AN: Back by popular demand! Childe remastered... again. To everyone who bought a copy of the original while it was on Amazon Kindle, I can't thank you enough for supporting my work. Rest assured Childe parts one and the unpublished two will be listed here so please follow along here or on Facebook for updates.


CHILDE: PART ONE

A ZENROS STORY

FELIX MARLOWE-CAIN

ONE

A mystery odour was almost as sickening as the jolting motions of the train racing along its tracks. Cold, metallic grey defaced with sprayed tags. Adverts years out of date peeled from the carriage wall. Beyond the grimy window lay nothing but darkness, broken only by the occasional flash of lightning against a midnight sky.

'Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.' The prayer was silent in my mind. I clutched my rosary, the small wooden cross biting into my palm. My fingers twisted the beads one by one. 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' The words once warm and familiar gave little relief to the overwhelming fear that washed through my gut.

Four rowdy men sat at the other end of the carriage. Praises littered with profanity were sung for their favourite team. They lifted their bottles, cheered, shouted, and bantered with each other.

I stayed quiet, huddled in my corner, hidden from view behind other empty seats. I wasn't sure they even knew I was there; I was so small, even for a sixteen-year-old. But I was grateful for that.

'Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.' I bit my lip. My grip on the beads tightened as the men's cursing grew louder.

They frightened me. Maybe they were friendly. Maybe they were all gentlemen. But maybe they weren't.

I tore frightened eyes away, fixating instead on the window. My reflection caught in the insipid light of the carriage, painting it against the endless blackness outside.

"Merde!" I pulled my hood further over my head. My fingers ducked beneath the fabric and combed through my short, black hair. I tried to rearrange some of the longer locks to hide the purpling bruise around my left, mud-coloured eye. I was a mess. My skin was pale, my face thin. My hair hadn't been brushed, and the dark circles around my eyes couldn't be entirely blamed on bruises. I sighed and let my hands fall, giving up on the fruitless attempt to make myself any more presentable.

The train began to slow. Watching through the window, I could make out a few specks of light: the tell-tale signs of civilisation and edge of a new town. A commanding voice echoed over the speakers: "Ladies and gentlemen, this train is now arriving at Torsk. Change here for the South East service to London Liverpool Street." I reached down with my free hand and picked up my rucksack from under the seat.

'Lead us not into temptation… but deliver us from evil…'

The train slowed to a stop. I cast a final fearful glance towards the men on the other side of the carriage, then jumped up and darted to the exit. I felt their eyes on me as I pulled the chewed sleeve of my black jacket away from my small fingers to press the exit button.

I stepped out onto the wet platform. Wind whipped against my face and blew my hood down. With the guard's whistle, the doors shut behind me. The train chugged away.

I dipped my hand into my jeans pocket but didn't yet dare to let go of the beads. "Amen," I whispered into the rain.

It was a tiny, unmanned station. A walkway arched over the single set of tracks to the opposite platform. An old, red brick building stood, boarded up and gutted. Graffiti marred its hollow shell. Many of the streetlamps were out, and the departures board was lifeless.

I finally left the beads in my pocket so that I could wrap my arms around myself, trying to shield against the violence of the storm. I traipsed over to a metal bench that stank of things I didn't want to think about and took a seat as my teeth chattered. It was just an hour, then the train to London would take me on and away from this place. I'd find my new life there, I promised myself. I could do this. I needed to do this.

Doubts were already poisoning my courage. I glanced to the opposite platform. My fear demanded that I cross over and take the first train back. But the very thought sparked a stronger surge of panic. My heart beat wildly against my ribs. No. The horror of what lay behind outweighed the uncertainty that was ahead. Whatever my new life would be, it would be better.

I had to be strong. I could be strong!

I shut my eyes against the solitary darkness and envisioned it. It'd be coming close to dawn by the time I arrived in London. The sun would peep over the horizon, gleaming on the glass of skyscrapers and dancing off monuments. I'd see it all: The Houses of Parliament, The Thames, Piccadilly Circus, and the West End. I wanted to go on the London Eye and be carried high above the city, just to see it all laid out beneath my feet. I would meet people… good people. I'd have friends, a life… I would be able to dance, to make the most of my God-given talent without fear.

