He sat alone in the expensive inn bedroom, unable to enjoy the beauty of it. It was nearly noon and the yellow daffodils in a blue vase next to the window were already out of the sun as it travelled high overhead. Fresh, white-painted walls and glossy, white-satin bedsheets should have made the room feel bright. Especially after spending the night with a lovely woman.
Unfortunately, a knot of emotions twisted in the empty bottom of Hadiin’s gut. And his mind was filled with angst. He stood up from the bed and looked down at his clothes. They were still covered in blood, some dry, some still sticky. He wrapped his lower half in a black bath towel.
He felt loss as all his gains from days worth of work and an amount of profit only due to a leprechaun’s own luck. He wasn’t going to make a huge windfall like that anytime soon and what would have been amazing seed money for a proper business venture was now gone.
He felt guilt about what Marian had had to go through because his stupid ideal had put her in danger, and now she probably wouldn’t want to associate with him anymore.
And he didn’t want to admit it, but being nearly killed had been an uncomfortable experience. He hadn’t reacted well during the encounter. And he could recall exactly how it felt when the assassin had pinned him to the bed and slowly pushed the dagger into Hadiin’s chest.
He swallowed hard just thinking about it. And that sparked his anger. He hated feeling so weak! He lashed out with an angry fist and shattered the vase under the window with his backhand. Flowers, shards of glass and water flew to the floor. He stood over it, chest rising faster than it should.
Marian’s voice was flat and scornful behind him. “What the hell was that?” She wasn’t really asking. When he spun, her face was mildly disgusted.
His guilt and anger only worsened. So instead of apologizing he just shook his head. “I’ll clean it up.”
She stood there, looking at him, as if waiting for something. When nothing more came, she just shook her head and started putting on the clothes she’d had cleaned last night by the inn. “Let’s go to the bank.”
“Do you want to get breakfast first?”
“No.” She didn’t elaborate. She was dressed and out the door in moments.
Feeling dejected, he looked down at his own clothes and wondered what he was supposed to wear. With little choice, he rubbed the worst of the blood off in the cold remnants of the bathwater and put the articles on wet.
She raised a brow at the sight of him when he came downstairs and found her in the common room, but said nothing. He collected a bill for damages from the front counter staff and they set out into the town.
Hadiin tried and failed to think of something to say as they walked towards Market Street. She was silent and not even looking at him, so he knew that she was upset. But his miserable feelings got in the way. And after a while he started to even resent her a little for her silence, even though he knew it was wrong.
At the bank, his clothing getting more than a few stares, When he paid off the inn’s bill and then gave everything else to Marian, transferring it into her account.
She frowned at him. “How much do you have left?”
“Nothing. I gave it all to you.”
She gave a guttural sigh and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot.” She withdrew twenty gold, keeping half for herself and giving him ten. “Here.”
“Thank you,” he quietly told her.
She looked up at him and stared him in the eyes. “I’m going off on my own now.”
He felt his whole body sag. “Yeah. I thought you would.”
She seemed disappointed even more and turned her back on him. “Bye.”
He watched her walk through the lobby of the Merchant’s Guild, out the doors that the staff held open for her with a smile, and out of his life. How had everything gone wrong so quickly?
Not wanting their alliance to end here, he finally shook himself enough to run after her. He burst out of the twin doors and chased her into Market Street before he finally caught up to her. Grabbing her on the shoulder, he pulled her to a stop. “Wait. Please.” He took a couple of deep breaths, winded despite the short distance. “Don’t go.”
He tried to laugh. “Come on, don’t be like that. We’re a team!”
“Are you actually being serious right now?”
“Yeah. Look, ok, things were rough last night, but I can come back from this.”
“Really? Cuz I think you’re just gonna go around punching more furniture.”
“Hey now. That’s not fair. It was just one time.”
