Takes place in the beginning of the Vampire's Assistant (book 2).


The storm had snuck up on them. Mika was not a vampire that traversed the Americas often and so he was wholly unfamiliar with the weather patterns. Of course, being the avid Russian traveler that he was he should have recognized the signs of an impending blizzard. Unfortunately, he hadn't and thus found himself utterly trapped with Larten and his new-rather obnoxious-assistant, Darren.

After six hours of wandering through the Michigan countryside and trying desperately to find some sort of shelter he'd sent out a general mental plea. Larten had responded quickly and Mika followed the pull of the other's mind fifty miles North and through two feet of snow. By the time he'd reached the parking lot, his fingers were frozen, his breathing labored, and he was soaked through to the skin. Not even a vampire had a good chance of surviving a night in this storm.

Room 303 was nothing special. It's faded blue door and plastic letters faced the parking lot. In this weather, that was the only view available. Mika knocked and thankfully, Larten was quick to open the door and help him stumble inside. It was warm and Mika shed his clothes and let the drizzle of lukewarm water from the shower bring his body temperature back up. He borrowed an extra pair of pants from Larten and a very warm hooded sweatshirt from the absent assistant. It was much too short in the arms and ended an inch above his wrists but the faux fur was too comfortable to pass up.

"I heard you blooded an assistant," Mika said from his spot on one of the room's beds. There were two full sized beds, a television, and a table with two chairs. The wallpaper hadn't been replaced since it went up in the thirty years ago, based on the style; the brown carpet was worn but it wasn't scratchy on his bare feet. The radiator was blasting warm air and Mika was fighting off sleep as he struggled to finish his mug of warmed blood.

"Yes," Larten replied vaguely.

"Are you such a cruel Master as to send the poor vampire into this storm?"

Larten smirked.

"He offered. He said that if we waited a full day to go to the store for provisions they would run out."

"He knows these kind of storms?"

"Yes," Larten said. Neither of them seemed inclined to talk about anything more controversial than the new assistant's geographic and climate knowledge. "This is his home state." Mika nodded unsure of how to continue. There would always be a sort of polite awkwardness between him and Larten. They would extend the courtesies expected between vampires but they would never be close friends. Arra had made her choice abundantly clear and while Mika would always feel that she had-in some small way-used him, he would always love her as well.

"How did you come across him?" Mika asked. "I've never known you to be overly impressed with any human."

"I met him at the Cirque du Freak," Larten replied. "He came to the show one night with a friend."

Mika's eyebrow went up when Larten didn't continue. He seemed quite content in keeping some sort of little secret. Mika didn't bother to pry. He nodded and set his now empty mug on the table in-between the two beds. He lay down and within a few seconds was asleep, the ache in his weather-worn muscles disappearing.


Mika awoke a few hours later when the hum of a television comedy pierced his dreams and brought him back to full consciousness. He opened his bleary eyes and saw a teenager sitting on the other bed, eating a very large sandwich and laughing at the television. As he watched, the teen reached over and grabbed a soda can from the table. Mika saw the little scars on his fingertips. This was Larten's assistant? Was the man insane?

The vampire Prince perched himself on one arm and scrubbed the sleep from his eyes with the other hand. The movement caught the kid's attention.

"Hey," he grunted around a mouthful of sandwich.

"Where's Larten?" he asked after gazing around the room and realizing they were the only two there.

"Who?" the boy asked his eyebrows crinkling in utter confusion.

"Tall, lanky vampire," Mika said. "Wears all red and has orange hair."

"Oh!" the boy replied. "You mean Mr. Crepsley. He's paying the guy at the front desk so we can keep the room another few days. I brought food if you're hungry."

"Yes, thank you."

The teen got up from the bed and went to the table which was overflowing with shopping bags. Had the boy carried these through the storm? The weather was difficult enough to navigate without any baggage.