Heavy footsteps against wet stone shattered my fantasy. I jerked my head up. Cold anxiety rushed back. My heart thundered once more. A man had come onto the platform. Average in height with a bulky, strong build: as much fat as muscle. He wore a faded T-shirt, greying jeans, and heavy-looking black boots. A flash of lightning illuminated him as he turned towards me. Soggy, dark hair, salted with strands of silver, hung limp either side of his round face. He had a deep scar on the right side of his forehead, with another crossing over his wide chin. Small, grey eyes fixed on me with a wild insanity that gave me fresh cause to shudder.

He gazed at me for a long moment. I reached back into my jeans pocket to grip my rosary. The comfort of the Lord's Prayer repeated in my head. I tore my eyes away from the man and stared instead at the rippling puddles beneath my feet.

I felt him approach. The stench of beer and something foul invaded my space. He sat beside me on the bench, his gaze still fixed. I inched away, the anxiety fast turning to terror. Oh God, please let him leave me alone!

"What you doin' at the train station?" he asked abruptly, his voice deep and rough. "I been lookin' all over for you."

I looked up at him nervously, half-wondering if I should just move away, but the word fell from my lips instinctively. "Sorry?"

He glared at me for another long second. His brow furrowed in obvious frustration. He pointed a thick finger at me. "I keep tellin' y' not to go wanderin' off!" He gestured to my rucksack. "Pick up y' shit, Amber. We gotta get home."

"I'm not… I think you have me confused with someone else, sir." My voice wavered. "I don't know anyone called 'Amber'."

The man let out a low grumble and pushed himself to his feet. "This again?" He reached for me. His large hand wrapped around my arm.

My heart leapt, and I screamed. I tried to wrench my limb away from him, but his grip was too powerful. "Let me go. Get off me!"

"I'm sick of your shit, Amber!" His foul breath on my face turned my stomach. "We're goin' home!"

Sweet God, save me! My heart had never raced so hard. Panic and adrenaline rushed through me. I kicked, shrieked, scratched at his hand, his arm, his face. I yanked against his hold so hard that I strained all the muscles in my shoulder. He pulled me back like I was nothing. "Let me go! I'm not Amber! I'm not…"

But my protests fell on deaf ears. He was stronger and much bigger than me. My frantic efforts to escape seemed pathetic against the bulk of him. He snatched up my rucksack from the ground and threw it over his shoulder as he began to yank me along the platform towards the station exit.

"No!" I squealed. "I'm not going with you. I'm not!" In a last desperate attempt, I twisted in his grasp and sunk my teeth deep into the fleshy arm that held me. I poured all of my strength and fear into it, breaking the skin and making the man howl out in shocked pain.

"Fuckin' bitch!" He grabbed my hair and yanked me away from his arm. Then he struck. I yelped. A bruising pain blossomed against my head. I staggered back, realising in that split second that in his anger he'd let go of me. I half turned, meaning to run, but his fist caught the back of my head in a second strike. I felt the thud and pain before my eyes rolled back and I fell forwards. The world blurred and darkened as consciousness betrayed me.

xXx

"This is what, the fourth time now?" A gruff voice that grated against my ears.

"Fifth." Something lighter. Sweeter.

"Fuck." The voice echoed a little. Tile? Heavy, pacing footsteps made the floor creak. "He's run out of chances."

"But—"

"—Don't argue with me. I can't keep covering for him."

I was laying on something cold and hard. There was a musty smell, and a dripping sound. Water from a tap?

"Alright, alright." the sweeter voice conceded. "Better do it quick before he catches on."

I could feel their presence. People standing too close and… something else. A pressure in the air around them. A crushing sensation that almost overwhelmed me. Then, something sharp was balanced against my chest. A little bite just ready to slide between my ribs and into my heart.

My eyes snapped open as I realised what I was feeling. A knife!

With a scream and a jerk, I knocked the broad hand holding it. He was so shocked that he dropped the weapon. It clattered, falling into the bathtub next to me. Acting on pure instinct, I snatched it up and slashed at the hands closing in about me.

