1

She heard the shrieks of her friends behind her, but continued running. Survival of the fittest was her group's only rule, and she was by far the fittest. She heard a shrill scream suddenly cut off and nearly stopped in her tracks. She recognized the voice as belonging to her sister, Scarlet. Although she wanted desperately to stop, Sapphire knew in her heart that it was too late, Scarlet was already dead. She ran even faster wanting desperately to get away from the sound of fighting. Suddenly a figure loomed up in front of her. She stopped and nearly slid on the dried leaves under her feet. She pulled the dagger that was a family heirloom out of its sheath.  The figure stepped forward, revealing that he wasn't a witch but a vampire. Not that it was an improvement or anything; a vampire would kill her just as blatantly as a witch. He unsheathed his blade, too. Sapphire could see the witch runes on it and was immediately wary of the vampire. Witches and vampires were sworn enemies; if he had the knife he had stolen it from a witch, and not just any witch, a vampire hunter. She was good with a knife, but not good enough to top a really powerful vampire. She could see the power surrounding him, fiery red and orange streaks zigzagging around his pale body. This was one of her special gifts; the ability to see another person's powers. Sapphire was neither witch nor vampire; she was a shape shifter. Legend said that they were a cross between a vampire and a witch, but Sapphire had her doubts about the legitimacy of the tale. Sapphire's people were mostly peaceful; many of them didn't even use their powers, and almost all of them were weak. There were only a few exceptions and Sapphire was one of them as were most of her friends who were being slaughtered back there. Sapphire's parents had died when she was young leaving Scarlet and her to figure out how to survive alone. From what Sapphire could gather, their parents were as weak as most of their kind, if not weaker. Scarlet was only slightly stronger than average, but Sapphire was extraordinarily strong. That was why she had survived the witches only to stumble into the path of an obviously thirsty and powerful vampire. While most of their kind only had one or two shapes they could "shift" into she could shift into almost anything she chose. Some said the Ancient Blood had awoken in her, but Sapphire had made it clear to everyone that she thought all of the legends were false, set up to make them even weaker. Her gang had been camped in the woods outside of the town for a few weeks. The witches had obviously figured out that the thefts happening could only be her group faster than she had expected, but why was the vampire here?

            "Hello," she said as if they weren't pointing blades at each other.

            The vampire replied in kind, "Hello, Sapphire." If not for her experience she would have been startled that he knew her name, but as it was she just gave a wry smile.

            "Since you already seem to know who I am, would you mind telling me who you are?" she asked dryly. The vampire just stared at her. She saw and felt his power begin to build, and knew he meant to knock her out with it. As he released it, she dodged just enough so that it would lightly brush her aura as it whizzed past. The information she got from that was very useful. She could tell when he had last hunted, where he was from, and even the sex of the last person he had fed on. The most important thing she learned though, was that he wasn't yet controlled by his need for blood; that gave her more of a chance to get away, since he knew it wasn't necessary for him to kill her maybe he'd just toy with her then let her go. Vampires loved cat and mouse games. The vampire was clearly surprised at what she had done. Not even the witches could detect their powerful mind strikes until it was too late for them to move and here was a lowly shape shifter dodging his mental charges.

            "So the stories are true then?" he asked teasingly.

            "Depends on what stories you've heard," she answered. They stood locked in their silent challenge for another minute until Sapphire made her decision.

            "Look, I'd love to stay and chat, but there are some witches out there who will tear you and me both to pieces if they find us." She said, making sure he realized he was in danger too.

            A faint voice in the forest behind them shouted out, "I smell a vampire!" There was a thundering of feet as the witches followed the unmistakable tendrils of vampiric power extending through the forest.

            "Damn!" Sapphire exclaimed angrily. Suddenly the vampire reached out a cool hand and touched her shoulder. He used his power to bring them to a house that was as dark as night because of the blackout curtains on the windows. There were sparse furnishings in the room, which made it seem surprisingly nicer. She'd always hated houses where there was stuff piled wall to wall. She took this all in while keeping a wary eye on the vampire. Being in a vampire's lair was not an ideal situation. As a matter of fact being anywhere near a vampire was bad, but anyone who went into a vampire's house was, with few exceptions, dead.

            "Welcome to my home," he said coolly noticing her nervousness with a wry smile.

            "Why have you brought me here?" she asked humorlessly. If she'd had a choice she would have given herself up to the witches instead of the vampire; at least she knew what to expect from them whereas she had no idea what the vampire had in mind for her.

            "No need to be rushed," he said calmly laughing at her discomfort.

            "If you plan to kill me, just do it. I don't have time to wait for you to decide," she said seriously. She could see the need for blood close to the surface of his powers. Soon he wouldn't be able to fight it any longer, and they both knew what would happen if she were near when that occurred. She tightened her grip on her dagger, ready to at least injure him if he decided to feed on her. He laughed at her, and she shot an angry glance his way. He grabbed her shoulder again, barely avoiding the blade she swung in an arc toward him. Before she knew what was happening she had been transported to a wood that smelled of witch auras. The vampire had just dropped her off or she would have sliced his arm with her knife. It was clear that they had already left, but it made her skin crawl to know she was standing where witches had been minutes before and it made her sick to her stomach to recognize what the other smells were, her dead friends. She kept her face neutral even as she experienced all this. If there was one thing the witches had taught them, it was that emotions were a liability. The vampire hadn't joined her in the clearing, for that she was extremely grateful.