This is entirely new territory for me, and I was turned into a vampire less than a fortnight ago.
Before me stands the Queen herself, her guard – Brom, she introduces him as – pointing his gun squarely at my head in case I get any ideas to either escape through the open cell doors, or maul them all for the blood in their arteries.
I would be lying if I say it isn’t tempting; the blood packs were small, carefully rationed, and nothing compared to the scent and sound of fresh blood running through three healthy humans. I push these treacherous thoughts to the back of my mind, gripping my wrist behind my back, the free hand curled into a fist.
“Are you tempted? The blood packs I had sent can’t have been fulfilling for a vampire so freshly turned,” Queen Sybil says, tone as casual as if she were asking if I’d like some tea.
So that’s where those came from. From the corner of my eye, I see Draya glance at me in surprise. Clearly she hadn’t known who had given the order. Choosing honesty, I admit, “They were not, though they did give me strength. And I am. Tempted, that is. But I meant what I said— I am not a traitor.”
“Majesty, she is not to be trusted. Who’s to say she has not been radicalized by her sire, his whispers in her mind?” Brom bursts out, his gun never wavering from its aim on my head even as he looks at the Queen, frustration clear on his face.
I stifle a snort. “My sire only visits in my nightmares, with that cursed night relived every time I close my eyes. There are no whispers. But,” I turn to Queen Sybil and Draya, “if it will prove I mean no harm, then I will not resist the chains.”
Queen Sybil is silent a moment, then nods. “I do not question your service or your loyalty, Rayborn,” she says almost apologetically. “However, you are a vampire still, a young one at that, and I am not here to take unnecessary risk. No matter what my head Queensman might think,” she adds with a reproachful glance at Brom. “Captain Anguard, restrain her. Brom has ones with the silver you need.”
Draya looks to obey without question. Only I notice the slight skip in her heartbeat, the way her eyes track over me, the split-second before she actually walks towards Brom. He hands the manacles from his pack to her, but it’s clear he was hoping to be the one to place them on me. Too bad.
I do not move as Draya approaches me carefully, her scent and the scent of her blood flooding my nose. I try not to breathe too deeply. “Your hands, Commander,” she says quietly.
Slowly, I bring my hands forward.
“How badly will it hurt?” she whispers, taking her time unlocking one of the manacles.
I smile grimly. “Bad,” I whisper back. “But I will heal after. And you trained us to endure pain.”
She sighs. “I did not train anyone to endure this.” She closes one shackle around my right wrist and the pain is immediate as my skin sizzles at the silver. I hiss. Higher concentration in these than the bars. Draya clenches her jaw and ignores everything except getting the left shackle done, then immediately steps away so as not to see the way my skin burns, returning to her place on the Queen’s left with her eyes steadfastly looking away from me.
The pain is excruciating, all my senses homing in on where the silver meets my wrists and protesting keenly at the contact. It’s evident by the way I grit my teeth, breathing sharply through my nose. I can’t look at Brom, whose lips are quirked up in a satisfied smile – sadist – or Draya, who can’t look at me at all, so I keep my gaze fixed on Queen Sybil, whose gaze flits between my burning wrists and my pained expression with part regret, part genuine interest.
“You are braver than I thought you were, if this is what it means to have you restrained,” she remarks.
“I wanted to prove my loyalty.”
“As I said, it is not your loyalty in question. It’s your self-control. But I will keep this as brief as I can. Please sit, if the pain does not allow you to stand.”
Much as I want to remain on my feet, it’s already far too difficult for me to focus, so I take the offer with thanks, almost crumpling onto my cot and holding my wrists out between my knees. The smell of burning flesh starts to permeate the cell. It takes all of my training not to scream. I also don’t want to give Brom the satisfaction he’d so clearly gain from it.
“As you know, despite nearly a century of war, we have been unable to capture a living vampire. All our intel on their weaknesses and strengths has come from what little observations we have made in the field, trying to separate fact from the legends and myths. You are an anomaly in more ways than one. To our knowledge, the first of our soldiers to ever have been turned rather than killed, as well as the first vampire to be captured.”
I nod, trying not to look impatient. If I’m burning my wrists right off the bone only to be told things I already know, it isn’t worth it.
“While many,” the Queen glances at Brom again, “think you a liability, I think you can be an invaluable asset. I’ve seen your records, Rayborn. You rose through the ranks quickly for someone your age. While you have a penchant for trouble, you still command respect of those you lead. And now, though unplanned, you have given us the opportunity to study what a vampire truly is.”
“Am I to be a lab rat, then?” I can’t help but ask. I expected as much, but it would be nice to be certain – at last – of what will happen to me.
“Yes and no. It will be good to learn more about vampires through someone actually willing to provide that information. However, I foresee a greater purpose for you.
“Between your years of training, and your newfound abilities, you are the closest we have to a super-soldier. Part of each world, and in many ways stronger than both. If you are able to gain control over your bloodthirst, remaining satisfied with the blood packs I am willing to provide, then I want you to work for me. It is, in my mind and heart, the most important role in the kingdom. I want you to protect my daughter.”
“What!?” exclaimed Brom and Draya.
In case you missed it, read the previous installments of Guardian, a short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against: