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Nov. 14th, 2006 | 09:15 pm

Prologue

Aurora let her dark eyes wave over the sight before her.  Faces she had known for years stared back ay her in uncharacteristic stillness.  She was used to them working their tools against the earth so hard that their flesh and the dirt became indistinguishable.  Yet the smell of ardorous sweat was replaced by the communal mixture of aromas -- of perfume, food, and incense.  This confluence reminded her of the temporary nature of the moment, that she was leaving and like the vapors, would only be a memory.

She wanted to take this moment in.  She wanted to hold the sun forever in the sky and let its growing, morning light command the world to stop.  She wanted to hear the communial yet disjointed breaths of those before her play like a set of pipes.  She even longed to go barefoot so she could feel the soil beneath her feet and rub it with her toes.  Yet a hand on her shoulder jarred her from fancy and into the the ever-changing stream of present.  She did not bother to look up at the woman who had made contract with her; her touch had served its purpose.  She inhaled deeply, then let out the breath in a soft sigh.

"It's..." she began, then stopped.  Doubt pounced on her like a tiger.  Her eyes fell on Aja, the shorter, more femine version of herself.  Quickly Aurora tossed aside her gaze, blotting out the many nights she fell asleep to the sounds of her younger sister's snoring.  Instead, Aurora threw her eyes on her parents who stood behind their youngest daughter, all three dressed in matching-patterened blue cloths.  Mama's cloth wrapped around her entire round, tall body, while Papa's fastened itself around his waist.  He had never seemed small prior to this moment, but she realized her father was a tiny man and if it were not for the beard that he sported, he'd easily be mistaken for a woman.  For a moment, Aurora almost wished she had inherited his size as Aja had rather than the tall, bulky form of her mother.  If she were smaller, she wouldn't be standing in front of her parents, wearing boots that concealed her feet, these pants that revealed too much of the structure of her legs, and her favorite sarong aroung her shoulders over a shirt.  These clothes were unseemly, unwomanly, and unnaural, causing a thousand echoes of her mother's voice in her mind.

*It will be hard for you to get a man because of your size.*

Quickly her gaze redirected itself to Joshua, who stood out in this crowd as he always did with his limp hair and his light skin.  Those features had endeared him to most of the girls in the region, yet the special smirk he held on his face reminded her of their special bond.  She was undesirable but pitied and welcome; he was attractive but had to bear the stigma of illegitimacy.  If she weren't leaving she would soon be married to him, despite her mother's claims of her unworthiness.  Yet her heart broke at the idea of no longer feeling his forbidden lips across her face at night as a prelude to their nuptuals.  All they could do now is lock eyes, separated not by the social mores, but the foolish choice she had made.

Aurora swallowed her regret, then opened her mouth to speak.

"Wait!" Aja called.  She started to run up to Aurora, but Mama grabbed her with a loving but firm hand. "Promise me you'll write."

"I'd love to but I can't," Aurora answered.  She ached to cross the distance between her and her family to hug them, but all of the physical goodbyes had been spoken.  This was merely ceremonial.

"Besides, you can't read," Aurora added as a tease.

"But Daddy can," Aja responsed.  She squeezed her juvenile face into a pout. "Please."

"Okay," Aurora lied.  It would be better to satisfy her sister with an untruth than to have her make and even bigger scene.  With these words Aja screamed in delight.  Instantly, Mama, squatted and swatted her large hand across her daughter's posterior.  A few murmurs of laughter escaped from the crowd, but Aja became quiet.  Reproach has listed the aura of sadness from .

"Aurora," Papa called, seizing the break in protocol to "We took care of you as long as we could.  Please take care of yourself."

"As you can see," Mama said. "by the time you get back, you'll have to take care of us."

She smiled in response, ignoring the tears welling up in her eyes.  Her throat tightened with every passing second, refusing to her swallow.  If she didn't speak now, she would lose her will completely.  She closed her eyes, then touched the woman beside her.  Aurora could not think of her as anything but a stranger at the moment, even though for the past few months, she had known her as intimately as a family member.  Yet her physical presence intruded her mind, forcing in her heart a resolve had lost moments ago.

"It's time for me to embrace my destiny!" she shouted.  "Goodbye."

With those words she and the woman beside her turned away from the crowd and began to walk away.  Aurora didn't dare look back at the jubilant cheers that accompanied her depature.  Tears had overflowed her eyes and now streamed down her face, blurring her vision to the point where she followed the shadow of her companion than walked on her own.  She wondered how she was going to be a Hunter if she couldn't even say goodbye without crying.

