’t easy work, nor particularly pleasant, but it kept food in her belly and a roof over her head.
“How much tonight?” she asked as she wiped up the mess the last patron had made.
Cian shook his head as he counted the evening’s take. “Not as much as last night.”
“And no one wanting a room,” she mused, disappointed. They could usually count on at least one or two travelers paying for a room for the night.
When Hafren and her brother were nearly done with clean-up, the door opened and two men strolled in. Cian was nearest the door, so he greeted them. “We’re done serving food and drink for the night, but there’re rooms available if you want them.”
“No, I believe you will serve us,” said the older man. His clothes were finer than most around these parts. Wealthier than most, then. More used to getting his way, too.
Hafren could see that Cian was about to contradict the man, so she forestalled him with a hand on his elbow. “I’m sure we could manage a simple meal for these gentlemen,” she said. With her eyes, she indicated to her brother their guest’s fine clothes, and he nodded.
“Sure, we could,” Cian said. “What would you like?”
The older man smiled. “Your blood.”
Hafren’s hand clenched on Cian’s arm. “W-what?” Cian stammered.
The older man spoke slowly and clearly. “I am going to drink your blood.”
Hafren and Cian staggered back in shock as the faces of the two men changed. In the span of a second, their hair and eyes turned shining silver, their ears grew to sharp points, and long fangs appeared in their grinning mouths.
“Demons,” Cian breathed, clutching at Hafren, trying to move her behind him.
Despair and horror overwhelmed her. “Neidr and Blaidd,” she gasped. She’d heard the whispers, the rumors of monsters who roamed the countryside. But she thought those creatures hunted fields and roads. It was said they couldn’t even enter a person’s home. And this inn was her home. She never thought such monsters could find her here. She never thought they’d come looking like men.
“Indeed.” The older one struck quickly. He grabbed Cian, pulling him away from Hafren and, with the same motion, bit deeply into Cian’s neck. Cian struggled and cried out, but the demon was too strong and held him fast.
“No!” Hafren reached for her brother. The other silver-eyed monster grabbed her and pulled her away, toward one of the tables. He held her painfully, his claws pressing into her neck and ribs. A lean, hard body pressed against her back.
The demon bent his face toward her neck, breathing in her scent. “It’s been months since I’ve had a woman,” he said, his voice a low groan of desire.
Shivers of terror raced up her back. He meant to ravish her? It had happened before, when Cian hadn’t been there to stop some of their more aggressive customers. She’d lived through it and moved on. But this was no drunk farmhand. This was a demon incarnate. What would he do to her? What pain would he inflict that no mortal man could?
“Please, no,” she whimpered. Her eyes were still locked on her brother. Cian wasn’t struggling anymore, but she could tell he was still alive. The older demon dropped him on the floor, where Cian lay, still bleeding.
Hafren met her brother’s eyes, both sharing the same horror and grief and absolute certainty that they’d soon be dead.
With rough, eager hands, the demon holding her shoved Hafren down, bending her over a table, and roughly hiked her skirt up to her waist. He held her with one clawed hand on her neck, and she braced herself for the pain as tears of sorrow and terror leaked onto the tabletop.
She heard the demon grunting behind her, making small noises of frustration, but no pain came.
“Come on,” he growled. “Come on. What’s wrong?”
“What are you doing?” asked the other demon, the one who’d bitten Cian. He walked toward them so that Hafren could see him.
“What does it look like?” the younger demon growled. “Why isn’t it working?”
Hafren wondered if he was really saying what it sounded like he was saying. Surely a demon couldn’t be impotent.
“Ah,” said the older one. “I see I’ve forgotten to mention. That won’t work anymore.”
The demon behind her stopped what he was doing and stared at his companion. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve completed your transformation, Blaidd. Your body doesn’t work the way it once did. You’re stronger, faster, quicker to heal. But you won’t be able to enjoy women the way you used to.”
Hafren couldn’t see Blaidd’s reaction to this news, but she felt his grip on her neck tighten, pressing her face harder into the wood. He let out a howl of anger and frustration. And then, when he pulled her upright, she knew one brief moment of hope. Maybe if he couldn’t have her, he’d let her go.