"Whoa!" A woman had been leaning on the edge of the tub. A dark beauty. Like Snow White stepped out of her fairy tale. Thick black hair, pale skin, ruby lips. I noticed the strange glow of her amethyst eyes and the plunging neckline of her short velvet dress. She jumped back, standing upright and out of the way.

The man was much taller than her, and broad with tight muscle. His dark hair dipped into fierce golden eyes. A low growl emanated from his chest as he lunged for me, making an attempt to snatch his knife back.

I jerked it away just in time. My foot came up of its own accord and slammed into the side of the man's head. He yelped, his face snapping to one side. "Grab her legs!" He ordered the woman.

But she didn't get a chance to act. The door of the small bathroom crashed open. The man from the train station filled the remaining space with his bulk. "Whatcha' doin' to 'er?" He bellowed. "Get off. Don' touch 'er!" He grabbed the back of the woman's neck and yanked her away. Her shriek distracted the man, made him look around so that for a split second, he wasn't trying to murder me.

I took that second and I made it mine. Without thinking I turned the knife on my attacker. Jabbing as hard as I could I managed to sink the blade into his shoulder. I even managed to pull it free and keep it tight in my grip. While the man howled in shocked pain, I grabbed the edge of the tub and heaved myself out and onto the grimy floor. I landed in a pile of unwashed towels, my nose wrinkling in disgust as the overly vile smell almost choked me.

"That's enough! Derek, you had your chances—" The man grabbed the back of my coat and yanked me up and onto my feet. "I'm executing you both."

"No!" To my confusion, the woman he'd been holding had vanished. There was simply no trace of her. But that left 'Derek' free to charge at the man that held me. I was dropped in favour of putting his guard up against the attack. I saw a tiny opening and I took it.

Ducking low, I was able to pass between the two of them before Derek knocked the man into the blood-stained bathtub. I dashed out of the bathroom and found myself in a filthy bedroom. I glanced for the door and, finding it already open, threw myself into a tiny hallway and down a flight of narrow, uncarpeted stairs.

"Mike! She's getting away!" The woman had reappeared behind me. She snatched for my coat but I'd already flung open the front door and rushed out into the night.

I ran. I ran harder and faster than I had ever run in my life. I recognised nothing as it whirled past me. I was so confused. So disorientated. I kept running, feeling that crushing presence as though it were snapping at my heels.

I came to a circular underpass and tripped on a raised paving slab. I'd been moving so fast that I skidded along the pavement, tearing my knees and hands. I scrambled up and glanced behind myself for the first time.

Nothing. Just road, rain and lightning. God… I was soaked. I looked down at myself and shrieked in horror. Blood. I was covered in dried blood! I scrubbed at myself, trying to let the rain wash me clean, but there was so much of it! Tears streamed down my face. I wiped them with the back of my hand only to find more blood staining my skin. What the hell was happening to me? What the hell was going on? "Jesus Christ have mercy!" I sobbed. Adrenaline was making my blood rush and my skin buzz. I was more terrified than I'd ever been in my life… and yet I felt no thudding in my chest. No wild heartbeat. No panting of breath. No needing to catch myself. I shook my head and backed into the underpass.

"Get out!" The harsh voice snapped somewhere behind me.

I turned in shock, raising my stolen knife out in front of me. "Who's there?"

"I said 'get out'!" The air suddenly grew hot. All the lights went out. That pressurised presence I'd felt before was back, only this time it was greater… so great and terrifying that I struggled to find words! I couldn't see anyone. I couldn't see anything! I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. Slowly the underpass appeared, the white tile oddly stark. I frowned, confused as everything appeared as it had been moments before but in perfect black and white. I still couldn't see a person though. The underpass was empty.

"Please…" I whimpered. "Oh God, please." I took tentative steps down the path, further into the underpass, my eyes peeled. There was nowhere for anyone to hide. It was just an underpass. I sniffed back another sob and let my hands fall. I was losing my mind. The fear was making me hallucinate.

I backed against the wall and slid down to sit on the wet pavement. Drawing my knees up to my chest, I wrapped my arms around them and buried my face. "God, please help me."

There was a long moment of silence. Only the sound of rain beating onto the pavement outside and the occasional roll of thunder. Then, footsteps on stone. I looked up, startled.

