When I opened my eyes once again, for just one seemingly blissful second, it seemed to me as if everything that had happened to me before this point was just a very long and awful dream, that I had not been turned into a vampire and that I had not just sucked another vampire dry of his own blood. I was lying in bed, and for a very brief moment I thought that I was back in my room, and that everything that I thought had happened to me in the past few nights was a nightmare that had finally come to an end. But once I finally got a good look at the room I was in, I soon realized that the nightmare was still going on. This room was not my room. The bed I was lying on was most certainly not my bed, and I never ever slept in my underwear. The fact that my underwear was also mismatched (white bra and gray panties) only added to my own confusion and distress.

I then noticed a small pile of neatly folded clothes at the foot of the bed, and I got up and immediately put them on. The clothes were a little bit loose in some areas like the shirt sleeves and the waistband, and tight in other areas like the bust and my thighs, but nevertheless they actually fitted me very well. I also found my sandals on the floor, and I put them on before I made to look around this room. The room was light, airy, and cheery, an effect brought about by the white-painted walls and large wide windows. There was a large dresser in front of me, but strangely enough, there was no mirror in it. The frame of the missing mirror was filled with photographs of a girl with black hair, pale white skin, and bright gray eyes. She looked very much my age, but then I noticed that the photos appeared to have come from different times, and the girl's dresses and clothes seemed to reflect the age of the photos themselves. And then I noticed one particular picture which appeared to be taken recently, and it showed the girl standing beside the same red-haired man that I last remembered seeing before I blacked out. The two of them looked very close, and I got the vibe that the two of them were very much like siblings.

The air in here also smelled of that strange sickly sweet smell that I had smelled from that other vampire which I had bitten and drank blood from just before I blacked out. It still smelled of dried vomit, but this time around, there were other smells mixed in with it, and I thought I could make out both freshly picked oregano and potatoes alongside the sickly sweet scent. The smell seemed to be coming from outside the room, and although an instinctive part of me was telling me to run as far away from this sickly sweet smell as possible, the thinking part of me wanted to find the source of this smell.

So I walked out of the room and found myself in a short hallway leading to what appeared to be a kitchen. On one wall of this hallway hung a row of framed diplomas, all coming from various colleges and universities and seemingly arranged by age. The ones nearest to the room where I had come from appeared to be the oldest, and I could barely make out the text written in faded ink, but I did see that the diploma had been awarded to one Patrick Thomas Macclearkins. The next diploma was still old but the ink was not as faded, and this one had been given to a Thomas Patrick Counihan. As I went down the hallway, I saw that the names on the diplomas were all variations in one way or another of these two names, and a few times I saw the names combined into Patrick Thomas Counihan Macclearkins. The last diploma, the one nearest to the end of the hallway, went back to Patrick Thomas Macclearkins and had been given to him by West Virginia University for a degree in Forensics. I reached out and made to touch the frame protecting the diploma from the environment, and I imagined running my fingers over the embossed designs on the paper…

"Ah, you're finally awake," a soft and boyish voice called out. I literally jumped in surprise, and I think I even yelped a little. The red-haired man I had seen in my "dreams" and the picture in the room where I had just come from was standing right there in the kitchen, and he had been wiping his hands with a white towel. The sickly sweet smell seemed to be coming right from him, and my immediate reaction was to move away from him. A rasping hiss escaped my throat, and my vision became tinged with red. I could see the blood vessels underneath his skin, along with his heart beating rapidly in his chest. I also felt two sharp points digging into my lower lip, and I instinctively opened my mouth to keep the points from drawing blood.

"Whoa," the red-haired man said, raising his hands to his chest. "Easy there, Young One. I am not your enemy right now. I know that your instinct is to run away from me as far as you possibly can, but believe me, I mean you no harm. If I had wanted to hurt you or kill you then we would not even be having this conversation in the first place."

I pondered his words, and I decided that he had a point. I remembered how easy it had been for me to bite that other vampire and suck him dry, although that being said, I was supposed to be unbreakable, my skin impenetrable.

"I know you've got a lot of questions," the red-haired man continued, "and I will be more than happy to answer them, but first, I need you to calm yourself down and restrain your instincts. Right now, your instincts are very, very strong, but I can teach you control them. Just close your eyes and concentrate on yourself, your face. Remember the face you had when you were still human. Concentrate on that, and then we can finally talk."