Chapter One

The stone bricks of the wall rubbed across Aurora's posterior like a file, but she endured the discomfort.  It was no worse than the aching of her knees from crouching too long, or the scratching of her head across the ceiling.  She had no choice.  The assailant would be coming after her in mere seconds, having finally traced her steps.  She just had to be patient and endure the pain atop the bookshelf next to the entrance until he entered the room.

The creak of a door flung open preceded its thud against the wall, along with the heavy footfalls grew louder and echoed against the cavernous corridors.  Interspersed with the pounding feet were breaths, far more heavy and labored than they should of been.  He was out of shape, not having engaged in the regular business of chasing people.  Aurora's eyes widened from the idea that this task would be easier than she previously suspected.

The man finally made his appearance that the sounds he made had foretold, a cowled, large figure dressed in gray.  He ran into the room she was in through the archway, not even bothering to slow down.  Instead, he ran into through the room and into the opposite archway, leaving only the stench of his scent and body odor to cover the room.  Desperately, Aurora wanted to spit an imprecation.  Her pursuer had been even more foolish than she had anticipated.  He didn't even bother to see if she were in the room, and his motions indacted this was a hasty oversight rather than a ploy.  Annoyed, she slid off the bookshelf, dropping down to the ground noiselessly.  Her joints felt a wave of relief, and she stretched them to the tune of crackling bones.

Aurora crept alongside the wall, not daring to trust the open air of the space between the archway.  She held her breath, and tried to shut out the noise of her own heartbeat.  She heard no one, smelled nothing, not felt the warmth of a human body.  She then stepped into the archway to find her the assailant.

Instantly, a rustle of cloth alerted her, and she leapt to the side.  An arrow sliced through the air beside her ear, yet she dared not watch the projectile's path.  Instead her eyes focused on the direction the arrow had come, and saw a woman.  She tried to load the arrow into a crossbow and in a few seconds she would be ready to plunge an arrow to the unmissable target of Aurora's advancing form.  Yet in those few seconds, Aurora had had closed the distance between the two and grabbed the crossbow.  Foolishly, the assassin didn't let go of the crossbow but instead held onto it, hoping to win the weapon back in a tug-of-war.  Instead, Aurora yanked the weapon with one large pull, throwing the woman off balance.  Swiftly Aurora raised her foot to the woman's stomach, delivering a kick that knocked her down.  Swinging the crossboe like a club, she hit her opponent in the back of the head, causing her to collapse.  Quickly Aurora bent down next to her fallen adversary, then checked the woman's pulse and breathing.  She was alive as she should have been.

Aurora abandoned the unconscious body and with it abandoned all stealth, running through the dual archways and into the long corridor.  She wondered why the assassin hadn't called out to her partner.  His inability to remain undetected made him more suited as a decoy rather than backup, yet the assassin should have made some effort to contract him.  The woman's error was a mistake future assassins would not make.  Aurora struggled to put the matter out of her mind, instead focusing on the pedestal at the end of the corridor.  A beam of sunlight shined down on the pedestal and the object on top of it, a wooden stake lying on its side.  As the corridor gave way to another archway that connected to a circular room, Aurora threw aside these musings,  She ran toward the stake and prepared herself to reach the object.

More quickly than she could imagine, a pair of arms wrapped around her, one arm across her neck and shoulder while the other one wrapped across her breasts.  Aurora bit her tongue in self-admonishment and at the all too familiar blend of odors that violated her nose.  She had spent so much time focusing on her opponent's error that she had made a fatal mistake.  The man's arms gripped her like a vice and she knew despite her strength she couldn't overpower him -- he had the advantages of surprise and leverages.  There was only one thing she could do.  Her body became still in defeat and her limbs and neck fell into lifeless despair.  Her mouth and loosened slightly, allowing saliva to collect in between her cheeks.  Her eyes shut of their own accord; a warrior had become a human ragdoll.

Disgusted, the man released her, letting Aurora fall onto the ground.  Upon impact he heard neither groan nor whimper, then bent down over her cautiously, not wanting to be fooled for a feint.  He picked her up again, this time cradling her in his arms.  He could not hear of feel her breaths, and beneath the leather outfit she wore, he could not feel a pulse.  He steadied her head so that it faced his own.

"Aurora," he said, hoping for a flinch to acknowledge her name.  Yet she remained without any hint of vitality, and spit becan to trickle out the corners of her mouth.  "Aurora!"

He stared at her, for several seconds in disbelief, then raised her head to look for the subtle signs of life.  For a few seconds, it appearead there were none, but her eyelids and lip twitched almost uncontrollably.  Before he could react in any fashion, her lips puckered and shot a volley of liquid and mucus into his eye.  Immediately, he dropped her and screamed, wiping at the spit running down his face. Aurora ran to the pedestal and grabbed the stake, raising it into the air.

