4 How much worth (Leo)

I can hear her heartbeat and breathing.

Julia is a bit nervous but not scared. She's trying so hard to stay cool, but I can tell that she's expecting me to do something.

Her lungs take in some air, and her shoulders stay still. She's clenching the armrests, trying to relax her muscles. Her head is bent to the side by a few degrees in a discreet invite.

The view is so alluring, her scent so sweet...

The only problem is that this reaction isn't natural. What human wouldn't be screaming around if they were cornered by a vampire? Maybe, hunters wouldn't.

Still, I'm quite sure they don't look forward to being bitten.

«Why aren't you scared?» I ask, direct.

«Are you going to hurt me?» she replies, moving her hazel eyes on me.

«No.»

«Then I don't have a reason to be scared, right?»

I nod and think about letting her go. Instead of following my reason, though, I move closer to her neck and inhale her scent. From this close, it's the only thing I can sense; and it calls for me with an invincible claim.

«It doesn't hurt if you don't struggle,» I whisper and notice her goosebumps.

So, I was right. She's not scared because she's excited.

Not less excited than me, indeed.

«I know,» she answers, in fact.

«Who bit you before? Why did you let him?» I ask, before realising that I'm sticking my nose into her private life. My heart stings at the thought of someone else's teeth in her neck, her precious blood shared with someone else.

«I can't tell you that. I'm sorry.»

«You're keeping a secret?»

«Not just one,» she admits and bows her head down. «This is one of the things I won't reveal.»

Somehow, I feel hurt. I want to know more about the vampire to whom she's been giving blood. Yet, at the same time, I'm sure I won't like the answer.

I pin her chin and force her to look at me. She doesn't resist, which doesn't raise any alarm in my clouded thoughts.

«Who is it?» I ask.

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She widens her eyes for a second but soon returns to normal.

It's not the first time that my compelling works so slow. Who knows how uncomfortable must it be, for Julia? Hunters do suffer during hypnosis.

«He's dead,» she says. Her heart is still racing, but her breathing has calmed a bit.

«When did you two meet?»

She blinks and tries to move away, but I tighten my grip. My eyes don't let hers escape, and she just returns calm after a moment or two.

«I don't remember,» she whispers.

«His name.»

«I don't know.»

She's a bit too reactive for someone under hypnosis. It must be her hunter blood that gives her a shadow of protection, but it isn't enough to break free.

After all, we've been making eye-contact for quite a while now. Even the strongest hunter can't resist for that long. She must be telling the truth, even though it must be uncomfortable for her.

Her vampire lover must have erased all memories before disappearing, and she doesn't want to talk about him.

There's no way of extracting more information, I should just let her go.

«Who of you two left the other?» I inquire.

She looks confused.

«I don't understand what you want to know, but I wasn't the first to leave.»

Her heart skips a beat, and I understand that I'm overdoing it.

First, it's not my place to ask such a question. Even if knowing about that vampire might be relevant, I shouldn't press her this much.

Second, she didn't do anything wrong. If Amadeus hears that I've hypnotised a human for no reason, he will cut my electricity supply once again.

Not a big deal, but not having hot water would be troublesome now that I have a human to take care of.

Amadeus won't take her away if he hears about this, right?

«Let's keep our conversation private, okay?» I utter, at last.

She nods and sighs relieved when I step back.

I walk to the window and close the curtains. When I turn back, Julia is eating another sandwich as nothing happened.

As if I didn't just force myself into her mind and inquire about her private life.

«Can you tell me something about the hunter base?» I start, tired of the silence in the room.

The girl looks at me, surprised.

«What would you like to know?»

«Anything. I'm trying to figure out how useful you are.»

«If I give you information, you won't ask for blood?»

«Depends on the information. I guess we can find a deal about city taxes. You have to pay if you want to stay here, and we have two main currencies.»

«Blood and money,» she sighs. «How do you decide how much blood is worth, though? I'm sure you don't follow the market rules, or you wouldn't have lasted this long.»

«Contrarily to you, most humans don't like the idea of sharing a piece of their body. First of all, no one is bitten against their will inside the town walls. It's Amadeus's law.»

«Not even for punishment?»

«We don't punish people in that way. It would scare the few donors we already have. However, if a vampire wants to settle scores with a human, it's enough to cross the gates and do it outside. Amadeus never complained in such cases.»

«Is he the boss around here?»

«He's the founder of Fortress. Well, the name he gave to the city originally was different. After the wars with humans, he had the walls being built and changed the name. For the sake of simplicity, I guess.»

«You haven't answered my first question,» she remembers. «How do you decide how worth is blood?»

«Depends on the quality. Usually, a human can make a contract with a vampire. They reach an agreement on their own, so there isn't a set price. Selling blood without a proper contract is forbidden, but that kind of things happen as well. I don't suggest you try that route, though. Humans don't end well, in those circumstances.»

«They get addicted to the bites, right?»

«It's not a real addiction, as there are rarely bites. Rather, they don't have the energy for any other activity and can't gain money in other ways.»

«Oh, I guess they didn't tell the whole truth in school.»

«If the information you have is worth it, I'll help you settle.»

She smiles happily, her eyes shining with hope.

«Thank you!» she exclaims, and I feel guilty for interrogating her before.

«Don't thank me yet.»

«I can draw a map if it's okay. I've also read some documents by chance, but I think they're pretty much useless to you. How much can I stay with the map?»

«Depends on how many details you remember.»

«Two months. If not, I'll look for another city to live in. I'm sure there are many people interested in the map of a hunter's base.»

She's looking directly at me with a solemn expression. She seems unmovable, right now, convinced in her own words. I can't help but chuckle.

«If your information is reliable, we'll let you stay for life.»

She winces, not expecting my counter-offer. She was so ready to sell the map for two mere months. Exactly, how desperate is she?

No, rather than desperate, she's probably seeing the world for the first time. Hunters don't let their own walk around freely if they can't defend themselves.

Julia's eyes fill with tears, and she joins her hands happily.

I feel my teeth pulsing at that view, and I leave the room before starting again to bully her.

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