I did as the man asked and thought of my face, the face that I once had before all of this had happened. At least I tried to think of my human face, but my other face, the one that I had seen when I had first woken up into this nightmare, my white and crystalline face, began intruding into my thoughts. I shook my head hard, as if that would get rid of the images of that white hardened face and burning bright red eyes from my mind. Eventually I managed to call back to mind a faded memory of an oval face with chestnut brown eyes, a flat nose, and a mass of light yet still noticeable freckles covering the tops of my cheeks and the bridge of my nose. I concentrated long and hard on that memory, and eventually I felt blood rushing back to my face, and I dared to open my eyes again. The red tinge in my vision was gone, and I couldn't feel anything trying to poke holes into my lips anymore.

"Well done, Young One," the man said with a proud fatherly smile. "Now come to me. Don't worry, I don't bite," he added with a toothy grin.

I have to admit that I was still not very keen on getting any closer to the man than I already was. But the man did seem to be genuinely nice and not trying to lure me into some sort of trap, and that sickly sweet smell that I had sniffed on him earlier was no longer as strong as it had been before, although whether it was just because I had had enough time to become used to it or not, I didn't really know. But I did finally overcome my instinct and walked towards the man, into his kitchen.

"That's a good girl," the man said as he held out a hand for me to take. "Welcome to my humble abode. I am Patrick Macclearkins, but I believe you knew that already. Oh, and call me Paddy. And your name is…?"

"Raisa," I replied immediately and instinctively. "Raisa Cohen."

"Ah, Raisa," Paddy repeated. "Are you thirsty? Would you like anything to drink? I assume that you would like to have a drink. Come on, sit down. Don't be shy."

"I mean, I really am thirsty," I replied. "But I don't know if you have exactly what I'm looking for…"

"Oh, come now, Young One," Paddy said with a grin. "We're all the same kind in here. You can talk freely with me."

"So you're a vampire," I asked him.

"I think that should already be obvious but yes, I am a vampire," Paddy replied. "Maybe not really proud to be one, but it's the card I was dealt, and I've been making the best out of the situation anyway."

"So you have fangs and stuff? And you drink blood?"

"That is the definition of a vampire, and I do qualify on both counts. But are you sure that you don't want to have a drink first? Because I really believe that you must be thirsty as heck right now."

In truth, I had never really thought a lot about my thirst, but now that Paddy had mentioned it, the thirst was the only thing that was on my mind right now. I coughed a little and swallowed my saliva, but I knew from prior experience that that was not going to work at all.

"Not to worry, Raisa, I can help you with that," Paddy said as he stood up and walked to his refrigerator. "Just give me your blood type and I can get you sorted out soon enough. You do know your blood type, right?"

"Um, yeah, it's A negative," I replied. "Why do you want to know?"

"A negative, A negative," Paddy repeated to himself as he rooted around in his fridge. "Your own blood type is always the best blood to drink no matter the occasion," he said in reply to my question. "I don't know how or why, but apparently blood that matches your blood type tastes the best. Aha, there we are," he muttered as he eventually came out with a bottle filled with a thick and viscous red liquid, and as soon as I laid eyes on that bottle, the thirst in my throat turned into a burning desire that drove out almost every other thought in my mind.

"Easy there, Young One," Paddy said when he noticed what had to be the hungriest look I have ever had in my eyes. "I'll get you your blood soon enough." Paddy poured out some blood from the bottle into a glass, and then he handed the glass over to me. I practically snatched the glass out of Paddy's hands and began gulping down the blood like one of those kids in those milk commercials. There was a strange sort of chemical taste in the blood, but I tried to ignore it as I was finally drinking the substance that was so important to me now. "Ah, that's the anticoagulant you're probably tasting right there," Paddy said. "You have to understand why we have to have it in our blood now; it's just the price of long-term storage. But just keep drinking and you'll soon get used to the taste."

I mean, he wasn't wrong. The more I drank the blood, the less I noticed the taste of the anticoagulant. Eventually I drained the glass dry, and I had to take a few deep breaths as my heart pumped the new blood around my body. "Another one?" Paddy asked me. I nodded, and he topped up my glass once again. I drank more slowly this time, taking more measured sips and giving my body more time to digest or absorb the blood or whatever happens to blood in a vampire's body.

