For a moment I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I realised what she meant: my name. Ruby red. I forced my head to tilt so I could nod, then realised that it was probably the stupidest thing I could do. She was obviously not working for my side so if she wanted me it would be pretty silly to hand myself over. Then again, it all depended on what she would do if she thought I wasn’t the girl she wanted. She was obviously stealthy and effective, the perfect kind for an assassin. She might kill me if she thought I wasn’t of importance. I had to take the risk.

I inched my head slowly to the left then the right. I expected to feel the ice razor edge of a blade pressed to my jugular. However the assailant didn’t move, and she didn’t loosen her hold.

“Do you know where she is?”

I nodded this time. Better to remain useful - that way she wouldn’t annihilate me. Which I was pretty certain she could do in one movement and without hesitation or any remorse.

“Show me.”

She slid her hand into my hair and twisted at the roots, forcing me to get up if I didn’t want my hair to part with my scalp. Evidently she was good at her job. Painfully good. I winced at the tugging and began to stumble through the brambles. I didn’t make as much noise as I wanted to to attract William to my situation. Curse this vampire agility. Sometimes it was so inconvenient.

Now that I knew she was there I could feel her presence very close behind me. She wasn’t even the length of her forearm away - her arm was pressed into my back. It was like a steel pole.

I tried deliberately to kick at the ground, snapping off bits of dry brambles with cracking noises. The woman dug her elbow into the small of my back - despite her brute strength, it was so pointed it was almost sharp. I tried to flinch away, but since she still had her hand twisted through my hair it was a little difficult.

I realised suddenly that I was just letting her win. Yeah, she was strong and silent, but I could be, too. I was supposed to be one of the most powerful vampire beings at this point.

I curled my arm back and chopped hers hard in a karate strike, forcing her to release my hair in surprise - as her hand retracted I spun round and brought my leg up, planting it on her chest and shoving her away backwards. She hit the trunk of a tree and pushed herself off it with her hands behind her.

I looked at her for the first time. She was shocking to look at. I saw immediately that she was like that man at the Downworld, though she hadn’t yet fallen to that level of depravity. Her eyes were the same dark red colour under her long black lashes. I knew that when she had been a human she was beautiful, because she was even more beautiful now, despite the wound I could see in her neck. It wasn’t the two punctures a vampire might leave. It was as if an animal had torn at her throat and then decided not to keep feeding. I averted my eyes from the horrific gash because I knew that was what had happened anyway. She was one of those Bloodwolves that the others had discussed. I wondered if Tenebrus himself had bitten her, or commanded his chains of servants to go and recruit more civilians.

She had short hair, some kind of brown-red shade, though it was harder to see it in the moonlight which bleached most things silver/white. It curled behind her ears to the corners of her jaw. It created a false impression of innocence.

The woman had curled her hands into claws. I could see the nails shooting out, lengthening into long, curved weapons like slim daggers atop each finger.

This was going to be a hell of a fight.

The End

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