He spun her around, pulling her close until his face, twisted with rage, was inches from hers. His lips curled, baring his fangs. “In that case,” he growled, “I’ll just have to think of some new ways.”
“Tell me, Blaidd,” said Neidr. “Why do you persist in something you know is futile?”
The younger vampire didn’t answer. He rubbed his naked body against the whore’s as if he could coax some sexual sensation into his unresponsive loins. With every minute that passed, he merely grew more irritated. The whore was colored red and purple from his hands and whimpering for mercy. Blaidd, who neither understood her language nor cared what she said, paid no heed to her words.
Neidr grew bored watching him play with the girl as a cat with a mouse. And, truth be told, he was a little sickened by Blaidd’s pathetic attempts. It had been well over two hundred years since his body had lost the ability to engage in sexual intercourse and still he kept trying.
It amused Neidr sometimes, when Blaidd would play with his victims in other ways, through inventive use of objects or other body parts. At such times, it was about the pain, the fear, the delightful terror his victims felt, and the reminder that he was the superior being. Such entertainments were part of what Neidr enjoyed most about having this companion. His son.
But this impotent rutting looked too much like weakness and failure, things which Neidr despised.
Blaidd backhanded the girl across the face, and she whimpered. Neidr thought Blaidd was punishing her for his inability to defile her. It was a strange, endless cycle of frustration and dissatisfaction which grew very tiresome to watch.
Personally, Neidr didn’t understand it. But then, he’d been turned into a vampire when he was still a boy, before he’d had the chance to experience a woman. Sex for him had always been an amusing entertainment to watch, the play of strength and weakness, powerful and powerless, whether between a man and woman or simply two men. But he’d never participated himself. Not in any sort of truly penetrative way. Nor had he ever particularly wanted to.
But Blaidd was a different person than he was, and it was part of Neidr’s job as his father to support his goals. “Don’t you think if there was a way to get the sexual satisfaction from a woman that you desire, you’d have found it by now?” he inquired.
Blaidd growled in frustration and squeezed the whore’s breasts. She screamed as his claws dug into her flesh.
Neidr hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe—and I don’t in the least know, as I haven’t searched—there is a way for you to gain some of this pleasure you seek. As your means of taking it has been removed, perhaps it might be given to you.”
His words made Blaidd stop and look at him. The whore tried to crawl away, but he held her by the ankle. “What are you suggesting?”
“A willing woman,” Neidr said. “I know it’s a foreign concept to you, but you do seem desperate enough to try anything.”
The woman looked between the two of them, eyes wide. She must have had some basic understanding of the language they’d taken to using, because she said in broken English, “Yes, I give you pleasure. I can. I pleasure you, you let me go?”
Her groveling made Neidr want to strangle her, but Blaidd gave her a considering look. “If you succeed . . . I may consider it.”
The woman nodded frantically, and Blaidd sat back on his heels, waiting to see what she could do.
“So this is what the king’s been spending his people’s money on,” Renaud Bourcier mused to himself. The baron had been too busy to attend court at Versailles since Louis had moved the capital here, but his wife and daughter had finally prevailed upon him to come. He had to admit, the palace was extravagant beyond all belief.
They had come from their home in the south of France just in time for a ball. Renaud didn’t know if this was a special occasion or one that happened every night. Those around him were certainly dressed in an ostentatious fashion—one which he, by law, was required to emulate—but their dull and gossipy demeanors bespoke a complete lack of any serious thought.
Renaud glanced around the Hall of Mirrors, dazzled by the many reflections of layered gowns, enormous wigs, and prominent bosoms. He had somehow lost track of his wife and daughter in the crowd, but located them now in front of one of the large mirrors which lined the hall. He made his way to their side, his irritation rising when he saw who they were conversing with.
“Monsieur le marquis,” he said to the older of the two men, inserting himself into the circle of their conversation.
“Ah, good evening, monsieur le baron,” said the marquis de Vitemort. “Your two lovely daughters are regaling us with the tale of your journey from home. We’re quite riveted.” The sarcastic smile on the man’s face was not lost on Renaud.
