Teo sat in the back of the armored carriage, staring through the tight, iron bars that secured the windows and wondered which of the many poor life choices he’d made were to blame for his current predicament.
Trusting in the odd Dawn March officer who’d saved his life and rented him a secure room had seemed like a reasonable choice. She couldn’t be on the Duke’s side, not if the Duke was having her followed by an assassin. She hadn’t acted like she was following the same master as the rest of the Dawn March either. Their conversations, both in the alley and at the monberry shop held the wrong tenor for that.
But she’d arrested him. It wasn’t even an arrest-in-name-only either. He’d tried to leave the monberry shop on his own and Officer Kor had produced her pact blade and marched him at swordpoint into the Dawn March barracks. There’d been paperwork and a deposition and a flurry of legal things which Teo had never even heard of. All he was certain of in the end was that the woman he’d thought could be a valuable ally had made sure to drag as many of the Dawn March through the tiny interrogation room as she could.
Over and over she’d had him repeat the basics of his story, each time allowing the Dawn March personnel to ask whatever questions they wished. Most seemed to be intrigued by his relationship with Ren, but none of them had the first inkling of how a vampire bond worked.
That wasn’t entirely surprising. Vampires didn’t tend to go out of their way to describe their feeding habits. There was no rule against speaking on the subject, but in Teo’s case, the act was so intimate that he had no desire to discuss it with strangers.
When they asked, as they inevitably did, about how much blood he drank and how his “victim” survived the feeding, he responded with the barest of facts.
When he fed, Teo drank less than a pint of blood. His partner, and he always corrected “victim” to “partner”, was tired and spent afterwards but within a day was feeling better and within a week was back to their full strength. Teo “fed” like that only once a month at most, and often went longer to ensure his partner’s safety.
That sort of routine was at odds with what people expected to hear. In their minds vampires fed constantly and were the most unrepentant of killers when they did so. Teo couldn’t deny that there were unrepentant vampiric killers but that tended to occur when you took an unrepentant mortal killer and converted them to vampirism.
For those more knowledgeable about vampires, this wasn’t that surprising. While a vampire was given greatly enhanced physical capabilities and senses, their core persona remained as it was. Those who fell into corrupt and violent behaviors were either practicing such before hand or wished to do so but were constrained by their lack of power.
Teo had an added advantage there however, his bloodline was looked on as being one of the “safe” breeds. All vampires were driven by a passion that was central to their nature. That was was what allowed them to survive the transition from mortal to undying. In Teo’s case that passion, his core hunger, was for intimacy.
The Dawn March officers joked that he was a ‘sex vampire” and not so different from any of them. In practice though, sex was only the barest, least sustaining part of what Teo hungered for. The connection he needed was one of the mind, body and spirit. It wasn’t love, or at least not the sort that people wrote pretty poems about.
When he’d been given the gift, the Blood Mother who woke him explained that what she offered was not a peaceful, harmonious blessing. There were horrible people who bore the Blood of the Bare Heart, vampires who had bonded with a mortal and then turned their backs on the rest of the Mindful Races entirely. Teo had scoffed at the idea but in the years since then he’d seen how easy it could take root. With Ren at the center of his life, it would have been easy to lose care or interest in anyone else.
Even under the current circumstances, Teo knew that it if came to choosing between Ren and kingdom, then the kingdom would burn. The sole hold that he had on his sanity was the line of thought that ran from the Duke banishing Ren to the notion that so long as Ren was away from his father’s sphere of influence then the Duke would have no reason to do his son any harm.
If that changed though? Teo knew he would do something idiotic. The best that he could hope for would be to take down some of the threats to Ren before being put down himself. It wasn’t much to hope for, but Teo knew his limitations.
He kept that particular kernel of his psyche hidden from the Dawn March. No sense letting the Duke know that he could control Teo that easily if he turned his mind to it. Not that the Duke needed a vampire on his payroll. As far as Teo knew, Duke Telli had the Nath division of the Dawn March to draw on in time of need, in addition to his own personal troops, the city guard and quite probably a contingent of the royal forces, given the favor King Halreck showed him.
With that sort of backing there was very little that could inconvenience the Duke and nothing that Teo could think of that could seriously threaten him.
Not even a vampire on a mission of vengeance.
When he was a boy, Teo couldn’t have imagined seeking vengeance on the Duke. The Telli family had been his salvation when his natural one failed him. He was never clear on the specifics, he’d been too young to know at the time, but what he’d pieced together later was that his Inchesso family had wound up on the wrong side of a vendetta. Knowing that the end was nigh, they’d shipped several of their children off to other countries as pages or clerics assistants or even pact squires.