The shadows seemed to gather, creeping over walls and floor then rising suddenly to take the form of a man; a man who then stepped out of the darkness and into my reality. I gaped stupidly, mouth falling open.

He was extremely tall and somewhat thin, with a halo of unkempt blonde hair, the longest strands brushing around his neck. Intense eyes of electric blue gazed down at me from behind copious amounts of eyeliner. He wore a long black coat, an emerald green shirt and leather trousers. There was a great presence to him; dark and melancholy… and something distinctly dangerous.

"Relax," he sounded resigned. "I won't hurt you."

I shied away from him and clutched the knife tightly. I was terrified, both of his aura and of his impossible appearance from nothing.

He cocked his head to one side. His blue eyes lingered on the knife in my hand for a moment before finding my face and staring at me with unnerving intensity. Then, suddenly, he was shaking his head and coming towards me. "Tsk. Look at this mess."

"Stay back!" I raised the knife at him.

He scoffed, ignoring my threat, and swept down onto one knee in front of me. He smelled of cologne and smoke. "I'm not going to hurt you," he repeated.

At that moment, the lights in the underpass flickered back on. I winced, squinting in the sudden brightness. Before I could get my vision back, the man had taken my wrist and prized the knife away from me. He set the blade down on the pavement and, taking my other wrist in his other hand, he turned them over to inspect the heavy grazing on my palms. His fingers were strangely long and bony, his grip strong. He wore a multitude of gothic rings, the metal chilly against my fingers. I tried to pull away, but it was no use… he had me at his mercy.

His thumbs swept over the cuts. There was a flash of bright emerald light. I yelped in shock and tried to pull free again, but he held onto me. The light rushed to the grazes on my hands and sunk deep into my flesh. I watched, stunned to silence as the dead flesh flaked away and the cuts knitted closed right in front of my eyes. I glanced to my knees and found that they too had been healed instantly.

He looked up with a small half smile. "There." He took both of my hands and squeezed them. "Would you like me to kiss it better too?" The intensity of his gaze made my stomach knot. I pulled my hands away from him and hid them behind my back.

He chuckled. His amusement crossed into his eyes, interrupting the sorrow that hung around him.

My stomach twisted into another, tighter knot, and I felt heat in my face. Was I… blushing? I swallowed hard. His features were very sharp and pointed. His eyes seemed almost too round. He had several earrings in his ears, and I noticed a chain peeking out from under his shirt.

I drew in a deep steadying breath and swallowed down as much of my terror as I could. He didn't seem to want to hurt me, no matter how dangerous he felt. "What are you?" I managed to squeak.

His eyes flicked up to my face. He stared at me a long moment, then looked away. "I'm a vampire…"

I shook my head wildly. "No, I mean really."

"I'm a vampire," He repeated. "Just like you." Again, his eyes flicked up to my face, staring at me, his gaze unnerving.

"I'm not—"

"No heartbeat. No body temperature. No need for breath other than to talk. And…" he let go of one of my hands to reach up and swipe gently over my eyes with his thumb. Pulling away he showed me the crimson dripping from his skin. "…You're crying blood. Trust me, I know a vampire when I see one."

I shook my head again, refusing to believe what he was telling me. There was a rational explanation, there had to be!

"Look, Sweetheart, it's going to be a hell of a lot easier if you just believe 'it's all real', okay?" He let go of me and balanced his arm on his knee. "Everything you thought was a myth, every fairy-tale and folk-lore, all real."

I was still shaking my head, but my stomach had dropped. Terror and hysterics crept back in until I was sobbing uncontrollably. "No… No this doesn't happen to good girls! I was good. I was good!"

The man rolled his eyes. "Let me guess… you're one of those religious types? Church every Sunday. Read the bible. Vows of abstinence and all that shit?"

My hand had already gone into my pocket to bring out my rosary and clutch to it.

He scoffed. "The little Catholic vampire, damn! You're in for a wild ride."

"I don't understand."

"Well…" He shifted, turning to sit beside me, his back against the wall. "Your kind tend to be rigid thinkers. Less open minded. Makes believing this bombshell that much harder. That's assuming you were a one-hit wonder not a dependant…?"

