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The pain, the burning, and the desire coursed through her body. She could hear a voice, but it sounded muffled. The heartbeat thumped in her ears loudly. What was that, a heartbeat? It was not her own.  There was someone else in the room with her. Why was their heart beating so loud? Why could she not hear her own?

Veronica’s eyes opened and the bright light poured in, causing her to squint. She had trouble seeing. Everything was so bright and vivid. She remained with her eyes shut to the blinding light for some time. Eventually, she willed herself to open them again.  She was in a cellar; she could smell the rank mold. She could taste the moisture of it on her tongue. More than that, she could see the dank wet walls around her, lit as if from a noonday sun. Veronica attempted to move, and her body stopped short, being held by some sort of resistance.

“Easy now…” a strained voice came from nearby.

Veronica could hear the voice now, but it was difficult to make out over the sound of that heartbeat. Did the person know that their heart beat with such a hypnotic rhythm? She leaned over, looking at the man. He seemed to hold a globe as bright as the sun in his hands and she had to look away. Was that only a lantern? It was so bright in here. It might as well have been day.

“Do you know what you are?” the man asked, his voice losing some of his strain as she put her head back down.

“My name is Veronica,” Veronica finally found her voice, “Where am I?”

“Do you know what you are?” the man repeated.

Veronica glared over at him, but the intense light of a lantern made it impossible to make out his face. She had just told him, hadn’t she?

“I’m the baker’s daughter, Veronica Nightengale, please release me,” Veronica tugged at the chains which rattled.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” the strange man genuinely did seem apologetic.

Fear began to course through Veronica. She was trapped here in a cellar, captive to a man with a face in shadows. This was exactly like the stories her sister used to tell her when they stayed up late past her father’s curfew. She desperately tried to remember the events that had led up to this. That was right. She had been grabbed by a group of dangerous men.

She had held up a fight. She did manage to knee at least one man in the groin, so she was proud of that accomplishment. However, they were able to overpower her. She remembered being on the ground as dirty men with alcohol on their breath felt up and down her body. She had realized that traveling that night had been a mistake. She had never fallen into trouble before, but it was stupid of her to assume that that meant she never would.

As the men stripped away her clothing, they were distracted. A noble Samaritan had come to assist her. He had easily overcome the men. Then… Veronica shied away from the memories as if they were a fire or a heated pot. The man whose name she never learned must have been overtaken. Yes; more ruffians came and killed her would-be savior, and then she was knocked unconscious and dragged here.

Soon, this man would be joined by his friends, and they would take turns receiving pleasure from her. Veronica shivered, her body turning as cold as ice. Although in truth, being strung up as she was in this damp basement, she already felt dreadfully cold.

“So you don’t know what you are then?” the man asked one last time.

Veronica was already in the throes of panic. She threw herself against the chains. She had to get out. She had to make her escape. She had to make her voice heard by anyone who may be near enough to help her. This sudden burst of movement seemed to terrify her captor, as he stood up quickly, banging his head on the low hanging roof.

With a curse, he moved several steps towards her. With the lantern left behind, the features of his face became visible. He was surprisingly young, with shaggy brown hair and dark brown eyes. He looked far too clean to be a ruffian. His coat was finely cut, although not nearly flamboyant enough to be noble. All of these features seemed to blend away as Veronica could see nothing but the blood flowing in his veins.

The captor made several shushing sounds putting his hands out over her but refrained from covering her mouth. Her screaming stopped, and he noticeably relaxed. His wrist was so close now. It was so close that she could just… she lunged against her chains and the man reeled back as her teeth snapped shut mere inches from the wrist.

Why had she done that? Such a complete lack of propriety, this mortified Veronica beyond belief. However, it was more than that. What was she doing? She tried to bite him. Why would she bite someone? Veronica could not wrap her brain around those questions as well as she hoped.

The man whom she had tried to bite seemed more interested in the event than anything. He turned away, picking up a small notebook near the stool he had been sitting on. He wrote in it eagerly, although he mumbled to himself as he wrote.

“So it is instinctual, it has to be,” the strange man mumbled, “but there is no kind of memory that gets passed on. So they aren’t aware of what they are. That means the behavioral aspects are learned.”

The man continued to mumble to himself, his voice becoming unintelligible. Veronica continued to lie there in the darkness. Her body felt cold, but she didn’t seem to shiver in response to the cold. That wasn’t the only thing she noticed. Her throat burned painfully. Her sight, her smell, and hearing all seemed to be amplified somewhat. She could hear someone rocking in a chair a level above her. She could even hear carts moving down the street outside. Something had been done to her. What had this man done to her?