"I've got only canned foods. No fridge or anything." He grabbed a can and pulled the tab to pop the lid off. Reaching into a box he pulled out a plastic spork and put it into the can of cold, plain pinto beans. Then he handed that to Mika. "You want the rest of this?" He offered the last half of his turkey sandwich but Mika shook his head no. He didn't like to eat after other people.

"How old are you?" he asked after taking the can of beans and sitting up fully.

"Fourteen."

"How long have you been a vampire?"

"Half-vampire. And just a few months." Mika let the rather rude correction slide.

"What's your name?"

"Darren." The few word answers were beginning to make this feel as if he were back in Vampire Mountain ripping into some wayward young trainee for lack of discipline. He was surprisingly uncomfortable with it. He didn't say anything after that and the kid simply watched him closely. It quickly got awkward.

"What?" he asked.

"How do you know Mr. Crepsley?"

"From Vampire Mountain."

"What's that?" Mika was honestly surprised. How could the boy not know what Vampire Mountain was? It was one of the first things assistants usually learned about.

"The clan's homeland," Mika said. "Didn't Larten tell you about Vampire Mountain and its history?"

"No," Darren said. "I don't hang out with Mr. Crepsley." Mika was confused.

"Has he told you anything about Vampiric history?" Mika asked.

"No," Darren told him, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that he might be lacking in his education. "Even if he tried I wouldn't listen."

"Why not?" Mika asked, shocked. What half-vampire didn't want to learn about his own people? What self-respecting vampire blooded a person who didn't care about the clan from the very beginning? Something very odd was happening here. The Prince could sense it in his very bones.

"We don't get along," Darren said and smirked.

"Why not?" This time the question was of sincere curiosity.

"He's a complete and total ass."

Mika didn't have any words of reply to that. Had he been Paris he would have jumped on the remark and beat the boy until he bled respect. But he was too suspicious about this situation to begin with. Larten wasn't usually one to hold back when asked a direct question by a Prince. But he had. And that led to Mika's current hesitation. Had Larten kidnapped the boy?

Nobody knew the man's state of mind. In fact, after Wester Flack had disappeared Larten was rarely heard from. Sometimes Gavner would inform Seba of the orange haired vampire's condition but the most detailed of Gavner's reports were never more than, "He's still alive and still snarky."

Seba seemed to think that meant everything was fine and one day the man would come back to the Mountain and pick up where he left off. Nobody else thought the same thing and Mika was one of them. In fact, there were quite a few rumors that stated that the man had gone utterly insane. But since there was no trail of bodies, the Generals had no need to investigate.

While the Prince was lost in thoughts, the half-vampire turned back to the television and laughed at some joke Mika probably wouldn't understand if he'd bothered to listen to it. The Prince got a full look at the boy. He was of average height, if a little skinny for his age. There wasn't any muscle on him and his clothes seemed too big for his slight frame. His brown hair seemed brittle and his eyes were ringed with dark circles. In fact, Mika was certain the boy was malnourished. He had seen others like this in Germany before. The child's state wasn't quite that bad but he was well on his way to being emaciated.

The door to the room burst open and Larten swept in with snow and wind biting at his back.

"We have the room for another three days," he informed them. Darren looked at him and turned back to his show.

"Good," Mika said. "How much blood do you have Larten?"

"Just a few vials," he said. "We should be fine until the storm ends."

"Are you sure?" Mika asked. "Your assistant looks rather ill."

Larten's reaction was as peculiar as Darren's. The boy looked at him sharply with a look that was a mixture of surprise and the beginning of a lie. Larten rubbed his tongue across the front of his teeth, sat at the table, and turned his attention to the television.

"I'm fine," Darren said.

"You look starved," Mika said. "Larten, you have to feed the assistants."

"He eats," Larten told him but Mika gave him a look that said he wholly disagreed. The man looked away.

"If we need blood," Mika continued, "are there other people in the motel?"