"I'm a what?"

He nodded as if confirming something to himself. "You were turned overnight. You didn't spend any time with your sire as his or her dependant. That's a mortal they share blood with."

"No. I was at the train station and some guy comes up to me, calls me 'Amber', and knocks me unconscious!" I paused, trying to wipe away my tears but only succeeding in making a bloody mess on my hands.

"'Amber', huh? I like that."

"Next thing I know I'm waking up in a filthy bathtub with some guy trying to knife me!" I nudged the offending blade with my foot.

The man gazed at it for a long moment, then looked to me again. "And you fought him off? That's pretty impressive."

"I didn't fight. I just… ran."

"That you escaped is impressive," he clarified. "You must be tough."

I huddled up again, sniffing back sobs. "I'm not tough."

"You'd have to be, especially if you were a one-hit wonder. It's rare to survive that."

He was wrong. Even if I accepted for one mad moment that vampires were real, I certainly wasn't tough or special in any way. It was an accident. Pure unfortunate chance. But I got the surest feeling arguing with him would be pointless.

"I'm Nick, by the way." He offered me his hand. I shook it to be polite and felt again the strong grip of his skeletal hands. My stomach fluttered wildly. It was an anxiety of an entirely new kind. One I had no idea what to do with. "I was recently turned too."

"Oh. Were you a 'one-hit wonder'?"

"Yeah. Unlike you though, I wasn't human in my previous life, so I had a better chance."

"You weren't human?"

"No, I was a sorcerer."

I supposed, if it was real, that explained the healing touch and the appearing out of nothing. I reached up and tucked hair out of my face. Real… it was all real. Oh, God! I felt my world expand under my feet as a thousand different possibilities became frighteningly real.

Plucking up my courage, I cleared my throat and asked in little more than a squeak, "What else is there?"

"There are eight Zenronian races," he told me matter of fact. "'Zenronian' is our word for non-human. There's Vampires, Werewolves, Sorcerers, Seers, Warriors, Elves, Demons and Angels."

"Angels?" I looked up, latching onto the name with hope.

"Sure. There aren't many of them left anymore, especially in this realm. The elves and angels took the biggest hit during the war."

"But…they're real?"

Nick gazed at me for a long moment. His piercing eyes seemed to read a multitude of things from my expression and tone. He smirked as he apparently cottoned on to what I was thinking and feeling. "You're looking for salvation." He shook his head. "Let me save you some trouble. There is no cure for vampirism unless you want to die…"

"I don't want to die!" I surprised myself with my own assertion. I hadn't thought of suicide outright. I certainly would never say it aloud, but with all the fear and despair I'd felt tonight… No. Wait. Before that. Long before that…

There was a moment of heavy silence as Nick watched me come to this slow realisation. His brow furrowed. His lips turned down into the smallest of frowns. I thought perhaps he wanted to know what I was thinking. I shook my head. Those thoughts were private. Certainly not something I would ever share with a menacing stranger, however friendly he was being.

"I'm just glad to hear not everything out there is evil." It was a half-truth. Enough to satisfy him at least.

Nick smirked. "Now there's some dangerous black and white thinking." He began to rummage around in his pocket for something. "You cannot define the good and evil of a person by their religious alignment or race. That's true of any creature, human or zenronian." He pulled out a brass tobacco tin triumphantly and began to roll himself a cigarette. "Good and evil are not the same as dark and light. That goes for magic too."

"I…don't follow…"

Nick rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Okay, let's try putting it another way…" He put his cigarette between his lips and with a flick of his wrist conjured emerald fire around his fingertips! I jolted back in alarm, but Nick didn't seem to be in any pain. He lit the end of his smoke with the flames, then shook his hand until the fire went out. "Are all Christians good people?" he asked.

"Um…" The question squirmed uncomfortably in my gut. Flashes of memory threatened… I shook my head. "No. I guess not."

"What about Muslims? Traditionally they've been at war with Christianity for centuries. Are they all bad people?"

"I've never met any," I confessed. "But I suppose not."