The baron’s back stiffened in annoyance, but neither of the two women had heard what the marquis said. They were both listening with rapt attention to the marquis’s companion, the compte de Sauvage.
“Only one is my daughter, monsieur,” Renaud said stiffly. “The baroness is my wife.” As, Renaud was certain, the marquis knew perfectly well.
The compte—a much younger man than the marquis, with a sharply handsome face—now looked at Renaud with derision and amusement. “Surely not, monsieur. They can neither one be long out of the schoolroom.”
The ladies laughed at this complement, and Renaud bristled.
The compte wasn’t finished. “I can hardly believe one such lovely young female could be the other’s daughter. Are they not the same age?”
Anger flared through Renaud. The man was taunting him and flirting with both his wife and daughter in the same breath. He considered calling the man out, but the compte was younger and fitter than himself, so Renaud dismissed the idea. “The baroness is my second wife, monsieur,” he explained instead with forced civility.
The compte had already turned his attention back to the women, smiling so knowingly at them that they blushed from his attentions. De Sauvage spoke to them in words so soft that Renaud could not hear them over the din of the ball, but his Louise and Marie laughed and smiled back at the compte in a not unwelcoming manner.
“My dears,” Renaud snapped. Louise and Marie gave a start, looking at him as if he’d only just arrived. “Please join me. There is a lady I would like you both to meet.” As he took one on each arm, he nodded to the compte and the marquis. “Forgive me, messieurs, but we must be going.”
“Not at all,” said the young compte, his eyes still locked with Marie’s. Renaud’s heart rate didn’t return to normal until he got his women far away from the rogue.
Renaud awoke to find his wife missing. A glance into the adjoining room informed him that his daughter was likewise not abed. Rather than calling for a servant, he put on his dressing gown and went out to look for them himself.
Not far from his rooms, he found a man strolling through the pitch-black corridors, despite the very late hour. Renaud thought for a moment that he was imagining things when it seemed the man’s eyes reflected like a cat’s the light of the candle Renaud carried. But as he got closer, the light illuminated the older man’s features. Renaud scowled. “You.”
“Ah, monsieur le baron.” The marquis beamed congenially at him. “Awake so early?”
Suddenly, Renaud recalled what had woken him: a soft rap at his door. And the marquis was now on his way away from Renaud’s rooms. “Where are they, de Vitemort?” Renaud hissed.
The marquis affected a look of complete ignorance. “Where are who?”
“You know damn well who. My wife and daughter are missing.”
“Oh dear, are they? You know, now that you mention it, I did see them scurrying off down . . . yes, I believe it was that corridor. You don’t suppose they have arranged some clandestine rendezvous, do you? I hear such things are not uncommon in the palace.”
“Show me where they went,” Renaud growled. “And so help me, if I find either you or de Sauvage are behind this, I’ll gut you from groin to gills.”
“Your imaginative and biologically problematic warning is noted,” said the marquis as he led him down the corridor. Soon, they approached a door at the end of an otherwise vacant hallway. Light shone through beneath the door as if the room were full of candles.
The marquis put his hand on the doorknob. “Allow me.”
The door opened slowly and silently, just wide enough for Renaud to see what was going on inside. The vision that met his eyes froze him in place, his entire being overflowing with disgust and fury.
Light from candles and a hearty fireplace filled the room, throwing plenty of light on the large canopy bed and its naked occupants. A man reclined on the bed, his face buried in the bosom of the woman kneeling beside him. Renaud’s gut twisted. The woman was Marie, his daughter. Another woman knelt between the man’s legs with her face at his groin. Gasps came from one woman and wet, sucking sounds from the other.
Neither of the women appeared to have heard the door, but the man turned his face, still pillowed against Marie’s breasts, and looked Renaud straight in the eye. There was victory and mockery in the compte de Sauvage’s eyes. Renaud sucked in a breath to cry out his fury and kill the man who’d seduced his women, but a hand was suddenly clamped over his mouth, an arm wrapped around his chest, holding him in place.
Louise raised her head from the compte’s loins and wiped her mouth. “Shouldn’t it be hard by now? Am I not doing it right?”