She made a motion like she was shrugging him off and backed up a step. “Ugh. Your charm is definitely not working. Please stop. You gross me out right now.” When he tried to step forward, she pushed him away. “No. You know, up until last night, you were all right. Yesterday, you were pretty cool. And I actually really enjoyed celebrating. But this guy?” She sneered and pointed at him, speaking harshly. “The guy who loses his shit because things went wrong? Moping around, won’t look at me, won’t talk to me, sad sack of shit punching and breaking things? Yeah, he’s not impressive at all. He can just fuck right off.”
Hadiin felt his ire rise. “I’m sorry about last night. I made a mistake.”
“Something you could have said last night, couldn’t you?”
“Well maybe I wasn’t feeling myself last night. I’d just been stabbed, you know?”
“Of course I fucking know!” she shouted.
Plenty of people had already been giving them looks for arguing in the middle of the busy street. Now some of the gawkers were starting to whisper and laugh, perhaps recognizing them from the ice cream event yesterday.
Marian didn’t care. She kept on shouting at him. “I had my throat cut last night, remember? Practically ear to ear. But not enough to kill me right away. Bastard did it light so I’d take my time watching myself bleed out. And I lay there on the bed hand on my throat, dying. Completely helpless. How the fuck do you think I feel? How did I feel that night? Scared out of my mind. And you. You couldn’t even look at me. Didn’t say a think to me. Do you have a shred of humanity in you at all that you can’t even ask if I’m ok? You can’t even try to talk to me about what we went through?”
He hung his head, angry at being shouted at, but knowing she was right. “I was pretty messed up too—“
“And this morning? What’s your excuse there? The first fucking thing you talk about is the money and how it’s gone. Ugh. You are such a small man.” She shoved him again and whirled away, stalking off down the street in righteous fury.
He barely saw her go, his own anger making him shake. A thought popped unbidden into his head: that he was sorry he’d paid her out. Should have just kept the money in his account and left her broke. And tried to ignore the voice in the back of his head that knew that would have been utterly wrong.
Embarrassed by the attention he was getting, he pushed his way past people in the street and took the first turn, just wanting to get away from her, from everyone. He wandered. He had yet to explore the town of Belleville. Not that he cared to. Mostly, he just let his feet carry him in random directions and felt sorry for himself.
It was with some surprise that he found himself strolling behind the inn he’d stayed at the previous night. His feelings had had time to cool down and his self loathing was rising up something fierce.
An officer of the Watch stood behind the inn, taking notes as a man on a ladder cleaned blood from where the female assassin or thief had gone down early this morning. He didn’t recognize the officer from the night before, so perhaps it was someone only assigned the case today.
Seeing this as a way to distract himself, he sauntered over. “Hey there. You investigating the theft from last night?”
The officer barely looked up. “I am.”
“Any leads? Will you be able to get the money back?” he asked in earnest. Because he could really use that gold.
The officer actually snorted and chuckled. “No.”
“We’re not even going to investigate. There’s no point. By all accounts, it was a pro assassin or rogue that hit that couple. Damn fools for carrying around that kind of coin without protection, just asking for that kind of attention. Money’s gone. Guy who did it is probably already in the big city, spending it.”
“What about the woman?”
“Probably dead somewhere, given how much blood she left behind.”
“Are you going to search for her?”
The officer sighed. “Look, this isn’t my first time. The town watch simply doesn’t have the resources to conduct in-depth investigations for every little crime that comes up. Now, if one or both of the ice cream couple had died, it might be a different story. We’d probably put a little more effort into it. But we honestly wouldn’t come up with anything. We’re guards, not investigators. And the underworld runs dark and deep, even in a mostly peaceful town like this.” He flipped his notebook closed, tipped his helmet and strode off. He called over his shoulder. “Everyone lived. Dumb bastards should just consider themselves lucky and leave it at that.”
What an…underwhelming yet probably realistic appraisal of the situation. It was so realistic, in fact, that Hadiin couldn’t even bring himself to get mad about it. Actually, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “He’s right. I should consider myself lucky.” Then he even laughed, slumping up against the corner of the building opposite the rear of the inn, and sliding to sit down on the ground. The laughter did him good, sweeping his bad mood out of his heart until only remnants remained.