"All right, that should do it for you right now," Paddy said as he took the now empty glass away from me. "Don't want you to be too bloated before you've even had lunch."

"Lunch?" I managed to gasp even as I tried not to move too much because, like Paddy had said, I was actually feeling kind of bloated. And it wasn't just any ordinary bloating either, as in it wasn't just my stomach that felt full and bursting. I felt as if my entire body was going to explode if I so much as made one sudden move. But the idea that I would have to eat after all of that… Well, I didn't know what to think.

"Are you serious?" I asked Paddy. "Are you seriously offering me lunch? Can we even eat regular food? I thought that glass was already our feeding done for the day."

"Oh, you really have much left to learn, Young One," Paddy laughed as he sat down. "I really have a lot left to teach you, but the good thing is that we both have the rest of time to talk all about it. But to start off, yes, we can eat regular human food. We kind of have to, you know. As I understand it, we may be vampires, but we still have bodily needs aside from the bloodthirst. Aside from the bloodthirst, we still have to eat and drink. I mean, we are basically humans who need to drink blood in order to sustain our near-immortal lives. The other kinds of vampires don't need to eat, but our kind does."

"Other kinds? You mean there's more than one?" I asked incredulously.

"Oh, yes," Paddy smiled. "And I believe that will explain a lot of the things you've gone through yourself, but I would rather talk about it over a good hearty meal."

"Okay, sure," I said, "but I'm not sure that I can really eat anything that you can offer me."

"But why not indulge me in this one thing, yeah? I've had a really big meal prepped and ready for you while you were sleeping, and I don't really want to waste it."

"All right, fine, I'll try, but I can't promise that I'll be able to keep any of it down," I said as I sat down at the table in front of Paddy.

"Oh, I think you'll be surprised," Paddy said with a grin as he slid over a plate heaping with food over to me. "I tried to get in as much as I could in there," he said. "Proteins, carbs, vitamins; meat, eggs, leafy greens; you name it, I got it in there. Eat up, do, Raisa. I promise you that you'll get your strength back in no time, and that you will regret none of it."

I shrugged, picked up the knife and fork that Paddy had laid out for me along with the plate, and began to eat. Like he said, I had nothing left to lose by eating, and if ever I couldn't keep the food down, at least I knew that he would understand why. And then the flavors hit me, and I almost stopped eating because of it. Remember that time when I had tried to eat before, and everything I put in my mouth (except for the blood, of course) tasted like nothing at all? Well, things were very much different now. It was like my taste buds had not only returned to life, but they had acquired newer and more tastes and sensations. Rich and intense flavors burst to life in my mouth, so intense that my brain had to take its sweet time processing all of this information. It was like I was tasting everything for the first time in my life, and I guess that was true from a certain point of view. A small part of me had come to accept that I would never be able to eat food again for the rest of my now-immortal life, but once all these flavors came in contact with my tongue, I knew for certain that I was relieved that I was going to be able to eat again. Even food that I wouldn't have touched in my human life like sprouts, asparagus, and broccoli now became wonderful things that I wouldn't mind eating over and over again.

Paddy smiled as he watched me tuck into my food with gusto. "Food really does taste lovely now, doesn't it?" he asked me. "Yes, it's one of the few things where being a vampire is actually a good thing. Our tongues are now so sensitive that they can pick up every flavor, every subtle hint. And the Big Man always said that eating, drinking, and sleeping are the three greatest and simplest pleasures that a man, a vampire can have, and I'm happy to say that we First Ones are lucky enough to be able to do all three of them."

"The Big Man? The First Ones?" I asked through a mouthful of food. "Who's he? And who are they?"

"The Big Man? Oh, it's just one of the names that we use to talk about the First Vampire," Paddy replied. "He's got so many because he's so old. Like, the man is at least twelve thousand years old. I mean, he's so old, I think he's actually forgotten what his original name really was. But it's probably something simple like Ur or Merv. I don't know though, really. It's just a theory. And he doesn't really like to talk about it."

"And the First Ones? Who are they?" I repeated.