"Wonderful!" a voice cried from above.

Aurora turned to an old woman who had called her, instantly regognizing the face of her mentor.  The statuesque woman's long hair had long excanged its beautiful black for a purer gray, and blended into her pale blue robes all too easily.  Yet the wrinkles on the woman's face were slight rather than deep.  She had not worn herself out with the hard work Aurora had chosen, and displayed her tactician's countenance with a radiance like no other.

She descended via a stone staircase that wrapped itself around the edges of the room.  Wisdom displayed itself in her every carefully chosen step, and she appoached Aurora in a pace that could have been mistaken for ambling.  Aurora had known this pace all too well from both her training and her childhood; it was a deliberatness that could only be obtained through the countryside or seclusion.  Aurora lowered herself to one knee and bowed her head, contening herself with hearing her former attackers join her mentor's side.  She felt the heat of their bodies when they stopped in front of her.

"Rise like the sun," the woman ordered, "for you are aptly named."

"Master--" Aurora began as she stood.

"I am not your master any longer, but I have a request."  She began to walk away with the same deliberation, motioning for Aurora to follow.  "Call me Rebecca.  That is my name.  You have passed the test and we are equals."

"You taught me, Master."  Aurora lowered her head as she walked through the same corridor moment ago she had sprinted through.  "I cannot show you such disrespect."

"You disrespect me more by continuing this charade."  Rebecca stopped, allowing Aurora to reach her side, then began to walk again.  "You are an adult, not a child."

"Yes, Rebecca," Aurora answered uncomfortably as she walked through the archway and into the room with the bookshelf.  "I should not have passed.  It was only because of the mistakes of others that I did."

"Everyone makes mistakes.  Learn from yours."  The four of them walked down trough the second archway into the corridor that led outside.  "Do you know what yours was?"

"I overthought the situation.  I should have just accepted the way things were."

"No, that wasn't it.  It was the opposite."  Rebecca stepped in front of Aurora as they reached the door.  She opened the door, allowing the beautiful morning light to flood their eyes.  The trio accompaniying her to pass her, their steps slightly unsteady as their eyes and bodies shifted to the outside world.  Deciduous trees, branches, vines, and leafy plants surrounded them, keeping the secret of the lair from which they had emerged.  Rebecca closed the door, then joined the three once again.

"You were right to ponder the mistakes of your enemies," she continued. "Yet when you saw the stake you reacted as child to a candy.  You stopped analyzing and lost your train of thought.  Remember this.  If you see something placed in front of you, it's often to good to be true."

"Thank you, Rebecca."  They circumambulated the area, until they reached a post.  At the post stood a small carriage pulled by two horses.  "What else can you tell me?"

"I can only tell you two more things.  One, remember the oath you swear before you can hunt.  Never, ever kill another being, living or undead, human or animal, except the one have sworn to slay."

"I will," Aurora answered, clenching the stake in her hand.

"Second, you merely need to tell the driver where you're going."  Rebecca and Aurora walked over at the carriage, followed by their two companions.  The driver ame from the other side of the carriage and opened the door for Aurora.  Her satchel had been placed inside the coach, beckoning her to come in.

"I'm going home," Aurora answered.  "I have to see my family one more time."

"Remember, you are not the same girl I guided out of that vilage four years ago, nor are they the same as they once were.  You have no idea what has occurred in the past few years."

Aurora bit her lip at the comment.  She remember the words she had intended to be a falsehood to Aja had come true, and the many nights she spent secretly writing, seding, and receiving letters from her hometown.  She looked into the old woman's eyes.  Rebecca had known this as well although she would never acknowledge it, but the woman's words were for the benefit of their companions.

Aurora did not dare say goodbye to Rebecca.  Instead she entered the carriage and picked up her bag, then placed it next to her on the seat.  The driver closed the door, then climbed up in.  The jostling of the carriage smacked her joints every second, and her eyes glazed over the surroundings that began to move backward.  Simple landmarks such as rocks and creeks concealed the vast training ground that this lair had been.  Within the heart of nature, Aurora had been forged into a deadly weapon to confront the evil that has ruled across this world for too long.  And yet, her hot train of thought cooled into a trickle of consciousness, and she closed her eyes despite her discomfort.  She did not feel the carriage stop, but soon she saw the familiar trees and paths of her childhood.   The carriage slowed down and she exted the vehicle like a spirit.

