“On your feet, worms!” The door to the dungeon banged open and a massive orc stormed inside. Raelin knew instantly something was different. This orc wore armor, and carried a tangled whip. Besides, it was far too soon. The orcs only came for them once a day.
A few of the prisoners staggered to their feet, but most could do little more than lift their heads.
“Up!” the orc bellowed. He kicked one nearby prisoner in the side.
Those that stood helped their neighbors up, but a good number of prisoners remained on the floor. The orc cracked his whip.
That served to jolt some strength into the remaining prisoners. Nearly all staggered to their feet, save for a small boy that shivered in a corner, paralyzed with fear, and an old woman. The woman was so wrinkled and thin that she looked half dead already. She tried to support herself with her arms, but her feeble strength gave out after only a few attempts. The orc approached her and raised the whip.
It was fortunate that Raelin happened to be behind the orc at that moment, rather than in front of him. In an instant, she reached out, grabbed the whip as the orc raised it, and wrenched it from his grasp.
Raelin did not know what she had planned to do. She was far from using the whip herself, that much she was sure of. She had no time to decide, though, for two orcs rushed her from the door.
A well-aimed kick to her stomach was all it took to bring Raelin down. The whip fell from her grasp, her head hit the burning flagstones of the dungeon floor, there was a moment of pain, and then everything faded to blackness. Blissful blackness.
Raelin came to a few minutes later. She was no longer in the dungeon. That became apparent the moment she opened her eyes. Everything was still black, but she could see pinpricks of light above her. Stars, she realized a moment later. It had been so long since she had seen any. She could feel earth beneath her hands. Dirt. Actual grass. Could she possibly be outside?
Raelin rolled over, burying her face in the grass. It was charred, burnt, and brittle, but it was grass. It had once been alive. She could smell a cold trace of autumn in the air.
“And what is this?” said a voice above Raelin. The voice was smooth and rich… almost kind. It definitely did not belong to an orc.
Raelin rolled back over, and found herself staring into a pale face, a face so pale it could belong to only one creature.
The vampire smiled, showing pointed teeth. Her black eyes sparkled as she watched Raelin. “She lives yet,” she said quietly.
“Get up,” said an orc behind Raelin, kicking her in the side. “You’re to stand at attention when Sonya inspects you!” Raelin got to her feet slowly.
The vampire frowned at the orc. “I prefer to keep my name unknown,” she said coldly. “Even amongst prisoners.”
The entire demeanor of the orc changed instantly. “Yes – Yes my lady, of course, anything—” He backed away, mumbling incoherently.
“Now then,” said Sonya, raising her voice slightly, “most of you are surely wondering why you are here.”
Only then did Raelin notice that she was part of a line. Prisoners extended down in a line from her left side; only the old woman was not among them.
“The war has reached a lull,” Sonya said drily.
Hope flared within Raelin. Then Jandar had not yet surrendered! However, that hope did not last long, for it meant the war still existed, and with it, the pain.
“We vampires,” Sonya continued, “do not… require blood, but it is a delicacy we crave, and our cravings rarely go unsatisfied.” Raelin didn’t like where this was going. “Since the war has reached a low point, we have of late had less blood than we are accustomed to.
“You are all here because Utgar has no use for you. You have been sent here to die. How you die is of no concern to him. Therefore, he has allowed me to select certain of you for our own… purposes.”
Sonya began examining the prisoners. Raelin felt the blood drain from her face. So this was how it would end. Eaten by vampires. Not the best of ways to go.
However, Sonya passed the first prisoner by. And then the second. And then the third. Her frown increased with each passing minute. Finally, she reached the end of the line, where Raelin stood, and looked her up and down.
“Every one of you is thinner than your skeletons should permit,” she remarked drily. “But you… you seem to have some spirit left in you at least.” She stepped back approvingly. “Yes. Captain!” she called to the orc. “I will take this one.”
“No!” There was a scuffle somewhere down the line, a grunt of pain, and then a dark shape came flying towards Sonya. It appeared that Raknar had caught one of the orc guards by surprise, knocked him out, and was now charging the vampire with the orc’s sword.
Raelin rushed forward, crying out a warning, but it was too late. Sonya whipped out a sword from her cloak, whirled around in a flash of steel, and beheaded Raknar in an instant. Blood soaked the blade and splashed onto Sonya’s face, where she licked at it eagerly.
Raknar’s head fell against Raelin, and she reeled back in horror. The headless body dropped to its knees, and then fell flat, blood still spouting generously from the severed neck.
Raelin dropped to her knees as well, eyes fixed unwillingly at the head before her. Denial was all she felt. Pure disbelief. This… couldn’t happen. She had just found her father, and now she had lost him once more.
Sonya spat. “The blood is thin. I should have known malnourished weaklings were no substitute for the soldiers of battle.” She stormed away, kicking Raknar’s head out of her way as she passed. It rolled pathetically, and came to a rest, its unseeing eyes fixed on Raelin.
Raelin gazed into those lifeless eyes for a full second. Then, with no warning, she toppled over backwards and fell into unconsciousness once more.