Chapter 8: Humans and Horses

I stared down at my dinner plate, looked over at Xavier, and saw that he was regarding his dinner with the same disgust that was etched onto my face.

"What on earth is this?" He asked, poking at the black lump of goo with his spoon.

I jabbed my own dinner. It jiggled like jelly and, when I stabbed it with my own spoon, it released a foul smelling odor.

"Some sort of weird...gelatinous...meatloaf."

I pushed my plate away with a wrinkle of my nose, set the spoon down, and sighed. I wasn't that hungry. Maybe, breakfast would be better. I could wait.

"Eat up, kiddies," Patch called from the head of the table. "The sooner you get used to this crap, the better. You aren't getting anything different until September."

I didn't touch my plate. Damen proved to be the bravest of us and fearlessly dug into his meal. We all watched as he chewed slowly and, finally, swallowed. He shrugged his broad shoulders and shovelled another spoonful into his mouth.

"Not bad."

We all tentatively tried the brown goop. It had no flavour, really, which made it easier to get past the gooey texture. Still, I couldn't stomach more than a few bites before I started to feel nauseous. Sighing, I pushed the plate away and sipped at my water. Not blood, water. I wanted blood—I'd gotten too used to having it at my daily access.

"Hey, Blue."

It took me a few moments to realize that Taylor was talking to me. Raising my eyebrows, I slowly turned to him since he was sitting to my left.

"My name," I informed him calmly. "Is Indigo. Not Blue."

He shrugged and blew a few strands of stick-straight blond hair out his eyes. "Whatever. Same shade. Are you going to eat that?"

"First of all, I don't care if indigo is a shade of blue or not. Blue is not my name and if you aren't smart enough to call me by the name my parents gave me, you can just not talk to me at all."

I pushed him my bowl. "Have fun."

He seemed unperturbed by my rudeness and dug into the food with gusto. I caught Xavier staring at me while he slowly ate his own bowl of disgusting jelly.

"What?"

He shrugged. "Nothing. Just admiring your cheery disposition."

I blinked innocently at him. "You should be used to my cheery disposition by now, Xavier."

He grinned and shook out his hair. The movement sent a wave of scent towards me. He certainly smelt more appetizing than the gruel I'd just stomached.

"Oh trust me, I am," he said assuredly.

"Does it bother you?"

"What? Your disposition?"

I nodded. He quirked a smile at me and shrugged.

"I wouldn't have you any other way," he teased. I couldn't help but flush, but from pleasure rather than embarrassment. Not that I was pleased by what he'd said...

"Indigo?"

I looked over my shoulder and Bunny. She was gnawing on her lip and her hands were wringing the life out of each other. Seeing her frantic expression ignited my own source of anxiety and I immediately scanned the cafeteria, searching for a threat. All I saw were chattering students suspiciously regarding their food.

"What's wrong?" I demanded in a hushed voice, prepared to leap to her defense as I'd done so often before. She shook her head and shuffled from foot to foot.

"Nothing," she whispered. "It's just...can we go somewhere and talk?"

I felt the change in my expression and knew that my face had softened. I nodded and pushed away from the table. Automatically, I glanced at Patch, expecting him to object. He barely looked at me and mumbled out a hasty "be back before sunrise".

Bunny took my wrist and led me out of the cafeteria. They had dinner earlier here, at around four a.m., to ensure that the sun would still be set by the time the vampires made their way to bed. Vampires and sun didn't mix. Within seconds, they would acquire third-degree burns and, within minutes, their skin would combust. All in all, vampires could survive approximately five minutes in the sun before dying.

Bunny brought me to the nearest structure—the weapons room—and sat down on the front steps. The weapons room looked fairly harmless from the outside. Wooden and homey-looking from the outside, it resembled a large cottage more than an edifice that housed dangerous tools.

"What's wrong?" I asked gently. She picked at her shirt and let a piece of thread float listlessly down to the ground. I was so used to seeing her in vibrant colours that I couldn't help but think that the black shirt and sweats she'd been given made her look, well, dead. Washed out.

"I don't like it here," she mumbled gloomily, her gaze directed at the ground. "Alexander, our leader, he's so mean and the other reds...some of them scare me."

"Sin's with you," I reminded her. "You like him."

More than like, if memory served me correctly.

