I’m next woken by the clanging of the prison gates, and I rise to my feet immediately.
Having tracked the days and nights through the slit high up on the cell wall – too narrow to classify as a window – I know it’s been five days since that disastrous night.
The hunger has only gotten worse since then. Sleep is no solace, when all my dreams serve only to replay my transformation, my capture. The searing pain, the taste of blood, that killer’s laugh echoing in my brain.
If I make it out of here alive, the first thing I’m gonna do is murder that bastard. …Who knew revenge would always be this cliche?
“Commander Tamara Rayborn. What a… situation you’ve found yourself in.”
I stand at attention, raising one manacled hand in a salute. “Captain.”
Despite herself, Captain Anguard chuckles. “Even like this, a prisoner of the kingdom, starved and isolated for days, you remain a soldier.” She seems almost surprised. “At ease. And speak freely. I’m the only one here and I refuse to treat you like a criminal, even if you are one of them now,” she adds sadly.
I flinch at her last words. Somehow, despite having had days to reconcile it with myself, hearing that I was no longer human – from my mentor no less – brings fresh pain. “I may be a vampire now, but I sure as hell am not going to forget where I came from. Who I a- was. Besides,” I force a breezy smile, “I’d argue this proves dedication to understanding the enemy.”
“Right. Well, you look terrible.”
“Never one to mince words, Cap,” I laugh. “Not eating or drinking or seeing another soul for days will do that.”
She raises an eyebrow. Draya never did approve of my dry humor. Or my calling her “Cap.” Though I knew she was always secretly amused by it all, even back when I was a young recruit. ‘You need to take this much more seriously,’ she used to say. ‘For as long as vampires exist, we’re at war.’ I’d always retort that finding the humor in things was the best way I had to survive a war. But right now, even though I’m trying, it’s actually a lot harder to maintain.
With a resigned sigh, she reaches into the pocket of her breeches and pulls out a sealed bag. As soon as she unseals it, I scent blood and I am immediately on edge. I let out a low growl and nearly yank at my chains in desperate desire to grab it. My skin breaks out into a sweat, my fangs emerging despite me struggling to clench my jaw shut, and I can tell my eyes are no longer the brown they once were by the way that Draya looks at me, for the first time in eight years, with fear writ plain on her face.
It’s that look that keeps me in check. I look away, shaking, fists clenched and fighting for control as I ask, “You have blood. Where did you get it?”
Draya recovers, clears her throat. “Blood bank. We’ve been granted permission to let you feed. It isn’t much, but it should sate some of the hunger.”
She approaches the cell door and I force myself to shrink further back. The scent has woken my other vampiric senses, dormant from hunger. It’s not just the blood from her package. I can hear her heartbeat, the pulse of the artery in her neck, smell her scent as much as I can the mix of donors in her hands. It’s torture, and I don’t trust myself not to lose control.
Mercifully, she does not ask to hand it to me, pushing the bag between the bars and throwing it towards me. I make no move to grab it yet.
“Aren’t you going to feed?” she asks quietly.
I grit my teeth, refusing to look her way, refusing to look at the bag, refusing to look at anything but the cuffs on my wrists. “Not in front of you, Draya.” It’s the first time I’ve ever used her first name.
“I’m sorry.” I curse my enhanced hearing for being able to hear the crack in her voice. “I’m sorry this happened to you. You were one of our best.”
“Please. I can’t control myself much longer. Please go.”
I hear her turn and walk away. And beneath the sound of the creaking door, I hear her sniff and stifle a small whimper.
If my heart was still beating, it would have broken.
Once I hear her steps recede far enough, I throw myself onto the package in front of me, grabbing the first blood bag out of the pack and tearing into it with my teeth.
The first drop on my tongue is bliss, even as another part of me shirks away from the whole thing.
Fucking disgusting. But also so, so good…