Chapter One

A solitary figure quickly strode through the night, the gravel of the old road he followed crunching 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 arrived, pushing the door open into the smoke-filled tavern. Surveying the scene, he saw several tables full of men, drinking beer by the gallon in the small wood-paneled room. Many 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, the hood of her cloak pulled so 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 across the table 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 slid it across the table to her. Picking it up, she pushed the hood of her cloak back 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 in her eyes that 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 twenty-six at the most, about his age.

After a moment of reflecting on her appearance, he continued. "She had been missing for a day or so before her body was found in the forest. No one thought anything of the holes in her neck, but when no one was looking, she mysteriously disappeared again. Naturally, no one wants to believe this kind of thing is real, but, well…it's got everyone scared. That's why I contacted you. Your reputation precedes you, and we need you to find her."

Ileea looked up from the picture. She had a piercing kind of stare that seemed go straight through him. "You mean find her…and finish her off properly," she said, putting the picture back down on the table.

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. Casually, she leaned back. "I can't make any promises. Just because I find her doesn't mean she'll come willingly. And if she's violent, there's no way I would be able to restrain her, leading to only one alternative," she explained, the hard look in her eyes leaving no doubt in his mind what the alternative would be.

"I can assure you she's completely docile. She wouldn't hurt a fly," Lance said.

"You'd be surprised what the transition from being human to being vampire can do to one's personality," she said in a low voice. "She may have been docile while alive, but it's entirely possible she's turned into a monster."

"So you're saying that hiring you to find her is essentially a waste of my time and yours."

"Not exactly. It's also a possibility that she survived with the whole of her personality intact. It's impossible to say who she is now without first finding her. Given that information, you can understand how this sort of job is more difficult than hunting to kill," Ileea said. When Lance nodded, she continued. "Let's just hope she hasn't turned out like the vampire that bit her."

"How can you tell which vampire bit her?"

"Well, vampires have a signature bite, a way to mark their changelings, if you will. The holes in her neck indicate that she was bitten by a vampire I'm currently tracking," she explained, a hint of annoyance sweeping across her features. "Ignoring the bite, however, the timing is perfect. I tracked her here, which is the reason I'm in the area to begin with."

"But why do you hope she isn't like that vampire?"

"Because she's an annoying little bitch who keeps getting away. She's different from anything else I've ever encountered in that she would rather lead on the chase and toy with me than try to get rid of me."

"In that case," Lance interrupted, not wanting the conversation to continue down the path it was heading, "perhaps I can help. I've been sent to offer my services."

Ileea raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"

He nodded.

She let out an exaggerated laugh. "What makes you think you can handle this?" she asked, crossing her arms on the table as she leaned closer to him.

Lance took a deep breath. He had been hoping that sharing his abilities with her could wait until after she had accepted his help. "I've had much training and experience for tough situations," he explained, carefully leaving out specific details. "But I lack knowledge in this particular subject. My teacher believes this would be a good opportunity for real world experience," he finished, holding his breath. He had been warned that convincing her to accept his help would be half the battle.

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

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

"And how do you figure that?"

"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, realizing there was only one way to gain her trust, but unwilling to go along with it. "Fine, but it's your loss," he said, standing from the table. "Let me know if you find anything," he added before he turned and headed for the door.

A/N: As I'm sure you could tell by the summary, I've undertaken the task of editing The Last Ones. I'm hoping to get some comments on the edited chapters when I post them as well as the chapters in the original version that I have yet to edit so I know what I should change. Whether you've read the original or not, I hope you enjoy.