“Well, this is probably why rich people have bodyguards and stuff, right?” He shook his head at himself. Then he thought of Marian. “I’m such a resoundingly poor-manner fool.” He leaned his head back against the wall.
And felt something tacky.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a red stain, now with marks from his hair in it. Was that more of that woman’s blood from last night? Curious, he stood back up and looked for more. To his surprise, he found some in the street running away from the inn. He lost the trail in the next intersection, but after canvassing the area for about twenty minutes, picked up a few more specks of blood at the entrance to an alley.
He wrinkled his nose at the smell. Rust cans and old, battered crates filled with refuse were stacked up close to the street. People from nearby probably just dumped whatever they wanted just inside the alley out of laziness rather than disposing of it properly or going further in so it was actually hidden.
He carefully stepped past a couple of garbage piles, scaring a rat into scampering under a moldy old blanket. The alley wasn’t that long and looked like it took a turn up ahead when it came up against another building. Something soft squished underfoot and he refused to look down at it. He didn’t want to know what it was. Then he came around a stack of rotting lumber and saw the body.
She lay on her side, bone white arms and legs on the ground, her thin black dress torn and barely covering her.
Guess she hadn’t gotten very far after all. If only the Watch had put in at least a little effort they could have gotten this much. He knelt on one knee and bent to see her face. His brows lifted. She was remarkably pretty. Fine featured but with full lips. Feeling like it was something you did when you came across a body, he reached down and tried to feel a pulse on her neck. All he got was cold fingers.
Her eyelids flickered and he snatched those fingers right back. A pair of pinkish-red eyes blearily tried to focus on him. “Oh hey.”
“A-are you ok?” he stammered. It was a stupid thing to say, but it had been reflexive. The voice in the back of his mind had enough self awareness to chide him. You can say that now? Here? Why didn’t you say it to Marian, you idiot?
Those full lips, painted candy red, smiled up at him. “I know you. I watched you fuck your girlfriend. She’s really hot.”
“She’s not my girlfriend. In fact, she left me.”
“Aw, that sucks. But you’re not dead. Good for you.” She closed her eyes for a long moment and wavered as if dizzy. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a healing potion, would you? I’m kind of dying here.”
“You must be kidding me. You tried to rob me!”
“Sure. But I wasn’t going to kill you. Just sneak off with the loot. Come on. Just one little healing potion. I’m having a hard time moving on my own. And my wounds stopped healing themselves.” She looked at the ground next to herself where a red stain had spread. “See? Blood everywhere.”
He stood up and stared down at her. Healing potion? He should just call the Watch. Or leave her to die. He debated that for about fifteen seconds before he finally strode off down the alley.
He had to ask for directions, but was eventually pointed in the direction of an alchemist shop. The place was only about four steps in any one direction, the shelving units and counter made out of a rich, red wood.
A man with wild blue hair and spectacles looked up from where he was mixing something in a pot over a burner behind the counter. “Afternoon. How can I help, sir?”
Hadiin took in the array of bottles on the shelves in a variety of glass bottles, some as small as a thumb, others large enough to hold two or three cups of liquid. Colours ranged all over the rainbow. Some sparkled, others looked like they had motes of darkness floating in them. He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon. I’m looking for healing potions.” His negativity had ebbed enough that he felt his good manners return and felt more at home in himself because of it.
The man eyed the holes in Hadiin’s clothing. “Ah. Of course. Low, mid or high grade?”
“What’s the difference?”
“High will probably bring you back from a body full of the worst wounds, if you haven’t lost too much blood or damaged the brain overly much. Mid grade will cure a good beating and a bunch of nasty cuts or maybe one serious wound. Low is for small wounds.”
“One gold for low, five for mid, and twenty for high grade.”