She had heard that three towns over a woman had become possessed by a demon. They had had to remove the demon from her body. The ritual was said to be long and horrific; the woman had come back as a husk of her formal self. The enhanced senses, the actions outside of her control, were they the result of a demonic possession of her body? What evil had she done to deserve demonic enslavement? Had those men succeeded in raping her? Had losing her virginity before marriage doomed her? Did it open a gateway for demon’s to enter?

Tears formed on Veronica’s cheeks. She didn’t want to give this man the satisfaction, but she couldn’t stop herself. The tears simply came. She remembered her mother who had passed away when she was very young. She thought about her father and her sister. How would they react to know that she was nothing but the devil’s plaything now?

The odd man noticed her as she inadvertently let out a sob. He lowered the book, almost surprised to see a girl crying in his midst. He moved towards her again, this time making sure to keep an appropriate distance from her.

“Why are you crying?” The man asked cautiously.

Why did he think?

 “What are you going to do with me?”

The man sighed, nodding to himself, “Eventually, I’m going to have to kill you.”

The casualness in his tone caught her a bit off guard. That he could so easily murder another made all of her fears come through. She let out another loud sob. This seemed to alarm the man further. He tossed the book to the side.

“You don’t understand,” the man responded, waving his hands, “You have to die, there is no other way. It is either you or them.”

“Who?” Veronica asked through tears.

“Whoever’s next.”

Veronica stared up at the man blankly, and he eventually turned away, cursing to himself once again. He turned back to her, a look of renewed vigor in his eyes.

“Look, I’m bad at this,” the man stated, “I suppose it isn’t fair to leave you in the dark, but I thought it might be easier if you didn’t know what happened. I can see that I was wrong. What do you remember exactly of the night you died?”

Veronica’s eyes widened, “What do you mean died?”

The man tightened his fists and growled to himself before facing her again, “Alright, the night you were attacked.”

“I remember the men. I remember them forcing my clothes off. I remember being saved. Then…”

Veronica cringed. She felt pain, followed by pleasure, an intense pleasure that seemed to vibrate through her entire body, and then emptiness. Was that what happened? Was she raped? Did she enjoy it? She had never had sexual relations before to have anything to compare it to. Wasn’t that what the first time was supposed to be like? Pain, and then pleasure? She could certainly see why her soul was being damned for all eternity if that was the case.

“You were bitten,” the man responded, cutting her line of thought into pieces.

“Bitten?”  Veronica asked in confusion.

“The one you say saved you. It wasn’t a human. It was something else you may have heard of before. It was a vampire. After it rescued you, it fed on you.”

Veronica remained silent, not quite sure how to respond. The burning sensation in the back of her throat seemed to grow through. She needed something, she just couldn’t figure out what it was. As he continued, however, reality dawned on her.

“The vampire killed you but allowed you to change into one of its kind. You have been dead for several days, and now you are a vampire.”

Veronica nodded numbly. It was exactly as bad as she had feared. Her body and soul were damned for all of eternity. It was all because she shamelessly hugged a stranger in appreciation. The memory seemed to flow back to her now that the man had filled in the gaps. Being bitten, feeling the waves of pleasure flow through her as she fell into the man’s embrace. The very thought caused a blush to form on her cheeks. At least it would have, had she still had flowing blood. She did not though, she was a monster.

 “If you are left alive, you will only feel compelled to feast on humans. You would kill loved ones, friends, family, anyone to get your next fix. You’d never forgive yourself. The second I brought you into my charge, I committed myself to see this to the end. I will kill you when the time is necessary.”

The man’s voice seemed to break on the word kill, lacking sincerity or force. However, Veronica did understand. She was a monster now. Of course, this begged to ask the question, why was she still alive in the first place?

“Who are you?” Veronica asked, “Why haven’t you just killed me?”

The man let out a long drawn out breath before sitting back in his chair, “That is the question now, isn’t it?”

Veronica waited as the man sat in relative silence. He seemed to be contemplating her answer, however, as minutes past she began to grow restless, the burning in the back of her throat becoming greater. She was just about to ask again when he finally spoke up.

“Artemis, Artemis Giles,” the man stated, looking up at Veronica, “I’m a scientist at the academy in Capital City.”

“Alright…” Veronica began.

“I’m trying to learn about your kind. About the occult. There is not nearly enough study on these kinds of things. The church and the government have gotten too friendly with each other over the years, and the church has a nasty habit of labeling anything they don’t understand as ‘demonic’. Things need to be understood. Ignorance breeds contempt. I have always believed this.”

“Vampires are evil,” Veronica clenched her teeth, a surge of burning coming from deep within her throat as tears began to flow down her face once again for an entirely different reason.

The change into becoming a vampire, it was so sudden. It was so hard to process. She had to do something about it now. She had to die before she did something she regretted. She had to die before it warped her mind.

