She staggered upright, biting her lip against a fresh wave of pain. Her dress was soaked with blood, too much of it hers, and once she pulled out that damned dagger, the bleeding would get worse.
If there was another thief out here, one who had somehow escaped, then she would tear out his throat.
Ysanne tilted her head to one side, listening, trying to pinpoint where the heartbeat was coming from. The snow was starting to fall more heavily, but a short distance away, just visible through all that white, was a spiky thicket of winter-stripped trees. The heartbeat was coming from there, she was sure of it.
Lifting her feet high with each step, she made her way through the deepening snow to the thicket, and with every foot gained, the heartbeat got louder. Whoever was there wasn't trying to run. She didn't know whether that boded well or not.
As she reached the trees, a shape moved, shrinking back from her, and she glimpsed a flash of pale face. She paused, gauging her surroundings and how fast her prey could move. How fast she could move.
"Are you going to kill me?" the shape said, his voice quiet.
Ysanne hesitated. She'd assumed that the only other person out here was another of the thieves, but what if she was wrong? If her life was in danger, then she wouldn't hesitate to kill, but this wound wasn't fatal, and she wouldn't take a life unnecessarily.
"Come out where I can see you," she said.
The shape shuffled out of the thicket, materialising into a human boy, perhaps eighteen years old, thin and wary, with tangled dark hair and a face made gaunt by hunger.
"What are you doing out here, boy?" Ysanne asked.
He said nothing.
His heartbeat betrayed his fear, but he didn't try to run. He just looked at her as if he had already accepted his death at her hands. Considering that he must have seen – or at least heard – what had just happened, Ysanne couldn't blame him.
Every beat of his heart made Ysanne's fangs ache, pushing further out of her gums. She could practically taste his blood already, rich and warm, throbbing beneath the surface of his skin.
"Did you know the men who just tried to kill me?" she asked, listening carefully to his heartbeat, listening for any hint that he would lie to her.
"No," he said.
Ysanne detected no lie.
She could not kill him, then. He was no threat to her. But she did need his blood, and if she didn't want to attack him, perhaps he could be persuaded.
"What's your name?" she said, sinking into a crouch in front of him.
His eyes flicked to her necklace, her dress, the pins in her hair. He swallowed, and Ysanne tried not to look at his throat.
"Edmond," he said, barely a whisper.
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Edmond. My name is Ysanne." She tilted her torso to one side, showing him the dagger handle still sticking out from between her ribs, and Edmond's eyes widened. "As you can see, I have found myself in a rather unpleasant situation. Do you think you could help?"
"I . . . what do you need me to do?"
"I need your blood," said Ysanne.
He blinked at her, her eyes huge pools in his face. "My blood?"
She didn't have time for explanations. She took off her necklace and dangled it in front of him. "Let me drink your blood, don't ask questions, and this is yours. It will feed your whole family, your whole village, for years."
His expression darkened, and he looked away. "I don't have a family, or a village. Not anymore."
Ysanne closed her eyes, fighting a fresh wave of pain. "Then you may keep it for yourself. Will you help me? Please?"
She would take it by force if she had to, but that was her final option. She'd rather give Edmond the choice first.
Edmond hesitated a moment longer, but he wasn't looking at the necklace anymore. Instead he was studying her face, his eyes a tangle of emotion. Then he slowly nodded.
"What would you like me to do?" he said.
Ysanne edged closer, gritting her teeth against the pain. "Just relax. Do not try to fight me," she said.
He trembled as she touched his neck and tilted his head to one side, but still he didn't run. His skin was freezing, but the blood beneath it was warm, and Ysanne's fangs lengthened even more, aching, needing.
Edmond stiffened as she drew closer to his neck, and then he gasped as she bit down, sinking her fangs into his veins and drawing his blood into her mouth.
Her eyes fluttered shut as the delicious taste of him filled her mouth. As she drank, she closed one hand around the hilt of the dagger and swiftly pulled it out, swallowing down a scream. Edmond started to say something, but she pulled him harder against her, pulling on his veins with greater intensity, and he let out a little moan, though she couldn't tell if it was pain or pleasure.
Ysanne drank as much as she could without risking his life, then she gently licked the small puncture marks, healing them. Fresh energy flooded her limbs, and when she touched her wound, the gashed edges were knitting back together.
Edmond stared up at her. There were so many questions in his eyes, but the one he asked was: "Are you going to kill me now?"
He didn't sound afraid, only resigned, and Ysanne looked at him again, examining every detail of his face. He wasn't just thin, he was starving. Winter hadn't been here for long, but it was the most brutal one Gascony had seen in years, and the land was frozen, glittering white and brutally cold. This wasn't a world that humans were meant to survive. Ysanne didn't know how long Edmond had been out here, but looking at him now, she realised he would not survive this winter. If he stayed out here tonight, he'd be lucky to see another morning.
A strange kind of determination filled her.
"No, I'm not going to kill you," she told him. "I'm going to save you."
I didn't think I'd be returning to the Belle Morte world so soon, but once I started thinking about the short story collection I'm planning, I realised that Ysanne and Edmond's first meeting was too big for a one short story. This novella will be 17 parts, I will still update twice a week - Tuesdays and Fridays - and by the time Winter's Bite ends, it will almost be time for the Christmas Special.
Thank you all my wonderful readers for coming back to another story :)
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Winter's Bite (Belle Morte 0.5)Vampire
All Ysanne Moreau wants is to return home so she can say goodbye to the man she loved and lost. She's not looking for a friend, and she's definitely not looking for a new love. But when she is attacked and injured on the road, her best chance of sur...