Irritation flashed over the compte’s face. “It doesn’t matter. Keep going.”
“But even Renaud doesn’t take this long to get it up, and he’s much older than you.”
Marie made a sound of disgust, though her eyes were still closed in pleasure. “Louise, please. I don’t wish to know such information about my father.”
Louise giggled. “Neither did I.”
Renaud fought against the old man holding him—he was surprised the marquis had such strength in him. His struggles did little good, but the marquis had to release his mouth to take hold of both of Renaud’s arms, and Renaud cried out in wordless fury.
The women spun toward the door in shock, instantly grabbing for a sheet or pillow to hide their shame. The young compte grabbed both of them, pulling them nearly into his lap, preventing their escape. Folding his legs to sit upright, the compte held the two women around their middles, one in each arm, as a child might clutch toys. While Marie and Louise gaped at Renaud, their eyes full of fear and shame, Renaud watched the compte’s face change. The compte’s eyes became bright, his dark hair lightened to unnatural silver, his ears grew long and pointed like an animal’s, and—worst of all—long fangs erupted in the man’s grinning mouth.
“No!” Renaud screamed. The marquis shoved him forward into the room, still holding Renaud’s arms tightly, and shut the door.
Long claws from the compte’s fingers dug into the women’s bellies, and they both cried out. He did not release them. They struggled to get away, but the monster’s claws only dug deeper into their flesh. Bending toward Louise, the compte bit her, driving his fangs deep into her neck.
“Stop it! Monster! Release them!” Renaud shouted, accompanied by the women’s screams.
Both women continued to struggle, but the compte held them fast, as fast as the marquis held Renaud, and drank from Louise until her struggles grew weak. Only then did he release her, tossing her to the floor where she moaned and struggled to crawl further away. Then the compte pulled Marie into his lap, clutching her back to his chest. Holding her with one arm, he used his other hand to scratch shallow trails down the side of her breast, all the way to her hips.
“How I wish I could properly enjoy this situation,” the compte lamented, thrusting his hand down to cup Marie’s core. Then he bit her as well. As he drank from her neck, his eyes held Renaud’s.
Renaud cried out, pleaded with the beasts, begged them to release his wife and daughter. If only he’d never come to this godforsaken palace. If only he were still home instead of here watching this monster defile and murder those most precious to him. He screamed and thrashed and wept tears of fury and pain. None of it did any good.
Finally, the compte released Marie, letting her fall to the floor with her stepmother. The compte unfolded himself and got up from the bed, ignoring the dying women at his feet, and strode toward Renaud.
“Please,” Renaud said, weeping. “Release us. Let me get them help. Or kill me now and be done with it.”
The compte cocked his head. Blood was smeared on his chin, down his neck, across his naked chest. “Oh, but monsieur le baron,” said the compte, using his claws to rip open Renaud’s nightshirt, “we’ve got hours left before the sun.”
The night was warm and pleasant, the full moon casting a light so bright that to Blaidd and his companion, it was as if they were two humans out for an afternoon promenade.
“Have you noticed the growing tension amongst the humans?” asked the vampire who fancied himself Blaidd’s father. He had started going by Strafe when they finally made their way to the New World. “The children chafe at the reigns of their parent. I’ve seen it before, though not with quite such a large ocean between the two. I wonder if they have it in them to revolt.”
“I hope so,” muttered Blaidd. “The English deserve to have their hides handed to them by their own colonists.” Despite the centuries and miles that had passed since he’d last been home, he still considered himself a Welshman. It was part of the reason he’d reclaimed his former name when Strafe had created yet another new one.
As they talked, they strolled along as many gentlemen do—and they did look like gentlemen. Strafe always stole the finest clothes available, and Blaidd had picked up the habit, though it did not give him the same satisfaction it did Strafe. Their stroll this night had taken them through a field and toward a large plantation house. They did not have any particular plan in place, but they thought they might make off with a slave or two without the alarm being raised.
They were walking around the side of a barn not far from the slave quarters when they heard sounds that sent shivers of jealous arousal rippling through Blaidd. Stalking silently toward the sound with Strafe at his back, Blaidd approached the door of the barn, keeping far enough away to avoid being seen.