Hadiin paled. Damn, that was expensive. He only had ten gold to his name. He recalled the woman being hit with arrows and being stabbed. But also that she was a vampire. Maybe he could get away with a low-grade one? Then again… “I’ll take two of the low grade.”
The man pointed him to the shelf to his right. “Blue bottles on the left. Small ones.”
“What if there is a lot of blood loss?” he asked. “Is there a potion for that, too?”
“There is. Two shelves down. The deep red ones. Two gold for the low grade.”
“And don’t take them at the same time as the healing potions. You have to wait at least a half hour. Take it at the same time as the healing potion and it won’t do anything. And you’ll screw up the healing potion and make yourself sick. Too soon after healing and the potion still won’t work. Have to give your body time to absorb all the magic from the healing potion before the blood regeneration potion goes into effect. Got it?”
“Yes. Thank you.” He reluctantly picked up a single blood regen vial. He felt like he needed it. He was still light headed from last night.
And there went thirty percent of his funds. Just like that. Ah well. He wasn’t going to let it get to him this time. He hustled back to the alley hoping the thief was still alive. Even if she wasn’t, at least the potions were a good investment. He chugged the blood regen as he went. It was incredibly nasty. Apparently taste was not something anyone bothered with when creating magic potions.
Turned out she was still breathing. And that, apparently, vampires did that. Breath, that is. He tipped the healing potion into her lips.
She practically sucked the opening of the vial, desperate for the liquid. After it was gone, she gasped and then let out a long sigh. With a smile, she was finally able to sit up on her own and lean against the alley wall. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I don’t suppose you have a gold on you to pay for it?” His lips curled up in a bit of a smile.
“I would, but some homeless guy already pilfered everything I have. Even took my knives. And my ring. And now I’m poor. But I’ll pay you back. I just have to steal the money.”
She tried to rise, but immediately gave up. “Ugh. Too weak. I need blood.”
Seeing that she wasn’t about to get up anytime soon, he sat opposite her and leaned against the other building. “Me too. But I already spent two gold on a blood regeneration potion for myself. I’m not about to get you one, too. I can’t afford it.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. That guy was a jerk.” Her eyes twinkled. “But I meant I need to drink actual blood. Vampire, remember?”
“You just throwing that out there? Aren’t you worried you’ll get staked or something?”
“You already knew. And you saved me anyways. I don’t suppose you’d give me some of your blood?”
“Ha! I’m just getting it back now. Assuming the potion is working. I rather think I should hold onto it for now. I need it too.”
“Pretty please? Just a little bite and suck?”
“No. I’m afraid not.”
She made a cute pouty face. “You don’t want me to suck you off?”
“Ha! Not with those teeth, sorry.”
“What if I offer to help you find the assassin who took your money?”
He sighed. “Tempting. But I’m coming around to thinking it might be impossible getting that back. Especially without…Marian’s help.”
“You aren’t much of a fighter, huh?”
“I’m a merchant. I use charisma as a weapon. So no, I can’t fight worth a damn. But I shouldn’t have to. I chose to be a merchant specifically so I wouldn’t have to go around swinging swords and what have you.”
“Yeah? How’s that working out for you?” she teased.
“Pretty well up until I lost everything. Though, to be fair, only because someone else was there to swing a sword for me. Well, burn them to death with her magic.”
“So now you’re alone and weak and fucked. Welcome to the club.”
“Yeah? What’s your story?”
“Do you care? You did good helping me. I appreciate it. But you don’t have to stick around. If I see you around, I’ll pay you back the gold for the potion. I’d go to the bank but I’m not the type to have a account in a reputable establishment.”
“How do you make money? Are you an adventurer? Or just a thief?”
“Not just a thief. A thief and an assassin.”
“You’re dual class.”
“That I am!”
“That’s absurd! You know you have to split your experience between them, right? So you level at half the speed. What were you thinking? Sorry, I mean, why didn’t you just be a rogue? They’re already a blend of those classes, and have warrior skills.”