"Yes, we grabbed the last vacancy," Larten said. "The storm hit suddenly. A lot of the people here are travelers diverted from the highway." That was good. Local authorities would be more likely to write off a crazy story from a stranger than from one of their own. That is, if they were remembered.

"Who is next to us?" Mika asked.

"There's a couple to the left and a single woman to the right," Darren replied disinterestedly, his eyes never leaving the screen.

"Good," Mika said. "A little from each and we'll be fine."

"No."

"Excuse me?" Mika asked, not used to being told 'no' since he'd become a Prince nearly nine decades ago.

"No." Darren repeated, this time, deigning to look at him.

"Darren," Larten warned. "Don't."

"Is there a problem?" Mika asked.

"You can't steal blood from them." Darren looked appalled and Mika felt inappropriately amused. This was a rather unusual situation. No half-vampire had ever told him 'no' about anything. And certainly not when it concerned blood. Drinking blood was as natural to a vampire as breathing air. There was no moral debate beyond to kill or not to kill. But nobody had ever brought up the morality of drinking it at all. Mika wasn't sure if that was where this conversation was going but he felt that was indeed the case.

"Why not?" Mika asked, cutting off Larten who had his mouth open to tell the disrespectful half-vampire to shut his mouth and quit arguing with a Prince.

"That couple is on their way to their honeymoon and the woman has a toddler with her." Darren told him as if either of those things were supposed to impede him from his natural instincts.

"So?" Mika asked and felt a perverse pleasure in watching Darren's look of disgust at his callousness. This little one had a lot to learn.

"It's wrong," the boy insisted and to him the issue was black and white. "If you insist on being a leech you should go attack the motel manager. He's a complete and total creep." With that he got up from the bed angrily and grabbed a bag off the table.

"Where are you going?" Larten asked as the boy yanked open the door, sounding tired.

"Next door," the boy snapped. "I bought Pediasure for the little one." And with that he left the room and slammed the door behind him.

"Sorry about him," Larten said sheepishly. Mika smirked.

"He's rather opinionated. For an assistant."

"I'm not Seba," Larten told him. "And Darren isn't me."

"I did not say that," Mika said even though that's what he'd meant. "Nor was I trying to imply it."

"I'm sure, " Larten replied. "Nevertheless, I apologize for his rudeness."

"The apology only means something if the boy says it. But I accept. Is he drinking blood?"

"Not that I know of," Larten said nonchalantly. Mika stared in surprise. How could he not know?

"How could you not know?" Mika asked. "He's your responsibility after all."

"I know," Larten said. "But Darren doesn't bend to anyone's will. Least of all mine. You should have seen the problems his parents had with him."

"You met his parents?" Mika asked cautiously knowing that if Larten sensed the Prince was digging for answers he would clam up and avoid answering. How much he had changed in these few decades of self imposed exile.

"No," Larten said. "But I watched the boy long enough to know what problems the family was having. Darren has a sharp tongue when it comes to getting his way. His actions aren't much softer."

"And yet he won't let you drink from the people next us because they just got married."

"He clings to humanity," Larten said softly. "He believes in goodness and fairness. Dosing someone and stealing their blood in the middle of the night goes against who he is."

"And what about blood from a vile? Would he drink if you took away the face?" Mika asked. It was a common remedy for newly blooded vampires who suddenly got cold feet at their first feeding. One taste of viled blood was usually enough to get them over their last bout of humanity. But Larten was shaking his head.

"No. I have tried that," Larten told him and Mika was surprised by the sincere sadness in the other vampire's voice. "I even tried shoving it down his throat in his sleep. He spit it out."

"Is he suicidal?"

"Quite possibly."

"Why did you blood the boy Larten?" Mika asked, genuinely struggling to understand. "Were you really that lonely at the Cirque?"

"I was happy at the Cirque!" Larten exclaimed. "Darren was blooded because-"

"Because why?" Mika asked. "Why can't you say?"

"Because Darren sacrificed everything for a friendship that reminded me of Wester."