There in middle of the barn, on a floor strewn with hay, a pair of humans were engaged in vigorous sex. It was obvious in an instant that this was not some romantic interlude, however. Obvious, because the man was white and well-dressed, and the woman who he had on her hands and knees before him was dark-skinned, dressed only a little better than most slaves, and bore many bruises.
Lust blazed through Blaidd, though he knew his body would show no physical sign of it. It wasn’t just the act, which did fill him with the torment of unfulfillable longing. It was the woman herself. She was the most perfect specimen of womanhood Blaidd had ever laid eyes on. Her disheveled dress exposed her breasts and arse; both were full and round. Blaidd’s hands itched to feel that roundness, that softness. He fought back the urge to rip the man from her in a jealous pique. A low growl rumbled in the back of his throat.
“Do you see her?” Strafe asked, surprising him. He had never known Strafe to truly appreciate a woman’s beauty or sexual appeal. Blaidd looked over his shoulder at him. “Look into her face,” Strafe instructed.
Blaidd did so. It did not stifle his lust in the least. Her face was as beautiful as her body—and fire smoldered in her eyes. Her beautiful features were set in a stony expression of buried fury.
“She’s not fighting him,” Blaidd observed. “But she wants to. She would tear his limbs off if she had the power.”
“I wish she would,” Strafe lamented. “It’s so much more entertaining when they fight. Do you think she’s waiting for the right moment? I don’t believe he’s broken her yet.”
“She’s a slave,” Blaidd mused. “His slave. How can he not have broken her?”
The woman’s owner grunted, shoved her away, and stood. She didn’t look back at him as he situated his clothing nor as he walked away, leaving her on all fours in the hay. With deliberate dignity, she stood and worked on straightening her dress.
“Shall we take her, then?” Strafe asked now that the entertainment was over. “You’d like her, wouldn’t you?”
Blaidd had never wanted anything more in his long life. His desire for that woman was all-consuming. He didn’t think one night would be enough to sate himself with her. One year wouldn’t be enough.
“Strafe,” he said, his voice hoarse with desire, “I want her.”
“Take her, then, and let’s go.”
He turned to pointedly meet the other vampire’s eyes. “No, I want her. I don’t just want to have her; I want to keep her.”
Strafe’s eyebrows rose as he understood Blaidd’s meaning. “Are you certain, my boy? This is not a decision to make lightly.”
He didn’t have to remind Blaidd. He’d already told him about how each vampire could make only one other in his entire existence, and how Strafe himself had waited over a thousand years before choosing Blaidd.
But Blaidd had never been much of a forward-thinker. All he knew was that he’d never wanted any human as much as he wanted this woman. In all his years, no other human had even made him think of turning them into what he was.
Strafe considered the woman again. Blaidd didn’t know if Strafe had the power to prohibit his choice, or if Strafe even thought he had that power, or if Blaidd would have obeyed him if he had—but it didn’t matter. Strafe hummed approvingly. “Very well.”
The woman turned toward the open doorway of the barn and froze. Morcant knew she could see the reflection of their eyes in the darkness. She staggered back a step, but her jaw set.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “Come near me and I’ll scream.”
They walked toward her slowly, staying far enough away not to scare her too badly. “Good evening,” Strafe said, tipping his hat.
“You can’t have me too, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she warned, backing up. “I’m the master’s favorite. He don’t like other men touching me.”
Blaidd took a deep breath, trying to hide his lust. If he scared the woman off, he might not get her. “We don’t want to hurt you,” he said, holding his hands up to show her his palms. “In fact, we want to help you.”
She scoffed loudly. “No white man’s ever helped me.”
“We will,” he assured her. “We will help you get what you want.”
“And what’s that?” she asked, curious despite herself.
Blaidd smiled winningly. “To kill your master.”
She froze, narrowing her eyes at the two of them.
“You do want to kill your master,” said Strafe. “It’s no use denying it.”
“Would be suicide to admit something like that,” she spat. But she hadn’t denied it.
“Good,” Strafe said, nodding.
“I can give you the power to do it,” Blaidd told her. “As well as the power to make certain you’re never punished for it.”
