Blood Legends: Rebirth – Chapter One
Indifference felt like cold armor. Hunger gripped me. Exhausting. My mind contorted. I squeezed my eyes shut and hung my head. Strangled sobs tormented me. Each cry stoked the insatiable need to feed on their blood. My veins palpitated beneath my skin. I shivered and groaned as I shifted my back against the sandstone wall. My ass was paralyzed.
Avila’s body curled on the ground. Her head was heavy in my lap and she trembled in a fitful slumber. Candlelight offended my senses. Sun’s voice rasped over my pulse.
“Is this how it ends for us – starving in a filthy airless cell mocked by our food?” She gave a rueful laugh.
I lifted my chin to look at her beside me. Her skin was like chalky mesh sunk against cheekbones. Her hair fell in dull yellow clumps, almost concealing the stony eyes peering back at me. She licked chafed lips and flicked her chin toward the opposite cell. It was crammed with humans. There must have been about fifty of them.
“I can’t tell which side was better.”
I squinted toward the other cell. My joints ached; especially my knuckles as I clenched and unclenched them. The scent of fear and sweat carried along the shadowy shaft separating the cells. It hurt to look at them. Their offerings were too much to bear.
My gaze lingered on a woman who stood pressing her forehead against the rusty steel bars. Grimy fingers clutched the metal posts; burnt-red hair like straw. Brown eyes ebbed as she blinked at me. My ears pricked with the sound of her thumping heart. My mouth watered. I tore my eyes away from her and swallowed hard.
“We’re all living the nightmare no matter which side we’re on.”
Sun grazed a hand across my arm. Her skin was like ice.
“I’m on your side, that’s all that counts.”
Emptiness gripped me when I looked at her. Time had lost meaning. How long had we been here? Weeks? Months? Endless time snatched in the shadows and feeding on sewer rats. We were prisoners now; thrown in the putrid cells beneath the city with the humans they hunted and collected. It was punishment for betraying Marius. I deserved it, but Avila and Sun didn’t.
My eyes locked onto hers.
“I’m … sorry.”
I’m so sorry.
She shook her head.
“Don’t be.” She leaned in closer as the sound of stomping boots drifted along the tunnels. “Remember what you told me; don’t let them take your soul, Jett.”
She said nothing but her darkening stare conveyed her thoughts. The truth was my soul was sucked into a black abyss the day Scarla was murdered. It was the same day I’d made the choice to die. But even the apathy accompanying my human death couldn’t erase the agony she left behind. Everything was meaningless without her.
Death could claim me again.
I looked away from Sun as Avila stirred. She sat up, stretching over sickly pale features and pitted eyes. Dark hair brushed at her waist as she cocked her head.
“The guards are coming.” Her voice was hoarse.
Her eyes widened at me. Fangs glinted as she winced before she made the move to stand up. Her legs buckled slightly when she extended an arm toward me.
She was the only reason I had to keep going. I reached for her hand and hauled myself up, steadying myself against the wall. I felt like cardboard. Weakness crept through me, but I ignored it as a low rumble began to rise among the human captives across the way.
High pitched shrills and disembodied wails erupted as they began clawing at one another in an effort to distance themselves from the cell entrance. Terror was an intoxicating emotion. Excitement rimmed.
“The vampire guards are coming!”
“God, help us … Please, no!”
Limbs entangled. A few of them fell beneath the panicking mob. The blunt sound of crushing bones was a distinct melody in my ear. My gaze found the woman who still clutched the cell bars. Ragged lips mumbled breathless secrets. Her eyes were closed. She appeared in another world.
Sun stood beside me. We exchanged a look before I pushed off the wall and walked toward the cell bars. I stopped across from the woman and watched her, tuning out to the chaotic fever and the laughter that echoed along the tunnel walls as the guards drew closer.
She shifted her weight from side to side and squeezed her eyes shut even tighter. Her shoes were made of worn brown leather and fringed a pair of torn denim jeans. She flung her head back. Grime appeared like patchwork over the skin of her throat. Her words became frantic. Louder.
“Lygarou … Lygarou … the prophecy is born … the city will burn to ashes.”
Avila and Sun sidled up either side of me. Screams escalated. Mayhem like wild alley cats. My heart pounded. My fangs ached for blood. Four guards rounded the bending shaft and came into view. Avila stiffened.