Teo had spent months longing to return home when he first arrived at Elinspire, the resort estate for the Telli family. That changed the day the final letter arrived from Inchesso for him. It told him in clear, simple terms that his home was gone. His family had fallen before a bigger, more powerful syndicate and his title and position were no more.
There was an attempted assassination a month later, spies for the rival family managed to infiltrate the castle and were ready to put an end to an errant heir who might cause trouble a generation down the line. The attempt would have succeeded to but the Telli house guards caught the assassins and the Duke made such a brutal public spectacle of them that no more attempts were made.
Even at a young age, Teo understood that the Duke’s reaction was not because he wished to protect Teo but because the assassins had threatened something that Duke Telli considered part of his property.
At the time Teo was delighted to think of himself as belonging to the Duke. It made him feel protected and worthy. As the years passed though, he began to see what it meant to be someone else’s property.
Strangely perhaps, it was the Duke’s behavior towards his children that bothered Teo far more than how the Duke treated him. Each of them were mishandled and mal-cared for by the nobleman and each showed the scars he left on them in their own manner.
Ren, the youngest son, drew inwards, his voice vanishing for weeks at a time without anyone being aware that he hadn’t spoke a single word. Or at least anyone except Teo.
Their relationship had started at different times. For Teo, the first time he saw Ren, he was struck by the boys quiet presence. Teo saw the wordless youth and yearned to bridge the silent chasm between them. Their time together was limited at first, but it grew over the years, as did their regard for each other. The beginning of their acknowledged relationship was hard to place as well. Ren suggested it was the first time they’d kissed, but that had been on a dare and signified little at the time except for their solidarity against the mad whims of Ren’s sister.
Rather than a single event, Teo thought of it as the gentle changing of the seasons. The two of them had been close, and then moved closer in such small steps that no one day held a particularly important declaration of love. Teo couldn’t even remember the first time he’d told Ren that he loved him. The words passed easily between them, changing naturally from professions of companionable affection to a deeper more enduring acknowledgement of the commitment they’d made to each other through their deeds rather than mere words.
There wasn’t anyone else Teo could imagine giving his heart to, so when the Blood Mother had told him what the price would be for his continued life the only question he’d asked had been addressed to Ren.
It hadn’t been a proposal. It hadn’t been a declaration of passion either. Not precisely at any rate.
“We’ve been together for a long time,” Teo said. “I won’t leave you now. I will take the gift the Blessed One offers. But I will not ask that you take the other end of the burden. Will you stay free of this pledge? May we continue with each other as we have been? You are too precious to me for there to be any yoke of obligation laid between us.”
Ren had answered in his customary soft voice but with a firmness to his words which Teo rarely heard there.
“No. We cannot continue on as we have been,” Ren said. “All things change, and so must we. Already I carry an obligation to you. With no one else can I find the joy that I can with you. No one else lives within me as you do. You are forever in my thoughts and forever in my heart. There is no burden that you can carry which I will not feel the weight of as well. If you will have me, I will carry your heart, as you already carry mine.”
Of all the decisions Teo ever made, that one alone he was perfectly sure of, even though it had led him eventually to a cage of misery, far from the one he loved.
A cage which abruptly shuddered and came to a rough stop.
“What happened?” Teo asked the carriage driver.
“A tree just fell across the road,” the driver said, a disturbing lack of surprise in his voice.
There was a thunk on the side of the carriage, followed by three more just like it. Arrows. They’d punched through the walls of the carriage. So they were enchanted. The searing hot flames on their tips gave that away too.
“And there would be the archers, right on queue,” the driver said.
“We’re under attack?” Tero asked, knowing that it was a foolish question. Officer Kor had assured him that she would would be the first target of any assassins that were sent out, but the Duke apparently had enough that he could afford to detail a contingent to deal with an errant ex-page as well.
Not that Teo knew for certain the Duke was connected with the assassins or their misdoings, but after the beating the Duke gave him, not to mention separating Teo from Ren, the vampire wasn’t in a particularly charitable mood towards the nobleman.
“You’re on your own for this one,” the carriage driver said.
“Wait! I’m still locked in here!” Teo said.
“He wasn’t talking to you,” Daelynne said from on top of the carriage. Her voice sounded strange and inhuman. As a vampire, Teo wasn’t used to unnatural things sending a chill down his spine but he shivered at her words nonetheless.
A moment later, as she dropped from the top of the carriage to the ground and began advancing on the ambushers, Teo saw why he’d been instinctively afraid.
Daelynne was garbed in her armor and she walked with a bearing that screamed for mayhem. The ambushers had one hope of surviving the encounter. They needed their own Pact Warrior. Even if they had one though Teo wasn’t sure if that would be enough to save them. There was a hunger that radiated off Daelynne that put his own vampire constitution to shame.