"Zenronians are no different. Though, ideals of good and evil are certainly more extreme when magic is involved." He gestured at me. "Take vampires, for example. We are creatures of darkness. Our lives are given to us by the goddess of death… But death in itself is not inherently evil. It's part of the circle of life. The actions of vampires protect the balance." He turned his gesturing hand upon himself. "Likewise, I know of dark sorcerers who use their magic to protect and serve others. I've also known light sorcerers who use their power and radiance to manipulate and cause harm." He pushed his hand back into his pocket. "People should be judged by their actions, not by the symbols they hang around their necks or the colour of their skin."

I played with the beads still wrapped around my fingers. My brow furrowed in deep contemplation. "You're saying I can be a vampire and a good person? That I'm not damned?"

Nick was quiet for a long moment, apparently considering his answer carefully. "I'm saying good and evil is a perspective. As a vampire, you'll see and do things that as a human you would never have been part of. It's what you do with those situations that will define you as good or evil in the eyes of your fellow zenronians… even to your fellow vampires."

I frowned down at my rosary. "I don't want to be bad. I never wanted to be. I just…" My eyes drowned with fresh tears.

"Ah, cut that out," Nick grumbled, startling me with his suddenly irritable tone. He dug into his pocket again and retrieved a neatly folded handkerchief. He had very little understanding of personal space. Either that or he simply didn't care to follow the unspoken rules of social etiquette. He leaned in close to me, close enough that I could feel the warmth of him again. His scent was stronger with his cigarette. It made my head spin in a way that was unnervingly pleasant. One skeletal hand gripped my arm. With the other, he carefully wiped my eyes. "You crying does things to me, and I'm trying to have a fucking cigarette."

I gazed up at him, reminded, very suddenly of the compelling sense of danger that clung to him. I wasn't entirely sure what he meant. I was even less sure that I wanted to know, so, perhaps foolishly, I didn't ask.

He leaned his arm against the wall by my head, deciding to linger it seemed, and pushed the handkerchief back into his pocket. "So, has anyone actually told you anything about Zenros? Y'know, before trying to knife you?"

I shook my head, still sniffing back tears and trying to compose myself.

"Classy." He finally backed up and leaned against the wall behind him. "Well, I'm feeling generous, so I'll give you the official introduction if you like."

"Yes, please," I managed to squeak.

Nick smiled. "All right. Let's see… We've covered the 'it's all real' bit, and we've learned the eight races, so… good start."

"What is 'Zenros'?" I asked, trying to be helpful.

"It's the motherland of magic," he replied amiably, "another realm that has quietly existed alongside this one for thousands of years. And, contrary to popular belief, our secrecy isn't anything to do with humanity being too 'delicate' to handle us." His lips pulled into a deep frown. "It's because they're vicious, murderous little shits…" He glanced towards me. "And that's coming from me!"

That made a twisted kind of sense. I knew all too well that humans were no innocent party. I'd seen for myself how despicable some of them could act when threatened with what they considered 'unholy'. Secrecy was probably for the best, for everyone.

"Some races are more prominent than others, as I mentioned."

"Yeah, not so many angels, right?"

He nodded. "Warriors are also pretty thin on this side of the veil, as are demons, thankfully."

"What's 'The Veil'?"

"The unseen force that separates Zenros from the Earth-Realm. It was put there by Carnen, king of gods." He jabbed his thumb towards the stormy skies. "He's usually represented by the moon and is chiefly followed by 'light' magic users. A lot of Carnites are hostile towards vampires, though, so, watch out for that."

"They are? I thought you said 'light' and 'good' weren't the same thing…"

"I didn't say they were justified. Zenros has a lot of racial prejudice to contend with, same as humanity. That was rather my point."

"Oh…"

"There are also Pyrenians," he went on. "They follow Pyrenus, king of darkness, usually represented by the bat… in this realm at least. He's Carnen's biggest rival for the throne." Nick smirked. "The two of them have been bickering over it since the dawn of civilisation."

"Do Pyrenians hate vampires too?"

Nick shook his head. "On the contrary. If vampires follow religion, they're usually Pyrenian, stereotypically speaking of course. I've met one or two that are actually Carnite…" He glanced towards me again. "I've never met any that kept their human faith."

