First: 001

Previous: 003

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Part 004

Ashe knew he was­n’t sup­posed to resist, but his sense of fight or flight was on a hair-trig­ger after White Eyes’ threat to drain him dry. Ashe did­n’t just strug­gle against Marsh, he fought back. The vam­pire’s fangs in his throat pressed so deeply Ashe knew he would be bruised lat­er. He grabbed a hand­ful of Marsh’s hair to pull the crea­ture off of him, but Marsh crushed him against the ground and growled against Ashe’s throat. The del­i­cate scent of bro­ken grass stems rose up to choke him. Ashe twist­ed. He tried to jerk his knee up into Marsh’s groin but the vam­pire just flipped him over and sank fangs into the oth­er side of Ashe’s neck. A thick hand leaned on Ashe’s hip, pin­ning him to the ground.

Ashe scratched at the dirt and screamed.

His throat gaped on both sides, the blood ran freely, and every swipe of Marsh’s hot tongue against his skin sent shiv­ers of hor­ror into his soul. Ashe gasped, only to breathe grass and dirt. He coughed. Blood pulsed into the ground beside him. Ashe could­n’t stop shak­ing. Marsh’s weight on top of him was oppres­sive and heavy. Ashe could­n’t breathe.

His body final­ly gave up. Every mus­cle trem­bled, but Ashe lay limp beneath Marsh while the vam­pire con­tin­ued to suck as his neck. He did­n’t have the ener­gy to fight any­more. And now that he had the time to think, fear began to fill his heart with every beat. He had fought against a vam­pire’s claim to his blood. Ashe had nev­er fought before–he knew bet­ter! He whined soft­ly, an invol­un­tary sound of ter­ror. He could­n’t pre­dict what might hap­pen now. What did vam­pires do with a meal that fought back?

Marsh pulled their fangs from Ashe’s throat with a groan that sound­ed sex­u­al. ”Yes…,” they said. ”Now you’re prop­er­ly afraid. Now you can feed her.…”

Marsh yanked Ashe up by the arm. Ashe pressed his palm to one side of his throat, try­ing to staunch the bleed­ing, or at least slow it down. He was start­ing to won­der if there were more o‑types late­ly that these mon­sters dealt with him so rough­ly. He was used to being bit­ten, but man­han­dled? Threatened? Allowed to bleed as a vam­pire half-dragged him across the lawn? It was all so…uncultured. And it left Ashe afraid that he was no longer a favored snack, but a dis­pos­able one.

Marsh shift­ed rough­ly to female. Her laugh scratched through a throat long ago ruined by smok­ing and more per­me­nant activ­i­ties. Ashe strug­gled to keep up with her rapid stride, even as he cringed away from her voice. It was the laugh of a woman who delight­ed in see­ing oth­ers suf­fer. It should­n’t have sur­prised him–they were mon­sters, all of them–but Ashe could­n’t match this expe­ri­ence with the del­i­cate mem­o­ry he had of Marsh pre­vi­ous­ly.

It had been at least a month since Illia’s last call, and Ashe was almost excit­ed about meet­ing a new vam­pire. The dan­ger was always there, of course, but Ashe had seen more than one fight over the chance to lick his blood off the floor. He was prized. So when he’d been passed from Heakta to Marsh, he’d been a gift. Marsh had licked the blood from Ashe’s throat with rev­er­ence and care. There had been delecasy in their touch.

No longer.

Marsh-as-female’s grip now bruised Ashe’s arm and she was care­less how he stum­bled along across the lawn and up the mar­ble stairs. Ashe scraped his knees trip­ping and being dragged. His arm ached. His throat felt torn open and ragged. He was light­head­ed enough that dark­ness had begun to creep into the edges of his vision, so he was­n’t entire­ly cer­tain how many peo­ple were in the room when Marsh final­ly threw him to the floor like a dog.

Fear pulsed through his chest like a bolt of light­ning. It drove him to his feet despite his blood­loss, and he made a weak attempt to scram­ble for the door, chas­ing after Marsh and the mem­o­ry of how favored he had once been. Marsh’s smil­ing eyes laughed at him as she closed the door in his face.

Ashe scratched at the door as he sank to his knees. He could­n’t imag­ine this is what Illia want­ed for him. He was sup­posed to be safe here, right? Taken out of cir­cu­la­tion for a while, is what she had said. He was­n’t sup­posed to be here with.… why was he here?

Ashe looked away from the door–or he tried. About half way around, fear, like an ani­mal, slammed his head back. He screamed with ter­ror, squeezed his eyes, and curled into a ball of nerves. With his face cov­ered in the curl of his arms he could breathe in tiny pant­i­ng gasps.

What was this reac­tion? Why was he crip­pled to the floor with anx­i­ety? What was in this room?

The very idea of turn­ing around churned his stom­ach and Ashe did­n’t under­stand why. His eyes focused on the floor beneath his elbows and he noticed long gouges in the mar­ble. Scratches and scrapes that sur­round­ed the door. An entire pack of ani­mals that had clawed to escape. Ashe’s heart sped up again. Were there dogs here? Wolves? Something big­ger? A bear, maybe? What could be strong enough to carve out mar­ble with its claws? Were there vam­pire crea­tures he’d nev­er heard about being bred and trained? Was he final­ly going to be food?

Ashe could­n’t stand the thought of dying with­out know­ing what kind of demon beast was going to con­sume his corpse. Before he could think about it too much, he whipped his head up at the cen­ter of the room.

It was emp­ty except for a crude­ly carved mar­ble chair in the cen­ter. Within it sat a lit­tle girl, no more than five. She was dressed in pink frills and her hair was such a pale blonde it could have been white. She was chained to the seat.

Cold iron had been shack­led around her wrists and ankles, wrapped around the chair, and secured. Ashe had seen cold iron used to pun­ish a vam­pire before. It seemed to mute their pow­er and take away their abil­i­ty to shift gen­ders.. It prob­a­bly did even more. The restraints made her look absurd­ly small, and Ashe’s brow came togeth­er to broad­cast his con­fu­sion. He’d nev­er seen a baby vam­pire, if that was indeed what she was, and her pres­ence did­n’t explain the scratch­es of some­thing try­ing to escape this room. Especially since she was locked down.

She kicked her feet. They did­n’t reach the floor; the chair was adult-sized. Then she opened her eyes and Ashe was frozen tight to the spot. She had no eyes; in their place was just the vast black depth of void. And when she turned that void on Ashe, he flinched like he’d been gut-punched. His heart began to race. His mus­cles trem­bled with ten­sion. She smiled and Ashe gasped as his adren­al gland flood­ed his sys­tem with adren­a­line. Run. Run, run, run.

”Scream,” she said.

Ashe began to scream hard enough to scratch his throat. He did­n’t stop.

She laughed, like the sound of bells.

Ashe clawed at the door.

He screamed until his voice gave out, and kept going regard­less. He screamed until the blood loss forced him to pass out. And in his night­mares, he screamed to the tin­kle of bells.