As the large oak door swung open, his heart was pounding in his chest. Beyond it, he could see a dimly lit room dominated by a large alter-like table.
“Go on,” whispered Trine anxiously. “Don’t keep them waiting.”
Pulling himself up to his full height, he took a deep breath and stepped inside.
The room was circular, suggesting it formed part of a castle tower and was much larger than he’d anticipated. Behind the large table sat three male vampires. There was an empty seat to their right.
“Welcome, Son of Perran,” greeted the gentleman seated in the centre. “Come closer. We don’t bite.”
The vampire’s dark humour caused his companions to laugh.
“My name is Stefan. I am the head of the Court of Elders. To my left is Michael and to my right, Alessandro. We’re delighted you could join us at such short notice.”
All the runner could do was nod silently. His palms were clammy, and he could feel a trickle of sweat running down his back between his wings. Facing the three large male vampires was intimidating but, more worryingly, where was his mother? Trine had assured him that she was one of them.
“She’s not here,” said Alessandro, his accent revealing Italian roots. “We agreed it would be easier to talk if she weren’t here.”
Again, the runner nodded.
“My daughter has told us a little of your history,” continued Stefan. “The Court owes you an apology. Our errant sister should never have brought you into our ways. I am sincerely sorry she has damned you to this life without your full consent.”
“Most gracious of you. Thank you,” said Stefan with a slight bow of his blonde head. “Please tell us your story, Son of Perran. Start at the beginning. Start with your very first meeting with our wayward sister.”
Fighting to keep his voice steady, he told the Court of Elders about his first sight of the dark angel all those years ago on All Hallows Eve, about the bite and the broken fang on mid-summer’s night then the offer of a partial transformation. He could feel himself becoming emotional as he relayed the tale of how the partial transformation failed, about his Rabbia Sanguigna then the dark angel’s trip to Spain to acquire some of his mother’s blood. As he told how that too had failed, he grew angry and, by the time he was telling the Elders of his final meeting with the dark angel, he could feel his Rabbia Sanguigna rising.
Stefan raised a hand to pause him, poured something from a pewter jug on the table into a goblet and passed it across to him.
“Please, drink,” he instructed softly. “It’ll still that anger, son.
Without protest, the runner accepted the glass and drank deeply, tasting a strong, gamey blood mixed with alcohol.
“And then my daughter found you,” prompted Stefan calmly.
The runner nodded.
“And how do you feel about your vampire existence now, Son of Perran?” enquired Michael. It was the first time he had spoken, and the runner was mildly surprised to hear he was an American.
“I hate it,” he replied honestly. “Don’t get me wrong, the flying’s kind of cool but I don’t enjoy this life. It’s cost me everything I love.”
“That we can understand,” sympathised Stefan with a wistful smile. “You were tricked into it by that woman’s selfish obsession with you and her total disregard for our code of conduct and our rules.”
“She’s been a thorn in our sides for nigh on two centuries,” revealed Alessandro. “We tried to work with her, but she too was ill-conceived. Her creator was a fool. A drunken womanising fool. She’s always been head strong, self-centred and obsessive in her desires.”
“We welcomed her here,” interrupted Michael. “Tried to integrate her into the wider family but she wasn’t interested. She’s been a loose cannon for too long.”
“Trine said you want me to kill her for you,” he said, fixing his gaze on Stefan, brown eyes locked on blue. “Is this true?”
“Sometimes my daughter says too much,” sighed Stefan, a hint of exasperation to his tone. “She is, however, quite correct. We hope to enlist your help in ridding the world of this evil creature once and for all.”
“Why should I help you?” he challenged, suddenly finding a level of confidence he rarely felt.
“You can name your price, Son of Perran. Put simply, if we could kill her ourselves, we would but we can’t. You, however, have a distinct advantage over our centuries of experience. She’s bound to you. That gives you the upper hand here.”
“And I can name anything as my price?”
“Within reason, yes.”
Silence hung in the air between them as the runner considered his options. Pushing any last doubts to one side, he said simply, “I’ll do it on one condition.”
“And that is?”
“Once she’s dead, you kill me.”
The head of the Court of Elders looked to his two companions, who both gave a small nod of consent.
“Agreed,” said Stefan simply.
From the shadows behind the table there was a small barely audible gasp of “No!”