I looked at my feet and pushed my rosary deep into my pocket. "So, I'll be the first…"

"Stubborn, aren't you?" He flashed a charming smile, baring just a hint of his sharp teeth. "I like that."

Heat rose to my cheeks. Was he…flirting? I couldn't be sure. Worse, I had no idea how I was supposed to respond.

"Any other questions?" he asked, sparing me further embarrassment.

"N…No. Not off the top of my head." I had to admit, I was impressed by how well and clearly Nick could explain things to me. I clung to every word, desperately trying to remember it all.

"Mm, well, I'm pretty sure that covers all the basics."

There was a second of comfortable silence, only the sound of the wind and rain interrupting. Nick was…unexpectedly nice. I was glad for his little introduction. Knowing something of what I was up against, what I might be faced with, helped to negate some of the overwhelming terror that had plagued me since waking in that bathtub. There was still so much I didn't know, but it was a solid start.

I snuck a glance up at Nick's handsome face, taking small pleasure in just the sight of him. It was an odd thing to be able to do. I'd never experienced anything like it before. I was glad to have met him, ominous though he seemed to be. I wondered, for half a second, if our paths would cross again. I hoped they would.

"How old are you?" He asked, inhaling the last breath of smoke from his cigarette.

"Sixteen," I confessed.

He gave a short nod. "And what was a sixteen-year-old girl doing on her own at Torsk train station?"

"Trying to get to London."

He stubbed the end of his cigarette out on the pavement between us. "I figured that. I meant why? Why take a route through Torsk of all places. Aren't they all late night trains?"

I shrugged at the pavement. "I was running away. I didn't exactly get first choice of routes or times."

"Why were you running away?" He pressed.

It made me uncomfortable, all these questions about who I was and where I came from. I tried to be cryptic. "Why does any sixteen-year-old run away?"

Nick shrugged. "There's always some story. Something like: you're a lesbian, and your family won't accept you; or you have a drunk arsehole of a Dad that won't keep his hands to himself-" He cut off when I flinched, his words lashing against me. Nick nodded once and looked away again. "Right."

Silence fell between us, though it was considerably less comfortable now. My fingers twitched and squirmed together as I stewed in dark memories.

"Look on the bright side," Nick said suddenly. "It's not exactly a problem now."

I looked up at him sharply and found him smiling at me. He made a valid point, one I hadn't considered for myself. I'd begged for freedom, hadn't I? I'd pleaded for the strength to get away. My prayers had certainly been answered in that sense. Still, I couldn't imagine it being in God's plan for me to become a vampire… if indeed that's what had happened to me.

"What about you?" I asked, distracting myself from the uncomfortable thoughts. "How did you end up vampire?"

Nick's smile dropped into a frown. He turned back to the storm, but not before I saw all the dangerous anger and melancholy return to his eyes. "I was dying."

Awkwardness bit at my stomach. "Oh… sorry."

"I got better… sort of." He glanced at me sideways. "Your sire is looking for you. I can sense him coming."

I glanced out from the underpass towards the road terror hitting me like a freight train. "He…is? How can you tell?"

"I can sense him," Nick repeated. "Can't you?" He gestured out at the rain. "Stretch out beyond what you can see. Look for what you feel. There's a power approaching, and it feels like yours."

I tried to do as he instructed. I even closed my eyes so I wouldn't be distracted by what I could see. Sure enough, I could feel that sense of growing pressure… and it was drawing closer. I snatched up the knife and scrambled to my feet. "He's going to kill me!"

"Your sire can't actually kill you." Nick stretched out his arms, then got up lazily. "Your problem is the Baron and his bitch. But seriously, don't worry about it. They're not going to kill you either."

"They already tried once!"

"Trust me on this one. They won't kill you."

I had no reason to trust him. How could he possibly know? Unless… he planned on defending me?

"Can I go with you?" The insane idea rushed out before I could give it a second thought. The darkness around him that had previously given me pause now felt warm, comfortable, and even safe when compared to what I might face. "Please? I don't want to die!"

