She was closer than ever before. An icy breeze indicated she was almost free. Fresh air: something she had been denied all her life. She continued inching her body down the narrow tunnel. Her pale skin was stained with dirt and blood as she scraped against the cold stone walls. The pain is worth the prize, she reminded herself. There was a sudden rumbling of footsteps above her. She froze as dust and pebbles rained down on her. The guards were coming.
Did they realize she was missing? Their last walk-through was hours ago, and they never checked cells this late. A chill ran over her as she thought about Victoria. What would they do to her when they found her alone in their cell? She shook the thought from her mind and kept moving. Moonlight flooded into the small opening ahead of her. With one last pull, she reached the opening. The wind howled as rain poured down from the dark clouds above her. She strained to find a safe route to the ground. A sharp stone cut into her shoulder as she worked her way out of the tunnel. She clenched her jaw as the jagged stone slid across her flesh. With any luck, the storm would cover the scent of her blood. There was no turning back now.
She hoisted herself up to a narrow ledge and pulled her legs out. She scaled down the stone wall until the sirens went off. The blaring alarms startled her and she lost her footing: She was falling. She clawed at the sky above, too horrified to scream. After all she had endured, she was about to die. The fall seemed endless, and she accepted her fate. She would finally be reunited with her parents. If she died, at least it wouldn’t be at the hands of monsters. The only thought that broke her heart was not keeping her promise to Victoria.
Forgive me, she thought as she closed her eyes, and waited for peace.
But there would never be peace.
The cold, unyielding raindrops splashed against her face. She opened her eyes and realized she was lying on the ground. There were two hazy figures hovering over her body. As her mind settled into consciousness, their silhouettes came into focus. She gazed up into the red eyes of two large men. The guards had found her. She had survived the fall, great. She tried to wipe the rain from her face, but her arm didn't move. No matter how hard she tried, nothing below her neck would move. She was paralyzed. As her other senses returned to her, she noticed the sirens were silenced. Now she could hear the two guards speaking to each other as they stared down at her.
"It's amazing how fragile they are, isn't it? Sad, really, how easily they're damaged."
"And for what? Did it really believe it could survive outside these walls? They should be thankful we allow them to live. This one isn't even old enough to remember how things used to be."
The first guard seemed more intrigued than disgusted by her broken body "That’s true. They're lucky the King doesn't let us bleed them dry and toss them aside."
"Oh, no, now everything is about preservation and pumping them with potions. Why are we not scraping this thing off the ground and calling it a day? Look at it, it’s practically dead anyway," said the second guard, nudging her shoulder with his boot.
"We have to wait for the med team to come in," his partner replied.
"Don't tell me they're going to actually save this thing," the second guard said as he crouched down. He held her chin and examined her, shaking his head with a sneer. "The damned thing ought to be put out of its misery, especially after all the damage it did to the building." She gazed back into his sadistic eyes.
"Boss said supplies are scarce. We have to keep each one as long as possible. Let's just wait for the med team, all right?" He motioned for his partner to stand up.
"Pity. If not, I'd slaughter it myself. Maybe I should, huh? Damned thing looks like it's already rotting."
With every bit of strength she had, she spat in the guard's face. He pulled back, repulsed, and wiped at his cheek. Within seconds, he was prepared to pounce on her. His partner pulled him back.
"Hey! Calm down, it has to be alive when the team gets here!"
She watched as he fought his partner's hold. She had never seen them in attack mode before. It terrified her.
The angry guard growled like a wild animal as he struggled to break away from his partner. Perhaps they were right. How did she expect to survive out here?
As suddenly as the fight began, it ended. More guards arrived and pulled their violent partner away. What would they do with him?
The rain slowed down as the med team arrived to evaluate her body. She wasn't "rotting" after all, and they decided to save her. A female doctor with a sweet voice injected a blue liquid into her arm. The liquid coursed through her veins and she winced. Every inch of her felt like it was on fire. Tears rolled down the side of her cheeks and she cried out. Dislocated joints jerked back into place. Broken bones were set and mended. It felt like her body was being ripped apart, but it was actually piecing itself back together. Her body spasmed as the elixir worked its magic. After a few agonizing minutes, she was healed. Nothing but scars and dried blood remained. The doctor took her hand and helped her to her feet.