Mika paused. He knew what happened between Wester and Larten. Seba had told him in a moment of grief and Mika had vowed to take his knowledge of that night to the grave. The laws were clear about a vampire killing an innocent human, as Wester had done. But the laws were also clear about a vampire killing a vampire without the approval of the Princes, as Larten had done. Seba had two assistants who could utterly destroy themselves and forever shame the old man as well. Out of respect for the Quartermaster, Mika held his tongue except to tell Larten that he knew everything and he'd be watching.

"So Darren saved someone that reminds you of Wester and now you're going to let the boy's own self-righteousness kill him."

Larten didn't look at him. His eyes fixed on the television and avoiding the piercing gaze of the one Prince that had every reason and every right to end his life there and then. Not only had he superseded the authority of the Generals in killing Wester Flack but he'd also blatantly ignored the law of blooding children. Larten's innocence had left him a long time ago.

"Larten!" Mika shouted, tired of being avoided.

"I know," Larten said and it dawned on Mika that he looked just as tired as the boy had. "I did something horrible. I've killed the boy."

"Not if you can get him to drink."

"He won't drink," Larten said. "He wishes to die a human. He never asked to be blooded, he had no designs to ever be anything but a human. In fact, Darren firmly believes that his remaining humanity is the only good thing about him."

"Then convince him he's wrong. If he's that loyal to his humanity his loyalty to the clan would be just as mighty."

"He'll hate me."

"He clearly hates you now," Mika said sharply. "Larten, I am no stranger to wild, free-spirited, and stubborn assistants." Larten snorted at the reminder of his ex-mate, Arra. "With someone with that much will you have to guide them or else they'll run head long into a situation that will ultimately ruin them and whatever potential they may have had. From what you've said, Darren's parents couldn't guide him. But you can. I've seen you with Gavner. He turned out to be a very successful General."

"That was his mother," Larten said. "I avoided him until he was blooded."

"Regardless, he was yours to help and in the end, you did," Mika insisted. "You blooded this boy; he's your responsibility. I expect to see him at Vampire Mountain during the next Council."

"And if he's dead?"

"Then you had better be as well," Mika snapped. "Or I'll drag you in front of the Generals to be sentenced for murdering Wester Flack. Imagine Seba's face." The Prince knew it was cruel. Horribly cruel, but Larten was wallowing in self pity and Mika didn't like it. He may not be friends with this man; he may not ever care to be friends with this man, but Larten had once been a good vampire. He had nearly become a Prince. Yes, Wester had baited him into violence but the laws were as clear as Larten's guilty conscience.

Mika was a Prince. Above all, his duty was to protect his vampires, no matter what form that protection may need to take. Darren was a vampire; it was Mika's duty to make sure the child was taken care of. A vampire that left their assistant to die was a vampire forever exiled from the comforts of their clan. It was rather like the protections humans granted to their children today. Such organizations as Child Welfare Services was one of the reasons it was forbidden to blood children.

Larten sat in silence trying to formulate an appropriate response, his shock and dread quite evident. But Darren blew through the door at that moment and the conversation was over. The boy handed some money to the older vampire in the chair after shutting the door to the blistering cold.

"Here," he said. "Miss Mach insisted on paying you back." Larten took the money silently and the boy went to the bed and fell onto the mattress, exhausted. His head was on the pillow and he sighed contently.

"So, why aren't you with the Cirque now?" Mika asked, trying to keep up a ruse of friendly conversation in the boy's presence.

"Mr. Crepsley thought I would feel better about eating people if I wasn't around my friends," Darren mumbled gloomily from his place on the bed. He looked at the them forlornly, never even lifting this head from the pillow. Mika knew what it was like to go without blood for too long. He had no doubt that Darren was completely miserable.

"That was not what I said," Larten insisted. Darren snorted in derision and turned his back on them for a few hours.