Nick looked nothing short of astonished; his striking blue eyes widened, and his brow leapt into an arch. I could see something wrestling in his gaze, and for half a second, hope blossomed in my chest. Was he really considering it? I turned in his grasp and reached up desperately for his shoulders. "Please. I'll do anything. Just don't let them hurt me."

His brow tumbled into a deep crease. All the darkness of his presence trespassed into his gaze. My heart lurched. I could have sworn on the Holy Trinity that I watched his emerald fire consume the blue of his eyes. "Sweetheart, you have no idea what you're asking for."

The warmth that had been so comforting suddenly turned hot. The darkness that I'd come to accept as part of him thickened until I felt I could choke on it. In a split second, Nick was no longer the strange, amiable question-answerer, but instead was the dark, terrifying thing I had glimpsed before.

With a yelp, I shoved myself away from him and stumbled back towards the storm.

Nick watched my shock for a moment then inclined his head. "That's better." He pushed himself straight and towered over me. "Look, you can't be without your sire. The blood bond won't allow it, and switching sires is a dangerous business. Trust me. It's not worth it." He shook out his shoulders and stretched his neck. In another moment, the choking darkness had retreated back, his eyes definitely blue again. "Besides," he went on, flashing an unnerving smile, "however crazy you think he is…" He gestured towards the storm, "I can promise you; I'm much worse."

After what I'd just seen and felt, it was hard to argue. Still, my fingers twisted together as I hesitated. "You haven't tried to kill me. And you're coherent. You make sense."

His laughter was cold and malicious. "I make sense? Sweet Gods! What kind of hell must you have walked through for me to seem the better option?"

I bit my lower lip. My stomach was doing little backflips. I could hear shouting roaring over the thunder and rain.

I turned, facing down the mouth of the underpass, the blade gripped in my bloody hand. I thought about running again, but I had no idea where to go. I didn't even know where I was. "What do I do?" Tears were streaming down my face again. I turned, expecting to see Nick… But he was gone. There was no trace of him. No proof he'd ever been there in the first place!

"There you are!"

I turned again and saw the man, the one who had tried to kill me. He was soaked, rain dripping from his hair onto his face. This time, there was no knife in his hand. Instead, he raised a sleek black handgun and aimed it at my head.

"No!" I screamed. "Please, please don't do this!"

He clicked the safety off, his trigger finger twitching.

The gun went off. I flinched, my eyes screwing closed as I expected pain. But there was nothing. Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw the woman in the velvet dress holding the man's arm. She'd jerked his aim just enough that the bullet missed.

I felt a rush of adrenaline as I realised, I'd just escaped death for the second time that night.

"What the fuck are you doing?" The man jerked his arm out of her hands.

"You can't kill this one."

"The hell I can't!"

"Trust me, Mike. You need her alive." She gazed at him intently, willing him to understand some unspoken message. She glanced at me for a moment, a frown on her face. "She's made a new friend."

"What are you-?" Mike looked at me, then realisation seemed to dawn on him. He rolled his eyes, turned away and roared into the storm. "Fuck!"

"Amber!" Derek – the man from the station – had caught up with them. He ran over to me, grabbing my shoulder and thrusting me behind him so hard that I lost my footing and fell to the pavement. He squared his shoulders, puffed out his chest and tried to stand off against Mike. "You can't kill 'er! She's mine, I made 'er."

"Yes, Derek, that's rather the problem." The woman rolled her eyes. "But it looks like it's your lucky night. We need her alive and she needs her sire."

Mike jabbed a finger on Derek's chest and towered over him. "If you or she put one toe out of line, I swear to gods, I'll kill you both!" He glared at me over Derek's shoulder. "Friends or no friends." He shook his head, then turned and stormed back the way he had come. "Lizzy!"

The woman glanced after him, pursing her lips. She hesitated a moment, then offered me her hand. "You're one lucky girl."

With trembling fingers, I took her offered hand and climbed back onto my feet.

"Don't mind Mike, I'll take care of him. Derek…" She glanced up at the beefy man. "You bring her to the Nest House in a couple of nights. Get her registered officially. Y'know, after Mike's had a chance to cool off."

"Yeah…" Derek nodded. "Yeah, I will."

Lizzy half turned, pausing to give me one final look of appraisal. "Good luck. You're going to need it."