“See? That’s the thing, they’re more like half warrior and a quarter thief, quarter assassin. That’s why you see them in dungeons and stuff so much, fighting monsters. Sure, they’re tough and deal a ton of damage. But they don’t have a bunch of the skills that elite thieves and assassins get. Especially not the really cool ones.”
“Which you won’t either because you need twice as much experience to get there.”
She shrugged, looking a touch bitter for the first time. “Yeah. Plus, I’m a vampire, not a human.”
“Oh my gosh. Right. You have to level up your innate species traits as well. You basically have three classes.”
Her sigh was downright dejected this time. “Which is why I’m still super low level at all of them. Doesn’t help that nobody wants to party with me either, the couple of times I thought about it. Not that you have nearly as much choice when you can’t officially register with the adventurer’s guild here because you’re not human.”
“Why wouldn’t anyone partner with you?”
“Too weak. I’ll take too long to level up. And a high-level vampire might be way stronger than a human, but low level ones are pathetic.” She waved ironically. “That’s why I’m laying in an alley, half dead.”
“Yes yes. Vampire joke. Undead. Ha ha.”
He smiled, but in his head, one word resounded: pathetic. That’s what Marian had called him. “So what are you going to do? Find some way to give up one of your classes? Cure the vampirism?”
“Ha. Absolutely never.” She straightened and tried to reassert her pride. “I’m not giving up on myself. Sure, life sucks now because I might have been overly ambitious. And it’ll suck for decades. But a hundred years from now, I might be badass. People will want me around then.” She tried to smile, but it was bittersweet and didn’t really reach her eyes.
He couldn’t help but think of what a lonely life she’d lead. “Are there are ways of levelling faster? Rare items that grant experience boosts maybe?”
She nodded uncertainly. “I’ve been looking into it. Can’t afford any though even if there are. I heard a rumour that there are rare classes that can support others and boost their growth or something. But I think it only applies to elite classes. Probably royalty.”
“I wonder if I could do it.”
“Oh? Are you a king?”
“Not yet. But I will be.” He twirled his moustache and felt a little more of his nature return. “I just wonder if there’s some special skill I could get that could grant experience or buff someone as a merchant. Probably not though, or you’d see merchant adventurers a lot more often.”
“Well, when you’re king, come find me, ok? Don’t forget us little people dying in the gutter. Or undying. Festering? Maybe I’m festering.”
He smiled at her self-mocking humour but took a serious moment to silently consider her. He’d just lost his companion. He could use another. This woman was weak, sure, but maybe she could be along-term investment. And they seemed to get along. And she was beautiful, in a dark and deadly way. Probably more so when she wasn’t covered in blood and dirt and looking like she hadn’t slept in days.
“You’re staring,” she accused him, not unkindly.
“I aim to be rich.”
“Don’t we all.”
“But I have tools specifically designed to do that, on a large scale. Or I will. Trouble is, it turns out that I work a lot better as part of a team. And my team just broke up.”
“You’re suggesting we team up? Why would I do that?”
“Your job as a thief is to steal money, or take things that can be sold. My role is to make money into more money. Maybe we’d work well together.”
“So you’re going to, what? Employee me? Bankroll me? Do you even have money now?”
“This doesn’t sound like a great offer to me then.” So she said, but she looked a little tempted.
He wondered what he could offer her to get her to agree. He had a hesitant thought and wondered if mentioning it would be a good idea, or crazy. “How about blood?”
Her brows rose and her eyes focused on him. She looked serious. “You’re going to give me your blood?”
He slowly nodded his head, apprehensive, but perhaps willing to try this. “You’re a vampire. You need to drink regularly, right? If we were in a party together, you’d uh, feed on me regularly. If you wanted to.”
She looked thoughtful, but disappointed. “One person isn’t enough for that.”
They pondered in silence. “What if I regularly took blood regen potions?” he asked.