The woman inched toward them, openly curious now, but she still watched them warily. “What power?”
“The same that we have. The power of a vampire.” Blaidd showed her, drawing it out for dramatic effect. First, his eyes shifted to silver. The woman straightened, her own eyes widening. Then, his hair lightened. The woman’s jaw dropped. Next, he let his ears sharpen and his claws emerge.
“Demons,” the woman gasped, but she didn’t run.
Blaidd smiled wide, showing his fangs. “We’ve been called that and worse. But we were only men once. Mere mortals like yourself.”
Against all reason, the woman approached. She held her hand out to him and he let her touch him, let her stroke her hand over his face. Never before had a woman willingly touched him while she could see his true form. Even through the haze of his lust, he had to admire her bravery, stupid though it was.
“You would give me such power?” she asked.
“I would,” Blaidd replied.
She snatched her hand back, suspicion sweeping over her expression. “And what would you want in return?”
“Only your company,” Strafe told her. “You would kill your master, and then you would join us. As part of our family. You will be no one’s slave any longer.”
Her dark eyes roved from Strafe to Blaidd. “Then do it. Make me like you. Give me that power.”
Blaidd smiled, took the woman’s wrist in his hand, then stroked up her arm until he reached her neck. He pulled her to him, wrapping his other arm around her. The softness of her body pressing against his made his lust flare like a bonfire, but he held back, knowing there would be time later. There would be centuries of time.
Her breathing sped up, her heart thumping against him, but she didn’t resist. Fangs pierced her neck, and he allowed the fullness of his lust and desire for her to consume him. Strafe had never really explained how it happened, the making of a vampire, only that it was natural and automatic. When the time was right, it happened. It was, by its nature, not something any one person could become an expert on.
Blaidd felt it now and understood why Strafe could not explain it. There was no sensation like it, but he knew he was successful. He knew this bite was not like any of the countless bites he’d inflicted before. This was a bite of giving—and of claiming.
He refrained from taking too much of her blood. She’d need her strength to exact her revenge. Her transformation into a vampire would take half a year, and he intended to be well away with her long before then. He licked the wound, and it healed shut.
“It’s done,” he told her. “But it will take time. We will come back for you tomorrow night.”
The next night, Blaidd and Strafe walked up to the grand plantation house and rapped on the front door.
A short, plump slave woman opened the door. “Yes?”
“Is your master currently in residence?” asked Strafe. Morcant stayed silent and let him do the talking. Strafe did so enjoy this part.
The slave hesitated before saying, “Yes.”
Before she could say anything else, another woman stepped into frame, brushing her out of the way. She was middle-aged, white, and well-dressed. Obviously the mistress of the house. “The master is indisposed,” she said in a crisp tone. “And it’s rather late to be calling, regardless.”
“I see.” Strafe met her scowl with a convivial smile. “By ‘indisposed’, I assume you mean he’s currently engaging in not-so-amorous congress with a beautiful young piece of property. Most likely in your bed, I should guess.”
The mistress gasped, gaping at him in utter shock, her face flushing with anger and shame. The plump slave crossed herself and ran back into the house.
“I see by your reaction that I have it right.” Strafe tipped his hat as he walked past her into the house. Blaidd followed and closed the door behind them.
“How—how dare you?” the woman finally blustered. “Get out! Get out now!”
The moment of surprise had passed, and it was time to get to the matter at hand. Blaidd clutched the woman by the neck, allowing his claws to come out but made no other change in his appearance. The woman struggled and tried to scream, but Blaidd held her in place easily.
They could hear the other people in the house now. Mostly slaves, Blaidd guessed, but perhaps there were others. He waited with tested patience while Strafe went from room to room, silencing the screams and yells. When he came back, the house was mostly silent, and Strafe had blood on his face and hands.
The mistress had gone quiet, trembling in fear. Her eyes were locked wide in horror. “Please,” she whispered. “Please let me go. You can have my husband. He’s a cruel man, and I have no love for him. You may take him to hell for all it would bother me.”
“No doubt,” Strafe mused.
“Lead us to him,” Blaidd commanded. They could have found the room eventually, but he was eager to claim his woman.
