When Daelynne was a young girl, she’d dreamed of glorious battles and amazing feats of prowess. Though clad in the fine gowns of a royal handmaiden, she’d raced through castle halls and along stone parapets reenacting the wildest tales of daring the court bards dared tell in her presence. If the guards allowed that sort of behavior at all, it was only because the princess was there with her, and was often the one leading the charge.
Alari, then a princess, now a Queen. Then so close, now so distant. The rain wracked alley in Nath wasn’t far from the royal castle when the miles were measured by a bird on the wing. From where Daelynne stood though, a gap wider than the Uncrossable Ocean cut her off from the life she’d once known.
That was her own fault, the product of her own failings. She knew it to be true but she still missed the dreams she once had.
In their place, the years had shown her only cold, unforgiving reality. The battle against the watchmen who interrupted her drinking held no glory or amazing feats. They were six poorly armed, if violent, men and she was a Pact Warrior. The outcome of the battle was no more in doubt than if she had sparred against particularly fragile training dummys.
“There’s no need to slay them if you’ve come for me,” the vampire said. He struggled to push himself into a seating position and orient his gaze on Daelynne but he wasn’t able to keep his head from swaying irregularly.
“They’re not dead,” Daelynne said. “Dead’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
She reached down to the nearest watchman and cut his purse away from his belt. It was lighter than she hoped but there was still a good handful of coins inside.
“My apologies,” the vampire said. “I thought you were with the Dawn March. I’m afraid I don’t have any coins on me. I would guess that everyone tells you that though.”
“I am with the Dawn March,” Daelynne said. “And this isn’t a mugging.”
Or at least she wasn’t planning to take the vampire’s money. She needed him to play the part of “the innocent victim” that she was defending.
“Why are you here?” the vampire asked. His head was wobbling less but from his expression that was through a sheer act of will.
“They skipped out on paying their bar tab,” Daelynne said. “Can’t have the watch cheating the locals. That would be unjust.”
She collected three more purses and found their contents similarly wanting. Either the men laying sprawled at her feet were intensely bad at managing their money or they had families to support. Daelynne reflected on those options and decided there was no reason both couldn’t be true. Even in that case though, it was unlikely the coins in their purses were intended to support children or spouses. More likely was the scenario where the men would waste the coin on cheap entertainment as they’d tried to do tonight or spend the money on the chirurgeon who tended to their wounds.
The shards of Daelynne’s dream of being a great champion of justice cut into her again, for the ten thousandth time. She’d been kind, in a sense, to the watchman. None of them were dead. Just broken and bleeding. A few might recover in a week or so, but the rest would be a month or more in healing from their injuries. In theory the Nath Watch had provisions for dealing with wounded watchmen, but in reality those provisions often took the form of official reprimands for poor performance of their duties and an early termination from the force.
Even if the men themselves were terrible and they deserved such a fate, Dae wondered if the same could be said for their families. A watchman losing their position would mean more than the loss of a single week’s pay for their families. A loss like that brought with it hunger, insecurity and, from the worst individuals, violence.
It had been just for Dae to stop the men from brutalizing the vampire. It was just for her to take their wealth to pay off their debts. It was even, arguably, just for her to extract recompense for her own time and effort. All of that justice though wasn’t going to prevent more people from being hurt.
With a frown, Dae pushed the thought from her mind. She couldn’t save everyone. She’d proven that already. If tonight she could save herself, a vampire and a dwarven bartender, that would be enough. It was all she could do, so it would have to be enough.
“Am I free to leave?” the vampire asked. He watched Dae with an expression of disbelief and confusion overwhelming the pain that was etched into his features.
“Are you capable of leaving?” she asked. For as bad of a beating as she’d given the watchmen, they’d inflicted a worse one on the vampire.
“Not currently,” the vampire said and looked away from the fallen watchmen.
Dae thought back to her lessons. The ones she wasn’t, technically, supposed to have been taught. The musty aroma of the castle library came unbidden to her nostrils as she teased forth her knowledge of the creature that sat with his back pressed against the alley wall.
“You look terrible,” Dae said. “When did you eat last.”
“I don’t kill people,” the vampire said and tried to rise by bracing against the wall. His strength wasn’t up to the task though and, before he was able to rise even halfway, he collapsed back into the sitting position he started from.
“That’s obvious,” Dae said. “Here, take what you need.”
The vampire turned to find that she’d released her Pact armor and was offering her naked wrist to him.
“I can’t,” he said and turned away again.
“You’re going to have to,” she said. “You don’t want to be here when the on-duty watchman arrive.”
“I can’t feed with you,” he said.
“What’s wrong with my blood?” Dae asked, offended. Being fed on by a vampire wasn’t a thrilling prospect but she’d pledged to save at least him and Half-Cut Joe. “You need to heal. You can’t do that without taking in some life force. Or is there some crime that you’re starving yourself in penance for?”
“No crime,” the vampire said. “But feeding’s not like you think it is.”
“Yeah, if you lose control you could hurt me,” Dae said. The prospect was unpleasant but also unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
“No,” he said. “Each bloodline is different. I can’t share in your life force. I’m already pledged to another.”
Dae closed her eyes and shook her head. This was typical luck for her. Completely typical.
“Do you have a room somewhere?” she asked, trying to think of the easiest option she had for making this someone else’s problem.
“Yes,” the vampire said. “It’s not far away. I’ll be able to make it there in little bit.”