“Hmm. That’s not a bad idea, actually. Although, you’d probably have to take mid-grade ones. Not sure low grade would work fast enough for me to feed even every third day, not to mention what it would do to you being habitually low on blood. I mean, I could survive, but not be at peak strength. Unless I also fed on others.”
“Don’t you get into trouble for that? I can’t imagine the Watch likes vampires attacking and drinking from random people.”
“They don’t. It’s why I have to pretend I’m human to get around. So having a willing partner as a blood bag would be really handy. And if I could feed all the time, I’d become a stronger vampire much faster. Yes…that could be a worthwhile arrangement.”
“And in return…”
“Ok. This could work. But I have to remind you, I’m not a rogue. I can’t go toe to toe with people in a fight like they can. That guy who almost did you in last night? He was a rogue. I’m not good at fights. I prefer to work from the shadows and ambush people.”
“Well, you’re a thief right? That would be helpful as far as acquiring money or things I could sell. Though I don’t know if I would be able to fence stolen goods.”
“Well if you have some arch rival or something, I could assassinate them for you. Ok. Actually you already do. And they have enough money to hire someone really good, like way better man than me by far. And they’ll probably hire them again when they learn you didn’t die.”
“Maybe they’ll let me off with a warning?”
“Who did you piss off?”
“Hard to say, but best guess is some guy named Weesley?”
“Ha! You’re dead. Maybe teaming up would be bad for my health.”
“You could wait in the shadows for the next assassin?”
“By myself? Not against someone that high level. What about your girlfriend?”
“I saw you fucking. Watched the whole thing from the balcony. It was pretty hot.”
He banged the back of his head against the wall in frustration. “Maybe I can get her back. I fucked up. I need to find a way to make it up to her.”
“All my cards on the table? I’d rather team up than go it alone. But not against insane odds. If we can get another one or two people, those who can fight, maybe find a way to get Weesley off your back, I’d give it a shot. What class is she anyways? Your girl?”
“Sorceress. Dragon. Uses fire.”
“Ooh, could be powerful. She high level?”
“Not yet. Same as me.”
“Well, I guess I’m on board. For now.” She gave him a sultry, predatory look and pushed herself off the wall so that she could crawl towards him.
He found himself getting all turned on and his breathing picked up. He shifted, his pants growing tight and uncomfortable. “What are you doing?”
“You took that potion right? It’s been a while. And I really need blood.” She slithered up to his body, her lithe flesh pressing into his.
“Y-you want to drink? Now?”
“I’d better see if you taste any good. If not, I’m outta here.” Her face was close to his now. Her skin was warmer than before, but cooler than was typical.
He shook his head. “Why am I suddenly so…?”
Her red lips parted in a slender, knowing smile. “Vampire charm. It’s a skill that gets you turned on and gets the blood pumping, making it easier to feed. I don’t have the energy to scare you and chase you down to get your heart rate up that way. Better hurry though. I’m weak and it’s only going to last a few moments more.”
He tried to protest, but her tongue reached out and licked the side of his neck. It sent a shiver down his spine. He couldn’t believe this was actually happening. His heart was racing and he wanted to tear her clothes off as badly as he’d ever wanted to do that to anyone. He was panting, practically salivating.
One of her hands sought out the tent in his pants, the other ran up his chest and her slender fingers and long nails cupped his jaw. She tilted his head slightly and he didn’t resist. he couldn’t. Two pinpricks nipped his neck and he lightly cried out.
Her tongue moved on his skin and she sucked, drinking long and deep.
He started growing lightheaded again and put his hands on her torso to protest. “Stop. Please.”
She pulled out of his neck, but licked the spot clean. Then she smiled and kissed him passionately, already looking somewhat recharged and happier. “You taste pretty good. Stay away from garlic and fatty foods and this could work.” She kissed him again. “My little blood slave.”
“Teammates,” he corrected her.
He wondered just what he’d gotten himself into. And how the hell he was going to explain this to Marian, let alone get her back.