Mika sat up while the other two slept. Larten had taken the spot next to Darren which left Mika with the other bed all to himself. He'd thought it amusing that despite the animosity Darren displayed for Larten he'd been quite content in handing over half the blankets to the other vampire. Clearly, the boy didn't hate quite as deeply as Larten suspected. In fact, Mika was certain that Darren rather liked Larten.

It was in all the little things Mika had observed over the last few hours. Despite the utter exhaustion the starved child was likely feeling, Darren had made it a point to get up from bed and pop the top off a couple of cans of tomato soup. He'd handed one to Mika and one to Larten. He'd then taken another two cans to the mother next door. Mika heard him leave the woman's room and pass their door in favor for another a little further away. Thankfully, the walls in this motel were thin enough to allow him to hear the mumble of an elderly woman thanking the boy for making sure their pipes hadn't frozen and they still had water.

"Who's the old woman?" Mika had asked when the boy had returned.

"Some old lady traveling with her husband. Their first granddaughter is turning one. I saw all the pictures." He'd then crashed back onto the bed and spent the rest of the night filtering in and out of sleep. Mika and Larten talked of the Mountain, the new General trainees, Gavner, and the surprising rise of Kurda Smahlt. An hour before sunrise, Larten decided to sleep as well and Mika ended up sitting at the table by the window pondering all he'd seen that night.

Darren was quite the charitable person. Mika had seen him taking care of not only Larten but nearly every other resident of the motel. This included the single mother, an elderly couple, and a couple of honeymooners from California who had never seen snow before, much less a blizzard. He was quite certain Darren would make a good Quartermaster, given the chance.

"Mika?"

The vampire turned and saw Darren, looking small with his arms folded across his chest to shield himself from the cold and the hair on one side of his head sticking up in an odd way.

"Yes?" Mika asked.

"Shouldn't you sleep?" Darren asked, genuinely concerned. "You almost froze to death."

"I didn't almost freeze to death," Mika protested. "I was quite frostbitten though." Darren smirked in amusement.

"Mr. Crepsley gets like that too," he said, taking a seat across from the Prince.

"Like what?"

"Defensive about his mortality," the boy said and looked out of the window at the still thick snowfall.

"And what of your own mortality?" Mika asked. "Do you not defend it at all?"

"I'm not going to drink blood," Darren said. "Which is none of your business in the first place."

"You may think not drinking blood defends what's left of your humanity but it won't."

"What would you know?" Darren snapped. "About being human? You may have run into the arms of the first creepy crawly willing to grant you power you'd never believed possible of achieving, but that wasn't my story. I don't want to be a vampire and I never will be. I'll die a human."

"You'll die a very stubborn half-vampire," Mika pushed. "One too proud to survive."

"Rich coming from a vampire," Darren threw back. "Mr. Crepsley may not have told me much but I know all about vampire philosophy. Doing crazy , dangerous stuff to prove you have the balls isn't honoring life. It's throwing it away on a whim."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand," Mika said coolly, determined not to punch the smart-mouth in his teeth.

"I understand just fine," Darren snapped. "You may think you're complicated but you're not. There's really nothing too difficult to grasp about you cave people."

"Watch it boy," Mika snapped. "You may not agree with me but I will not tolerate disrespect from you." Darren eyed him as if seeing him for the first time. For some reason, Mika felt as if he'd just passed some sort of test. The two were silent for a long moment, Darren's thin chin lifted defiantly. The anorexic look about him made seem more like a puppy not getting his way than a vampire who'd just been matched in his wits. Mika wanted to shove a vial of blood down his throat. "Larten told me you sacrificed yourself for a friend."

"Yeah, so?"

"Is that why you won't drink blood? To get back at him?"

"This isn't about Mr. Crepsley," Darren said and it suddenly struck Mika that the boy wouldn't use Larten's first name. Was that a sign of respect or forced distance? "I gave away my humanity to save a life I nearly ended with my own stupidity. Whatever I got I deserved."

"So you're punishing yourself then," Mika observed. "Starving yourself to death won't make you feel better. You'll feel bitter and angry until your last breath and beyond when you're stuck in the spirit world. You're too harsh on yourself child. It doesn't surprise me considering your mentor."