The sun ascended into the sky as it had the morning she had left, and the village before her was a buzz of activity.  Smoke rose through huts of wives preparing their food, while their husbands reaped the harvest from the fields.  Clearly today was the day of a feast.  Yet Aurora had not sent a letter to her village of her graduation.  Even if she had, it would not arrived as quickly as the carriage.  The secrecy involved in sneaking a letter past the seclusion of the lair and into the outside world made it easier for her to deliver the news in person.  Besides, she had wanted to surprise them with her presence.  Apparently it was all for naught, as the friends and family were already aware she had been coming.

She walked toward her dwelling, past faces who were as much to her identity as her own body, but who ignored her.  Perhaps this was part of the game, to pretend that she was invisible.  She found it too easy to play along, and soon found herself strolling past people she recognized.  She reached her doorway, then smelled the familiar scents of her mother's spices and the fire that had been going.  This was undeniably home, just as she remembered it.

Aurora quickly spotted Mama next to a fire, stirring a large pot suspended from the ceiling by rope.  Other than a few gray more hairs, she looked the same as Aurora had remembered her.  Mama was absorbed completely by what she was doing, to the point where she didn't realize her daughter was appropaching her.

"I'm home." Aurora announced as she stepped closer her mother.  Mama did not chaged her position and remained a sentinel over the boiling liquid.  Instead, she responded by turning her head momentarily.

"Aja, are those carrots ready yet?" she asked.

"Yes," Aja answered.  She emerged from a corner from which Aurora's eyes could not determine; her eyes were still used to the full sunlight from the outside.  Aja did not look much taller or older from when she had seen her last, yet this did not surprise Aurora.  In her mind, she knew her sister would never change.  Yet her sister walked past her with a basket of carrots in hand.  She showed no signs of breaking the facade of ignoring her, and a feeling of dread crawled up her spine.  Her sister was never a good actor.

"I'm here!" Aurora shouted.  She reached out to Aja to grab her.  Her hand passed through her sister as though she were not there.  In surprise, Aurora tried to touch her sisted again, but the only thing the felt was air.

"Damn it!" she cursed, then quickly felt saliva trickle the wrong way down her throat.  She cleared her throat to alleviate the iriitiation, but was jarred by a sharp pain in her mouth.  Blood washed over her tongue.  In that instant, the world changed, and her body was paralyzed, then forced into a sitting position.  Her eyeds, once open, were closed and she opened them again.

The warm light of day washed over her vision, clearing the darkness from the corners of her eyes.  She was back in the carriage.  Her body was now sore from the uneven jostling and and her imperfect sleeping position.  Instantly, she stuck out her tongue and touched the sore spot, feeling the traces blood she had tasted.  She didn't know how long she had been asleep, but she hoped she'd be back home soon.

All of a sudden, the carriage jerked to a halt accompanied by the braying of horses and yells from thedriver.  After several minutes, the driver hopped down from his seat, then opened the door.

"I'm sorry," the driver said. "They're spooked.  They won't go any further."

"I understand," Aurora answered.  Immediately, her frame of mind shifted and her training flooded back to her at once.  Any horses used as a means of travel to and from the lair were well trained and carefully selected for temperament.  For them to disobey any orders given to them only meant that a supernatural threat had been in the area.  It was her duty as a Hunter to investigate; her village would have to wait.

She looked around at the road and saw that the trees had been cut cut down and the vegetation was non-existedn.  How could she have not noticed this before?  Had it not been for the beaten dirt path, she would have sworn driver taken a wrong turn.  A whiff of death punched her in the nose, and Aurora bit the sore spot on her tongue to keep from gaggin.  The breeze had come from further down the road, and she followed the

As she ran down the path, this area, alien and devoid of life, became familiar to her.  She saw maples, oaks, and beeches where there were now stumps and.  Her feet knew the road.  Her heart quickned as she ran, not from the exertion but the realization of the horrible truth.  She continued to run into the every stregthening stench of death and burnt objects until she saw a patch of earth, scorched and covered with smouldering debris and circular piles of burnt straw.  She ran down the road, then opened her mouth in astonisment as she saw the bodies lying against the ground.

She had arrived home.

Chapter Two

Aja woke up upon feeling a knife plunged in the back of her skull.  Immediately, she thought to pull it out but her body did not respond to her will.  Her arms, legs, and back remained still against a surface, and when she opened her eyes she saw nothing.  It was all too clear she was dead, although she didn't expect to feel pain after dying.  Yet the sound of her heart beating drenched her ears, and she could stil feel herself breathing.  She tried to move again and felt the friction of burning twine against her limbs.  It reminded her that she was all too much alive.

