1 Fortress (Julia)

Fortress is one of the few cities where humans and vampires live together. It's ruled by the latter group, but humans still have some kind of freedom.

When I arrive at the gates, it's dawn.

The first rays of light surround the walls, and I can see my long, tiny shadow.

I knock on a backdoor next to the gates, praying that someone will open, but I know that they probably retired for the day. They don't walk around under the light of the sun, after all.

I hear a creaking, and the door opens ajar. A dark shadow observes me from the other side, but not a sound reaches my ears.

I step in quickly.

When the door closes, darkness fills the air, and a clench surrounds my throat.

«Name,» someone whispers to my ear.

«Julia,» I utter, with some difficulty. This was expected. I don't need to panic.

Not yet.

«What do you want?»

«I'm searching for shelter.»

«You're human.»

«I am.» My scent, body and aura are human. «Will you let me in or not?»

The hand around my throat disappears, and I feel a blow on the back of my neck.

I lose conscience for a time I'm not able to define. I don't even have time to feel the impact with the ground.

When I wake up, I'm tied to a chair.

My arms are numb, and the ropes are cutting my wrists. A headache tortures my brain, so much that I can't keep the eyes open. The direct light of the lamp in front of me doesn't help.

This resembles a scene from a crime novel. So much that I can't hide a grin.

Why are they so scared of an ordinary human like me? Just because I was wandering alone?

«I see you're having fun.»

I look around, searching for the source of the voice. It's the same person that welcomed me in this cosy place.

A tall figure stays behind the lamp, so that I can't see the details, but I can tell it's a man. Precisely, a vampire. His invisible presence is enough of evidence, there's no need to touch his cool skin or see his fangs to figure it out.

«What are you looking for?» he asks, cold. It's such a damn right word to describe his tone, just like ice.

«I don't want to die,» I reply, looking at the side with a sigh.

«So you came here?»

«I know you have humans living in your city. I'm ready to follow your rules.»

He steps forward, and I straighten my back, now on alert.

«Are you lying?» he utters.

«No!» I deny, shaking my head and raising my brows in a desperate attempt to look sincere.

«Julia,» he repeats. A pair of light grey eyes are staring directly at me. The pupil dilates until the iris is so tiny that it's difficult to spot. «Tell me the truth.»

He's trying to influence me.

I calm down my breathing and count up to three in my mind, before answering.

«I am not lying,» I pronounce, each word on its own, looking directly into that pair of gems.

If I don't screw it up, the vampire will believe I'm under his spell.

I can't move my eyes away, I have to bear direct eye contact. I have to keep my breathing calm and my heart in check. I can't stiffen my muscles.

Just relax... It's fine. No dangers.

«Why are you here?»

«I'm running for my life. The hunters wanted to use me.»

Every word flows from my throat with the same, boring pace.

«How?»

I can't answer this question without revealing too much, so I bow down my head and let tears flood my face.

He steps back, and I can't see his face anymore.

At least, he has stopped with his manipulation. I can now return to stay scared as any normal human would.

He observes me for a few minutes and then leaves the room. The light directed to my face remains on, worsening my headache.

I close my eyes and wait, patiently, for the second round of interrogation.

I expected this much. They won't let me in their city without properly checking my story first.

And I can't lie about all of it, or they'll sense the changes in my body.

When the vampire comes back, I notice he's not alone. The figure next to him turns the lamp to a corner, and I can finally rest my eyes.

«How long have you kept her here?» the second man asks.

«Two days.»

Already two days? I must have slept for most of it.

«Humans can't stay two days without food or water,» he explains patiently. He must be older than the first, but it's difficult to determine. Vampires don't age, right?

«I know. I was going to cure her today.»

«You tied the ropes too much.»

Indeed, my wrists are wet. My skin must be cut somewhere.

«Stop it, Amadeus. I know what I am doing.»

Amadeus sighs and crouches in front of me.

«Hello,» he whispers. «I'm going to untie you now. If you don't try anything, we will get along. Okay?»

I nod, foreseeing the moment I will finally be able to move my arms.

«Amadeus, she's one of them!» the other protests, but the one next to me doesn't flinch.

«I know,» he says simply. «There must be a reason if she's here.»

He cuts the ropes.

I massage my wrists, examining the red signs. Nothing serious. I will be like new in a few minutes. One is cut, but it will eventually heal.

«Leo, I'll leave her to you,» Amadeus orders while getting up. «If she makes any trouble, I'll come looking for you.»

«I'm not a hunter-sitter.»

«You opened the door, now she's your responsibility. Don't let her leave your side until we decide whether to let her live in the city.»

Amadeus leaves, and the room remains quiet for a whole minute.

«Come,» he utters and walks out.

What was his name, again? Leo, right?

I follow him slowly, regaining control of my body one inch at a time.

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«Do what I tell you, and I won't kill you on the spot.»

«Yes,» I answer. There is no need to remind me about how the world works. I already know it pretty well.

«What do the hunters want to do with you?»

I choose to answer.

«They wanted to use me as bait.»

In the end, they seem to already know who I am. How have they figured about the hunters? I don't look like one.

«Do you think we won't do worse things to you here?»

«You provide protection to humans, don't you?»

We walk out to a square. The sun is high in the sky, but Leo doesn't seem bothered. He notices the surprise on my face and chuckles.

«Your knowledge about vampires lacks a lot.»

Now that I have light, I can see his features. I already knew that vampires tend to be very charismatic, but the one in front of me is so handsome that it's unfair.

His grey eyes shine at the light, and his pale skin and dark hair make a beautiful contrast. His face seems made of marble.

«We don't burn into ashes because of the sun. We don't fear crosses and garlic. Some of your potions indeed affect us, but it doesn't need to be holy water. Any more concerns?» he says, visibly unhappy.

I blink a couple of times, working on moving my eyes away from him.

«I'm not interested in a way to kill you,» I clarify. Garlic, holy water... I don't want that.

I just want to live a simple life, far from the hunters. And from vampires, as much as it's possible.

«I stay at the Academy. It was a school, before the war. You're not allowed to be further than three steps from me. Am I clear?»

«Yes.»

«If you try anything fishy, I'll make you regret it.»

«Okay.»

«You're a prisoner, not a guest. Until Amadeus decides you're no threat, at least.»

I follow him, crossing the square and passing an iron gate. The building in front of us is majestic, and its garden is even more beautiful.

If only I wasn't listening to a threat after the other.

«Don't tell anyone where you come from. They may try to kill you immediately.»

He opens a little door and signals me to pass through it.

«We'll now go to the infirmary.»

«Infirmary? Do you need something like that?»

Aren't vampires invincible? Don't they heal on the spot?

«There are other humans in the Academy. It's not rare that someone gets hurt.»

«Oh,» I utter.

Regardless, it's too late to change my mind. This can't be worse than where I come from.

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