"Yeah," Bunny sighed. "I do. He's not the problem. It's the others. They're..."

She pursed her lips and looked away. This time, I let out a sigh and ran a hand through my hair. Why, oh why, did I always make Bunny's problems my own?

Oh, right. Because she didn't take care of them herself.

"Listen," I said quietly. Dinner had, apparently, ended because a mess of students were leaving the dining hall and making their way to their respective cabins. Briefly, I wondered if the greens were all crammed into one space. Hopefully, they had more than one sleeping area.

"If anyone bothers you, just tell me and I'll get them to back off, alright?"

She nodded slowly. When she looked up at me, I could see that her eyes were moist and wide. "I don't want to die."

Moved, I committed a gesture that I normally shied away from. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, albeit awkwardly. She burrowed into my side and buried her face in my shoulder.

"I won't let you die," I murmured into her hair. "I'm going to keep you safe. I promise."

"I know," she breathed. "You always do."

And I always would.

I waltzed into the cabin just as the first few rays of sunlight were starting to poke through the sky. As I'd expected, the boys were happily snoring away. Loudly, might I add, with their limbs strewn across their mattresses in utter abandon. I crept across the floor noiselessly and was about to pull myself onto my top-bunk bed when a hand closed around my ankle. I looked down and saw a sleepy, smiling Xavier.

"Hey," he beamed. I couldn't really understand why he seemed so pleased to see me. I was unused to people smiling when they saw me. Usually, it was a scowl. I dropped back down to the floor and hesitantly returned his smile. He patted the bed and, after a moment's pause, I gingerly sat down beside his extended legs.

"Hi."

"I was worried about you," he said softly. His eyes were boring into mine with such an intensity that I felt compelled to avert my gaze.

"Why?"

He shrugged. "You were gone for a long time. I didn't know where you were."

I hadn't gone inside after Bunny had rejoined her fellow reds. Instead, I'd walked to the edge of the forest and sat down, with my back against a tree. In fact, I'd only gone in after one of the vampires who patrolled the borders of the grounds had, in a not too kind voice, told me that I wasn't allowed to be up once the sun had risen. It had surprised me a bit to see him—I'd kind of gotten the idea that Alexander, Star, and Patch were the only vampires around. But that would be ridiculous. Surely, there were staff hands who cleaned and cooked and managed the horses that I'd seen in one of the five stables.

"I was enjoying the scenery," I said quietly. Xavier smiled and motioned towards my head.

"That explains the twigs in your hair."

I reached up automatically, to remove the so-called twigs, but my hand encountered nothing but hair. Xavier shook his head and extended his own arm. "You missed it."

He paused, probably reliving the memory of how I'd reacted the first time he'd attempted to remove something from my hair. I know I certainly was. When I didn't make any move to attack him, he leaned closer and gently cleaned the debris out of my hair. I tensed up and didn't let any part of me so much as twitch. Xavier sighed and, ever so softly, trailed his fingers down my cheek. My body was torn between panting in utter bliss or running. I did neither, only continued to play the part of a statue while Xavier touched my face.

"I wish you would tell me why you're so scared of being touched," he murmured. At that point, he was holding my chin in his hand lightly, making it impossible to look anywhere but at him.

"I can't," I whispered, almost frantically. His words were forcing me to revisit a part of my past that I desperately wanted to forget. "I don't like to talk about it."

He exhaled quietly and tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear. Now that I had promptly closed the "touching" subject, he moved onto something entirely different that did nothing to soothe my nerves.

"Your eyes are so beautiful, Indigo," he said in an undertone. "I don't know how I didn't realize that sooner."

In an abrupt movement, he released my chin and sat back. To say that I was confused would be an understatement.

"I'm going to go to sleep now," he informed me. I recognized a dismissal when I saw one and stood up. He promptly turned onto his side, so that he was facing away from me. After a second of watching him with a frown on my face, I pulled myself up onto my own bunk and removed my socks before diving under the thin, scratchy blanket.

That had been...strange. Xavier wasn't usually so short with me. Had I annoyed him by not telling him why I didn't like to be touched? But if I had annoyed him, why would he have complimented my eyes? Maybe he'd been expecting me to do something after the compliment—but what?