Upon this realization, she screamed for what seemed like without end, calling fror help with her mouth and moistening the cloth over her eyes with tears and sweat.  She also felt wetness bewteen her legs, and liquid spilled uncontrollably onto the back of her dress.  Her lower ached in conjunction and she breathed in heavily after her voice gave out from yelling.  She stank from not being washed and from the monthly emergence of blood.  She would soon also smell of feces if the she were not released soon.

The solitude of her existence was broken by the intrustion of two voices.  The blindfold had covered the opening of her ear canal, preventing her from hearing the words they spoke clearly.  It also seemed as through the environment itself muffled their voices as well, although the reason behing this remained as much a mystery as her present location.  One of the two voices, far younger and higher, distinguished itself further by growing louder.

"You can't do this!" the younger voice shouted.

"Then will you?" the older voice asked.

"Yes," the other voice answered after a long, uneasy pause. "I will."

"After all these years, you have not learned how to lie."

No more words were spoken between the two, and what followed next were a mixture of yells, groans, and thuds.  For almost a minute this continued, until it stopped in a sudden slam that caused Aja to flinch.  This was followed by the creak of a door opening slowlty.  Footsteps followed, slow and deliberate, then stopped upon the shutting of the same door.  A series of clicks followed, indicating that the entering figure had locked the entrance.  Her heart quickened even further as the footsteps approached her in a steady rhythm.  They stopped, and a series of cold sticks touched bothe sides of her face.  It was only when the sticks began to move across her face did she understand that they were fingers.  They slid outward and down, from her cheeks and past her ears to the back of her head.  Upon the touch, the stabbing pain that had forced her into consciousness lessened significantly.  The figure wirked his fingers to undo the knot of the cloth that had been tied over her eyes.  At last, it loosened and blood rushed to her face, bringing with it the joy of relief as he lifted the cloth from her face.

Greedily, Aja opened her eyes, only to see an indistinct, blurry world of colors covered by a thick haze.  Immediately, she jerked her arms to wipe the crust and goo from the corners of her eyes, but the paralyzing burn of the rope reminded her that she was a prisoner.  A shadow slowly appreached her eyes, threatening to blind her once again.

"Hold still," a voice commanded.

Despite every instinct telling her to escape, his words held a power and calmness beyond any that she had ever known.  She forced her eyes open as the soft, dark cloth wiped the corners of her eyes.  She hated her helplessness, and felt ready to jump out of her skin.  But she assented and became as still as a mannequin, and as the dirt and moisture were cleared away from her eyes, her vision improved drmatically.  A few blinks later, she could see almost as clearly as if she has never been blindfolded.

A wheel with flames pointed away from Aja and toward a stone wall.  However, any further glimpse of her surroundings had been interrupted by the intrusion of a strange face.  His skin was a pale pink and his face wrinkled beyond that of the oldest men or women she had known.  His nose was smaller than hers and his irises were as blue as the morning sky, matched by his cloud-like eyebrows and similarly colored hair.  Her first thought was that he was indeed an alien, not of the world she had known, but of a land far away.  As her wits returned to her, she realized that she was she ione bound, and the wall she stared at was the ceiling.  Her perspective had been wrong.  She was the one who had been carried away and tied flat on her back.  Wherever she was, she was the alien.

"Where am I?" she asked the face frantically.  "Who are you?  Why am I here?"

The face grinned, an action that seemed to be familiar given the laugh lines on it.  What was unfamiliar to Aja was the sight she saw.  She half expected him to be toothless or at best, have half of his teeth given his age.  Instead, he had a mouth full of perfectly white teeth, all acccounted for.  In fact, his two cuspids extended slightly from the rest of his teeth, their pointed ends piercing the veil of Aja's ignorance.

"No!" she cried.  "Please Mr. Vampire--"

"Ian," he interrupted, his face becoming as solemn as his age.  Her eyes were wide with confusionm so he touched her neck with his cold fingers.  "That's my name."

"Please Mr. Ian.  Please don't bite me.  I don't taste good."

"Don't worry."  He drew closer to her and bent over, allowing her to see the strange, dark garments that covered his limbs separately from that of his body.  Yet he emitted neither body heat nor smell.  Were it not for her ears and eyes, she could hardly believe he were there at all, and this a mad dream from which she would soon awaken.

"I have no intention of biting you."  Ian placed his hand on Aja's hip, who jerked the section away from him.  "And I'm not interested in the blood you're spilling all across this table."

Relief embraced Aja upon the statement, even though she could not tell if he were telling the truth or lying.  Even in the brief moment she had known him, she perceived his ability to speak an untruth rather than

"Oh, no.  I know the legends.  You're going to try to get me to drink you're blood and turn me into your vampire whore.  Well, I have news for you.  I'd rather die than become like you!"