"What?" Darren asked. He glanced at Larten's sleeping form curiously and then back to Mika, silently demanding he continue.

"You aren't the only one determined to suffer through a self-imposed punishment," Mika told the boy. "Larten punishes himself everyday for the things he's done and the things he didn't do when he should have. When you live as long as us, you find yourself with several lifetimes of regrets. The truly strong shoulder them and carry on. The weak destroy themselves in their wallowing. Which one are you, Darren?"

The boy didn't answer. He had been struck dumb with what Mika was telling him.

"You don't want to die," Mika continued without an answer. "And you don't have to. Not if you're willing to put in the effort to be strong." With that Mika left the table and went to bed. He slept soundly the rest of the day.

"Get up! Get up!"

Darren's piercing screams and rough shaking sprung Mika from sleep. He was immediately disorientated by the flames and smoke that licked at his senses. Coughing, he sprang from the bed and slammed his feet into his boots. The wall was burning away, the crackling of a fire loud in his ears. He couldn't believe it hadn't awoken him before. He must have been more tired than he'd thought.

"What happened?" Mika shouted, trying as hard as possible not to breathe in the smoke as he gathered his coat and sword. Larten was busy grabbing their own bag in the corner, already dressed, and stuffing what was left of their cans of food inside.

"Hunters!" he shouted back. "They've tracked us! They've set the whole place on fire!"

The door burst open and Darren was out of the room before either man could stop him.

"Darren!" Larten shouted after him but the boy was already mixed into the crowd on the walkway, all of them rushing to the stairs and away from the fire. Mika and Larten joined them, searching for the boy as they went.

"There!" Mika shouted suddenly, spying him running across the parking lot after two swiftly departing figures. Larten jumped over the railing of the stairs and fell two stories into a snow bank, burying himself nearly to the chest. Using all of his strength, he pulled himself up and out, taking off across the parking lot as fast as the snow allowed. It lay at his hips and it made the going thoroughly difficult for everyone. There was no way the fire would be put out by emergency responders. It was burning too quickly and the roads were too blocked with snow.

As he descended the steps he saw Darren pull himself through the snow-which was significantly higher on him-towards what Mika now saw was a woman being pulled forcibly by a man. On closer inspection he saw her cradling a small child. This must be the mother Darren had been taking care of all night. But he had said she was single.

Hunters.

If they had been tracking Larten and Darren or possibly even Mika they must have known Darren was helping the woman. They probably thought she was harboring a vampire; a capital offense in the world of the hunters. Their intention was murder and if the fire was any evidence they didn't care who was caught in the fight.

Mika pushed forward through the snow even harder and pulled ahead of all the humans trying desperately to get as far away from the fire as possible. It was like running through water. Not as difficult for a vampire as it was for a human but still horribly difficult. He saw Darren flounder several times, half fall, and push forward. Mika didn't know what Darren was going to do when he closed the shrinking gap between himself and the hunter. The child had no weapon and he was horribly weakened. But none of that stopped the teen from making a leap with his waning strength, crashing into the man and sending everyone into the snow.

The Prince's sharp hearing heard the screams of a little girl and the surprised squeal from her mother. Darren stood and threw a handful of snow into the man's eyes blinding him just long enough to tackle him again and send the both of them flying away from mother and child.

BANG!

The sudden sound of a gunshot sent Mika diving for protection behind a car just as Larten turned and fell into the snow, clutching at his shoulder. The darker vampire pulled a throwing knife from his coat, glanced over the car and threw with as much accuracy as the driving snow and wind would allow. They were close enough to the motel that the sound of the bullet had sent the hundred or so guests into a panic. They were crying, screaming, and trying their best to find cover even though they could barely move.

His knife found its mark and drove into the hunter's neck killing him before he could disappear in the snow. He didn't see anyone else coming for them and quickly made his way after a stumbling and bleeding Larten, who was determined to pry the dead man's partner off his assistant.