I sighed quietly into my pillow and curled up into a ball. Xavier was too confusing to figure out, and I was tired after a day of so much...excitement. I closed my eyes, and told myself to fall asleep. Before I succumbed completely, I fleetingly thought about the girl who'd run into the forest after her friend had fallen. Had she been found?

My question was answered by Patch the following breakfast. When I'd inquired about the girl, he'd merely shrugged and sipped at his cup of blood. Blood that we, by the way, didn't get.

"She's probably dead by now. Lots of hungry animals out there, and not too many places to run because of the fence."

He paused and drummed his long fingers against the tabletop. "One down, and it's only the second day. How exciting."

"You know what would be exciting?" Xavier murmured into my ear once Patch had directed his attention elsewhere. "Getting him to stick a fork in an electrical socket."

Because imagining Patch getting electrocuted was funny, I giggled. It was a quiet laugh but Patch snapped his head around and glared at me so intensely that I instantly quieted. It was almost intimidating, to have his too-bright eyes completely focused on mine.

"Well," he sneered. "Since you seem to be too busy talking to eat, I'm just going to assume you're all done with your breakfast."

He pushed away from the table, stood up, and drained his blood in one long gulp. No one at the table moved as he set his glass down with a loud thud.

"Stand up," he snapped, making rising motions with his hands. "We've got a busy night ahead of us."

I looked down at my plate as the rest of the blues hastily jumped to their feet. I hadn't even really started my breakfast and, while it was still the unappetizing brown goop, I was starving from having barely eaten dinner. I didn't see how it was fair that we were being punished because I laughed.

"That means you too, Jones."

I lifted my eyes to meet Patch's and, for a few quiet seconds, we just stared at each other, trying to force our will unto the other. I was fully prepared to remain seated until it came down to throwing punches but, after a few seconds of thought, I deduced that Patch was more likely to make everyone else's life miserable because I didn't feel like putting up with him. So, ever so slowly, I too pushed away from the table and got to my feet. Patch smiled warningly at me and motioned for us to follow him out of the dining hall.

"Chop, chop, kiddies," he rushed, nearly sprinting as he walked through the shadow-filled camp. "Time for you to get some blood."

I stared at the horse. The horse stared at me and tossed its big, black head. Patch patted my shoulder so forcefully that my knees buckled a bit.

"Problem?" He breathed into my ear. I jerked away from him and sent a reproachful look in his direction.

"Not at all," I hissed. Much to my delight, he stepped away from me, but only to nudge me towards the horse.

"Well, get on it then. You do know how to ride?"

"Yes, I do!" I snapped. Equestrian studies had been mandatory in grade nine and ten. Quickly, to prove my point, I mounted onto the horse and couldn't help but feel triumphant. Patch rolled his abnormally bright eyes and waited until the rest of the dhampirs had, too, gotten onto the creatures. He remained standing, and had no horse of his own.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why I've dragged you off into the forest, with horses," he commenced, clasping his hands behind his back as he slowly paced back and forth across the forest floor. I rolled my eyes at his theatrics—he could never just tell us what to do and call it a day. He always had to make some dramatic production of everything.

"It's quite simple, really. You lot are going to go hunt. Satisfy that aching in your little fangs."

"Hunt what, exactly?" Jacob demanded in his gruff voice. I half-expected Patch so say animals. No amount of aching in my "little" fangs, since they got sore when our bodies didn't get blood, would make me take down an animal. That was just...disgusting. Maybe I was in no situation to be picky but, if animal blood was my only option, I would wait until I absolutely had to have blood or I would combust, to kill a deer.

Patch frowned at Jacob, as if he'd been personally insulted by his question. "Humans, of course. We wouldn't make you hunt animals. What do you think this is, prison?"

"That's one way of putting it," Xavier muttered. I had to agree. Patch tilted his head in Xavier's direction and tapped his ear.

"Say something, Red? I'm afraid my ears are getting a bit dull."

"Nope."

Patch shrugged. If I had made that comment he probably would have beaten me with a stick.

"So, here's what's going to happen," Patch explained. "Right now there are ten frantic, desperate humans running around. They should be easy enough to pick off, being the clumsy, loud things they are. Find one, or two if you've got a big appetite, drain them, and leave the bodies. The wolves, or some other form of beast, will clean them up."