"Simply put, Raisa, the First Ones are exactly who they say they are," Paddy replied. "They are the first vampire race to ever come into existence. Every other vampire race stems from them, from us. We are First Ones, Raisa."

"How many of us are there?" I asked. "And how many other vampire races are out there?"

"There's quite a lot of us, actually. Both much more than you think and not as much as you think. Confusing, yeah? As for actual numbers, I'd say there are between a million and two million of us. We're practically a small nation, but we're not really interested in the whole taking over the world and enslaving humanity for their blood thing. At least the vamps I know aren't really into that kind of thing. We can blend in easily enough as it is. And it's not like we can only move around at night. Daylight don't affect us at all. The sunlight does sting the eyes a bit, but it's nothing shades and a cap can't remedy."

"But how many other vampire races are there?"

"Strictly speaking, there are only two other vampire kinds out there, aside from the First Ones," Paddy explained. "Those are the Venomborn and the Bloodborn. That should give you a clue or two as to how they're made. Now, technically speaking, the Bloodborn are divided into further subspecies, so to speak, depending on how vampire blood affects them, but in the interests of simplicity, we lump them all together into a single group, the Bloodborn. The clues about their differences are in their names. The Bloodborn were created from the blood of the vampires, while the Venomborn were, ahem, born from our venom."

"What's the difference between the two of them, and what's their difference with you? Us?" I asked.

"That's easy enough," Paddy said. "Ever heard of this book called Twilight?"

"Um, I think the whole world has," I replied with a tone hinting that the answer should have been obvious. "Much as some of us would rather not have."

"Yeah, well, it gives a really great and almost accurate picture of the Venomborn," Paddy replied. "I was actually surprised at the amount of detail and even accuracy in the book when I first picked it up. I kind of feel that even though those books claim to be fiction, there's some truth behind all of that romantic fluff. The Venomborn are indeed vampires with white rock-hard skin that sparkles in the sun, and I've certainly seen my fair share of Venomborns who would rather drink animals' blood than human. And the coven and territory wars between the Venomborn did happen, as too does the Volturi. I'm actually surprised that not only did a human know about the Volturi, but the Volturi actually allowed their existence to become public knowledge for the humans. There are certain things in the books about Venomborns that are either plain wrong or just inaccurate, but I have a feeling that those changes were made just to keep enough of the truth about the Venomborn on the down low and not really out in the open. But the crystalline fuckers really do sparkle under the sun."

"And we don't do that, do we?" I asked. "The First Ones don't sparkle in sunlight, right?"

"Yeah, that's true," Paddy nodded. "I mean, it's certainly enough to just be able to walk around in the sun without having to flaunt it to everyone else, yeah?"

"How about the Bloodborn? How are they different to everyone else?"

"There's actually a lot of stuff about the Bloodborn out there in the human media," Paddy said. "Some of them more accurate than others. Some of them are so off the mark, they're obviously some sort of Bloodborn false flag, for whatever purpose I do not know. But I've managed to come across a scarily accurate depiction of the Bloodborn before. Have you ever heard of a television show called Moonlight, Raisa?"

"No, I can't say that I have," I shook my head.

"Well, I'm not surprised. The Bloodborn managed to get it off the air before it revealed too much about them. They covered it up as a combination of low ratings and the writers' strike, but the truth was that everyone was hooked to that show, and the Bloodborn had to get it off the air because it was revealing too much about them."

"They can do that?" I asked in a hushed whisper.

"Oh, yes," Paddy replied with a knowing nod. "They've got money, power, influence. It would be child's play for them to make a simple suggestion that this particular TV show shouldn't get renewed."

"But how can I tell the difference between a Bloodborn and a First One?"

"That's a tough question, mostly because there are a lot of Bloodborn kinds out there," Paddy said, "but if you're talking about the main kind of Bloodborn, the one we're sure to encounter the most, then there are a few key differences, some of them more subtle than others. For one thing, we First Ones can produce venom in our mouths while the Bloodborn can't. The Bloodborn are much more sensitive to sunlight than we are. They don't burn up in the sun but they don't enjoy it either. And silver messes them up some. We're also somewhat vulnerable to silver, but not in the way the Bloodborn are. I mean, give me any silver object and I can touch it, even grab it no problem. A Bloodborn can't do that without getting burns on their hand. However, if I get wounded, and somehow some silver ends up in contact with said wound, now that's going to sting for me. You think you got that all, lass?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I mean, I can always ask you for a remedial course if I forget, right?" I asked with a smile of my own.

