• The biggest surprise upon returning home was always the cold. It was for that reason that he never liked to spend too much time anywhere else. The air up here, bitter and inescapable, was a welcome reminder of duty and of death. For duty was heavier than a mountain; death, lighter than a feather. Or so the old saying went.

    It was easy to forget all that when basking in the warm southern air. He risked growing complacent if he spent too much time enjoying the comforts of the cities and the sandy beaches. Perhaps that was why he fell so easily to Elphina.

    And what a fall it was. He had always known that it was only a matter of time before he would run into one of these mad vampires. Meeting Elisabeth had been painful enough, but this...this was entirely different.


    The whole time, Elphina didn't lay so much as a finger on him. She didn't need to. He made the mistake of offering his hand, and that was it. One kiss, and he became her mindless servant.

    Powerless to resist, and clueless as to what he was even doing, he accompanied her to some forgotten glade deep within the Marali forest. There, she released her hold over him, and in an instant Jedd realized all that had just happened.

    "Now, you'll answer my questions," the witch said. "What did you find out about the camps? What conclusions did you draw? Did anyone contact Elisabeth?"

    Jedd could feel the blood boiling in his veins. "The only real conclusion I could draw," he said, "was that the armies of the Blood Crusade are weak and ineffective. Just like their leader."

    "You try to anger me." Elphina took a deep breath. "Ah, that poor boy you took to the lizard fort. So young, and already destined to die. I will take great pleasure in making it happen."


    "And what, will he give you the answer?"

    "Well," she said in a honeyed tone, "I do have one more question for you: what do you know of the power structure between vampires? The political structure, you could say."

    "What a curious question..." He was quickly growing tired of this conversation, or rather, interrogation. "Whatever structure is in place, you can not expect me to know a thing about it."

    Elphina arched a sly brow. "I would expect Elisabeth to have shared that with you...or other humans. It is odd, really. Well," she said, turning to go, "you are no longer interesting."

    "You never were."

    Jedd stood up from the table. He still wasn't quite sure how he had escaped that ordeal with his life. Elphina certainly had many vices, but a short temper was not one of them.

    One thing was for certain: this vampire infestation was really getting out of hand. Confronting the problem head-on obviously wasn't going to work, not when that witch could make him bend to her every whim, like a puppet. No, he needed to go back to the basics: he needed to return to research.

    Now that wouldn't be the easiest task, either. If what his brother had said was true, then the libraries of Brigobaen had already been stripped of all items involving vampiric knowledge. Such a shame, that. But books were not the only option. It was well past time he tracked down the only person he knew that was foolish enough to fraternize with the vampires: Ryen.