"The potion seems to have done the trick. There might be some nausea or dizziness for a few days, but it's a small price to pay. I will tell your caretakers of your current condition, but you should be back to normal quickly. Nod if you understand, dear."
She dared not look the woman in the eye and nodded. She was going back. Death would provide her no escape. She stared at the muddy ground as the woman gave her a reassuring pat on the back. She must have thought being alive was a good thing.
"The guards will escort you back to your room. Please do try to stay out of trouble. I can see in your record that this is your second attempt to escape. One more and you will be–Well, you know the rules." She sighed. "Good luck."
A guard tied her hands behind her back with some rope and escorted her back into the building. They walked up the endless flight of steps, and when they finally reached her floor, a large figure sped towards them and snatched her. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself lifted off her feet and being dragged down the hallway. It was the guard that tried to attack her outside. The other guard began to follow after him, but gave up and returned to his post. She wasn't worth the trouble. She kicked and screamed but he didn't let her go. He's going to get his revenge after all, she thought, fighting to free her hands.
"What's one body, right? You're going to pay for what you did, you little bi—"
He dropped her, and when she fell, she saw his body land beside her. And then his head. Her eyes widened. She sat up backing away from the body and screaming. A smooth, deep voice chuckling behind her silenced her screams. She turned her head and saw a strapping figure standing behind her. She first noticed his fine leather shoes, nothing like the guards’ boots. He wore an all-black suit that complimented his dark, wavy hair and neatly-trimmed beard. Her heart skipped when their eyes finally met. His crimson eyes seemed to glow in the dim torch lights that lined the corridors. He frightened her at first, but she was frozen, unable to react. Should she run? Should she fight?
"Please do not be frightened, my dear, I mean you no harm," he said, offering her his hand.
His tone was kind and his smile was inviting. He was definitely not a guard. She lifted her elbows to show him her hands, still tied behind her back. He dropped to his knee and wrapped his arms around her to untie her bonds. His scent was intoxicating, but as he took her hands and she felt his icy touch, she remembered that he wasn't human. He was no better than the guard lying on the ground.
"Thank you, sir," she said. He seemed to be amused by her behavior.
"You are very welcome. He was a disgrace to my guards. He had to go. I apologize for how he treated you. It was unacceptable."
She nodded in confusion. He wasn't like the others, but she knew better than to trust him. He put his arm around her shoulders and walked her back to her cell. As they turned to her corridor, the guards snapped to attention.
"My Lord! We beg your forgiveness! We tri- "
He held up his hand, and their pleading stopped.
"You are all going to be reassigned tomorrow. Now get out of my sight. And don't forget to clean up your friend on the way out."
The guards bolted out and his grim expression melted away as he turned his attention back to her.
"I must say, when I heard of your escape I was very impressed. The fact that you managed to get outside these walls and past so many guards is quite extraordinary."
"I don’t see what's so impressive. I was caught," she replied.
He smiled to himself as they continued down the hall. "Still. Not bad for a thirteen-year-old girl. I, for one, couldn't be happier you were caught. If you weren't, I never would have met you."
She felt her face grow hot as she blushed. They reached her cell, where Victoria was in a deep sleep and unaware of their presence. He took her hand in his and her heart raced. She blushed again, realizing he knew how fast her heart was beating. His grin confirmed her embarrassment. She lowered her head and he lifted her chin.
"Please don't hide. In all my years, I have never seen eyes as green as yours. They are truly breathtaking." He gazed at her, as if he was taking in her beauty. "Perhaps we will meet again someday."
He kissed her hand and opened her cell.
"It was very nice to meet you, Miss…"
"Lilitu," she replied as she entered her cell. She turned around and curiosity overtook her instincts. "And who are you?"
It was a bold move, but from what she had observed, he liked that. It was strange to seek the approval of a monster, but she couldn't help herself. Her savior locked the cell door and smiled, revealing his elongated canines.
"I am Strigoi, King of the Vampires."