Darren and the human were currently in a battle of strength as the man tried to drive a nine inch blade into Darren's chest. They slammed into a car, knocking off the snow, and Darren tried to push back. His adrenaline was failing him and boy's starvation was catching up to him. But still he managed to push away the man with a final burst of strength and with a guttural roar that Mika only ever heard from the most animalistic fighters. He leapt onto the hunter, knocking away his knife, and sending them both back into the snow. They disappeared from view as they sunk into the soft, wet flakes, but when Larten reached them he drew short, seemingly shocked. Mika caught up fairly quickly and he too pulled up short as Darren slowly got to his feet.

He'd only known the boy a short time but even he knew that the crazed look and blood soaked mouth was a worrisome sight. The kid spit out a small piece of flesh that he'd torn out of the man's neck. The half-vampire was breathing heavily and he turned sharply when the woman let a horrified gasp escape her lips. She clung her daughter to her, shielding her eyes, and looking as terrified as anyone who saw this kind of scene.

Darren didn't say anything to her. He looked away, turned, and began walking towards the buried road. Larten followed him without a word. The Prince only took a moment to pull the woman to her feet and tell her to go back to the others who were beginning to come their way having already a noticed that a fight had taken place. He looked back at the humans Darren had been so adamant in leaving alone and turned his own back.

He hurried and managed to catch up with Larten as he walked beside a quickly tiring Darren. The boy hadn't swallowed any of the blood as he'd torn away the man's throat. Even as they walked the child was grabbing fistfuls of snow and shoving them into his mouth, desperate to wash it out. Mika felt a sharp and sudden pang of sadness for the child. He seemed truly distraught.

Larten didn't say anything to him and neither did Mika as they walked along the road into the coming night. Darren managed to stumble three miles away from the motel before crumpling into the snow in a dead faint. Larten picked him up carefully and carried him away from the road and into the woods. They managed to make a snow shelter at the base of large pine tree and spent the next day huddling together against the cold. Larten addressed his shoulder wound and slept off and on. There was hardly any room to move around and even after Darren woke he never bothered to move himself away from Larten's side, his head leaning against Larten's bicep.

But the boy did continue to look weak. Mika knew it would only be a week, maybe two before he passed away. And the Prince also knew that Larten wouldn't be far behind him. Even if he hadn't had Mika's threat hanging over his head, Larten would probably give up. Mika wondered if the boy would ever understand that it wasn't just his own life that hinged on him drinking blood. Probably not; and he wasn't so heartless as to bring it up now either. Let Larten try to tell the consequences of this situation. After all, it was Larten's responsibility.

The storm came to a close by nightfall and Mika took it as a sign that it was time to leave.

"I must go," he told Larten. Darren glanced at him.

"It would be easier to wait a day or two," Larten told him. "The humans will have cleared the snow from the roads by then."

"I cannot," Mika replied firmly. "I must go tonight. Right now." Larten nodded and the two said a swift goodbye. He couldn't remain with them any longer. He had no need to and whether Darren chose to die or not, Mika couldn't bear to watch the child starve himself.

And as he walked away, in the general direction of Vampire Mountain and the ship that would take him to the correct continent, Mika found himself thinking on the conversation he'd had with Darren while Larten slept.

His opinion of Darren's humanity changed. He thought about the boy's insistence in taking care of the innocent. He thought about the boy running after a hunter in a horribly weakened state to save a strange woman he'd known for two days. He'd entered the fight without evening considering the fact that he could die; he dove into the fight without any fear or hesitation.

Like a true vampire.

And yet he'd ripped away a man's life with nothing but his teeth and a deep seated ferocity that spoke of something truly savage.

Like a true vampaneze.

Darren didn't cling to humanity because he was afraid of losing it, Mika thought as he worked his way through the waist high snow. He clung to it because he was afraid he'd never had it the first place.