“Mmm,” I mumbled, heaving out cold air from my mouth.
My breath was like ice but paled in comparison to how cold my body felt overall. It was a nice surprise considering how hot I usually got, especially during the colder seasons. Maybe my fever had cooled down for once in a blue moon. My memories were fuzzy but from what I recalled Mr Yuven had said it was getting particularly bad of late. The image of my mother’s face drowned in tears still burned into my mind.
I’d best hurry, I might be able to catch father and spread the good…
My joy was cut short when I noticed that my usual strawed stacked pelt bed had been replaced with what felt like cold stone. Quickly blinking the sleep out of my drowsy eyes I tried to get up. What had once been a struggle was now easy, bringing my body up with my hands in a matter of moments with a strength my feeble body wasn’t meant to have. I had hoped to have just fallen on the floor, gazing around me however dashed such naivety.
There was not even a sliver of my belongings or bedroom in this freezing cold stone room. The room was massive and with its arches and columns resembled the church, yet unlike the welcoming grey, these stones were a sleek and menacing matte black. The moment I recognised I was not in my home my mind went into a frenzy, yet my body remained calmed, without so much a slight of quicken breath or heartbeat. As someone who admittedly scared easily, it unnerved me to feel so relaxed.
Instead of acting in a fuss, I sat in the position I had started, slowly taking in everything around me. A methodical dripping drew my attention first, leading my eyes in the direction of what I could only describe as an altar, filled with…
My throat unconsciously gulped at the sign of that blissful red liquid, drenched in a metallic aroma that beckoned me. I leaned forward for a moment before catching myself in the same motion. What was I doing… that… that… that was blood. I’d coughed of enough of the stuff to know it.
What kind of place would have an altar for blood?
The kind of places I didn’t want to be is what my gut told me. There were no pugh in this twisted church and from what I could tell only one door opposite to the altar of blood. No light was present in the room either, so why could I see? My brain quickly decided that list of spiralling questions wasn’t relevant for now and shelved it for later.
What I deemed to be more important were the subtle, almost imperceivable breaths next to me. I swivelled my head and for the first time since waking my body gave a noticeable reaction, cheeks starting to burn bright red. That didn’t mean my gaze left though.
I told myself but my gaze stayed fixed on the people next to me under the excuse of figuring out where I was and how I’d gotten here. Two naked women and one man laid next to me, spread out just enough not to touch each other but hardly the distance needed to feel even a modicum of self decency.
It seemed more people had been kidnapped in their sleep like me. My brain almost on its own shifted through all the information my father had told me about should I ever get into this type of situation. For anyone of nobility, regardless of rank, the threat of kidnapping for ransom was real enough to warn and prepare your children for it, or so father said. I had never thought such a day would come given who I was and my “Conditions”. Clearly, the criminals who had snatched me were either not well informed or simply didn’t care. I naturally hoped for the former given the implications of that latter.
Going back to the naked people laying next to me, I scanned them all for a certain detail while trying to not let my eyes wander with… curiosity of adolescence. Nope, none of them had anything about them that I could link but to Oros, my home. The only details of note were that they were all ghostly pale and adults.
The gravity of the situation fueled my willpower just enough to justify tearing my eyes off my sleeping companions in this horrid situation. I pressed my hands against the rugged stone floor and used them as stepping stones to slowly raise myself up into a standing position. Fully ready to fall, one could imagine my surprise when my straw legs didn’t give out under the weight of my upper body. It was another plus along with my lack of a fever dampened by the looming threat of my current situation.
I… I can stand!
Senses that had been calm at first were slowly getting overbearing and I started to hear the heartbeats of those behind me like drums in my ear. That didn’t deter nor stop me though. Being able to stand had invigorated me far past the level I was used to. I took it as adrenaline but my body felt stronger than ever, cold as it was.
Bursting with a vitality I took steps towards the door before that very same gateway towards my potential freedom opened for me. My body, which had been calm despite my nervousness, froze stiff. Terror, blood-curdling terror. That is what enveloped my body the moment I saw her.