I shrugged. My gut curdled as I looked back at her. She froze suddenly. Shadows flickered across her face like an apparition as she steadied her gaze on me. Lips spoke cryptic messages.
“I’ve seen the birth of a Lystalker – the half-breed. She’s arrived to ignite the Legends of Blood.”
“Legends of Blood?”
I frowned and gripped the steel bars. The guards halted between the cells. They were clad in the usual black leather attire customary to the kindred. Chunky boots adorned their feet and twisted on the damp ground. They had their backs to me.
The woman’s eyes darted toward the guards. They sniggered and cackled, nudging one another as they surveyed the humans. The prisoners quietened, albeit for a man who lay curled and groaning on the floor. Blood oozed from his skull and spilled over his fingers as he clutched the wound.
Thirst stabbed my stomach like a serrated knife.
I looked back at the woman as one of the guards hissed and held up a set of keys, shaking them. He laughed even louder when some of the people sobbed, shrinking further into the shadows. Just as the cell gate creaked open, the woman took a quick breath before she mouthed two words at me: “Blood Legends.”
A chill went through me. Mysterious predictions and farfetched superstitions haunted me. They were the same words that had passed from the ginger-beard hawker before I tore his head from his neck. Words that foretold a time of reckoning that would bring the kindreds undone. Our greatest existential threat.
I had to know more.
Two of the guards converged on the human prisoners. The crowd instantly became restless. A few women screeched as the guards hunched over them, hissing before ensnaring sharp talons around their arms and dragging them closer.
I looked away. My attention was captured by the guards that had turned our way and were now opening our cell door. All thoughts of Blood Legends and folklore evaporated as eyes the color of bright lemons pierced into me.
Conceit. I could smell it. He leaned against the cell bars and regarded us with a dark grin. His mouth was a shock of scarlet, parting to reveal stained fangs. His crony had a neck like a bull. He grunted and pushed into the cell behind lemon-eyes, stopping with a sneer. An inky stare settled on Sun.
“It appears as if fortune has bestowed upon you this day.” Lemon-eyes ran bony fingers through his hair, giving his head a toss for good measure.
“How so?” Avila gripped her hips and glared.
His grin widened. Screams shattered my ears. I looked back at the other cell to see the guards hauling three prisoners from the chamber. Two women; one man. The redheaded woman was among them. Lemon-eyes’ voice grated into my bones.
“The Masters have decided it is time for your citation. You are to have an audience with Master Zaros.”
Zaros? The name was unfamiliar. My thoughts scattered as the three humans were shoved into our cell. They stumbled and immediately cowered together as the guards returned to the other cell. Hunger overwhelmed me as I eyed the fresh blood now within arm’s reach.
“Yes … you are permitted to feed before your attendance.” Lemon-eyes motioned toward the man and two women who began to sob uncontrollably. Not the redhead though. She stood trembling but her eyes daggered into mine when I looked at her.
Lygarou. They’re coming; the prophecy holds true. I can show you.
The words weren’t spoken yet I heard them clearly. I turned to see the guards dragging the wounded humans from the other chamber. Some of them were dead. Agonizing wails reverberated all around.
Lemon-eyes spoke again.
“Well; what are you waiting for?” he laughed. “You must be famished. Your feast awaits you.”
Sun and Avila didn’t hesitate. Desperation was like a vapor as they moved forward. The guards yanked the injured who were still alive over the cell threshold, dumping them near my feet. My eyes darted back to the woman. Her gaze widened. My pulse screamed as I stepped forward.
All eyes turned on me. I squared my chin and gestured toward the woman.
“That one is of use to the Masters. Let her live.”
“Why?” Lemon-eyes glared. Talons twirled the ends of his hair.
“Because she’s a witch with valuable knowledge.”
The guards laughed but Lemon-eyes didn’t. He slinked closer to me. Eyes like deadly firestones burned into mine.
“What knowledge does the witch possess?”
“She knows about the Blood Legend prophecy.”
His features twisted and paled beneath the dim light.
“Very well. We shall inform the Masters.” He flicked a wrist toward his cronies. “Return her and fetch another!”
An odd sense of relief flooded through me. My gaze fell to the groaning man at my feet. I bent to my knees and gripped his head roughly. My pulse quickened. Anticipation had never been so sweet. My fangs sunk into human flesh and reprieve was mine. I fed like a demon.
Hunger did have a soul. It was created from human flesh and blood, and death was its heart.
And it owned me.