Artemis seemed to not notice Veronica’s internal struggle “Well, that is why I am here. I won’t declare them evil, not until I have seen them without an inch of humanity. Perhaps we only perceive Vampire’s as evil, because they are taught by their sire to do evil things.”

“Sire?”

“The one who made you. I suppose in this case it would be that vampire chained up a few blocks down awaiting execution. Either way, what is important is you. You don’t seem evil. You have discussed and talked with me now. Perhaps there is hope for vampires. At the very least, I don’t plan to kill you for a while. I need to learn from you, everything I can.”

Veronica was already shaking her head, “I… if these chains were not holding me down, I would attack you this instant.

To emphasize the point, Veronica threw her weight against the chains once again to no avail. Artemis took a step back, seeming at odds with himself.

“Perhaps… perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way,” Artemis explained, suddenly growing hesitant, “Perhaps with you, I can find a cure. Maybe a weapon? Something we can use to stop, stall, or pacify your kind.”

“You don’t understand,” Veronica pleaded, tears falling down her face, “The burning, it keeps getting worse. I’m getting stronger. I… I can’t control myself any longer. If you wait too much longer I’ll break from these chains and murder you.”

Artemis sighed, “You are in just as many chains as the other one, and they seem to be holding him well.”

Veronica clenched pulling her strength against the chains. There was a slight cracking sound as she pushed hard. Her energy finally gave out and she collapsed, but the chains felt looser than they had a moment before. Artemis’s eyes widened in shock.

“Dear God, I think we made a mistake, we underestimated how strong vampires are.”

Veronica nodded, “You see. I’m sorry; I can’t be your test subject. You need to kill me. You said you were ready to kill me.”

Artemis took a step back, falling into his chair, “Are you really so eager to embrace death once again?”

The words pierced into Veronica and she turned her head away. Of course, she didn’t want to die. However, she was already dead. She wished she didn’t remember her life as a human. She was a dead woman. That was all there was to it. She died in that alley, and this man would send her back to the grave from which she belonged.  

Artemis threw up his hands, “I told you I was bad at this. I’m not even sure if there is a way to kill your kind. Well, there is one, but it is not one I think I could take. I could dismember, burn, and bury you across the county. However, I don’t even know if that will kill you. You could spend the rest of eternity as a head inside a box. ”

“It would stop me,” Veronica replied, “I can deal with the torment if I don’t hurt others.”

Artemis blinked, “Fascinating, you still have empathy and compassion. I had always assumed vampires lacked both. Although in truth, I know humans that don’t show a tenth of the self-sacrifice that you do. I wonder if…”

“Artemis…” Veronica interrupted.

Artemis sighed, “Well plan B isn’t going the way I had hoped.”

“I’m sorry you couldn’t have learned more.”

Artemis barked a laugh, “I’m about to kill you and you’re apologizing to me? No, I wish I had gotten my hands on the other one. He would know more about your capabilities, about your culture. I would never wish this on anyone, but at least he was a murderer, I could kill him. You’re innocent. I just… thought I’d have more time.”

A throbbing burn jarred Veronica’s throat and she instinctively threw her body at the chains once again. The creaking grew louder and she forced herself back. It felt like pulling off her own skin.

“Please, no, please… there is no more time, do it Artemis, do it!” She moaned through clenched teeth.

Artemis cautiously pulled a small knife from the inside of his jacket, taking several tentative steps towards her. He looked down at Veronica and swallowed. Artemis raised the knife, his hand shaking as he used the second one to steady his arm. Finally, she would have release. She could rest in peace.

“I…”

A loud knocking emerged from the front door above and Artemis jumped, his head hitting the ceiling again. He put the knife down with relief as he grabbed the back of his head. Veronica glared up at him in desperation. The knocking sounded again.

“I…I’m sorry, I have to get this,” Artemis turned and moved out of the room with haste.

Veronica almost screamed in desperation. However, as the door closed behind him and the beat of his heart diminished, it seemed to lessen the strain on the back of her throat. She could not become a murderer. She could not become a monster. He had to save her.

The cellar door opened and closed and Veronica could hear the sound of heavy footsteps moving above her. She knew the sound to be Artemis, her advanced hearing managing to make out the noises above as if she was in the same room. The banging continued a third time.

“Were you going to answer that, nanny?” Artemis asked in a huff.

“What’s that dear?” an old woman, the one Veronica must have heard before, crowed, even though the knocking was quite loud.

Artemis sighed and Veronica could hear the door open, “Magistrate? There is still time, you told me I still had time.”

“It’s not that Artemis. I’m sorry; I fear we made a mistake. It’s the demon…” the magistrate’s voice trailed off.

“What about him?” Artemis’s voice was flat.

“He has escaped.”

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