"Yeah, sure," Paddy nodded.

I continued eating from the plate that Paddy had given me. I was already halfway through the meal, and I didn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. "So, how does someone become a First One?" I asked him. "And on the same vein, how does one become Venomborn or Bloodborn?"

"Well, to become a First One, it involves an overly long and complicated process which steps are shrouded in much mystery and are so complicated that I can't possibly explain it to you in just one afternoon alone," Paddy replied seriously. And then he noticed the surprised look on my face, and he broke out into a grin once again. "I'm just kidding, Young One," he said. "It's actually quite simple, really. So you already know that there is such a thing as vampire venom and vampire blood. To turn someone into a First One, just get some venom into their bloodstream, and then feed them some vampire blood. Both the blood and the venom will encounter each other in the body and interact, and it's the combination of both the blood and the venom that turns someone into a First One, a complete vampire, some of us would call it.

"Getting both the blood and the venom in the person is very important," Paddy continued. "Only the venom and that person becomes a Venomborn. Only the blood and they become a Bloodborn. I remember that there were certain conditions required in order to turn someone into a specific kind of Bloodborn but now that is something that's legitimately confusing and convoluted. I wouldn't get into that simply because it really is confusing, and it's not really that important to you in your first few days of immortality."

"But," I began, "is it possible for someone, maybe a Venomborn or a Bloodborn, to become a First One eventually? And can a First One become Venomborn or Bloodborn? Or are they destined to remain what they are forever, for the rest of their life?"

"Oh, going from Venomborn or Bloodborn to a First One is very much possible," Paddy replied. "You are one of those lucky ones, Raisa, and I do believe you already know that. But the other way around, now that's impossible. Once the venom and the blood come together and combine in a person's body, you can't ever separate them again. One metaphor describing the situation that I love is that vampirism is a one-way street: you can go in but you can never get out. And being Venomborn or Bloodborn is like being a station on a railway: a lot of people choose to stop there, but there's actually one more stop beyond, and that's becoming a First One."

"How did I…? How did I turn into a First One?" I asked. "I've never even met one of you guys until now."

"Ah, well, you didn't have to. Forgive me for saying this, but when I first saw you, you were still very much a Venomborn. I could still smell the venom in you. But you drank the blood of a Bloodborn, that vampire you sucked dry before you blacked out, and that blood mixed with the venom in your body and completed your transition, your transformation. That's how a Venomborn becomes a First One, by drinking the blood of a Bloodborn or another First One. It's the other way around if you're a Bloodborn looking to become a First One: you let yourself get bitten and envenomed by a First One or a Venomborn and wait."

"It was very painful," I muttered. "The fire, the blood, the pain, everything hurt."

"Oh, lass, I know exactly what you mean," Paddy said quietly.

Through it all, I had been eating the food that Paddy had offered me, and by the time that he had said that final sentence, I had licked the plate clean. As I set aside the knife and fork, I felt energized and invigorated, almost as much as I had when I had drank all that blood. "Ah, good, you're finally done," Paddy said. "Let me take care of that for you, yeah?" he asked, and before I had even replied, he had already taken the plate and began washing it in his sink. "Any other questions for me, lass?"

"You seem to know a lot about how vampires are made," I said. "Do all vampires know that, or are there like specialized vampires whose job it is to know how they're made so they can, um, I don't know, make more? Something like that?"

"I certainly know a lot more about the turning process than most," Paddy admitted. "It is kind of in my history."

"But what is your history, Paddy?" I asked. "I mean, how did you become a vampire? How old are you? Can I ask you that question? Or is that against the rules or vampire etiquette or whatever?"

"Nothing against the rules to ask someone their age," Paddy smiled. "I'm thirty going on five hundred, give or take. I've been in the business a really, really, really long time. And I can tell you how I got to be where I am right now. But first, we have to go back to the very beginning of my story. Are you ready?"

"Sure," I replied, genuinely curious about Paddy's own story.