"It's not like you have choice," Ian replied.  "But any drinking will come later."

"It's not going to come at all!"

"Oh?"  Ian smirked and drew away from Aja, raising his right eyerbow in mock surprise.

"My sister's a Hunter.  She's going to hunt you down and rescue me."

"I suppose I would be afraid if that were news..."  He sighed, then chuckled.  His laugh made Aja quiver in disgust and shame.  "No, I wouldn't be afraid even if it had come as a surprise.  I probably would have killed you instead."

"Then are you going to let me go?"

"In due time, I promise."  Those words instilled more dread tan relief in Aja's heart, but the ones that came next hurt her even worse.  "But right now, we're going to have some fun."

He lifted his left hand then grabbed the loose end of the blindfold with his right hand, then lowered the cloth over her her eyes.  She squealed, stuggled, and screamed as her world retuned to darkness, and the cloth pressed into her flesh and hair. His icy fingers cupped her right ear as he tied the cloth around her head, then similarly forced the left ear out of its bondage after the blindfold was reciure. He ran his fingertip slowly around the edge of her left ear, holding her head immobile with the cold force of his right hand.

"Relax," he whispered into her ear. A wet, spongy object explored the crevices of her ears and with a sickening realization she knew it was his tongue. Tears and sweat moistoned the blindfold, mirroring the wetness of her ear.  Her throat closed up in terror. What little voice she had left was not trapped behind her muscules. At last, Ian pulled away from her, and her heart skipped a beat.  Could it be possible that he had changed his mind?  That question seemed to be answered in the affirmative when she felt the rope around her right ankle loosen.  Deftly he untied the rope around her left leg in a similar fashion, and she kicked her legs in eager anticipation.

A split second later, she realized her mistake, but it was too late.  The pains inside her abdomen intensified as she felt her legs behing pried apart and the pull of her muscles in her thighs and knees.  The cloth-lined presence situated itself between her lower limbs, and soon gave way to that of freezing flesh.

Aja remembered what the older women in the village had told her about beng raped.  If a man were to force himself on her, they advised, it would be best not to fight back, as he would take her innocence regardless of what she did.  Submitting would be less painful, they said.  Yet now their words were the foolish prattle of those who had known nothing of where she was now.  As Ian's hands lovelessly carressed her shoulder and neck, and her blood soaked garment pushed upward, she knew she had to fight.  Not for her innocence or pride, but for the simple fact that everything about his very being now filled her with a disgust so overwhelming that was fatal.

Aja fought for her life, screaming with every brath.  She tried to bite him, but his flesh remained too far from his mouth, and her hands clawed uselessly against the rope.   She spat blindly on him.  Yet this did not stop the heaviness, the pressing death of his weight on her stomach, his hands meandering from the shoulders he massaged to her breasts.  At the same time, she felt something pry her lower half of her body slightly upward, and felt her v realease pickes of air in addition to the blood that poured forth. Soo, she felt an cold, hard object against the hair around her, that pushed past the labia and against the desired apeture,  In panic, she squeezed the muscles in the area, trying to force the golden liquid that had welled up inside her bladder onto herself and him.  Instead, nothing came out.  She could not even releive herself the

Skin tore, each thrus bringing a new spike of pain .  It pressed forward in a relentless assault, stretching skin and tissue and even pressing against the fecal matter  through the vaginal wall.

She didn't care that her thigs were sore from being thrust apary, her knees hurt from being be, or even that the pain between was only outstripped by the horrible, inescapable taint that washed over herentire .  She didn't care that the sounds of the world were not distant, hidden by a slight high pitched whine and muffled even more strongly than before.  She could only be thankful for the sudden drowsiness that washed over her body, leaving her cold and paralyzed, unable to shake shiver or cry.  Death was coming to claim her at last, too late to save her from dying a virgin, but in time to prevent her from living in shame.


Chapter Three

Aurora stared at the destruction before her with the amazement of the young.  She had occassionally thought of the possibility of sights like this through her travels.  She was a Hunter; to take on this distinction was to open her mind to scales of carnage she had never known existed.  Yet, this was different than any taste of destruction that came by.  In a village where the last murder had occurred long before she was born, she knew nothing of manslaughter firsthand until she had left her village for training.  She could not even recall the worst horrors that had happened to her and the village -- the famine that eradicated much of their crop and that had swallowed, the storm that had burnt half the village down and torn a hole in the roof above her and Aja's sleeping space.  They were all silenced in her mind, forgotten because of the sheer dread that shook her to her core.