“Yes,” the mistress said, evidently under the impression that they’d release her once she did as they asked. “Th-this way.”
Keeping his hand around her neck, Morcant allowed her to lead them through the hallways until they heard a man’s scream coming from the nearest door, along with an eerie girlish giggle. “I see we’ve found it,” Blaidd said and snapped the woman’s neck.
He opened the door, and the two vampires took in the sight before them. Both faces split in wide, feral grins.
The master lay on the floor with bloody wounds in his gut. His head rested in the lap of the beautiful young woman, her head bent over him. As Blaidd watched, she lifted her head, revealing the master’s slit throat and blood covering the lower half of her face, dripping down her chin, matting her hair. Blaidd growled hungrily. He wanted to kiss her and taste the blood on her lips. Still almost entirely human, and she’d chosen to drink the man’s blood. A symbol, perhaps? Blaidd didn’t know, but he liked it.
Letting the master’s head thud to the floor, she stood and walked calmly to them. She cocked her head, looked around, and spotted the white woman’s body lying crumpled in the hall. “I’m the mistress now,” she said.
Blaidd had made the right choice. This woman was definitely worth keeping around.
It had taken years to find bindings able to hold Blaidd for more than a few moments, but it was well worth the effort.
Mistress straddled him, her hips grinding down on his. It was a tease, but he still enjoyed the feeling. She leaned over him, her full, pert breasts jiggling tauntingly inches away from his eyes. Instinctively wanting to touch her, he tugged against the shackles binding his wrists to the bedposts.
It was a short movement. He could have broken the metal itself, but the razor-sharp blades that lined the inside of the cuffs discouraged him from pulling too hard. The stinging bite sent a jolt of pleasure down his arms, but he had no desire to deglove his hands.
Shifting her fingers into claws, Mistress raked them down his chest in long, shallow cuts. He sucked in a deep breath, the movement driving her claws deeper when they reached his belly. She slid her generous hips down his body a few inches, pressed her chest flat against his, and sank her teeth into his neck.
She couldn’t drink from him. He had no blood to give her. Not any more than she could lap up in seconds, and doing so closed the wound. She bit him again, then healed him, then again. Each bite was like a kiss. A reverse kiss. A perverse kiss.
This perversion didn’t bother him. He had so many, what was one more? But it had surprised him, in the beginning. At first he’d allowed her control only to gain her trust. He hadn’t expected to like it so much. The pain she gave him was almost—almost—as good as the pleasure he’d taken from women before he’d become a vampire.
She slid back farther, running her tongue down the long scratches in his skin, closing the wounds. Then she moved up closer to let him lick from her breasts what little smeared blood had seeped out of his chest. Her skin was still so soft. Perfect. He sucked one of her nipples into his mouth, then let his fangs extend just enough to prick her.
She jerked back, scratching gashes across his cheek. “You did that on purpose,” she hissed.
Blaidd lowered his eyes. “No, Mistress. It was an accident,” he lied. He liked the pain; she liked giving it to him. That was the way the game was played. But he’d cheated just a little, knowing she’d punish him for it, even though the small prick was already healed.
The stinging pain in his cheek lingered like a hot caress. He hadn’t eaten yet this week. It was more fun when he didn’t heal on his own right away.
In a mood now, Mistress got off the bed and made as if to leave the room. He knew she wouldn’t. Once she left the room, the game was over.
“Aren’t you happy now?” he said, allowing her to save face by giving her a reason to turn around and look at him. He was laid out, wrists and ankles bound to the bed, his naked body on full display to her. Her eyes raked hungrily over it.
“What do you mean?” she asked distractedly.
“You’re free now.” He widened his eyes as if with the momentousness of this news. Neither of them cared about the human laws, although it would make certain things slightly easier for them.
“I’ve been free,” she said. “More than free. Since you changed me.” Her gaze lingered on his body, appreciating every inch of him. In a flash, she was on top of him, kissing him ferociously, hands wrapping around his shoulders, pressing herself into him. He felt her claws dig into his deltoids as she clung to him. He broke the kiss and tilted his head back, baring his neck for her. She obliged, biting him again and again without bothering to heal the wounds.
