Chapter One

A solitary figure strode quickly down the old street that led to a small tavern several miles from town. The gravel crunched beneath his feet as he made his way toward his destination. He was in a hurry to meet someone waiting for him there, someone very important, someone who could help him find what he was looking for.

Within minutes, he was there, pushing open the door into the smoke filled room. Surveying the scene, he saw several tables full of men, drinking beer by the gallon in the small wood-paneled room. All of them seemed to be casting glances at a table a bit off from the rest of the room, near the back.

He followed their eyes to see a woman sitting patiently at the table, the hood of her cloak pulled so that no one could see her face, though some of her chestnut curls slipped out into the dim light. She was obviously the one he was looking for.

Striding across the room, he took a seat at the table across from her. "Lance Strongblood," he said quickly. "You must be Ileea."

She sat up a little straighter. "Yes, yes I am."

Lance nodded. "I have something for you then," he said, searching his pockets.

She waited patiently until he pulled out a small photograph and handed it to her. Taking it from him, she pushed back the hood of her cloak so she could get a better look at it, revealing her face.

Lance was surprised to find that she was actually rather pretty. Her face was marked by signs of stress and lack of sleep, but it was apparent from her eyes she didn't let it affect her. They were a hazel color, filled with a glint of something he couldn't quite place. Her chestnut curls framed the whole of her face perfectly. Lance guessed she was no more than 25 at the most, about his age.

After a moment of reflecting on her appearance, he continued. "She was found dead in the forest a few days ago with two holes in her neck. When no one was looking, she mysteriously disappeared. No one wants to believe this kind of thing is real, but well…it's got everyone scared. That's where you come in. We need you to find her."

Ileea looked up from the picture at him. She had a sort of piercing stare that seemed to shoot straight through him. "You mean find her…and finish her off properly," she said.

Lance flinched. "No, no, just find her," he said quickly. "I need…she's very…it's important we get her back alive…to a certain extent."

The corners of her mouth hinted at a smirk, but it didn't fully form. She leaned back in her chair slightly. "I can't make any promises," she said. "But I can tell you one thing. Vampires have a signature bite…each one leaves a different size incision, prefers a different place to bite, etcetera. The marks on this one match the vampire I've been tracking in the area."

"Is that good?"

"It depends. I can't really say…" she said, a hint of annoyance sweeping across her features. "This one's…different than the ones I've hunted in the past…prefers to lead on the chase rather than try to get rid of me. She's an annoying little bitch who keeps getting away."

"Oh…" he said, not quite wanting the path of conversation to go down that route. "Perhaps I can help…I've been sent to offer my services."

She let out a rather exaggerated 'ha'. "What makes you think you can handle this?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Lance took a deep breath, not really wanting to bring up what he could do until she accepted his help. "I've had much training and experience for tough situations, but lack much knowledge of creatures like these. My teacher believes I am ready and thinks it a great opportunity... in all aspects," he said slowly. He'd been told she would be hard to convince.

"Frankly, I don't give a damn what your teacher thinks. I need someone that knows what they're doing, if I need anyone at all."

"But I could be a huge help to you."

"Oh really…and how would that be?"

"Let's just say…I'm a man of many talents."

Ileea shook her head. "Sorry, but I don't accept help from just anyone, especially someone I don't know anything about," she said, not a hint of sympathy in her voice.

Lance sighed and stood up from the table. "Fine, but it's your loss," he said, stepping away from the table. He didn't look back as he crossed the room and left.