Scarlet hair tied back onto a face that was undoubtedly the most enthralling I’d ever seen, pale skin like a noble girl’s doll embedded with glistening yet apathetic crimson eyes that didn’t even look up from her parchment to acknowledge me, inking words with her quill in a passive yet speedy manner. The black full winter sleeveless dress she wore was not exactly tight nor baggy but contrasted well with the black stone of this room, with a foreign clacking underneath which I assumed resonated from heels like the ones mother wore from time to time.
I was in the moment for the first time in my life, stuck between being smitten with a woman and utterly petrified.
“Awfully active for a newly bloodied aren’t you.” Her voice glided through the air with a level of elegance that commanded my respect and again, scared me out of my bones.
My body only held firm against the crippling pressure because I was too scared to move. I have to run… but I can’t… somehow I knew to turn my back to someone above me was a form of disrespect that would get me offed in most cases. So I stood there like a dullard, choking on any words I attempted to form.
The woman didn’t bat an eye at my reaction, moving forward past me in an instant and approaching the other three like she was the wind itself. She never stopped taking notes as she slowly inspected the three of them, noting down things I could only guess. I had no clue if this was my captor or another poor soul abducted, but neither matter when the door leading out of this place had been opened for me.
Using every morsel of concentration I could muster I willed my body out of its frozen state and attempted to silently back away from the scarlet woman with small steps. Scraps of illumination cast shadows from outside the door but strangely they didn’t comfort me. No, the darkness of this room felt more secure.
Still, I need to take this chance, just a little more-
“Active and unfaithful, were you really intending to leave your coven so soon?” that silvery voice announced, far closer than I remember.
My ears picked up sound better than ever yet I hadn’t heard another click of the heels hidden beneath her dress. I wanted to turn around and rebuke the statement knowing full well I would never think of being unfaithful, but my body screamed in absolute rebellion. I should not look, I should never meet those eyes, not when they were aimed at me. Instead, I kept my head down, trying to soothe my anxiety and fear by counting the stone tiles.
“You know it’s rude to leave me unanswered, Fangless”
Rude? I knew that already, but it didn’t make it any easier to speak without sounding like a bumbling idiot. Also what the hell was a “Fangless”? Whatever the case and answer was requested twice and I felt the consequences might be dire if I let a third request ring out. Despite the protest of my body, I responded.
“I was just… looking for a way out.”
“Tch, lying to your betters isn’t a habit I advise you start, your second life won’t be as accepting as the first.”
The scolding itself didn’t scare me as much as the fact that her voice remained unphased and impartial throughout it all. If anything I swore I could’ve spotted a hint of sadistic amusement like she would be interested in seeing me defy standard again. Unfortunately for her, I had neither the resolve nor the reason to resist anymore.
“I-I was trying to escape.”
There was no response to my answer, just an unsettling silence that left me wondering if my answer was the right or wrong one. Silence let my brain process her words more thoroughly, causing me to stick on the “Second life” she mentioned. Was that some strange metaphor, like now that I was a captive I had to obey or I’d be in for it?
The ever-constant dripping blood altar and breathing of my fellow captives was the only light in the darkness that was this overbearing silence. That altar in particular in the way this windowless stone cathedral was constructed made me question the exact nature of my captors.
Given the nature of my life and how it had gone thus far, I’d always been a little inquisitive, questioning things that would normally go unnoticed because I had a little too much time on my hands. Seeing in perfectly even when I could tell there was no light, cold and pale skin with a heart that barely felt like it was beating. Hell even my ability to stand was far from normal.
My brain worked a tad faster than usual to take in everything properly now that some of the fear and panic had settled or been transferred to my body. Why was I here? How was I able to stand and see in the dark? What did these people want with a dying teenager? Was it because I was the son of a baron?
A small but resolved part of me doubted it was that simple and that same part, that had an inkling of what exactly was going, was terrified more so than anything else.