“You don’t have a little bit,” Dae said. She bent down to lift him up and had to fight not to topple over herself. The transformation to her Pact Warrior form had cleared away most of the intoxication she was affected by when she changed, but there was still a lot of alcohol in her system and it was happy to begin retoxifying her brain as soon as she left the embrace of her mystical armor.
“You can’t carry me,” the vampire said.
“Watch me,” Dae said and hoisted the tall man onto her back.
Neither of them was happy with the arrangement. For Dae, the vampire weighed a ton and was an unwieldy package that reduced her walking speed tremendously. For the vampire, Dae was a horse built of rocky muscle whose back crushed into his wounded ribs while she pulled his arms out of their sockets to keep him in place. Despite the awkward arrangement though, they did manage to get out of the alley without crushing any of the watchmen in the process.
“Why are you doing this?” the vampire asked.
Dae was silent for a long moment until thunder boomed over their head.
“The storm’s getting closer,” Dae said. “Where’s your place?”
Another rumble of thunder covered the vampire’s lack of an answer, but the splattering rain which followed was insufficient to disguise his continuing silence.
“Hey, no passing out,” Dae said and shook the vampire on her back. “And no dying either.”
The vampire chuffed out a tiny laugh.
“That’s an unusual request to make given what I am,” he said.
“I don’t really care what you are,” Dae said. “I just care that you’re breaking my back here.”
“Put me down then,” he said.
“No problem, just tell me where you’re room is.”
“First tell me why you’re doing this,” he said.
“You’re pretty demanding for a nearly dead guy,” Dae said. “Listen, if I leave you out here then my story of protecting you from the watch is going to fly to pieces. Oh, and you’ll wind up dead before this storm passes. As long as you’re alive I’ve got a witness who can support my side of the story and in this case that’s all I need to make the idiots go away.”
“So, I’m your alibi?” the vampire asked.
“Sure, we’ll go with that,” Dae said.
“I can’t testify in court,” the vampire said.
“You’re a citizen of Gallagrin aren’t you?” Dae asked. “You’ve got a bit of an Inchessian accent but it’s mild enough that you must have lived here for a while right?”
“You’re correct,” the vampire said. “I’ve lived in this country since I was a young boy.”
“Don’t suppose anyone gave you a name at some point did they?” Dae asked.
The vampire paused for a long moment before responding to that question.
“I’m noone important,” he said at last.
“That’s the wrong answer,” Dae said. “But I’m tired of standing in the rain. Tell me where your place is or I’ll bring you back to mine and tie you up in a box until I need you.”
“I have a room at the Sleeping Courtier,” the vampire said. “It’s at the next plaza down the road on our left.”
“I know where it is,” Dae said.
The next plaza was significantly farther away than either of the two remembered, thanks in part to the glacial pace the encumbered Dae set.
“You are an unusual member of the Dawn Watch to know this part of Nath so well,” the vampire said after they had traveled for a minute in silence.
“That’s me,” Dae. “Unusual.”
“What did you mean before?” the vampire asked, “About my answer being the wrong one?”
“It was stupid,” Dae said. “You can’t pass yourself as a normal guy. If the watch thugs back there didn’t drive that point home, then take a look in a mirror at some point.”
“I didn’t say I was normal,” the vampire said. “Just unimportant.”
“Right,” Dae said. “And that’s stupid. It screams that you’ve got something to hide. Regular people would just give their name. Smart people would make up a name. Try Del, or Joe. Those are fine names. Nice and generic. But no, you’ve got to be mysterious.”
“My apologies,” the vampire said. “I am confused and I think my brain is addled.”
“That’s good,” Dae said. “Much more believable. It’s not true, but it’s at least a decent lie and I appreciate that.”
“You saw the wounds I was given,” the vampire said. “The watchmen were not gentle with their blows.”
“I would hope not,” Dae said. “It was six on one, but they still needed to make sure they kept their edge on you.”
“Then why would you say I am lying?” the vampire asked.
“Because you’re following this conversation perfectly well,” Dae said. “No slurred words, no loss of focus, your responses are quick and on point. In short, even if they did mess up your brains, you’ve taken the time to fix the damage back up.”
“Can you blame me?” the vampire asked.
“Of course not,” Dae said. “But given that you fixed the trauma to your head before the rest of your body, I would guess that you’re more concerned about revealing something than being caught by the watch. And given what the watch would definitely do to you if they caught you, that tells me you’ve got a secret that you’re willing to die for.”
“Or perhaps I’m merely stupid, as you suggested,” the vampire said.
“Can never rule that out,” Dae said. “But it’s bad to count on that too. I think the most likely scenario though is that you don’t trust me, despite the fact that I saved your life.”
“They wouldn’t have killed me,” the vampire said. “They just wanted someone to vent their frustration on.”
“That might have been true if you were human,” Dae said. “But you’re not a person to them. You’re a corpse that’s still moving around.”
“But I’m not dead, that’s a misconception,” the vampire said.
“Do you think they care?” Dae asked. “You must have grown up somewhere very sheltered if you think violence like that has a limit.”
“You seem able to discern so much about me,” the vampire said. “I can’t imagine why you would need my name.”
“I don’t,” Dae said. “But I am curious why you hate the Dawn March so much?”
“But…I…” the vampire said. “I don’t hate them.”
“Really?” Dae said. “I do.”