There was no climax, no real winner of this game. But pain, he found, could be drawn out much longer than pleasure. These small pains were his pleasure now.
Eventually, she sat up and stared at him with an odd expression. “How can you still be so irresistible after so many decades?”
He laughed, the movement making her whole body bounce and her breasts come to life. “I wonder the same about you. I want you as much now as I did the moment I first saw you.”
She grew still, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Want me? In this way, you mean?”
He laughed again, but this time she moved off of him. “Of course. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. When I saw that human fucking you, I nearly ripped his head off out of pure jealousy.”
A strange look passed over her face. “I see.”
He almost asked her what that look was about, but then she put her mouth on him again.
It didn’t take long for the family to react, but by the time they did it was already too late. Maybe if the father had been there, he’d have put up more of a fight. Maybe he wouldn’t have let the vampires in at all. Not that it really mattered. Blaidd, Mistress, and Strafe hadn’t known he was gone when they came to this secluded farmhouse, and it wouldn’t have stopped them if he hadn’t been.
Blaidd had one of the girls in his grasp, and Mistress was already draining a young boy. A blast reverberated through the small house, accompanied by a burning agony in Blaidd’s shoulder. He snarled at the oldest girl, eyes and fangs flashing, as she struggled to reload her rifle. Seeing him, the mother screamed and snatched a wooden cross off the wall. She shoved it toward Strafe. He snatched it and tossed it aside contemptuously, then bit the woman. Before the sister with the gun could get off another shot, Mistress killed her. The younger children were easier to finish off, and the vampires took their time. Their screams and crying didn’t matter. They were far away from any other humans, surrounded only by fields.
Later, as Mistress drank the last life from the smallest child and the rest of the farmer’s family lay dead on the floor, Blaidd heard a sound. Labored, quick breathing. It must have been here since they first attacked, but only now that it was quiet did he pick up on it. Someone was hiding upstairs.
The others didn’t accompany Blaidd up the narrow, creaky staircase. Blaidd followed the sound to a bedroom with three small beds, one of them occupied. Moonlight shone in through the window, but Blaidd wouldn’t have needed it to see the sick boy. It was obvious, however, that by it the boy could see him. He was older than the two boys downstairs, perhaps fourteen. He stared at Blaidd’s blood-soaked face, hands, and clothes with gaping terror.
Blaidd stepped into the room, slow and light-footed, taking his time. He smiled, and the boy jerked back but was clearly too weak to try to get away. Blaidd swept bloody claws through his hair, leaving dark streaks in the silver. The boy was shaking.
“We killed your family,” Blaidd told the boy as if the boy needed to be told. “Both your brothers. All your sisters. Your mother. They’re dead now.” He sat down next to the boy on the bed, the way a father might sit to tuck his child in and say good-night. With one clawed finger, he tenderly stroked the boy’s cheek. “Time to join them.” He leaned toward the boy’s neck.
Large, powerful hands clamped down on Blaidd’s head, shutting his jaw tight, preventing him from touching the boy. With a flash of fury, Blaidd lashed out behind him, but his claws met only empty air. It was impossible. He could feel the hands on his head and chin, holding him. He tried to turn on his attacker, to shout and threaten, but he couldn’t open his mouth. Fear crept into him. Never in all his centuries had he fought someone who could so easily and utterly overpower him.
And then his attacker spoke to him—but not in a way that Blaidd could hear with his ears. The word appeared directly into his head, like a thought, but he knew this was no thought of his own. Whoever spoke to him simply had no need for the fleshy medium of sound.
The word filled his mind, reverberated through his whole being. The absolute power and possessiveness of the voice terrified him. He felt like a man who’d tried to steal a trinket only to discover it was part of a dragon’s hoard.
Blaidd leapt away from the boy, and the force of the hands released him. Spinning toward the door, he caught a brief glimpse of something like a human figure, but then he blinked and it was gone. Blaidd ran.
Gasping for breath he didn’t physically need, he stumbled down the stairs. Strafe and Mistress looked at him with alarm, but he didn’t stop to explain what had happened. He simply ripped the front door open and fled into the night.
end of preview
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