She quickly threw herself out of her shock and into the whirlwind of an active mind.  Despite the stench, there were far fewer bodies that there should have been.  Most of the dead had been livestock.  Many of the animals had been draped in the cloths of the villagers, far too recently to have been covered by the attackers.   She bent down and pulled back a sheet.  Aurora gagged, though when the face of Old Baba, one of the village elders, stared back at her, frozen in fear, yet throwing his death odors into her nose.  She couldn't believe the grotesque mask of his face was all that remained of one of the wisest men of the village.  It did not seem real -- she wished that she had been a ghost, that this has been the nightmare and the reality was that she was dead, looking at the face of someone she had known who had identified her body.  But if this were a dream, she was compelled to live it to the end.

A moan grabbed her attention as quickly and effectively as a cold hand placed around her neck.  Her eyes swung like a pendululm, searching for the source of the noise.  Quickly, she dashed over the pile of debris across from the remains of her hut   She noticed the forms of bodies underneath the debris, making hills and valleys of stick, mud, and stone.  She reacted by bending down over the material and scooping it with her hands.

Upon her actions, the entire village began to stir like a zombie awakening for the first time.  But the people who came out of the rubble of heir houses were very much alive. although some had wounded bodies and all with wounded souls.  Dirt covered, their eyes had the haunted gaze to those who were




Chapter Four

An uncontrollable chill burrowed itself into Aja's skin. She half expectedted to be numb by now. She wished she were numb now, where freezing to death wouldn't matter, where she would no longer feek like killing herself to abandon the taintet that reached past her body and went into her soul. She longed for nothing more than a nice hot bath to wash away the shame and sin, to at least let her try to clean out the nasty essence that had beebn deposited in her body. Just to think of it made her shiver from disgust and trauma more than the cold. She wanted to scream. She could still feel his hands all over her, feel her flesh being torn and his manhood thrust into her core and the liquid it injected. The memory of the awful sensations were too much and she wanted to scream, but mouth would not move. It was frozen shut like the rest of her. It was only when she inhaled deeply in a attempt to calm herself that opened her eyes and she realized she was no longer in the same position or even the same room as her prior holding site.

This room was similar to the one she had been in before, with the same stone ceiling and floor. The fact that she could see the floor intrigued her, as she was so cold that she didn't even know that her body position had changed. She was flat against a wall, bound now by metal chains and shackled rather than rope. She neither felt the pressing of the metal against her skin nor the coldness of it. Instead, she could first tell by the smell, then by her eyes, which also  told her that she was wearing a gown. Her nose also reported a lack of stench but the faint trace of oils and soap. She had been cleaned up while she had been out to the point where she could not even smell herself. Indeed, she didn't even feel any liquid coming out of her and immediately, she stared at her abdomen at a horrifying prospect. Perhaps she had been out days, or weeks, or even months...

Her thoughts were pushed aside by the opening of the door, which brightened the dark room from the torchlight in the exterior hall.  She watched as a young man, entered, dressed in a very similar fashion to that of Ian.  His hair, though, was almost as dark as hers, and his skin was far from the unnatural pallor of Ian.  His complexion was lighter and of a slightly different hue, though, his cheekbones higher, and his feautres more chiseled.  As he walked over tom she stared at the shoes he wore, black boots  She had to look down at her feet to see she had white slippers covering her soles.

It was only when he raised a cup to her face that she noticed he had been carrying something in his hand.  The cup, unlike him, was warm, almost glowing with heat.  She smiled, then quickly her mouth  closed.  It was probably something to knock her out, so that he would have his way with her too.  She closed her eyes

"Drink this.  You will feel better."

He tasted it  then made a face of disgust, which strengthened her resolve to push away the liquid.  Her brain quickly .  If it were poison, it wouldn't have affected him, and if it were blood, then he wouldn't have shunned it.  Unlike Ian he didn't have the ability to throw himself into a role.  He was far too straightforward, and perphaps far too inexperienced for that.  Honesty radiated through his entire being, and for an instant, she thought his presence would make this existence bearable.

Then she remembered he was the enemy.  He was a , worse yet, just another man.  She chided herseself.  This was no hero to rescue her, but rather the lesser of two evils.  And this evil would use her as much as Ian had.  Yet when he brought the cup over to her and



Why did she feel so conflicted.  Her mind and body told her that he was not to be trusted, but the something beyond that reached out to him.  When they looked at each other, it was as if their souls joined -- not necessarily as lovers or friends -- but as two people who needed each other.

"Pregnant?"

"No," "He did not get you pregant."