"What if these other forms of beast come after us?" Damen questioned, a quiver to his voice. It wasn't the first time that I'd witnessed his fear and I was once again struck by how odd it was; the largest person in the group seemed to be the most afraid. Or maybe he just wasn't as good at masking his fear as the rest of us were. I knew for a fact that my face was a completely blank slate. It was a face that professional poker players around the world would die for.

Patch pointed his finger at Damen. "I knew there was something I was forgetting! Hold on a minute..."

He turned tail and swiftly vanished. Nervously, I looked around the black, night forest and was somewhat grateful for the comforting presence of the animal beneath me. When a howl went through the air, my horse snorted and shuffled anxiously on her feet. I murmured nonsensical words to her and patted her warm neck.

"Sometimes I think Patch might be a bit off his rocket," Taylor said after a few minutes had passed, and the vampire in question had not returned.

"He does seem a bit insane," I agreed. Taylor was on Xavier's left side, I was on his right, and I could just see a peek of his blond hair over Xavier's head.

"Will you two shut up?" Damen snapped from the other end of the group. "What if he hears you?"

I snorted, much like my horse had earlier. "So? Who cares? I'm sure he's used to people thinking he's a complete idiot. Which he is."

"Well I, for one, don't want the vampire responsible for keeping us alive holding a grudge against me. So shut it, or I'll make you."

There it was again. That little quiver of fear that he couldn't quite mask from his voice. I probably should have just dropped the subject right then and there but...I didn't like to be ordered around and I certainly didn't like to be threatened.

"You know, Damen," I said softly, in what I hoped was a low, dangerous voice. "For such a big guy, you sure seem scared of a lot of things."

I could practically smell the blood that rose to Damen's cheeks. I had done it. I had insulted his "big boy" ego.

"I'm not scared, you stupid bitch," he snarled. A real snarl. One complete with fangs. I knew that they had withdrawn even if I couldn't see him past the rest of the dhampirs. The way we talked with our fangs out was completely different than the way we talked when they were gone.

"Really?" I shot back. "Because it seems like you run around screaming like a little girl whenever someone says "boo"."

A second or two of silence. Then, when Damen spoke, his voice mirrored how mine had been a few moments ago. Low, soft, and utterly threatening.

"You better watch what you say, Jones," he nearly whispered. "Wouldn't want you to wake up with a knife through your throat—,"

"Hey!"

That third voice was angry, annoyed, and belonged to Xavier. I looked at him but his head was facing Damen's direction, not mine. "Shut up and stop talking before you say something stupider than the crap that's already coming out of your mouth."

Before Damn could reply, the snapping of twigs and branches alerted us to Patch's return. He was carrying a large, blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms and seemed vaguely amused. He dropped the bundle to the grounds, kicked the blanket aside with the toe of his shoe, and put the contents on display. Weapons. Bows and arrows, to be precise, and not modern compound bows either. Old fashioned, wood and twine ones. At least the arrows appeared to be made of metal, and not wood. At the academy, we'd practiced with compound bows. I hoped it would be too different to shoot the ones Patch had brought us. I wasn't ready to die due to faulty equipment.

"While I'm sure you were all having a captivating argument," he said, handing out a bow and quiver of arrows to everyone. "It can wait."

He gave me my weapons last and, when I reached for my bow, he didn't let go so that, for a few seconds, we were both holding onto it.

"You're right," he said conversationally. "Many people have passed me off as a complete idiot. They're all dead now."

He released the bow, tossed me my arrows, and stepped back. He had heard what I'd said. Now he would really have it in for me, never mind the fact that Taylor had started the whole discussion. Patch shot me one more icy glare and crossed his arms over his chest.

"You have two hours," he snapped. "Every half hour, you will hear a bell ring twice and, once the two hours are up, you will hear the bell toll three times. If you get lost, no one will look for you and you very well may be eaten, so make sure you know the way back."

He pointed to the night sky and, precisely on cue, a loud toll rang out through the air. "Your time starts now. If you don't catch anyone, not only are you a really horrible hunter, but you won't get any more blood until next week. Go. In different directions. Time to learn some independence."

His dismissal left no room for argument. Unthinkingly, I cast a glance at Xavier and saw that he was already looking at me. I offered him what I hoped was a confident smile and whirled my horse around dart into the trees while the rest of my companions did the same.