Chapter 1

1433 Words
Chapter 1 Thousands of twinkling stars lit the night sky above, a glorious sight Mira had not seen in more years than she could count. Their majesty stole the breath from her chest. Night called her like a siren’s song both familiar and strange. Imprisoned deep under the ground as she’d been all those long years, not even allowed to smell the crispness of night air, the melody had long since been forgotten but never truly lost. More than a delicacy, it called forth primal urges, reaching some long-repressed savage part of her. It was all Mira could do not to pull the vehicle over and take off into the wild, but the trio of humans riding along with her, escaping to safety, needed her to remain on task. Eyes riveted to the rugged landscape behind them, Mira screened the horizon for any signs of pursuit. The badlands—a mix of ruined forest and parched hard-packed dirt—stretched out as far as the eye could see. Regular monsoon flooding had made the land tough and treacherous. Their transport, not equipped for off-roading, jolted and rocked, banged and bumped as it sped on between gnarled trees and mountainous boulders. Hours had passed since their daring escape from New Haven city behind the Iron Gate walls, one of the eight human city-states and the westernmost point of the Northern continent. Though there had been no sign of their vehicle being followed, Mira was not yet ready to stop for a break. She had no clue of the capability and reach of the humans beyond their city walls. The last thing she wanted was to give in to fatigue too soon and end up right back where she started... in prison. Painful memories drove her to her task. Thirty long years she’d been enslaved; thirty years of torture, pain, violence, and bloodshed... all of it under the orders of her human masters. Olivia’s face flashed through her mind. Her former owner. If she’d only had the opportunity to pay the pampered princess back for the vile things she’d had endured. The things she’d been forced to do. Countless vampires she’d been forced to kill. Cold dead eyes of numerous victims haunted her dreams, and probably would for the rest of her immortal life. Killing had been her way of life. Survival. Kill or be killed. As a gladiator, there was no middle ground. In the arena, by order of her masters, she’d sent so many others to early graves. It was enough to make her hungry for revenge on all members of the so-called human race. The lot of them were untrustworthy, greedy, vengeful, lying bastards. Mira shot a heated glance toward Lucian. Human. Former Regent. One who had, in the past, ordered the death of many of her kind. At a single turn of his thumb she herself had been forced to end the lives of many vampire kin, ripping out their throats while crowds cheered above her. And they called her a savage. Mira scoffed at the irony. She should hate Lucian as much as she hated the rest of human society; she certainly had the right to. But not all humans were bad. At least not that one, she reminded herself as her gaze narrowed down his short dark hair toward the crook of his neck, spotting the pulsating artery there. It would be so easy to sink her fangs in and drink her fill. Lucian had once been part of the problem, but no longer. He’d helped save her from her imprisonment. He’d proven his true nature. She looked back to the other two humans in the vehicle – the aging Curtis and his wife, Sarah, huddling together, fighting exhaustion. They too had helped, despite obvious revulsion at her species. Not all humans were the enemy. Not all were evil. Just as she, a vampire, was not evil. She dragged in another breath of that glorious fresh night air and let it clear away the anger. So many years she had dreamed of freedom, and now she had it. She was free. Alive. No more silver shackles. No more tiny cell smelling of dirt and decay. No more fighting for her life in the arena. Sure, they were still in danger, and the humans would certainly pursue her, but in this one moment, she was free. The crispness of that single breath stirred within her the desire for more. Others too should savor this freedom. She thought back to the prison and all of the vampires still trapped within. George, the closest thing she’d had to a true friend. Tegan, her last opponent. He’d been her enemy in the arena and in training, but he didn’t deserve to remain locked behind silver-coated bars. Countless others were still languishing away within the Iron Gate prison. Those poor souls. They needed to know that there was more to immortality than servitude. “You okay, Mira?” Lucian’s weary tone was soft as a whisper. Quiet as they were, his words snapped Mira from her thoughts. “Yeah. Why?” “You just look...” Lucian hesitated as if unable to complete the thought. “I’m fine. I just haven’t seen the stars in so long. They’re so beautiful.” Lucian glanced upwards, but his eyes didn’t sparkle the way Mira had hoped. “I guess.” “Don’t take them for granted. You don’t know what it’s like to miss them.” “I can only imagine.” He forced a smile. She couldn’t be too annoyed with him. Living a life of privilege, as he had, wanting for nothing, how could she expect him to appreciate something as small yet significant as the stars shimmering in the night sky? There was a time when she too had taken them for granted. “Nice driving back there.” She hoped the subject change would break the awkward silence between them. His chest puffed with pride. “I have to admit, it was pretty exciting.” Mira smiled at the sudden change in his demeanor. She doubted he’d ever experienced anything as thrilling as their escape in his life. “I’ll be honest. I had my doubts we’d make it.” “Really?” His shoulders slumped slightly. “Three humans and one half-blind vampire being chased by trained soldiers? Think about it. The odds weren’t exactly in our favor, now, were they?” “You should give us more credit than that.” “We did it. We survived and we’re still alive. That’s credit enough. Don’t get cocky; you’ll become sloppy.” She didn’t mean to downplay their abilities, but being a realist, she wouldn’t sugarcoat things. That wasn’t the warrior way. Lucian’s jaw tightened. Clearly dissatisfied by her lack of praise, he turned away, looking out the window toward the horizon. “So, do you have an idea as to where we’re going?” “No.” Sanctuary had always been a land of legend. A rumor spread among the vampires wanting to find freedom from oppression. She’d been on the road to finding it once; before she’d been captured. Back when she was just a fledgling traveling with her sire and lover, Theo. All she remembered from those days was that they’d been heading west, toward the coast. “Nor do I know what we’ll do or find if we ever get there.” “Well, you’re just a bright little ray of sunshine tonight, aren’t you?” “I don’t like sunshine, and I’m not going to pretend we’re in the clear. We’ve still got a lot of question marks hanging above our heads.” “We’ve overcome quite a lot tonight. Allow yourself to accept that.” He was right. She glanced back up to the stars for a moment and let their silvery light brighten her mood. “I’m just concerned about what we have coming up next. Good or bad.” Lucian gently squeezed Mira’s arm, a small gesture of friendship and camaraderie that felt so foreign. Touching was not something she was used to, and not something she was too sure she liked. “I’ve been thinking about that as well,” Lucian said. “Assuming we make it, we’ll be in vampire territory. You’ll have to take the lead.” “One thing at a time. First we have to find it.” Mira hadn’t thought about what would happen when they did encounter other vampires. She’d be reasonably safe on her own, but with three humans in tow, she was traveling with her own personal buffet. Her own kind back home had become near savage over the years in captivity; what would free-range vampires be like? What did they feed on? Assuming they had survived, what had they lived off all of these long years? So many questions. So many new worries. In some respects, this newfound freedom promised to be just as problematic as captivity. “When we do find it, we’ll need to have a plan in place.” Mira took a deep breath and gazed back up at the stars, trying to use their light to help her remain positive. “Can we leave the future to the future for now? I’ve not seen the stars in so long. I want to enjoy this simple pleasure for the moment.” “The stars will always be there.” “Says the man who’s had a lifetime to enjoy them.” Lucian sighed impatiently but did not engage her further. They rode together in silence, putting more and more miles between themselves and New Haven’s Iron Gate.
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