“Escape… that’s new. If you had said something like to feed or to hunt, I would’ve disciplined you, but escape? From what, the sanctuary of new blood? Seems a little contradictory to me if safety was your priority.” She spoke with no apparent disdain or annoyance for what she clearly thought was stupid of me.
It reminded me of the times I had attempted to run away from home in my younger days only for my mother to scold me for the idiocy layered in my senseless actions. Except unlike her, the scarlet woman had no love, no warmth and certainly no intention to make me better.
A sharp prodding on my back sparked a wave of pain that I was forced to bite down, not daring to turn back and see what the ghost of a woman was doing. She continued wordlessly and my body started to tense in rebellion, but it made no difference. The last prod proved most painful and for just an instance my body screamed at me to move, settling down moments later as nothing happened.
“Hmm… nineteen years of age, male and about five foot three with little to no muscle mass and atrophied growth.”
My keen ears could hear the scribbling quill get back to work, furiously noting down the information she attained by whatever means I’d refused to look back at. The height or muscle mass wasn’t exactly a hard thing to deduct, but my exact age and growth atrophy? I could only speculate where she’d pulled that information from.
“Short, weak and barely resonate with the blood given. Then again, you can talk and move around so the recovery of your cognitive function is admirable…” She paused for a moment, perhaps thinking before continuing. “... Evaluation of the fourth Fangless residing within the Vannagrash crypt is as follows. Physically inept with little to no reason to invest resources but whether by virtue of will or simply luck equipped with an acceptable mental fortitude.”
Eyes bright red met mine before I could understand how their owner moved so fast, filled with the first hint of emotion that leaked out of her otherwise apathetic face. Curiosity. I didn’t understand why she had evaluated me like cattle in the past few seconds but at that moment I no longer cared. Everything faded away as only one, inescapable fact remained.
I must not look away.
Those blistering red eyes that stared into mine, could not be evaded, could not be ignored and certainly couldn’t be forgotten. Any action other than meeting them and locking eyes with the women would be an act of disrespect that would only end in pain. I had never been taught this, even in my etiquette classes, but I knew it all the same.
I was frozen, paralysed in a fear that forced me to comply. If she wanted me to kneel, at that moment, I would’ve done so. The scenario of standing against an army with a grin had always been what I pictured myself like in the face of danger, locked away in my secluded room. In the face of this woman though, and the real danger she could cause, I crumbled in but an instance.
“Neither brave nor determined, just scared witless and aware of the consequence. You exceed in disappointing me Fangless.”
This time her words held clear disdain for me and she wasn’t wrong. Being a shut-in for most of my life I was understandably scared shitless just to look into the eyes of someone I knew could end me in a flash. My father was brave, my mother was determined.
I was just a…
“Clever coward it is then, someone might have a use for your mind even if you lack a spine.”
Her gaze left and I was finally free to catch my breath, heaving in a breath of relief as I collapsed to the floor, scraping my leg’s bare skin against the smooth black stone floor. The words might’ve bothered most but I was used to being shelved to the side and treated like a burden.
Just keep going, they never asked for anything more than that.
I recollected my thoughts on the ground with no intention of making a break for the exit the scarlet women headed for. To me, it was apparently clear that there was going to be no unwanted escape from this place.
“A servant will bring you clothes while Lord Varragrash tends to the other new blood. I shall return when he decides you’ve been left alone long enough. For now, I suggest you collect yourself and pass on the message to your coven when they awake.”
Her parting words had regained their previous apathetic tone and just like my dignity she stole the small specs of illumination when she left through the same door she entered without so much as a wisp of sound.
I sat there with only sleeping company and my mind a mess again, thankful the scarlet woman had left but afraid that I would have to see her again. All these questions buzzing around my mind, still unanswered.
“...wait, a servant will bring me clothes?”
I hesitantly inspected my body for the first time since awaking, cheeks again flushed red and my already burned pride turning to ashes as I realised I’d been naked too that entire time, equipped with nothing but my birthday suit and plummeting self-esteem.
It will be alright, I will be alright.
I told myself, struggling to stomach what the future had in store for me.