Turning toward the voice, Ian felt his breath catch in his throat. Eyrin had pointed the tall, fair-haired male vampire to him before. The Master. He had created all the vampires in the lair, and forged pacts with seventeen villages, swearing to protect them from demons in exchange for daily blood. Ian wasn’t sure whether he ought to kneel, avert his gaze or bow. In doubt, he did the latter, murmuring a respectful greeting.
“Why do you seek Eyrin?” the Master asked.
Ian dared to look back at him. “I am from her village,” he thought necessary to explain. “I always make my offering to her.”
The Master’s eyes ran over him, lingering for a second at the small wreath Ian still held in his right hand, and a slow, cold smile curved his lips.
“Something tells me it’s not just blood you offer her,” he said, almost challenging, and Ian felt heat rise in his cheeks.
It wasn’t uncommon for vampires and humans to become lovers, nor was it frowned upon, but humans were always warned by their elders that for vampires, these affairs were about sex, not feelings. Ian knew as much, and he knew that Eyrin would probably disapprove of his feelings for her if she ever learned of them, just as the Master would if Ian betrayed himself.
Unsure what to answer, if anything—after all, he hadn’t been asked a question—Ian remained silent. After a few seconds, the Master nodded as though to himself, and uttered a cool “Follow me,” that left no place for hesitation. He led the way through the halls humans weren’t supposed to visit on their own, finally stopping in front of a door that Ian recognized as Eyrin’s. Ian was already reaching for it when the Master’s hand closed on his wrist, cold and unyielding.
“No need to knock. She will probably ask you to leave as soon as you walk in,” he said. “Don’t listen to her. She hasn’t fed from a human in three days and she needs fresh blood. You can tell her that I forbade my other Childer to share with her, and that I won’t either until she starts accepting offerings again.”
Even though he wanted to ask for an explanation, Ian merely nodded, trying to understand what was going on and why the Master would give him a message for Eyrin when she almost certainly had heard every word he had said.
Releasing his hand, the Master gave Ian a short nod and started walking away, but he stopped again before Ian had opened the door. “Do not stare at her,” he said, and now he sounded tired. “And try not to be scared.”
Frowning, Ian watched him go until he had disappeared in a nearby room. What was that supposed to mean? He had known Eyrin for years, why would he be scared of her now? And why bother with warnings if they were so vague?
With a shake of his head, he finally reached for the latch and pushed the door open, stepping in noiselessly. It was even darker in the room than in the rest of the lair, the only source of light coming from the dying flames in the fireplace.
“I wish you hadn’t come,” a quiet, muffled voice rose from the bed. “I suppose it’s no use to ask you to leave?”
All Ian could see was that Eyrin had her back turned toward him. Approaching the fireplace to add some wood to the fire, he answered her on what he hoped was a playful tone.
“You wouldn’t want me to disobey the Master, now, would you?”
There were only small branches left in the niche by the fireplace and Ian transferred all of them to the fire before prodding it lightly with a metal prong. After a moment, the flames rose high and bright, the way Ian had long ago learned Eyrin liked them. Fire was dangerous to vampires, but she seemed to enjoy the heat enough to disregard the risks.
Turning back to face the bed, Ian could now see Eyrin’s form more clearly, although she still presented him her back. She was on top of the covers, fully clothed, curled on her side in an almost protective pose. She remained quiet as he observed her and tried to understand what was wrong.
“Will you tell me why you haven’t taken offerings in days?” he asked softly as he came to sit on the bed behind her. “I thought vampires couldn’t live without human blood.”
“We do need blood,” she replied after long seconds. “From humans, demons, or other vampires.”
“And you’ve decided not to take human blood anymore?” he prodded when she stopped, and ran a light hand over her shoulder and down her arm until he had reached her hand. The flower wreath slid easily onto her wrist. “Why not?”
Her body tensed beneath his fingers.
“Give me your hand,” she demanded harshly. “I’ll take your offering, and you will leave.”
Something tightened in Ian’s chest, making it hard for him to breathe. He had waited weeks to see Eyrin again, and now she refused to even look at him. The pain turned into anger, and his hand tightened on her shoulder as he pulled her backwards so he could see her. She resisted and evaded his grasp, sliding out of bed and retreating to stand in front of the fireplace. With her back to the flames, he couldn’t see her face, and he hated not being able to read her emotions in her eyes as he had learned to do over the years. What he did see however was how she limped.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she lashed out, her voice as ice. “You forget your place, human. You are here to offer your blood, and if you dare raise your hand on me again, you will be sent away and forbidden to return.”
Despite the rage in her words, her voice broke down on the last words to the point that Ian could have sworn she was crying. But it couldn’t be. Eyrin was a strong woman, quick to laugh, witty, courageous. Why would she cry? Why would she hide in this room, and refuse the blood she needed?
“Eyrin?” he questioned hesitantly as he stood and took a step toward her. “Please, let me…”
When he advanced she moved back, and the flames suddenly cast light upon her face. Ian lost his voice even as he remembered the Master’s admonition not to stare. Yet how could he not stare? Eyrin’s once lovely face was now marred on its left side by four long wounds that descended from her eyebrow to her jaw, and continued, it seemed, on her shoulder if he was to believe the hint of flesh he could see above her tunic. Her left eye was gone; the right one was tearing up.
“Go,” she asked no louder than a whisper. “Go, Ian.”