Chapter Nine

! led Aurora through the stone corridors that were all too similar to those she had known for the past few years.  Her mind was instantly taken back to the moment of her graduation, and the unfamiliar footsteps of Raul whispered danger in her mind.  As well as they should have, she thought.  She didn't trust him, but he had made a sound argument, one that ate at her to the core.  There was no way that he could have been telling the truth about his motives; she had been trained to know vampires lied as naturally as they imbibed the blood of the living.  Yet at the same time, he was right.  She could not put her stake through him or Aja without breaking her oath.  Nor had he taken advantage of this fact.  With every step they look and every torch they passed, though, she reminded herself that he was not to be trusted.

It was of course entirely possible that he was simply using her as bait to lead her to Ian, then to attacked in tandem with his master.  It was more likely, though, that she was to be used as a weapon to kill the creature, and have him rule the castle instead.  He would probably attempt to kill her after the fight, but she would be ready for him Raul...and Aja

She stole a glance at her sister, who leaned on Raul as they walked.  She didn't know what was worse, the fact that she had been violated and had to be killed or the pitiful attempts she made to walk.  Between the trauma that her body had been through and the time of day, Aurora wondered how Aja was even able to stay coonscious.  But step by step, despite her weakeness, she pressed on against the shoulders of Raul, until he stopped in a room that appeared to be a dead end.

In this room was a table and a set of four chairs, in front of a bookcase that was conspicuous by its presence.  It contained rows upon rows of books behind shelves lined with a thin film of dust.  The sight painted a smirk on Raul's face

"Not a very secret entrance," Aurora remarked.

"That isn't a secret entrance,"Raul replied, as he grabbed a thin book from the shelf and presented it to Aja. "You'll need this."

"But...I can't read," she admitted.

"You don't have to.  One of the advantages of your new state of existence is that it awakens the powers that lie dormant.  Unlike others, you do not have to read the incantations inside to use them, but to merely touch it.  Over time they'll become a part of you and you won't need the books except to teach someone else."  He gently pushed the book closer to her.  "Please take it.  It will focus your mind."

In response, Aja grabbed the book with both hands.  Instantly its knowledge flooded into her, as well as the structure of the written word.  Her mind absorbed the new rules of grammar, the placement of the letters inside, and the concepts of syntax and semantics became as well known to her as her home.  But she quickly remembered that she had no more home.  The hut she had lived in was not just destroyed, but she could never go back to it.  She was no longer a maiden and no longer even alive.  The realization hit her firmly, and she tossed the book onto the ground.  Immediately, she began to forget many of the details necessary to cast the spells it has taught her, yet the one thing it had forced her to know beyond a shadow of a doubt would not go away

"No!" Aja shouted as she collapsed to the stone floor. "Kill me!  Kill me right now!"

"Get up!" Aurora said, pulling her up.  "If you're going to fall apart, do it later.  Now get the book!"

"You always used to order me around.  I don't know why I missed you."  In contrast to her defiant words, she picked up the book that she had thrown and become silent once more.

"Where's the secret entrance?" she asked Raul.

"You've been standing on it the entire time," he answered, pointing to a star-shaped pattern of slightly discolored stones upon which Aurora stood.  Immediately, she stepped away from the symbol on the floor.  He kneeled beside the table, then pressed a switch under the tabletop.  A circle of rocks around the shape on the ground began to glow.  In seconds all the stones contained within the circle had disappered, leaving a hole that glowed with a different hue of firelight.  He went over to Aja and grabbed her by the waist.  Under his power, the two of them leapt into the hole without hesitation, and landed with an immediate thud.  Aurora followed them with a

"I'm sorry.  I don't know what came over me,"

"You've been through a lot, and you're going to go through more."

"Wonderful, he has this entrance blocked"

"That's no problem.  Watch this."  She whispered a short inc

"Same old Aja," Aurora remarked.

"The spell was to let me walk through walls."  "I know I cast it right"

"It won't work.  These powers can only be accessed at night."

"How do you know?"

"Because I have tried.  Even as old as I am, it drains me to merely stay awake during the"

"You're doing better than I am."

"That's because I'm more used to it."  "When I was first turned, I fell asleep immediately upon sunrise."

"Indeed, that's what I have been wondering." "Turning can only happen when a vampire has intercourse with a human.  If your wife didn't turn you, then who did?"

"Amazing.  That is what we were taught as Hunters.  But the truth is the intercourse does not have to be coital"

"I don't understand," Aja interjected, hearing words that were not intended for her.

"It's just another lie he's telling," Aurora said after a brief silence.  However the pause and her tone betrayed the fact that she did not even believe her own words.

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